30 DECEMBER 1882, Page 17



THE last volume of Bishop Wilberforce's Life covers the years from 1881 to his death in 1873. The impression it leaves on us is not that which the editor evidently expects to produ ce. The volume, says Mr. Wilberforce, is " an attempt, to pourtray him as he was during the last ten years of his life, the undisputed leader among the English Bishops." In a sense, no doubt, this is a true description of Bishop Wilberforce's position. By right of energy, of versatility, of expertness, of resource, he was all that his son says. But it was a leadership that, for the most part, led nowhere. In saving the Bishops from committing themselves to anything decisive, it often saved them from mistakes, and that is the most that can be said for it. This characteristic comes out strongly in reference to the Synodical condemnation of Esti ays and Reviews. The notes Bishop Wilberforce took of the first meeting of the Bishops show a distinct line of cleavage running through them, Two, Thirlwall and Hampden, were for prosecution, the latter thinking that it was " a ques- tion of Christianity or no Christianity." Archbishop Sumner and Bishop Tait were against prosecution, and in favour of a declaration of doctrine, Bishop Wilberforce contrived to har- monise the two views by suggesting an Episcopal address which should leave the question of prosecution open, and refer to "that good deposit of sound doctrine which our Church reaches in its fulness," while carefully avoiding any definition of what that deposit contains. This is a kind of compromise which always has charms for men of Bishop Wilberforce's temperament. The point on which the whole controversy turned was whether the opinions set forth in Essays and Reviews could be reconciled. with the doctrines of the Church of England, and the Bishops, at his instance, intervened with great solemnity for no other purpose than to say that the doctrines of the Church of England were sound and good. That the essayists themselves were quite prepared to use the same words was not thought to affect the wisdom of the Bishop's suggestion. Ultimately, Synodical action was taken against the book, which was con- demned, as containing "false and dangerous statements and reasoning at variance with the Church of England." Mr. Wilberforce observes that " besides its moral value as a vindica- tion of divine truth," this decision enables the Church of England again to assert her position, "as having authority in controversies of faith after a silence of 150 years." The pre. vious acquittal of the only two of the essayists who were pro- secuted, and the permission involved in it to go on making these false and dangerous statements in the character of beneficed clergymen of the Church of England, leaves it somewhat uncer- tain what the " moral value " of this " authority " really came to. If that could be ascertained, we might be better able to appreciate Bishop IVilberforce's "supremacy as a leader, both in. Convocation and in the Church at large."

The mode in which Bishop Wilberforce dealt, and persuaded the Bishops to deal, with Ritualism in 1867 is another example of his skill in bringing opposite parties to agree upon a formula, which each interpreted after their own fashion. It is not, perhaps, any discredit to him that he did not in the least understand the nature or force of the movement he wished to guide. In this respect he did but share the general ignorance of Churchmen in high places, an ignorance which even now is only beginning to disappear. He was perpetually considering what in practice has proved the almost non-existent case of congrega- tions upon whom a ritual they dislike is forced by the Clergy, and his one remedy was to increase the power of the Bishops to deal with ritual changes in their own dioceses. Had his advice been followed, the consequences which he himself thought likely if an address in condemnation of ritual were issued by the whole Episcopate, would probably have followed. Such an at- tempt, he tells Archbishop Sumner, " would drive many over to Rome, and would leave a dull, depressed, uninteresting service the rule where we did get obedience. To conquer the masses we must have men of spirit, and with men of spirit we must have some eccentricities." If the matter had been left to the Bishops, they would have suppressed Ritual quite as persistently as the Judicial Committee tried to suppress it, and from much the same motive. Considering the very decided opinions that Bishop Wilberforce entertained about several of his brethren, and the remarkable frankness with which he was wont to express * Lift! of &mud Wilberforce, D.D., Lord Bishop of arford, and afterwards of Winchester. By his Bon, Reginald G. Wilberforce. London Jahn Murray. 1882. them, it is strange that he should not have realised this result more clearly. When in March, 1867, Lord Shaftesbury pro,

posed to introduce a Bill to make the 50th Canon the " absolute and sole rule of the Church of England as to ornaments, dresses,

&c.," the Bishop writes to Mr. Gladstone:—

'I The Archbishop called a meeting of. the Bishops next day, at which it at once appeared that the whole phalanx of Archbishops' and Bishops from the North, and all the Puritan Bishops, were hot for it—only three of us opposed it. Worst of all, our own Arch-. bishop, though he did not like it, did not see how he could oppose it.' I set before them at length the ignominy of the course ; its shameless party spirit ; the suicide of the English Episcopate being dragged at the tail of Shaftesbury ; and I so far with difficulty suc- ceeded, that the Bishops in league with Shaftesbury said that if the Archbishop would undertake to legislate, they would persuade Shaftesbury to wait."

And two days later he thus explains why the Archbishop of York had mistakenly supposed that he (Bishop Wilberforce), too, would support such a Bill :—

" It is bard to convince a person like the Archbishop of York that you do not agree with him—(1), because his self importance makes him almost unable to apprehend such a possibility ; (2), because it leads him so perpetually to repeat his own assertions, that it is not. easy, without a seeming breach of courtesy, to force in the mention of your own opinions."

Under the influence, partly of Mr. Gladstone and partly of the then Cabinet, the Bishops decided to accept a Royal Commission, and the idea of the Archbishop of Can terbury himself intro- ducing a Bill which had taken the place of the original proposal that they should support Lord Shaftesbury was given up.. When, however, Lord Shaftesbury introduced his Bill after all, eleven Bishops were found in the minority which supported it a conclusive testimony to the accuracy of Bishop Wilberforce's estimate of Episcopal wisdom and to the worthlessness of his proposal to rely upon Episcopal discretion. When the Royal Commission met :-

"Some of the members agreed to form a private committee and to move poi passu with the meetings of the Commissioners. This com- mittee consisted of Lord Beauchamp, the Bishop of Oxford, the Dean• of Ely, Canon Gregory, the Right Hon. Sir R. Phillimore, the Right Hon. J. G. Hubbard, the Right Hon. A. J. Beresford Hope, and the Rev. T. W. Perry. The Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol joined, but after one or two meetings, deserted and went over to the other side. This committee, although less than a third of the whole body, was enabled, by showing a united front, to really guide the Commission, and to virtually settle the Report."

We aro further told that Bishop Ellicott afterwards said of the Ritualists :—" Let them go to Rome ; why not P A very good communion, next best to ours." (Vol. III., p. 216.) This how- ever, only by the way. Let us ask now, what did this boasted guidance of Bishop Wilberforce's amount to ? Mr. Wilberforce shall answer this question for us :- " This draft Report, as the diary shows, was in reality drawn by the Bishop, and the secret of its success was the moderation of tone and the judicious use of the word restrain' with regard to vestments, instead of the word abolish' or prohibit.' The main body of the Commissioners failed to perceive tho elasticity of this word, which, in fact, did leave a loophole for the regulated use of vestments."

In plain words, Bishop Wilberforce invented a formula which each party on the Commission thought made for its own view, and was, therefore, ready to accept in its own sense. In the preface, Mr. Wilberforce bids us remember " that in the year after he was called away, the Bishops did introduce the Public Worship Regulation Act, a measure the evils of which they did not foresee," and infers from this, how greatly the Church was indebted in 1867 " to his foresight and courage." But when we turn to the Report of the Ritual Commission, the report " in reality drawn by the Bishop," we find the very legislation of 1874 suggested in it. The restraint recommended may, it is said, " be best secured by pro- viding aggrieved parishioners with an easy and effectual process for complaint and redress." This "easy and effectual

process " was precisely what Lord Penance was afterwards appointed to provide. No doubt, if Bishop Wilberforce had lived„ he might have got the Bishops out of this final scrape as cleverly as he got them out of the earlier one. But the kind of acuteness which is never so triumphant as when it disguises a

radical difference, and secures for a practical recommendation the support of men so opposed as Bishops Wilberforce and Ellicott,

Lords Beauchamp and Ebury, Deans Stanley and Payne Smith, Mr. Henry Venn and Canon Gregory, does not, after all, leave a

Church very greatly in its possessor's debt. Indeed, the gain

was pretty well all lost, by the time that the second Report of the Commission appeared. The majority had 'discovered the•

trick played on them, and they were naturally bent upon guarding themselves against a repetition of it.

Some of the most curious passages in the volume are those which refer to the secession to Rome of the Bishop's daughter and her husband. The way in which he mixes up the "insult" to himself and the " insult " to the Church of England is almost comic. " It seems as if my heart would break at this insult out of my own bosom to God's truth in England's Church, and preference for the vile harlotry of the Papacy. God forgive

them I May he judge between this wrong-doer and me." This is when he hears of the intention. Two months later he hears of the act, and then he writes in his diary,— ." Lord, have mercy upon them, and forgive them, and let it not be the loss of their souls too ! I hardly yet see it in all its bear- ings, only that bonds and afflictions await me." The only con- solation he can think of is that this cross may be a divine messenger, "to open his mouth with power against the villanies of the Papacy." It is characteristic of him that even in his trouble he is capable of drawing a nice distinction. " I 'do not see," he writes," how I am ever to have them in my house, except when I am dying, The reason against Henry's coming equally excludes them." To which Mr. Wilberforce adds, in a note :—" By his house the Bishop meant his episcopal residence ttt Cuddesdon, not his private residence at Lavington, in which tatter house his brother Hepry was frequently a guest after he had joined the Roman Communion."

It is impossible to take leave of this book without a word as to indiscretions which distinguish it from all preceding bio- graphies. They have been so amply dwelt upon in the Press that a word will be enough, but that word must go to swell the general chorus of condemnation. Nothing can excuse the pre- sent publication of some of the passages quoted from the Bishop's diary and letters. The suddenness of the Bishop's death no doubt prevented him from giving the necessary directions as to the treatment of his papers ; but on what theory Mr. Wilber- force could have persuaded himself that his father could have wished his opinion and other people's opinion of some of the persons mentioned to be given to the world in their lifetime, is beyond our faculty of conjecture.