The Golden Age of Hursley did not deduce all its honour from the manor house. The vicarage was perhaps the true centre of the light which the Park reflected, or rather both knew that their radiance alike came from One Source above, in whose Light they sought to walk.
The happy, sometimes playful, intercourse between them may perhaps best be exemplified by the petition sent up by Mr. Keble on an alarm that the copse on Ladwell hill was about to be cut down in obedience to the dicta of agricultural judges who much objected to trees and broad hedgerows.
Ladwell, or as it probably ought to be, Ladywell hill, is a steep bank, thickly clothed with trees and copsewood, with cottages nestling under it, on the southward road from Hursley, and on the top the pathway to Field House, the farm rented by Dr. Moberly, Headmaster of Winchester College (since Bishop of Salisbury) as the holiday resort of his family. It is a delightful place, well worthy of the plea for its preservation.
TO THE LORD OF THE MANOR OF MERDON.
THE PETITION OF SUNDRY LIFE-TENANTS OR HEREDITARY DENIZENS OF THE SAID MANOR.
Humbly Sheweth, - That by custom of this clime, Even from immemorial time, We, or our forefathers old (As in Withering's list enrolled) Have in occupation been Of all nooks and corners green Where the swelling meadows sweet With the waving woodlands meet. There we peep and disappear, There, in games to fairies dear All the spring-tide hours we spend, Hiding, seeking without end. And sometimes a merry train Comes upon us from the lane: Every gleaming afternoon All through April, May, and June, Boys and maidens, birds and bees, Airy whisperings of all trees, With their music will supply All we need of sympathy. Now and then a graver guest For one moment here will rest Loitering in his pastoral walk, And with us hold kindly talk. To himself we've heard him say, "Thanks that I may hither stray, Worn with age and sin and care, Here to breathe the pure, glad air, Here Faith's lesson learn anew, Of this happy vernal crew. Here the fragrant shrubs around, And the graceful shadowy ground, And the village tones afar, And the steeple with its star, And the clouds that gently move, Turn the heart to trust and love." Thus we fared in ages past, But the nineteenth age at last, (As your suppliants are advised) Reigns, and we no more are prized. Now a giant plump and tall, Called High Farming stalks o'er all, Platforms, railings and straight lines, Are the charms for which he pines. Forms mysterious, ancient hues, He with untired hate pursues; And his cruel word and will Is, from every copse-crowned hill Every glade in meadow deep, Us and our green bowers to sweep. Now our prayer is, Here and there May your Honour deign to spare Shady spots and nooks, where we Yet may flourish, safe and free. So old Hampshire still may own (Charm to other shires unknown) Bays and creeks of grassy lawn Half beneath his woods withdrawn; So from many a joyous child, Many a sire and mother mild, For the sheltering boughs so sweet And the blossoms at their feet, Thanks with prayers shall find their way; And we flowers, if we may pray, With our very best would own Your young floweret newly blown.
ANEMONE NEMOROSA PRIMULA VULGARIS ORCHIS DAFFODIL COWSLIP STRAWBERRY VIOLET [Innumerable Signatures.] etc. etc. etc. LADWELL HILL, 2nd April 1855.
"The young flow'ret newly blown" was Sir William's son Godfrey, who faded at seven years old. When his mind was wandering, one of his dreamy utterances was, "I should like to fly softly." And therefore Mr. Keble suggested that the words on his little grave (outside the mausoleum) should be "Who are these that fly as a cloud?"
The intercourse of the vicarage with the Park, as with all this neighbourhood, was affectionate, intimate, or neighbourly and friendly, according as there was likeness of mind. The impression left was always a cheerful one of hospitality and of a kind of being on holy ground. The house stands on the side of a rapid slope from the Park, with a terrace raised on brick arches overlooking the lawn, only separated by a low wall from the Churchyard. Here, in early summer, the school children from both the outlying congregations met those of Hursley at tea, and for games in the Park, ending with standing round in the twilight below the terrace, and singing the National Anthem and Bishop Ken's Evening Hymn. The Anniversary of the Consecration Day, falling late in the autumn, was the occasion of a feast for the elders of the parish above sixty years old. This followed, of course, on festal services, when those who heard it can hardly forget a sermon of Warden Barter's on the 134th Psalm, when, with the noble sweetness of his countenance lighted up, he spoke of our delight in nature being the joy of a child in the beauty of his father's house.
A new organ had been given, and the choir had been brought to great improvement during the few years that the Rev. W. Le Geyt was at Hursley. Also a mission school chapel had been built at Pitt, a hamlet on the downs towards Winchester, and a second curate had been added to the staff. The present writer can only dwell with thankfulness too deep to be spoken on Mr. Keble's influence, not so much friendly as fatherly, and he was the best and kindest of critics in literary affairs.
But throughout, the vicar was the personal minister to each individual of his flock--teaching in the school, catechising in the church, most carefully preparing for Confirmation, watching over the homes, and, however otherwise busied, always at the beck and call of every one in the parish. To the old men and women of the workhouse he paid special attention, bringing them little dainties, trying to brighten their dull minds as a means of reaching their souls, and endeavouring to raise their spirits to higher things. One who had been removed to another Union, when asked how he liked Hursley, said, "It seemed as if they was saying Holy, Holy, Holy, all day long."
During this time Mr. Keble wrote his Life of Bishop Wilson, making two visits to the Isle of Man to study the situation and the documents there preserved; various of the "Plain Sermons"; some controversial pamphlets defending the cause of the Church; and above all, the treatise on "Eucharistic Adoration." He assisted Dr. J. M. Neale in drawing up the Salisbury Hymnal, a precursor of Hymns Ancient and Modern, and contributed several hymns, especially those for Rogation days, for the service for Holy Matrimony, and a very grand one for the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, which has not found place in Hymns Ancient and Modern.
All this time he was the prime counsellor and assistant to many engaged in church work or church defence, among whom may be mentioned Dr. Pusey, Bishop Alexander Forbes of Brechin, Bishop Walter Hamilton of Salisbury, the Rev. W. J. Butler of Wantage (Dean of Lincoln), and Canon Liddon. To them Hursley Vicarage was a place of holy counsel and peaceful rest.
Bishop Robert Gray of Capetown, and the great Bishop George Augustus Selwyn, were warmly welcomed there on their visits to England; and the young son of the last-mentioned, John Richardson Selwyn, when left in England for education, often happily spent part of his holidays there. No doubt this had a share in his preparation for his future work in Melanesia, closed early by the failure of health that brought him, after a few more years, to his grave.
Another guest was Queen Emma of the Sandwich Isles, literally the Queen of the South, come to hear the wisdom of the Saint; and last of all, the friend and partner of his earlier work, the sharer in the revival of the Church from her torpid repose, John Henry Newman, who met Dr. Pusey there for one last day, fulfilling the words written long before -
Yet deem not on such parting sad Shall dawn no welcome dear and glad.
But neither of these two last visits took place till after the changes of old age had begun at Hursley.
The first great sorrow came in the death of Elisabeth, the wise, gentle, and quiet invalid sister who had been always part of Mr. Keble's life, and seemed, above all, to diffuse about her an atmosphere of peace and holiness. After a gradual, almost imperceptible decay, she sank to sleep on the 7th of August 1860. Mrs. Keble's always frail health began to fail more and more, so that winters in a warmer climate became necessary. Dawlish, Penzance, and Torquay were resorted to in successive winters, and Mr. Keble began to revolve the question whether it might not become his duty to resign the living, where, to his own humble apprehension, all his best efforts had failed to raise the people to his own standard of religion. However, this was averted, and he was still at his post when, on the night of St. Andrew's Day, the 30th of November 1864, as he was sitting up writing to Dean Stanley on a passage of which he disapproved in the History of the Jewish Church, the hand of warning touched him with a slight stroke of paralysis. With complete rest at Torquay and Penzance during the winter, he recovered to a considerable degree, and came home to resume many of his usual habits, but Mrs. Keble's suffering from spasmodic asthma had become very frequent, and it became necessary, early in the autumn, to remove to Bournemouth.
There they remained, she gradually sinking, and only distressed at the thought of his being left; he bearing up in silent resignation and prayer till, on the 22nd of March, a mistake in using a cold instead of a hot bath brought on a shock, and in four days more, on Maundy-Thursday the 29th of March 1866, the voice of Hursley and Otterbourne was, "Thy master is taken from thy head to-day." It was granted to her to be at rest concerning him before she followed, six weeks later, on the 11th of May, to the double grave.
It was on a beautiful day, with the celandines shining like stars on the bank, that we laid him in his grave, a concourse of sorrowing friends being present, who could look to him as having wakened and cherished their best aspirations; and those who had come under his personal influence feeling that a loved father had been taken away. It was on that day that Alexander Forbes, Bishop of Brechin, Dr. Pusey, Dean Hook, Sir William Heathcote, Dean Butler, and others, decided that the most fitting memorial would be the building of the College at Oxford which bears his name, and is pledged to Church principles, and to a scale of expenses not beyond the reach of less wealthy students. A monument was in due time raised above the graves, designed by Mr. Butterfield--Mr. Keble's in red granite, Mrs. Keble's in Derbyshire marble.
The place in the chancel where the coffin of John Keble, priest of the parish, had been placed before the morning's Celebration, was marked by a brass cross given by the parishioners, who more and more felt that they had had among them a saint of God, and can hardly fail to think of him when they sing, "O ye holy and humble men of heart, bless ye the Lord, praise Him and magnify Him for ever."