Bennett, William James Early (DNB01)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

BENNETT, WILLIAM JAMES EARLY (1804–1886), ritualist divine, born on 15 Nov. 1804 at Halifax, Nova Scotia, was the eldest son of William Bennett, major in the royal engineers, then stationed at that place {Somerset and Wilts Journal, 21 Aug. 1886). He was admitted at Westminster school on 16 Sept. 1816, and in 1818 became king's scholar. In 1822-3 he was captain of the school, and in 1823 he was elected to Christ Church, Oxford, matriculating on 9 May 1823. From 1826 to 1828 he held the post of usher at Westminster school, and at the anniversary of 1841 he was a steward.

Bennett graduated B.A. in 1827, M.A. in 1829. Alter taking holy orders he served as assistant minister at St. Peter, Vere Street, Marylebone, in 1831, being also the chaplain to Marylebone workhouse. For some years to 1836 he was curate to Dean Chandler at All Souls, Langham Place, Marylebone, and from 1836 to 1843 he was minister of Portman Chapel. In these positions he acquired considerable reputation as a preacher, mainly in places of worship where low-church practices were observed.

In 1840 Bennett was nominated minister of the new district of St. Paul's, Knightsbridge, and at once set about the erection of the new church. The first stone was laid on 6 Nov. 1840, and the building was consecrated on 30 June 1843, when Bennett became the first incumbent (Davis, Knightsbridge, pp. 92-96). From 1846 to 1850 he was active in promoting the building of the church of St. Barnabas, Pimlico, and it was consecrated on 11 June 1850. Meantime trouble had arisen over the ritualistic practices and ceremonies, many of which would now pass unnoticed, introduced by Bennett into the services. The bishop had before June 1850 complained of some practices at St. Paul's; less than a month afterwards he condemned some novelties at St. Barnabas. There were riots outside St. Paul's, and the police had to guard night and day both the church and the parsonage. The situation was further complicated by the bull creating Roman catholic bishops in England, generally known as the 'Papal aggression,' and by the celebrated letter with its references to Bennett's innovations, which Lord John Russell, then one of his parishioners, addressed on this act of the pope to the bishop of Durham. Bennett was unable to stand before the storm. He tendered to the bishop his resignation of the incumbency on 4 Dec. 1850, and on 25 March 1851 the vacation took legal effect.

Many publications resulted from the incident. Bennett's curate, the Rev. Alexander Chirol, went over to the church of Rome in 1847, and Bennett thereupon brought out 'Apostacy: a Sermon in reference to a late event at St. Paul's, Knightsbridge,' which went through at least eight editions. Chirol issued a reply to this attack, and Bennett retorted (1847, 2 editions). He addressed 'A First Letter to Lord John Russell on the present Persecution of a certain portion of the English Church' (1850, 7 editions), and two years later came out with 'A Second Letter to Lord John Russell' (2 editions). His 'Three Farewell Sermons preached at S. Barnabas', Pimlico,' his volume of 'The last Sermons preached at St. Paul's, Knightsbridge, and St. Barnabas', Pimlico,' and 'A Farewell Letter to his Parishioners,' were all printed in 1851.

The dowager Marchioness of Bath had been a member of Bennett's congregation at Portman Chapel, and had remained his friend ever since. As the guardian of her son, not yet of age, she appointed Bennett to the vicarage of Frome Selwood, Somerset. The last incumbent of this living had been a low churchman, and opposition was raised at Frome to a ritualistic successor. The bishop of the diocese declined compliance with a petition praying him to refuse institution, and Bennett took possession of the benefice in January 1852. The appointment was brought before the House of Commons by Edward Horsman [q. v.] on 20 April, 8 and 18 June 1852, but the matter ultimately was dropped.

Bennett issued in that year 'A Pastoral Letter to the Parishioners of Frome' (3 editions). The fine church of the parish was in a bad state of repair and neglect. He at once took measures to restore it, and by 1866 the works were completed at large cost. In his new charge he continued the practices which had marked his rule at the church of St. Paul's, Knightsbridge, and it was 'round him that the battle chiefly raged when it had passed beyond the cloisters and combination rooms of the university.' In 'A Plea for Toleration in the Church of England in a Letter to Dr. Pusey' (1867 ; 3rd edit. 1868), and in the essay of 'Some Results of the Tractarian Movement of 1833,' contributed by him to the second series of Orby Shiplev's 'Church and the World' (1867), Bennett made use of some unguarded expressions on the Real Presence in the Sacrament. The words in the 'Plea for Toleration' were altered at the instance of Dr. Pusey, and the pamphlet in the amended form reached a third edition. But the council of the Church Association, acting through Thomas Byard Sheppard 'of Selwood Cottage, Frome, the nominal promoter of the proceedings, brought these publications before Sir Robert Joseph Phillimore [q. v.], the dean of arches, on a charge of heresy against Bennett. Phillimore at first declined to entertain the charges, but was ordered by the privy council to consider them, and on 23 July 1870 decided that the defendant had not broken the law of the church. Appeal was made to the privy council, and on 8 June 1872 Phillimore's view was upheld. Bennett was not represented by counsel on any of these occasions (Annual Register, 1872, pp. 213-27).

Bennett continued to work in his parish and to take part in the services of his church until three days before his death. He died at the vicarage, Frome, on 17 Aug. 1888, and on 21 Aug. was buried near the grave of Bishop Ken, on the south side of the chancel. Bennett married, at Marylebone in 1828, the eldest daughter of Sir William Franklin, principal inspector-general of the army. She died at Frome on 2 Aug. 1879. His only son, William Henry Bennett, went out to Burmah in a regiment of native infantry, and died at Prome, Burmah, of fever, on 22 Aug. 1854.

Bennett published many single sermons, and edited or wrote prefaces to the works of sacred writers, especially of Mrs. Lear. The most important works that he edited for her were (1) 'Tales of Kirkbeck,' two series; (2) 'Our Doctor and other Tales of Kirkbeck;' (3) 'Tales of a London Parish;' (4) ' Cousin Eustace, or Conversations on the Prayer-book;' (5) 'Lives of certain Fathers of the Church in the Second, Third, and Fourth Centuries.' His own works comprised, in addition to those already mentioned: 1. 'Sermons on Marriage,' 1837. 2. 'The Eucharist, its History, Doctrine, and Practice,' 1837; 2nd edit. 1846; 3rd edit. 1851. 3. 'Sermons on Miscellaneous Subjects,' vol. i. 1838, vol. ii. 1840. 4. 'Neglect of the People in Psalmody and Responses,' 1841, 3 edits. 5. 'Guide to the Holy Eucharist,' 1842, 2 vols. 6. 'Lecture Sermons on the Distinctive Errors of Romanism,' 1842, 3 edits. 7. 'Letters to my Children on Church Subjects,' 1843, 2 vols. ; 2nd edit. 1850. 8. 'The Principles of the Book of Common Prayer considered,' 1846. 9. 'Crime and Education: the Duty of the State,' 1846. 10. 'The Church, the Crown, and the State : two Sermons on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council,' 1850, 4 edits. 11. 'Examination of Archdeacon Denison's Propositions of Faith on the Holy Eucharist,' 1857. 12. 'Why Church Rates should be abolished,' 1861, 2 edits. 13. 'History of the Church of St. John of Frome,' 1866. 14. 'Mission Sermons preached at St. Paul's, Knightsbridge,' 1870. 15. 'Defence of the Catholic Faith : a Reply to the Bishop of Bath and Wells,' 1873. 16. 'Dream of the King's Gardens : an allegory. By a Protestant Churchman,' 1873. 17. 'Catechism of Devotion,' 1876. 18. 'Foreign Churches in relation to the Anglican : an essay towards Reunion,' 1882. Bennett edited 'The Theologian' and 'The Old Church Porch,' 1854-1862, 4 vols, (from the latter of which were reprinted the five volumes of 'The Church's Broken Unity'), and contributed largely to religious periodical literature. Mrs. Lear prefixed in 1887 an introduction to a volume cf 'Last Words, being a Selection from the Sermons of W. J. E. Bennett.' Augustus Clissold [q. v.] published a reply to his articles in the 'Old Church Porch' on Swedenborg's teaching. It reached a third edition in 1881.

[Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Welch's Alumni Westmonast. pp. 483, 491, 536, 553; Barker and Stenning's Westminster School Reg.; Men of the Time, 11th edit.; Crockford's Clerical Directory, 1885; Guardian, 18 Aug. to 15 Sept. 1886; Somerset Standard, 21 Aug. 1886, p. 8, 28 Aug. p. 6; Memoir of Bishop Blomfield, ii. 136-60; private information. The Judgment of Sir Ecbert Phillimore was edited by his son in 1870.]

W. P. C.