Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

THE NEGRO BISHOP.

From the time when the Primacy of all England was removed from the See of London to Canterbury, probably that "the archi-episcopal dignity might not be eclipsed and outshone by the regal diadem," the cathedral church of Canterbury was, till the period of our blessed Reformation, the centre of all the religious life of England. Hundreds of thousands flocked to it on superstitious pilgrimage, as do the Hindoos to Gya or Juggernaut; and, when their idolatrous worship at Becket's tomb was concluded, "sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play." But when all this was swept away, and the Mitre ceased to confront the Crown with more than equal pride, Canterbury fell back into the ordinary condition of a provincial city. The Archbishops removed to Lambeth and Croydon; the current of life, religious and political, swept past in other channels, and the Dean and Chapter, the majority of whom, with some illustrious exceptions, resembled too much those good easy men the monks of Magdalen, of whom Gibbon speaks, were left to conduct their routine of daily services, and to perform other functions, of which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have since relieved them. We can hail with gladness a new life now pervading the glorious fabric. "Positis novus exnviis," it is reassuming and reasserting, with some success, claims upon the sympathy of religious Englishmen: and seldom if ever has that cradle of English Christianity more fully vindicated its true position than on June 29th, 1865, when a vast assemblage poured into its consecrated walls, not to listen to oratorios, not to witness superstitious functions, not to gaze idly upon its architectural glories, but to behold Vol. 68.—No. 381. 4 N

the consecration of three bishops, "whose sound was to go into all the earth, their words unto the ends of the world."

Few who witnessed it can have forgotten the peculiar solemnity of the occasion: how heartily they joined in the sublime liturgy of our Church; with what interest they listened to the thoughtful eloquence of the present Dean of St. Paul's, the preacher on the occasion. The strains of Mendelssohn's glorious anthem, "How lovely are the messengers," were dying away, when, conducted in solemn procession to the Archbishop and his suffragans, appeared the stately figure of the late Bishop of Peterborough, the Bishop elect of Tasmania, and one more whose rochet and white lawn dress threw into more complete relief the strongly marked features of the Negro; his air and countenance denoting profound humility, meekness, and self-possession. In due form they were presented to the Archbishop as "godly and well learned men to be consecrated bishops." The solemn questions were put as to how they were minded to behave themselves in the house of God. Once again, when fully robed, they were presented to the consecrating prelates; episcopal hands were laid upon them; to each the Bible was delivered with an admonition to make it the rule of their lives. Many thoughtful witnesses of the scene glanced forward in imagination to the very different careers which awaited the three Bishops thus standing at a common starting poiut—the one to preside over a settled diocese in the Established Church of England, another to build up a Church in a distant colony, another to do the work of an evangelist in central Africa—and they thought with praise and thanksgiving of the world-wide sphere through which our beloved Church stretches her benign influence, and scatters her benefits.

There were in that congregation also some of the representatives of those great philanthropists who originally devised the scheme of a free settlement on the West coast of Africa, to check the accursed scourge of the slave trade, and eventually to be a centre of civilization and Christianity on that coast. They remembered how often, in early years, they had witnessed the distress and disappointment of their fathers, when each arrival from West Africa brought tidings of the death of European Missionaries, and the hope of native agency was "long deferred." But now the desired event had come, and the tree of life was bestowing its blossoms on the descendants of those who had desired to see this day and saw it not ere they rested from their labours;—while the hands of the Primate of all England and of his suffragans rested upon the woolly head of the Negro, and gave him the full commission to constitute a native church in West Africa, and to ordain elders amongst his sable countrymen.

There was also present on that occasion a group of European Missionaries who had laboured in Africa, who had helped to train the new Bishop for the work of the ministry; and who now witnessed his elevation to the Episcopate without one spark of jealousy, but with the liveliest emotions of holy joy and of thanksgiving to the great Head of the Church.

One, too, was present whom few knew or noticed. The personal friends of the Bishop elect were accommodated with chairs in the chancel, which approached within a few feet of the communion rails. Immediately behind the Negro Bishop sat a venerable lady, who for thirty or forty years had weathered the climate of Sierra Leone. She was the widow of the late Dr. Weeks, Bishop of Sierra Leone. The Negro who now knelt by her side to receive consecration, had been first received under her care when liberated from a slave ship, and, kneeling by her side as a boy of six years old, had first learnt to pray the Lord's Prayer. She early perceived in him an excellent spirit, and made him a parlour boarder, and gave him the name at his baptism of her revered pastor, Samuel Crowther, at whose Sunday school, in the parish of Christ Church, Newgate Street, she had once been a teacher. It was a part of the proceedings, that, after the consecration had been concluded, two of the suffragan Bishops descended the many steps from the communion table to the rails, and conducted the new Bishop to a seat among themselves. The venerable Bishop of Winchester, and the Missionary Bishop Smith, thus conducted Bishop Samuel Crowther to his elevated seat among the Bishops j and the eye of the writer of this article rested upon the countenance of Mrs. Weeks, as her former pupil left her side, and ascended between the conducting Bishops to his seat. There was no indication of the pride or emotion of a mother; but there was the radiant satisfaction of a mother in Israel, who receives an answer to many prayers, and the accomplishment of her fondest desires for the Church of Africa. This excellent lady has since entered into her rest, and what an entrance awaited her! From a comparatively obscure position in the Church below, exalted to the everlasting habitations, hundreds of the sons and daughters of Africa, whom it had been her privilege literally to turn from idols to the living God, were waiting to receive her.

Yet intelligent witnesses of the scene we are describing were not altogether absorbed by sanguine anticipations of the future. Some had misgivings that the Native Church was not sufficiently prepared for a Native Bishop. Others thought that a native of Africa could scarcely sustain the dignity and responsibilities of the episcopal office; others again feared for the influence which the elevation might have upon the Bishop's character. The Committee of the Church Missionary Society, which recommended him to the Archbishop for this office, had no such misgivings. They had witnessed his humble and upright course for nearly thirty years. When they presented him to the Bishop of London for holy orders as their first African candidate, they had received his lordship's cordial approval of his fitness for the ministry. On a later occasion he had been honoured by an interview with the Prince Consort, at which Her Majesty was present, and he had behaved with the utmost propriety. We were ourselves present at an interview with the late Lord Palmerston in 1851, then Minister for Foreign Affairs, who entered into an animated discussion with Mr. Crowther on the social and commercial prospects of West Africa, when the remarkable knowledge of details of that eminent statesman was signally displayed. He had studied the soundings of the West coast of Africa, so as to be able from memory to pronounce to what ports the slavers could approach so near as to necessitate an inshore blockade. The bar at Lagos Lord Palmerston asserted to be an effectual barrier against the entrance of ships of any burden. Mr. Crowther asserted that he had himself been shipped in a slaver of considerable burden from a wharf within the bar. Lord Palmerston started in his seat, and exclaimed, "Were you ever a slave? Where did you obtain your education, and the accurate information you have of the resources of your country?" For a full hour that great statesman maintained an animated conference with his Negro guest, and afterwards furnished him with an official letter to the chiefs of Abeokuta, certifying the deep interest which Her Majesty the Queen of England felt in the rising civilization of that country. Thus Mr. Crowther had been in some sense marked out for such a responsible trust as was now committed to him.

It was thought well, however, that before Mr. Crowther was consecrated, he should receive the literary distinction of an honorary degree from one of our Universities; and the Archbishop of Canterbury himself wrote to the Vice-Chancellor of his own University, Oxford, to confer that honour. The literary labours of Mr. Crowther in a grammar and dictionary of his own language, the Yoruban, and the translation into it of the greater part of the Bible, together with other proofs of his linguistic talents, were submitted to the Vice-chancellor, who proposed to the Convocation of Oxford to confer on Mr. Crowther the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. This honour was not, however, conferred through deference to the wishes of the Metropolitan. The degree was objected to in Convocation by a speaker of some standing in the University. He however stood alone, or nearly alone, in opposing the vote for the degree. We have been favoured with a copy of the speech of the Professor of Divinity, Dr. Jacobson, now Bishop of Chester, when the degree was conferred by Dr. Jacobson's deputy, in his own much regretted absence. The document is of general interest as connecting the evangelistic labours of a Negro bishop with our most ancient seat of learning :—

"Insignissime Vice-Cancellarie, Vosqne Egregii Procuratores,— Praesento Vobis hunc Virum Reverendum, Samuel Crowther, in regionibus Africae Occidentalia, extra terminos Coloniae Britannicae jacentibus, Episcopum designatum.

"Quern olim parvulum a patria et parentibus, a fratribus et sororibus, cradelissime abreptum, atque servituti, postremo omnium malorum, traditum, naves nostrae Begiae in libertatem vindicaverunt.

"Mox, in adolescente tanta intelligendi vis, ingenium ad linguas multiplices variasque perdiscendas tern habile et aptum sese ostendit, ut, in Navigatione ilia Fluvii Nigri cognoscendi causa suscepta, Interpretis munere fungeretur.

"Deinde, postquam apud Islington liberaliter fuerat institntus, et a Blomfieldio, Episcopo Londinensi, in Ordines Sacros admissus, sub auspiciis alterius Societatum illarum quae operam dant ut Ecclesia nostra, favente Summo Numine, palmites suos trans maria extender-e possit, et Doctrina Christiana inter gentes barbaros propagetnr, toto animo et studio omni in labores missionarios, apud Abeokutam, et per totam Torubam, incubuit.

"Testamenti Novi et Libri Precum Publicarum nostri bonam partem in sermones plures vernaculos reddidit.

"Nunc demum, ut inter populares suos Episcopatus opus bonum suscipiat, jussu Beginae nostrae Serenissimae, in Africam reversurus est.

"Quern igitur, Dioecesi novae constituendae, fovendae, gubernandae addictum et consecratum, Ecclesiae indigenae Episcopum indigennm, bonis omnibus votis prosequemur, Hunc praesento Vobis, ut ad Gradum Doctoris in Sacra Theologia, Honoris causa, admittatur." *

* (Translation.)

Most excellent Vice-Chancellor and a liberal education at Islington, and

Honourable Proctors,—I present to you having been admitted by Dr. Blomfield,

this reverend man, Samuel Crowther, Bishop of London, to Holy Orders,

Bishop-Designate for the territories of under the auspices of one of the two

Western Africa situato beyond the Societies which, in dependance upon

limits of our British Colony. the Divine favour, employ themselves

He was, while vet a child, most cruelly in causing our Church "to send forth

snatched from his country and parents, her branches beyond the seas," and in

his brothers and sisters, and consign- propagating the knowledge of Christ

ed to slavery, the worst of evils, till among barbarous races, he devoted

rescued by the ships of Her Majesty's himself, with his whole heart and soul,

fleet. to missionary labours in Abeokuta and

In his youth he displayed so much throughout Yoruba. intelligence and aptitude for learning He has translated the New Testamany languages, that he discharged ment and large portions of the Prayerthe oflice of Interpreter in the Niger Book into several vernacular dialect*. Expedition. He is now on the point of returning,

Subsequently, after having received by command of the Queen's Most Ex

« ZurückWeiter »