Historical account of Lisbon college/Chapter 8
Preston was the son of an ironmonger of the City of London, and was born October 28, 1712, of Protestant parents. At an early age he was sent to the Merchant Taylors School, where he had for his master a clergyman of the Established Church, a person as remarkable for his animosity against Catholics, as for his attachment to the declining Cause of the House of Stewart. In quality of Head Master of the school he possessed the right of nominating two students to the University of Oxford, who were to receive a college education at the expense of the school over which he presided. Among all his pupils, the abilities and application of young Preston eminently pointed him out as the fittest object of his choice. Accordingly when a vacancy occurred, which happened before Preston had completed his Course of Rhetoric, he was one day unexpectedly called aside by his master who, after passing the most flattering encomiums upon his application and talents, concluded by informing him of the resolution he had taken of sending him to the University.
The young man, whose mind had been previously agitated by serious doubts as to the truth of the Protestant faith, respectfully but positively declined the intended favour alleging, in general terms, that conscientious motives prevented him from accepting it.
The master taking for granted that the scruples of Mr. Preston could only relate to the oath of allegiance to the existing dynasty, that was tendered to those entering the University, secretly exulted to find so exact a resemblance between the political opinions of his pupil and his own. He lamented, indeed, that the path to dignities and preferment should be thus unjustly closed against him, but at the same time warmly applauded his firmness in adhering to principle. After this event, Preston lost no time in prosecuting his religious enquiries, and having found means to be introduced to several Catholic priests, he stated to them his doubts, which were all satisfactorily solved and, after being fully instructed, he was admitted a member of the Catholic Church.
His conversion could not be long kept a secret, it soon became known to his master, and the consequence was that he was at once, and for ever, excluded from his house and society. He was then, in 1730, about eighteen years of age. Deserted thus by his patron and but ill-assisted by his friends, he found himself in the necessity of soliciting employment for his support. After many unsuccessful applications, he was at length received into Mr. Boyer's printing office, in quality of director of the Greek press, an occupation for which his proficiency in that language eminently qualified him. Here he continued for two years, receiving for his labour a considerable stipend. At the end of this period, feeling himself called to the ecclesiastical state, he consulted some of his clerical friends, and through the influence of the College Agent in London, was at length sent to Lisbon, where he arrived October 21, 1732, and where he remained until his death in 1780.
On entering the College Preston no longer considered himself master of his time, or the application of his talents; the good of the Mission and the will of his Superiors became the sole end of his conduct. Ever ready at his post where the necessities of the College seemed to require his exertions, he thought no labour too great which had for its ultimate object the advantage of religion and the conversion of souls. At his first arrival, and whilst engaged in the study of Philosophy and Theology, he undertook the duties of Classical Professor for which his previous training admirably fitted him. Soon after his promotion to the priesthood, in 1736, he commenced his first course of lectures on Philosophy, and at the same time undertook the office of Procurator. Without entering into the details of the various labours and researches in the different branches of science in which from this period Preston was engaged, it will suffice to state that during the long period of his residence in the College he never refused any labour, nor shrunk from any occupation in which his talents could be employed with advantage. Of his ability in all the branches of Philosophy, the works which he has left in manuscript are incontestible proofs, and could they have been issued from the press, would have, undoubtedly, widely spread his reputation in the world at large. He was one of the first who, in spite of great opposition, introduced the Newtonian Philosophy into Portugal, and the treatise which he has left on the subject, though intended merely as an elementary course for his own scholars, shows him to have been well acquainted with the subject. Though he often, and for a long time together, discharged the laborious part of the duties of President and Vice-President, such was his characteristic aversion to honour and dignity, that he could never be induced to accept either of those offices. The Annals of the College allude with particular praise to the manner in which he discharged the duties of the Procuratorship which, owing to the financial difficulties to which reference has been made, must have been of the most harassing nature. This office he held for upwards of sixteen years. It might be supposed that amidst so many and so occupations, Preston had little leisure for Missionary duties, but besides attending to the spiritual concerns of the Community he was instrumental in the conversion of many Protestants to the Catholic Faith.
The fatal earthquake of 1755, the financial difficulties of the College, and the insubordinate spirit which had crept in among the students, offered a wide field for the exertions of all interested in the stability of the Establishment. As for Preston, in proportion as the wants of the College increased, his efforts and affection for it seemed to redouble. His talents and virtues caused him to be universally esteemed and beloved. The Portuguese nobility assiduously cultivated his acquaintance, and the King not unfrequently testified his regard for him, both by admitting him to private audience, and by large contributions towards those objects, in favour of which he appealed. The following anecdote will illustrate the esteem in which he was held by Carvalho the celebrated Prime Minister of Joseph I. On an occasion in which that Minister was engaged in a contest of some moment, after putting forward the various arguments which suggested themselves to his mind, in proof of the matter at issue, he wound up by saying: "and this is the opinion of the great Preston."
He was never known to abuse, in favour of any unworthy object, the influence which his familiarity with the great enabled him to exercise, and though permitted free access to the royal presence, he never presented a petition which was not directed to some religious or charitable end. In the year 1775, Preston was appointed preceptor to the young Prince of Brazil, an honour which he could be induced to accept only from the persuasion that he might thereby be the better enabled to promote the interests of his beloved College. This position of honour, however, he held only for a short time. Soon after his nomination he was struck with a fit of paralysis which, being repeated, carried him off on February 8, 1780. He was interred in the College Church, and the following epitaph is inscribed on his tomb.
Hic jacet quod mortale fuit
Joannis Preston sacerdotis
Viri simplicis ac timentis Deum
Is in omni litterarum genere versatus
Acri judicio varia in hoc Collegio
Non sibi sed aliis vixit:
Instituendo regio Principi electus
Diu exequi non potuit
Ob: Ætat : An. LXVIII.
Œr: MDCCLXXX. VI. 1d. Feb.
R. I. P.
Socii mœr. pos :
The preceding account clearly indicates the leading features of Preston s character. He was one of the few who, with eminent talents, have been found to unite the most profound humility. Courted by the learned and respected by the great, he seemed to possess no ambition but to hold the subordinate station of Professor in the College to whose welfare he dedicated his talents and labours. His temper was mild, and his conduct regulated with such uniform moderation, good sense and benevolence, that not a single word of anger or impatience was ever known to have fallen from his lips. His piety was great, yet without ostentation, and it seemed his only wish to pass through life, unknown and unregarded by men. He was remarkable for a strong memory, a clear understanding and a sound judgment. Hence the extensive knowledge which he possessed was always at his command, and so methodically was it arranged, that he declared, that were he immured without access to a single book, he could put down on every subject which he had studied, a regularly digested system.
After all perhaps the best encomium which could be passed on him is that with which the Annals of the College conclude the account of his labours. "Vir summæ doctrinæ, fama commendabilis, simplex et rectus ac timens Deum."
Father Jerome Allen, the contemporary and life-long friend of Dr. Preston, was born in London, in the year 1730. His father was a Portuguese named Antony Gomez who, at the time of the birth of his son, was attached to the Portuguese Embassy in Condon. His mother, Mary Allen, was born in London and, as Father Allen would jocosely observe, within the sound of Bow Bells, a circumstance on which he not a little prided himself, maintaining that from her he had learned the most correct pronunciation of the English language which those only are said to speak with a perfect accent who are born within the sound of the bells of Bow Church, to whom strictly belongs the vulgar name of "Cockney."
He was admitted into the College in the year 1744, at the age of fourteen. Here he showed early signs of those abilities, quickness of apprehension, and accuracy of judgment which afterwards distinguished him. He had the good fortune to have for his instructors during his studies Dr. Gerard Barnard and Preston, both men of distinguished erudition. This advantage was to Allen, at a later period, a frequent subject of self-congratulation, and to it he humbly attributed all the brilliant success with which his literary exertions were uniformly attended. His studies were interrupted for a short time by the terrible earthquake of 1755. Soon after he was ordained priest, and said his first Mass in a tent which, in consequence of the damage sustained by the College Church in the recent calamity, had been erected in the garden for the purposes of divine worship.
Having finished his Course of Studies, Father Allen, though not appointed to any particular office, was elected into the body of Superiors. The Council was moved to this choice as well by the consideration of his singular talents, as on account of the influence which he, even then, possessed amongst the first personages of the country. Of Portuguese extraction and having spent his childhood under the eye of the Portuguese Ambassador the Conde de S. Lourenço, he had from the time of his first entrance into the College received much attention from the family of that nobleman and its numerous connections, and during his studies he had occasionally been permitted to spend his vacations among them. His pleasant manners, cheerful disposition, readiness of wit, and fluency of expression made him a great favourite in the circles of the nobility. This intimacy, however, never caused him to forget the dignity becoming his character, nor to deviate in his conduct from what was strictly ecclesiastical. By persistently pursuing this line of conduct, he continued to the end to enjoy equally their respect and cordial good will.
During the administration of the notorious Marquis of Pombal, this intimacy with the nobility exposed him to considerable danger, as some of the families with whom he was on the closest terms of friendship, were singled out by the Minister as special objects of persecution. To avoid risk the Superiors thought it advisable that he should leave the country for a time, and he accordingly started for the English Mission, and arrived in London about the middle of the year 1774.
For some time previous to this, Allen had begun to be affected with religious scrupulosity, which at one period seemed to threaten his reason, so much so that it was found necessary to oblige him to lay aside all serious occupation and to spend a considerable time in the country. He retired to Serpa in Alentejo, with the family of Mello Breyners, who possessed considerable property in that locality, and remained there nearly a year, deriving a decided improvement to his health. Whilst on the Mission in London, he distinguished himself so much by his preaching, that he was strongly urged to publish his sermons. He was also greatly admired as a Reader, and he used to relate to his scholars an incident illustrative of the great importance of a good education. One Sunday, after Vespers, a servant maid requested to see him, and on being introduced made him a low courtesy and then presented him with a shilling, saying "that she could not refrain from offering him that trifle, as a token of the extreme delight she had often received from his reading."
On the Mission he greatly endeared himself to Bishop Challoner, who in intimate conversation usually gave him the familiar appellation of "Friend Allen," though the venerable prelate did not fail on occasions to remind him of his defects, especially of his loquaciousness. He himself was far from being blind to this defect, and many times he related the following anecdote.
One day after a dinner at which Dr. Challoner was present, and a select party of priests, and during which Father Allen had in a great measure engrossed the conversation, the Bishop just as he was taking leave tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Friend Allen, in multiloquio non deerit peccatum."
From London he went to the seat of Lord Dillon, where, however, he did not remain long. Indeed Bishop Challoner soon perceived that the difficulties arising from his religious scrupulosity, rendered the performance of Missionary duty too severe a task. He, therefore, kindly recommended him to the Superiors of Douay College to be received and treated by them as a guest, till circumstances should permit him to return to Lisbon. At Douay, Allen did not remain inactive. His literary reputation which had preceded him induced several young men to apply to him for instruction in that department of education, and this lead to the establishment in the College, with the full consent of the President, of a kind of Academy in which, in vacant hours, he gave lectures on Rhetoric to several who afterwards became highly distinguished members of the Mission.In 1777 took place the death of Joseph I, King of Portugal, which event was immediately followed by the fall of the Marquis of Pombal, and a total change of measures in the Government. The prisons were opened, and some of Allen s principal friends were suddenly transferred from a state of danger and disgrace, to the first offices of trust and dignity in the Kingdom. On this the Superiors of the College immediately invited him to return, desiring him, however, previously to use his influence with Dr. Challoner in order to obtain some succour towards raising the College from the deplorable state of poverty and debt in which it had so long lain. The earnest appeal he made on this occasion, joined to the great personal esteem entertained for him, induced
THE REV. FATHER ALLEN.
The person selected by Bishop Challoner for the Presidency was the Rev. James Barnard, who arrived in Lisbon prior to Allen s return. The rapid improvements and almost entire reconstruction of the edifice which followed, were in a great measure brought about by Allen s exertions. On his return to the College his acquaintance was more than ever sought after. Peter III, husband of the reigning Queen, bestowed on him particular marks of favour. He often admitted him to his private apartments and took great delight in his conversation.
At the public Theses in Philosophy and Theology which were occasionally held in presence of the Court, Allen sometimes stood forth as one -of the disputants, and whenever this was the case, he was ever received with applause.
On one occasion of a public disputation, though not held in the presence of the Court, the Thesis to be defended had, as was the custom, been distributed among the various religious houses of Lisbon, each of which generally sent two of its ablest members. On this occasion the College had been omitted in the distribution on the ground, as was stated by the Professor, "that it was too insignificant for notice." This remark reached, accidentally, the ears of the President who, jealous of the honour of Alma Mater, instructed Allen to enter as one of the disputants. Accordingly on the day appointed, he repaired to the place of disputation with his friend Dr. Preston. As soon as the Professor, after going through the usual routine of proofs and formalities, had invited all present who were not satisfied with his reasons to produce their objections, Allen stood forward. At once the eyes of the whole assembly were fixed upon him with the deepest attention, while he commenced his attack upon the Thesis. Tradition which has preserved this anecdote, does not say what was the subject of the dispute, but it relates that the Professor found himself so beset with difficulties, so pressed and straitened by the logic of his adversary, that the only answer he was able to give was "Mentiris," or the "lie direct." No sooner had the word passed his lips than Allen bowed to the Professor and assembly and, accompanied by his friend, retired. This incident forms the subject of one of the verses of the College Song.
Here Preston, immortal, fair Wisdom s fond son,
Soon after the invention of balloons by Mongolfier in 1782, an attempt in the same direction was made by the Professor of Philosophy at the Royal convent of Mafra. The balloon had been constructed on a large and expensive scale, the day was fixed for the ascent, and the Court and an immense concourse of spectators from the Capital had assembled at the place. To the indescribable mortification of the artist, the balloon was found too heavy and refused to rise from the earth. In consequence of this failure, Father Allen was strongly urged to make a trial, and with some reluctance he consented. The projectors spared no expense in the construction of the balloon. It was a Mongolfier inflated by burning within it oat straw, and the inflation continued by inflamed spirits of wine. The aeronaut was an immense baboon dressed in the habit of a sailor, a most mischievous creature, which in punishment of his misdeeds had been condemned to make this perilous voyage. He was chained in the boat, but contrived to loosen the chain, jumped out and was drowned in the Tagus. The balloon answered Allen s most sanguine expectations. It ascended magnificently from the verandah of the Count of Obidas in the direction of the Tagus. This was the first balloon ever seen in Portugal.
Somewhat prior to this period, his friend the Marquis of Ponte de Lima nominated him to a benefice in the Province of the Minho near Ponte de Lima, of the value of fifty pounds a year. As the care of souls was attached to it, on account of his scrupulosity he obtained the sanction of the Marquis to employ a substitute. About the same time, as a token of the esteem in which he was held by the Royal Family, he was assigned a pension as Pen Maker to the Court. The remarkable elegance and beauty of his handwriting may have first suggested the appointment, but the office was by no means a sinecure, for till the departure of the Royal Family, it was he who made all the pens used by its members. By means of these pensions Allen was enabled, during the remainder of his life, to procure for himself whatever little extras he required, and for considerable periods to support himself without being a burthen to the College.
About the year 1792 he undertook the lowest class of Syntax. Later he took charge of a large class of more advanced Humanists, whom he conducted through the Courses of Poetry, Rhetoric, and Philosophy. Father Allen acted towards his scholars more like a friend than a master, and he strove to contribute, by every means in his power, not only to their improvement, but even to their comforts and amusements. After he had finished the Course of Philosophy, he never held any official situation in the College, though he was always considered as one of the Superiors and, as such, was always admitted to the Councils of the House. With a view to the erection of the College Observatory, a project which he had much at heart, he visited England for a few months in 1794, but without meeting with much encouragement. The work was commenced on his return, and was continued with more or less activity till the French invasion, when it was interrupted and has not since been resumed.
From this period till his death, the College continued to be his principal place of residence, though he occasionally, and for considerable periods, lived at one or other of the houses of his numerous friends. Fearing to become in any way burdensome to the Mission, even in his old age, and apprehensive lest his pensions, after the deductions made from them by the heavy war taxes, should prove inadequate to his full maintenance, he was induced in the year 1810, at the pressing instance of Sir Charles Stewart the British Ambassador, to undertake the superintendance of the education of the two sons of the Marquis of Fronteira at the seat of that family at Convalescenza near Lisbon.
The destitute condition of these two noblemen, whose father was dead and whose mother had become insane, was the motive of Sir Charles Stewart in applying to Father Allen, as it was also that which principally determined the latter to undertake the charge. In it he continued till 1814, and though he had attained the advanced age of eighty-two when he undertook this employment, such was still the vigour of his mind, that not content with merely superintending the education of the youths, he himself gave them daily lessons in such branches of knowledge as their age admitted. Having in consequence of certain arrangements in the family discontinued his instruction of the young noblemen, he returned to the College, where he continued to enjoy his usual health and vigour of mind.
In the following January, 1815, having caught a heavy cold, a species of complaint from which he had very seldom suffered, and refusing medical aid from the conviction that he could be as usual his own doctor, he became, in a few days, so ill as to make it evident that his end was approaching. This intelligence being announced to him, he did not manifest the least perturbation but to use his own expression, recorded in the epitaph which he had composed for Doctor Barnard: "Mortem tanquam præstitutum iter tranquillus aspexit."
When the moment came in which he was to receive the last Sacraments, he would by no means consent to receive them in bed. Rising, therefore, and with the assistance of the Infirmarian clothing himself in his full College dress and putting on a surplice and stole, he fell on his knees, and in that posture most humbly and devoutly received his Saviour. He expired about four hours afterwards without a struggle, appearing during his last sickness never to have been in the slightest degree troubled by his habitual scruples. He w r as buried the next day in the College Church, where the following epitaph, drawn up by Dr. Buckley, is inscribed on his tomb:
Huj. Coll. Alum, et Presbyter
Litt : Human : et Philos :
Per plures annos
Amicis deditus cunctisque benevolus
Ingen. acumen : ac morum candore
Regis et Nobilium amicitiam
Quorum ope egenos tutatus est
Reditusque Collegii auxit
R. I. P.
Though of a timid conscience he was possessed of great natural intrepidity. This he manifested on the occasion of the great earthquake of 1755 when, with the utmost calmness, during the successive shocks, he went to the College Church, a portion of which had already fallen, in search of his sister whom he knew to be there, quietly leading her out of the danger of being buried under the ruins of the tottering edifice. On the occasions of the other earthquakes which happened in considerable numbers during his long life, he made it a rule from which he never deviated, to throw himself on his knees at the first symptom of the convulsion and to repeat, leisurely, the Lord's Prayer, before he betook himself to a place of greater security.
An incident which happened during the occupation of the College by the French, was quite in keeping with this trait of his character. On one occasion at a banquet to which the French officers had invited the Superiors, a lieutenant forgetting the consideration due to the guests, rose to propose the health of the Emperor Napoleon, and called upon the Englishmen to honour the toast. This, at first, Allen declined to do, upon which the lieutenant observed, "that he had not much reason to respect a country which had driven them forth to a foreign land." " Let it be so,"rejoined Allen, "yet George the Third is our lawful King. I will drink your Emperor s health on condition that you drink George the Third s." All laughed heartily at the suggestion, there was much clapping of hands and the King s and Emperor's healths were drunk. Thus the whole passed off as a joke, which otherwise might have had serious results. The memory of this incident is perpetuated in the following verse of the College Song:
Nor forget we when " Vive l'Empereur " was the toast,
The distinguishing feature, however, of Allen s character was an unbending love of truth, which no respect of persons nor hope of advantage could ever prevent him from declaring. This he frequently carried to excess, allowing nothing either false or even doubtful which might be advanced to go uncontradicted or unchallenged. He, however, always observed the greatest good humour in his disputes, and the charm of his conversation was universally sought and admired. He was loved and respected by all, and his Charity towards his neighbour was ever most exemplary. He cautiously abstained from the least word which could affect the reputation of others, and if in the warmth of a discussion a harsh expression escaped him, he was sure to ask pardon of the aggrieved party however much his inferior, before he retired to rest.
To return to the narrative. After twenty-one years of office Dr. Barnard, at the request of Bishop Challoner, resigned the Presidency in 1776, and was succeeded by Father James Barnard. Finding the character of his successor uncongenial, Dr. Barnard retired to the village of Nossa Signora de Monte on a pension allowed him by the College, where he remained until the departure of the Rev. James Barnard on to the Mission. Father Fryer, the succeeding President, kindly readmitted him into the College, and until his death, in 1783, treated him with the utmost consideration.
James Barnard was born in London in the year 1733, and was educated a Protestant. At an early age he was sent to Seville, and was employed for some time in a mercantile house in that city. Whilst in this situation he became convinced of the truth of the Catholic Religion, and was in the most public manner received into the Church. Soon after feeling a strong inclination to the ecclesiastical state, he asked and obtained admission into the English College in the same city, and was promoted to the priesthood. In the year 1758 he left Seville, for what reason it does not appear, and was received into Lisbon College, where he twice defended public Theses. Having finished his studies, he was sent on the English Mission in 1761, and continued to labour in the London District till his nomination to the Presidency in 1776. His knowledge of business and characteristic love of order, rendered him at this moment an invaluable acquisition to the College. The earthquake and various other causes, had contributed to throw the archives and the affairs of the House into a state of almost inextricable confusion. A loose and vicious system of keeping accounts had been adopted, and innumerable abuses in the domestic economy had begun to be authorized by prescription. To remedy all these evils Father Barnard assiduously devoted himself to a complete revision of the affairs of the College, from the time of its foundation. With infinite toil and unabating industry, he examined every document, caused many of the most important ones which through time or accident were in danger of becoming illegible to be recopied, and by redeeming the archives from the confusion in which they had so long lain, went far to repair the evil consequences of the negligence of his predecessors. He also introduced a regular mercantile method of keeping accounts, and strenuously enforced the observance of discipline in every department. While thus employed, Preston and Allen, as we have seen from the preceding short sketches of their lives, were making successful efforts to increase the pecuniary resources of the College, and to improve and enlarge the building. From the time of the great earthquake until the period at which we have arrived, the portion of the edifice which had suffered from that calamity still lay in ruins, and the rest was in the imperfect state in which it had been left by the President, Father Jones. The house in most parts rose only to the height of one story; the ground floor had never been flagged, and the corridor above still continued with no better ceiling than the tiles and rafters.
By the exertions of the two above mentioned, the ruined parts of the edifice were now restored, the whole building put in a state of good repair, and a comfortable residence provided for twenty-five students and the usual number of Superiors. This improvement was effected between the years 1777 and 1780, and it was on this occasion, as previously stated, that the venerable Dr. Challoner materially contributed to its renovation by a large pecuniary remittance. This venerable Bishop had always expressed the greatest interest in the welfare of Lisbon College, which possibly was quickened by the remembrance that, under God, lie owed the grace of conversion to the Faith to Father John Gother one of Lisbon s sons.
In the year 1782, Father James Barnard, who was the fourteenth President, resigned his office and was succeeded by Rev. William Fryer. Coming to London, he succeeded the Rev. Father Bolton in the spiritual charge of the school at Brook Green, and also was appointed the Vicar-General of the London District, in which office he died September 12, 1803, aged seventy. His Works were:
- The Life of the Venerable and Right Rev. Richard Challoner, Bishop of Debra and Vicar Apostolic.
- A Catechism, or Collection of some points of Christian Faith and Morality composed in verse. To which is added, an Invitation to a Method of making a Spiritual Retreat.
The Rev. William Fryer was born of an ancient gentleman s family in Somersetshire, and when grown up was sent to Douay, where he completed his studies, but on account of the infirm state of his health, he did not receive the Order of Priesthood till after his return to England, when it was conferred upon him by the hands of Bishop Challoner. Soon after, on occasion of the Suppression of the Jesuits in Spain, the English Colleges of Madrid, Seville and Valladolid, were restored to the Secular Clergy, and Dr. Challoner, having united them into one Seminary, fixed it at Valladolid, appointed Dr. Perry, Graduate of the Sorbonne, the first Superior and, at the same time, nominated Father Fryer Vice-President. In this situation he continued for twelve years, at the end of which period he was advised to take a journey to Paris, for the purpose of undergoing a surgical operation for a disorder which had appeared in his jaw. The operation proving successful, he soon after proceeded to London, and was immediately nominated President of the Lisbon Establishment, where he arrived in the year 1782, accompanied by the Rev. James Crosby who had completed his studies under him, and whom he destined for the Vice-Presidency and Professorship of Philosophy.
In 1795 Father James Buckley was elected Superior and appointed Professor of Philosophy, and at the same time the Rev. James Dennet became Procurator. Mr. Benjamin Smith a classmate of the two former, whose remarkable gifts had strongly recommended him to Father Fryer, had been long before destined by him to the office of Superior to the College. He was, however, unexpectedly seized with an illness which, after some months, ended in death. A remarkable incident associated with his death is worthy of record.
From his boyhood whilst at Sedgley Park, he was remarkable for piety and an intense concentration of his mind upon God in prayer. At College he endeared himself to his companions and Superiors by his humility, exact observance of the Rules, and fervour of devotion. Almost to the end of his studies he had enjoyed good health, but in 1795 he was suddenly seized with a fainting fit which proved to be the commencement of his last illness. In spite of every attention he gradually grew worse, but during all his sufferings ever manifested marks of a wonderful love of God. When all hope of his recovery had ceased, one day, October 18, a certain Sister Barbara, a member of the Bridgittine English Community of nuns, then existing in Lisbon, was earnestly praying for him, and suddenly seemed to see an altar upon which a candle was burning, and at the side of which stood an angel who, turning towards her, said "Tomorrow at nine o clock in the evening this light shall be extinguished," when he had uttered these words the whole vision vanished. The Sister begging of God that He would deign to explain the meaning of what she had seen, it was made known to her that the burning light represented Benjamin Smith, and that at the hour indicated he would pass out of this world. This was communicated by letter to the Rev. M. Corbishley who was the nun s confessor, and by him to the other Superiors. The prophecy was verified by the event. On the following day, about six in the evening the agony commenced, and his sorrowing companions were summoned to assist him by their prayers. As soon as they had assembled in his chamber he addressed to them in his usual clear and earnest voice, these words "Pray for me, my friends, for I am about to plunge into the gulf of eternity." He suffered greatly during the two following hours; retaining, however, complete consciousness, and frequently repeating the sweet names of Jesus and Mary. At nine o'clock he suddenly raised his eyes to heaven, a smile as if some pleasant vision had been presented to him passed over his countenance, and he peacefully expired. Even in death his countenance was most beautiful, and his compressed lips still retained the pleasing smile. To return from this digression.
This same year, 1795, the Rev. Samuel Corbishley who, since 1790, had held the office of Procurator, became Vice-President and Professor of Theology. Father James Buckley was appointed Professor of Philosophy and the Rev. Wm. Victor Fryer, Classical Master. The latter, however, in the following year, 1796, went on to the Mission, Father Dennet succeeding him, and the Procuratorship was entrusted to the Rev. Edmund Winstanley, at that time a deacon and having completed his third year of Theology. In 1798 Father Dennet was sent on to the Mission, and was succeeded as Teacher of Classics by the Rev. Thomas Hurst who was in deacon s Orders, but had not completed his fourth year of Theology. The staff of Professors as thus constituted, continued until May, 1801, when Father James Buckley voluntarily resigned and went on to the Mission, leaving as Superiors in the House the President, Father Fryer, who taught Theology; Edmund Winstanley, Procurator; and Thomas Hurst, the Classical Professor.
The President was desirous of availing himself of the remarkable talents of the Rev. James Yorke Bramston who had been ordained priest two years before, and whom he considered well fitted to occupy the Chair of Theology. To this, however, the other Superiors, supported secretly by Father Allen, were opposed, as they considered him much more fitted for Missionary work than for the duties of the College. Their reasons were, that during his Course he had never attended the schools, and consequently was unacquainted with the scholastic method adopted in the College; he had never been subjected to the discipline of the House, and indeed had always been treated as a guest, rather than a student, and they feared he might thus entirely alter the method and spirit of the House.
Finding that he could not overcome the opposition of the Superiors, the President had recourse to the Protector, by whose supreme authority he hoped to have made him Superior. In this, however, he failed, and accordingly in this year, 1801, Bramston departed for the Mission.
"Dr. Bramston.— Yorke Bramston, born in March, , was originally a Protestant and a lawyer. After his conversion he went to the College at Lisbon, where he supported himself, at his own cost, for eight years and studied Theology. Returning to England he served the Mission first in the Midland District, and afterwards in London. In 1802, he was one of the priests at St. George's-in-the-Fields, Southwark. Bishop Poynter made him his Vicar General, and in 1812 he accompanied the Bishop to Durham, where he was employed as Theologian and Counsellor to Bishop William Gibson, the Senior Vicar-Apostolic, at the Synodal Meeting of the Bishops held there in that year.
"Bishop Poynter took him with him to Rome in 1814, and on April 5, 1815, being then in Genoa, he applied to the Pope to give him Dr. Bramston as his Coadjutor, and in support of his request, adduced the testimony in Bramston's favour of Bishops Gibson, Collingridge and Smith, and of the two Scotch Vicars-Apostolic, Bishops Cameron and Chisholm."They commend Dr. Bramston as a man who merited the Episcopal dignity, not only by his knowledge, piety, and zeal for religion, but also by his singular
Dr. John Yorke Bramston.
He was recommended also by the London Clergy and by the immense flock in London, of which he had the charge for over thirteen years, which loved him for zeal, prudence, and most tender charity. He was es teemed by his old Protestant friends and by those who knew him from his infancy. He had lost much temporal prosperity by his conversion to Catholicism.
"On the 27th of November, 1827, Dr. Bramston wrote to Dr. Gradwell, at that time Rector of the English College in Rome, announcing the death of Dr. Poynter his predecessor, and takes occasion also to mention that he himself was in his seventy-fourth year, in the March past, and to tell Dr. Gradwell not to be surprised if he were soon to apply for a Coadjutor. He said he had in his mind for that office the Abbé Griffiths, Rector of St. Edmund s Seminary, and the Rev. M. Kimball of Moorfields.
"On the 10th of May, 1828, Propaganda elected Robert Gradwell to be Coadjutor to Dr. Bramston, with the right of succession. Dr. Gradwell was consecrated, June 24, 1828, and on the 3ist of August, 1828, he wrote to the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda, saying I arrived in London on Saturday last and received a most kindly welcome from Bishop Bramston who, although almost always sick in body, is yet vigorous in mind.
"Bishop Bramston, on the 25th of March, 1829, assisted by the Right Rev. Thomas Weld, Bishop of Amycla, and Coadjutor to the Bishop of Upper Canada, and by Bishop Gradwell, consecrated Daniel McDonnell, to be Bishop of Olympus, in partibus, and Vicar-Apostolic in Trinidad, and other Islands; and again on the 5th of February, 1832, with the assistance of Bishops Baines and Gradwell, he consecrated William Placid Morris, the newly-appointed Visitator Apostolicus, for the Island of Mauritius.
"Dr. Bramston survived his Coadjutor, Dr. Gradwell, who died March 15th, 1833; but himself died on July n, 1836, at 35, Golden Square, London, aged eighty-three, and was buried on the 27th of July, in the clergy vault in the Moorfields Chapel. Bishop Griffiths, his successor, officiated at his obsequies."
By the departure of Father Buckley, as above stated, in May, 1801, the Chair of Philosophy was left vacant, and though Father Allen offered himself for the office, the President who resented his opposition in the affair of Father Bramston, declined to accept the offer and did not feel justified in imposing it on any of the Superiors, and thus at the opening of the schools in September the Philosophers were without a Professor. Father Winstanley, to obviate the difficulty, proffered to combine with the Procuratorship which he held, the duties of Professor of Philosophy, an arrangement which lasted during the two following years. In 1803, Father Corbishley, who had given offence to the Superiors by his conduct in a matter which, as it had no connection with the College, need not be further noticed, was sent on to the Mission, and the President proposed that the Rev. Peter Wilcock, to whom he was much attached, should be made Professor of Classics and General Prefect. To this the other Superiors readily agreed, and Winstanley became Professor of Theology resigning the Procuratorship into the hands of Father Thomas Hurst. The concord amongst the Superiors which the Bramston affair had broken was restored, and the affairs in the College proceeded peacefully.
Under the guidance of Father Fryer, the improvements in discipline and general domestic economy commenced by his predecessor, James Barnard, were vigorously prosecuted and carried into full effect. Such of the inmates as were judged unqualified for the ecclesiastical state were dismissed, and several fresh batches of students brought over from England. The effect of these measures soon began to be felt on the Mission. A succession of laborious and genuinely virtuous ecclesiastics was supplied from Lisbon, whose learning and piety continued to reflect honour on the Seminary in which they had been reared.