Roundell Palmer's Memorials

Memorials. Part I. Family and Personal. 1766-1865. Roundell Palmer, Earl of Selborne. Volume 1. London, Macmillan & Co. Ltd. 1896. Index


MY FATHER: 1778-1818

Of my Father himself it is now time to speak. He was born on the 5th February 1778. On leaving Charterhouse he was for some time a pupil of Mr. Jones of Nayland, [i] an excellent clergyman; and, in 1796, went to Oxford, where he was a Commoner of Brasenose. Here (through the introduction of his schoolfellow and friend Richard Henry Roundell, my Mother’s eldest brother, who was at Magdalen) he, became intimate with the Hebers—Richard, afterwards member of Parliament for the University, and his more celebrated brother Reginald, Bishop of Calcutta, who came into residence there about the time when my Father took his bachelor’s degree. The house and estate of Gledstone, in Yorkshire, where Richard Roundell’s father lived, were in the same parish with an estate and manor-house belonging to the Heber family, which, after the deaths of Richard and Reginald Heber, were sold and added to the Gledstone property. The friendship between the Roundells and Hebers was of old date, and my Father, as Richard Roundell’s friend, was admitted to share in it. Between him and Reginald Heber it gained strength, when they met, after their Oxford days, at St. Asaph, where they were both intimate with the family of Dean Shipley, one of whose daughters Reginald Heber married.

There were no honour examinations at Oxford in those days, and I have no reason to suppose that my Father was distinguished above other young men of literary taste and good conduct and character, or that he received from his college any strong intellectual impulse. As a youth, he shared with his brothers a taste for field sports, and rode sometimes to the hounds; but he gave up those pursuits after he took orders, and shooting, as a sport, became repugnant to him, though he did not condemn it in others, or prevent his own sons from moderately using such opportunities as he thought proper of indulging the natural inclination for it in their youth. He was a genial and popular member of the University society in which he lived, and one whose influence must have always been on the side of what was manly and right. Of his early letters not many have been preserved; but they show, from the beginning, strength and warmth of affection, and a thoughtfulness and ripeness of judgment uncommon at that time of life.

He was ordained deacon in 1801, and priest on the 20th of February 1802; and in the same year (1802) was presented by his uncle, then Bishop of Rochester, to the Rectory of Mixbury, which he retained till a short time before his death. The Rectory house was in a ruinous state, and he had to build a new one. While this was doing, and during the remaining four years of Bishop Horsley’s life (who died on the 4th October 1806), he was his uncle’s chaplain, and most of his time was spent at St. Asaph.

He was partial to Wales, and made many friends there. After the Bishop’s death, he came to reside at Mixbury, between which and another parish, to which his father presented him (Beachampton, near Stony Stratford), he divided his time, with the necessary assistance. The law then permitted two such benefices (they were about twelve miles apart) to be held together; but finding, after the experience of a few years, that the best arrangements which he could make were unsatisfactory, he in 1814 exchanged Beachampton for Finmere, a parish immediately contiguous to Mixbury, the villages and churches being not more than two miles apart from each other. Neither parish was very well endowed; Finmere had, in that respect, the advantage. With the assistance at all times of a good curate, both parishes were easily worked together; my Father, though he lived at Mixbury, constantly visited Finmere, actively superintending all that was done there, and taking part in the services of Finmere church.

The letters of this period of his life show how his character grew. That to his sister Elizabeth at the time of Edward’s death has already been referred to; in the same spirit, he wrote to my Aunt Mary in the following year, 1808:—

I think we are a little too silent, perhaps we are not warm enough at heart for the blessings we receive, and think too much upon our crosses… It is not by fondly hanging on the past that we shall steel our minds against the sufferings of the future; we shall not so fortify ourselves against the day of our proper affliction and distress. But by living while we may, by thankfully using and enjoying the blessings showered down upon us, by increasing the comforts of those with whom we live, by doing good to the poor, and by mastering our own selves; by resignation as to the ills of life, with a confident and consoling hope as to the fixed events of things,—may we hope so to prepare our minds as, though they be not steeled, yet that they may be strengthened to bear without danger that wherewith they shall be tried.

Then, passing to public matters, he said:—

As to my politics, of which you inquire, I think the opposition of the Spanish nation to the tyrant is as glorious as it was unexpected. Their cause and ours is properly one;—I would Ministers would send us all to Spain, if we be wanted there. I join with you in wishing that success may attend our friends: but I tremble not at the loss they will probably sustain in the warfare; neither do you tremble, nor think of it. Why forestall evils which may never happen, and which when they do (if they do), will not be the lighter, because we have forestalled them? Do what is right: do it boldly: and never fear the event, though it be unfortunate.

The following written by him to my Aunt Elizabeth in June 1814, after the visit of the allied sovereigns to Oxford, is interesting for the subject and for the manner in which it is described:—

If you have caught anything of the imperial and royal fever which is so general in the metropolis, I suppose you must feel a little of the languor which that disorder usually leaves behind it, and which will be so heavy upon the spirits of the world after the departure of our royal guests. We, who returned on Wednesday from Oxford, have been infected in this way too. We went there on Monday, and saw all the great personages, and all the pomp, to the utmost perfection. Four times did the Prince Regent, the Emperor of Russia, and the King of Prussia, with their respective attendants, pass within the reach of the hand before us; and for two hours did we gaze upon them amidst all the pomp and applause of the theatre. The pomp was indeed most splendid; the applause tremendous. Nothing could exceed the manifest satisfaction of the Prince and the Emperor. They did not smile, they laughed,—they did not bow, they almost embraced the orators, the audience, and each other. Exultation was at its height: neither was it lost upon the King of Prussia who was yet less visibly moved; whether past misfortunes or present cares pressed upon his mind, or humility before God made him reject the praise of men, to the increase of his future glory. The crowned heads condescended to accept diplomas, degrees of Doctors of Law; an honour which was likewise conferred upon the Duke of Wellington, though absent. Prince Metternich, Count Lieven, and Blucher received common honorary degrees. The Prince Regent and Emperor; and the King, all wore a Doctor of Law’s gown. Besides these, there were present the Duchess of Oldenburg, the Prussian Princes, the Prince of Orange, the Dukes of York and Clarence, the Duke of Devonshire, and a considerable number of the nobility. They dined in public in the Radcliffe Library… On Tuesday night the city was illuminated, with excellent effect, far surpassing the illuminations in London, though not exhibiting any of those grand displays which appear here and there in the metropolis. The evening was perfectly calm, and candles innumerable were stuck on the outside of the buildings, which were diversified by the variety of the architecture, and broken by occasional displays of lamps and transparencies. The curve of the High Street, showing all at once, rendered the effect unique. Richard Roundell was so pleased with the pomp of Oxford upon this occasion, that he said he would willingly have come from Edinburgh to have seen it.

Mr. Francis Horsley had returned from India in 1807; and, after residing for some time at Little HaIlingbury in Essex, parted with his house there, in a state of health, accompanied by mental depression, which for a time caused anxiety to his family. My Father supported his uncle under this trouble by sympathy and counsel which greatly contributed to the recovery of his peace of mind. He wrote to him on the 14th October 1814:—

I am very sure that no one knows the nature of that disorder, or can estimate the sense of evil it induces, except such as have themselves endured it; and yet I believe I have no inadequate sense either of one or of the other. For the time we are deprived of every joyous influence, of every enlivening consolation, as though we had been altogether deserted of that Blessed Spirit, in whom alone ‘we live and move and have our being.’ We are sensible only of the misery of an alienated state, and consider ourselves as reprobate from God. In this condition the mind dwells upon such particulars of personal misconduct (whether they belonged to infirmity, negligence, or vice) as conscience principally suggests, and considers all as equally unpardonable,—as, indeed, all transgression equally is, without the covenant of the Redeemer. But from that covenant we feel as though we ourselves have been excluded, as if it were the actual state of condemnation. Certainly this is the utmost human nature can endure here,—perhaps hereafter either; and certainly, it is no more than all of us have fully merited. But, methinks, from this we are assuredly preserved, by Him who suffered all that we deserved. If upon the Cross, as man, He endured the extremity of this very evil (witness the passionate exclamation, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’), is it wonderful that we should be made to feel—the children of grace—somewhat of the same? And if God at any time inflicts this, it is no more to be concluded that the individuals who suffer are outcasts from His mercy, than that His eternal purpose of redemption was forgotten when the Messiah suffered. I am entirely persuaded, therefore, that this affliction is to be considered as one of those temporal visitations with which they who are most exercised are by the Scriptures pronounced blessed: and the suggestions and evil impulses which, by occasion of the time, are then most numerous, and which seem to carry us forcibly away, are as a fiery trial upon faith, to the endurance of which, by God’s grace, the most effectual motive must be a just appreciation of their nature. If, by His mercy, I have at this time been made the instrument of conveying an idea of the truth to my dear uncle’s mind, or if I have assisted to confirm it only in what it did indeed before discern, perhaps I may have done something towards disarming the future recurrence of this disorder of its more dangerous and intolerable part; perhaps I may have done more,—I may have procured a blessing on myself. But I pray God, I humbly and earnestly pray, if indeed I am so happy, that this disorder may never recur, and that my dear uncle may pass the remainder of his days in peace. Our lives are not without a beneficial influence on those around us, if we fear God, even when we seem most inert. Some men have no talents for action, and some men have no opportunity; but all have opportunities of exercising patience, and all men who believe may achieve that no small labour if they will. Certainly we shall do wisely to lighten our labours by such useful employment, or such rational diversion of the time, as the providence of God has appointed for that very end.

Once more, on the 12th of February 1815:

One thing above all others, it behoves us on such grievous occasions to notice—namely, that truth compels us to reject the suggestions of despair which the present sense of mental suffering gives occasion to, however strongly they may affect us, and that we should manfully, and I may say violently, put down every temptation that may thence arise.

May we, at least, live for others, if not for ourselves; and we are of more consequence to others, our minutest habits and most trivial actions are of more consequence to the peace and welfare of others, than we frequently are aware of. Much more the great example of fortitude, patience, and resolute forbearance under the severest of ills, that we may set. They also who are thus affected by our conduct have themselves to suffer; then let them learn of us, as we of Him who died for us and all.

His uncle was strengthened, and replied to these letters in a manner which relieved my Father’s mind:

I will always, therefore (he wrote), hope even against hope, as it is said of the Syrophœnician. I will be of the number of those who are also said to take the kingdom of God by force. So may my Lord accept me! So may He support and succour you and me in the day of our distress!

Not to his uncle only, but to his Father, he was called upon to undertake the part of a physician of the soul. How he did it a letter written on the 22nd of February 1818 shows:

With respect to the evils of the present time, the want of satisfaction, the partial doubt, the occasional anguish of mind you now experience, it is a thing rather to be borne than to be cured; for to yourself it is intended for a trial, a remedy, a reproof,—as such to be humbly accepted: to us, whom you love, for a lesson and admonition, and on that account the more willingly suffered. Nor think of it at all as mere evil, fruitless and ineffectual of good; for assuredly it shall answer its end, in either case. You by it shall be preserved; we shall be enlightened and improved.

You say, that you have not been accustomed, in times past, to pay that attention to religious subjects (let us call them at once by their right name, the things of God), which you conceive now they justly deserved. Be it so; this explains my meaning, when I say, the present admits not of cure, otherwise than in the bearing. The evil, in age, cannot be removed (because the cause has wrought its effect), otherwise than as, by God’s grace, it may become itself a means of cure. For now you are sensible of your error, and know the great value of that, which you say of yourself you have hitherto too much neglected. It is sufficient; for, by God’s mercy, the mind that sees its mistake, and the heart that can confess it, shall always find favour and acceptance with Him, through Christ… But then you say, your notions of the Saviour have been vague and incorrect; you have not known Him as a sacrifice for sin, or as the accepted Mediator between God and man. What is this, but another consequence of the same cause? But now at least you know Him; be bold, then, to acknowledge it to yourself. For he that is sensible that he has ill known a thing in time past gives proof, at least, that he is desirous of acknowledging its truth now. And this, too, is the effect of the present privation and distress. Blessed indeed is the hand that thus chastens us. Blessed is the very evil, which brings us acquainted with its cause in time. Let us accept it with all humility in the spirit. Let us bear it cheerfully with all patience in the body. And God, who now visits us, shall yet show us His favour in the end. You may use me (if you so please, and in what I may seem worthy) as a minister of Christ. If it were more the fashion to use a minister sometimes, as such, none (I think) would be the worse, but many would be much the better for it. Many sick persons perish, not for want of a physician, but because they have no opinion of his skill. No matter where the fault lies; the mischief is plain. For my dear Father, I am his son and servant; and my services, in any shape that can be useful to him, he has a right to command.

[i] William Jones of Nayland was Perpetual Curate at Nayland, Essex from 1776. He was educated at Charterhouse and University College, Oxford, where he adopted the High Church philosophy of Hutchinson. The ‘Hutchinsonians’ are often seen a precursors of the Oxford Movement. He died on 6 February, 1800. 

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