[From Letters & Memoir of Bishop Shirley, 1849]
pp446 et seq
His health had never been robust, and the sensitiveness of his mind exercised a malignant influence on his constitution. Though his temper was so even, that it was scarcely ever known to be ruffled, yet his feelings were so keen, and his sympathies so strong, that he was deeply and powerfully affected by all that affected the cause in which he was engaged, or the persons for whom he was interested.
The preceding letters are full of accounts of illnesses, of which he made light at the time, and from which be never would derive a caution to spare himself in future. The illness under which he was labouring, when he felt himself obliged to go to Lichfield, to urge the cause of the female training-school at Derby, proved to be sciatica. The attack was obstinate, and he never quite recovered from it till after his return from France in the summer. Nor is there any doubt that his recovery was retarded by his anxiety about the Bampton Lecture, which exercised a sinister influence on his present weak state of body.
Such was the state of things when, in the month of November, he received from Lord John Russell the proposal to recommend him to her Majesty for the vacant Bishopric of Sodor and Man. This offer, after mature consideration and earnest prayer, he resolved to accept.
To his children, the prospect of leaving the place of their birth and their nearest connexions for the society of strangers, and a distant home, separated from all that they had known and loved, by a long and rough sea-passage, was full of gloom and discomfort. To his parents, the loss was severe ; at their advanced age, they could look forward to but few and hurried meetings to compensate to them the easy and familiar intercourse which. they had long enjoyed.
Soon after the official notification of his appointment, he accepted the kind invitation of his predecessor, the Bishop of St. Asaph, to accompany him to the island.
TO SIR M. BLAKISTON, BART.
Shirley, Nov. 24th, 1846.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
The Bishopric of Sodor and Man has been offered to me in a manner so kind and encouraging, that, after a good deal of very anxious consideration, (for I have much every way to leave behind, owing to the goodness of my God,) I have accepted it, and have this morning received Lord John Russell's official information of the Queen's approval. And now I look forward to my new duties with cheerful and lively interest, and seek for strength that I may discharge them to the glory of God, and to the edification of the Church, so precious because purchased at a price so costly. Pray for me, dear friend, that grace, wisdom, and strength may be granted according to my need. My mother was much overpowered, but is now reconciled to the move. A. has been most touching, leaving all her early associations. I have just been told the cottagers are in tears. It is, in short, an overwhelming subject; but I cannot write more.
TO THE LORD BISHOP OF LICHFIELD.
Shirley, Nov. 24th, 1646.
MY DEAR LORD,
I was sorry to be obliged to write to you yesterday without being able to inform you of my expected appointment to the see of Sodor and Man, of which I have only this morning received an official intimation from Lord John Russell. I am sure, my dear Lord, you will sympathize with the many conflicting feelings excited in my mind by an event which deranges nearly all my domestic, parochial, and public relations, to a degree that can hardly be estimated by any one who does not know me intimately. It will be a real grief to me to leave this diocese, which has been a scene of such extreme interest to me, and where I have so many tried and valued friends; but, especially, where I have had to do with a Bishop who has indeed been more to me than words can express. I well remember the anxiety I felt when deprived of my excellent friend Bishop Bowstead, respecting my relation to his successor, and therefore know how to appreciate the kindness, consideration, and confidence with which you have uniformly favoured me. Accept the assurance of the affectionate gratitude and unmingled satisfaction with which I shall always look back upon my short connexion with you. Believe me, my dear Lord,
Yours very affectionately,
W. A. SHIRLEY.
TO THE HON. MRS. STEWART MACKENZIE.
[In answer to her invitation to Brahan Castle.]
Shirley, Nov. 25th, 1846.
MY DEAR MRS. MACKENZIE,
My answer to your kind letter must be the information that I have been appointed to the see of Sodor and Man. Therefore, we shall be nearer neighbours than we are at present, and though my engagements just now are such as to put everything but very solemn thoughts and responsible duties out of my head, I hope that we may meet before very long. Tell Keith, with my love, that he must come and see his fine old clock adorning Bishop's Court, in the Isle of Man, where we shall be delighted to see any of your family when once we are settled, which will not be till Midsummer. I am going with the late Bishop, now Bishop of St. Asaph, to the Isle of Man on Friday, to see the state of things. I have such a multitude of letters to write, that I hope you will excuse my adding more. Pray that I may have grace and wisdom for this solemn charge. Accept and present our united kindest regards.
Yours, my dear madam, Very faithfully,
W. A. SHIRLEY. TO THE LORD BISHOP OF LICHFIELD.
Douglas, Isle of Man, Nov. 27th, 1846.
When I left home yesterday I was in receipt of your kind letter of Nov. 24th, but was quite sure that another, of still greater interest, was on its way to me. The Bishop of St. Asaph was coming to the island, and in the kindest and most considerate manner invited me to accompany him, which, of course, I was most happy to do, for his information and advice are invaluable to me. I shall have less exertion and excitement than in Derbyshire, which I hope will be good for my own soul; but I shall need many very high qualifications in which I feel myself very defective. The Bishop's duties here are much more varied than in England, and, though on a small scale, require the exercise of much wisdom and thoughtful discretion.
I have written a circular to the Rural Deans about the Church Extension meeting in answer to your Lordship's appeal, which is admirably adapted to its purpose. I have also written to Mr. Newton, as secretary, to get up the requisition for the Derby meetings. As you are engaged on the 22nd, we must, I think, have Derby 23rd, and Chesterfield 24th; and I would attend a meeting at Bakewell early in the next week, if my consecration and D.D. engagements permit. I am quite grieved that these interruptions should occur just now; but I will do what I can in this my last service for my beloved diocese and Bishop.
I return home, D.V., on Thursday. I have had rather a rough passage, which makes me feel that the insulation of this see is a serious drawback for my wife and mother; but it will be better in summer, and we must move then.
TO HIS WIFE.
Derby Castle, Douglas, Nov. 27th, 1846.
MY DEAREST M.
I have not time to write at length, and must reserve all particulars until we meet. We started about 9.30 A.M., and I walked on deck with the Bishop till towards 1 P.M., getting all sorts of information from him, on matters great and small, spiritual and secular, which you must pump out of me on my return. Our passage was not a very good one, for we had a stiff breeze in our teeth, and did not arrive till 6 P.M. instead of 4 30 P.M., the usual time. When we were first within sight of the island, I got on the bridge which unites the two paddle-boxes, and was enjoying myself in meditation and prayer on the interesting little kingdom before me, when a wave burst over the bows and gave me the showerbath which I had omitted in the morning, so that I was obliged to go below and change my great coat, and was cold and damp when I arrived.
Dr. Carpenter and Archdeacon Moore met the Bishop on the quay, and greeted me with much cordiality. The Bishop went to Dr. Carpenter's, and I took a fly and came on here. Imagine the surprise and joy of these affectionate friends, (Sir M. and Lady Blakiston;) they immediately guessed the object of my journey. I was cold, and wet, and hungry, for, to tell the honest truth, I was not in a state to relish a dinner at sea, nor was the Bishop, though an excellent sailor; but I was soon warmed, and dried, and fed, and we have talked everything over, they, of course, heartily approving, though I grieve to say that they will have left the island just before we arrive. The post has just arrived, bringing my two letters to Sir M. B. and the "Record" with a flattering paragraph about me . . would that I were all it. represents me to be; but each heart knows its own plague, at least if the Spirit of God has taught its first lessons. We ought to pray much, dearest one, that we may go in and out among these plain people with simplicity and godly sincerity, testifying fully, each in our own , way, and our children and servants confirming our testimony, that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. I hope too that we shall find this quiet place profitable to our own souls.
Tell my darling child that the Bishop says that Bishop's Court is a charming place for young people, in doors and out of doors, and for rides and walks. I join the Bishop soon after breakfast to-morrow, and we go to the house together.
TO MRS. BULL.
Shirley, Dec. 5th, 1846.
MY DEAR SARAH,
I must not refuse your request to have one more letter from your old friend, W. A. S., though your letter was one of nearly seventy which met me at Douglas, the day I left the island. It is a solemn step we are taking, and leads me to look backwards and forwards; and both views excite very conflicting opinions-so much so, that there have been moments when I have almost doubted whether we should not have done better to have remained here. But on the whole I am satisfied that it was my duty to go forward when the cloud so distinctly moved ; and I feel assured that if our way at any time be dark, the cloud will be turned into a clear pillar of light. I am going into a contracted sphere of operation, but to undertake an awfully increased responsibility; for it is a very different thing to administer an extensive range of subordinate duties, and to be the one man to whom all the pastors of an entire island are to look. Moreover, the Bishop of the Isle of Man occupies no common post there, and has much civil as well as spiritual responsibility and influence, and more real power for good or evil within his contracted sphere than any English Bishop. He has no seat in the English House of Lords, but he is to the island the whole bench of Bishops. You and yours must come over some holidays to witness my work, ramble over my wide old house, worship in my chapel, mount the hills, acid gather the beautiful flowers which, as you know, flourish there as they do nowhere in England. God grant that we may be blessed in that sweet retirement, and find his pleasure prosper in our hands. I mean to have an intimation of the day of my consecration put in the " Record," that my dear Christian friends may be helping me in that solemn ceremonial. Our kindest regards to you and your husband, and your children.
Your affectionate Friend,
W. A. SHIRLEY:
After a stay of about a week in the island, the Bishop elect returned to Shirley. He arrived late, and complained of being unwell and fatigued, and though not dejected, he was in a very solemn and serious frame of mind. In answer to some inquiries about the furniture at Bishop's Court, he replied, " It is not nearly so nice as our own, but it will do very well. Whilst you are thinking of chairs and tables, I am thinking of the souls of men. I cannot tell you how I am filled with thoughts about that island." At another time he said, " I cannot think how any one can feel set up by being made a Bishop; it is to me the most humiliating circumstance of my life. I am continually asking myself who, or what am I, that I should be thus counted worthy to be raised above my fellows ?"
The strain in which many letters of congratulation were couched, regarding the see of Sodor and Man merely as a step to preferment, gave him decided pain. He observed more than once, " I wish people would not write thus. Satan is quite busy enough as it is with such suggestions. But, dearest M-, I hope you will not entertain them. No, we must go to our post in a really missionary spirit, content to live or die there, as God may see fit. Let us leave the future in His hands."
During the following days his indisposition slowly increased, and proved to be the beginning of a severe and dangerous illness, which made it necessary to defer his consecration, and from which he could hardly be said to have quite recovered, when it finally took place on the 10th of the following January. Sanctified affliction was a subject on which he had always loved to dwell. It was now his turn to reap its peaceful fruits himself; and those around him could not but be sensible that " patience was having its perfect work in him." * [James i. 4.] Meek he had always been, but he became meeker still; humble, but now he seemed hardly to be able to find words wherewith to express his sense of unworthiness. His love to God and man had been great, but now his zeal seemed to burn brighter than ever; and his love, and tenderness, and gratitude, for every little attention shown by those around him, were quite overpowering.
TO THE LORD BISHOP OF LICHFIELD.
Shirley, Dec. 26th, 1846.
MY DEAR LORD,
I am just beginning to use my pen a little, being, thank God, much better, but still rather weak, and I am anxious that one of my first efforts should be to assure you how deeply sensible I am of the lively sympathy and true love which you have shewn towards me on this, indeed I may say, on every occasion. It is a comfort for me to know that when I shall have to walk and act alone as Bishop, often, I doubt not, under circumstances of great difficulty and very weighty responsibility, I shall be permitted to consult, as an elder brother, one to whom I have gladly looked as my father and bishop. Few persons will be better able than yourself to understand the effect which my change of position has had upon my health. The effect itself I take as an answer to the many prayers which I know, and have felt, have been offered up for me. I might have been hurried along by a whirl of business, church extension meetings, parting from friends, receiving last visits, letters incalculable, and so have found myself with little time for introspection on the very eve of the most solemn event of my life hitherto. But God has been pleased, out of his great love, wherewith for Christ's sake He has loved me, a wretched sinner, to take me from all this, and to set eternity before me, so as to make me think of gathering tip my feet (not unwillingly I trust) and singing my "nunc dimittis Domine !" But having taught me these solemn lessons, it seems to be his pleasure that I should go forth to work a little longer for Him. May it only be under the influence of the loving correction which He has so wisely and so tenderly administered. But I must not write more. It will be a great comfort to have you with me on the 10th, but at any rate I know you will be there in spirit. The Bishop of St. Asaph will be there, I am thankful to say.
When I know the time of my homage, I will endeavour to arrange for the Derbyshire meetings. It is a great comfort to me that Lord John should have taken the best resident clergyman in Derbyshire for Archdeacon, and that he should not have done even this without consulting the Bishop.
Our united kindest regards to you all. Your affectionate And obliged Friend,
W. A. SHIRLEY.
TO MISS STOVIN.
Shirley, Dec. 31st, 1846.
MY DEAR EMMA,
I am much obliged by your affectionate note, and the kind invitation it contains; but I must " salute no man by the way," and hasten off to my post of duty the moment, after the solemn ceremony of the 10th, that I have been admitted to do homage to the Queen. Every day and hour are engaged before we go to town, so that we have been obliged to decline most pressing invitations to rest even a single night at Rempstone on our way. I hope that, later in the year, when I have preached my Barnpton Lectures, we may have more leisure to visit some friends in England; but duty, and especially such duties as mine will be, must occupy the first place.
You have indeed, dear Emma, much comfort in your beloved mother's removal. She was a friend whom I have loved with much affection for many years; and the news of her departure, coming at a time when I was very ill my self, quite overcame me. But it is all well-one more, we trust, admitted into the blessed security of our heavenly " Father's house," in which "are many mansions."v May we, dear girl, and those we love, be found meet to occupy those mansions, and then all will indeed be well. This is all for which it is worth while to live, and to attain this it is indeed gain to die.
May the Lord be with you and your dear father and brother, and sanctify you more and more by this visitation. Our united kindest regards. I am not yet quite so strong as usual, but am thankful to say I gain ground daily. Mrs. Shirley's love and thanks for your letter. She has written some hundred letters for me, and is very busy.
Your affectionate Godfather and Friend,
W. A. SHIRLEY.
* John xiv. 2.
TO E. P. SHIRLEY, ESQ.
Shirley, Jan. 2nd, 1847.
MY DEAR COUSIN,
Many thanks for your kind letter and all your loving sympathy with me in my promotion and in the illness with which it has pleased God to visit me, as the only means, I presume, of rescuing me from the whirl of business in which I was involved, and giving me leisure to collect my thoughts, and fetch in spiritual strength for the solemn duties on which I am so soon about to enter. It is a very momentous new year to me and mine-breaking up old and cherished asso ciations. God grant that you and yours, as well as my immediate family, may find it a year of many blessings; but my experience tells me that blessings do not always, nor even often, come in the form in which we expect them, and that we do not always recognize them as blessings, when sent to us in the form of afflictions of one kind or another. I am better, thank God, but not strong, and we have had a very fatiguing week:-Monday, Cottagers' wives to supper. Tuesday, Children to tea. Wednesday, Farmers' wives to tea, &e. Thursday, Farmers to supper. Friday, Labourers to supper.
Next week we have two Church Extension Meetings at Derby and Chesterfield, at which I am to attend if possible. I long for the quiet of Bishop's Court. Our united kindest regards to you all.
Your affectionate Cousin,
W. A. SHIRLEY.
TO MRS. BISHOPP.
Chesterfield, Jan. 8th, 1847.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
I am anxious to tell you, which I do with the deepest gratitude, that I have been wonderfully carried through all the exciting scenes of leaving my home and parish, receivinga presentation of plate on Tuesday evening*-an address from the clergy at Derby yesterday at 12 o'clock-county meeting at 1 P. M., for church extension -a meeting for the same purpose here at 12 o'clock, and then a short examination of the school. By being much alone, and sleeping often, I am not only not the worse for all this, but am really almost well, and believe that I shall be quite well, please God, when my mind is set at liberty from distracting claims upon it, to think quietly, exclusively, and seriously of the work before me in my little primitive island diocese. Picture to yourself our party of six filling a railway carriage, with love and earnest thoughts, to-morrow morning on our way to London; and then the three generations at my consecration! I know that you will be a seventh in spirit.
Your affectionate and obliged Friend, W. A. SHIRLEY.
* Presented by the parishioners of Osmaston ; consisting of an elegant ink-stand, and corresponding tray for letters, with a pair of candlesticks.