THE condition of the Church in the diocese of Exeter at the time when
John Wesley appeared was piteous in the extreme. Non-residence was the
rule: the services of the sanctuary were performed in the most slovenly
manner, the sacraments were administered rarely and without due
reverence in too many places, and pastoral visitation was neglected. The
same state of things continued, only slightly improved, to the time when
Mr. Hawker began his ministrations at Morwenstow.
There was a story told of a fox-hunting parson, Mr. Radford, in the
north of Devon, when I was a boy. He was fond of having convivial
evenings in his parsonage, which often ended uproariously.
Bishop Phillpotts sent for him, and said: “Mr. Radford, I hear, but I
can hardly believe it, that men fight in your house.”
“Lor’, my dear,” answered Parson Radford, in broad Devonshire, “doant’y
believe it. When they begin fighting, I take and turn them out into the
The Bishop of Exeter came one day to visit him without notice. Parson
Radford, in scarlet, was just about to mount his horse and gallop off to
the meet, when he heard that the bishop was in the village. He had
barely time to send away his hunter, run upstairs, and jump, red coat
and boots, into bed, when the bishop’s carriage drew up at the door.
“Tell his lordship I’m ill, will ye?” was his injunction to his
housekeeper, as he flew to bed.
“Is Mr. Radford in?” asked Dr. Phillpotts.
“He’s ill in bed,” said the housekeeper.
“Dear me! I am so sorry! Pray ask if I may come up and sit with him,”
said the bishop.
The housekeeper ran upstairs in sore dismay, and entered Parson
Radford’s room. The parson stealthily put his head out of the
bedclothes, but was reassured when he saw his room was invaded by his
housekeeper, and not by the bishop.
“Please, your honour, his lordship wants to come upstairs, and sit with
you a little.”
“With me, good heavens!” gasped Parson Radford. “No. Go down and tell
his lordship I’m took cruel bad with _scarlet fever_: it is an
aggravated case, and very catching.”
In the neighbourhood of Morwenstow, a little before Mr. Hawker’s time,
was a certain Parson Winterton.[*] He was rector of Eastcote, rector of
Eigncombe, rector of Marwood, rector of Westcote, and vicar of Barton.
Mr. Hawker used to tell the following story:—
When Parson Winterton lay on his death-bed, he was visited and prepared
for dying by a neighbouring clergyman.
“What account can you render for the talents committed to your charge?
What use have you made of them?” asked the visitor.
“Use of my talents?” repeated the dying man. And then, thrusting his
hands out from under the bedclothes, he said: “I came into this diocese
with nothing—yes, with nothing—and now,” and he began to check off the
names on the fingers of the left hand with the forefinger of the right
hand, “I am rector of Eigncombe, worth £80; rector of Marwood, worth
£450; rector of Westcote, worth £560; vicar of Barton, worth £300; and
rector of Eastcote, worth a £1000. If that is not making use of one’s
talents, I do not know what is. I think I can die in peace.”
Morwenstow, as has been already said, had been without a resident vicar
for a century before Mr. Hawker came there. When he arrived, it was with
his great heart overflowing with love, and burning to do good to the
souls and bodies of his people. He was about the parish all day on his
pony, visiting every one of his flock, taking vehement interest in all
their concerns, and doing everything he could think of to win their
But two centuries of neglect by the Church was not to be remedied in a
generation. Mr. Hawker was surprised that he could not do it in a
twelvemonth. He was met with coldness and hostility by most of the
farmers, who were, with one or two exceptions, Wesleyans or Bible
Christians. The autocrat of the neighbourhood was an agent for the
principal landowner of the district, and he held the people under his
thumb. With him the vicar speedily quarrelled: their characters were as
opposed as the poles, and it was impossible that they could work
together. Mr. Hawker thought—rightly or wrongly, who shall decide?—that
this man thwarted him at every turn, and urged on the farmers to oppose
and upset all his schemes for benefiting the parish, spiritually and
temporally. Mutual antipathy caused recriminations, and the hostility
became open. The agent thought he had dealt the vicar a severe blow when
he persuaded Sir J. Buller to claim St. John’s Well. Mr. Hawker found
himself baffled by the coldness of the Dissenters, and the hostility of
the agent, which he had probably brought upon himself; and it struck a
chill to his heart, and saddened it.
The vicar was, however, not blameless in the matter. He expected all
opposition to melt away before his will; and if a parishioner, or any
one else with whom he had dealings, did not prove malleable, and submit
to be turned in his hands like a piece of wax, he had no patience with
him. He could not argue, but he could make assertions with the force and
vehemence which tell with some people as arguments.
The warmth with which Mr. Hawker took up the cause of the labourers, his
denunciation of the truck system, and the forcible way in which he
protested against the lowness of the wage paid the men, conduced, no
doubt, to set the farmers against him. But he was the idol of the
workmen. Their admiration and respect for him knew no bounds. “If all
gentlemen were like our vicar,” was the common saying, “the world would
have no wrongs in it.”
When Mr. Hawker’s noble face was clouded with trouble, as he talked over
the way in which he had been thwarted at every turn by the agent and the
farmers, if a word were said about the poor, the clouds cleared from his
brow, his face brightened at once: “‘The poor have ye always with you,’
said our Lord, and the word is true—is true.”
In a letter written in 1864 to a former curate of Wellcombe, now an
incumbent in Essex, he says:—
The only parish of which I can report favourably is my own cure of
Wellcombe. Morwenstow is, as it always was, Wesleyan to the
backbone; but at Wellcombe the church attendance is remarkable. The
same people are faithful and constant as worshippers, and the
communicants from two hundred and four souls are fourteen. When any
neighbouring clergyman has officiated for me, he is struck with the
number and conduct of the congregation. The rector of Kilkhampton
often declares Wellcombe to be the wonder of the district. This is
to me a great compensation for the unkindly Church feeling of
The opposition of the Wesleyans and Bryanites caused much bitterness,
and he could not speak with justice and charity of John Wesley. He knew
nothing of the greatness, holiness and zeal of that zealous man: he did
not consider how dead the Church was when he appeared and preached to
the people. When he was reproached for his harsh speeches about Wesley,
his ready answer was: “I judge of him by the deeds of his followers.”
One of his sayings was: “John Wesley came into Cornwall and persuaded
the people to change their vices.” Once, when the real greatness of
Wesley was being pressed upon him, he said sharply: “Tell me about
Wesley when you can give me his present address.”
If this vehement prejudice seems unjust and unchristian, it must be
remembered that Mr. Hawker had met with great provocation. But it was
not this provocation which angered him against Methodists and Bryanites,
for he was a man of large though capricious charity: that which cut him
to the quick was the sense that Cornish Methodism was demoralising the
people. Wesleyanism was not so much to blame as Bryanism.
The Cornish Bryanites profess entire freedom from obligation to keep the
law, and the complete emancipation from irksome moral restraint of those
who are children of God, made so by free grace and a saving faith. One
of their preachers was a man of unblushingly profligate life: the
details of his career will not bear relation. Mr. Hawker used to mention
some scandalous acts of his to his co-religionists, but always received
the cool reply: “Ah! maybe; but after all he is a _sweet Christian_.”
A favourite performance in a Bryanite meeting, according to popular
report, is to “hunt the Devil out.” The preacher having worked the
people up into a great state of excitement, they are provided with
sticks, and the lights are extinguished. A general _mêlée_ ensues. Every
one who hits thinks he is dealing the Devil his death-blow; and every
one who receives a blow believes it is a butt from the Devil’s horns.
Mr. Hawker had a capital story of one of these meetings.
The preacher had excited the people to a wild condition by assuring them
he saw the Devil in person—there! there! there!
“Where, where is he?” screamed some of the people.
“Shall I hit ’un down with my umbrella?” asked a farmer.
“He’ll burn a great hole in it if ye do,” said his wife; “and I reck’n
he won’t find you another.”
Sticks were flourished, and all rushed yelling from their pews.
“Where is he? Let us catch a glimpse of the end of his tail, and we’ll
The shouting and the uproar became great.
“I see ’un, I see ’un!” shouted the preacher; and, pointing to the door,
he yelled, “He is there!”
At that very moment the door of the Bryanite meeting-house was thrown
open and there stood R——, the dreaded steward of Lord ——, with his grey
mare. He had been riding by, and astonished at the noise, had dismounted
and opened the door to learn what had occasioned it.
I give the account of a private Bible Christian meeting from the
narrative of an old Cornish woman of Kilkhampton.
“Some thirty or more years agone, Long Bill Martin was converted and
became a very serious character in Kilkhampton; and a great change that
was for Bill. Prayer-meetings were now his delight, especially if young
women were present—then he did warm up, I tell’y. He could preach, he
could, just a word or two at a time; and then, when he couldn’t find
words, he’d roar. He was a mighty comfortin’ preacher, too, especially
to the maidens. Many was the prayer-meeting which he kept alive; and if
things was going flat—for gospel ministers du go flat sometimes, tell’y,
just like ginger-beer bottles if the cork’s out tu often. And, let me
tell’y, talkin’ of that, there comed a Harchdeacon here one day: I seed
’un, and he had strings tied about his hat, just as they du corks of
lemonade, to keep the spirit in him down; he was nat’rally very uppish,
I reck’n. But to go back to Bill. When he couldn’t speak, why, then he’d
howl, like no sucking dove: ‘Ugh! the devil! drive the devil!’ Yu could
hear him hunting the devil of nights a hundred yards or more off from
the cottage where he was leading prayer. One day he settled to have a
meeting down near the end of the village and sent in next door to borrow
a form (not a form of prayer, yu know, for he didn’t hold to that), and
invited the neighbours to join. ‘You’d better come. We’m goin’ to have a
smart meetin’ t’night, can tell’y.’
“So us went in, and they set to to pray: fust won and then another was
called upon to pray. ’sister, you pray.’ ‘Brother Rhicher (Richard), you
pray.’ So to last Rhicher Davey he beginned: ‘My old woman,’ sez he,
’she’s hoffal bad in her temper, and han’t got no saving grace in her,
not so much as ye might put on the tail of a flea,’ sez he; ‘but we
hopps for better things, and I prays for improvement,’ he went on; ‘and
if improvement don’t come to her, why, improvement might come to me, by
her bein’ taken where the wicked cease from troubling, and so leave
weary me at rest.’ Then I began to laugh; but Long Bill he ketched me up
and roared, ‘Pray like blazes, Nanny Gilbert, do’y!’ So I kep my eye
fixed to her, and luked at her hard and steadfast, I did, for I knew
what the latter hupshot would be with her; and her beginned, ‘We worms
of hearth!’ and there her ended. So we waited a bit; and then Bill
Martin says, ’squeedge it hout, Nanny, squeedge it hout!’ But it were
all no good. Never another word could she utter, though I saw she was as
red as a beet-root with tryin’ to pray. She groaned, but no words. Then
out comed old Bill—Long Bill us called ’un, but Bill Martin was his
rightful name—‘Let us pray, my friends,’ he sez. ‘Honly believe,’ he
sez. ‘Drive the devil,’ he roars. ‘There he is! There he is!’ he sez.
‘Do’y not see ’un! Do’y not smell ’un?’—‘It’s the cabbidge,’ sez Nanny
Gilbert; ‘there’s some, and turnips tu, and a bit of bacon, biling in
the pot over the turves.’ For her was a little put out at not being able
to pray. It was her cottage in which the prayer-meeting was being held,
yu know. Well, Long Bill didn’t stomach the cabbidge, so he roars louder
than afore, ‘FAITH! my friends; have _faith!_ and then yu can see and
smell the devil.’—‘If it’s the cabbidge yu mean,’ sez Nanny, ‘I can
smell ’un by my nat’ral faculties.’—‘There’s the devil!’ shouts Bill
Martin, growing excited. ‘Ugh! drive the hold devil! Faith! my friends,
have faith, hellshaking faith, conquering faith, devil-driving faith, a
damned lot of faith!’ And then he roars, ‘There he is! I can zee ’un
afluttering hover your heads, ye sinners, just like my hands afluttering
over the cann’l!’
“So I titched her as was next me, and I sez: ‘Where is ’un? I doan’t see
’un, d’yu?’—‘Yer han’t got faith,’ sez she. ‘But I can feel ’un just as
if he was acrigglin’ and acrawlin’ in my head where the partin’ is.’
“Well, just then—and I am sure I can’t tell yu whether it happened afore
Bill Martin speaked, or after—but he roars out, ‘I see ’un! he’s flown
up the chimley!’ And just then—as I sed, I cannot say whether it was
afore he speaked or after—down came a pailful of soot right into the
midst of old Nanny’s pot of cabbage and turnips.
“Well, I tell’y, when old Nanny Gilbert seed that, her was as mad as
Parson Hawker during a wreck. She ups off her chair and runs first to
the pot and looks what’s done there; and then she flies to Bill
Martin—Long Bill, yu know—and ketches him by the ear and drags him
forward to the pot and sez, flaming like a bit of fuzz, ‘Yer let the
devil loose out of your own breast and sent ’um flittering up my
chimley, the wiper! and he’s smutted all my supper, as was biling for me
and my old man and the childer. And I’ll tell’y what, if yu don’t bring
your devil down by his tail, that I may rub his nose in it, I’ll dip
yours, I will.’
“Well, yu may believe me, Bill tremmled as a blank-mange—that’s a sort
of jelly stuff I seed one day in a gentleman’s house to Bude, when the
servant was carrying it in to dinner; it shooked all hover like. For I
tell’y, a woman as has had her biling of cabbage and turnips spoiled,
especial if there be a taste of bacon in it, ain’t to be preached
“After that I can’t tell’y ’xactly what took place. We wimin set up
screaming and scuffled about like bats in the light. But I seed Nanny
giving Long Bill a sort of a chuck with one hand where his coat-tails
would have grown, only he didn’t wear a coat, only a jacket. P’raps,
though, yu know, he’d nibbled ’em off like the monkey as Parson Davies
keeped in the stable for his childer. That monkey had the beautifullest
tail—after a peacock—when first he came to Kilkhampton; but he bit it
off in little portions. And then, poor thing, at last he got himself
into a sort of tangle or slip-knot in twisting himself about to bite
right off the last fag-end of stump. And when Ezekiel—that’s the
groom—comed in of the morning with his bread and milk, the poor beast
stretched his head out with a jerk to get his meat and forgot he had
knotted himself up with his own body, and so got strangled in himself.
Well, but I was telling yu about Bill Martin and not Parson Davies’s
monkey. So after that meetin’ his nose was a queer sort of mixture of
scald-red and black. He was never very partial to water, was Bill: and
so the scald and smut stuck there, maybe one year, maybe two. But all
this happened so long ago that I couldn’t take my Bible oath that it
wasn’t more—say three, then: odd numbers is lucky.”
Mr. Hawker had a story of a Wellcombe woman whom he visited after the
loss of her husband.
“Ah! thank the Lord,” said she, “my old man is safe in Beelzebub’s
“Abraham’s bosom, my good woman,” said the vicar.
“Ah! I dare say. I am not acquainted with the quality, and so don’t
rightly know their names.”
While on the subject of the Devil, I cannot omit a story told of a
certain close-fisted Cornish man, whom we will call Mr. Pengelly, as he
is still alive. The story lost nothing in the vicar’s mouth.
Mr. Pengelly was very ill and like to die. So one night the Devil came
to the side of his bed, and said to him: “Mr. Pengelly, I will trouble
yu, if you please.”
“Yu will trouble me with what, your honour?” says Mr. Pengelly, sitting
up in bed.
“Why, just to step along of me, sir,” says the Devil.
“Oh! but I don’t please at all,” replies Mr. Pengelly, lying down again
and tucking his pillow under his cheek.
“Well, sir, but time’s up, yu know,” was the remark the Devil made
thereupon; “and whether it pleases yu or no, yu must come along of me to
once, sir. It isn’t much of a distance to speak of from Morwenstow,”
says he by way of apology.
“If I must go, sir,” says Mr. Pengelly, wiping his nose with his blue
pocket-handkerchief covered with white spots, and R. P. marked in the
corner in red cotton, “why, then, I suppose yu ain’t in a great hurry.
Yu’ll give me ten minutes?”
“What do’y want ten minutes for, Mr. Pengelly?” asks the Devil.
“Why, sir,” says Mr. Pengelly, putting his blue pocket-handkerchief over
his face, “I’m ashamed to name it, but I shu’d like to say my prayers.
Leastwise, they couldn’t du no harm,” exclaimed he, pulling the
handkerchief off and looking out.
“They wouldn’t du yer no gude, Mr. Pengelly,” says the Devil.
“I shu’d be more comfable in my mind, sir, if I said ’em,” says he.
“Now, I’ll tell yu what, Mr. Pengelly,” says the Devil after a pause,
“I’d like to deal handsome by yu. Yu’ve done me many a gude turn in your
day. I’ll let you live as long as yonder cann’l-end burns.”
“Thank’y kindly, sir,” says Mr. Pengelly. And presently he says, for the
Devil did not make signs of departing: “Would yu be so civil as just tu
step into t’other room, sir? I’d take it civil. I can’t pray comfably
with yu here, sir.”
“I’ll oblige yu in that too,” said the Devil; and he went out to look
after Mrs. Pengelly.
No sooner was his back turned, than Mr. Pengelly jumped out of bed,
extinguished the candle-end, clapped it in the candle-box, and put the
candle-box under his bed. Presently the Devil came in, and said: “Now,
Mr. Pengelly, yu’re all in the dark: I see the cann’l’s burnt out, so yu
must come with me.”
“I’m not so much in the dark as yu, sir,” says the sick man, “for the
cann’l’s not burnt out, and isn’t like to. He’s safe in the cann’l-box.
And I’ll send for yu, sir, when I want yu.”
Mr. Pengelly is still alive; but let not the visitor to his farm ask him
what he keeps in his candle-box, or, old man of seventy-eight though he
is, he will jump out of his chair, and lay his stick across the
shoulders of his interrogator. “They du say,” said my informant, “that
Mrs. Pengelly hev tried a score of times to get hold of the cann’l-end,
and burn it out; but the master is tu sharp for his missus, and keeps it
as tight from her as he does from the Devil.”
Mr. Pengelly has the credit of having been only once in his life
cheated, and that was by a tramp, in this wise:—
One day a man in tatters, and with his shoes in fragments, came to his
door, and asked for work.
“I like work,” says the man, “I love it. Try me.”
“If that’s the case,” says Mr. Pengelly, “yu may dig my garden for me,
and I will give yu one shilling and twopence a day.” Wages were then
eighteen pence, or one and eightpence.
“Done,” said the man.
So he was given a spade, and he worked capitally. Mr. Pengelly watched
him from his windows, from behind a wall, and the man never left off
work except to spit on his hands; that was his only relaxation, and he
did not do that over-often.
Mr. Pengelly was mighty pleased with his workman; he sent him to sleep
in the barn, and paid him his day’s wage that he might buy himself a bit
Next morning Mr. Pengelly was up with the lark. But the workman was up
before Mr. Pengelly or the lark either, and was digging diligently in
Mr. Pengelly was more and more pleased with his man. He went to him
during the morning; then the fellow stuck his spade into the ground, and
“I’ll tell yu what it is, sir, I like work! I love it! but I cannot dig
without butes or shoes. Yu may look: I’ve no soles to my feet, and the
spade nigh cuts through them.”
“Yu must get a pair of shoes,” said Mr. Pengelly.
“That’s just it,” says the man; “but no boot-maker will trust me; and I
cannot pay down, for I haven’t the money, sir.”
“What would a pair of shoes cost, now?” asks his employer, looking at
the man’s feet wholly devoid of leather soles.
“Fefteen shilling, maybe,” says he.
“Fefteen shilling!” exclaims Mr. Pengelly; “yu’ll never get that to pay
“Then I must go to some other farmer who’ll advance me the money,” says
“Now don’t’y be in no hurry,” says Mr. Pengelly, in a fright lest he
should lose a man worth half a crown a day by his work. “Suppose I were
to let’y have five shilling. Then yu might go to Stratton, and pay that,
and in five days you would have worked it out, keeping twopence a day
for your meat; and that will do nicely if yu’re not dainty. Then I would
let’y have another five shilling, till yu’d paid up.”
“Done,” says the man.
So Mr. Pengelly pulled the five shillings out, in two half-crown pieces,
and gave them to the man.
Directly he had the money in his hand, the fellow drove the spade into
the ground, and, making for the gate, took off his hat and said: “I wish
yu a gude morning, Mr. Pengelly, and many thanks for the crown. Now I’m
off to Taunton like a long dog.” And like a long dog (greyhound) he went
off, and Mr. Pengelly never saw him or his two half-crowns again. So the
man who cheated the Devil was cheated by a tramp: that shows how clever
But to return to the vicar of Morwenstow, and the Dissenters in his
parish. Although very bitter in speech against Dissent, he was ready to
do any kindness that lay in his power to a Dissenter. He took pains to
instruct in Latin and Greek a young Methodist preparing for the Wesleyan
ministry, and read with him diligently out of free good-nature. His
pupil is now, I believe, a somewhat distinguished preacher in his
connection. He was always ready to ask favours of their landlords for
Dissenting farmers, and went out of his way to do them exceptional
Some one rallied him with this:—
“Why, Hawker, you are always getting comfortable berths for
“So one ought,” was his ready reply. “I try my best to make them snug in
this world, they will be so uncommonly miserable in the next.”
He delighted in seeing persons of the most opposed religious or
political views meet at his table. A Roman Catholic, an Independent
minister, a Nothingarian and a High Anglican, were once lunching with
“What an extraordinary thing, that you should have such discordant
elements unite harmoniously at your table!” said a friend.
“Clean and unclean beasts feeding together in the ark,” was his reply.
“But how odd that you should get them to meet!”
“Well, I thought it best: they never will meet in the next world.”
One day he visited the widow of a parishioner who was dead. As he
entered, he met the Methodist preacher coming out of the room where the
“When is poor Thomas to be buried?” asked the vicar.
“We are going to take him out of the parish,” answered the widow; “we
thought you would not bury him, as he was a Dissenter.”
“Who told you that I would not?”
The widow lady looked at the Nonconformist minister.
“Did you say so?” he asked of the preacher abruptly.
“Well, sir, we thought, as you were so mighty particular, you would
object to bury a Dissenter.”
“On the contrary,” said the vicar, “do you not know that I should be but
too happy to bury you all?”
He was highly incensed at Mr. Cowper Temple’s abortive proposal for
admitting Dissenters to the pulpits of the Church. “What!” said he in
wrath, “suffer a Dissenting minister to invade our sacred precincts, to
draw near to our pulpits and altars! It is contrary to Scripture; for
Scripture says: ‘If a beast do but touch the mountain, let him be stoned
or thrust through with a dart.’”
As an instance of despotic conduct towards a parishioner, it would be
difficult to match the following incident: A wealthy yeoman of
Morwenstow, Mr. B——, was the owner of a tall pew, which stood like a
huge sentry-box, in the nave of the church. Most of the other pew-owners
had consented to the removal of the doors, curtains and panelling which
they had erected upon or in place of their old family seats to hide
themselves from the vulgar gaze; but no persuasion of the vicar had any
effect upon the stubborn Mr. B——. The pew had been constructed and
furnished with a view to comfort; and, like the famous Derbyshire
farmer, Mr. B—— could “vould his arms, shut his eyes, dra’ out his legs
and think upon nothin’” therein, unnoticed by any one but the parson.
Moreover, Mr. B—— had, it was said, a faculty-right to the hideous
enclosure. He was therefore invulnerable to all the coaxing, reasoning,
threatening and preaching which could be brought to bear upon him. Weeks
after all the other pews had been swept away, he intrenched himself in
his ecclesiastical fortress, and looked defiance at the outside world.
At last the vicar resolved to storm the enemy, and gave him due notice,
that, on a certain day and hour, it was his intention to demolish the
pew. Mr. B—— was present at the appointed time to defend his property,
but was so taken aback at the sight of the vicar entering the church
armed with a large axe, that he stood dumfounded with amazement, whilst,
without uttering a word, the vicar strode up to the pew, and with a few
lusty blows literally smashed it to pieces, and then flung the fragments
outside the church door. To the credit of Mr. B——, he still continued to
attend church; but he took on one occasion an un-seasonable opportunity
of rebuking the vicar for his violence. It was on the parish feast day,
or “revel” as the inhabitants of the parish called it; and, as was his
wont, the vicar was expatiating in the pulpit on the antiquity of the
church, and how the shrine of St. Morwenna had been preserved unchanged
whilst dynasties had perished and empires had been overthrown. Whereupon
Mr. B—— exclaimed in a voice of thunder, “No such thing: you knacked
down my pew!” The vicar, however, was still more than a match for him.
Without the least embarrassment, he turned from St. Morwenna to the
parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and, in describing the life and
character of Dives, drew such a vivid portrait of Mr. B——, that the poor
man rushed out of church when the preacher began to consign him to his
place of torment.
The impression was strong upon him, that he and the Church were under
special Divine protection, and he would insist that no misfortune ever
befel his cows or sheep. When, however, after some years he was unlucky,
he looked on every stroke of misfortune as an assault of Satan himself,
allowed to try him as he had tried Job.
This belief that he had, of a special Providence watching over him, must
explain the somewhat painful feature of his looking out for the ruin of
those who wrought evil against the Church. He bore them no malice; but
he looked upon such wrongs done as done to God, and as sure to be
avenged by Him. He had always a text at hand to support his view. “I
have no personal enemies,” he would say, “but Uzziah cannot put his hand
to the ark without the Lord making a breach upon him.”
His conviction that the Church was God’s kingdom was never shaken. “No
weapon formed against thee shall prosper,” he said; “that was a promise
made by God to the Church, and God does not forget His promises. Why, I
have _seen_ His promise kept again and again. I know that God is no
“But look at the hostility to the Church in Mr. M——, what efforts he has
made in Parliament, and throughout the country, agitating men’s minds,
and all for the purpose of overthrowing the Church. He prospers.”
“My friend,” said the vicar, pausing, and laying his hand solemnly on
his companion’s arm, “God does not always pay wages on Saturday night.”
When an attempt was made in 1843 to wrest the Well of St. John from him,
he went thrice a day, every day during that Lent, whilst the case was
being tried, till 27th March, and offered up before the altar the
Almighty and most merciful God! the Protector of all that trust in
Thee! We most humbly beseech Thee that Thou wouldest be pleased to
stretch forth Thy right hand to rescue and defend the possessions of
this Thy sanctuary from the envy and violence of wicked and covetous
men. Let not an adversary despoil Thine inheritance, neither suffer
Thou the evil man to approach the waters that flow softly for Thy
blessed baptism, from the well of Thy servant St. John.
And, O Almighty Lord, even as Thou didst avenge the cause of Naboth
the Jezreelite, upon angry Ahab and Jezebel his wife; and as Thou
didst strengthen the hands of Thy blessed apostle St. Peter,
insomuch that Ananias and Sapphira could not escape just judgment
when they sought to keep back a part of the possession from Thy
Church; even so now, O Lord God, shield and succour the heritage of
Thy holy shrine! Show some token upon us for good, that they who see
it may say, “This hath God done”. Be Thou our hope and fortress, O
Lord, our castle and deliverer, as in the days of old, such as our
fathers have told us. Show forth Thy strength unto this generation,
and Thy power unto them that are yet for to come. So shall we daily
perform our vows, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The attempt to deprive him of the Well of St. John signally failed.
They dreamed not in old Hebron, when the sound
Went through the city, that the promised son
Was born to Zachary, and his name was John,—
They little thought that here, in this far ground
Beside the Severn Sea, that Hebrew child
Would be a cherished memory of the wild!—
Here, where the pulses of the ocean bound
Whole centuries away, while one meek cell,
Built by the fathers o’er a lonely well,
Still breathes the Baptist’s sweet remembrance round.
A spring of silent waters with his name,
That from the angel’s voice in music came,
Here in the wilderness so faithful found,
It freshens to this day the Levite’s grassy mound.
MORWENSTOW, Sept. 20, 1850. _My dear Mrs. M_——,— … I have but a
sullen prospect of winter tide. I had longed to go on with another
window. But my fate, which in matters of _l._ _s._ _d._ is always
mournful, paralyses my will. A west window in my tower is offered me
by Warrington for the cost of carriage and putting together.
But—but—but. Fifteen years I have been vicar of this altar; and all
that while no lay person, landlord, tenant, parishioner or steward,
has ever proffered me even one kind word, much less aid or coin.
Nay, I have found them all bristling with dislike. All the great men
have been hostile to me in word or deed. Yet I thank my Master and
His angels, I have accomplished in and around my church a thousand
times more than the great befriended clergy of this deanery. Not one
thing has failed. When I lack aid to fulfil, I go to the altar and
ask it. Is it conceded? So fearfully that I shudder with
thanksgiving. A person threatened me with injury on a fixed day. I
besought rescue. On that very day that person died. A false and
treacherous clergyman came to a parish close by. I shook with dread.
I asked help. It came. He entered my house five days afterwards to
announce some malady unaccountable to him. He went. It grew. He
resigned his cure last week.
And these are two only out of forty miracles.
R. S. HAWKER.
It is painful to record this side of the vicar’s character; but without
it this would be but an imperfect sketch. He was, it must be borne in
mind, an anachronism. He did not belong to this century or this country.
His mind and character pertained to the Middle Ages and to the East.
He is not to be measured by any standard used for men of our times.
MORWENSTOW, July 24, 1857. _My dear Mrs. M——_,—All my pets are dead,
and I cannot endure my lonely lawn. I want some ewe lamb, “to be
unto me a daughter.” T—— is a parish famous for sheep: are there any
true Church farmers among the sheep-masters, to whom, with Dr. C——’s
introduction, I could write, in order to obtain the animals I seek?
I want to find a man, or men, who would deal honestly and sincerely
by me, and in whom I could trust. Will you ask your father if he
would have the kindness to instruct me hereon? I want soft-eyed,
well-bred sheep, the animal which was moulded in the mind of God the
Trinity, to typify the Lamb of Calvary.
R. S. HAWKER.
He had the greatest objection to hysterical religion. “Conversion,” he
said, “is a spasm of the ganglions.” “Free justification,” was another
of his sayings, “is a bankrupt’s certificate, whitewashing him, and
licensing him to swindle and thieve again.”
“There was a young Wesleyan woman at Shop” (this is one of his stories)
“who was ill; and her aunt, a trusty old Churchwoman, was nursing her.
The sick woman’s breast was somewhat agitated, and rumblings therein
were audible. ‘Aunt,’ said she, ‘do you hear and see? There is the clear
witness of the Spirit speaking within!’—‘Lor’, my dear,’ answered the
old woman, ‘it’s not that: you can get the better of it with three drops
of peppermint on a bit of loaf-sugar.’”
On the occasion of a noisy revival in the parish, he wrote the following
verses, to describe what he believed to be the true signs of spiritual
conversion—very different from the screeching and hysterics of the
revival which had taken place among his own people, the sad moral effect
of which on the young women he learned by experience.
When the voice of God is thrilling,
Breathe not a sound;
When the tearful eye is filling,
Breathe not a sound;
When the memory is pleading,
And the better mind succeeding,
When the stricken heart is bleeding,
Breathe not a sound.
When the broad road is forsaken,
Breathe not a sound;
And the narrow path is taken,
Breathe not a sound;
When the angels are descending,
And the days of sin are ending,
When heaven and earth are blending,
Breathe not a sound.
A Dissenter at Bude considered this sentiment so unsuited to evangelical
religion, and so suitable for the dumb dogs of the Established Church,
that he had it printed on a card, and distributed it among his
co-religionists, in scorn, with a note of derision of his own appended.
Mr. Hawker was walking one day on the cliffs near Morwenstow, with the
Rev. W. Vincent,[*] when a gust of wind took off Mr. Vincent’s hat, and
carried it over the cliff.
Within a week or two a Methodist preacher at Truro was discoursing on
prayer, and in his sermon he said: “I would not have you, dear brethren,
confine your supplications to spiritual blessings, but ask also for
temporal favours. I will illustrate my meaning by narrating an incident,
a fact, that happened to myself ten days ago. I was on the shore of a
cove near a little, insignificant place in North Cornwall, named
Morwenstow, and about to proceed to Bude. Shall I add, my Christian
friends, that I had on my head at the time a shocking bad hat, and that
I somewhat blushed to think of entering that harbour, town and
watering-place, so ill-adorned as to my head? Then I lifted up my prayer
to the Almighty, that He would pluck me out of the great strait in which
I found myself, and clothe me suitably as to my head; for He painteth
the petals of the polyanthus, and colours the calyx of the coreopsis. At
that solemn moment I raised my eyes to heaven; and I saw, in the
spacious firmament on high, the blue, ethereal sky, a black spot. It
approached, it largened, it widened, it fell at my feet. It was a
brand-new hat, by a distinguished London maker. I cast my battered
beaver to the waves, and walked into Bude as fast as I could, with the
new hat on my head.”
The incident got into _The Methodist Reporter_, or some such Wesleyan
publication, under the heading of “Remarkable Answer to Prayer.” “And,”
said the vicar, “the rascal made off with Vincent’s new hat from
Bennett’s; there was no reaching him, for we were on the cliff, and
could not descend the precipice. He was deaf enough, I promise you, to
That Mr. Hawker was appreciated by some, the following note received by
me will show:—
Nov. 16, 1875. In the spring of this year, and consequently before
there could have been any idea of “De mortuis,” etc., I happened to
find myself in company with two Morwenstow people, returning to
their old home. One of them was a prosperous-looking clerk or
shopman from Manchester, the other a nice, modest-looking servant
girl. On recognising each other, which they did not do at once,
their talk naturally turned to old days. The Sunday School,
Morwenstow and its vicar were discussed; and it was very remarkable
to see how lively was their remembrance of him, how much affection
and reverence they entertained for him, how keen was their
appreciation of the great qualities of his head and heart, and how
much delight they testified in being able to see his honoured face
and white head, and hear the well-remembered tones of his voice once
more. It may seem but a trivial incident; but to those who know how
constant is the complaint, and, indeed, how well founded, that our
children, when they leave school, leave us altogether, such
attestation to his work and influence is not without its value. I
“Talking of _appreciation_,” as Mr. Hawker said once, “the
Scripture-reader, Mr. Bumpus,[*] at ——, came to me the other day, and
said: ‘Please, sir, I have been visiting and advising Farmer Matthews,
but he did not quite appreciate me. In fact, he kicked me downstairs.’”
Mr. Hawker could not endure to hear the apostles or evangelists spoken
of by name without their proper prefix or title of “Saint.” If he heard
any one talk of Mark, or John, or Paul, he would say: “Look here. There
was a professor at Oxford in my time who lectured on divinity. One day a
pert student began to speak about ‘Paul’s opinion.’ ‘Paul’s opinion,
sir!’ said the professor. ‘Paul is not here to speak for himself; but if
Paul were, and heard you talk thus disrespectfully of him, it is my
belief that Paul would take you by the scruff of your neck and chuck you
out of the window. As I have Paul in honour, if I hear you speak of him
disrespectfully again, I will kick you from the room.’”
“Never boast,” was a favourite saying of the vicar’s. “The moment you
boast, the Devil obtains power over you. You notice if it be not so. You
say, ‘I now never catch cold,’ and within a week you have a sore throat.
‘I am always lucky in my money ventures’; and the next fails. So long as
you do not boast, the Devil cannot touch you; but, the moment you have
boasted, virtue has gone from you, and he obtains power. Nebuchadnezzar
was prosperous till he said, ‘Is not this great Babylon, that I have
built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the
honour of my majesty?’ It was while the word was in the king’s mouth
that the voice fell from heaven which took it from him.”
MORWENSTOW, Jan. 2, 1850. _My dear Mrs. M——_,—I know not when I have
been more shocked than by the sudden announcement of the death of
good Bishop Coleridge. For good he verily and really was. What a
word that is, “suddenly”! The Lord opened the eyes of the young man,
and, behold, there were horses and chariots of fire round about
Elisha. May God grant us Sir T. More’s prayer, “that we may all meet
and be merry in heaven”! … I am to do something again for the new
series of _Tracts for the Christian Seasons_. Did you detect my
“Magian Star” and “Nain, the lovely city”?
I hope to hear from you what is going on in the out-world. Here
within the ark we hear only the voices of animals and birds, and the
sound of many waters. “The Lord shut him in.” Give my real love to
P——, and say I will write her soon a letter, with a psalm about “her
dear Aunt Mary.”
R. S. HAWKER.
The psalm came in due time with this introduction:—
MODRYB MARYA: AUNT MARY.
A CHRISTMAS CHANT.
[In old and simple-hearted Cornwall, the household names “uncle” and
“aunt” were uttered and used as they are to this day in many
countries of the East, not only as phrases of kindred, but as words
of kindly greeting and tender respect. It was in the spirit,
therefore, of this touching and graphic usage, that they were wont,
on the Tamar side, to call the Mother of God, in their loyal
language, Modryb Marya, or Aunt Mary.]
Now, of all the trees by the king’s highway,
Which do you love the best?
Oh! the one that is green upon Christmas Day,
The bush with the bleeding breast!
Now, the holly, with her drops of blood, for me;
For that is our dear Aunt Mary’s tree!
Its leaves are sweet with our Saviour’s name,
’Tis a plant that loves the poor:
Summer and winter it shines the same,
Beside the cottage door.
Oh! the holly, with her drops of blood, for me;
For that is our kind Aunt Mary’s tree!
’Tis a bush that the birds will never leave,
They sing in it all day long;
But, sweetest of all, upon Christmas Eve,
Is to hear the robin’s song.
’Tis the merriest sound upon earth and sea,
For it comes from our own Aunt Mary’s tree!
So, of all that grow by the king’s highway,
I love that tree the best:
’Tis a bower for the birds upon Christmas Day,
The bush of the bleeding breast.
Oh! the holly, with her drops of blood, for me;
For that is our sweet Aunt Mary’s tree!
The following was sent to the same young girl, P—— M——:—
MORWENSTOW, February, 1853. _Dear P——_,—I have copied a little
parable-story for you. Tell me if you can understand it. May God
bless you, my dear child, whom I love for your father’s sake!
R. S. HAWKER.
Natum ante omnia sæcula.
The first star gleamed over Nazareth, when thus the Lady said unto
her Son: “Jesu, wilt thou not arise and go with me into the field
that we may hear the sweet chime of the birds as they chant their
evening psalm?”—“Yea, Mary, mother,” answered the awful Boy, “yea,
for I love their music well. I have loved it long. I listened, in My
gladness, to the first-born voices of the winged fowl, when they
break forth into melody among the trees of the Garden, or ever there
was a man to rejoice in their song. Twain, moreover, after their
kind, the eagle and the dove, did My Father and I create, to be the
token-birds of our Spirit, when He should go forth from us to thrill
the world of time.”
His theory was that the eagle symbolised the Holy Ghost in His operation
under the old covenant, and the dove His work in the Church. The
double-headed eagle, so often found in mediæval churches—and there is
one carved on a boss at Morwenstow—he thought represented the twofold
effusion of the Spirit in two dispensations.
The following “Carol of the Kings” was written during the Epiphany of
1859, and published with the signature “Nectan” in a Plymouth paper:—
A CAROL OF THE KINGS.
[It is chronicled in an old Armenian myth that the wise men of
the East were none other than the three sons of Noe, and that they
were raised from the dead to represent, and to do homage for, all
mankind in the cave at Bethlehem! Other legends are also told: one,
that these patriarch-princes of the Flood did not ever die, but were
rapt away into Enoch’s Paradise, and were thence recalled to begin
the solemn gesture of world-wide worship to the King-born Child!
Another saying holds, that, when their days were full, these arkite
fathers fell asleep, and were laid at rest in a cavern at Ararat
until Messias was born, and that then an angel aroused them from the
slumber of ages to bow down and to hail, as the heralds of many
nations, the awful Child. Be this as it may—whether the mystic magi
were Shem, Cham, and Japhet, in their first or second existence,
under their own names or those of other men, or whether they were
three long-descended and royal sages from the loins or the land of
Baalam, one thing has been delivered to me for very record. The
supernatural shape of clustering orbs which was embodied suddenly
from surrounding light, and framed to be the beacon of that
westward-way, was and is the Southern Cross! It was not a solitary
signal-fire, but a miraculous constellation, a pentacle of stars,
whereof two shone for the transom and three for the stock; and which
went above and before the travellers, day and night, radiantly,
until it came and stood over where the young Child lay! And then?
What then? Must those faithful orbs dissolve and die? Shall the
gleaming trophy fall? Nay—not so. When it had fulfilled the piety of
its first-born office, it arose, and, amid the vassalage of every
stellar and material law, it moved onward and onward, obedient to
the impulse of God the Trinity, journeying evermore towards the
south, until that starry image arrived in the predestined sphere of
future and perpetual abode: to bend, as to this day it bends, above
the peaceful sea, in everlasting memorial of the Child Jesus: the
Three ancient men in Bethlehem’s cave
With awful wonder stand:
A voice had called them from their grave
In some far Eastern land.
They lived, they trod the former earth,
When the old waters swelled:
The ark, that womb of second birth,
Their house and lineage held.
Pale Japhet bows the knee with gold,
Bright Shem sweet incense brings,
And Cham the myrrh his fingers hold:
Lo! the three Orient kings!
Types of the total earth, they hailed
The signal’s starry frame:
Shuddering with second life, they quailed
At the Child Jesu’s name.
Then slow the patriarchs turned and trod,
And this their parting sigh,—
“Our eyes have seen the living God,
And now—once more to die.”
We began this chapter with stories illustrating the harsh side of Mr.
Hawker’s character. We have slided insensibly into those which show him
forth in his gentler nature. There was in him the eagle and the dove: it
is pleasanter to think of the dove-like characteristics of this grand
And naturally, when we speak of him in his softer moods, not when he is
doing battle for God and the Church, and—it must be admitted—for his own
whims, but when he is at peace and full of smiles, we come to think of
him in his relations with children.
When his school was first opened he attended it daily; but in
after-years, as age and infirmities crept on, his visits were only once
He loved children, and they loved him. It was his delight to take them
by the hand and walk with them about the parish, telling them stories of
St. Morwenna, St. Nectan, King Arthur, Sir Bevil Grenville, smugglers,
wreckers, pixies and hobgoblins, in one unflagging stream. So great was
the affection borne him by the children of his parish, that when they
were ill, and had to take physic, and the mothers could not induce them
to swallow the nauseous draught, the vicar was sent for, and the little
ones, without further struggle, swallowed the medicine administered by
A child said to him one day: “Please, Mr. Hawker, did you ever see an
“Margaret,” he answered solemnly, and took one of the child’s hands in
his left palm, “there came to this door one day a poor man. He was in
rags. Whence he came I know not. He appeared quite suddenly at the door.
We gave him bread. There was something wonderful, mysterious, unearthly,
in his face. And I watched him as he went away. Look, Margaret! do you
see that hill all gold and crimson with gorse and heather? He went that
way. I saw him go up through the gold and crimson, up, still upwards, to
where the blue sky is, and there I lost sight of him all at once. I saw
him no more; but I thought of the words, ‘Be not forgetful to entertain
strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.’”
A good idea of his notions about angels, and their guardianship of his
church, may be gathered from a remarkable sermon he preached a few years
ago, on St. John the Baptist’s day, in his own church. It was heard by
an old man, a builder in Kilkhampton; and it made so deep an impression
on his mind, that he was able to repeat to me the outline of its
contents, and to give me whole passages.
His text was 1 Sam. iii. 4, “_Here am I!_”
More than a thousand years ago St. Morwenna came from Wales, from
Brecknockshire, where was her father’s palace: she loved the things
of God more than the things of men.
And then the wild Atlantic rolled against these cliffs as now, and
the gorse flamed over them as now, and the little brook dived
through fern, and foamed over the rocks to join the sea, as now. And
there were men and women where you dwell, as now; and there were
little children on their knees, as now. But then there was no
knowledge of God in the hearts of men, as there is now. There was no
church, as now; no Word of God preached, as now; no font where the
water was sanctified by the brooding Spirit, as now; no altar where
the bread of life was broken, as now. All lay in darkness and the
shadow of death.
And God looked upon the earth, and saw the blue sea lashing our
rocks, and the gorse flaming on our hills, and the brook murmuring
into the sea, and men and women and children lying in the shadow of
death; and it grieved Him. Then He called: “Who will come and plant
a church in that wild glen, and bring the light of life into this
lone spot?” and Morwenna answered with brave heart and childlike
simplicity, “Here am I!”
And Morwenna came. She built herself a cell at Chapelpiece, where
now no heather or furze or thorn will grow, for her feet have
consecrated it for evermore; and she got a gift of land; and she
built a church, and dedicated it to God the Trinity, and St. John
the Baptiser, who preached in a wilderness such as this. And she
gave the land for ever to God and His Church; and wheresoever the
Gospel shall be preached, there shall also this, that this woman
hath done, be told for a memorial of her.
Now a holy bishop came; and he accepted, in the name of God, this
gift off her hands, and he consecrated for ever this church to God.
Now look you! This house is God’s. These pillars are God’s. These
windows are God’s. That door is God’s. Every stone and beam is
God’s. The grass in the churchyard, the fern rooted in the tower,
all are God’s.
And when the holy bishop dedicated all to God, and consecrated the
ground to the very centre of the earth, then he set a priest here to
minister in God’s name, to bless, baptise, and break the holy bread,
and fill the holy cup, in God’s name.
And God looked out over the earth, and He saw the building and the
land Morwenna had given to Him; and He said: “Who will pasture My
flock in this desert? Who will pour on them the sanctifying water?
Who will distribute to them the bread of heaven?” And the priest
standing here made answer, “Here am I!”
And God said: “Who will stand by My priest, and watch and ward My
building and My land? Who will defend him against evil men? Who will
guard My house from the spoiler? My land from those who would add
field to field, till they can say, ‘We are alone in the earth’?” And
an angel answered, “Here am I!”
And the angel came down to keep guard here, with flaming sword that
turneth every way, to champion the priest of God, and to watch the
sanctuary of God.
More than one thousand years have rolled away since Morwenna gave
this church to God; and since then never has there been a day in
which, when God looked forth upon the earth, there has not been a
priest standing at this altar, to say in answer to His call, “Here
A thousand years, and more, have swept away; and in all these ages
there never has been a moment in which an angel, leaning on his
flashing sword, has not stood here as sentinel, to answer to God’s
call, when foes assail, and traitors give the Judas kiss, and feeble
hearts fail, “Here am I!”
And now, my brethren, I stand here.
Does God ask: “Who is there to baptise the children, and bring them
to Me? Who is there to instruct the young in the paths of
righteousness? Who is there to bless the young hands that clasp for
life’s journey? Who is there to speak the word of pardon over the
penitent sinner who turns with broken and contrite heart to Me? Who
is there to give the bread of heaven to the wayfarers on life’s
desert? Who is there to stand by the sick man’s bed, and hold the
cross before his closing eyes? Who is there to lay him with words of
hope in his long home?” Why, my brethren, I look up in the face of
God, and I answer boldly, confidently, yet humbly and suppliantly,
“Here am I!”
I, with all my infirmities of temper and mind and body; I, broken by
old age, but with a spirit ever willing; I, troubled on every side,
without with fightings, within with fears; I—I—strengthened,
however, by the grace of God, and commissioned by His apostolic
And am I alone? Not so. There are chariots and horses of fire about
me. There are angels round us on every side.
You do not see them. You ask me, “Do you?”
And I answer, Yes, I do.
Am I weak? An angel stays me up. Do my hands falter? An angel
sustains them. Am I weary to death with disappointment? My head
rests on an angel’s bosom, and an angel’s arms encircle me.
Who will raise his hand to tear down the house of God? Who will
venture to rob God of His inheritance? An angel is at hand. He
beareth not the sword in vain: he saith to the assailer, “Here am
And believe me: the world may roll its course through centuries
more; the ocean may fret our rocks, and he has fretted them through
ages past; but as long as one stone stands upon another of
Morwenna’s church, so long will there be a priest to answer God’s
call, and say, “Here am I!” and so long will there be an angel to
stay him up in his agony and weakness, saying, “Here am I!” and to
meet the spoiler, with his sword and challenge, “Here am I!”