[From Manx Recollections, 1894]
THE Elliotts did not leave St. Barnabas at the departure of Dr. Carpenter, though they deeply deplored his loss; and it seemed to them as if it never could in any measure be made up to them. It was in 1848 Mrs. Elliott in her letters first makes mention of the name of the Rev. William Hawley, a clergyman who was at this time paying his addresses to her old schoolfellow, Miss Catherine Jefferson. In 1849 Mr. Hawley and this lady were married; and eventually he became curate of St. George's, a church in which for something like six years as curate, and nineteen as incumbent, Mr. Hawley lived the life of a true devoted servant of the gospel of Christ. Mrs. Elliott often refers to him in her letters, and always in terms of esteem and affection.
St. George's was within three minutes' walk of the Elliotts' house. In later years they attended this church. The incumbent in 1848 was the Rev. Edward Forbes. He was a great friend of Mrs. Elliott's. Mr. Forbes was a most estimable man and faithful preacher one of the same school of thought as Dr. Carpenter; and, like him, a most kind and attentive pastor. He was much esteemed by his people, though at this date he had only been a year amongst them. As time went on and he became better known, the attachment of his congregation increased, and he was deservedly respected throughout the island.
It is refreshing to heart and mind to dwell upon the record of the love and unanimity that existed in dear old Douglas between pastors and people. The people were what the clergy made them. The latter were earnest men of God, and their congregations reflected their spirit. One common cause bound them together devotion to Christ, and the extension of His kingdom at home and abroad, alone, with a loyal adherence to the principles of the Church of their fathers. No foreign element of usurped ecclesiastical teaching and practices had yet intruded to mar the concord and peace, and separate between brethren who were once one in the household of faith. The curates, it would appear, were like-minded with the incumbents men of spiritual character and moral weight influences for Christ and leaders of men. At St. Barnabas as curate, during the latter time of Dr. Carpenter's ministry, was the Rev. Philip Dowe. Mrs Elliott often spoke of this earnest young clergyman. She described him as a delightful person, combining fine intellectual attainments with a life devoted to the service of God and man. This Mr. Dowe was a frequent visitor at Mrs. Elliott's, and so was the Rev. John Flowers Serjeant, curate of St. George's. Mr. Serjeant was a little ugly man, but with a big, loving, soul. He laid hold of the people as if they were prey, coming upon them with the energy of a hawk, and retaining them in his grasp with the fascination of his strong individuality, and the warm good nature of his ever ready and ever true sympathy. His zeal in good works was unbounded, and his single-eyed efforts for the cause of God and good of man reaped the fruits of a responsive people's warm attachment and perfect trust.
Mr. Serjeant was born in Paris in 1815, and began his ministerial labours in 1842. He was afterwards well known in missionary circles as Suffragan Bishop to the Bishop of Madras. Subsequent to his curacy in Douglas, he spent many years in Paris, labouring amongst the poor especially of the gay city as he had done in Douglas. He never married his bride was the Church of Christ. On one occasion some Douglas friends, when paying a visit to Paris, went to look him up. They knew the locality in which he lived, but his domicile they spent some hours in searching for. At last they discovered it, and could hardly believe their eyes they described it as little better than an underground cellar! Right hospitably they were however entertained in this obscure dwelling and once more enjoyed with the genial original little clergyman "the feast of reason and the flow of soul."
As an instance of the peculiarity of manner and appearance of this self-denying man, the writer can vouch for the truth of the following story
A certain school of young ladies who attended the Protestant Church in the Avenue Maibceuf, had not pleased the governess who had the charge of them in church, and she had reported their conduct to the head-mistress, who was French, and a Roman Catholic. Madame determined to make a new selection of pews, and she conceived that immediately beneath the pulpit, under the clergyman's eye, would be the fittest place. Consequently, one Sunday she said she would herself accompany her pupils to church, instead of the English governess, and see how the new pews would answer. It so happened that Mr. Gardiner, the incumbent, was absent that day, and Mr. Serjeant officiated instead. When the time arrived for the latter to ascend the pulpit and address his audience, his first necessity was to mount a stool; but lo! though this he did, his head and his head only, appeared above the level of the pulpit. His head was not small in dimensions the very reverse; and his features were correspondingly striking and peculiar, his mouth almost extending from ear to ear. The sight of the strange individual excited the young ladies' risibility below as well as that of Madame herself ; but this was nothing to when he delivered his oration. Stentorious and emphatic were his tones, and in his vehemence he threw his head from side to side, emitting drops of spittle that besprinkled the head decorations and dresses of Madame and her youthful family of pupils; especially was this the case when he ejaculated in tones, and with a manner never to be forgotten, the startling implication "If you do not see this (the point of his argument) you must be as blind as veritable bats!"
" Oh, mes enfants ! " exclaimed Madame on leaving the church, thrusting her fingers into both her cars, "shall I ever regain my hearing? You shall keep your own seats. My new dress is well-nigh ruined, and your feathers have suffered, I am sure ! "
Of course the young ladies readily assented to the dictum on the preacher, but inwardly and to one another vowed a debt of gratitude to "the dear funny little clergy man," who had so unconsciously done them such a good turn, in securing for them the continuation of their well-liked and accustomed seats in the front gallery !
Mr. Serjeant died in 1889, much beloved and respected.
Several articles at the time appeared in different religious periodicals on the subject of his singularly marked character,self-sacrificing and useful life. Previous to his being apointed Suffragan Bishop in 1877 to the Bishop of Madras, he was a student at the Church Missionary College at Islington ; and then entered upon mission worlc at Tinnevelly, where he prepared young native pastors for the ministry, as he had a good knowledge of the Tamil language, the early part of his life having, been spent at Madras and Palmacottah.
When in Douglas no one thouaht more of Mr. Serjeant than Mrs. Elliott. She admired the splendid vigour of his character, his genial humour, and simple, unostentatious mode of life. It will readily be assumed he formed one of the happy entertaining coterie that so frequently met at 31 Athol Street. Mr. Serjeant had a ready pen, and a keen relish for literature. The poems of Miss Barrett were at this time though for years before the public merely beginning to attract the notice of an occasional admirer; amongst the few in the little world of Douglas who would pronounce a decided opinion as to their merits were Mrs. Elliott and her following of literary friends. With Lieut. Wood, Mr. Dowe, Mr. Serjeant, and others she would open up what she conceived to be the excellences of the powers of this budding poetess. It seems almost incredible now to think that there was a time when the genius of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, was doubted, or if not that, depreciated, and by some even scouted as a thing of no existence.
In evidence of this it is peculiarly interesting to note that Eleanor Elliott penetrated at the outset the worth of Elizabeth Barrett, and pronounced upon it without hesitancy. She delighted in the works that had appeared of the poetess; she studied them, and wherever she went amongst her literary acquaintances, discussed their beauties, interested her hearers, and induced many to follow her belief, and procure the works of Miss Barrett.
It was when filled with the conviction of a new-born genius on the literary horizon and one whose theme was " Love Divine " that our friend was determined to give forth her thoughts, and extend them as far as she could beyond her own immediate circle of acquaintances. This she did in the very beautiful and interesting critique on Elizabeth Barrett's writings which will comprise the ensuing chapter, and which appeared in the Christian Lady's Magazine for 1850. It will serve to show the critic's keen intellectual grasp and fine poetical perception; and more especially the deep well of heavenly love that bubbled up from her heart to her brain and instigated her pen.
In after years Mrs. Elliott's admiration for this poetess was much more qualified. Her opinion was that after her marriage with Browning she fell ofi considerably in reeard to the high religious tone and clear note of thought and aspiration which hitherto had so characterised her writings.