Last Days--Studious to the End--At "Bouruma," Paignton, in South Devon--Last Hours--Death--The News in British Guiana--A Memorial Window.
WE are now to dwell on the last days of Mr. Brett. They were, nearly all of them, days of painful suffering. The days of privation which he had spent in the bush were now telling on him. However, as soon as possible after Mr. Brett's arrival in England in 1879, he waited on the Archbishop of Canterbury, who received him most kindly. Mr. Brett had a twofold object in making this visit; first, to express his respectful thanks in person to the Archbishop for his degree of B.D., and secondly, to obtain his grace's permission to officiate occasionally within his province, which permission was most readily accorded. Mr. Brett joined his family at Loughborough, in Leicestershire, and obtained from the Bishop of Peterborough a license to officiate in his diocese.
The clergy in Loughborough received him courteously, especially the late Venerable Henry Fearon, rector of All Saints and Archdeacon of Leicester, who styled him "the Apostle of the Guiana missionaries--a St. Paul amongst them." Mr. Brett preached a few times, at the earnest solicitations of his friends, but each time he said he was unequal to the exertion. He also gave a lecture at Warner's Schoolroom, but was obliged to decline a second invitation.
The winter of 1879-80 was a very severe one, and tried him greatly, as also did the following one. A change to the sea-coast was deemed advisable, and in July 1881 the family removed to Westgate-on-Sea, in the Isle of Thanet. Here he preached a very few times; and here, as in Loughborough, his sermons were listened to with profound interest, and the general remark amongst people was, they hoped he would preach again. But he was soon obliged to decline all engagements to preach, and spent his time in daily morning and evening walks, in reading and copying some of his old sermons; not, he said, that he should ever preach them, but it occupied his time and thoughts; he could not be always idle. Indeed he never was idle. Everything was done by him with precision and regularity, and two sermons weekly were at this time his self-imposed task, and he completed over a hundred. He generally retired to bed at 9.30, and always rose early, summer and winter. He always read a chapter in his Greek Testament before his eight o'clock breakfast; this he looked upon as an imperative duty. In March i88 he made the remark to Mrs. Brett, "I cannot read my Greek Testament as I used to do, and I cannot understand it." Her reply was, "Well, never mind; that is not an absolute necessity for you to do now." "Not an absolute necessity! Why, what is to become of me if I must give up my Greek Testament?" From this time he visibly failed. One study after another was given up; even books for recreation and newspapers from the old colony, as well as home ones, were all laid aside; but he never complained. He said his work was done, his task accomplished, the end was approaching, and all he wanted was to go to his rest.
The winters in Westgate were very trying, and both Mr. and Mrs. Brett were rapidly breaking down. It was felt that neither of them could risk another winter there; so it was decided to try a more genial locality. This time Paignton, in South Devon, was selected, and in July 1885 the family removed thither, in the hope that both he and his partner would be benefited and some degree of health regained. Alas! a vain hope as regarded Mr. Brett, and in August his consent was very reluctantly given to call in medical aid. From the first the case was pronounced hopeless. "He has worked his brain completely out," was the doctor's verdict. Everything was done that skill and tender nursing could do, but in spite of all his sufferings daily increased; and months were spent in anxious, painful, but uncomplaining endurance on his part, and no less on the part of his loving wife and eldest daughter, whose trying lot it was to witness day by day the increasing extinction of that once bright intellect, which had won the admiration of all who knew him; for in former years his intellect never failed him, whatever might be the subject or whoever the author, ancient or modern. The last time he attended church was one evening in September, when, with assistance, he walked home with great difficulty, all the way repeating, "Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word." After this he was unable to walk much out of doors, and a Bath-chair was procured for him, in which he went out almost daily. On one occasion (in January 1886) he was much distressed about his youngest daughter, and could not be persuaded she was safe and well. She was, indeed, very ill at the time, but her mother did not know of it.
Another time he was repeatedly asking for his eldest son, who was in San Francisco. At last Mrs. Brett fetched his photograph and showed it to the anxious father. He recognised it, and said, "Henry! my Henry! I shall never see him again," and burst into tears. Mrs. Brett replied, "Yes, you will see him in heaven by-and-by." "Ah yes, I shall." And he was content; he never asked for him again.
One evening his nurse told Mrs. Brett that he had been asking for "Stephen." She supposed he meant the youngest son; but as he had then quieted she did not reawaken the memory. This son's second name is "Stephen." He went a few days after to see his father--a melancholy satisfaction, but one denied to the son in the far-distant land.
Towards the end of November 1885 every one saw that his end was approaching, and soon after it was found necessary to have a male attendant to help the nursing. Mr. Brett's sufferings were intense during this time, and the anxieties of his wife and his daughter were very great. He did not take to his bed until January the 28th. From that day until February the 7th he lived on milk and brandy, and from the last-named date until he expired no nourishment whatever passed his lips. He was nearly always unconscious. But every now and then he had lucid intervals, and at different times he asked for his several children, and to Carrie his last words were, "Carrie, are you there? Still at your post of duty!" The last time he spoke to his wife he said that she had been to him "a tower of strength in time of need. Lord, defend her from the power of the enemy, and keep her in perpetual peace." On the Feast of the Purification, the week before his death, there was a sudden and lucid moment, and he then received the Holy Communion. A priest was also in attendance just before his death, who read the commendatory prayer. After this he said that he felt ready to go to his Master. A few moments after he was lost to everything and every one about him. On the Sunday evening another lucid interval came, and he asked of his attendant, "Are my robes all prepared?"
The attendant replied, "Yes, sir, all are ready."
"Are they bright and shining?"
"Yes, sir, beautifully."
"That is well; I am soon going home now. Pass me not by, gentle Saviour."
On Monday again, while Mrs. Brett was earnestly watching her dying husband, he said--
"Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly."
He repeated this twice. He again seemed lost whilst his wife finished the hymn.
After this he said, "Lord, have mercy upon us; Christ, have mercy upon us." This also was repeated twice. These were the last words he spoke. On Wednesday the 10th of February, at 7.15 P.M., his pure spirit left its home of clay and soared heavenward to receive the reward of "a good and a faithful servant." May his holy, useful life be an example for us all to follow!
About the day and hour of his death there is this extra ordinary coincidence: he died, almost to the hour, on the very day on which forty-six years before he had left the English shores for those of Guiana; and we feel sure that, had it been possible for him to select the day of his departure to his eternal rest, there is no day he would have preferred to that.
Mr. Brett lived always in preparation of death. "Memento Mori" was well impressed on his mind.
At the funeral his body was, at the special request of his widow, taken into the fine old church at Paignton, thence to the cemetery, a lovely spot, whence a splendid view can be had over land and sea, whose ever-varying, ever-beautiful waves seem to unite the land of his labours with the land of his birth and of his death.
As soon as the news of the demise of this noble missionary reached British Guiana all those who had known him, as well as those who had heard of him, expressed their sincere regret and sorrow. Th& parish bell of his old church in Essequibo tolled for one hour, and on the following Sunday, when his funeral sermon was preached, although the weather was very inclement, the people flocked to the church from all the surrounding villages. The press paid its homage of respect to departed worth, and the people of British Guiana, from His Excellency the Governor of the colony (Sir Henry Turner Irving, K.C.M.G.), His Lordship the Bishop of Guiana, down to the humblest of Mr. Brett's old parishioners, Mrs. Brett and children joining, subscribed towards a memorial stained-glass window to the "Apostle of the Indians," at the east end of the new church of the Holy Trinity, representing St. Paul, the great apostle of the Indians, and the Blessed Virgin, in whose honour the first chapel built in the Pomeroon, at Hackney, is dedicated. Two lights of this window (executed by Mr. C. Evans of Warwick Street, London), which form the memorial, are the embodiment, so to speak, of purity and of the zealous and untiring preaching of the Word of God, and symbolise two characteristic traits in the individuality of him to whom they were erected. The inscription underneath each light is, "To the honour of God, and in memory of W. H. Brett, rector of this parish, and Apostle of the Indians, 1840--79. Obiit i886."
Well did Archdeacon Farrar say, that "Mr. Brett's name will be remembered as long as the Church of Guiana lasts; and it will shine brighter and brighter unto the dawn of the perfect day. For the souls that he has saved, and is still instrumental in turning to righteousness--for though dead he yet speaks through his translations--will be so many jewels in his crown, and will make it shine as so many stars for ever and ever.