In one of his prose writings Mr. Keble speaks of the faithful shepherd going on his way though storms may be raging in the atmosphere; and such might be a description of his own course as regarded his flock, though there were several of these storms that affected him deeply. One gust came very near home.
The diocesan, Bishop Charles Sumner, was an excellent and conscientious man, with a much deeper sense of his duties as a bishop than his immediate predecessors, and of great kindness and beneficence; but he had been much alarmed and disturbed by the alleged tendencies of the Tracts for the Times, and shared in the desire of most of the authorities to discourage their doctrines and practice. When, therefore, the curate of Hursley came to Farnham to be admitted to the priesthood, he was required, contrary to the usual custom with candidates, to state categorically his views upon the Holy Eucharist. He used the expressions of the Catechism, also those of Bishop Ridley, but was desired to use his own individual words; and when these were sent in, he was rejected, though they did not outrun the doctrine that had always been taught by the close followers of the doctrine of the Catechism. Nevertheless, in spite of this disapproval, there was no withdrawal of his licence, and he remained at Hursley, not thinking it loyal to seek Ordination from another bishop, as would readily have been granted. He married Mrs. Keble's cousin, Miss Caroline Coxwell, and their young family was an infinite source of delight to the childless vicarage.
Their baby ways, to one who held that "where christened infants sport, the floor is holy," and who read a mystical meaning into many of their gestures and words, were a constant joy and inspiration; and there grew up a store of poems upon them and other little ones, especially the children of Dr. George Moberly, then headmaster of Winchester College (later bishop of Salisbury). These Mr. Keble thought of putting together for publication, being chiefly impelled to do so by the desire to improve Hursley Church, the eighteenth century arrangement of which really prevented the general inculcation of the more reverent observances which teach and imply doctrine.
In consideration of the feelings of certain old parishioners, and the other more pressing needs, as well as of the patience with which so great an enterprise needed in his mind to be contemplated, nine years had elapsed since his incumbency had begun before he wrote: "We are stirring about our Church, and next spring I hope really to go to work; you must come and see the plans first, or else hereafter for ever hold your peace in respect of alleging impediments. One feels that one's advanced age has not rendered one fitted to set about such works; but really the irreverence and other mischiefs caused by the present state of Hursley Church seem to leave one no choice."
The step that had first been taken was one for which many generations far and wide have reason to be grateful, the arrangement and publication of the Lyra Innocentium, to a certain degree on the lines of the Christian Year, so as to have one poem appropriated to each Sunday and holy day (though these were only fully marked off in a later edition).
The book is perhaps less universally read than the Christian Year, and is more unequal, some poems rising higher and into greater beauty, some deeper and showing that the soul had made further progress in these twenty years, some very simple in structure, fit for little children, yet with a grave and solemn thought in the last verse.
Those that are specially full of Hursley atmosphere, on events connected with the author, may be touched on here.
"Christmas Eve Vespers" was suggested by the schoolmaster's little daughter going into church before the decoration had been put up, and exclaiming, disappointed, "No Christmas!" "The Second Sunday in Lent" recalls, in the line on "the mimic rain on poplar leaves," the sounds made by a trembling aspen, whose leaves quivered all through the summer evenings, growing close to the house of Mr. Keble's life- long friend and biographer, Sir John Taylor Coleridge, at Ottery St. Mary. An engraving of Raffaelle's last picture "The Transfiguration" hung in the Vicarage drawing-room.
"The Fourth Sunday in Lent," on the offering of the lad with the five loaves, was suggested by the stained window on that subject given by the young Marquess of Lothian--a pupil for some years of Mr. Wilson at Ampfield--to the church at Jedburgh, built by his mother. Now that he has passed away, it may be remarked that he, as well as all the children commemorated in these poems, grew up so as to leave no painful impression connected with them. "Keep thou, dear boy, thine early vow," was fulfilled in him, as it was with George Herbert Moberly, the eldest son of Dr. Moberly, who, when a young child staying at the vicarage, was unconsciously the cause of the poems "Loneliness" and "Repeating the Creed," for Easter Sunday and Low Sunday. Frightened by unwonted solitude at bedtime, he asked to hear "something true," and was happy when Mrs. Keble produced the Bible. He was a boy of beautiful countenance, and his reverent, thoughtful look, as he repeated the Creed, delighted Mr. Keble. It was little expected then that he was doomed to a life-long struggle with invalidism, though he was able to effect much as a thinker and a priest before he, too, was taken to see in Paradise "the glorious dream around him burst."
It was a baby sister of his who drew herself up in her nurse's arms with a pretty gesture, like a pheasant's neck in a sort of reproof, as she said "Thank you" to her little self, when she had held out a flower to Mr. Keble, which, for once in his life, he did not notice; and his self-reproach produced the thoughts of thankfulness. One of the gems of the Lyra, "Bereavement," was the thought that came to the mind of the Pastor as he buried the little sister, the only child except the elder girl, of the bailiff at Dr. Moberly's farm. "Fire" embodied his feeling about a burnt child at Ampfield -
We miss thee from thy place at school And on thy homeward way, Where violets, by the shady pool, Peep out so shyly gay
The Lullaby, with the view of the burnished cross upon the spire, and the girl singing the baby to sleep with the old Psalm -
In Thee I put my stedfast trust, Defend me, Lord, for Thou art just,
is another Ampfield scene, inspiring noble and gentle thoughts for Innocents' Day.
"Lifting up to the Cross" (St. James's Day) was the product of a drawing brought home from Germany of a sight beheld by Miss Maria Trench, on a journey with Sir William and Lady Heathcote. She afterwards became Mrs. Robert F. Wilson, and made her first wedded home at Ampfield; and there is another commemoration of that journey in the fountain under the bank in Ampfield churchyard, an imitation of one observed in Tyrol and with the motto -
While cooling waters here you drink Rest not your thoughts below, Look to the sacred sign and think Whence living waters flow, Then fearlessly advance by night or day, The holy Cross stands guardian of your way.
"More Stars" (All Saints' Day) and "Wakefulness" (The Annunciation) are reminiscences of Charles Coleridge Pode, a little nephew of Mr. Yonge, and his ecstatic joy on the first night of being out of doors late enough to see the glory of the stars. A few months later, on a sister being born, he hoped that her name would be Mary "because he liked the Virgin Mary." And when, only a few days later, his own mother was taken from him, he lay awake and silent, night after night. He, too, was one who fulfilled his early promise, till, as a young physician, he was cut off after much patient suffering. "More Stars" is also attributed to an exclamation of one of Mr. Peter Young's children; but in point of fact, most little ones have broken out in a similar joyous shout on their first conscious sight of the starry heavens.
Mrs. Keble used to forbear telling of the subjects of these poems, lest, as she said, there might be a sort of blight on the children in breaking the reserve; but most of them are beyond the reach of that danger in publicity; and I can only further mention that the village children en masse, and the curate's in detail, furnished many more of the subjects, while still they only regarded Mr. Keble as their best of playmates.
They cheered him when the great sorrow of his life befell him in the secession of John Henry Newman, hitherto his friend and fellow- worker. It came at a time when perhaps he was most fitted to bear it, when his brother in Gloucestershire and his wife at home had just begun to recover from a terrible typhoid fever caught at Bude.
Words spoken in the immediate prospect of death, by Mrs. Keble, strengthened her husband's faith and made him more than ever determined to hold fast by the Church of his fathers; and the thankfulness and exhilaration caused by the improvement in her health carried him the better over the first blow, though he went out alone to a quiet deserted chalk-pit to open the letter which he knew would bring the final news of the reception of his friend into the Roman Church.
Nor did his Hursley plans stand still. Under the management of Sir John Taylor Coleridge and other friends, the Christian Year had become much more profitable, and the Lyra also brought in a considerable quota, so that the entire work could be undertaken at Mr. Keble's expense.
It was decided, partly by Mr. Yonge himself, that the enterprise was on too large a scale for his partial knowledge, and moreover, much progress had been made during these nine years in ecclesiology, so that architects who had made it their study were to be found. The design was committed to William Harrison, Esq., a relation of Archdeacon Harrison, a very old friend and contemporary. It followed the lines of the existing church, which were found to be so solid and well built as for the most part only to need casing and not renewal, nor was the old tower taken down.
The contract with Locke and Nesham was for 3380 pounds, exclusive of the flooring, the wood-work, and other fittings of the interior. For this 1200 pounds was set aside, but the sum was much exceeded, and there were many offerings from private friends.
The altar of cedar-wood was the gift of Robert Williams, Esq.; the altar plate was given by Mrs. Heathcote; the rails by the architect; the font by the Rev. William Butler and Emma his wife, and the clergy and sisters of Wantage. Mr. Butler was then vicar of Wantage, later canon of Worcester and dean of Lincoln. The present cedar credence table was made long after Mr. Keble's death, the original one was walnut, matching the chancel fittings.
This was proposed as the inscription on the base of the font, to be entirely hidden--
Ecclesiae Parochiali Sanctorum Omnium In agro Hursleiense Hunc Fontem, Lavacrum Regenerationis, In honorem D. N. J. C. Gratis animis D.D.D. Presbyteri, Diacones, Lectores, Sorores Ecclesiae SS. Petri et Pauli Indigna familia Apud Wantagium
Whether the whole was actually cut out on the under side of the granite step must be uncertain.
The steps of the sanctuary have in encaustic tiles these texts. On the lowest:
Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have a right to the Tree of Life, and enter through the gates into the city.
On the step on which the rails stand:
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
On the next:
Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
And on the highest:
Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty, they shall behold the land that is very far off.
The lectern was the offering of the friend of his youth, the Rev. Charles Dyson, Rector of Dogmersfield, copied from that at Corpus Christi College, where they first met.
The corbels were carefully chosen: those by the chancel arch are heads of St. Peter and St. Paul, as exponents of the inner mysteries; those by the east window are St. Athanasius and St. Augustine as champions of the faith. On the corbels of the north porch, looking towards the hills of Winchester, are Bishops Andrewes and Ken on the outside; on the inside, Wykeham and Waynflete. On the south porch, St. Augustine of Canterbury, and the Empress Helena over the door; on the outside, Bishop Sumner and Queen Victoria to mark the date of building.
"How would you like to have the book boards of the seats?" wrote the architect; "perhaps it would suggest the idea of a prayer desk if they were made to slope as the chancel stalls?"
And certainly their finials do suggest kneeling, and the arrangement is such that it is nearly impossible not to assume a really devotional attitude.
A stranger clergyman visited the church, measured the font and the height to the ceiling, and in due time, in 1850, there arrived the beautiful carved canopy, the donor never being known.
The windows did not receive their coloured glass at first; but Mr. Keble had an earnest wish to make them follow the wonderful emblematic series to which he had been accustomed in the really unique Church of Fairford, where he had grown up. The glass of these windows had been taken in a Flemish ship on the way to Spain by one John Tame, a Gloucestershire merchant, who had proceeded to rebuild his parish church so as fitly to receive it, and he must also have obtained the key to their wonderful and suggestive arrangement.
Fairford Church is much larger than Hursley, so that the plan could not be exactly followed, but it was always in Mr. Keble's mind. It was proposed that the glass should be given by the contribution of friends and lovers of the Christian Year. Two of the windows came from the Offertory on the Consecration day, one three-light was given by Mrs. Heathcote (mother of Sir William), another by Sir William and Lady Heathcote, one by the Marchioness of Bath, and one by the Marchioness of Lothian. The designs were more or less suggested by Dyce and Copley Fielding, but the execution was carried out by Wailes, under the supervision of Butterfield. The whole work was an immense delight to Mr. Keble, and so anxious was he that the whole should be in keeping, that the east window was actually put in three times before it was judged satisfactory. The plan of the whole was Mr. Keble's own; and though the colours are deeper, and what is now called more crude, than suits the taste of the present day, they must be looked upon with reverence as the outcome of his meditations and his great delight. I transcribe the explanation that his sister Elisabeth wrote of their arrangement:
The Hursley windows are meant to be a course of Instruction in Sacred History from Adam to the last day the church being dedicated to All Saints.
The north-west window has Adam and Noah. The windows along the north aisle each represent two persons from the Old Testament.
The three-light window on the north side, David with the ground plan of the Temple, Moses with the Tables of the Law, Solomon with the Model of the Temple. The Medallion under Moses is the Altar of Incense, and some of the Holy things.
The whole of that window means to represent the fixing and finishing of the Old Religion.
Then comes in the north chancel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, the prophets preparing for the Gospel.
The north-east window has the Circumcision connecting the Law with the Church, with the figures of Anna and Simeon on each side.
East window: The Crucifixion, The Blessed Virgin and St. John on each side, The Agony, Bearing the Cross, and the Scourging.
The side window of the Sanctuary has St. Stephen and St. John the Baptist as the nearest Martyrs to our Lord, both before and after Him, and their martyrdoms underneath.
The south-east window: The Resurrection, with soldiers at the Sepulchre. St. Peter and St. Paul on each side.
The south chancel windows: The Four Evangelists; under, St. Luke, the Disciples at Emmaus; under, St. John, he and St. Peter at the Sepulchre.
The three-light south window: St. James the Less, first Bishop of Jerusalem; underneath, the Council in Acts x. 6. At his side two successors of the Apostles, St. Clement of Rome, Phil. iv. 3, and St. Dionysius of Athens, Acts xvii. 34, to show how the Church is built upon the Apostles.
In the west window, the Last Judgment, with St. Michael with his scales, and answering to Adam and Noah in the west window of the north aisle; and as a repentance window, St. Peter and St. Mary Magdalene in the west of the south aisle. In the two windows close to the font, St. Philip and Nicodemus, for baptism.
So were carried out the lines in the Lyra Innocentium.
The Saints are there the Living Dead, The mourners glad and strong; This sacred floor their quiet bed, Their beams from every window shed Their voice in every song.
The clerestory windows were put in somewhat later, on finding that the church was dark, and Mr. Keble wished to have the children mentioned in Scripture, in outline upon them, but this was not carried out.
It was first thought probable that readers of the Christian Year and the Lyra Innocentium might have presented these stained windows, but the plan fell through, and the only others actually given were the repentance window, representing St. Peter and St. Mary Magdalene, by Mr. Harrison. Two were paid for by special offertories, and the rest were finally given by Mr. Keble, as the sums came in from his published writings.
The spire, completing the work, was added to the ancient tower by Sir William Heathcote.
The foundation stone, a brass plate with an inscription surrounded by oak leaves and acorns, was laid on the 29th of May 1847, but the spot is unknown. The entire cost, exclusive of the woodwork and the gifts mentioned, amounted to 6000 pounds. The large barn was used as a temporary church, and there are happy recollections connected with it and with the elm-shaded path between the Park and the vicarage field. When all sat on forms without the shade of pews, example taught a lesson of reverent attitude to the congregation, who felt obliged to lay aside any bad habits which might have grown up out of sight, so as to be unconsciously prepared for the new church, where the very width of the open benches and the shape of their ends are suggestive of kneeling in prayer. The period of the building was a time of enjoyment to Mr. Keble, for it was symbolical to him of the "edifying," building up, of the living stones of the True Church, and the restoring her waste places. When the workmen were gone home he used to walk about the open space in the twilight silence in prayer and meditation.
When the topmost stone was to be added, on 18th October 1848, and the weathercock finally secured, Mr. Keble ascended to the elevation that he might set his hand to the work, and there said a thanksgiving for the completion--"The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house. His hands shall also finish it" (Zech. iv. 9).
The day of the Consecration was an exceedingly happy one, on 24th October 1848, the only drawback being that Sir William Heathcote was too unwell to be present. There was a great gathering--the two Judges, Coleridge and Patteson, and many other warm and affectionate friends; and Sir John Coleridge was impressed by the "sweet state of humble thankfulness" of the Vicar and his wife in the completion of the work.
The sermon at Evensong on that day was preached by Mr. Keble himself, in which he spoke of the end of all things; and said the best fate that could befall that new church was that it should be burnt at the Judgment Day.
He thought, probably, of the perils of perversion from true Catholic principles which the course of affairs in these days made him dread exceedingly, and hold himself ready to act like the Non-jurors, or the Free Kirk men in Scotland, who had resigned all for the sake of principle. "Nevertheless," he wrote, "I suppose it is one's duty to go on as if all were encouraging."
And he did go on, and supported others till, by God's Providence, the tide had turned, and much was effected of which he had only dreamt as some day possible. It was in this frame of mind that the poem was composed of which this is a fragment:
The shepherd lingers on the lone hillside, In act to count his faithful flock again, Ere to a stranger's eye and arm untried He yield the rod of his old pastoral reign. He turns and round him memories throng amain, Thoughts that had seem'd for ever left behind O'ertake him, e'en as by some greenwood lane The summer flies the passing traveller find, Keen, but not half so sharp as now thrill o'er his mind.
For indeed every lapse in his parish turned to fill their pastor with self-blame.