Faber, Frederick William (DNB00)

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FABER, FREDERICK WILLIAM, D.D. (1814–1863), superior of the London Oratory, the seventh child of Thomas Henry Faber, by Betty, daughter of Thomas Atkinson of Bradford, Yorkshire, was born on 28 June 1814 at the vicarage of Calverley, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, of which parish his grandfather, the Rev. Thomas Faber, was the incumbent. In the December after his birth his father, on being appointed secretary to Dr. Barrington, bishop of Durham, removed with his family to Bishop Auckland. He was at the grammar school of Bishop Auckland and afterwards under the Rev. John Gibson at Kirkby Stephen, Westmoreland. In 1825 he passed a short time at Shrewsbury School, and in 1827 he proceeded to Harrow, then under Dr. Longley, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, to whom he acknowledged deep obligations. His mother died in 1829, and his father in 1833. He was matriculated at Balliol College, Oxford, 6 July 1832, and went into residence in the Lent term 1833. In the first year of his undergraduate life he composed one of his most popular poetical pieces, ‘The Cherwell Water-lily,’ published in 1840. Towards the end of 1834 he was elected a scholar of University College. He frequently joined in the discussions at the Union Debating Society, and gained some distinction as a speaker even among such rivals as Roundell Palmer, Lowe, Cardwell, W. G. Ward, and Tait. He also took an active share in establishing the ‘Oxford University Magazine.’ In 1836 he carried off the Newdigate prize with an English poem, ‘The Knights of St. John.’ He graduated B.A. the same year, taking a second class in classics. At the close of the year he accompanied his brother, the Rev. Francis Atkinson Faber, to Germany, and shortly after his return in January 1837 he was elected to a fellowship at University College. He also gained the Johnson divinity scholarship. When the long vacation arrived he took a small reading party to Ambleside, where he formed a lasting friendship with Wordsworth.

In early life Faber shared the Calvinistic doctrines of his family, who were of Huguenot origin; but at Oxford he became an enthusiastic admirer of the Rev. John Henry (now Cardinal) Newman and a zealous promoter of the movement started in 1833. He offered his services to the compilers of ‘The Library of the Fathers,’ and the translation of the seven books of St. Optatus, on the Donatist schism, was assigned to him. This task brought him the friendship of Newman, by whom he was largely influenced in after years. On 6 Aug. 1837 he was ordained deacon in Ripon Cathedral by his old master, Dr. Longley, and at once began to assist the clergyman of Ambleside in his parochial work. Some tracts which he published at this period obtained an extensive circulation. In 1839 he received priest's orders from Bishop Bagot at Oxford, and in the same year he commenced M.A. During the summer of 1839 he paid a short visit to Belgium and the Rhenish provinces, from which he returned with a strong feeling of dislike to the ecclesiastical practices he had witnessed. In 1840 he accepted a tutorship in the house of Mr. Matthew Harrison at Ambleside. The greater part of 1841 he spent in making an extensive tour on the continent with his pupil. He kept a minute journal of his travels, which formed the basis of a work entitled ‘Sights and Thoughts in Foreign Churches and among Foreign Peoples’ (1842), dedicated to Wordsworth, ‘in affectionate remembrance of much personal kindness, and many thoughtful conversations on the rites, prerogatives, and doctrines of the holy church.’ Faber remained at Ambleside during the greater part of 1842, and in the autumn of that year he accepted the rectory of Elton, Huntingdonshire, a living in the gift of his college. He communicated the news to Wordsworth, who replied: ‘I do not say you are wrong, but England loses a poet.’ After ‘reading himself in’ at Elton, on 2 April 1843, he visited the continent with the express object of examining and testing the practical results of catholicism. Dr. (afterwards Cardinal) Wiseman introduced him to several eminent ecclesiastics in Rome. After his return to England in October 1843 he still clung to Anglicanism, but introduced into his parish full choral services and encouraged auricular confession and devotions to the Sacred Heart. A ‘Life of St. Wilfrid,’ which he published in 1844, was violently attacked on the ground of its Roman catholic tendencies. At last, on 16 Nov. 1845, he formally abjured protestantism, and was received into the Roman church at Northampton by Bishop Wareing, vicar-apostolic of the eastern district. Several of his parishioners and friends, including J. T. Knox, scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge, were received at the same time. These he formed into a community at Birmingham under the title of Brothers of the Will of God, though they were commonly called Wilfridians. Faber, who as ‘brother Wilfrid’ was constituted superior of the fraternity, went to Rome to promote its interests, and was most favourably received by Gregory XVI. In September 1846 the community was transferred, through the munificence of the Earl of Shrewsbury, to Cotton Hall, thenceforward called St.Wilfrid's, near Cheadle, Staffordshire. After being ordained priest on 3 April 1847, Faber was entrusted with the charge of the mission of Cotton.

In February 1848 he and his companions joined the oratory of St. Philip Neri, which had just been introduced into England, and of which Father Newman was the superior. This step, of course, involved the breaking up of the institute founded by Faber, who on 21 Feb. began his novitiate as an Oratorian at Maryvale, or Old Oscott. Five months later his novitiate was terminated by dispensation, and he was appointed master of novices. In October 1848 the community, numbering more than forty members, was transferred from Maryvale to St. Wilfrid's. Faber and Father Hutchison established in April 1849 a branch of the Oratory in King William Street, Strand, London. From this period until his death Faber remained at the head of the London Oratory. The community was in 1850 erected into a separate and independent congregation, and in 1854 its members removed to more commodious premises at Brompton. In 1851 Faber went abroad with the intention of visiting Palestine, but his health broke down at Malta, and he was obliged to return home through Italy. On 9 July 1854 he was created D.D. by Pope Pius IX. He died at the Oratory, Brompton, on 26 Sept. 1863, and was buried at St. Mary's, Sydenham.

By his unceasing labours in connection with the London Oratory, by his persuasive eloquence in the pulpit, and by his numerous publications, Faber rendered signal service to the Roman catholic cause in England. He introduced Italian forms of prayer and pious practices, some of which were at first distasteful to English catholics of the old school, and he constantly inculcated devotion to the pope as an essential part of christian piety. The light and charming style of his spiritual treatises, which unite mystical devotion with profound theological learning, obtained for them an extraordinary popularity. His longer poetical works possess considerable merit, and the use of his beautiful hymns is almost universal in catholic churches wherever the English language is spoken. Some of them, as ‘The Pilgrims of the Night’ and ‘The Land beyond the Sea,’ are widely circulated as sacred songs. Many are to be found in protestant collections. The collection of ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern’ contains several, and the ‘Hymnal Noted’ twenty-four. Faber's biographer observes that ‘words cannot reproduce the gracious presence, the musical voice, the captivating smile,’ or satisfy those whose ‘happiest hours were blessed by the wisdom, holiness, and love of Frederick William Faber.’

His portrait, engraved by Joseph Brown, is prefixed to his ‘Life.’

His principal works are:

  1. ‘The Knights of St. John’ (Newdigate prize poem for 1836).
  2. ‘Tracts on the Church and the Prayer-Book,’ 1839; 2nd series, 1840.
  3. ‘The Cherwell Water-lily and other Poems,’ London, 1840, 8vo.
  4. ‘The Styrian Lake, and other Poems,’ London, 1842, 8vo.
  5. ‘Sights and Thoughts in Foreign Churches and among Foreign Peoples,’ London, 1842, 8vo.
  6. ‘Sir Lancelot; a Legend of the Middle Ages,’ a poem, London, 1844, 1857, 8vo.
  7. Translation of the seven books of St. Optatus, bishop of Milevis, on the schism of the Donatists. In the ‘Library of the Fathers.’
  8. Lives of St. Wilfrid, St. Paulinus, St. Edwin, St. Oswald, and others, in the series of ‘English Saints’ published by Toovey, London, 1843–4.
  9. ‘The Rosary and other Poems,’ London, 1845, 8vo.
  10. ‘Lives of the Canonised Saints and Servants of God,’ edited by Faber, and continued by the congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, 42 vols., London, 1847–56.
  11. ‘An Essay on Beatification, Canonisation, and the Processes of the Congregation of Rites,’ London, 1848, 8vo.
  12. ‘Hymns,’ London, 1848, 12mo. Another edition, with many additions, entitled ‘Jesus and Mary, or Catholic Hymns for singing and reading,’ 1849; 2nd edition, 1852. A complete edition of the ‘Hymns,’ 150 in number, appeared in 1862.
  13. ‘Essay on the Interest and Characteristics of the Lives of the Saints.’
  14. ‘The Spirit and Genius of St. Philip Neri,’ London, 1850, 8vo.
  15. ‘All for Jesus; or the Easy Ways of Divine Love,’ London, 1853, 8vo; 5th edition, 1855. It has been translated into French, German, Polish, Italian, and Flemish.
  16. ‘Growth in Holiness; or the Progress of the Spiritual Life,’ London, 1854, 8vo.
  17. ‘The Blessed Sacrament; or the Works and Ways of God,’ London, 1855, 8vo.
  18. ‘The Creator and the Creature; or the Wonders of Divine Love,’ London, 1858, 8vo.
  19. ‘The Foot of the Cross; or the Sorrows of Mary,’ London, 1858, 8vo.
  20. ‘Spiritual Conferences,’ London, 1859, 8vo.
  21. ‘Lectures on the Old Testament History,’ preached in 1860 and published after his death.
  22. ‘Devotion to the Pope,’ London, 1860, 12mo.
  23. ‘The Precious Blood; or the Price of our Salvation,’ London, 1860, 8vo.
  24. ‘Bethlehem,’ London, 1860, 8vo.
  25. ‘Notes on Doctrinal and Spiritual Subjects. Edited by the Rev. John Edward Bowden,’ 2 vols., London, 1866.

He also translated ‘The School of St. Philip Neri’ (1850), from the Italian of Crispino; ‘The Spiritual Doctrine of Father Louis Lallemant’ (1855), from the French; ‘The Octave of Corpus Christi,’ from the French of Nouet; and ‘A Treatise on the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin’ (1863), from the French of the Ven. L. M. Grignon de Montfort.

[Life and Letters, edited by Father J. E. Bowden, London, 1869, 8vo, new edit. 1888; Brief Sketch of his Early Life, by his brother, the Rev. Francis Atkinson Faber, rector of Saunderton, London, 1869, 8vo; Saturday Review, 10 Oct. 1863; Athenæum, 3 Oct. 1863, p. 436; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. v. 505; Foster's Alumni Oxon. ii. 443; Gillow's Bibl. Dict.; Dublin Review, September 1849, p. 163, March 1854, p. 194, September 1857, p. 235, January 1864, p. 159, July 1869, p. 109, January 1870, p. 95, also new ser. xiii. 109, xiv. 95, xviii. 320; Manning's Miscellanies, 1877, i. 111; Blackwood's Mag. cvi. 693; Month, xi. 154; Catholic World, November 1869, p. 156; Temple Bar, xxvii. 184; North British Review, i. 146; information from Reginald S. Faber, esq., M.A.]

T. C.