Leigh Rectory, January 2, 1847
My dear Parishioners,
ON the morning of Christmas Day an anonymous printed letter without a date, and bearing only the "Rochford" post-mark, was received by many of you, referring to the unhappy difference which has arisen between Lady Olivia Sparrow and myself on the subject of the schools. I could have wished, that if the letter were to come, it should not have reached you on the morning of a day when, I think, we should all of us have desired to lay aside every feeling of difference, and, undisturbed by thoughts of controversy and jealous disputings, to have cultivated the calm and tranquil musings which so blessed a day naturally suggests. I would fain hope the circumstance was accidental and not intentional.
Had I not found that the contents of the letter had disturbed and troubled the minds of some of [5/6] you, I should most probably have left it unnoticed. You could, perhaps, hardly bring yourselves to believe that a person would have ventured to put forward such statements, unless there were some foundation for them; and might be induced to conclude that if I took no notice of so serious a charge as is here brought against me, it was because I felt it to be true, and was unable to meet it. For your sakes therefore, but for your sakes only, I put forward my answer to this letter; to satisfy your own minds by convincing you that there is not the remotest foundation for the charge insinuated against me, that I am at heart a Roman Catholic, and that I am adopting practices and inculcating doctrines which will lead you and your children to adopt the errors and embrace the faith of the Church of Rome.
The letter professes to defend the course which Lady Olivia Sparrow has been advised to adopt with regard to her schools in Leigh; and the writer is evidently anxious to impress you with the idea that he has written with the authority, or at least with the sanction of that excellent lady, as a reply to the "Remarks" which I circulated among you a few weeks since. You would not be more willing than myself to receive with attention and respect any communication made to us from her ladyship, even though we might be unable to agree with her in opinion; but there are reasons which assure me that her ladyship has given neither her authority nor her [6/7] sanction to this letter. First, that there could be no reason why her ladyship should conceal her sanction if she had given it. Secondly, that I do not believe that a lady in Lady Olivia Sparrow's position would have condescended to be a party to an anonymous letter. And thirdly, because I am still in private correspondence with her upon the subject of her schools, and am at this moment awaiting a reply to my last letter. Her ladyship could not have sanctioned a public and anonymous statement of her reasons and intentions concerning the schools, ere she had done me the honour of replying to my letter. It is therefore not a true impression which the writer is evidently desirous of making, that he has her ladyship's sanction; while I am free to admit that he has written with so much caution as to make the point doubtful, and to enable him to deny it.
I will now draw your attention to the object of the letter, and the reasonings of the writer.
The object is, to justify Lady Olivia Sparrow for withdrawing her schools from the superintendence of the clergyman of the parish to whom she had entrusted them, and for continuing them, in opposition to his schools, under teachers whom he cannot approve. The ground or reasons upon which he says that Lady Olivia Sparrow is thus justified, are, that I, the clergyman of the parish, was teaching "in her schools the first principles of Tractarianism;" that if Mr. Newman had been the clergyman of the [7/8] parish instead of myself, that Lady Olivia would have been justified in maintaining her schools in opposition to him; that the difference between Mr. Newman (who has left the Church of England and joined the Church of Rome) and Mr. Eden is only a question of "degree," and that consequently if Lady Olivia "were to close her schools, she would feel guilty of throwing the rising generation of the parish into the hands of those who would train them for Rome;" and, lastly, that with whatever degree of earnestness I may deny that I have any tendency towards Rome, it is suggested that you are not to believe me, because, the writer adds, Mr. Newman would have made as earnest a denial "a very short time before he left the communion of the Church of England."
Now if I thought that you amongst whom I live, and who have known me intimately for some years, had no better opinion of me than the writer of this letter, if I thought that my most solemn and earnest denial of a false charge could obtain no belief from you, I should then feel indeed that the ground was struck from beneath me, and that all confidence in me on your part was for ever gone. The writer of this letter appears to anticipate the answer which I shall give to his charge against me, and wishes to destroy the force of my answer by telling you not to believe me. But is this the straightforward and Christian course for an opponent to pursue? To [8/9] bring a heavy and a most serious charge against a minister of God without even an ATTEMPT to PROVE it, without bringing even the SHADOW OF EVIDENCE to support the charge, and then to suggest that he is NOT to be believed however earnestly he may deny it! If, as the writer says, "Lady Olivia Bernard Sparrow had reason to know that the first principles of Tractarianism were being taught in her schools," why does not the writer state what these principles are? You would then be in a position to judge for yourselves what the "principles of Tractarianism "really are. I confess my own ignorance of them. But, let them be called by whatever name they will, if it can be shown that "the principles "which were taught in her ladyship's schools, while they were under my care, were not the principles of the Church of England; if it can be proved that any doctrines were taught in those schools which, to use the writer's own words, were not "the doctrines of our Reformed Protestant Church;" if it can be shown that any book or books were used in those schools which had the remotest tendency towards the Church of Rome, or which were calculated to weaken the children's attachment to the Church of England; if, after the closest examination into their principles, it could be proved that the teachers had imbibed any tendencies towards Rome, or if, after the most public examination of the children themselves, it should appear that they had, even unconsciously, embraced [9/10] one single tenet of the Church of Rome against which the Church of England had ruled; or had been taught by myself or their teachers any thing concerning the Church of Rome excepting that which would attach them more closely to the Church into which they were baptized; then, but not till then, I will admit that there would be ground for you to suspect my own attachment to the Church at whose altar I minister, and that I had been acting a part unbecoming the sacred station in which the providence of God had placed me. But till these things are proved against me, (and I cheerfully challenge this writer to the proof,) I hope you will not refuse the fullest credit to my distinct and most solemn disavowal of my having any tendency towards the Church of Rome. Nor can you, my dear friends, hesitate for one moment to believe me, when you recall that instruction which I have delivered to you both "publicly and from house to house," regarding which, you can yourselves testify that I have taught you nothing contrary to the Word of God, or which is not in accordance with the Prayer-book of the Church of England.
The only other part of the letter to which I feel it at all necessary to direct your attention, is the following passage: "Mr. Eden admits, that as Lady O. B. S. must think him wrong, very 'wrong in his view, he can fully justify her, while under such an impression, for being unwilling to contribute towards [10/11] the support of a system of education which she believes based in error, and in consequence closing her schools. But he would put it to her whether she can justify herself in maintaining schools in his parish in direct opposition to him as the appointed minister?' Lady O. B. S. would pay every respect to the appointed minister of the parish, as long as he teaches the doctrines of our Reformed Protestant Church; but when he avows that he teaches doctrines which she believes would train up the children in the road to popery, she considers herself authorized not only to 'close her schools' to prevent such teaching, but also to keep her schools open, in order that as many of her tenants' children, and any others as choose to avail themselves of them, shall have a Protestant religious education." On turning to the little Tract which I had addressed to you in explanation of my reasons for keeping open my schools, with the view of ascertaining how the quotation above given applied, I was surprised at discovering that the passage no where occurs in it which is quoted in the above extract beginning with the words, "wrong, very wrong," and ending with the words "the appointed minister."--I wished to see in what connexion I had used these words, (remembering well that I had written them,) for I felt that my "admission "was used most disingenuously against me; but no words can adequately describe the exceeding pain and surprise which I [11/12] experienced, when I found that these words were quoted from a private letter which I had addressed to her ladyship--that very letter to which I have alluded, and to which I was expecting a reply! I had written to the end of the paragraph preceding this, under the most entire conviction that the words quoted were taken from my Tract. The reasons which I had urged in proof of the impossibility of her ladyship having authorized or sanctioned the letter, were urged with the most perfect honesty, and are such as I had again and again urged in conversation upon the subject of the letter. And now that I find them to be an extract from my private letter, I cannot but still feel that the writer could not have received her ladyship's permission to make them public. Those to whom he writes could know nothing of the contents of my letter, and was it therefore just and fair to use them for the purpose of making you think that I had admitted myself to have been in the wrong, for this is the disingenuous turn which is given to my words? It becomes, therefore, necessary that I should explain to you my reason for using these words, and that I should put you in possession of the remainder of the letter.
You must bear in mind that her ladyship had suddenly and unexpectedly removed the schools from under my care, for reasons which she considered sufficient. It was neither her wish nor my [12/13] own to enter into controversy, nor could I question her right to act towards me as she did, or doubt for one moment that she was acting conscientiously. All therefore which I could urge upon her was, that she should bear in mind that I, as the clergyman of the parish, was bound to take charge of the education of the children, and to entreat her not to continue her schools in opposition to those which I immediately established. In the letter from which my words are quoted, I had reminded her ladyship, that the question then between us, was not whether my views were or were not erroneous, that on that point she had evidently made up her mind, for that she had taken the decisive step of removing the schools from under my care, and the teachers from their situation. I then go on to say, "I THEREFORE KNOW that YOU must THINK me wrong, very wrong in my views, and I can therefore fully justify your ladyship, while under such an impression, for being unwilling to contribute towards the support of a system of education which YOU BELIEVE to be based in error, and in consequence closing your schools. But I would, with much respect, put it to your ladyship, whether you can equally justify it to yourself to maintain schools in my parish in direct opposition to me as the appointed minister?" Here the quotation from my letter ceases, but I will continue it: "who, despite all that you believe to be erroneous in me, am nevertheless teaching the children entrusted to [13/14] me, that there is none other Name under heaven by which they can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ only; no pardon for them but through His blood; no means of becoming holy but through the gracious influences of the Spirit of Christ; and no evidence of their saving union with Him who has redeemed them, but by their bringing forth the fruits of righteousness. Is the evil which you have heard or know of me of such magnitude as to neutralise such teaching, that you must in conscience risk the disturbance of the peace of my parish in order to counteract it? I trust not--but that if compelled to withdraw your bounty from that channel in which it has flowed for so many years for the benefit of my flock, you will at least not suffer the grateful remembrance of all your kindness to be mingled and embittered in the minds of its recipients, by the knowledge that you were at last induced to take a step which sowed the seeds of jealousy and disunion amongst a quiet and united people."
Have then my words, I ask, been quoted fairly? Do they not, when placed in connexion with those which follow them in the printed letter, give the impression that I have admitted that I have taught doctrines which are not "the doctrines of our Reformed Protestant Church;" and must you not suppose that I have made some very strange admissions when the writer goes on to say, that I have "avowed that I teach doctrines which Lady Olivia Sparrow [14/15] believes would train up the children in the road to popery?" If, as this writer says, such is indeed her ladyship's belief, I can only express my unfeigned regret for it. For I do now and again most solemnly avow that I neither teach nor hold any doctrine which is contrary to the doctrine of the Reformed Church of England, nor knowingly suffer any such doctrine to be taught in my schools.
Do not therefore, my dear friends, suffer this letter to excite suspicions in your minds against me, as though I were secretly and covertly leading you and your children to Rome. Prove to me that this unkind letter, unkind both to you and to me, has not shaken your confidence in me, by not only, as is your duty, placing your children under my care, but by receiving and acting up to this my pastoral advice. Study your Bible often and carefully--use your Prayer-book reverently and devoutly--see that your children do the same--bring them constantly and regularly to Church with you, frequent the holy Eucharist, and it will be my earnest aim to preserve you and them from the errors alike of either Romish or Protestant dissent, and so to teach and so to train you as faithful members of Christ's Holy Catholic Church here below, that through the merits of your One only Mediator and Saviour, you may inherit the joys and glories of the Church triumphant hereafter.