The Times/1914/Obituary/Augustus Jessopp
Canon Augustus Jessopp
We regret to announce that Canon Augustus Jessopp died yesterday morning, aged 90. Dr. Jessopp was a remarkable example of the lettered cleric with interests extending widely outside his own profession, a type less common now then it was when he took orders in 1848.
He was born at Cheshunt on December 20, 1823, and was educated at St. John's Cambridge, which left with an ordinary degree to undertake the curacy of Papworth, Cambridgeshire, where he resided till 1854, when he became headmaster of Helston Grammar School. Here he remained till 1859, when he succeeded Dr. Vincent at King Edward's School at Norwich, being thus brought into relations with East Anglia, the region which in the future was destined to engage his activity as a writer. His tenure at Norwich, (where George Meredith's elder son was among his pupils) was uneventful, and from the fact that he seldom if ever alludes to schoolmastering in his subsequent writings it may be assumed that it was not altogether to his taste. He began to work on his historic studies during his time at Norwich, and became rector of Scarning in 1879.
The Nineteenth Century was then under the direction of Mr. James Knowles, and it is probably that Dr. Jessopp's success was largely due to this circumstance. His work was certainly just what the editor wanted, and for many years his clients abundantly supplied therewith. Dr. Jessopp's popularity was quite natural. He wrote well in a forcible, colloquial style, with the air of being tremendously in earnest, and full of knowledge which overflowed his pages, tricked out with somewhat boisterous illustrations. Joseph Arch then loomed large in the public eye, and people wanted to hear what a county parson might have to tell about the agricultural labourer. He was firmly convinced that things were not going well in the rural parishes, and he was righteously indignant at the condition of the labourer's cottage, and the growing tendency to deprive him of all chance of rising to a higher level, and evil aggravated by the abolition of small farms. He realized also the dullness of village life, the grinding monotony, and the impossibility of escape, though perhaps he was too prone to assume that these burdens would be as heavy to his neighbours as to himself. His entire picture was unreal, giving the worst rather than the average conditions. He certainly did his best to brighten village life; he was quite free from clerical bigotry, and candidly admits that the stuffy little Ranter's chapel is too often the only place where the religious emotions of the rural poor can be stirred and the yearnings of the soul satisfied. Unfortunately his well-meant efforts came to little largely because he went too late to parish work. His best years had been spent as a schoolmaster. He was essentially a man of the study, and the "monsters of life's waste" which he attacked were too often those which he imagined must be the bane of his poorer neighbours rather than those which really oppressed them. Again, he was not Norfolk born, and he never comprehended the inner nature of the hard-grained East Anglian race which still, in a way, rates the stranger and the foe as nearly equivalent. For those reasons Dr. Jessopp and his people came to cross purposes. He lost his temper sometimes, and wrote about his neighbours in terms which some of them resented. Numbers of the Nineteenth Century travelled down to Scarning, and when certain local celebrities recognized their portraits, made to dance with stage antics for the amusement of the rector's town friends, and understood that he, worst crime of all, was getting handsomely paid for conducting the show, the feud waxed bitter.
As early as 1855, Dr. Jessopp issued a reprint of Donne's "Essays in Divinity" with notes, and in 1897 he brought out a short life of Donne in the "Leaders of Religion" series. His "One Generation of a Norfolk House" must have cost him much labour; it is the story of one the Walpoles who became a jesuit temp. Elizabeth, and it was while he was engaged over it at Mannington Hall, Lord Orford's seat, that he was favoured by a nocturnal visit from a ghostly ecclesiastic in the library. Much good-humoured banter followed his communication of is experience to the Press, and probably his picturesque statement helped to draw public attention to this Henry Walpole, an unimportant figure and quite undeserving of the toil and research his vates sacer bestowed upon him. In 1879 he published his "History of the Diocese of Norwich"; in 1885 "The Coming of the Friars and other historical essays; in 1881 and 1890 "Arcady for Better or Worse" and "The Trials of a Country Parson," his most popular works; and in 1890 he edited afresh Bell's edition of the "Lives of the Norths."
Dr. Jessopp became a member of the University of Oxford by incorporation at Worcester College in 1870, and in 1895 he was made an honorary Fellow of that Society, a dignity which his own college at Cambridge conferred upon him in the same year. In 1890 he was appointed select preacher at Oxford, where his handsome presence and his sonorous voice made him an imposing figure in St. Mary's pulpit. In 1895 he was made an honorary canon of Norwich, and he was Chaplain-in-Ordinary to King Edward from 1902 to 1910.
In 1907 Dr. Jessopp was granted a Civil List pension of £50, in addition to a pension of £100, which had already been granted to him, in recognition of his services to archælogy and literature. He resigned his benefice in 1911, and went to live at The Chantry, Norwich. On his removal from Scarning he sold most of his valuable library, and the sale attracted considerable attention. It included a number of letters addressed by George Meredith to Dr. and Mrs. Jessopp, and a number of Meredith first editions with autograph inscriptions of the author.
The funeral will be at Scarning to-morrow, at 2.30.