Chapter I. Eton and Oxford--Death of his Guardian, Sir Robert Peel, and Change of Career--Wells, Cuddesden
"I would the great world grew like thee;
Who grewest not alone in power
And knowledge, but by year and hour
In reverence and in cwharity."--In Memoriam.
THE faith and holiness which shine, neither rarely nor uncertainly, in the lives of the sons and daughters of our English Communion in the present age, are assuredly a sign of the Church's life and a note of its truth which can hardly be resisted. Ever welcome as such tokens are, they possess, we think, a fund of peculiar comfort for the Church's troubled times, and for those who, in an age of keen trial, are seeking their salvation within its pale; and the fresh instance here attempted to be adduced in the hallowed life of the late Bishop of [1/2] Nassau, Nassau, and the unshaken faith in the Church of his baptism with which he closed his days, are only so much more concurrent testimony to the supernatural character of the English Church. Nor are such tributes as these less precious, because they are the fruits of a comparatively hidden life. And such was that of Addington Venables. By no stretch of friendship could his career be in any way called a brilliant one. His ministry, whether as Priest amid the crowded purlieus of a large town parish, or later as Bishop amid the remote islands of the west, lay wholly out of the world's eye.
"Few remember them,
They lived unknown: their ashes flew
No marble tells us whither: with their name
No bard embalms and sanctifies his song;
And History, so warm on meaner themes,
Is cold on this."
Among such as these let us be content to enroll his name, the "unknown, yet well known;" and to note the flower of a life that though blushing indeed unseen, yet did not "waste" its sweetness in the eyes of Him, before Whom every such sacrifice of self rises up with the incense of a sweet and acceptable savour.
In those islands with which the memory of Addington Venables will ever be associated, the traveller, as he lands upon the Bahama coast, steps out at first upon a shore, which, though laved by gleaming waters, and reposing under cloudless skies, is yet for many a league a continuous march of rugged and most inhospitable rock: whose jagged edges and sharp needle-like points will [2/3] sorely chafe and even wound the foot of the heedless wanderer along its verge. And those natural boundaries of his island diocese, are, in truth, no unfitting type of the trials by which the whole episcopate of Bishop Venables was environed. His path was ever a rugged one: and the surface of his life was torn and broken to its inmost depths by ever-recurring anxieties, by baffling disappointments, by many private sorrows, by feeble health, by ceaseless and excessive labours. His days (to sum them up in the language of an apostolic precept) were an "enduring of hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ," and above him smiled the light of the celestial city that he looked for, and beyond, and not here, lay the haven where he would be.
Addington Robert Peel Venables, sprung from the Venables, Barons of Kinderton (now represented by Lord Vernon), was born in 1827, the eldest son of Thomas Venables, private secretary to Lord Sidmouth and Sir Robert Peel, as First Lords of the Treasury. They stood together as sponsors to their friend's eldest-born, and gave him conjointly their own names. His mother was Anne, daughter of John King, of Grosvenor Place, in London, and Coates Castle in Sussex, for some time Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in the administrations of Mr. Pitt and the Duke of Portland.
The boy, when old enough, was sent to Eton, under the care of the Rev. William Carter, where he displayed considerable diligence and proficiency in his [3/4] schoolwork, and acquired a taste which he never lost for the writings of the classic poets. He gained, as he was always pleased to remember, the highest distinction in his schoolhouse, of which he was captain, and which he is related to have ruled with a somewhat strict hand. Here also it was that he was taught to acquire those habits of punctuality and attention to business which characterised him afterwards on all occasions. "I am not a methodical man," he used to say, "but one thing I learned at Eton, punctuality. No excuse would ever be taken there for failing to keep hours."
Addington was, besides, always a religious boy; and the force of his character began to show itself already in the high principle and prayerful habit of mind of the young schoolboy. The stragglings of his tender conscience, and first trials after his Confirmation at school, are even yet remembered by those who had the direction of him during that period of his life. Eton was in due time exchanged for Oxford. Venables entered Exeter College, and in 1848 took his degree, his name appearing in the (now extinct) Class of Honorary Fourths. At college Venables lived for a time much as others do during the undergraduate stage. Having some private fortune, he kept his horses (a hunter or two) at Oxford, and his pink coat was not unfrequently seen at the covert-side. He was exceedingly fond of the exhilarating exercise which it afforded, and loved the sport chiefly on this account.
Yet, amidst these lighter pursuits, his residence at [4/5] Oxford was by no means without its more serious side and. influences for good, and the acquaintance of a good man, the Rev. William Sewell (then Sub-Rector of the college), into whose society Venables was admitted, and with whom, indeed, he had closer spiritual intercourse, led his mind, always naturally religious, to better things, and stirred deeper thoughts within him, changing the whole current of his future life.
On leaving the university, a diplomatic career was proposed to him by his godfather, Sir Robert Peel (his parents were both dead), and Venables went abroad to qualify himself for that profession by a study of modern languages. He was still absent when Sir R. Peel came to his sudden end, and at this juncture it was left to a valued friend, the Rev. Edmund Hobhouse (now Bishop), to lay before Venables the claims of the sacred ministry, for which he was in every way fitted, and to which he had had early leanings.
The choice was soon made. Mr. Venables abandoned all thoughts of distinction in a secular profession, and decided to offer himself for ordination. He came home and entered in 1850, the Theological College at Wells, then acquiring considerable reputation under the principal-ship of a revered name, the Rev. Canon Pinder. Here the holy resolves of the young man were strengthened and matured. To Wells Addington Venables ever looked back with delight. The precious period of retirement which it afforded, the few happy friendships formed there, above all the presence and direction of the saintly [5/6] Pinder, became a bright spot in the recollections of an after-life of "weariness and painfulness" in his Master's service.
"I knew him best" (wrote the Rev. Henry Meynell) "at Wells in 1850. He was then earnest, thoughtful, and hard-working. Always loving and cheery, and at times light-hearted, but depressed when out of health--for even then he was not a strong man. . . . What struck me most about him was his open-handed, self-sacrificing generosity and loving sympathy, which gave him great influence, especially with the young."
Thus equipped, Mr. Venables left Wells, and was ordained in 1851 to his curacy of Cuddesden, introducing him to his acquaintance of Bishop Wilberforce, which soon ripened into a friendship, to be broken only by death. The following letter was written at this time to his friend Henry Meynell:--
"Cuddesden, Wheatley. (No date.)
"Dear Meynell,--I am glad you have closed with the Rector. We must not expect to find in our cures every advantage. I spoke to the Bishop last night of you, he said he had heard of you, but does not expect to hold an ordination till Christmas. He goes to-night over the water for a holiday, which indeed he wants. He and Randall were up till four this morning writing letters. The Bishop had a large party at our opening, which has now all dispersed. Pott, too, has gone for a month's holiday. [6/7] I came in with him to Oxford this morning to see him off (I write at the Union), and am about to return to desolate Cuddesden. I am much down in the mouth, after yesterday--such a change! I almost loathe my work. At such times how one longs for the love of God to be more shed abroad in our hearts. That's the only stimulus to action. Huxtable was quite right in his sermon. When the novelty of one's new profession is over, the love of Christ, and hence of His flock, is the only thing to keep us up to our work. Correct views, great ideas of doing a great deal of good, are worthless, and worse than worthless, if that be absent. Would to God I had more of that great motive! How tied our tongues feel, what hypocrites we seem to ourselves, when we attempt to speak of Christ to others, when He is not precious to us, because a sense of sin has not been brought home to our hearts.
"We had great fun yesterday. The people had a 'feed' at two o'clock, followed by cricket, &c. The school children had tea before evening prayers, and afterwards I showed them a magic lantern and dissolving views which I have got on purpose for school feasts. The church was thronged with clergy in their surplices (about thirty-five), and others in the nave. The Bishop of Jamaica took part in the service. After dinner I was extremely amused by a most brilliant conversation between the Bishop, Hallam (Middle Ages), and Sir Frederick Thesiger, chiefly on Canning and his contemporaries. What a versatile man he is! With his [7/8] children he is a perfect child; with the poor he is simple; with the talented he is literary and accomplished; with candidates for ordination, he is a theologian; and more, he is a father to them; in society he is courteous. He has the most wonderful power of unbending and unstringing his mind from one subject instantaneously, and concentrating his whole attention on the subject before him. Remember me kindly to all at Wells. I should like to have a chaff about Butterfield and Salvin and middle-pointed Gothic, &c--Yours,