THE subject of this sketch deserves a place among the Welsh leaders of the Victorian era. He was for a time pupil at the Shrewsbury School under Dr. Benjamin Kennedy, one of the leading Greek scholars of his day. From Shrewsbury he went to Trinity College, Oxford, where he distinguished himself as a scholar. He was there an active member of the Architectural. Society. This society had had rather a languid existence, but was greatly stimulated and strengthened by the archaeological zeal of the " Oxford Movement." His share in the work of the society was mainly artistic and historical. His knowledge of architecture, and his devotion to the art while an undergraduate stood him in good stead in after years, for, as Bishop, he had to pass judgment upon various plans for the restoration of old churches, and the erection of new.
Although ordained deacon in 1848, Basil Jones decided to wait five years before taking priest's order. He responded to the invitation of the Archbishop of York (Thomson) to become his examining chaplain. He did excellent work not only as chaplain, but also as Vicar of Bishopsthorpe and Archdeacon of the West Riding. In 1874, he was called to succeed Bishop Connop Thirlwall, his " great predecessor," as he always styled him. While fully realising the great responsibility of his position as Bishop, he welcomed the opportunity, for he was born and bred in Cardigan, and he loved not only his Church, but the people of Wales irrespective of creed or class.
It soon became evident that the appointment was a wise one, for he proved himself to be a man of deep and wide culture, a prudent administrator, kind and accessible to his clergy, and friendly in his attitude towards those who differed from him.
When a great scholar undertakes the office of a Bishop this means almost always of necessity a farewell to literary work. As it was with Stubbs, Creighton, Gore, so it was with Basil Jones. He threw himself unreservedly into his new duties devoting himself to them conscientiously, with ardour quickened in his case by the patriotic instincts of a Welshman. " St. David's," he used to say, is about the largest and poorest of all the dioceses in this realm." It called for all his energy of self-devotion.
The presence of the Christ in His ordinances, was to him,as to Hooker, real because spiritual, because not material;the blessing to the recipient spiritually real, a" strengthening and refreshing of the soul." In his last Charge he said :" I dislike excessive and minute ritual, especially in connection with the Holy Communion, which is to my mind far more impressively celebrated with the reverent simplicity used 'in our Church, than it is when accompanied by the ceremonial accessories, with which some are so anxious to surround it. But I know that other minds are differently constituted, and for such I feel bound to make allowance." (Charge vi p.34) Thoroughly loyal himself, to the Prayer Book, he could yet respect and esteem true piety wherever and in whatever guise he found it.
Bishop Jones had not been long at Abergwili, before he restored, at his own cost, the chapel, a legacy from Archbishop Laud, who .was sometime Bishop of St. David's. A curious memorandum in Laud's diary notes, that the chapel was consecrated " die decollationis Sti. Joannis Baptista," with the words added " Absit omen !"
Both officially and personally Bishop Jones always cherished a particular affection for Lampeter College. The selection of fit men for the important office of Principal always had his most careful attention ; and Lampeter was, indeed, most fortunate in the selection. Whenever questions arose concerning the welfare of Lampeter, he never spared time or trouble. The mountain college was to him a miniature Oxford, and year by year he noticed thankfully an improved tone in the men coming to him from Lampeter for ordination. It was his aim, not without success, that Lampeter should not merely prepare men for taking Holy Orders, but should also provide a good general training, as is done at Oxford and Cambridge. He looked also, not unhopefully, to the younger foundations at Aberystwyth, Cardiff, etc., `' as an endeavour to provide a liberal education." (Charge iii p.32)
The unhappy dissidence between church and chapel, which throughout the land distracts and weakens what should be a vigorous and united effort against the powers of evil, is from several causes accentuated with peculiar emphasis in the Principality. Bishop Jones' Episcopate was conciliatory, without any compromise of principle. He was one who " spoke the truth in love." -Steadfastly loyal to his own conscientious convictions as a Churchman, he respected the consciences of others, and was utterly free from rancour or acrimony. He realised that under disputes, too often noisy and unreasonable, too often about things of comparative insignificance, there lies the bedrock on which all earnest Christians stand, of substantial truth. Personally he endeavoured always to promote the goodwill and friendliness which ought to exist among followers of the same Saviour. He was in hope, at one time, of arranging a friendly conference of leading Nonconformists and Churchmen at Abergwili, and for this purpose he proffered hospitality freely. There seemed to be hindrances insurmountable not oil his part. The clergy and laity of the diocese were always welcomed at the palace with the gracious courtesy which never failed him.
Bishop Jones was on the eve of resigning his See when he died. He had arranged a home for himself with Mrs. Basil Jones and the children at Gwynfryn, in Cardiganshire, where his father had resided. But it was not to be. He died at Abergwili in the latter days of 1896. Sometime previously he had declined the offer of translation to another Welsh See. Like good Bishop Wilson, of the Isle of Man, he was faithful to his first love.
In politics, as in theological controversies, Bishop Jones was no mere partisan. Never could that be said of him, which Oliver Goldsmith wrote of one of our greatest statesmen, that he,
" Born for the universe narrowed his mind,
And to party gave up what was meant for mankind:'
The rightness or wrongness of any movement, not the names of the persons associated with it, the measure not the men, these were what he considered. His leaning was to a Liberal Conservatism. On one very important point he held a very strong conviction. He was altogether for union, not for disintegration. Looking at the question from a Welsh standpoint, as one who loved Wales patriotically, he was impressed with the conviction that the prosperity of Wales depends greatly on Wales being bound up closely and permanently with the larger resources and fuller development of England. Looking at the question from a larger point of view, not mainly as a Welshman but as a citizen in a great confederacy, he saw that the infusion of the Celtic element into English life, in alliance with the Saxon, Danish, Norman elements, is the very thing to be desired. But he never obtruded his political opinions offensively, nor in any way unbecoming a minister of the Gospel. A clergyman, he would say, is out of place on a political platform or on an electioneering committee ; but a clergyman, as citizen, has duties and responsibilities which demand the conscientious expression of his vote and influence.(Charge iv p 25) In the same Charge (p. 30) speaking of Wales as "incorporated" with England, he added: " There is no distinction, legislative nor administrative, except that Wales has a larger proportionate share of the representation." Again, " Wales is neither geographically nor politically distinct from England ; there is no ethnical distinction between Wales and England greater than between the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland." (Charge xiv., 7.) " Why should Wales," he would ask, " be treated separate from England any more than Cornwall or Cumberland ?"
In strict consistency with his political convictions he was even more determined in his opposition to the Disestablishment of the Church in Wales. He was in accord heartily with the burning words uttered in Parliament by Gladstone, who denounced the thought of tearing a limb from a living body. The four dioceses in Wales are the Bishop contended, an integral part of Christ's Church established in this realm, and he appealed to history.(There is a curious instance of his familiarity with history in one of his Charges (iv., p. 31.) where he refers to the fact that representatives in, Parliament were summoned for the first time from Wales and Durham simultaneously.)
Why should not Yorkshire or Devon, he would ask, or any other English county be severed, politically and ecclesiastically, from the sister counties ? Why should the dismemberment stop short with Wales ? But he never imported'any personal bitterness nor the rancour of partisanship into the controversy. Unflinching as guardian of a sacred trust, handed down to him and his fellow Churchmen from the dawn of Christianity in this island, he realised that the surest defence of the Church is in the fulfilment of her arduous duties, in the heartwhole devotion of her energies to the service of her Master. More practical, more real religion would, he saw, lift men above the wranglings of the hour, would draw them together round the Cross. He deprecated, as earnestly as he could, the intrusion of party politics into religion. He foresaw that Disestablishment, if it came, would be a blow " to Christianity at large. The Church would recover in time ; the Nonconformist organisations would be ground to powder." (Charge iv p20) He feared it more for the nation than for the Church. He foresaw that Disestablishment would mean not only the renouncement by the nation of the acknowledgment of Christianity, but also the taking away of spiritual help provided for those who cannot provide it for themselves. While always endeavouring to draw close the ties which attach Wales to England, he was always on the watch, that a Welsh-speaking parish should have a Welsh-speaking clergyman.
The experience of life is for ever teaching that there must be a continual adaptation of principles to the circumstances of the time. In other words, what is, vital and essential must be guarded jealously ; the particular mode of applying the principle must be governed by consideration of what is really practicable. This was the Bishop's policy on the Burials Question in i88o. The keenness of that controversy, the eagerness on both sides of Churchmen and Nonconformists, read now like ancient history. It is easier now than it was then to see that the Bishop was not without justification for believing, that the Burials Act, instead of proving injurious to the Church, would even be serviceable, as things are. When some argued that the way to the church lay through the churchyard, and that a claim would next be pressed for Nonconformist ministers to officiate in Church, the Bishop's answer was, that by removing a plausible, and to some extent a real, grievance, the further claim would be shown to be unreasonable. He believed that by considerateness on the part of Church people and by this reasonable concession Nonconformists would be more likely to be drawn back to the Church, and that in this sense (a more hopeful interpretation of the words), " the way back " to the .interpretation lay through the churchyard. He subsequently to the Charge addressed a letter to incumbents in the diocese, advising them how best to carry the Act into operation.
On the other point, the promotion of studious habits among the clergy, the Bishop was helpful in providing a sound and solid education at Lampeter and elsewhere. He insisted, in his Second Visitation for instance, that the old Grammar Schools ought to be fostered and developed -that they are, in fact, the key to the position. He valued highly Llandovery and other schools of the kind. He was instrumental in founding a High School for Girls in Carmarthen. Knowing well that the Education Question turns most of all on the fitness of the teacher, he pleaded earnestly for more support to the Training College there. He discouraged, and after a time discontinued the ordination of Literates ; and he required candidates for examination, without a degree from the older Universities or Lampeter, to pass the Cambridge Preliminary examination.
The Church of England has deep cause for thankfulness in the high character intellectually and morally of her prelates. Measured even by this exacting standard Basil Jones stands prominent. His almost dying words to the Church which he loved dearly in " God's Message to Wales," were " the Message of Charity, Truthfulness, Purity." What better message could come through dying lips to those who are very dear ?
It was a life of brilliant talents consecrated to high and holy purposes.
APPENDIX :Some Ordination Addresses by W. BASIL JONES, D.D., Late Bishop of St. David's. (Mowbray & Co.)
II. CLERGY AND LAITY. CONSCIOUSNESS OF FORGIVENESS.
III. THE RIGHT MOTIVE.
IV. THE TRUE DIGNITY OF THE MINISTRY.
VI. NOT A MERE PROFESSION:
VII. LIVING WITH GOD.
VIII THE COMMISSION IS FROM CHRIST.