Project Canterbury

Alexander Penrose Forbes:
Bishop of Brechin, the Scottish Pusey
by William Perry

London: SPCK, 1939.


To describe the qualities of a living man, who has had no Boswell at hand to set down day by day a record of his sayings and doings, is an almost impossible task. I have visited not a few who knew Bishop Forbes, but he was then over fifty, and they in their early teens; all they remembered were vague impressions of his personality: gentle, grave, kind, with a smile that they called " sweet " and a spirit that belonged to the other world. His lay contemporaries, on the other hand, recognized in the Bishop also a man of this world deeply interested in its affairs, from the House of Commons to the Local Town Council, from Italian pictures and Gothic architecture (when it was not merely imitative) to housing conditions and the cleansing of the streets. The clergy saw in him the ideal of a true bishop who never forgot, or allowed them to forget, the fact that he was their bishop, and yet who loved them not only as their Father in God, but also as their elder brother. But all classes, old and young, rich and poor, admired most of all his unaffected, shining piety. He seemed to recall the ancient confessors of the Church, whom he resembled in his self-denial and spiritual fervour. One could not be in his company for long without thinking of the Holy Ghost. His spirituality appeared to colour all his thoughts and actions, and was the cause of a life-long benevolence, which was exercised at the cost of personal claims and comforts known only to the few. So prominent was this side of the Bishop's character that the laity, and even many of the clergy, forgot him as a historian, as a theologian, and even as a man of affairs. The human side came out in his visits to country houses like Rossie Priory, the home of Lord Kinnaird, and Alloa House, the residence of his brother-in-law, the Earl of Mar and Kellie, as well as to the parsonages of the clergy of the diocese. Older members of a family would enjoy his company and conversation, but the children had his heart. He would invite them to explore his pockets, which were deep and never empty; a dive down would bring up a box of rock or packets of sweets. On one occasion at Alloa House he arrived on a Friday in Lent, and the faces of the children fell when the customary gift did not appear. "We shall wait", said the Bishop, "till to-morrow; this is Friday, so look out to-morrow." They invented a game, "Now I'll be the Bishop," said one, "and give you some rock." Here is a characteristic letter to his great niece and nephew, dated July 18, 1873:--


I was very pleased to receive your joint letter, for I love you both very much and it is a great happiness to me to be remembered by you. I hope you will both sometimes pray to God for me.

I am glad you like the pictures of our dear Saviour when He was a little boy. It is very wonderful that He should have become one, but we know that He did it to save us and make us happy both in this world and in the next beautiful world, in which I hope we shall all live and be happy together. I hope that you will both often think of the dear Saviour and try to please Him. You know how much He loves good children and I shall be greatly disappointed if you are not both among that number.

I am not at home. I write from Stonehaven where I lived long ago when your dear good Mama was a little girl like Constance. And she used to sit upon my knee, and when I was writing my sermons I used to take her little tiny fingers and put a pen in them and I guided her hand and it was your Mama that wrote the sermons, though I thought what was there. Perhaps some day I may shew you the sermons. I am sure they are the very earliest things that your dear Mama ever wrote. You will love them for her sake.

I am glad to hear that you are getting nice rides, and that there are plenty of Hyacinths on Comely Bank. Here we have the great roaring sea with magnificent waves.

To the mother of these children he writes:--

It is very nice to have seen so much of those dear children of yours; their characters are very individual and I am very fond of them. I am glad you have got a new nurse for E. and that by the change the little one has grown from a demon into an angel. It shews how particular people ought to be about the temper of their servants. I am sure we got mischief from ours.

A celibate himself, with little or nothing of the domestic to make his abode in Dundee anything more than a house, he sought compensation in the families of friends like the Kellies, the Kinnairds, the Glasgows, the Lingards, the Ogilvys, the Thrieplands, the Dons, and one of the regrets of his life was that he had so little time to visit them. One of his favourite texts was, "Thy right hand hath holden me up and thy gentleness hath made me great." He believed, and often said, that the Scottish Church and its rites could give to Scotland the gentleness which its rugged and rough independence needed for its correction. Gentleness was the special quality which marked the Bishop outwardly as a man; the voice seldom lacked the note of tenderness, and the eyes had a wistful, pleading look that conveyed the same impression. Yet no one could call the Bishop weak. He could be firm and tenacious to the point of obstinacy; otherwise the opposition with which he was confronted during the greater part of his life would have conquered him. Humility went hand in hand with gentleness. "My poor and most unworthy prayers" was the characteristic phrase in which he promised to his friends remembrance at the Throne of Grace. "For twenty-nine years", so writes one who called himself unorthodox, "he lived in the dreary house in Castlehill, giving to the poor the same welcome that he gave to famous men. He slept in a little room with a window facing the wall of the great church he built. The spare chamber was littered with books, boots and all sorts of stuff; and yet he was an aristocrat and looked it in any circumstances."


Bishop Forbes was not a born preacher; by God's grace and infinite pains he became one. No doubt he possessed some of the natural gifts which enhance the power of the preacher. His appearance in the pulpit was enough to set a congregation into an attitude of expectancy. His tall figure, the massive head with its cover of dark curls, the gentle voice which spoke the text and then rose into strength as the subject was presented and into fervent eloquence as he sent the appeal to mind, heart, and conscience--these are gifts one or other of which may be denied to any preacher. Such externals, however, influence a congregation; even the flashing of the episcopal ring in the pulpit, as he raised his hand, impressed some of the Bishop's hearers. Bishop Forbes was also gifted with an excellent memory. On Sunday afternoon, when overwork or illness had stolen time from sermon preparation, he would go to his study for half an hour, read over a sermon by Pusey, Keble, or Carter, and preach the substance of it with finished fluency in his own words.

Those who heard him frequently were most affected by his sincerity and earnestness: it could not be otherwise. The Gospel was his supreme interest, the Church was his beloved mother, the Sacraments were holy bonds with eternity, and the teaching and example of his Lord were standards from which there could be no appeal. Few men were more consistent through and through than he, and therefore there was an urgency and reality in his preaching that even dull listeners could not miss. But the Bishop knew the danger of trusting merely to earnest exhortations, and as a rule spent hours in preparation. Some of his published sermons are in a sense over-prepared, and read as articles more suitable for a theological journal than for the pulpit. But those contained in the four volumes of 1856, 1857, 1860 and 1862 are astonishingly modern, and more living than the sermons of Pusey or even Newman, partly because he had a wider experience of life than they, and partly because he had learned from his legal training the technique of arousing interest and acquiring the art of persuasion. He knew how to begin a sermon as well as how to arrange his matter so that the whole became a unity. Here is the beginning of a sermon on St. Paul at his trial before Felix which only one familiar with the law courts could have made so impressive:--

A striking contrast this to the usual customs of men! Before ordinary tribunals the prisoner stands fearing, awaiting in anxiety the doom which announces his future destination while the judge in all the dignity of the ermine sits as the impersonation of that Divine Justice which he represents, calm and serene. But here the scene is reversed. Surrounded by all the pomp of the Roman legionaries, encircled by a glittering court, accompanied by his beautiful companion in guilt, Felix trembles, while the prisoner stands forth as master of the situation, pouring forth his telling denunciation of sin.

Then follow in logical sequence four practical lessons from the example of Felix, the danger of earthly position, the effect of sin in darkening the conscience, the peril of trusting to mere religious emotions and the folly of procrastination; the sermon ends with an earnest reminder that Christians dare not treat as of no account the elementary realities of "righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come".

It is clear from these sermons that the preacher's task in the nineteenth century was just as hard as it is to-day; self-indulgence was gross, and even brutal, among non-Christians, indifference was widespread in half-Christian circles, while many Churchpeople preferred what the Bishop called "a relaxed gospel" of worldliness to the strictness of Christ and His Church. There were also intellectual persons, as troubled with doubts as they are to-day, who required a reasoned assurance that there could be no conflict between the scientific discoveries of truth and the Revelation of God in Christ. To all these varied classes the Bishop spoke the appropriate word. "If this", he said, "be not an age of great vices, it is not one of heroic virtues." Worldliness was the prevailing spirit of the day, and therefore the note of aspiration was seldom absent from the Bishop's sermons. "It is better to aim high and fail a hundred times than to sit down in the complacency of a religion which has shaken hands with the world." The Bishop was well aware of the defects of published sermons.

Written solely [he says] for oral delivery, they partake of the faults which discourses composed for this purpose almost always manifest. A sermon which gives pleasure when read, often is considered dry when listened to; on the other hand, the expansion of thought and expression, which commends a sermon to the hearer, fatigues in the study. Again, the degree of originality which satisfies in the pulpit is barely sufficient when submitted to the severer test of printing. The preacher, wishing to make a strong and immediate effect on the souls committed to him, brings out of his store things both old and new, and without conscious plagiarism uses language and ideas which he has obtained from others, without perhaps being very sure of the actual sources whence they have been derived. I am conscious of both these defects.

But the element of human interest in the Bishop's sermons was so strong that the hearer was unlikely to be "fatigued"; while, on the other hand, the rich originality of thought, phrase, and illustration is accompanied by practical counsels and personal appeals which enable the reader both to see the preacher and to feel himself one of a congregation in church.


The best spiritual counsellors must needs be men of the world as well as men of God, since the world, with its trials and temptations as well as its opportunities, is the divinely appointed sphere in which the Christian is to find his vocation. The two worlds, the natural and the spiritual, were both intensely real to the Bishop; he could therefore enter with sympathy into the special trials of the Sisters of his Community, the temptations of working people and the moral and spiritual difficulties of those living in refined society; probably he was at his best in dealing with men and women of his own class. He firmly believed that the Church of England had a special mission to this important minority.

She has ever been strong in developing the domestic virtues. She has a notable attraction for refined and cultivated minds. While perhaps she is weak in fostering the ascetic side of Christianity and has never sufficiently coped with abnormal enthusiasm (witness her treatment of John Wesley), she has made the English gentleman such as no other gentleman on earth is. She has preserved faith among the upper classes in a measure that exists not in any other country in Europe.

These, he believed, could be enabled not only to say with the heathen poet "I am a man; there is nothing belonging to man which does not interest me", but also "I am a man; there is nothing Divine which is foreign to me." His belief in the Grace of God was matched by his confidence in the spiritual possibilities of man. But "good is not done by dragging religion head and shoulders into common conversation nor are souls saved by making oneself disagreeable".

It would be interesting to study the sources from which the Bishop derived his interest in the spiritual life and through which he acquired his remarkable insight into the deep things of God and the ever-changing motions of the human heart. The materials for such a study are abundant, but the undertaking would require almost a volume to itself. It must suffice to call attention to an address given at the Church Congress in Leeds in 1873, published under the title of The Deepening of the Spiritual Life. In his short Life of Bishop Forbes Canon Mackey tells that when the Bishop was delivering the address, "not a sound was heard", so deeply moved was the audience. Bishop Woodford of Ely, who was present, noticed how the attention of the chairman of the Congress (Bishop Bickersteth) was more and more fixed on the speaker as he went on. Afterwards the chairman, giving his impressions of the different speakers, said, "There was one man at the Congress whom I would give a great deal to know more of--Bishop Forbes; I cannot but feel that he is a most holy man." The attraction, though Bishop Bickersteth's churchmanship might be described as "low", was mutual, for the Bishop dedicated his little book "To the Right Reverend Robert, by divine permission, Bishop of Ripon, in whose presence the germ of this little treatise was read at the Leeds Church Congress, over which he presided with grace, dignity and justice ".

It is interesting to note the writers quoted or mentioned in the volume: Mohler (Symbolism), Lancelot Andrewes, Hooker, Ignatius, Dante, St. Gregory the Great, the Venerable Bede, Bishop Cosin, Bishop Hickes, Newman, Lacordaire--a fine collection of names which indicates the varied nature of the Bishop's spiritual experience. The Deepening of the Spiritual Life represents the mature reflection of the Bishop upon the problems of Christian living and the practical rules which he had deduced from Christian principles and which he himself had tried to observe for a lifetime. Here is a short summary of this little work.

"The state of Grace is the starting point of all Christian progress; yet man must follow with freedom." There are two factors in the deepening of the spiritual life: the grace of God and the co-operation of the free-will of man. The first necessity for the Christian is to deepen sorrow for forgiven sin. "The abiding memory of the old sin calls forth the thought of the love and mercy of God; there is then no room for self-complacency, yet this subtle form of conceit is a constant temptation." Another hindrance to progress the Bishop terms "exteriority", when the inner life, instead of animating the outer, is made subordinate to it. "This is a special snare of our countrymen. English Christianity is the most unsupernatural form of that institution. The increased shallow-ness of modern knowledge has also affected the concerns of the soul. It is not to be wondered at that those who are ignorant of their Shakespeare, their Bacon, their Butler content themselves with superficial views of the doctrines of faith." The world goes so fast that clergy and laity have little time for prayer and meditation. Some cure for this will be found in laying deep within the soul the basis of the work in the life of purgation, and closely connected with this is the question of temptation which, however, is not in itself sin. " For example, an irascible temper--a man is no more answerable for that than he is for the colour of his hair. What he is answerable for is the way that he governs that irascible temper. Temptation is a sign that God loves us; we should be very suspicious if we have no temptation." The best way to resist temptation is not to think about it, but rather to occupy oneself with exterior things. " The devil is often confounded by treating him with contempt." Another necessity is the practice of habitual recollection. " We are ever in the presence of God; let Him be ever present with us. This can only be acquired under Divine Grace by care and by application." Self-restraint, meditation, and the recitation of the daily service tend to form in us "the holy habit of the Presence of God". We should not fret if this proves difficult; "God will not impute to us the imperfections that arise from human frailty." Most important is the way in which we deal with the lot in life to which God has called us. We must all bow " to the great law of holy labour. The workshop of Nazareth becomes the school of all who live and toil on earth, while they seek to wend their way to heaven." Recreation, too, is necessary for the proper exercise of the faculties of body, mind, and spirit, yet time should not be wasted, nor life be treated "like the shagreen case of the French litterateur which shrank with the indulgence of every wish during the term of its diminishing existence". As for the crosses and troubles which God sends or permits, the Christian should remember that rebellion is vain. "One cure only can be found for the ills of life and that is conformity to the holy will of God. The will of God is the tranquillity of man." Of all the blessed thoughts connected with religion there is none that speaks with such power to the heart of man as the sympathy of Jesus, unless it be the condescension and consolation of the Holy Eucharist. "Nay, the two mysteries touch one another in the thought that the very unchangeable priesthood of the Redeemer of which the Eucharist is the earthly action, is united (in the Epistle to the Hebrews) to the thought that we have a High Priest who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities." The little book closes with a plea for loyalty to Divine truth. "Wilfully to think wrongly of God is a great despite to Him, just as to conceive unworthy notions of our fellow men is a breach of fraternal charity." The fine passage from Lacordaire on Jesus Christ as the truth, the life, and the way ends an impressive exposition of the dangers, difficulties, and glories of the spiritual life.

Here should be mentioned the Bishop's attitude to private confession. He practised it himself, and both in public and private recommended its use to others, though there were occasions when he doubted its value: "I never was sanguine about confession helping L. I look upon his health as mental and not moral, and a confessor is no more called to deal with that than the ugly duckling was blamed for not being able to mew like the kitten." In a letter to his niece there appears a dispassionate summary of his views on the question :--

As all Catholic theologians hold that perfect contrition, sorrow for sin from the inferential loss of God, takes the place of all ordinances, confession is (1) not of necessity to Salvation even in the case of wilful mortal sin; but (2) not only is there a special promise ("whosesoever sins ye remit"), but there is also such fear that contrition may be feigned or inadequate that it is only wise to use this means. (3) I can speak of the experience of more than twenty years of its great help and comfort, and I can bear witness to the help it has been to me even temporally, being able to bring another mind to bear on what, if contemplated only by oneself, might be distorted into self-love. (4) It is very helpful to men, and men are daily more and more making use of it. It helps so much to regulate the will and bring one face to face with oneself. I doubt whether one ever attains to a high degree of holiness without it. It is the want of this that has stunted the religious growth of the Evangelicals even beyond their disbelief in sacramental grace.


No letters that have come into my hands reveal the inmost heart of the Bishop so clearly as his correspondence with his niece, Mary, Countess of Mar and Kellie. The letters were entrusted to me by their owner, Lady Constance Erskine, and I am permitted by her to print a number of them in whole or in part.

The first is dated February 5, 1869.


You were in my thoughts very early this morning. I was going to write to you to be assured of the name of the new little Christian. I need not say that you and yours are in my daily prayers.

Thank Erskine and receive my thanks for the offering to the Stonehaven Church. It will greatly gladden the good Dean's heart.

I have just got Sir J. Coleridge's life of Mr. Keble. The extract from your journal though anonymous is given at full length, and there is a playful allusion to it at the end, so you see you have made your first d6but in authorship.

I shall be glad to hear about the progress of your new church, as I have set my heart on being present at the opening. Everybody speaks so highly of Lord Kellie in reference to it. He is thought to have behaved very nobly about the peers' election; both Southesk and Lord Kinnaird spoke to me about it. Believe me, ever your loving uncle


[Q (for Quintus) was the familiar name given to the Bishop by the members of his family and he always signs his letters to Lady Mar and Kellie in this way. The few letters to Dr. Pusey that have survived are also signed Q.]

August 10th, 1869.

I hope that you will never make apologies for writing to me on any subject. You know how dearly and devotedly I love you; besides, in a matter concerning aid to an immortal soul, I ought to be ready and willing to give my thoughts to any one who consulted me-- how much more, then, to one, bound to me so closely as you are?

I do not think that you have any reason to fear the effect of more frequent communions. Your social temptations are united to your position. You do not seek them, they come to you in the place where God has put you. They therefore ought not to hinder you from approaching but rather encourage you. For, tho' they are not sought by you, they still are temptations and they must be met in the ways that God wills us to meet all temptations.

Of these ways nothing is so helpful as frequent communion viewed as a means and channel of Grace. I used to fear frequent communions in my own case. I now find it the greatest help, especially those quiet early communions which go to sanctify the whole day and to give it a special brightness. Only I need not say to your dear mother's daughter that the frequency of reception must not take away from the accuracy and care of your preparation.

As to the Scottish Office, in the teeth of the Incumbent's opposition, I do not think I would stress the matter at present. I would wait for better times, tho' it would be due to perfect truthfulness to let him know your feelings. To have the Scotch Office with a reluctant Incumbent would only entail trouble and perhaps eventually defeat to your good plans. As prejudice wears out, the value of the Office will surely rise and then it will come without effort. I feel that the new church in Alloa will be a great blessing to you all.


November 10, 1869.

Your Aunt wrote to tell me of the good service you had done to dear L. If there is a reward here or hereafter for those that abate human suffering, surely it is yours, for L.'s face has been too sad, and I wished every wish in the world, had one been able to help her.

Once I did something in the direction of advice, but H. thought I had done mischief.

It is such a pity she cannot meet any clergyman, for there must be a blessing in the power of the keys in such a case. Surely if ever there was a case that required care it is hers.

In the meantime you should try to impress more and more upon her the personal love which our Lord has for her soul, not because she loves Him, but out of the pure benevolence of His Nature. A meditation on this ought to surely cast out undue fear. " To whom shall we go? "

Monday in Holy Week, 1870.

I thank you much for your nice letter and earnestly hope that you are getting stronger. Be sure that to be passively under God's Hand is your present Lenten duty, and you must not fret that you are not able to undergo any corporal mortification or to avail yourself as fully as you might of the many aids to devotion held out to you in London. This is a lesson both Scotch and English need to learn.

Our services are being wonderfully well attended: especially our early communions, and the numbers of pious people who are seeking the aid of private confession is increasing in a calm and unexcited way.

Of course the work is very heavy, but it is blessed work and leads to the edification of many souls for whom our dear Lord died. I am glad that Aunt H. has got to London. She will cheer up R. a bit. It is so sad that the poor lad should be blighted. This enforced idleness is bad for the boy's soul. All idleness, especially in young men, is most pernicious.

May 1870.

You overrate me in what you say of my love and my interest in you. You know that from your childhood you always were the niece of Medwyn that was nearest my heart from the day that your tiny fingers scrawled a bit of a sermon for me at Stonehaven.

I did not at first realize what a shake you had had, but gradually I took it in: I am so unfeignedly thankful that you are now convalescent, only don't overtax your strength.

These hours of sickness are very precious to the soul, and even the depression that weakness brings on becomes a part of the great scheme of discipline through which our Lord's hand deals with us, soul by soul.

I can imagine you more and more impressed with your husband's goodness. He is evidently all that you know him to be, and you have indeed drawn the great prize in the lottery of life. I think you are so right in carrying him along with you in what you do and what you leave undone in the matter of confession. I have found it myself during all these years such an unspeakable help that I do not wonder at the increasing practice of it, now that God is raising up wise and learned confessors.

Please send me a few lines sometimes. Your letters are a great pleasure to me and they are quite safe.

August 1871.

I have indeed been most negligent, but you have no notion what I have to do in many ways, and my head is not so strong as it was. The organization of the Sisterhood, too, gives me no small anxiety. I like so much the thought of your making an offering to it. We have got a chalice, but I will take further counsel with the Mother and write to you in a few days. It is so nice to have you associated with our work.

I have no news to write to you. My life here is so entirely monotonous. After the opening I shall go to Bamff (Sir J. Ramsay's) and then, probably by Castle Forbes, to Pitsligo, where I preside at the opening of the new church on the 7th. It will be very trying considering how many of those interested in the church originally have gone to their eternal home.

I am writing a charge on the Vatican Council which I hope will be useful. I think I sent you my speech on Sir Walter Scott. My Synod is on the 12th of September.

We have had a very sad time with the Kinnairds. I hope to see them next week if I can find the time. If ever there was a little saint on earth it was Via. Most mysterious that so valuable a life should be taken so early?

Sept. 1871.

Now that the bustle of the opening of the Sisterhood is over, which by the way went off very nicely, I am able to write about your kind gift. Would you allow me to let it go for a vessel for the Reservation of the Holy Sacrament, which we wish to be kept in the Chapel? I will write to Mr. Butterfield and ask him for a design and submit it to your good judgment for approval.

I will find out how things stand at Stonehaven. It is very provoking that one man may make such trouble; however, God is good and tries the patience of His servants for their good.

I hope you are keeping well. You have been very good and patient during all these long months on the sofa. I am writing a charge on Papal Infallibility which I will send you.

Today I go to Dupplin to the Kinnairds', then to two houses near Montrose, then to the consecration at Pitsligo and finally to Flowers, coming back for my Synod on the I2th.

January 18, 1872.

[On the death of her father-in-law, Lord Kellie.]

I have been intending every day to send you a few lines on the most sad occasion, but something has always come in the way.

I cannot conceive what poor Lady Kellie will do. She was so entirely wrapped up in him. I had had only a month ago such a very nice kind letter from him about his pamphlet on the Indian Mutiny. His loss will be felt everywhere. I seldom have seen a nobler and kinder man. "Requiescat in Pace." I said a "De Profundis" for him as soon as I heard the afflicting news.

I half thought of coming round by Alloa to see you, but I have to go to the Kinnairds on Tuesday. In short I could not make the time, but a little later I trust and hope to fulfil my long-promised visit, under alas! very different auspices from what I anticipated.

It must be a comfort to you to know what a good daughter you have been to him. Send me a few lines to Dundee. You know what a treat your letters are to me in that solitary life of mine.

February, 1872.

I must send you one little line to say to you what a happy little visit I have paid to you and what a rest to body and mind my quiet sojourn in Alloa has been.

It would be a great satisfaction to me to think that I have been some little comfort to poor Lady K., for whom I feel most sympathizingly. Great as has been the loss to the others, they will find in their duties an occupation of mind and comfort which she cannot. I do hope, however, that she will struggle against excessive grief and take up some occupation that may divert her thoughts from her bereavement. However, this must be a matter of time.

You will sometimes, like a dear, write me a letter. My life is so eventless that I cannot promise you interesting responses. I do pray that our Good Lord may bless and fill your lives and make you useful and happy here and glorious in the Eternal World.

February, 1872.

I find that our letters crossed. I need not say how much you are in my thoughts at present, and how my regrets for the excellent man whom it has pleased God to take to Himself are mingled with anxieties and anticipations for those who survive. You and Walter are both fully young for the big position, but the same high principle and sense of duty which has sustained you both hitherto, and enabled you to act in a way that has commanded the admiration of all will, I doubt not, continue to support you. Your husband is a high-minded Christian gentleman, and you, dearest, have been taught by the best of mothers in the good old ways of the Church Catechism and "of your duty in that state of life to which it has pleased God to call you". I need not remind you that to whom much is given, of him much will be required, and I feel sure that you will earnestly pray to be enabled to use the talents and position God has given you to his glory.

You will send me a little line to tell me how Lady K. bears up. Poor, poor lady, my heart yearns for her in this terrible desolation. You will say all that is affectionate from me to your husband.

March, 1872.

If you knew the pleasure your letters always give me you would make no excuse for writing. To me they are always dear, and living alone as I do and without the daily endearments of those I love, they come doubly acceptable. Of all, too, from you.

What you say of the uncertainty of the pleasures of life is very true, and I suppose that God deals with all of us in the way of weaning our hearts from this world by the sense of uncertainty that hangs across all earthly goods. After all, what we must seek for is conforming to God's Holy Will in all things.

We are having a retreat for the Sisters here conducted by a Rev. Mr. Hilyard of Norwich.

I hope Erskine [her husband] is the better for his stay in Edinburgh. They seem, Aunts and all, to have been muchly taken with him.

Brington Rectory, Northampton,

23d November, 1872.

It is so very good and loving of you and Erskine to respect my simple feeling about fresh obligations at my time of life in the way of god-children. I need not, however, assure you that you and yours are daily in my prayers. For whom else, near and dear to me, should I not pray, if I did not pray for you?

I enclose the prospectus of the book [Kalendars of Scottish Saints], I am so afraid that the Publisher will lose money by it if I do not get a few subscribers for him, and my friends have been more than kind in the matter.

This is a charming place just on the edge of Lord Spencer's park, such oak trees and a very interesting church. The Vicar is a cousin of Lady Kinnaird's. I had such a very nice time at the Deanery of York and preached to 2000 people in the Minster, with such a glorious service--ben che Anglicano.

Let me know the day and the hour of the Christening, that I may be with you in spirit.

May 5th, 1874.

You were much in my thoughts last night as I read the dreadful chapter of the death of David's baby. It's to me one of the most touching in the whole Bible. What a heart that man had in all his errors!

Of course the wound always takes some time to heal. It is God's order that it should be so, but oh! that we were all as safely housed in the heavenly Garner as that dear little one.

I am so rejoiced that your mother is getting the visit of Alloa. If it is as blessed and peaceful to her as it is to me she cannot but profit by it.

To-day we have our choir Festival and Infirmary meeting. Two little pictures I got as mementos for the children, if you like to give them. I wish I had a third but I cannot find it.

Write soon, for your letters are always a great delight to me.

May 8th, 1874.

I thought it would be good in many ways, so I asked your Rector to our choir Festival. I think the visit has been of use to him and I spoke to him very seriously and kindly. We had a very nice Festival and I send you the Libretto.

I have very little news to send to you. After this weary Edinburgh Congress, I hope to get South for a little. I give a retreat near Wakefield, then take a confirmation in the Diocese of London. Then Oxford, then London, which I hope D.V. to reach about the 18th of June. I do hope that I shall see you in London. I should like to go to St. Alban's, Holborn, with you. I have not been there since the opening of the church.

Here may be given two out of many letters written to the Rev. Roger Lingard Guthrie, which show in another way how deep was the Bishop's attachment to his friends:--

December 24,1859.


Will you add one more to the many favours you have conferred on me, by giving a place on your shelves to the accompanying volumes, which in some ways worthily illustrate one class of the antiquities of your adopted country? I will not say to you all I feel of gratitude for the aid and sustentation your wise counsels and loving sympathy have been to me under what I must acknowledge to have been the heavy trials of the last two years; neither will I say how fortunate I esteem my people to be in having your freely bestowed ministrations. Any thing on either of these points that I could say would not adequately express what I really feel.

Neither must I in this note pass over all that your dear wife has done in the way of assisting in schemes dearer to me than my own comforts. Oh my dear friend--among the sorrows of the last few months there is no mercy I feel so grateful for as the good kind friends God has given me, and among them for whom can I be more thankful than for you and Mrs. Lingard?

Then what a new object for my sympathies have I in my Godson who, I pray, may be spared to us long to exhibit the virtues of his parents and to follow their example for many a day after we are gone to our respective accounts.

The other letter, which is not dated, is concerned with the offer of the position of Examining Chaplain.


Your letter is just what I should have expected from your own dear chivalrous self. If you knew the pleasure your acceptance gave me, you would not have thought of refusing to write it. Nothing has gladdened me so much for a long time. Indeed I feel that you are honouring me by accepting, not I you by offering.

And honestly I don't think it will do you any harm. Every man of the stuff you are made of rises to his responsibilities, however he may be diffident, and I don't think it will do you any harm to rub up your theology a bit, and your theological difficulties are only what every one of us has to face.

For my own part, I have been thinking much, in the quiet of this beautiful country, and I cannot but feel that I am not enduring hardness as a good soldier. I compare myself with earlier days of fervour to my great present disadvantage--how different from the days when the grace of ordination was fresh upon one! You, dear friend, will help me in my efforts at self-recovery. You have been a good friend to me in things secular; now you will befriend me in the more important things of my soul.

Believe me, your loving and grateful friend.

How warmly the Bishop's affection for his clergy was returned may be gauged from the following address presented to him by them after his recovery from a dangerous illness:--


We desire to approach your Lordship with the expression of most devoted affection and attachment to yourself; and of our most hearty thankfulness to Almighty God, the Pastor and Governour of the whole Flock, for that it hath pleased His Infinite Goodness to hear our fervent prayers, and to bring you safely through your late severe and dangerous sickness and restore to you some measure of bodily health. We would now most respectfully but earnestly pray your Lordship to consider how dear and how necessary is your safety to us and to the portions of your Flock over which we are respectively appointed; and, for their sakes and our own, we entreat, that you will not retard your perfect recovery (which may it please our Almighty Father to hasten) by undertaking any active duty, or entertaining any anxieties (so far as in this transitory and uncertain state this may be prevented) until your health and strength be perfectly re-established. And for this purpose we would implore your Lordship to follow the advice of your friends and physicians, if they shall recommend perfect rest, or the air of a milder climate, for such time as may be needful. And, in humble trust in Him Who giveth Grace both to will and to do, we offer to your Lordship our sacred and solemn pledge, that we will so give ourselves to the discharge of our respective duties, and to brotherly kindness and the helping one of another in the performance of them, as to avert, so far as human endeavours may, any cause of disquietude to your Lordship while resting away from the immediate superintendence of the Flock. Assuring your Lordship of the earnest prayers, both of ourselves and of our congregations, for the perfect restoration of your health and for the bestowal upon you by Almighty God of every blessing and comfort, both temporal and spiritual, commending ourselves and them to your fatherly prayers, and craving your Benediction.

Reminiscences from persons who either knew the Bishop or were, so to speak, well within the Forbes tradition, may help to throw sidelights on his personality.

The Earl of Strathmore writes:--

I have some little claim to speak of Bishop Forbes, because my father was a great friend of his. I had the privilege of being confirmed by him more than sixty years ago, and though only a stripling at the time, I have vivid recollections of him. He was a man who impressed not only the old but the young. He was most attractive to youth, with that instinctive attraction which perfect charity and gentleness have to the young. He was a little awe-inspiring, which was natural when youth came upon something which was so far above it. But I have seen the Bishop's grey eyes twinkle with humour or merriment when he indulged in some gentle raillery or enjoyed a harmless joke. He was always a welcome visitor to Glamis Castle, and I think always happy under my father's roof. He remains in my mind as the ideal of a Christian gentleman. During the last year of his life I was mostly away on duty with my regiment and, therefore, I missed seeing him just when I might have understood him better and remembered more. The salient facts are the visits he paid to us in my boyhood and the veneration he inspired among the members of my family.

The late Father Puller, S.S.J.E., communicated the following shortly before his death:--

When I was Vicar of Roath I had several interviews with the Bishop, though I did not know him well. But these incidents are quite vivid in my mind: (1) On one occasion I was staying at Cumbrae and got to know the Bishop's sister-in-law who lived there. She wrote to him that I wished to see him; and when I reached Dundee he invited me to dine. I remember the Bishop saying, "Perhaps you saw the inscription in this house and realized that we are somewhat Jacobitical." The inscription was that King James VIII slept in this house on such and such a date.

(2) On another occasion at Oxford the Bishop preached at St. Thomas' Church on the Good Samaritan, and after the service I went to the vestry to greet him. He asked me what I wanted, and I reminded him that he had kindly entertained me in Dundee; so I had come to salute him. He said, quite kindly, I ought not to have come so soon after the service, when the preacher should be giving himself to recollection. I fear he thought me rather pushing.

(3) I was with Dr. King (afterwards Bishop of Lincoln) when the Bishop called to see him shortly before his death. Dr. King said, "You have come at a good moment, for at this time of the year we have a Retreat for Dons at Cuddesdon and the Conductor has failed. Could you not take it?" The Bishop replied, "A retreat for Dons will require a more learned person than I am." Dr. King said, "I have tried one or two others but they are unable to come." " Well," said the Bishop, "I might perhaps say something about the quatuor novissima" (the four Last Things). Dr. King replied, "That will do admirably." "Very well," said the Bishop, "I think I could do it." But before the retreat began, news came that the Bishop had died.

Bishop Robberds (formerly Primus of the Scottish Church) writes:--

When I became Bishop of Brechin in 1904 there were in the diocese 6 clergy who were there in Bishop Forbes' time. I much regret now that I did not try to get from them some recollections of the Bishop and write them down. In the earlier years of my episcopate it was my joy to go round visiting with the parson in the small country charges. I wish I had jotted down the delightful things I sometimes heard about the Bishop. But alas! most of them are gone. Two remarks of fisher people come back to my memory, which may amuse the Scottish readers of your book. I was visiting an old fisherman at Cowie in my first year, and in the cottage there was an old faded photograph of the Bishop. The old man pointed to it and said, "Do you mind yon lad?" I replied that I could only dimly remember him as a boy. He thereupon summed up the saint and the scholar in these words, "He was a gey [great] lad, yon [that]." On another occasion I visited an old couple from Stonehaven. They were very shy and silent, but eventually the man broke out, "I kent [knew] Bishop Forbes weel. He was a very reverent man; he didna' need the use of a paper." The wife then made her one remark. "Na, he just spoke tae us, as if he were telling us a story." I cherish these two recollections, spoken in the broad Kincardineshire accent. When I used to be up in Glenesk I used to hear interesting things, but now nothing definite comes back to me but impressions of the wonderful influence of the Bishop.

The Rev. T. G. S. Presslie, whose father from 1871 was incumbent of Tarfside in Glenesk (where stands a beautiful little church built in 1879 by Lord Forbes in memory of the Bishop), records some recollections current in the district:--

As a child I can distinctly remember a visit of the Bishop to Tarfside, and being brought to his knee as he was sitting in the little parlour of the Parsonage. In my university days my father told me that the Bishop used to stay long enough to visit some, if not most of the congregation, who were scattered up and down the Glen at a distance from the church varying from one mile to eight; to reach some of the distant places my father would borrow a horse from a farmer. The Bishop usually met " the managers " or vestry of the church after the forenoon service, and would discuss with them the condition, financial and otherwise, of the congregation. On such occasions he would drop into the native doric of the people. Finance was a great difficulty owing to the depopulation of the Glen, and "the managers" at one of these meetings were rather despondent as to the future of their church. "You see, Sir," said one, "there are but few o' us and we are maistly poor folk." "Well," replied the Bishop, "ye can haud [hold] together all the better and gie [give] what ye can and God will bless it." In that country district the people pronounced the Bishop's name in the old Scottish way as two syllables, For-bes.

The Bishop of Argyll (the Right Rev. Kenneth Mackenzie), who was curate and rector of St. Paul's, Dundee from 1895 to I907, writes:--

I never saw Bishop Forbes, as it was twenty years after his death when I came to Dundee. But when I was there people still talked of "the Bishop's time" and he was still "the Bishop". His love for the poor, I fear, made him the Tom Tiddler's ground for the unworthy as well as for the deserving. One of the lay sisters told me that when she came to the Bishop's house one day, she saw a beggar standing at the door. Within the doorway stood the Bishop and his housekeeper, each firmly holding on to an end of one of his coats. "No, Bishop," cried the housekeeper, "this is your last decent coat, and you shall not give it away." "Ah," said the Bishop, "but the poor man is in rags." The arrival of the Sister caused the Bishop to let go, and the housekeeper triumphantly sent the beggar about his business. His sense of Scottish humour was unfailing. On one occasion James Nicolson [the Dean] once followed a woman, who had successfully got largesse, down to the Seagate. After seeing her disappear into a public house, he returned to report to the Bishop the result of his charity. The reply he received was, "What a pity the poor woman didn't go further down the Seagate!" When St. Mary Magdalene's and St. Salvador's had been established, the Bishop and his two curates, Nicolson and Greig, sat down one day to discuss the position. Of the three Greig alone was married. As they talked over plans, Greig in a burst of enthusiasm said, "I think we should give up everything, take up the Cross and we would carry all before us." "And", said the Bishop, "what is to become of Mrs. Greig?"


Three days after the Bishop's death Cardinal Newman wrote to Dean Nicolson: "It was a great shock to me to read the announcement in the papers of Bishop Forbes's death, after having so lately corresponded with him. What a severe blow it must be to his large circle of friends. Especially, it must be deeply felt by Dr. Pusey, and I am anxious about the effect it may have upon him. I hope to say Mass for him tomorrow morning." In another letter the Cardinal spoke of "the wide regret and deep affection which his sudden removal has elicited from those who knew him", and added, "For myself, I had not the pleasure of knowing him well, but I have corresponded with him from time to time, and he had just incurred the debt of a letter to me, when God took him." Dr. Pusey's note to the Dean on October 12 is pathetic in its brevity. "I did not write, for it is beyond words. One can only say, 'Fiat voluntas tua'. God have mercy."

Canon Liddon, in a letter urging that some worthy memorial should be erected to his memory, wrote :--

May I venture to express a hope that no time will be lost in deciding upon some worthy memorial to the revered and beloved prelate, whose recent removal from our midst has occasioned such deep and general sorrow among Churchmen on both sides of the Tweed? What form this memorial should take must, I think, be left to the judgment of the clergy and laity of the Bishop's diocese, or, at any rate, of the Scottish Church. They will know how best to perpetuate the work to which their late pastor so generously devoted his life, and how most appropriately to illustrate the kind of influence which he exerted so remarkably over all classes of his countrymen. Whatever their decision may be, many English Churchmen, I believe, will thankfully acquiesce in it, and will do what they may to give it effect. So many-sided a life as that of Bishop Forbes might be commemorated with equal fitness by a literary institution or by a work of purely practical charity. In any case, his memorial should be connected with the scene of his life-work--Dundee. There should, if possible, be one proposal, and only one; and no time should be lost in putting it forward.

A few weeks after the Bishop's death Canon Liddon was sounded as to the possibility of his accepting the vacant bishopric. In two letters to Lord Kinnaird the Canon firmly declined to entertain the proposal, partly on the ground that he could not leave his work in London and Oxford, and partly because he was an Englishman.

You should not [he writes] have an Englishman at Brechin. I could see how much even dear Bishop Forbes owed to his name and blood. It will be impossible to persuade the Scottish people that the Church is not a mere exotic imported from England, while her Sees are filled with English names and of southern accent. You will forgive me for saying that we should do better if we had an Englishman at Canterbury. Of course I do not mean that Bishop Forbes succeeded because he was a Scotsman; he did so because he made his work for God as a Christian bishop the work of his life. Yet other conditions, and nationality among them, do advance or impede spiritual work. I cannot doubt that God will send a successor, who will not indeed reproduce Bishop Forbes (that is impossible) but secure and carry forward his work.

On October 23 a meeting called by Dean Nicolson was held in Dundee to consider the question of a memorial to Bishop Forbes. Lord Strathmore presided, and it was resolved to erect a bishop's house, with a private chapel, and to place a recumbent statue in St. Paul's church. On December 6 a meeting took place in London, with Lord Strathmore in the chair, when it was agreed "to adopt the scheme of our Scottish friends and appoint a Committee to co-operate with them". The Bishop in his lifetime had received the offer of a valuable site for an episcopal residence, and had written, "I shall be glad to leave the bishopric in better condition than I found it, and I take it that a sufficient house is about the best endowment." In response to an appeal a sum amounting to £10,000 was received, and in due time the house known as Forbes Court was built. An altar tomb, with recumbent figure, was also erected in the chancel. In 1877 the Bishop's sisters added a Brass representing a full-length figure of the Bishop, vested in episcopal robes and holding a book in his right hand and the pastoral staff in his left.

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