1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bp. Reginald Heber

William Clarke and Robert Shelton Mackenzie, in The Georgian Era: Memoirs of the most eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain (1832-34) 1:262-64.



This amiable prelate was born at Malpas, in Cheshire, on the 21st of April, 1783. He acquired the rudiments of learning at Whitechurch grammar school; and, after prosecuting his studies, for some time, at Dr. Bristow's academy, in the neighbourhood of London, he was entered, in 1800, at Brazen-nose college, Oxford. His classical acquirements, at this time, were far from extensive; but natural abilities, and unremitting application, soon raised him to a par with his collegiate cotemporaries; and, in 1802, he gained the university prize for a copy of Latin hexameters. In the spring of 1803, he wrote his celebrated poem of Palestine; for which, in that year, he also obtained a prize. It is related, that, on ascending the rostrum to recite this beautiful composition, perceiving two ladies, of Jewish extraction among his auditory, he determined on altering some lines, in which he had reflected severely on their race; but that not having an opportunity to communicate his intention to the prompter, the latter checked him, on his attempting to deliver the passage in the manner he wished; and he was, consequently, obliged to pronounce it as it had been originally written. The applause with which he was greeted, on this occasion, is reported to have produced a serious effect on his venerable father, who, it is stated, may almost be said to have died with joy, shortly after witnessing his son's triumph. On retiring from the theatre Heber escaped from the congratulations of his friends, to thank the Almighty in solitude; "not so much for his talents," says Mrs. Heber, "as that those talents had enabled him to give unmixed happiness to his parents."

He now applied himself to the study of mathematics, and the higher classics; and his diligence was rewarded with extraordinary success. In 1805, he took the degree of B.A., and soon afterwards gained a third university prize, for an Essay on the Sense of Honour. After having been elected a fellow of All Souls, he quitted Oxford, and proceeded on a tour through Germany, Russia, and the Crimea; during which, he made several excellent notes, which were afterwards appended to the Travels of Dr. Clarke.

On his return to England, in 1808, he proceeded M.A.; and, shortly afterwards, published a political poem, entitled, Europe: — Lines on the present War. He now retired, with his wife, a daughter of Dr. Shipley, Dean of St. Asaph, to the living of Hodnet, to which he had recently been presented; and, for some time, wholly devoted himself to the humble but important duties of his station. In 1815, he preached, at the Bampton lecture, a series of sermons, which he published in the following year, On the Personality and Office of the Christian Comforter. About the same time, he composed several articles for a Dictionary of the Bible; and printed a discourse, which he had delivered before the Bishop of Chester. In 1820, his life was endangered by a malignant fever with which he had been infected, by fearlessly visiting some of his sick parishioners. In 1822, he was appointed preacher at Lincoln's inn; and produced a life of Jeremy Taylor, prefixed to a new edition of that eminent writer's productions. Soon afterwards, he was offered the bishopric of Calcutta; which, after twice refusing, he, at length, on the suggestion of his wife, consented to accept; and embarked for the East Indies, in June, 1823. In the preceding April, he had preached an affecting farewell sermon to his parishioners; who, on his departure from Hodnet, had presented him with a piece of plate, as a memorial of their gratitude and esteem.

During his voyage, he occupied himself in studying Hindostanee and Persian; feeling satisfied, as he expressed himself, that, if he did not know them both, in a year or two, at least as well as he knew French and German, that the fault would be in his capacity, and not in his diligence. On the 10th of October, he landed at Calcutta, and immediately exerted himself, with great anxiety, to compose some clerical differences that had arisen in the diocese. No sooner was this great object effected, than he commenced a series of laborious progresses through his extensive bishopric; during which, he consecrated several churches, and signalized himself, by his pious endeavours to diffuse Christianity among the Hindoos. His last visitation was to the presidency of Madras. At Trinchinopoly, on the 3rd of April, 1826, after having greatly fatigued himself in the discharge of his episcopal duties, he retired to his chamber, and imprudently plunged into a cold bath; at the bottom of which, he was found, quite dead, about half an hour afterwards, by one of his servants. His remains were interred at St. John's church, Trinchinopoly; and a subscription was opened, soon after his death, for the erection of a monument to his memory, at Madras.

In person, he was tall, and rather thin; his hair was dark, his countenance pale, the expression of his features intellectual, and his deportment dignified. He appears to have had no enemies; whoever mentions his name, more or less eulogizes his character. He possessed great talents, considerable eloquence, and a most amiable disposition. Though anxious to exert himself in the diffusion of Christian knowledge, he sought not to extend the sphere of his influence, either by adulation or intrigue. He embarked in no controversy, shared in no dispute, but lived in perfect charity with all men. Peace and good-will attended him wheresoever he went: he was enthusiastically admired during his pious career, and generally lamented at its close.