Project Canterbury

Mahlon Norris Gilbert: Bishop Coadjutor of Minnesota 1886-1900.

By Francis Leseure Palmer
with an Introduction by Daniel Sylvester Tuttle, Presiding Bishop of the American Church.

Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1912.
London: Mowbray, 1912.

Chapter XIV. First Visit to Europe

IN THE spring of 1893, after a winter of untiring exertion and much exposure, Bishop Gilbert was suddenly prostrated with pneumonia. The record of his journal is, "May 10th to June 13th, confined at home by illness." For some days his life lay in the balance, and there was great anxiety in the Diocese. As of old, "prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him." Daily, at some church in the city, the Holy Communion was celebrated, and at the altar earnest prayers were made for his recovery. When the Bishop learned it, it touched him greatly, and cheered his heart. At the same time Bishop Whipple was severely ill, and was unable to be present at the Annual Council which met in Faribault at the end of June. By that time Bishop Gilbert was convalescent, and ventured to attend the Council, but he was too weak to deliver his address. Accordingly this was read for him by the Archdeacon. The opening words are characteristic:

Dear Brethren of the Council:

First of all, in presenting this, my seventh annual address, I wish to express my deep sense of gratitude to Almighty God, for his great goodness in bringing me safely through a dangerous illness and granting me further opportunity for doing His work in His Kingdom on earth. Henceforth it shall be my endeavor to give myself more fully and unselfishly to the service of the Master; for which mission may physical strength be given me, and may his all-sufficient grace sustain me.

I cannot forbear, in your presence, to tell how my heart has melted at all the evidences of affection shown me. They brought light in my illness, and I feel that God, through bodily weakness, has made the bonds of our mutual love stronger.

We are all profoundly thankful that it has pleased our Heavenly Father to preserve to us our beloved Diocesan, who, through much pain and weakness, still lives to bless us, his children, with his benignant presence and fatherly solicitude. We earnestly pray that his recovery may be speedy and complete.

At this time Bishop Gilbert's own recovery was in serious doubt. His physician had told him that he must have a change of climate with entire rest. "Your only hope of living is to go abroad and stay abroad." Some friends in. St. Paul heard the report, and sent the Bishop a letter with over a thousand dollars for the journey. (This typewritten letter with the names of the sixteen donors is carefully preserved in the Bishop's scrapbook.)

The voyage seemed both attractive and necessary, but he felt unable to go alone, and Mrs. Gilbert could not leave the young children. Accordingly, he turned to his friend, the Rev. John Hazen White, then Warden of Seabury Divinity School, and since Bishop, first of Indiana, and afterwards of Michigan City. Mr. White had come to the Diocese four years before, at Bishop Gilbert's invitation, to make a new beginning with the reorganized Church of St. John the Evangelist, in St. Paul. At Bishop Gilbert's urgent request he now consented to go abroad with him, and relieve him of the business cares of the journey. On the last day of June, 1893, they started from St. Paul for the East. The narrative which follows is largely from Bishop White's dictation:

At Chicago Bishop Gilbert insisted on seeing something of the famous Columbian Exposition, which was then in full progress. He was too weak to walk far, so I got a wheeled chair and for two days wheeled him everywhere, to see as much of the Fair as possible. We met there Mr. William E. Stirling, then with the Steel Corporation, who gave us letters of introduction to his brother, Sir Robert Stirling, of Dunblane, Scotland.

After two days in Chicago we went on, but the Bishop was so weak that we had to stop in Pittsburgh for the night, and again in Philadelphia. I was greatly worried lest he would not even get to the steamer. In New York, we met a niece of Judge Gilfillan, who was to be under the Bishop's protection for the voyage.

We sailed on the Germanic of the White Star Line on the fifth of July.

I got Bishop Gilbert into his steamer chair apparently an invalid. It had been a tremendous task and responsibility to get him there, and the outcome was entirely uncertain. Within half an hour after sailing he began to sit up, and joke and laugh; before night he was like a boy. The sea air acted like magic in putting him on his feet. From that time on he was not sick on all the trip. He had wonderful recuperative power, and never seemed to tire. He would play shuffleboard, and was full of life. On the steamer we became acquainted with Col. Charles Holbeach, an English officer on furlough, who had been traveling through Canada. He kindly gave us a letter of introduction to his father, Archdeacon Holbeach, rector of Banbury. Miss Gilfillan went on to Liverpool, where she was met by friends, but we landed at Queenstown, and visited Cork.

From Cork Bishop Gilbert and Mr. White went westward, taking the well-known coaching trip to Killar-ney, and made the tour through the Gap of Dunloe and down the lakes. Thence going to Dublin, and across the Irish Channel to Holyhead, they came to Bangor, and visited the Cathedral.

We spent the night at Llanberis, at the large Victoria Hotel. Our experience here at dinner was very amusing. We entered the great dining room, and found it beautifully arranged with flowers, and silver, and fine linen, with waiters in abundance--and we were the only guests that night. We thought it great fun, and being alone, after dinner we went to the billiard room and tried to play, but neither of us really knew how.

Through the Pass of Llanberis they went on to Bettws-y-Coed, to Conway Castle, to Chester, as through enchanted land. After so many years of familiarity with the history of Castles and Cathedrals and scenes famous in literature, it was a wonderful pleasure to the Bishop and his companion to be actually among them. From Chester they passed through the English Lake District, up Windermere to Ambleside, to Kydal Mount, to Grasmere, and on by Thirlmere, past Helvellyn, to Keswick at the foot of Skiddaw. They saw "the water come down at Lodore," and then took their way to "merry Carlisle," and on to Glasgow. It was a journey of delight.

So few of Bishop Gilbert's letters have been preserved that it will be well to quote in full his description of the visit to lona:

OBAN, SCOTLAND, July 26, 1893. Dear Missionary and Record,

I have just returned from a brief pilgrimage to sacred lona. I cannot forbear telling my friends some of the impressions left on my mind, and calling their attention to a spot which in a certain way is specially dear to the heart of every Minnesota Churchman. We consider, you know, St. Columba as the patron saint of our Diocese, and here on this little island, away 'mid the Western Isles of Scotland, is a spot which is filled with memories and incidents of St. Columba's life and work.

As a fitting preparation of the mind for the sacredness of the place, we land a little before reaching lona at Staffa, and visit its marvellous Fingal's Cave, with its strange basaltic pillars and deep echoings of the voices of the sea. The mighty power of the Creator is here revealed with a startling distinctness. Far across the wide expanse of sapphire sea we could see the square tower of the cathedral of St. Columba, still although deserted and in ruins, keeping faithful watch over the islands which are scattered here on every side.

As we landed, one instinctively thought of the, landing centuries ago, when Columba and his devoted followers set foot upon this rocky soil, full of the purpose of carrying the Gospel to the barbarians of the North.

There are in reality three distinct ruins, all of which are full of interest--the priory, the chapel of St. Oran, and the cathedral. All about and within these enclosures are the tombstones of men famous in the annals of Britain. Here are buried, so the chronicler tells us, forty-eight Scottish kings, four Irish kings, and four kings of Norway. Here are also carved effigies of bishops, and chieftains of the McClean line. Just at the left of the entrance of the cathedral is to be seen the grave of St. Columba, although his body was taken for its final resting place, in the Ninth Century, to Kells in Ireland.

The walls of the cathedral are fairly well preserved, and there is still to be seen much quaint and symbolic carving over the arches. The green grass now grows where once stood the high altar and the blue sky is the dome above. In the cathedral yard are to be seen the only specimens of the original lona cross in existence. The rude hands of the Reformers of the Sixteenth Century with fanatical zeal destroyed all the rest.

The Island of Iona is only three miles in length by one in breadth, but here for centuries was the central fire of northern Christianity kept burning. No one can resist the hallowing influence of the spot. One's faith is the stronger as we stand among these evidences of our ancient historic lineage.

The day of our visit was one of perfect beauty; the blue sky, the soft air, the genial sunshine, of which Scotland is niggardly in the giving, were with us and around us.

You will all, I am sure, be glad to know, that I am getting quite well and strong. The entire cessation from care and work, as well as the invigoration of new scenes and deeply interesting objects, is effecting complete restoration. Nor should I fail to add that the watchful care and the cheering companionship of Dean White contribute much to the rejuvenating process.

I think often of all my friends in dear Minnesota, and I shall be quite ready in every way to return to them and to my work in the autumn.

Most truly yours,

[Minnesota Missionary and Church Record, September, 1893.]

At Glasgow they found letters including an invitation from Sir Robert Stirling to visit him in his home. From Glasgow they made the usual picturesque tour by Loch Lomond and Loch Kathrine through the Trossachs to Stirling, where they spent the night. Here they climbed the hill, and visited the castle, and afterwards walked to the battlefield of Bannockburn. Anxious to get their mail, they went on to Edinburgh, and then came back to Dunblane, five miles only from Stirling. Bishop White gives this account of their visit:

Sir Robert Stirling met us at the station with a drag. He was in highland costume, kilts, bare knees, and all, and drove us to his estate at Kippenross. He asked us at once if we would not like to see the estate and nearly walked our legs off of us, showing us the stables, the hunting grounds, the park, etc. On our return we had tea, and then dressed for dinner, which was served in full English style, with footmen in livery. By contrast, the next morning, we had breakfast without a servant in sight. The Stirlings were charming people, and this visit was our first introduction to home life in Great Britain. I remember how on our departure Bishop Gilbert gave the expected gratuities to the servants. lie was quicker than I to adapt himself to unfamiliar customs.

Returning to Edinburgh, they visited many places famous in history or romance, among them Roslin Castle and Chapel, Melrose, and Abbotsford. The great northern Cathedrals lay before them--"Durham, Kipon, Fountain's Abbey, how we did enjoy them all!" At York their experience was most delightful:

After visiting the cathedral, Bishop Gilbert said. "We ought to pay our respects to Archbishop Mac-lagan." His palace, Bishopthorpe, is about three miles south of the city. With much anxiety on my part, we drove there, and entered through the Gothic gateway into the great courtyard. On inquiring for his Grace we were ushered into the library. Almost the first thing that we saw was a fine, large portrait of Bishop Whipple, which was hung over the desk. "That augurs well for our reception." In a short time the Archbishop entered the room, a bright, dapper, little man in gaiters, a perfect gentleman. He was delighted to see us, and shook hands with us with both hands. "Mrs. Maclagan will soon be here to greet you." She came with equal cordiality, and asked where our luggage was. On learning that it was at the hotel in York, they insisted on sending for it, and we spent a few days at the palace.

One of the most wonderful experiences of my life was the service at the beginning of the Harvest. The Archbishop celebrated the Holy Communion and all the farmers received. Then he blessed their scythes and reaping hooks, and prayed for success in their labor. The Archbishop's chaplain at this time was a son of the Reverend John Keble. On Sunday afternoon, at the request of the Archbishop, Bishop Gilbert preached in' York Minster, his first sermon, I think, in an English church. Before leaving Bishopthorpe, Archbishop Maclagan took us into his oratory, and held a brief service, and gave us his blessing. He called our attention to the wooden crucifix, with the face of the Saviour, not suffering, but triumphant. As we were about to go, Mrs. Maclagan took me [Rev. Mr. White] aside and said, "I want to tell you what a pleasure your visit has been to us. You have reminded us so much in voice, gesture, and manner, of one of our dearest friends, John Henry Newman. It was a terrible grief to us when he went to Rome."

So ended a memorable visit. Lincoln, Peterborough, and Ely lay before them. A detour brought them to Warwickshire, a region of many charms. A letter written by the Bishop to a friend in St. Paul shows how thoroughly he enjoyed his visits to historic places: STRATFORD-ON-AVON, August 15, 1893.

MY DEAR FRIEND:--I must write you a line from this beautiful spot, to me the most fascinating in many ways, in all England. I am sitting under the shade of trees in the Churchyard of Holy Trinity. All around me are the graves of the yeomen of Stratford. Not ten feet away, under the floor of the Church, rest the hones of Shakespeare. Before me flow the gentle waters of the Avon. I could without difficulty sentimentalize and write you a great deal of nonsense on the images which the environment summons up, hut I will spare you.

Mr. White and I have spent nearly the whole day in this Churchyard; chiefly (to be right honest), because it is too hot to do anything else, or to walk to Ann Hathaway's cottage at Shottery. Of course, to make the whole effect harmonious, for we are only a few miles from Warwick Castle and Kenilworth, which we visited yesterday, I am reading "Kenilworth," and making my heart tender with the woes of unhappy Amy Robsart.

The old-timed and old-fashioned inn, at which we are staying, is the Falcon, where the "wild Will," once and again, quaffed his cup and told his tales to boon companions. Holy Trinity Church is full of interest, outside of its fine architectural effects.

We did think we would go to London to-night, but the heat is too intense, and the dolce far niente feeling engendered by everything constrains us to linger. . . .

I have preached but once since leaving Minnesota, and that was in York Minster, on which occasion I wore the robes of the Archbishop. Mr. White and I travel about, generally, with the utmost freedom from constraint in our gray suits. It would do your anticlerical eyes good to see us.

What cathedral impressed us the most? Well, we have seen at least a dozen of the finest, with St. Paul's and Canterbury yet to see. Durham's interior was the grandest and most uplifting, York's exterior the most imposing, and Ely the most beautiful. How they all "smack" of age! Every one has history written on it. ...

Mr. White has taken good care of me, and I am in a fine state of preservation. Certainly I am gaining the chief object of the trip in regaining my health and strength. Fanny is very good and writes me twice a week. I am so glad she went to Chicago (to the World's Fair). It will be pleasant to remember. . . .

Give my love to all at your house, and believe me as ever, Affectionately yours,


From Stratford they went direct to London. Bishop White's narrative is full of interest:

In London we had delightful rooms in Norfolk Street, Strand. We visited Parliament with tickets gotten for us by Canon Farrar, then rector of St. Margaret's, who was most kind. On our first Sunday morning we went to Westminster Abbey, and in the afternoon to St. Paul's Cathedral, where we were told we should hear excellent music. We heard also a most remarkable sermon. The preacher was Canon Newbolt, who was for the first time taking the place made vacant by the death of the great Canon Liddon. The Old Testament lesson was from the second chapter of Second Kings, which tells of the parting of Elijah and Elisha. Dr. Newbolt took for his text the thirteenth verse, "He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him." The sermon began: "A man and a cloak. What will he do with it?" He applied it to his succeeding Liddon, the less the greater, as it must often be in life. It was a wonderful sermon. The next Sunday afternoon we went, not to hear the music, but the sermon. The first lesson was from the sixth chapter of Second Kings, and as it was finished Bishop Gilbert wrote on a piece of paper a part of the seventeenth verse, "Lord I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see." He added, "A magnificent text for a sermon." When Canon Newbolt entered the pulpit, he took as his text these very words, and again he preached a most excellent sermon.

While in London they made several trips and visited Canterbury, Cambridge, and other places. From Oxford they went out to Cowley and heard a sermon by Father Osborne, now Bishop of Springfield.

At Banbury, famous for its Cross, we had a delightful visit with the rector, Archdeacon Holbeach, whose son had given us letters, and arranged for our visit. The Archdeacon lived on the family estate, in a fine, quaint, old stone house. The lawn was like a velvet carpet, the result of mowing only with a scythe, as sharp as a razor. Each night and morning the Archdeacon held family prayers in the great hall, with the servants present. We spent two days here, and enjoyed heartily another beautiful example of English home life.

It was now near the end of August, and Mr. White had to return to "the States" for another year at Seabury. Bishop Gilbert was so strong that he needed no companion, and was glad to prolong his travels.

Of his Continental journey no record is available. He visited France, Switzerland, Italy, and other countries with intense pleasure and profit. His love of history made his travels a constant delight, and on his return to Minnesota he would often lecture with great interest on some part of his European journey.

He returned from the Continent in time to attend the Church Congress held in Birmingham the first week in October. Here he had the pleasure of hearing and meeting many distinguished leaders of the English Church. On Wednesday evening, October 4, the subject for discussion was "The Anglican Communion," and he was asked to speak for "The Church in the United States of America." It was at the close of a long evening, and he spoke briefly. After allusion to the close ties binding together the Church in America with the English and the Scottish Church, he said:

My friends, the Church in America has been trying experiments through its whole history. It resumed its work, after the Revolutionary War, as an experiment. The charge was made by its enemies that it was a foreign Church, that it had no business to remain there after the English troops left the soil of America. So, labouring under this great disfavor, the Church in America for many years struggled simply for the right to exist, and yet out of that condition she has gone marching down the century, marching out across the Alleghanies, out into the Mississippi Valley, and then still onward to the Pacific, always carrying the banner of apostolic truth and apostolic order, which you in the Church of England, as a precious legacy handed to us across the seas.

One thing we feel we do need, which you have here in England. We teach the historical position of the Church, because is not that our only reason for separate existence? But we need something more than the simple verbal and written testimony. We need some of the symbols of the Church's history. We need something like the fanes which are everywhere to be found in England, telling of the glorious history of the past. We need minsters like those of York and Canterbury; we need cathedrals whose associations are eloquent in testimony of the position and history of the Church.

We have need of these symbols, but yet in a certain sense we have them, in the very memories that came down through you to us. We look to these monuments as the symbols of our Church history. Our children come over here and study them and go back again more loyally anchored to the Church than ever before.

I cannot touch at all on our varied methods and agencies of work. Time forbids. The Church in America has never been sluggish, but always active. It has made sad mistakes, but the very inherent power derived through the ages from the foot of the Cross has enabled it to overcome mistakes. There has been no narrow policy pursued in the revision of the Prayer Book. The question was first, how can we best keep ourselves close to the standards of the Church of England? and next, how can we best adapt the Prayer Book to the conditions which exist in America to-day? And while the Prayer Book has been adapted to the needs and special conditions peculiar to America, I do not believe that in any way we have departed from the beauty, or the richness, or the fulness of the Liturgy.

My friends, we stand in America for unity. I prophesy that in the time that is coming, and which in God's own good time will certainly come, the Church in America will be the gathering point and the focus of unity for the disintegrated masses of Christianity there. I believe it, because it is the only Church which possesses a real genuine anchorage with the past, and which is at the same time truly American in its character. I believe it, too, because there are signs in the air that men are looking to us and saying, "Your methods shall be our methods, and your polity shall be our polity." . . .

What the Church in England and the Church in America--her daughter--should strive for more and more is the greater unification of their own forces, more concentration of their potencies, more drawing together of the bonds of family love, and those bonds can be best drawn together by understanding each other better. Do you know, I believe we American Churchmen understand you here in the Mother Church better than you understand us. We know far more about your work, about the every-day life in your Church, than you know about what your daughter in America is doing. . . .

I appeal to you, as members of this Church Congress, to strive to study something about what we are doing in America, so that your increased knowledge may bring us closer together. As a missionary Church yet, we must have sympathy, and help, and prayer to enter into and carry on our missionary work. So, I say, send us more of your best men. We need men there in those regions beyond the Mississippi. We can get the money, but we cannot get the men. Do not think because a clergyman of the Church in England has failed here in England that he has a divine call to preach the Gospel in America or in the colonies. We want, I repeat, your best men. We have had some of them, and we want more. I believe our future will be a great and glorious one, and God shall be with us, as He was with our fathers. [Official Report of the Birmingham Church Congress of 1893, pp. 271-273.]

This address was well received by the Congress, and at the close there was hearty applause. While on the Continent, Bishop Gilbert had preached at the American Church in Paris, and he now preached one Sunday in St. Paul's, Worcester. A few days later he sailed for America, and on October 26 he was again in Minnesota.

On the evening of November 4 the Church people of St. Paul gave a reception for the Bishop and Mrs. Gilbert in the guild house of Christ Church. A few days later, at the fall meeting of the Minnesota Church Club one of the addresses was made in his honor, and it was suggested that as "a material manifestation of our thankfulness for the Bishop's restored health," there should be special offerings during the Advent Season for the missionary work of the Diocese. In reply Bishop Gilbert expressed his appreciation of the regard and affection shown him, and spoke briefly of his ecclesiastical impressions when abroad, and of his part in the Church Congress.

After this welcome home, with his usual energy and good cheer, he entered upon one of the busiest and most successful years of his episcopate.

Project Canterbury