« PreviousContinue »
he claimed their obedience.
His answer was that he made no such pretension; that he had steadily opposed the consecration of successors in the episcopate; and he added, 'I apprehend that it was always the judgment of my brethren, that the death of the canonical bishops would render the invaders canonical, in regard that schism is not to be always.' On this Nelson, Dodwell, and the rest of the more moderate spirits, returned to the communion of the national church. The later fortunes of the schism -adorned as it was by the talents and learning of such men as Hickes and Collier, Spinckes, and Brett, and Lindsay-need here be only alluded to with sorrow and pity.
Ken's life had long been a preparation for death. Mr. Bowles (ii. p. 276) mentions a touching circumstance that the small Greek Testament which was his constant companion opens of itself at the 15th chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians; and Hawkins tells us that for many years he travelled with his shroud in his portmanteau, as what, he often said, might be as soon wanted as any of his other habiliments.' At length, in his seventyfourth year, the summons came. While on a visit in the neighbourhood of Sherborne, he was seized with a palsy which confined him to his chamber from November, 1710, to the middle of the following March. He then set off towards Bath, intending to take Longleat in his way; but on reaching the mansion which had so long been his home, he felt that he must go no further. When told by his physician that he had but two or three days to live, he answered, God's will be done!' 6 He put on his shroud with his own hands, in order that his body might not be stripped after death he prayed for his friends, and gave them his blessing; and on the 19th of March he expired, peacefully and without pain. His will contains the well-known declaration: As for my religion, I die in the holy Catholic and Apostolic faith, professed by the whole Church before the disunion of east and west: more particularly I die in the communion of the Church of England, as it stands distinguished from all papal and puritan innovations, and as it adheres to the doctrine of the Cross.'
At sunrise, on the second day after his death, his body was laid, according to his own directions, in the churchyard of Frome Selwood, as being the nearest parish within his diocese,' without any manner of pomp or ceremony, besides that of the order for burial in the liturgy.' His grave was long marked by no other memorial than an iron grating, shaped like a coffin, and surmounted by a mitre and pastoral staff; but in 1844 a fund was raised for the purpose of doing honour to his memory by some more worthy monument. The iron grating is now inclosed in a small Gothic structure; the chancel of the church has been restored
and decorated; and a window, commemorative of the saintly bishop, has been added by the munificence of the Marchioness of Bath.*
The life of Ken presents to us a remarkable instance of a man whose tastes were all for the cultivation of sanctity in retirement, and for the discharge of humble duties, called by circumstances to take a conspicuous part in the history of his time. There was assuredly no affectation in his frequent references to the calling of Amos no prophet, neither a prophet's son,' but 'caught up from among the meanest of the herdsmen.' He was evidently one who could have been content to serve God in a country parish all his days, without ambition of honours or distinction; he did not seek promotion, but was sought out by it. He rose by means which would have seemed likely to be a bar to his rising; he was promoted for discountenancing the vices of his sovereign, and that not in the way of violence or forwardness, which might perhaps have suggested his promotion as a means of silencing him, but simply by a firm resistance when they came across his own path. In his episcopal position he impressed two kings-both men of profligate morals, and of a creed different from his own-by the perfect simplicity and uprightness of his character. With an earnestness like a man inspired' he urged repentance on the dying Charles; he remonstrated with James again and again, boldly, yet respectfully, and patiently endured his displeasure. He was neither uplifted by popularity nor dejected by the loss of it. When, for conscience sake, he had resigned rank and wealth, and had submitted to the severance of the ties which bound him to his flock, the same singleheartedness continued to be his characteristic. He kept aloof from the zealots who mixed up with their cause other considerations than those for which he had embraced it; he opposed their mistaken measures; and, in the consciousness of his own rectitude, he was content to bear their insolence and scorn. Towards Charles at Winchester, and on his deathbed-towards William at the Hague-towards the brutal Kirke-towards James during the bloody scenes of 1685 and in the changeful days of 1688-he bore himself with uniform courage in the discharge of his duty. Over his grave it might have been said as truly as over that of Knox, 'Here lies he that never feared the face of man!' How vast was the contrast in all things else!
Many good people are ready to cry out against any criticism on the intellectual qualities of a holy man. To us this seems to indicate not a true admiration of the saintly character, but a distrust of its value. Surely, if we had a thorough appreciation of
* See Appendix to the Memoir by Mr. Markland, who was among the chief promoters of the fund. sanctity,
sanctity, we should think it a sufficient title to reverence, without claiming for the possessor of it other gifts to which he had no pretensions. When, therefore, Mr. Macaulay tells us (vol. i. p. 632) that Ken's intellect was indeed darkened by many superstitions and prejudices; but his moral character, when impartially reviewed, sustains a comparison with any in ecclesiastical history, and seems to approach, as near as human infirmity permits, to the ideal perfection of Christian virtue'--we do not care to dispute the justice of the first clause in the sentence, coming as it does from a writer who would probably be ready to pass the same censure on many of the most venerable among his own contemporaries. On the contrary, we look on it as giving a higher value to the striking eulogium which follows; and the more because we must regard Mr. Macaulay's estimate of his personal impartiality as nothing better than an amusing delusion.
The Bishop's writings are chiefly valuable as illustrations of his character and history. During his lifetime he made hardly any pretensions to authorship. The only works which he sent forth were composed in the discharge of his duty towards those committed to his care-not for the purpose of 'showing himself to the world.' The peculiar bent of his mind appears remarkably in his exposition of the Catechism. It is appropriately entitled The Practice of Divine Love:' the object is not to give a formal statement of the Church's doctrines, but to turn them all into prayer and praise. In this and in his other devotional writings we may trace many remembrances of earlier prayers-derived, probably, through our own Andrews and Laud, from the Fathers of the Church and the ancient liturgics; but Ken has shed over all his own spirit of tenderness and love. A general characteristic of his writings is the union of a high religious standard with a compassionate and experienced allowance for the frailty by which it is too likely that the attainment of such a standard may be hindered. In the holiness which he prescribed and practised there was nothing forbidding. His life was ascetic; but we are told that his temper was lively and cheerful,' and his conversation very facetious and entertaining.'-(Hawkins, in Prose Works, p. 3.)
If there was any vanity in the good man's heart, it would seem to have been on the subject of his poetical skill. He expresses, indeed, a belief that his verses are open to the assaults of criticism; but he must have thought something of them, for he left them for publication, and they fill four thick volumes. The contrast is strange and surprising between the clear, free, harmonious flow of his prose, and the barbarous, cramped, pedantic language, the harsh dissonance, the extravagant conceits, which disfigure
the great mass of his verses. Mr. Anderdon has tried the ingenious experiment of reducing some passages from metre to prose, and no doubt they gain considerably; but there is no getting over the fact that these four volumes are altogether a mistake. Mr. Bowles traces this to the influence of Cowley, whose 'Davideis' was evidently the model of the Edmund,' as his odes were of the lyrical pieces:
'Ken's faults in poetry arose from his rejecting his own feelings of simplicity and nature, and proposing to himself a model of false imagery and affected diction. Always intent on this artificial model, he sacrificed his native good sense; turned from what is simple, sublime, and pathetic; shut his eyes to all that is most interesting in rural scenery and external nature; and even in addressing Heaven under the intense feelings of devotion, appears affected and artificial. . . . If he had only followed his own native feelings, he would have been an interesting, if not pathetic or sublime, poet.'-Bowles, ii. 300.
The most interesting of the poems are those which relate to the author himself, such as the one in which he draws a parallel between his own history and that of St. Gregory of Nazianzum, and the Anodynes of Pain,' which are peculiarly touching, as having been the actual means of soothing the acute bodily sufferings of his later years, when he was compelled to abandon study and seek relief in the cultivation of poetry and music.
On the great question of Ken's life-that of the oath of allegiance-opinions have been and will be divided. To us it appears that the Scriptural precept of obedience to the powers that be' dispenses with the necessity of inquiring into the original right of an existing Government; that the only question is, whether the Government have that amount of establishment and security which will justify us in regarding it as properly being. When a doctrine resembling this was advanced by Sherlock and others after the Revolution, Kettlewell asked, by way of objection, How much time, and how much quietness, must go to settlement?' (Works, vol. ii. p. 256.) We should reply that there is the very difficulty of the case-but that it is a difficulty which must be faced; that the answer, where it is required, must be made by every man for himself, on a conscientious review of all the circumstances which he is able to include in his consideration. Ken made no scruple of submitting, or even adhering, to the government of William and Mary. But he thought that the new oath which was tendered to him was incompatible with that which he had sworn before; and with such a man, those very reasons of temporal advantage which would have influenced many to comply had exactly the opposite effect. How striking were his words to Hooper :
Should I be persuaded to comply, and after see reason to repent, you would make me the most miserable man in the world!' With such a feeling, undoubtedly he did well to decline the oath; and, while we think that his scruples were mistaken, we rejoice that he declined it, and that he was not alone in that sacrifice of everything to conscience.
But he never condemned others for the compliance which he was himself unable to make. He kept aloof from all political intrigues. Through misapprehension, misrepresentation, and obloquy on both sides, he held on his wise, moderate, and straightforward course, seeking the peace of the Church, and finding in the exercises of a holy life support and comfort throughout all his troubles. We are well pleased in quoting
these words from Mr. Anderdon :
'If at any time men of tender consciences, in their aspirations after some ideal perfection, be tempted to swerve from their obedience to the Church of England, let them study the writings of humble, simplehearted, stedfast Bishop Ken-(stedfast, because humble and simplehearted)—and they will find solid arguments to preserve them from "widening her deplorable divisions," and inspire them with his own firm resolves to "continue sted fast in her bosom, and improve all those helps to true piety, all those means of grace, all those incentives to the love of God," which He has mercifully afforded to them in her communion.'
It has been supposed by many that Ken was the original of Dryden's Good Parson, and we think the conjecture very probable. For not only is the 'parson' described as holding the opinions of the Nonjurors-a party from which no one was so likely as Ken to be chosen as a model;-not only do the general characteristics agree with those of the Bishop-but there seems to be a more particular reference to him in the description of the parson as a writer of hymns. We cannot quite make up our minds as to the bearing on this question of two letters in the Pepys Correspondence (vol. ii. pp. 254, 5), which were not published when Mr. Bowles wrote, and have escaped the notice of the later biographers. Dryden writes to Pepys (July 14, 1699), thanking him for having directed his attention to Chaucer's 'Parson,' and enclosing his own imitation. The Secretary replies, hoping from this copy of one good parson to fancy some amends made for the hourly offence I bear with from the sight of so many lewd originals.' On the one hand, it may be said that neither of the writers alludes to Ken; on the other, it may be plausibly argued that the allusion to him may have been understood between them; that Pepys, in speaking of the poem as the 'copy of one good parson,' may mean that it was a portrait from the life; that he
VOL. LXXXIX. NO. CLXXVIII.