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The life of Robert Rodolph Suffield online

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annoso famam qui derogat aevo,
Qui vates ad vera vocat.

Lucan, PJtars, 9,







THIS life is written by one whose acquaintance
with Mr. Suffield began in 1864, when he was the
popular and much-loved Dominican missioner, and
closed for the present only within a few days of
his death as a veteran in the ranks of the Unitarian
ministry. Whatever be its imperfections, or possible
mistakes, it has at least one merit, that which the
subject of it would have valued the most it is
truthful. It is neither a panegyric nor a criticism,
but the story of a fallible man, who sought to speak
the truth as he knew it, and at the same time live
in charity with all.

" My personal history," he once wrote, " w r ill
explain the mixture of opposing feelings with which
I touch the Eoman Catholic question, viz., tender-
ness, gratitude, and love towards Eoman Catholics
I have personally known and heard of, along with
a great dislike and dread of the system." The
writer of this memoir trusts that he has carried
into effect what would have been Mr. Suffield's wish,


and that, painful as the story must prove to his former
co-religionists, there will be found in it no word
which will hurt the feelings of private friendship or
insult the religious convictions of those he left.

But the true story of his change of faith, and his
motives and troubles at the time, is best told in his
correspondence with Dr. Martineau, who in the sorest
trouble gave him invaluable help and encouragement.
For the letters which he has kindly contributed, and
for leave to publish his own in reply, the sincerest
thanks are due not only from the writer, but from all
interested in the subject of the memoir.





Family and Early Training



Seminarist and Priest



Friar Preacher of the Order of St. Dominic



The Beginnings of Doubt



The Conflict Within



Help Sought from Outside



First Intimation to the Public



Last Difficulties and Decision



Questions for the Present and Future



Remonstrances and Explanations



Alone in the World



Neither Anglican nor Evangelical ...



What Old Friends said of him



Ministry among Unitarians



His last Days and Death



Funeral and Obituary Notices



Feuianism and the English People


An Eclectic View of Roman Catholicism


Farewell Sermons Cosmic Religion


Spiritual Religion


The Duty of Thought: a Sermon


Last Prayers in Public Service



Letter to the British and Foreign Unitarian




THERE lived, about a hundred years ago, in the
neighbourhood of Norwich, two brothers of the
name of Suffield ; they came of an old Norfolk family
who had suffered for their religion, and were both
by inheritance and by conviction, members of the
Roman Catholic Church, openly and devoutly adher-
ing to it at a time when all kinds of civil and social
penalties weighed upon its professors. At their houses
many French emigrant priests found, from time to
time, refuge and hospitality.

Of the two brothers, Thomas, the younger, died a
bachelor. He was, writes his great-nephew, " a man
of singular benevolence," and his will, bearing date
1800, is a confirmation of this family tradition about
him. It is not so much the amount left in charity,
but the number of institutions and individuals to
whom he leaves small legacies, which shows the man's
kindly heart, and justifies the opinion entertained of
him to the third generation.

Robert, the elder brother, was twice married ; first
to Anna Bayley, by whom he was connected with the
well-known Roman Catholic families of Constable and
Maxwell, and after her death to Anastasia D'Arcy, of
Clifton Castle, Gal way. By the first wife he had two

sons and a daughter; by the second two daughters
and a son. The descendants of all, so far as can be
traced, are now Protestants.

George, the second son, and father of our Eobert
Eodolph Suffield, was educated at a school for the
sons of the Eoman Catholic gentry, which had been
opened at Battersea, in a house lent for the purpose
by the Earl of Shrewsbury. This is said to have been
the first school of its kind in England, it having been
hitherto the custom for all who could afford it to
send their sons abroad.

George Suffield, as a young man, ceased to be a
communicant, and adopted the liberal philosophic views
prevalent in his time in the more cultured society.
Later in life he was an avowed Protestant, and many
Eoman Catholics joined their prayers with his son,
trusting and hoping that the father of so fervent and
devoted a priest would at the last repent and be
reconciled with the Church of his fathers.

A Catholic nobleman, writing in the year 1863, when
for some reason perhaps the approach of death
special efforts were made to this intent, says, " I will
do anything in my power to assist in the conversion
of your poor aged father. Your account of him is
quite a romantic history, and I feel much interest in
him as connected with my family, and also that he
had not given up the practice of his religion when
at our place sixty years ago. I most fervently pray
that your good wishes and hopes may be realised, and
that Heaven will kindly listen to the many prayers
which will be and are poured forth in his behalf. All


my young ones will pray for him. Your poor father
is another instance of Catholics whose families, after
nobly suffering every persecution for their faith, no
sooner do they enjoy a little sunshine and worldly
prosperity, than they forget the struggle they have
gone through, and give up that which before they
would gladly have died for." Which means, that as
long as their religion was under a disadvantage, they
held by it as under an obligation of honour and
chivalry, an obligation from which the removal of
Catholic disabilities set them free.

While his sons were under his care he seems to
have maintained a philosophic impartiality towards
all the creeds, and naturally had special regard for
the religious traditions of his family, but, perhaps,
equal respect for the Established Church of his
country. The Savoy Vicar of Eousseau's story was
his model priest, a man who accepted the outward
forms of faith and worship which custom imposed
upon him, but made use of them only so far as
they could be made helpful to the better service of

He married Susan TuUey Bowen, a Protestant lady,
by whom he had two sons George, born about 1816,
and Eobert, the subject of our memoir.

George, in time, went to Cambridge, where he took
his degree in 1842, having seemingly had no scruples
on the question of religion. He stood twenty-eighth
on the list of Wranglers, and on migrating to Clare,
was elected a Fellow on the foundation of Mr. Borage,
reserved to natives of Norwich. This Fellowship is

held on condition of taking Orders within seven years,
which being unable to do, he resigned in 1850, and
died of small-pox in the spring of 1871, shortly after
his younger brother's secession from the Roman
Church. He was a man of retiring disposition, a
vegetarian, fond of mathematics and music, and held
in much account in the very few homes in which he
was intimate. In 1863 he published a pamphlet on
"Synthetic Division in Arithmetic,"* "an ingenious
and independent speculation leading to great simpli-
fication of certain cases of division," as the Athenceum
remarks. It is but a few pages in length, but sufficient
to show that the wnriter was a man of some originality
of thought, and specially interested in the cause of
education. In his preface he calls attention to the
curious anomaly that " at the present moment every
student at the University is allowed to complete his
academic course and take his degree without being
required to undergo any University examination in
the ' principles ' of arithmetic, whilst the Senior
Middle Class candidates, boys under eighteen years
of age, are expressly required by a grace of the
senate to pass an examination in the principles as
well as the practise." In conclusion he commends
the example of one college where lately "a separate
and searching paper in the theory and practise of
arithmetic" had been introduced, and, "ere long,"
he adds, " the lecturers in every college of the

* Synthetic Division in Arithmetic, with some Introductory
Remarks on the Period of Circulating Decimals, by George
Suffield, M.A., Clare College, Cambridge : Macmillaii & Co., 1863.


University will follow an example fraught with in-
calculable advantage to the mathematical education
of the whole country."

George never professed Eomanism, and would no
doubt have called himself a lay member of the
Church of England, though looked upon as singular
in his religious views as in other respects. Evidently,
from the little we know of him, he was like his
brother, an individual, a man who went his own
way of life and thought, and had no care to conform
either his habits or opinions to the prevailing fashion.

Our Eobert Suffield was born at Vevey, on the
Lake of Geneva, on the 5th of October, 1821, in the
house now occupied as the club, "Cercle duLeman."
His father, though a younger son, was in independent
circumstances, and at this time in the habit of travel-
ling in England and abroad, taking a furnished house
for a year or six months at any place which suited
his fancy or convenience. The little son was baptised
in the house by one Sebastian Martinez, a lay
relative, who was stopping with them at the time.
The ceremony would have consisted simply of the
pouring of water on the child while repeating the
form, "I baptise thee in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Probably
neither priest nor Anglican clergyman was to be had
at Vevey, otherwise it is not clear why resort was
had to the services of a layman. Shortly afterwards
the family returned, and he was baptised again for
legal purposes in his own parish church, St. Peter's,
Mancroft, at Norwich (December 27th, 1821).

It was near to this church that the Jerninghams,
Suffields, and Bedingfields purchased a site and erected
a chapel when the Duke of Norfolk conformed, and in
consequence deprived the Norwich Koinan Catholics
of the use of his private chapel for their services.
But the mother would of course have attended hex-
own parish church when in Norwich, and have taken
her sons with her. It was their father's principle
that " young people should be quite uninfluenced as
to religious belief, and that they should select their
religion when they arrived at a ripe age." They were
consequently brought up in equal regard for the faith
of their mother and that which had been their father's,
and it was left to each to decide in after years as to
whether he would call himself Catholic, Anglican, or

Eobert never went to school, but accompanied his
parents in their travels in England and on the con-
tinent. His youthful experiences must have been
varied and unusual, for tourists as yet were few, and
the provision for their accommodation and progress
often of the roughest. " In 1825 a Continental tour
consisted chiefly of troublesome and costly incidents
with vetturinos, guides, and hotel keepers, road acci-
dents and brigands, real or imaginary."* Nor was his
father content that his son should be merely a witness
or passive companion of their many adventures. He
had decided and peculiar views of education, which he
adopted, it would seem, from Eousseau, and wished
to train his sons to be self-reliant, and independent
* Mozley'g Reminiscences, vol. I., p. 32.

and observant. He objected to their learning by
heart, which in after-life they often regretted, and
made it his aim to educate them as much by life as
by formal lessons. " In pursuance of this idea he
sent Eodolph alone, when about fourteen years of
age, to make a tour on the Loire, giving him letters
of introduction to families known to him living on
the route he had drawn up. The boy felt the honour
very much, but it was a fearful joy for so young a lad.
At one place he attracted the surprised attention of
the gendarmes owing to his having very little luggage
besides a pistol. In one town where he stayed a fete
was taking place, and the municipality gave a ball,
sending tickets of invitation to visitors, and great
was the pride of the English boy when one arrived
for Monsieur Suffield also." So writes one who had
the best opportunities of learning all about his early
life, and adds, " At Norwich the Suffields were inti-
mate with various well-known Unitarian families,
such as the Taylors, Eeeves, and Austins; Lucy
Austin, afterwards Lady Duff Gordon, was a play-
mate of Bodolph's, and about the same age."

"But he had a liking for books and pursuits far
beyond his age. Tom Paine 's ' Age of Reason,' for
example. When the family were on a visit to London
he interested himself in the Chartist movement, then
at its height " (he would be about sixteen at the time),
"and was present at meetings, sometimes in obscure
neighbourhoods, at which very fiery speeches were
made, and threats of violence uttered against the
upper classes. Once he was in some danger, for a


man got up and said he saw a little aristocrat among
those present. Some of the audience became angry,
but he was not dismayed, spoke up and said his heart
was with the people, and so reassured, and judging
by the youth of the intruder that he was not there to
spy upon them, he was left unmolested. He doubted
whether his father knew of these little excursions ; if
he had done so he would not have interfered, unless
he had judged it absolutely necessary, as his plan was
to allow his sons the greatest independence."

In 1841 he followed his brother to Cambridge,
where he was admitted a Commoner of Peterhouse.
Cambridge was preferred to Oxford because no signa-
ture of articles was required for matriculation, but he
attended regularly the College Chapel, and even when
visiting at Sawston Hall, where a Mr. Huddlestone,
an old friend of the family, resided, and had a private
chapel, he writes that he went rather to see his father's
friend than to attend mass.

There can be no doubt that at this time he was
generally regarded as a member of the Church of
England. The present Lord Kelvin, then William
Thomson, who was his class-mate at college, writes
of him :

" To the best of my knowledge none of us thought
he was a Roman Catholic. We all, I am sure, believed
him to be an earnest, religious student ; and probably
we thought him very ' High Church.' He was quite
out of the run of undergraduates, and did not mix
much in their society. He was undoubtedly, to our
young eyes, very eccentric, but he was thoroughly


respected by all. He had, I believe, a very friendly
feeling for myself, which I certainly reciprocated.
From all I recollect I think it is probably true that
he was a sincere and loyal member of the new High
Church party of that time, but that he had strong
inclinations towards the Eoman Catholic Church,
without, however, feeling himself to be a member
of that Church, and not of the Church of England."

In accord with these impressions of a friend and
contemporary is his own recollection. "At Cambridge
I was in constant intercourse with the Tractarians
and Ecclesiologists, sharing all tlieir sympathies, and
my kind friend, Archdeacon Thorp, of Trinity, urged
me to take Anglican Orders."

But his time at Cambridge was cut short, partly in
consequence of losses his father sustained about this
time through the failure of some South American
investments, in which he was interested through his
brother-in-law, William Gregory, a merchant in that
country ; partly, also, by reason of his own uncertainty
as to his religious position, and he left the University
after a residence of less than two years, probably
about Easter, 1843.

It was through the Dr. Thorp mentioned above
that he was recommended to a gentleman who wanted
a private tutor for his son. He soon won the affec-
tions of this pupil, as, indeed, he did of all the young
people he had to do with as teacher, priest, or minis-
ter, and they remained intimate friends to the last.
It is thus that this gentleman, now well known in the
world as a man of wealth and influence, writes of him


after a lapse of nearly fifty years : " I was a very
delicate boy, unable to go to school or to sbare the
games of schoolboys. How happy he made my young
life (and the life of the ailing boy is not generally a
happy one) ; how he devoted himself, not only to
such education as I could receive, but from morning
to night to make me interested, occupied, and happy.
In 1844, instead of being anxious to get rid of his
troublesome charge when he went to see his people,
he took me with him, and we stayed some time with
his father and mother in Norwich. My remembrance
of the former is of the most pleasing kind of course
they are only the impressions of a boy of thirteen
but I think of him as a high-bred gentleman of the
old school. He was certainly a Freethinker, and
never went to church or chapel in those days. The
mother was a very kind and affectionate person of
the Evangelical school, devoted to her husband in spite
of his religious vagaries, which grieved her much."


It was in 1846 that, to use his own words, he
"became a communicant in the Koman Catholic
Church." How the change in his religious position
was brought about we have no information; he was
used to think of himself as having always been a
Roman Catholic, but up to that time, like many
others, not faithful either in practice or belief to
the requirements of the Church, and he repudiated
with some warmth the inclusion of his name in a
list of " converts to Rome." On the other hand,
there is no doubt that he was looked upon as a
High Churchman, both at Cambridge and when
engaged as a private tutor, and his friend, Arch-
deacon Thorp, urged him to take Anglican Orders.
Roman Catholics, too, who knew him best, seem to
have taken a similar view, and an intimate friend
and connection of the family, expostulating with him
when his letter on Papal Infallibility appeared, writes,
" Surely it must be that you have still a little remnant
of the old Protestant feeling left," words which, to a
man who had never been a Protestant, would be with-
out meaning. And another correspondent of a few
months later date, one who urges his right of appeal
as " exceptional, seeing that we are bound by early


ties of family and the closest friendship, ever treating
each other with the most perfect confidence," writes,
" On looking back to the early days of your conversion,
I remember you wrote to me word that your happi-
ness was perfect, save that your imagination had still
' to pay the penalty of having been polluted with every
kind of infidel thought and teaching.' " His case was
certainly peculiar, and not to be reckoned among the
' perversions ' or ' conversions ' which were at that time
just beginning, and increased so greatly during the
next ten years. Sprung of an old Eoman Catholic
family, inheriting the traditions of a persecuted faith,
and numbering among friends and relations many
zealous adherents to it, he was brought up under the
combined influence of a free-thinking father and an
evangelical mother, taught to read and think for him-
self, and sent to a University where Anglicanism was
the only religion tolerated among the students. So
when after many struggles, of which \ve have caught
but hints in letters and conversation, but which ex-
plain both the exceptional fervour of his faith as a
priest and his later transition to a free religion,
he sought rest and surety in the Old Church of
his fathers, he felt as one returning to a home
from which he should never have been separated;
and, of course, found in the novel sense of certainty
and finality the peace and happiness which is the
boast of all sincere converts, and which they accept
as assurance of the truth of their new-found faith
an assurance which every church may claim, for there
is none which does not from time to time win the


waverers from other folds, and make them convinced
that itself only is the true church.

He was the guest of Dr. Newsham, then President
of Ushaw College, near Durham, when he thus openly
severed himself from all connection with Anglicanism
or Freethought, and " this remarkable man," he wrote,
" continued always my kind guide and father-like
friend." Indeed, to the very last he always spoke
with affection and regard of Ushaw and its principal
and professors, and that the same feelings were fully
reciprocated on their part, at least, as long as he
remained in their communion, we have ample evidence
in the warm invitations which from time to time
urged him to come and visit them.

It would seem that immediately on his conversion
he resolved to embrace the ecclesiastical state, but
instead of staying on at Ushaw, and there entering
upon the course of theological study, as one would
have expected under the circumstances, he for some
reason resolved to enter the famous seminary of St.
Sulpice, at Paris, and there he remained until driven
out by the revolution of 1848. It may, perhaps,
have been due to the desire to free himself from the
w T ell-meant importunities of his parents and brother,
to whom his determination to enter the Roman priest-
hood was the occasion of great grief. Certainly from
this time onwards there was very little, if any, inter-
course between them, a matter of great regret to
him afterwards. " He never spoke of his honoured
parents," one writes, "in his later years, without tears
in his eyes, and regretted bitterly the system which


had kept them asunder." It has been the painful
experience of many a so-called " convert," who having
broken the tenderest ties of home to follow what he
believed was the call of God, has discovered his mis-
take too late, and returned when there was no more
a home to welcome him ! During his father's last
illness, in 1868, there were some who were very
anxious that the son should see him, and endeavour
to bring him back to the faith of his childhood, but
he steadfastly refused to interfere, knowing well that
argument and persuasion would be alike useless;
perhaps, too, his own convictions were not then so
strong that he could have successfully upheld the
Eoman cause against his father's philosophical faith.

At St. Sulpice he had for a fellow-student Pere
Hyacinthe Loyson, whom years afterwards he met
at Dean Stanley's, and was immediately recognised
by him. They met again in Paris in 1878, and
continued always on terms of mutual respect, not-
withstanding the wide difference of opinion which
separated them in matters of religion. Still it may
perhaps have needed a little forbearance to receive
kindly from one who was a rebel against ecclesias-
tical authority, and could speak only for his single
self, such lofty patronage as is apparent probably to
everyone but the writer, in the following sentence
from a letter written in 1876 : " Je vous sais honnete
et droit, vous avez cherche la verite a travers des
dechirements cruels, vous pouvez la servir efficace-
ment quand vous 1'aurez trouvee pleinment," that is
to say, when you have accepted just as much and no


more than Pere Hyacinthe does. But a large expe-
rience had made Mr. Suffield very tolerant, and he
always entertained a friendly feeling for one with
whom he could have but small intellectual sympathy.

On leaving St. Sulpice he went to Ireland, visited
the relations of his father's stepmother in Gal way,
took a pupil for some months, and mixed freely with
priests and people. He could not towards the close
of his life recall to mind the reason of this year's
stay in Ireland; probably being received with sym-

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Online LibraryCharles HargroveThe life of Robert Rodolph Suffield → online text (page 1 of 22)