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J&tfrtl obstat :


Imprimatur :


Prior Provincialis Anglia.

flifrtl obstat :



Jmprinti potest :


Episcopus Anndelatsis, Vicnrius Gentralts.

die 21 fulii 1906

The Life and Letters


Father Bertrand Wilberforce

Of the Order of Preachers


With an Introduction by VINCENT M'NABB, O.P.

Second edition

" Verbo, viti praedicat."

Off. Sett. Petri Mart. O.P.






THIS volume has been compiled by one of a community to
whose members Father Bertrand Wilberforce stood in close
relations of friendship and brotherhood. He assisted them
in many ways, both literary and spiritual, and often sacrificed
himself in their service. Their superior, Mother Francis
Raphael Drane, whose Memoir Father Wilberforce wrote, bore
him a special affection, and her predecessor, Mother Mary
Imelda Poole, esteemed him no less highly. The compila-
tion of his Life and Letters has, therefore, been undertaken
as a tribute of gratitude to the memory of an old and valued
friend, and as such, is offered to all who knew Father Wilber-
force, and, more especially, to his own Religious Brethren, the
Fathers of the English Province of Friar-Preachers.

In such a life as Father Bertrand's there is little matter to
be found for the biographer's pen, and the work of the compiler
has almost necessarily been confined to giving a slight sketch
of his early years, and to the tracing in outline his apostolic
career, connecting the letters with the life by such links as
were needed to make the whole intelligible. The letters
themselves reveal much of the writer's inner life, and on
this by far the most interesting portion of a man's history
further light is thrown from many little notes and memoranda
found among his papers after death.

Thanks are due to the many persons who have helped in
the work, and particularly to those who, regardless of their





personal feelings, have allowed their letters from Father
Bertrand to be printed, in order that other souls may profit
by his words of exhortation and encouragement.

In order to avoid unnecessary repetition it has been
judged expedient to omit some letters and curtail others ;
here and there, two letters to the same person have been
inserted as one, and a few have, for convenience sake, been
arranged according to subjects, irrespectively of their dates.

Wherever it was possible or permitted, proper names
have been given. In letters of a personal and private nature
this could not, of course, be done, and in one or two other
cases Father Wilberforce's friends, no doubt from motives of
humility, have desired to remain anonymous.


October 10, 1906.


THE favourable reception accorded to Father Wilberforce's
Life and Letters, and a continued demand for the book,
have induced the publishers to issue a second edition, with
the hope that the holy Dominican's work for souls, lasting,
as it did, to the very end of his life, and continued after
death by the publication of his letters, may thus be carried
on for yet a while longer.

A few additional letters have been inserted in the present
edition, and one or two of slight importance omitted, in order
not to increase the size of the volume.

October 16, 1912.





The Wilberforce Family Characteristics of the Emancipator
inherited by his Grandson Henry Wilberforce : his connec-
tion with Dr Newman Birth of Arthur Childhood Con-
version of his Parents Malvern Goes to Ushaw Vocation
to the Priesthood Inishbofin Rome Anecdotes
Receives Sub-Diaconate Vocation to Religion Ordained
Deacon Regrets at leaving Ushaw Enters the Dominican
Novitiate First Mass Canon Green's Reminiscences . 1-29



Life in the Novitiate Death of a Novice Letters to his Family
Religious Profession Parish Work In Charge of the
Stroud Mission Letters on Apostacy Is made Prior of St
Dominic's, London Letters to his Parents "Good Works"
Death of Mr Wilberforce Letter from Cardinal Newman
to Mr W. Wilberforce Letters from Father Bertrand to
his Sister on her entrance into Religion . . . 30-48




Breakdown in Health Rest at Surbiton Letter to his Sister
on her Profession Assigned to Woodchester Story of
Canon Akers and Dr Pusey Holy Death of a Priest Is
appointed Chaplain to the Convent at Stone Love of the
Poor and Sick Letters on following a Vocation to Religion
To his Sisters To a Nun on her Deathbed To A. B.
Thoughts on the Closing Year Death of Mrs Wilberforce
Letter to a Novice To Miss Wilberforce . . . 49-66


Leaves Stone and resumes Mission Work Letter to a Novice
To A. B. Death of Teresa H., and Letter to her Sister
To his Sister in Religion A Strange Story On listening
to the Salvation Army Encouragement Preaches at the
Funeral of Mother Imelda Poole Letter of Sympathy
Hard Work Literary Labours Letters on Contemplation
On Confession To his Sister St Alphonsus's True
Spouse To a Novice of the Order of Preachers . . 67 86


Extracts from Journal Evidence of Growth in the Spiritual
Life Is assigned to Leicester Notes of Mental Prayer
Retreat of 1883 "Ordering of Time for God" Means of
Avoiding Waste of Time Love of Reading To A. B.
Visit to Bishop Ullathorne Letter of Encouragement
Retreat to Poor Clares at Baddesley Clinton Anecdotes
Self-depreciation Attacks of Illness Desire for purely
Contemplative Life a Temptation Goes to Karlsbad . 87-104




Extracts from Journal Impressions of Malines, Cologne, Nurem-
berg, etc. Life at Karlsbad Visits Eger and Prague
Description of Benedictine Convent Gratz and Vienna
Chapel of St Stanislaus Dominican Convent Made
Preacher-General Ratisbon Resumes Mission Work
Another Illness Goes to Neuenahr " Neuenahr Rubrics "
Meran Letters to a Religious Love of his Vocation
Anecdotes To A. B. Notes of his Retreat Browning's
Poetry ......... 105-126


Death of his Sister, Mrs Froude Letters of Resignation Notes
on Love of Jesus Christ Illness at Maryvale Letters of
Direction On Suffering Early Rising Our own Sins the
cause of the Passion Cardinal Newman's Rules for a
Convert Symptoms of Disease appear Letters on Short-
ness of Life Conversation with God Difference between
Confession and Direction To a Convert Pride our Great
Enemy Illness of Mother Francis Raphael Letters of
Sympathy ....... 127-145

1 894- 1 896

Letters on Fervour and Perseverance Comfort in Prayer
" Seek God and not Perfection " A Little Book on the Love
of God Memoir of Mother Francis Raphael Sermon on
St Dominic Visits Neuenahr again Fenelon's Prayer-
Temptations St Gregory on Self-examination On Des-
pondency Frequent Communion Advice for Retreat-
Necessity of Self-denial To B. H. The Dog " Denis "-
Difficulties regarding Faith " Light Reading " . . 146-170





Failing Health "Preparation for Death" Is Assigned to
Hawkesyard Makes his Retreat On Humility and Aban-
donment Sympathy and Encouragement to a Convert
Aversions Religious Obedience "An Astronomical Diffi-
culty" Joining in Protestant Worship Ruysbroeck,
Browning, and "Plain Tommy" Anecdotes A Lesson
in Grammar "Death most Desirable" A Superstitious
Prayer True Idea of Perfection Rules of Mortification
The Presence of God Christ our Friend Notes for a
Retreat, to Clergy "The Prayer of Acts" Spiritual Com-
munion To his Sister, on his own Retreat . . . 171-202



Letter on Perseverance Joy of helping Souls Mission at Burn-
ley To his Sister, on the Possibility of his Dying Suddenly
Cardinal Newman's Words Strict Diet On the Use of a
Watch in Mental Prayer Unity of Doctrine in the Catholic
Church To a Nephew on his Confirmation On Desires
A Sermon on Jonas To his Sister Advice for a Retreat
Trust in God Opinions on Various Subjects On Tempta-
tions Danger of Delay in following Light " Consummate
Perfection" ....... 203-232


On Authority of the Church and Devotion to our Lady To an
Invalid : " An Old Buffer "On Peace of Soul : Help from
Others To his Sister on her Half Jubilee in Religion On
Affections of the Brain Rules for Mortification Anglican
Difficulties On i Cor. xv. Courage under Temptation
The Boer War Letter of Consolation . . . 233-247





Letters on the Old and the New Century The War" V.C."-
" Mrs Boer" "Aiming High" Advice to an Invalid To
his Niece Note on " Boys" Those outside the Church
"Selfish Heavenly Joys" Criticism of Ruskin Ethics of
the Dust Sufferings a Mark of God's Love Treatises of
Savonarola More Remarks on Ruskin . . . 248-263


1 900 continued

Attack of Iritis at Newton Abbot Simplicity and Obedience in
Times of Sickness Irritability repaired by Humility
Rest at Stone Makes his Retreat Another Attack of Ill-
ness Threatened with Deafness Struggle with Nature ;
Resignation Resumes Correspondence Job and his
Friends "The Sunny South" On Reading the Scriptures
Life of Canon Bathurst Congratulations to a Convert
On Reading books against the Faith Union and Contem-
plation Instructions to a Convert .... 264-282


Returns to Hawkesyard Letter to * on Various Subjects On
Self-knowledge Trust in God The Coronation Oath To
a Religious " Out of the Church no Salvation " Mission at
Glasgow Answers to Questions Grace "not of Works"
To an Invalid Letter to an Anglican Gentleman on Mental
Prayer To * on Romans v. 4 St John xiv. i Religious
Vows ........ 283-316


A Comparatively Quiet Year Extracts from Letters of Direc-
tionOn "Perfect Docility" G. Sands' and G. Egerton's
Books The Problem of Evil Illness at Greenwich To
his Sister Distinction between " Saints and Holy Men "-



To a Nephew On Anglican Orders The Way in which
Christ Loves Subjects for Meditation in Time of Retreat
To * "Out on the Steps" To Mr Montgomery Carmichael
on John Walshe Comfort for the Faint-hearted Spiritual
Consolation : Purgatory . 3 ' 7-34


References to the Comfort On the Promise to the Religious
Life "What Keeps us Back " Self-examination Rod-
riguez Advice for Lent: on Contrition Tennyson's Enid
To an Invalid VariaR. Grignon de Montfort Our Lord's
Hidden Life Illness at Kensington Square Convent-
Anecdotes Letters of Direction- On some Protestant
Views of " Election "A Meditation on Death Notes of
his own Retreat To Rev. F. Castle, C.SS.R. 34>-36



On Cardinal Newman as a Writer- Illness at Atherstone and
Hawkesyard To his Sister Stay at Downside Visits
Buckfast Abbey To Rev. F. Castle, on Prayer Some
Elementary Truths To a Religious Superior On False
Humility Faith and Submission of Judgment Notes of
his Last Retreat at Hawkesyard To a Friend Abroad
On the Spirit of Submission to the Teaching of the Church
Goes to Teignmouth . 37- 3^8

DECEMBER 3-14, 1904

Account given by Rev. Dom Bede Camm, O.S.B., of Last Days
at Teignmouth- Arrival at Chiswick Taken 111 Visit of
his Old Novice Master Docility and Child-like Obed-
ienceRev. F. Raphael Moss, O.P., Administers the Last
Sacraments Last Words Funeral Characteristics-
Meditation on " Preparation for Death " 389-406


It may perhaps be thought that some of the materials from
which the following pages have been written were prepared
by the subject of this memoir himself; therefore it seems
well to say at once that the exact contrary is nearer the
truth. Humility was so deeply rooted in Father Wilberforce's
soul that the thought of his life beimj written probably never
crossed his mind, and those who were privileged to know
him in his many moods may easily imagine the look and
tones which would have greeted such a proposal. If it had
been suggested to him to set his notes in order, so as to
lighten the work of his future biographer, such an appeal
would probably have resulted only in the total destruction of
the scanty material those notes did yield on examination.
Father Bertrand was not " a man with a grievance." He cast
his care upon the Lord, thereby transcending the anxieties
that beset lesser minds.

It is, then, not from any desire to fulfil some known wish
of Father Wilberforce that this volume is now given to the
world. Nevertheless, it is truly love for him and, still more,
love for the souls he loved that has prompted the work.
His life has been written in the hope that some account of
what he was by nature, and what he became by grace, may
reach and encourage those souls in whom the sense of their
own almost unconquerable nature seems to clog the feet of

We can hardly wonder that the grandson of William
Wilberforce should have borne strong marks of individuality.
Father Bertrand was obviously human. Some of his lesser
defects clung to him unto the end ; the greater ones fell off
under the action of grace. There was a certain family
idealism about him which unfitted him quite as much for
practical affairs as it fitted him to be a preacher. The care
of clothes, books, and the like was never natural to him. To



find anything in his cell always required a long search.
Though he had a faithful memory for recalling what was
there, he could seldom remember where it was to be found.
He was a born mystic for whom the stereotyped methods of
life and prayer were a crucifixion. This did not always
make it easier for his brethren to be with him, for instance,
on a mission. He did notalways realise that his fellow- workers
had not his gift of extempore speech ; and that it required
great self-trust or heroic self-denial to change the subject or
manner of the evening sermon half-an-hour before it had to
be preached. To him, of course, this would hardly have been
an incident.

It goes without saying that he was naturally and
notoriously unpunctual. In the earlier years of his priest-
hood he was for some time chaplain to the Franciscan
Convent, Woodchester. It could almost be said with truth
that he was never in time for anything. When he was not
too late, he was most unpunctually too early. But in
this, as in other matters, long years of struggle backed by
divine grace wrought a change. Some years later on he
gave a retreat to the same community, who remembering his
past habits, were prepared for long delays. But it was
remarked that during the whole retreat the clock had
scarcely struck the hour for the exercises when his bowed
figure moved out of the sacristy, where he had been
awaiting the signal to begin.

His unpunctuality was less a moral fault than a mystical
perfection. For the most part his thoughts dwelt with what
St Augustine calls the " eternal ideas " (rationes ceterna}, and
these, if we believe the mystics, are not measured or controlled
by time. Like so many of the mystics, Father Bertrand's mind
ranged mostly in eternity. Attention to the course of earthly
time was a distraction from the essential attitude of his soul.
But, needless to remark, to those who had trains to catch and
duties to fulfil this mystical mood of Father Bertrand had its
disadvantage. An example of this occurred at Woodchester
one Good Friday. There was to be an afternoon service begin-
ning at three, and consisting of sermon and Stations of the
Cross. The prior in asking Father Bertrand to undertake the
sermon, reminded him that, as the Stations of the Cross were
to follow, he was not to be longer than half-an-hour. But
during all the Holy Week services it had been noticed how
whole-heartedly he had thrown himself into the offices of
the Church, until his frail body seemed to become diaphanous
to his soul. Once in the pulpit the barriers he had been set-
ting up around his fervour gave way before the floods of his


emotion. The half-hour neared, but there was no sign that
the end of his sermon was nearing. The half-hour passed.
Three quarters struck, and the noviciate were asked to go
into the choir with as much noise as possible in the hopes
of distracting the preacher. But to no purpose. For a full
half-hour more did he pour out the floods of his mystic love
of our Lord. He was all apology when he came back to
the sacristy, and realised that the Stations had to be aban-
doned. Yet I know not if those of us who listened to this
lover of the Cross had lost anything by his forgetfulness.

So too in matters of business. Money matters inspired
him with a kind of horror. His father who had thrown up a
rich living in the Established Church, and had become, as
Newman said of him, " a fool for Christ's sake," could never
be brought to recognise in the closing years of his life that
he had done anything for God. Father Bertrand was cast
too unmistakably in his father's heroic mould to treat money
as anything but the vilest scullion of his priestly life. Method
in its outlay and accounting were naturally a trial to him.
Yet, as it is a rule that a Religious on returning to his convent
after a journey shall give an account of his expenses, loyalty
to this rule became a point of honour, as it was undoubtedly
a source of mortification to him. Many of us can recall his
note-book in which every minute expense was jotted down.
Strangers who noticed his scrupulous exactness in recording
the slightest expenditure might have thought him naturally
careful or even niggardly. They could never have guessed
the struggles that such care betokened, nor the signal victory
that grace had won over nature in the fulfilment of this
humble duty.

Such natural imperfections unfitted him for jurisdiction.
As it is an historic fact that St Thomas Aquinas never be-
came prior thanks to the good sense of his fellow-Religious
it is no slight on Father Bertrand to say that his one term of
priorship did not altogether justify the confidence of those
who elected him. He had not those lesser virtues of the
eye and hand rather than of the heart that tend to make a
superior the house-band of the community. But he was one
of those who could and did say with truth and with a full
heart, " I was not made for office. It is easier for me to obey
than to command."

It may even be said that he was not altogether what
Religious mean by the subtle phrase " a community-man."
It was not that he was lacking in gifts of sympathy or, to be
more accurate, consolation. He could easily be a paraclete
a strengthener ; and, truth to tell, he was seldom anything


less. Indeed every counsel as it fell from his lips was a
Snrsum Corda, which his own radiant example gave his
brethren the heart to follow. Perhaps the finest praise won
from the brethren by his master St Dominic is handed down
to us in the words of Jordan of Saxony, Cum fratribus
sociisve nemo communior nemo jucundior. With the brethren
or with his fellow-travellers no one was ever more serviceable
or more full of mirth. But we have no English word for
communior, which is nothing more or less than the mediaeval
Latin for a " community-man." It could hardly be said of
Father Bertrand that he was " communis " amidst the brethren.
The truth is he lived in regions apart, which, by a kind of
paradox, he quitted only by an effort of abstraction.

He had a greater claim to St Dominic's gracious title of
" nemo jucundior." Few had Father Bertrand's mirthfulness
and sense of humour. It saved him from Puritanism ; as it had
saved his father from the inconsequences and incongruities of
Tractarianism. There were hardly ten men in England who
could tell a good story with more drollery. He was not one
of those who unkindle laughter by contact with their o\vn.
His face, when he chose to control it, never betrayed the
slightest sign of fun, even when the drollest anecdotes were
convulsing his audience. He used to tell a story of a mayor
who had an impediment in his speech, which led to a grotesque
situation when he was presenting a municipal sword to Lord
Wolseley. The chief excitant to laughter was the stolid face
of Father Bertrand, who, wholly unconscious of his audience,
had absolutely identified himself with the unfortunate mayor.
His stories were endless. Missionary work throughout the
length and breadth of the United Kingdom had filled his
wallet from that best storehouse of innocent fun, the priests'
table. But it was always the kindliest of fun. If ever his
lips let pass a word calculated to wound those present or
absent, it was touching to see how almost unconsciously he
seemed to add a kindly word as if in compensation for the
pain he might have caused.

His character was by nature dominantly merry and
buoyant. It is not usually this aspect of a priest's soul that
finds its way into spiritual letters or biography. But to leave
out this feature would be to caricature him. He had a most
charming fancifulness with children and here we may say
he loved sunshine and children. Children made him a child
at once by their presence.

He had a sweet voice, and would sometimes give his
brethren the treat of hearing him sing Simon the Cellarer, or
read an Ingoldsby legend. Once when suffering from one


of his most acute attacks of illness at Wocdchester, two of
the community were engaged in applying hot poultices to
soothe the cruel spasms of pain. In the lulls between each
attack the patient would lay aside his pitiful moans and begin
to declaim passages from Pickwick. His rendering of the
two Wellers was so inimitable that his nurses were compelled
again and again to ask him to stop, as their laughter made it
impossible for them to do their work. There was a vein of
pathos about another incident redolent of his humour. Once
when giving a retreat at Maryvale he fell so ill that an opera-
tion had to be performed at once. The surgeon was making
the preparatory arrangements when the patient said : "It is
very strange, but my sister was operated upon for this very
same complaint this very same day six months ago." " I
hope she came through all right," said the doctor almost
mechanically. "No; she died," replied Father Bertrand
calmly. His cool manner took the doctor aback. " Does it
not make you afraid ? " he asked. " On the contrary," replied
his cheerful patient, " I should think it a most extraordinary
thing if brother and sister were both operated upon for the
same complaint on the same day, and both died ! "

The letters of his youth show chiefly the thoughtful and
serious side of his character : they do not picture him as he
really was, the centre of all the home cheerfulness. His
sister said of him : " The great joy of our lives was to see his
face ! He was the centre of all our fun during the holidays."

Yet, amidst his brethren he was always a better talker
than listener ; besides which, his gift of humour needed too
much stimulating to make him a successful " community-
man," especially in later years, when his great sufferings,
together with his almost superhuman sensitiveness to sin,
had crushed out much of his natural buoyancy.

It must not be thought that his love of God and of suffer-
ing were grafted on a heart empty of human affection. On
the contrary, God had endowed him with that best of human
gifts, a heart fitted to love, and many of the letters in this
book prove how strong was his family affection. Some of us
who have known him for years never suspected, or never did
more than suspect, the depths of the love he gave his home-
circle. A letter which he wrote soon after the death of his
sister Agnes, when he was still reeling under the blow, has few
equals in its almost terse pathos, its unstudied outburst of
affection, its whole-hearted acceptance of the will of God.
Grace had here but a light work to do in this soul. Under
its action his love did not become less human, but more
divine. It became a spiritual passion, in which form


alone it could be offered up to Him who is a consuming

Mysticism of such intense degree might easily have turned

Online LibraryH M CapesThe life and letters of Father Bertrand Wilberforce of the order of preachers → online text (page 1 of 39)