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FIFTY YEARS AGO.
In the south transept of Bath Abbey, and in close proximity to what is called the Waller Monument, there is affixed to the wall, on a slab, a female figure in marble, standing by the side of a column whose summit is lost in the clouds. In her left hand, like Britomart, she holds a shield, bearing on it a cross; in her right hand is a Bible, with the sacred monogram. High up on the column, in Greek, is written, " The pillar and ground of the Truth."
Strange recollections are evoked by a contemplation of this monument. It was erected, nearly fifty years ago, by friends in honour of one who, in their judgment, had been "valiant for the truth upon the earth," and was a manifestation of their reverence and regret for his departed worth. In his lifetime he had been Archdeacon of Bath, and Chaplain to His most gracious Majesty King George the Fourth. It may be interesting to recall the circumstances which summoned this dignified churchman to cast aside inglorious ease, and to come forth to do battle for what he, and many others with him, felt to be the sacred interests of truth. We would wish, in doing so, to render all possible justice to the influencing motives, however mistaken, in our judgment, may have been the course pursued, as questions are involved which are not even yet completely set at rest. There is a propriety in summoning up the past for present and future guidance and instruction.
What, then, were the causes, what had been the injury inflicted, what the provocation given, which had constrained one so distinguished "to cope with wrong," and, as Professor Conington curiously enough translates it in his Virgil, "to turn the wheel"?
Vol. 68—No. 380. 4 C
It seems that on the 1st of December, 1817, some persons had undertaken to hold at the Town Hall, by permission of the Mayor of the city, a Meeting, under the presidency of the Hon. and Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of Gloucester, for the purpose of forming a Church Missionary Society in that city. So much is this now a common everyday occurrence throughout the length and breadth of the kingdom, that we fear that in some cases where exertion is not used and sympathy evoked, comparatively little interest is excited beyond the circle of those who feel a special interest in the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom. Goodly assemblages are still found filling the halls of our chief provincial towns when anniversaries are held in places where hearty friends take pains to gather them, and many whose hearts are but slightly kindled with sacred fire can be found in the midst, but it was not so "fifty years ago." Hearty sympathy and bitter opposition divided each community.
The crisis was a serious one. Those who had taken the matter in hand were terribly in earnest. They had not scrupled to write to the Bishop of the diocese and to solicit his patronage, from whom they had received a courteous reply, declining, it is true, but intimating neither objection nor disapprobation. Nay, they had even ventured to call upon the Archdeacon himself, and had (nefas !) asked for his countenance and support. The Dean of the cathedral, himself a Bishop of the Church of England, was to preach for the Society in the city, and to take the chair at the Meeting. The civil magistrate had so far been carried away as to lend the Town Hall, and to give his sanction to the assembly. Nor was the object a trivial one. It was one which might compromise essentially the whole Church of England. It was "to diffuse universally the knowledge of the mercies of God in Christ Jesus;" and in prosecution of this object " to authorise persons to go about collecting pence and farthings from servants, school-boys, and apprentices, in order that the collectors of one shilling per week, or five shillings per month, might be elevated into members of a Church of England Society; and, moreover, be tempted to the additional honour of voting at meetings, of receiving copies of the Annual Report and Sermon, and one number of the Missionary Register."*
But, if tho crisis was serious, there was one faithful and equal to the emergency. The Bishop of the diocese might abrogate his responsibilities, the clergy of the city might hold aloof and hesitate to interfere, but such was not the policy of the Archdeacon. "While he quarrelled with no man for his religious creed, and loved honesty, though he thought it per• Protest of the Archdeacon of Bath, p. 6.
verse, and venerated piety, though he thought it erroneous, and therefore had no quarrel with conscientious dissenters, whose meaning he knew," or thought he knew, he could not submit thus to be wounded in the house of his friends, and took his measures accordingly. One serious difficulty presented itself; he had no apron, or rather " short cassock, to mark his official character."* One had been sent for to London. But tailors are dilatory and disappoint. Fifty years ago coaches were slow, and waggons still slower. In the month of November the days are short, and the ways were miry. "It did not arrive in time." Many a stout heart might have quailed under such circumstances, and shrunk from the strife. But Achilles, when despoiled of his armour, had yet presented himself upon the fosse and shouted thrice, and the Trojans and their allies had fled in confusion, falling from their chariots and upon their spears; hopefully, therefore, did the Archdeacon resolve upon presenting himself in the Town Hall. More fortunate than the Hero, he had still his hat and shoebuckles, and trusting to them and to himself he set out.
We do not know at what precise period in the meeting he arrived. Whether it was the " mitis sapientia" of the Bishop of Gloucester that was influencing the hearers, or the burning eloquence of Daniel Wilson, not yet Bishop of Calcutta and Metropolitan of India, as with untnitred brow and fiery tongue, storming all hearts with glowing appeals to the Church of England as the glory and bulwark of the Protestant faith, he led the way in the glorious enterprise of communicating to the whole earth the salvation of God. Upon this point we are uninformed; but in the midst of the proceedings, as "he was not in the habit of attending such meetings, and did not choose to talk without book," the Archdeacon pulled out a roll of paper, and proceeded to read his protest. We can only quote his concluding sentences. "As Archdeacon Of Bath (.si'c), in the name of the Lord Bishop of this Diocese—in my own name—in the name of the Rectors of Bath, and in the name of nineteen-twentieths of the clergy in my jurisdiction, I protest against the formation of such Society in this city. Whether or in what manner the Hon. and Right Rev. Vice-Patron and his friends will condescend to notice this protest, I shall not stay to see."
"Nor more he deigned to say, But stern as Ajax' spectre strode away."
Some, during the reading of his protest, had had the temerity to express their disapprobation in audible terms. A prompt threat to call in the Mayor's officers to turn the assembly, with the Bishop at its head, out of the Town Hall, showed a mind not easily daunted, and that did not stick at trifles. We can hardly realize that an Archdeacon, without a cassock, could have ventured on such a stretch of authority; it taxes our imagination beyond its powers to conceive a Bishop of the Church of England being given in charge to peace officers for presiding over a missionary meeting which had been unfortunate enough to incur the displeasure of the Archdeacon of Bath.
* Le tter of the Archdeacon of Bath to the Kov. W. B. Whitehead, p. 53.
Such a performance of archidiaconal functions did not, even in those days, pass without animadversion. From Bath in the West, to Cambridge in the East and Yorkshire in the North, the conflict raged. It is a curious sign of those times, that the late Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge, then a Fellow of Trinity, who took part in the controversy, thought it well to state that during the sixteen years he had resided in the University, he had only been four times in the church frequented by Evangelical Christians, and that he was not a member of the Church Missionary Society, and had no present intention of becoming one. Having thus purged himself of all complicity with fanaticism, the keen lawyer proceeded to dissect the Archdeacon's protest. He could not see how "compassing sea and land to gain proselytes" applied in such a case, for on referring to Matt, xxiii. 15, he found the answer directed against those who made a man "twofold more the child of hell than themselves." "Was then the conversion of a heathen to any sect of Christianity to make him the child of hell?" Nor could he see that if one half of Bath subscribed for missions, and the other did not, this would necessarily create discord any more than if one half should subscribe to the Bath Infirmary, and the other should not. Upon the charge against the Society, of calling forth the contribution of small sums from the lower classes, the future Professor of Political Economy could discern that "it elevates while it softens the heart of the donor. A man feels that 'it is more blessed to give than to receive, and beginning to save (which he never thought of before) a penny for the Society, he saves perhaps a shilling for himself, and becomes more economical, prudent, and moral."* H°w amply this remark has been justified by the annals of our religious societies, time and space would fail to tell.
Daniel Wilson, too, came forward on behalf of the Society which he so much loved. In a pamphlet, which in less than three months passed through fifteen editions, in weighty terms he denounced the needless aggression of the Archdeacon. We extract one important passage, which places the relation of all such Societies as the Church Missionary Society on so clear a footing, that it is well to recall it even now-a-days. "The Church Missionary Society is a Voluntary Association formed for a lawful object, but not pretending to be established by law; conducted with a due respect to constituted authorities, but preferring no claims as of right to their countenance and patronage. In all points which fall within the province of ecclesiastical enactment, its members conscientiously submit to the canons and usages of the Church; in matters like those of voluntary charity, which the wisdom of the Church has left, with a thousand others, to the decision of private conscience and feeling, they claim, as Britons and Protestants, the right of being guided by their own. In effect, every voluntary society conducted by members of our Church, rests in these respects precisely upon the same grounds. No institution of this nature possesses, or can claim, any ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Such a jurisdiction could be conferred upon it only by a direct grant from the legislature, which no existing society in our Church, however highly respectable, and whether incorporated by Charter or not, has received."*
* Counter Protest of a Layman. By G. Pryme, M.A., &c, p. 10
Such a statement could not easily be controverted, and it was not difficult to prove from it, that neither an Archdeacon's visitatorial authority, nor his judicial functions, empowered him to interfere with what, strictly speaking, was not " a religious meeting, but simply a voluntary association of benevolent persons, met to form a charitable institution under the protection of the laws of the land. He might as well, it was said, have interrupted an assembly convened for planning a bridge, or projecting a hospital; he might, in fact, almost as well have advanced a claim of right to enter the private abode of individuals, in order to regulate the detail of personal beneficence.
In the Book of Proverbs, Solomon tells us that "he that is first in his own cause seemeth just, but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him." Such was the hard fate of the Archdeacon in this matter. In his solemn protest he had warned the meeting that the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel had been in existence, though little encouraged, for more than a hundred years. He added, that probably many present had never heard of its name, and he took occasion to recommend it to them. It turned out that during the whole of a long ministry, and although holding high and influential positions in the Church and in the City of Bath, he had never himself subscribed a sixpence to it, nor had the auditory heard of its name from him. In the year following, his name appears for the first and only time as a subscriber of two guineas, and the venerable Society was further to be enriched by the profits accruing on the publication of his protest; we have, however, been unable to trace out the exact amount of the latter item. It was, no doubt, for the share which he took in this contro
• Defence of the Church Missionary Society. By D. Wilson, M.A., &c, p. 13.