1854 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bp. Reginald Heber

Robert Shelton Mackenzie, Note in Noctes Ambrosianae, ed. Mackenzie (1854) 2:365n.



Bishop Heber died, at Trichinopoly, in the East Indies, in April, 1826. He was one of the most elegantly accomplished scholars of his time. In 1803, at the age of twenty, he wrote the Oxford Prize Poem of "Palestine." At that time, Scott (who knew his brother, Richard, the book-collector) visited Oxford, and made his acquaintance. Heber read the poem to him, and Scott remarked that in the verses on Solomon's Temple, he had omitted to allude to the fact that no tools were used in its erection. The young poet retired to another part of the room, and in a few minutes returned with the beautiful lines,—

No hammer fell, no ponderous axes rung—
Like some tall palm the mystic fabric sprung.
Majestic silence, &c.

He entered the Church, and was presented to the rectory of Hodnet, in Shropshire, where he zealously performed the duties of a parish priest. In 1822, he was appointed preacher at Lincoln's Inn, (his own letter to Sir Thomas Plomer, Master of the Rolls, offering himself as a candidate, is in my collection of autographs,) and, soon after, he was offered the Bishopric of Calcutta, vacant by the death of apostolic Middleton. Having twice declined it, he accepted it, on the entreaty of his wife — herself a bishop's daughter — and embarked for the East Indies in June, 1823, arriving at Calcutta in the following October. He displayed much zeal and judgment in the execution of his Episcopal duties, and died suddenly — being found lifeless at the bottom of cold bath. Heber's literary labors were considerable. He published several sermons, edited Jeremy Taylor's writings, produced several poems, (chiefly on sacred subjects,) and contributed largely to the Quarterly Review.