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Addington Venables, Bishop of Nassau
A Sketch of His Life and Labours for the Church of God

By W. Francis Henry King

London: W. Wells Gardner, 1877.

Chapter VIII. Reception of the Intelligence at Nassau--General Estimate of the Bishop's Character--Conclusion

So, dearest, now thy brows are cold,
We see thee as thou art, and know
Thy likeness to the wise below,
Thy kindred with the great of old."--In Memoriam.

The news, when it reached Nassau, produced a profound sensation. The expression of sorrow was universal. The churches were hung in black, the vessels in the harbour carried their flags at half-mast, and the population, from the Governor downwards, appeared in mourning. From the time that the Bishop bad sailed for New York in June, a great and increasing anxiety had been felt for the issue of his illness, and prayers for his recovery had been put up daily in all the churches. Mail after mail came in with no better tidings: the solicitude became universal. And when the intelligence of his final release from suffering arrived, the feeling that the life thus prematurely terminated had been so nobly given for his Church and people, possessed every heart, and made the sorrow all the more bitter. To his clergy, and the circle of his more intimate friends, the blow was indeed an overwhelming one. "The Bishop," [113/114] writes one of them, "was the very heart of the diocese, and now that it has ceased to beat, we are like an inanimate body." But all classes, and men of every shade of opinion throughout the colony, agreed in deploring the loss of one who had been to the community at large a public-spirited and large-hearted citizen, and to his flock the living example of a Christ-like bishop. The general bereavement was, of course, dwelt upon both in the public journals and from the pulpits of the cathedral city, and it is remarkable that in the two sermons on the occasion which have been preserved, amidst the many apostolic names which might have served for comparison with the departed Bishop, it was not the sustained faith of a St. Peter that was chosen, or the heroic endurance in a weak frame of the missionary Apostle Paul--in this instance a most apt illustration--but it was the guileless Israelite, Nathanael, and the "good man" Barnabas, that were selected to delineate the permanent features of Bishop Venables' character. And the estimate was a wise one. Although qualified for high office by many valuable attainments, by a close attention to business, by a large grasp of his subject in all its details and technicalities, and by high administrative ability, powers which to exert, with head and constitution failing him, was ever a matter of most painful effort; yet it was not for the display of these qualities that he was so much to be remembered, as by that gentle goodness, of which his example when living served to animate his fellow-men to higher aims, [114/115] and for which his memory, when taken from them, was most dearly cherished by his people. "It was this feature," remarked the preacher, "in his character which, beyond all others impressed those who knew him intimately, as well as those who had only a slight acquaintance with him. [Rev. K. Swann, Rector of the Cathedral Church.] To form this attribute of goodness many qualities combine. Kindness, generosity, compassion, benevolence, forbearance, cannot be separated from it. And how marvellously constant was the exhibition of these in him who is now the subject of our thoughts! How rarely, through the infirmity which is common to us all, did he fail in illustrating these amiable qualities! And when he did so, it was felt to be wholly at variance with his true character, and was the cause to him of intense pain. No one ever went to him in distress of mind, in perplexity, or in need, that did not meet with the tenderest sympathy, the most honest guidance, and immediate help, so far as he was able to extend it. It was this unfailing goodness which removed many obstacles from the path which duty compelled him to tread, allayed the rising storm of angry passions, restrained the violence of opposition, and converted foes into friends. He could not be overcome of evil, but he did overcome evil with good.......

"His unworldliness, also, was remarkable. Not, indeed, that he was devoid of interest in public events; for nothing of importance occurred amongst us that did not command his attention. He was no selfish [115/116] recluse, withdrawing himself from society; and his genial manner and loving smile were never lacking where they could carry to others cheerfulness and enjoyment. He was not afraid of contact with men, nor was his piety a feeble exotic that shrank from exposure. He was in the world, his duty lay there; and his loving sympathy was as broad as the claims of humanity. And yet he was not of the world. It was not his home; his heart was not in it. Men. of the world could not claim him as one of themselves. They felt that the secret springs of his life, his motives, and aims created between them a gulf of separation. He and they stood apart. His life was hid with Christ in God. ... As for his apostolic labours, the Great Day alone will fully reveal his untiring and self-denying efforts to serve his Master and to save souls. Nurtured in refinement, of feeble health, often suffering acute pain, and needing care and attention, ho yet for twelve years exposed himself in his frequent visits to the out-islands to a variety of hardships, which would have tried the powers of endurance in a strong and healthy man, accustomed to travelling in the Bahamas. Yet whoever heard him complain? Whoever knew him to shrink from difficulty or toil or danger in the prosecution of duty? It was his meat and drink to do the will of God."

The Rev. C. C. Wakefield, another of the clergy of Nassau, speaking of the consistency of the Bishop's demeanour, says, "His public and private life were one and unchanging. There was first an utter [116/117] forgetfulness of self. The Bishop was remarkable for his varied and refined conversation; but he never spoke of himself, his own opinions, likes, and dislikes, or his own troubles; and when the conversation naturally drifted in this direction, he would sometimes, almost with abruptness, suggest a new topic. And yet what he avoided in himself he almost encouraged in others, so earnestly did he identify himself with all the cares and troubles, plans and experiences, of those with whom he was conversing. Nothing, however trivial, was beneath his attention, provided that it was of interest to the speaker. But there was one subject which the Bishop would never allow in his presence, and that was harsh or unkind speaking concerning others. It was to him hateful as it was painful, however truly it might have been spoken, or however well it might have been deserved. I do not think he ever spoke an unkind or irritable word of any one, even when deeply wounded by unjust, suspicious, or harsh treatment. He credited his opponents with sincere and disinterested motives, and ascribed their unnatural and excited behaviour to a conscientious adherence to what they believed to be right. ......And being so forgiving himself, he could never understand those petty feuds and jealousies which could keep others estranged. Many there are among us who will readily recall occasions when the Bishop has exerted himself, whether successfully or not, in one of his noblest of characters--that of peacemaker.

"Or shall I speak of him in the peaceful and sacred [117/118] sphere of his domestic life? Who that has witnessed can forget the sweet repose of that Christian home'? Thence arose that unceasing round of Eucharist and Prayer, in the little sanctuary ever to be associated with his reverend form, and earnest tones. There a loving welcome was ever extended to all who sought him. There, not as an earthly lord, but as an affectionate father, he found one of his greatest joys in gathering round him his little band of clergy, and in holding sweet converse with them on the many and varied topics which occupied the attention of the day. 'Given to hospitality,' his house, his time, his influence and sympathies were always at the disposal of any of the clergy or laity who were pleased to use them. A loving father, a tender husband and a kind master, a halo of peace, of affection and contentment, seemed ever to encircle his path. In his presence the spirits of worldliness and bitterness, of envy and sloth, seemed to flee away, to give place to opposite and brighter forms."

The leading newspaper in Nassau gave also its impartial and disinterested testimony to the worth of the departed Bishop, and said:--"Sustained, we believe, by devotion to his Master, and by love for the souls of men, the Bishop of Nassau left no effort within his power untried, to quicken and strengthen religious life within his sphere of labour, and to provide the ordinances of religion and the means of grace wherever it was practicable for him to do so.

[119] "Nor was he unmindful of the importance of education. Very shortly after his arrival in the Bahamas he established the Nassau Grammar School, which has been doing its good work steadily and efficiently, amidst many discouragements, ever since, and to the value of which many of the young men belonging to the colony could testify. And in obscure and scarcely known settlements in the out-islands, where the efforts of the Board of Public Education do not extend, the means of educating the young, as far as circumstances admit, have been provided or aided by his forethought and generosity. Indeed, no object bearing upon the religious, moral, or social well-being of the people, at any time failed to secure his hearty sympathy and support.

"Bishop Venables was a High Churchman, and as such it was hardly possible to expect that he would, at all times, be able to command the support of the clergy and laity in his measures. Yet no one who knew him ever doubted the simplicity and integrity of his purpose, or failed to give him the tribute of their highest esteem for the zeal and considerateness with which he endeavoured to carry out his convictions. Holding firmly his own principles, and seeking to propagate them, as it was reasonable he should do, he still could place himself in the position of those whose opinions were different from his own, whether within the Church of which he was Bishop, or beyond its pale, and treat them with courtesy, firmness, and liberality. Once assured of the honesty and conscientiousness of those who differed from him, no man could show [119/120] himself more tolerant and kind. Any exhibition of narrowness of mind was peculiarly offensive to him.

"It was scarcely possible to be even slightly acquainted with the Bishop without being struck by the rare combination of good qualities which he possessed. He was emphatically a good man, guileless, benevolent, kind, and sympathetic. The erring found in him a. faithful guide, the troubled a wise consoler, the needy a generous helper, the mean, selfish and unloving, an uncompromising reprover.

"By the death of this excellent man, many have lost a friend whom it will be hard, perhaps impossible, to replace, and the community an illustration of the power and grace of Christianity, which it can ill afford to part with."

Much more, were it necessary, might be added, yet these few extracts, giving the general estimate of Bishop Venables' character in his own colony, must suffice. His worth was recognised after he had gone, and by men of another country. "In many respects," said Bishop Doane, "he was without a peer in the roll of American or English bishops:" and the testimony of the present Bishop of New York, expressed to a friend, was, "that the Bishop of Nassau came nearer to the ideal of the martyr and heroic nature, than he had witnessed in any other man."

Here, as a last reminiscence, are some lines from the pen of his old friend, Dr. Warburton:--

[121] "MY DEAR MR. KING,--You know what a bad correspondent the dear Bishop was. I don't think I ever received more than three letters from him in the whole course of our long acquaintance. These were very short, and, I need hardly say, not about himself; and I did not preserve them, which I should have done, had I known he was so soon to be taken from us.

"All my reminiscences are merged in a general recollection of encouraging kindness, gentleness, and humility. I should say he was the most real man I ever met. I don't suppose in the whole course of his life he did anything for effect: what he did, he did because he felt it was right, and for no other reason.

"This reality, I never saw more conspicuous than on the occasion of the death of his daughter, just before he left England for the last time. I was present at the funeral. His wife was too ill to come. On his own face the shadow of death was already falling, yet in all the sad company that day he was the only one that held up, and there was an earnestness about him and a tranquil submission to God's will, that raised him above human sorrow.

"It was a beautiful character--simple, humble, earnest beyond any other I can think of. I keep his portrait always on my desk before me, and I feel that in that calm and Saintly presence one cannot be otherwise than unworldly, peaceful, and resigned.

"I am so glad to think now that he could give me a few of his last days in England. When he went, I had a presentiment that we were parting for ever and I [121/122] look back on those few days with a very tender and loving memory.

"This is a very feeble and unworthy sketch of such a friend, but one can never do justice where one is anxious to do so.--Believe me, sincerely yours,

"T. Acton Warburton.

"St. John's, East Dulwich, September 20, 1877."

Yet I feel, even in admitting the record of such valued tributes as these, that I am making a kind of parade of one, who would himself have desired nothing less. You have here only what it professes to be--a, Sketch, the faintly traced outline of a character, that of itself ever shrank from prominence, and never courted, as it never stood in need of, the meed of human applause. And ill such a connection, the attempt to fill in the outline with the list of his many rare qualities, to call attention, for instance, to that gentle refinement of manner, that meekness of spirit, that abundant charity which distinguished him, is not, in fact, really to complete the portrait, but rather to give a forced expression to the features, which disturbs their natural and unstudied repose. Traits, in truth, such as these, lie beneath the surface. They may be remembered--they can hardly be pourtrayed. They were, in him, the breathings of a Christian soul, the pulses of a life that was hidden with Christ in God. The secret springs of his being, amidst constant bodily infirmities, lay in an active realisation of that inward Presence, [122/123] and, in what was its necessary accompaniment--an atmosphere of unceasing prayer. When he was gone, the frequency of his retirement for private devotion, recurred to the minds of those few who knew anything of his inner life. And as he lived, so he died; praying for his Church and Diocese, and for those sheep that he was leaving without a shepherd,--and so departed, severed from us for a while, in body but not in spirit, to be with the God of the living!

"Thou takest not away, O Death!
Thou strikest, and absence perisheth--
Indifference is no more:
The future brightens on our sight,
For on the past hath fallen a light
That tempts us to adore."


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