Bp. Lewis Bagot

Suum Cuique, "Defence of Bishop Bagot" Gentleman's Magazine 90 (January 1820) 3-5.

The "Memoir of Dr. Cyril Jackson," inserted in your last November Magazine, contains some reflections upon Bishop Bagot, formerly Dean of Christchurch, which have occasioned surprize and pain to many of your Readers; to those especially who were educated at that College, while he presided over it.

A general assumption is adopted in the "Memoir," that "the discipline under the Bishop's lax administration was considerably impaired;" and it appears to be supported by several particular intimations; namely, that in 1783, when he quitted the Deanery, his successor had "to put altogether on a new footing the course of Public Instruction, and the detail also of Private Tuition; to reinstate the public lecturers in their functions; to revive the various Collegiate Institutions, Rules, Customs, and Exercises," enumerated with much detail in the "Memoir;" — most of which (as it should seem) had at that time (1783) fallen into neglect and disuse.

These are no light imputations upon the character of a person to whom a grave public trust had been committed, and who had hitherto enjoyed the reputation of having discharged it conscientiously and honourably.

No man personally acquainted with the Bishop does not know, that the very turn and temper of his mind excluded the possibility of remissness and "laxity" of conduct. An anxious persevering earnestness was, to a very remarkable degree, the predominant feature of his natural character; influenced, wherever duty vas concerned, by the most scrupulous sense of religious obligation. And to his intense, unremitted, and faithful vigilance, in the execution of his arduous duties at Christ Church, to the sacrifices of his comforts, and often of his health, there are many yet living and grateful witnesses.

It may be therefore fairly presumed, that the discipline of the College was not "impaired" by any culpable administration of it under a ruler of this description. The delineation is taken from actual knowledge, and it is faithfully made.

But, for the Bishop's entire exculpation, it is not sufficient to rest on mere presumption, nor is it necessary to do so. Your present Correspondent, happening to have been himself conversant with the transactions of the time, is able to meet the circumstantial details also of the "Memoir," so far as Bishop Bagot is affected by them; and to oppose to the imputations, which are plainly implied, a statement of facts which remain within his own recollection, and which can be in great measure confirmed by local documents yet in existence.

For the sake of clearness, it should be stated previously, that Dr. Bagot was appointed to the Deanery of Christ Church in the beginning of the year 1777. Dr. Markham (sanctissimum profecto nomen et nobis omnibus carissimum) being promoted to the Archbishopric of York: that during the three preceding years Dr. Bagot had holden the office of Sub Dean, and with it (in consequence of the Dean's absence with the princes) the whole effective government of the College: and that he quitted the Deanery in June 1783, when he was succeeded by Dr. Cyril Jackson.

These dates being premised, and the Reader's indulgence being craved for unavoidable egoisms and local allusions, we may return to the details before mentioned. It is unquestionable, that into the system of Private Tuition Dean Jackson did introduce, from time to time, very considerable improvements; and they were, like all his other measures, judicious and useful. But it is not so clear, in what sense he is said to have renovated "altogether the course of Public Instruction, and reinstated the Public Lecturers in their functions."

The facts will be found to be these. The Public Lectures are classed in three departments; Divinity, pure Mathematics, and Logic, with its kindred subjects. The establishment of a Lecture in Divinity is perhaps coeval with the foundation of Christ Church. For the last fifty years, at least, it has (except with accidental intermissions) been read constantly during every term, and attended regularly. In 1783, and for some time antecedently, Dr. Randolph (afterwards Bp. of London) had the office of Divinity Reader. The two other departments of the Public Lectures were established under the auspices of Dean Markham, and had become (in addition to the Tutor's usual courses of private instruction) an effective part of the general system in 1774. From that time to the present, they have gone on with little variation. They have always been delivered, one or the other of them, daily, during Term; the attendance of the young men, according to their standing, having been constantly required, and their progress, from time to time, the subject of regular inquiry; — not less so during Dean Bagot's time than it has been ever since. When it is recollected, that through the whole period of his Deanery, down to 1783, all these Public Lectures were in the hands of Bishop Randolph and of Dr. William Jackson (afterwards Bp. of Oxford), it does not appear that in that very year the Lectures could be renovated, or the Lecturers "reinstated." It may be added, that, very soon after Dr. Cyril Jackson had become Dean, both these distinguished men quitted this, together with their other collegiate employments, in consequence of promotion; but that the same courses of Public Lectures were carried on by their successors for many years after, and under Dean Jackson's direction, upon the same plan as before.

A history nearly the same with the foregoing may be given of another essential part of the Christ Church discipline; namely, of the system of Examinations at the close of every Term, usually known by the name of "Collections," and which are stated, in the "Memoir," to have been "revived" in 1783. The Institution is really antient; but it was in the latter part of Dean Markham's time that it assumed the efficient form which it has ever since continued to retain. — Your present Correspondent, together with numerous contemporaries, had for fourteen times to stand before the Examination Table, while Dean Bagot sat at the head of it; — and they all found it expedient to beware of going there unprepared.

Whether, after 1783, "the Annual Speeches of the Censors became invested with additional dignity and weight" (see Gent. Mag. Nov. page 460), it is not for the present Writer to decide. It is certain that, for some years immediately preceding that date, Bishop Randolph and Bishop Jackson had held the office; and (whether it were owing to their eloquent exhortation, or to any other cause) it is certain also, that the University Prize for Latin verse came into Dean Bagot's College for five successive years: the victors being, in 1777, Lord Colchester; in 1778, the late Mr. Sawkins; in 1779, Lord Grenville; in 1780, Marquis Wellesley; and, in 1781, the present Dean of Christ Church.

In the domestic exercises, likewise, which are specified in the "Memoir," viz. in the weekly Themes and Verses, and the annual College Competitions, in Latin verse and prose (not forgetting the elegant Lent verses), all the foregoing names, together with many others, their contemporaries in Dean Bagot's time, were continually conspicuous. Nor did the succeeding race degenerate from the fair example.

All the material points of the "Memoir," which appear to affect Bishop Bagot's reputation, have now, it is presumed, been satisfactorily explained. If any, having the same tendency, remain unnoticed, it is because they are obviously trite and trifling: for the singular conceit of restraint the youth from "going to bathe, or other public diversions," and the whimsical groupe of "Tutors, Porters, and other Servants," co-operating in a "System of Police," (page 459, col. 2), cannot be serious.

It must, after all, appear extraordinary, that upon a subject possessing so much intrinsic matter for euloglum, recourse has been had to the weak topics of comparison and contrast. Dr. Cyril Jackson's high character did not require that others should be lowered, for the sake of increasing its elevation. It did not need the expedient of displaying its lustre by darkening the objects which surrounded it. The virtues which commanded the devotion of all who came within his sphere, and the transcendent powers which he so long dedicated to the service of Public Education and to the support of Orthodox Religion, offered from within themselves copious sources of just and appropriate panegyric. But it should not have been forgotten, that Bishop Bagot also deserved well of his College and of his University, and of the Church of England.


P.S. As the Writer of this Paper has rested the proof of his facts chiefly upon his personal testimony, his name is communicated to Mr. Urban herewith.