Letters to His Friends
by Forbes Robinson
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[Frontispiece: Forbes Robinson]










This volume has been printed for private circulation at the request of many of Forbes Robinson's personal friends. The first edition having been exhausted, a second has been prepared, in which are included six additional letters (cf. pp. 151, 154, 164, 166, 167, 182). Copies of this volume will be supplied (price 2s. 6d. post free) to all who desire to obtain them, on application to the Rev. Canon Charles H. Robinson, Hill Brow, Woking. The volume of College and Ordination Addresses which will be published by Longmans in about two months' time can be ordered through any bookseller.

October 1904.




I. SCHOOLDAYS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 II. LIFE AS AN UNDERGRADUATE AT CAMBRIDGE . . . . 10 III. WORK AT CAMBRIDGE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 IV. THE LAST FEW MONTHS . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 V. TWO APPRECIATIONS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

LETTERS TO HIS FRIENDS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54

APPENDIX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 193

INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 199


Forbes Robinson . . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece

Forbes Robinson (1880)

Forbes Robinson (1887)





Forbes Robinson was born on November 13, 1867, in the vicarage of Keynsham, a village in Somerset lying between Bristol and Bath. He was the eleventh child in a family of thirteen, of whom eight were sons and five daughters. His parents were both from the north of Ireland, and his Christian name had been his mother's surname. The motto attached to his father's family crest was 'Non nobis solum sed toti mundo nati.' Before he was three years old his father moved to Liverpool and became incumbent of St. Augustine's, Everton. He died before Forbes was thirteen, but the memory of his holy life remained as an abiding influence. Thus he writes of him in 1903:

'The old memories form a kind of sacred history urging me onwards and upwards. I like to feel that I reap the prayers and thanksgivings of my father, that God blesses the son of such a father. The same work, the same God, the same promises, the same hope, the same sure and certain reward. I thank God and take courage.'

{2} As a boy he was never robust and might even be regarded as delicate. After attending one or two private schools he was entered, at the age of twelve, at Liverpool College, where five of his brothers had been. When his father died in February 1881, the house in Liverpool was given up and Forbes was sent to Rossall. He continued at Rossall till he entered Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1887.

The photograph which is inserted on p. 4 was taken just before he went to Rossall. He was then a shy retiring boy, fonder of reading than of athletic exercise. One who was in the same house with him at Rossall, and who is now vicar of a parish in Lancashire, writes:

'His life at Rossall was not an outwardly eventful one. Not being athletic, he lived rather apart from and above the rest of us in a world of books. The walls of his study used to be almost covered with extracts, largely, I think, from the poets, copied on to scraps of paper and pinned up all round, partly to be learnt by heart and partly, I think, for companionship. He was much older than the rest of us whose years were the same as his. His school life was a time of retirement and preparation for the wider life among men at Cambridge. Though my memory of him as a quiet studious member of the house, more often alone than not, and quite happy to be alone so long as his books were near him, is very distinct, I can recall almost nothing of the nature of incident or about which one can write.'

The present headmaster of Marlborough, who was {3} also a contemporary at Rossall, writes in a letter to the editor of this memoir:

'Your brother was a great recluse at Rossall, and I much doubt whether you would get any great amount of information about him from Rossallians. I knew him because we were both interested in reading, and I owed a good deal to his influence. . . . You will find, I believe, that his Cambridge days show him in a far clearer light than his school days. I know that when I saw him at Cambridge I realised with pleasure that he was a welcomed visitor in the rooms of very various types of undergraduates, whereas his circle at school had been very limited, and most boys no doubt regarded him as quite "out of it." This is of course to some extent the fault of the athletic standards of our schools, but I also think that he himself developed a great deal socially at Cambridge.'

A sketch of Forbes, by Dr. James, written for 'The Rossallian,' will be found at the close of this chapter. Dr. Tancock, who succeeded Dr. James as headmaster of Rossall a year before Forbes left, writes:

'When I was appointed to Rossall in 1886, I found him a member of the upper sixth form. . . . He always gave me the impression of an earnest-minded, hard-working boy, with a deep sense of duty. It was rather suggested to my mind sometimes, possibly erroneously, that as a younger boy he had felt himself misunderstood, and a certain reserve was the consequence, not perhaps unnaturally. He was already much interested in theological work. . . . It {4} has been a great pleasure to me in later years to hear of his excellent work at Christ's and the strong influence he exerted over undergraduates. It was quite the natural result of the qualities I saw in him at school, provided once his reserve could be broken.'

Though of Irish descent he only once visited Ireland. This was during his summer holidays in 1884, when he travelled round a good part of the north and west coasts. The only adventure of special interest was his unintended voyage across the Bay of Donegal, which was nearly attended with fatal consequences. He and his brother, the editor of this memoir, started in a small open sailing boat from the harbour of Killybegs, intending to return within a few minutes; but no sooner had they got outside the harbour than they were caught in a squall, which rapidly developed into a gale, and made it impossible to turn the boat or head it for the shore, owing to the immediate risk of swamping. The only means of securing momentary safety was to head the boat out into the Atlantic, but as the nearest land in this direction was the coast of America, the prospect was far from cheerful. Eventually the boat was turned a few points further south, in the direction of land which could not be seen, but which was known to lie about fifteen miles away on the other side of the Bay of Donegal. After having been nearly swamped many times, and running with bare poles, owing to the violence of the gale, the boat arrived at length at Bundoran. As this place was distant some sixty miles from Killybegs, {5} it seemed wearisome to return by land, and a return by sea was out of the question. Accordingly, Forbes and the writer, drenched to the skin and without a vestige of baggage, started forthwith on a walking tour along the west coast of Ireland, arriving at Connemara in the course of the following week. Forbes's dislike of sea voyages in after years may in part be traced to this experience. During the greater part of the voyage across Donegal Bay he was helpless from sea-sickness; his companion was busily occupied in baling out the water to prevent the boat from sinking.

The letters which Forbes wrote from school to members of his family are a curious mixture of humour and religion. It was his keen sense of humour which preserved him from becoming morbid. It was this same sense of humour which helped to attract to him at the University men on whom he eventually exercised a strong religious influence, but whom religious conversation would have inevitably repelled.

In two letters written to one of his sisters from Rossall in 1886, the following sentences occur. They show that he found time while at school for a considerable amount of reading which was not connected with his school work:

'You ask me to tell you what books I have been reading. Among others, Longfellow's "Hiawatha" and "Evangeline," both exquisite; continually the "In Memoriam," "Idylls of the King"; some of Buchanan, which I scarcely recommend; M. Arnold, which I do most heartily recommend; and Walt Whitman, the {6} great poet of democracy; "Confessions of an English Opium Eater," by De Quincey, good in its way; G. Eliot and Mrs. Browning, &c., &c. Perhaps you would like some of those. I read Chas. Kingsley's "Andromeda"—it is really a splendid rhythmical piece of hexameter—and some of his Life. I rather like pieces of his poetry, and the one you sent me I liked.

'My only birthday advice is: Read more Longfellow. If you have any writers, send me word, though I am sorry to say I can appreciate but few. . . .'

Another letter, written the same year, is entirely composed of selections from Tennyson's 'Princess,' which, he says, 'I have just read through.' He ends, 'Mind you send me gleanings of Milton if you have time.' In another, 'I have been reading a fair amount of Carlyle at present, as we had an essay on "The influence of individuals on great movements of religion, politics, and thought," for which I read especially Carlyle's "Heroes and Hero Worship," and Emerson's "Representative Men," and for which, I am glad to say, I not only got full marks, but the highest maximum possible. Have read Tennyson's "Queen Mary." Am reading "Harold." I liked the first very much, but the latter a great deal more. The scene where Harold debates about telling a lie or the truth is very fine. . . .' The rest of the letter is composed of quotations from 'Harold.' In other letters he says, 'Get Emerson's "Essays" for me.' 'I send you "Aurora Leigh." . . .'

He left Rossall in the summer of 1887, when he {7} was nearly twenty, and entered Christ's College, Cambridge, in the following October. His brother Armitage, now Dean of Westminster, was then fellow and dean of Christ's College, and Forbes occupied the attic rooms over his.

The following notice by Dr. James, now headmaster of Rugby and formerly headmaster of Rossall, appeared in 'The Rossallian' and is reprinted here at his suggestion:

'Forbes Robinson came to Rossall in 1881. He was a member of a very able family; an elder brother is Dean of Westminster; another is Charles H. Robinson, Editorial Secretary of the S.P.G. and translator of part of the Gospels into Hausa. He was a delicate boy, and lived for a year or two in the headmaster's private house, from which he passed on into Mr. Batson's. Rather shy and retiring in disposition, and unable to take much part in games, he was not conspicuous in the School until he reached the Sixth, and did not make friends as easily as some boys do. But the few who knew him well recognised in him a deeply affectionate if very sensitive nature, and saw how the religious side of it, afterwards so conspicuous, was even then developing. His powers as a classical scholar, though considerable, were not exceptional; they enabled him to reach the Upper Sixth, but not to win a scholarship at his entrance to the university, and I well remember advising him to make theology, to which his inclinations were already drawing him, his special subject at Cambridge. To this I knew he would bring not only interest but power of reasoning and literary culture. He had won the Divinity Prize of the School in 1885 and again in 1886, and the English Essay Prize (for an essay on "The relative value of art, science, and literature in education") in the latter year.


'He went up to Christ's, Cambridge, in 1887, and at once addressed himself to his favourite study. What strides he was making in it were apparent at once from the extraordinary series of distinctions which he won—a scholarship at the college, the Carus Greek Testament Prize for undergraduates, the Jeremie Septuagint Prize, a first class in the Theological Tripos, the Burney Theological Essay Prize, the Carus Prize for Bachelors, the Crosse Divinity Scholarship, and the Hulsean Prize all fell to him between 1888 and 1893, and finally in 1896 he was elected to a Fellowship at Christ's, where he had already been Theological Lecturer for a year.

'His essay which gained the Burney Prize in 1891 was on "The Authority of our Lord in its bearing upon the Interpretation of the Old Testament." He printed it in 1893 under the title of "The Self-limitation of the Word of God as manifested in the Incarnation." With characteristic modesty he says in his preface: "I can claim but little of the work as strictly original." This is far too deprecatory; the essay is a singularly lucid statement and attempted solution of a most difficult theological problem, in which all who believe in the Deity of Christ must be deeply interested, and I can bear personal testimony to its helpfulness. It was only the other day that I was reading it afresh, for I had just recovered it, when I feared that the copy he gave me was hopelessly lost and irreplaceable, from South Africa, where a friend to whom I had lent it had taken it among his books. Among Forbes Robinson's later activities were a work on the Coptic Apocryphal Gospels ("the subject," he wrote to me, "was so technical and uninteresting that I did not send you a copy"), and the editing of a Sahidic fragment of the Gospels.

'But his value to Cambridge and to his college lay mainly in the influence for good which he was able to exert over undergraduates. Again and again I have been told {9} there how great this was; and it was no little achievement for one whose very modesty and humble-mindedness must have made it difficult. But his heart was in the work, and in the maintaining of Christian influences in university life. It is hard to over-estimate the loss which his death at so early an age implies alike to students of theology and to those among whom he was more immediately working. But he has left us the example of a simple and devoted life and the consecration of great and growing powers to his Master's service. "God buries His workmen, but carries on His work."'




From this point forward the sketch of Forbes's life can be given almost entirely in the words of those who knew him at Cambridge.

A writer in the Christ's College Magazine for the Lent term 1904 says: 'Many older friends will always think of him in his attic rooms, where he began to make his mark in our College society upon his first coming up. Only two other Freshmen had rooms in College, and Robinson's rooms became at once a centre for his year, and later a meeting-place where the gulfs between higher and lower years were bridged over. A little older than most men of his year, he was considerably their senior in character and in intellect. He showed at once the qualities which he retained to such a unique degree in later years—an inexhaustible power of making friends with all sorts and conditions of men, and an insatiable interest in all sides of College life; the most serious things were from the first not beyond his comprehension, and the most trivial did not appear to bore him, even when their freshness had worn off. His love of books was catholic; he possessed a great many and read them {11} to his friends. At the College Debate, of which he became secretary and president in his second year, he was a frequent and fluent speaker, with a remarkable command of language, though sometimes his eloquence was more than half burlesque. His powers of thought and real strength in argument were more often displayed in private discussions, where irony and humour hardly veiled the depth of earnestness below.'

During his first three years at Cambridge he read for the Theological Tripos. In the course of his first year he was elected a scholar of his College. At the beginning of his second year he won his first University distinction, the Carus prize for the Greek Testament. The other University prizes which he gained were the Jeremie prize for the Septuagint in 1889, the Burney prize essay in 1891, the Carus prize for Bachelors, the Hulsean prize essay, and the Crosse University Scholarship in 1892. He took his degree in the first class of the Theological Tripos in 1890, and obtained a second class in the Moral Science Tripos of 1891. The year which he spent in reading moral science he afterwards looked back upon as one of the most useful in his life. After he had been reading for some time in view of this Tripos, he wrote to a friend: 'I have come to the conclusion that I know nothing, and am an awful fool into the bargain. . . . The subject is so utterly fresh to me, so completely unlike theology of any sort at Cambridge, that I find it hard to do anything at it. In fact, I chucked it up for about ten days in the middle of the term, and determined to have nothing more to {12} do with it; but after that rest I thought better and renewed the study. It is an excellent training for the mind. I never distinctly remember thinking at all before this term.'

Having learnt to think himself, his desire was to help others by teaching them to think. One who came under his influence several years later says of him: 'I owe so much to him in every way. Above everything else he taught me to think. I remember so well the first time I went to him with a difficulty. I expected him to solve it for me, instead of which, at the end of half an hour, I still found that I had to think it out for myself. It was a revelation to me, and has helped me in my dealings with men.' The same friend writes: 'I may mention a conversation I once had with him. He had in front of him the answers to some Theological Tripos papers. He took up two of them and compared the answers given to the same question by the two men. The answer required was a translation of a passage of Greek with notes. And, as far as I can remember, his words were these: "Now, W——, this man has passed over the real difficulty. As far as I can tell, he has not even noticed that there is a difficulty. I have given him two marks out of a possible ten. This other man has seen the difficulty and grappled with it. His solution is without doubt incorrect, but that is quite immaterial. Result, eight marks out of ten." I cannot but think that this attitude of mind was largely the secret of his influence.' In another case, when urging a man to attempt some independent investigation of the Synoptic problem, he said; {13} 'Your conclusions may be wrong, but you can correct them, and it will teach you to think.'

One who was an undergraduate with Forbes says of him: He 'did not take a prominent part in religious movements in the College, such as the College prayer meeting or Bible readings, though he was occasionally present at them. In chapel his reverence was quiet, though in no way obtrusive. I think that by not identifying himself with any particular religious party he had greater influence with those men whose minds ran in very different grooves. I always felt when in his company that I was conversing with one vastly superior to myself in intellectual powers, and yet he never appeared conscious of it himself. It is surprising how considerate he was of the feelings of others. I remember a large print of Pope Leo XIII. which used to hang in his rooms as an undergraduate, which delighted his gyp, who was a Romanist, but scandalised his Protestant friends. I begged earnestly for a copy of one of his prize essays, which had been printed though not published. He at first consented, but almost immediately asked me to return it, saying that he did not wish it to go out to the world as expressing his matured views. He then asked me to accept instead a small booklet, which he said I should find useful to have in visiting. It contained the verses called "The Old, Old Story." He also gave me a copy of the "Practice of the Presence of God," by Brother Lawrence.'

Before he decided to read for the Moral Science Tripos he had thought of going in for the Semitic Languages Tripos. With this object in view he {14} commenced the study of Syriac. Finding that the best Syriac grammar was written in German and had not been translated, he decided to learn German also. He was advised that Switzerland was a suitable place in which to study German, and accordingly, after taking his degree, he started in the summer of 1890 for Switzerland. The two following letters are inserted in order to illustrate his sense of humour, as well as to describe the way in which he spent this summer. He eventually returned from Switzerland, having made more progress in Syriac than in German, but without having obtained any great knowledge of either language. Soon after his return he decided to commence the study of Moral Science instead of the Semitic languages.

To H. M. S.

'Habkern: July 1890.

'A few days after I got to Switzerland, by dint of incessant inquiries and correspondence I found out the name of a pastor who lived in a sufficiently healthy place and who talked German. So I girded up my loins and went to visit him. "Sprechen Sie Englisch, mein Herr?" I asked. "Nein" was the reply. As I scarcely knew a word of German I was in a considerable fix. But I found out that the Pfarrer spoke "Lateinisch" and could read English a little when it was written. So I went up to his study and we got paper and pencil and began. I tried to tell him in a mixture of broken English and dog-Latin that I intended to give him the honour of my company. He said he would be pleased to take me "en pension." He then {15} asked how much I wished to pay. I hadn't for the life of me an idea of what I ought to pay. "Ut tibi optimum videtur," I said. But he made me fix my price. Then, when I had fixed it, I had to turn it into Swiss money. The good Pfarrer was so pleased with the honour of my company that he took me for less than I asked. Our greatest difficulty next arose: How was my luggage to be conveyed the five miles from the nearest town up a steep hill? Latin, French, English, German, failed to make me understand the situation. At last I took in the Pfarrer's meaning. I was to send it by the milkman after leaving it at a certain hotel. "Ja," I cried in an ecstasy of joy, at last grasping his meaning, "Ja, ich mittam der Gepaeck von der milkman." I arrived the next day. I found the Pfarrer knew Latin, Greek (but he pronounces both quite differently from me), German, French, Russian, Syriac, Hebrew, and a little English. His usual custom is to address me in German. If I fail to understand, he tries Latin and intersperses his remarks with Greek and Hebrew. So my great difficulty is first of all to find out what language he thinks he is speaking in.

'Yesterday we were sitting, smoking and drinking, in the village "Wirthshaus" among the natives of the place, the Pfarrer addressing me in Latin, the villagers staring at his learning in adoration and astonishment, and laughing at my attempts at German. The landlord came up to me when I arrived and sent in a bottle of wine for me, refusing to be paid for it, for he said that the natives of Interlaken fleeced the English; but when Habkern was for once honoured by the {16} presence of one, the people were not going to treat him in the same way.

'It is curious how the Pfarrer goes and sits and drinks and gossips in the "Wirthshaus," even on Sunday, I think. Last Sunday they had a country dance, and very curious and pretty was the scene—the old-fashioned wooden room—the odd national dress of the women—the curiously cut brown clothes of the men—the thick boots—the fiddlers raised above the rest—the quaint urn with its inscriptions above—the gaping crowd of villagers. Then the church is strange—very rude and simple, all whitewashed. The women sit on one side, the men on the other. They stand to pray and hear the text, and sit to sing and hear the sermon. The organ and font are placed at one end. The elders stand below the organ, the Pfarrer is lost in the far distance, right up in a big pulpit. The "Predigt" or sermon is everything. They have one written prayer before and one after the "Predigt." The people never say "Amen" or anything—only sing. They sing so slowly that, although I had only been with the Pfarrer three days, I could almost sing and look out the words in the dictionary at the same time! I talk German with every one who will talk with me. So well did I spin yarns when I had been in the country three or four days, that with a mixture of Latin and German I managed to make a German use strong language at some of my tales, which he was pleased to think were not exactly true. Reflecting on the situation afterwards, I remembered that I had told him, among other things, that I had walked nearly fifty "stunden" {17} in a day. His language was awful. I found afterwards that "stunde" was not, as I had supposed, an English "mile," but an English "hour." But I keep on talking. I have come to the conclusion that the way to learn a language is to argue in it. Accordingly I do so. I have tried to convince them that the order of bishops is semi-apostolic, and that if St. Paul did not actually wear a surplice himself, his successors shortly afterwards did.

'One other thing, if you ever reply to this letter: would you copy out a few of the most thickly marked lines in the "Grammarian's Funeral" in my edition of Browning? They are always in my mind, but I can't quite recollect how they go. There is no poem I like so much as that. I would send you some butterflies, but I daren't kill them. Some of us may have once been butterflies: as M. Arnold says,

'What was before us we know not, And we know not what shall succeed.'

To H. M. S.

'Habkern: August 1890.

'There is a French pensionnaire staying here, the same as I am. He is very polite, but his tastes are diametrically opposite to mine. He likes wine, walking, women, smoking, painting, violin and piano playing, dogs, and the like.

'He asked me whether I liked the French. I told him "No," and gave him a good many reasons. He abhors the Germans. I told him I thought the Germans were a fine race. I'm occupying my time {18} in sleeping, arguing, observing the natives, and reading a Tauchnitz edition of "Martin Chuzzlewit," which is good, though already a young girl of seventeen has been introduced, very beautiful and all the rest, and I'm afraid she won't be poisoned, but marry a certain young man already introduced. I'd give a good deal to be able to write a novel in which all the young ladies tumbled out of windows, six stories high, and were picked up dead. I think I must try and write one. Shall I dedicate it to you? The heroine will be a plain old lady with white curls, close on sixty-five, without any money, but with a certain amount of intellect. There will be no marriages, but suicides and murders if necessary.

'I'm inventing a German word of 1,000 letters. It is to be divided into some 150 or 200 compartments. After each compartment there is five minutes for refreshments. After about the 500th letter there will be half an hour allowed for dinner. After the 600th letter or so there will be a notice to the effect that no person with a weak heart may proceed further without consulting a medical man. After about the 980th there will be a notice forbidding any one to go further until their family doctor is in attendance. I have thought of the groundwork of the word—the finished word I'm going to send to M——, as he has the strongest constitution of any one I know. Then I shall get Duke Bismarck to patent it; after which I shall take out a professorship on the strength of it at Berne. It will, of course, be the "Hauptsache" of my existence.'


Forbes was far from being an athlete, but in 1891, shortly before his ordination, he accomplished the feat of walking with two athletic friends from London to Cambridge in a day, a distance of more than fifty miles. The following description is by Mr. A. N. C. Kittermaster, who was one of his companions.

Walk from London to Cambridge.

Some of us had read that Charles Kingsley had walked from London to Cambridge; so we determined to follow in his footsteps. We were a party of three—Forbes Robinson, D. D. Robertson, and myself. We spent the previous day at the Naval Exhibition, the night at the Liverpool Street Hotel, and at 4.30 A.M. of Tuesday, August 25, 1891, we started on our fifty-mile trudge. We walked steadily, at first over immense stretches of pavement, till we reached Ware, twenty-one miles out. There we had breakfast or lunch of huge chops at 10.15. After that we took the road again, and did not call a halt of any length till we had put another twenty miles behind us. The day was fine but dull, and we were not troubled by the heat. At the fortieth milestone it began to appear doubtful whether we should all reach the journey's end. I have an entry in my diary: 'At 40 Robertson bad, I worse, Deanlet (i.e. Forbes) quite fit.' So at Foulmire, nine miles from Cambridge, we stopped for tea. By this time I was in a state of temporary collapse, but I remember the other two during tea carried on an animated discussion upon the creation as described in Genesis. We all felt better after the {20} rest and covered the last stage fairly easily, arriving at Christ's at 9.30 P.M. We had a meal in Forbes's rooms, fought our battles over again, and retired to rest about midnight.

The thing which remains with me best is the amazing ease with which Forbes accomplished the journey. It is a matter of common experience that prolonged physical effort reacts on the mind; conversation becomes difficult, and cheerfulness forced. I must say that in my case the thought which for a considerable period occupied my mind was how I was to get to the end. But it was not so with Forbes. He travelled lightly, talking happily on all subjects the whole day. It seemed to make little difference to him whether he took food or no, and he was as willing to stop at every place of refreshment we suggested as to march the whole day without a meal.




In September 1891 Forbes was ordained as curate to his brother Armitage, who was at that time vicar of All Saints', Cambridge. Several of the letters which are given later refer to his thoughts and feelings at the time of his ordination. His connection with All Saints' did not last more than a year, as his brother resigned in the following spring. Forbes had already been licensed as chaplain to Emmanuel College. He received priest's orders in 1892. In 1895 he was appointed theological lecturer at Christ's College, and in the following year, May 30, 1896, was elected a fellow. During the same year he was appointed an examining chaplain to the Bishop of Southwell.

One who knew him well, soon after the time of his ordination, writes: 'I cannot remember how we first became acquainted, beyond the fact that I used to meet him in the rooms of some prominent members of the College Football XV. All I know is that several of our year got to know him quite well, and the friendship grew with time. The fact that he had distinguished himself in the Moral Science Tripos at {22} first rather awed me, a freshman. But I soon got over that feeling, for he was the last person in the world to trouble any one with a sense of intellectual inferiority.

'I am sure the private business hours of the Debating Society were some of his happiest moments. His magnificent assumption of wrath on the most absurd grounds; his vast intensity over trivialities; his love for the heat and play of debate, would have made a stranger believe he lived for nothing else.

'Physical strength and virtue seemed to have a strange attraction for him. His assortment of athlete friends was peculiarly wide, and his frank admiration of their qualities gave them a pleasant feeling that in some way he looked up to them—a feeling which I am sure strengthened the hold he had over them.

'He was a tireless walker, and could go far on very little. A party of us used to take long walks, often on a Sunday, to various places in the country. There was generally a volume of Burke or Emerson in his pocket, whose sonorous periods filled the interval when we lunched frugally or rested. I have never known him anything but good-humoured under any conditions. His enthusiasm for our most commonplace jests was unfailing—perhaps one of the surest ways of getting to a man's heart and staying there—and he had a wide tolerance for the minor offences of undergraduate thought and deed. Yet, as for the tone of conversation when he was near, I need scarcely say that one simply did not think of anything unpleasant or vulgar, much less say it.

'I used to admire his immense power of putting {23} his thoughts into words, but he could be silent too. Sometimes he would come to my rooms when I was working, throw himself into an arm-chair, and absolutely refuse to speak. After a considerable interval perhaps he would consider I had worked long enough, and cocoa and conversation would follow. But it was when I visited him in his own rooms that I remember things most vividly.

'I can still see that little room under the roof; the picture on the wall of the dead saint floating on the dark water; the well-filled bookcase; the table piled with volumes; himself throwing everything aside to greet one. It was almost with a feeling of awe that I sometimes climbed those stairs and entered into his presence. Perhaps it would be for a lesson on the New Testament—for when I was reading for a Theological Tripos he was generous, even prodigal, of help. The lesson over—and there are many who know what a goodly thing a lesson from him on the New Testament was—he would open a volume of Tennyson—"In Memoriam" most likely—read a few stanzas, and begin to talk about them. Gradually, it would seem, the things of the world would fade from him. He forgot the hour and my presence as his thoughts poured out. I sat and listened, generally silent, sometimes hazarding a question. Presently—it was often late—I would rise to leave. Rapt from his surroundings, he seemed scarcely conscious of my departure; and I would go quietly out, almost as though I had been on holy ground, where not once nor twice the dweller had seen God face to face.'

His power of helping men by silent sympathy is {24} referred to by one who writes: 'The many words of kindness, but more particularly the silent sympathy he conveyed in some mysterious manner, will ever keep him present with us.'

Another, who had known him in his early days at Christ's, and again in later years, writes: 'When I was up he was a nervous retiring man, at his best when one found him alone in his own room. Even then he would sometimes talk little. Since my return from South Africa I have found him much more at home with men and much more ready to talk, but retaining his old power of sympathy without words.' His own faith was based rather upon intuitive perception of the Divine love than upon argument. On one occasion, quite towards the end of his life, he said to one with whom he was staying, 'Sometimes I sit and think, till I can find no reason for the existence of God; and then there rises up in me something which is stronger than the love I have for those who are dear to me—and they are very dear—the love of God. It seems to smile at my doubts.'

Several of his friends have referred to Forbes's influence as a power which helped to develop their own sympathy towards others. Thus one writes:

'I think perhaps it was my intercourse with him that first taught me to look out for and appreciate the real goodness—or, better, Christlikeness—of others from whom one differed in important matters and with whom one seemed perhaps to have little in common.'

In some instances friendship between Forbes and an acquaintance seems to have arisen where very {25} little direct intercourse had taken place. One who was greatly his senior says of him, 'I have never known any one with whom there was so strong a sense of intimacy founded on so little positive intercourse.'

In July 1892—i.e. about nine months after his ordination as deacon—he took part in a kind of peregrinating mission tour through part of South Cornwall. Dressed simply in cassock and cape, and carrying a small brown paper parcel containing necessary luggage, he and his brother (the compiler of this book) walked from village to village, preaching afternoon and evening in the open air. At the end of the evening service an appeal was made to the people. It was explained to them that the preachers had come without provision or money, and hoped to receive hospitality from those to whom they ministered. Night after night Forbes and his companion were taken in and entertained, often by very poor people. A unique opportunity was thus afforded of getting to know something of the home life as well as of the religious beliefs of the poor. As a rule, those who acted as hosts were Nonconformists. Forbes spoke once or twice each day to the people who gathered, and his addresses, which were generally based on the words 'Our Father,' were admirably suited to the comprehension and needs of the simple country people.

For several months during 1895 he took charge of a small country parish near Cambridge, called Toft. While staying at Toft he wrote to a friend, 'I like living among country folk and talking with {26} and visiting them. I want to get out of my life into their lives. This parish work humiliates if it does not humble one. . . . The smallest parish is a tremendous responsibility.'

The following are a few additional notes contributed by others who knew Forbes at Christ's: 'His broad sympathies, his unfailing efforts to find out the good in persons and systems—the rays of truth which each possessed—combined with the rare faculty of going deep down beneath vexed questions, and thus lifting controversies to a higher and serener atmosphere: these were qualities in him which were known especially by those privileged to have more intimate knowledge of him than that vouchsafed by formal lectures or social gatherings. . . . He is now another link with the life beyond these conflicting voices, one "who loved Heaven's silence more than fame."'

The same writer says of him in another letter: 'His extreme fairness and toleration, which at first seemed to me to reduce half one's cherished beliefs to open questions, was of the greatest value in dispelling ignorance and prejudice, and in promoting true charity and a more intelligent faith. He delighted to call attention to the fact that our Lord found something commendable and exemplary in the serpent. And so, in dealing with those with whom he most disagreed, he tried to fix attention on that portion of truth which lay behind their opinions, or on those real difficulties, to be slighted only by {27} the superficial, with which they were grappling. Tertullian, with his love of scoring off opponents, fared badly at his hands, and he used to treat Clement of Alexandria more sympathetically than Irenaeus.

'It was striking to find a mind so evenly balanced and philosophical become fired with enthusiasm as he spoke in simplest language, in chapel or elsewhere, of great Christian truths or the victories of faith. His sermons influenced, I believe, many of the naturally careless. Simple, impartial, earnest and sympathetic, he won, I know, the deepest affection and respect of many.'

Another writes: 'Bright, pure, and strong—this was the impression he gave me . . . . Many men will be very sorry that he is not here any more, but every one who knew him will be very thankful that he was here, and that they had an opportunity of hearing him "think" sometimes. I recall him most in his own rooms, beginning to talk on some small matter, and gradually lifting us higher and still higher, until we all silently listened, following as best we, with our muddier minds, could; and even when he got beyond us there were still inspiration and strength to be got from his flashing eyes and on-rushing earnestness; but if some smaller mind broke in, in a moment he was down at the level of that mind, half bantering and wholly sympathising. Nevertheless, some of us have never forgotten the things he showed us as he led us up, and the possibility of soaring very high without losing touch with those whose levels are pathetically human. . . . I do know that he helped {28} me much, and that many things he said I shall never forget, and thank God for still.'

A Cambridge and international athlete, an intimate friend of Forbes, writes: 'Though I have lost your brother Forbes, and life will be for ever poorer to me, I can't thank God enough that I ever knew him and loved him, and that he called himself my friend. He was so dear to me—my greatest friend in the world. His goodness and his help to me in my Cambridge days were wonderful. He altered my life. God has called him home and to the blessed rest of the children of God, and we are rich still with his memory and the influence of his beautiful, patient, Christlike life.'

In another letter he writes: 'The death, or, as I like to think of it, the passing of Forbes into the Great Beyond has been such a grief to me. You have no idea what he was to me—a real man "sent from God" into my life. I could do nothing when I heard the sad, and to me utterly unexpected, news, but kneel down by my bedside, and weep till I could weep no more for my beloved friend. I feel so rich and proud to have had him for my friend, and to have had his love; and so do many Cambridge men. Oh, but I did so love him! and my prayer now is that the memory of him with me always may strengthen my weak and feeble life, and help me to live somewhat more as he lived, very near the Master.'

He obtained but little help from self-introspection or self-examination. Thus he writes in one of the letters given later on: 'I am not sure that we cannot learn more about others than we can about ourselves. {29} I never think it is profitable to study oneself too closely. I never could meditate with any profit on my sins. But there, I dare say I differ from many others.'

To very intimate friends he would in rare instances admit that the secret of any influence which he possessed over men was the outcome of his efforts to pray for them. One who had known him intimately at Christ's writes in 1904:

'About eighteen months ago I had the privilege of spending a night with him, and then for the first time I realised how much of his spiritual power was the outcome of prayer. He told me that in his younger days he had taken every opportunity of personally appealing to men to come to Christ. "But," he went on, "as I grow older I become more diffident, and now often, when I desire to see the Truth come home to any man, I say to myself, 'If I have him here he will spend half an hour with me. Instead, I will spend that half-hour in prayer for him.'" Later on, when I had retired for the night, he came to me again and said, "W——, what I have said to you is in the strictest confidence: don't mention it to any one." And this revelation of his inner life is my last memory of him.'

On another occasion he said to one with whom he was staying, when speaking of the little that men could do for each other, 'I think that I should go mad were it not for prayer.'

As an instance of his common sense in a matter in which as a bachelor he could have had no personal experience, he strongly urged a married man, before {30} deciding to accept a curacy which had been offered to him, to let his wife see the vicar's wife or women-folk. 'She will know intuitively,' he said, 'whether she can get on with them and they with her, and it will make all the difference to your work and happiness.' The man to whom this advice was offered writes: 'The advice was given seriously, but with that bright twinkle of his; and I owe much to it, for we have been here since . . . and I don't want to go.'

The following is an extract from a notice which appeared in the 'Guardian '!

'By his published work he is best known to the outer world as one of the few English scholars who have given attention to Coptic. In 1896 he edited "The Coptic Apocryphal Gospels" in the "Cambridge Texts and Studies." The important article on the Coptic Version in Hastings's "Bible Dictionary" came also from his pen, and he was engaged on an edition of the Sahidic fragments of St. Luke's Gospel. His deepest interest, however, lay not in these subsidiary studies, but in the fundamental problems of theology proper. His Burney Prize essay, printed at the University Press in 1893 under the title of "The Self-limitation of the Word of God as manifested in the Incarnation," is no doubt comparatively slight, and in some respects immature; but its reverent and fearless treatment of the difficulties of his great theme gave promise of work of permanent value in this field. His interest in the great problems never flagged, and his sympathetic touch with the life and thought of the younger men in his college kept him constantly {31} engaged on the task of putting into clear and ever clearer expression such solutions as he was able to attain. His sermons in College Chapel were singularly effective, because he never wasted a word, and because every sentence was felt to be the outcome of strenuous thought tested by living experience.

'It is not surprising, therefore, that he exercised an unusual influence upon younger students. His friends were very closely bound to him indeed, in bonds which death can consecrate but cannot sever. They can never cease to thank God for the pure, bright, tender, utterly sincere, fearless, and faithful spirit He has given them to love.'




From the time that Forbes took his degree at Cambridge his health was far from strong. He suffered from time to time from a form of eczema which caused him a good deal of discomfort and pain. Many of his letters contain references to the fact that he had been unwell and had been unable to do as much work as he had hoped. In September 1897 he went with his brother Armitage on a visit to St. Petersburg and Moscow. He stayed in the house of a Russian priest at St. Petersburg, and was much interested in the work of Father John of Kronstadt, with whom an interview was arranged which unfortunately fell through at the last moment. Towards the end of 1897 he developed a bad cough and was threatened with phthisis. He accordingly spent Christmas and the first two or three months of 1898 at St. Moritz in Switzerland. His health then seemed to be much improved. For several years he went back to St. Moritz to spend the greater part of the Christmas vacation. He took great delight in tobogganing, and on one occasion was awarded a prize for a race in which he took part. In the summer of 1899 he went out to South Africa {33} during the Long Vacation. He visited Pretoria and had an interview with President Kruger and his wife. One of his letters records his impressions of the President. He was for some time disposed to believe that the war, which broke out soon after his return, could and should have been avoided, but he subsequently modified his views on this point.

Towards the end of August 1903 the pain from which he had suffered intermittently for years became so much worse that he came up to consult a London doctor, and by his advice remained in town as a patient at St. Thomas's Home. When he entered the home he fully expected to undergo an operation within a fortnight; but the doctor who had suggested it declared, after further examination, that no operation was necessary. Meanwhile Forbes lingered on in the home week after week. Eventually a partial operation was performed, and after he had spent thirteen weeks in the home the surgeon suggested his removal to a private nursing home, where he could keep him under closer observation. Here he performed a second operation. This seemed at first to have been a success, and after a fortnight in this private home he was well enough to start for Switzerland again. He went at first to St. Moritz, where he had been so often before; but, finding that the pain returned and that he could not sleep, he went down to Alassio on the Riviera. Here he was for several weeks till his return to England. He reached Westminster on January 13 and went up to Cambridge on the following day. For a few days he was well enough to lecture, and it seemed as though he might be able to {34} resume his old work. On Sunday evening, January 17, he was 'at home' in his rooms and received over sixty undergraduates who came to welcome him back. Soon the old trouble returned, and he rapidly grew worse. His pain became almost constant, and he was removed with great difficulty to another London nursing home on January 29. It was then proposed that the original operation which had been suggested, but had never been performed, should take place, and he fully expected that this would result in his restoration to health and to work. A few days later he was threatened with blood-poisoning, and it became obvious that the operation must be delayed. On Saturday evening, February 6, he seemed fairly cheerful. Neither he nor his doctors had any idea that he was in an extremely critical state. About midnight, as the pain had become worse, his doctor was sent for, and he gave him an injection of morphia. Soon after this he asked his nurse to turn the light down and said to her, 'If I am asleep in the morning do not wake me.' She looked in about 3.30 A.M. to see if he was asleep, and, finding him awake, inquired if he would like a drink of champagne. He said yes, and asked her first of all to help him turn over to the other side. As she was in the act of assisting him, he passed away, without a movement of any kind. A happy smile lingered long on his face after the end had come.

His body was removed the same evening to St. Faith's Chapel, in Westminster Abbey. Here on the following Thursday morning, February 11, at 9 A.M., the funeral service was said. The chapel {35} was filled with his friends, who had come from Cambridge and elsewhere. His body was buried the same afternoon at Eastbourne in the same grave with that of his sister, the Deaconess Cecilia, who had passed away five months before.

The inscription on the memorial card issued to his friends was:


And, doubtless, unto thee is given A life that bears immortal fruit In those great offices that suit The full-grown energies of heaven.




The two following sketches of Forbes Robinson's life at Cambridge have been contributed, the first by the Rev. T. C. Fitzpatrick, Fellow and Dean of Christ's College, and the second by the Rev. Digby B. Kittermaster, of Clare College, now Head of the Shrewsbury School Mission in Liverpool.

Mr. Fitzpatrick writes:

'College life has changed a good deal since the days when a young graduate, on his election to a fellowship, was advised not to see too much of the undergraduate members of the College, that the division between the senior and junior members of the College might be preserved. A custom of that kind, once established, is not easy to break, for traditions of all sorts, good and bad, live long in College.

'Fortunately, the relations between the undergraduates and the fellows of the College are gradually becoming more natural, to the benefit of the whole body. Forbes Robinson will be long remembered for the influence that he exerted in this {37} direction, and what he has effected it will be comparatively easy for others to carry on.

'It is my desire to give some slight impression of his life in College, and I do not wish to say much about his teaching work. I must mention, however, what frequently struck me, the great joy he had in teaching; his success was not surprising. When he found (in January last) that he could not take up all his lecture work he would not allow another to give in his place the course of lectures on Church History. "I want," he said to me, "to give them myself in my own way," and he hoped to have given them this Easter term. I was not surprised to hear from a pupil of the interest that he and others found in a similar course of lectures which he had given the previous year. "He put things so," the pupil told me, "that you could not forget what he had said."

'My last recollection of him as a teacher bears witness to his interest and purpose. Word was brought me before morning chapel that he had been obliged to call in the doctor in the middle of the night. I went to his rooms after chapel and found that he was asleep, I put up a notice that he would be unable to lecture. He awoke soon after I had left his rooms; he had another notice put up that he would lecture in his rooms. When I came back to College later in the morning I looked in and found him lying on his sofa with the room full of men, sitting where they could. The class will not forget that lecture, nor shall I forget the sight.

'When two men have lived a number of years within the same College, it is difficult for them to {38} realise the change in their relationship that has come with time. There is a comradeship that comes through the influence of circumstances rather than from that personal attraction which two men feel for one another, and which arose they don't remember when or how. It was this comradeship of work and the sharing of responsibilities that led me to know Forbes Robinson. We had lived some years in College before I knew much of him; I was some years his senior, and our lines of work were very different. As far as I know, he never talked to older men in that frank way which was his custom with those of his own age, and still more with men younger than himself. Some weeks ago I was staying at the hotel on the Riviera where he had been at Christmas time. The English lady, whose husband keeps the house, told me that with them Forbes Robinson hardly talked at all, but that he took their boy out for long walks and talked to him; and the boy's face lit up as I spoke to him of Forbes.

'There is still the recollection in College, handed on from year to year, of the walk which he took at the end of a Long Vacation from London to Cambridge with two other men, and how he talked all the way. It was these conversations, often prolonged for two or three hours, that impressed those to whom he opened out his thoughts, and who in turn let him see something of their inner life.

'Forbes always had one or two special friends among the younger men, whom he seemed to me to look upon as heroes; he always yearned for sympathy, and he was prepared to give to others all that {39} he had got. This closer relationship with a few men did not in the least narrow his interest in the life of the College. He gained, I cannot believe that it can have been without an effort long and hard, the power of taking an interest in all sorts of things that form no small part of the life of the average man. There was nothing strained or exaggerated in his relations with other men; he was at all times just himself.

'When he was elected a Fellow, being also Theological Lecturer, he was anxious to do something to interest and help those who were not theological students, and he had, first on Sunday mornings after Chapel, and afterwards in the latter part of the afternoons, Greek Testament readings for non-theological men, and some terms he took up some of the problems that present themselves as difficulties to the thoughtful man. These papers were prepared with great care, and, as I know, at no small cost of time and energy.

'On Sunday evenings he was "at home" from 9 to 11 to any members of the College who cared to come. On those occasions it was a curious sight that met the eyes of any late comer as he opened the door and saw men in groups sitting on the floor, as chairs were insufficient; as a rule there was no general subject of conversation—numbers made that impossible. Most Sunday evenings there was music, but not always, and it was difficult at the end of the evening to say what could have brought so many men together. It was a common ground of meeting for different kinds of men. Forbes Robinson was often at his best on these occasions; he would join {40} first one group and then another, and take part in the subject which was being discussed. Generally one or two would remain when the others left, and deeper problems would then be talked over. Only on one Sunday of last term was Forbes Robinson well enough to be "at home." The room was more crowded than I had ever seen it. It was a sort of welcome back after his absence the previous term. It was evident that it gave him pleasure, and evident, too, that he was all the time in pain. Yet with a brightness, which must have cost him much, he talked with one and another of simple daily interests in the way that showed his sympathy with life, and gained for him the power of saying on other occasions deeper things.

'Nothing could have been simpler than the character of these gatherings. Simplicity was the secret of his power.

'I find it impossible to write of my own conversations with him; they dealt chiefly with the difficulties of Cambridge, of College life, and of the lives of those in our College for whom we felt we had a responsibility. Talking of the difficulties of belief, I was struck by his quiet answer: "I do not believe some things which I did when I was younger; but those which I believe, I believe more firmly." Forbes Robinson had a great belief in the power of intercession. Quite recently a man in his year told me that when Forbes Robinson was an undergraduate he had known him spend two hours during the afternoon in intercession for his friends. One is not surprised that prayer was a subject on which he {41} thought much. He was to have written an important article on it.

'As we talked together of different men, I remember being struck with the desire he expressed that men should be good and strong, and not of any one type. He had a great confidence in the essential goodness that there is in men, and he always formed a high estimate of another.

'His letters will indicate how deeply he entered into the lives of others, and how wide were his sympathies. A member of another College told me that the news of the death of Forbes Robinson reached him just after the close of their evening chapel, and he had not long returned to his rooms when an Indian gentleman called, an undergraduate of this College, who almost in tears told him of all that Forbes had done for him, and how he had learnt in Hall at Christ's from the strange silence that something must have happened, and was told of the loss that came so unexpectedly upon us on Sunday, February 7.

'I close this short account of my friend with extracts from three letters casually taken from those which have reached me. A young clergyman writes: "I feel I owe a very great debt to him, both as a lecturer and as a friend. His clearness of mind and power of thought were such as I have never seen in any other man. But far more precious than these intellectual gifts was the inspiration of his personal character. His ideals were so high, and he lived so close to them. Few lives have better expressed the truth of the words of which he was so fond: 'He that {42} loseth his life shall find it.'" A schoolmaster writes: "The last talk I had with him was a month before my ordination, and I remember the emphasis that he laid on the praying side of a clergyman's life." A doctor writes: "Looking back upon my time at Christ's, I think that of all the influences which helped me, the most potent was my friendship with Forbes Robinson. . . . I came to know him somewhat intimately by spending an Easter vacation with him, and several of our conversations then have left a lasting impression on my mind. . . . I suppose, as one gets older and sees so much more of death, that a deepening faith takes away that sense of personal loss and leaves behind a feeling of gladness that yet another friend has passed to the Communion of Saints."

'Of his life we may use the motto of his College:


Mr. Kittermaster writes:

'Forbes Robinson did not regard any one of us as a "mere undergraduate," one of a mass; that was the first thing which those of us who knew him as undergraduates learnt. He was genuinely interested from the first in his undergraduate acquaintances; interested in them as men, not as promising pupils, not as likely scholars, not as athletes, not as material for "improving" influence, but as men—individuals, each possessing a separate and distinct human {43} personality, and therefore of the truest and deepest interest to him.

'Our public schools taught us (and for most of us Cambridge continued the teaching) that to be of any real importance and consequence among his fellows a man must be "good at games," or perhaps—but this more rarely—"good at work." Such is the simple creed of the undergraduate. If he satisfies neither of the above requirements, then he recognises, with greater or less sadness, that he is an ordinary man, the "average undergraduate." He is one of the crowd if he has no athletic powers to commend him to the notice of his fellows in statu pupillari; he is one of the crowd if he has no slightest hope of making for himself any name in the intellectual world, to commend him to the leaders of thought at Cambridge. And this knowledge is to many a Cambridge boy, playing at being a man, a matter of real, if unconfessed, grief.

'But "there is no such thing as the average man, or at least as the average undergraduate." This was the belief which Forbes Robinson held with increasing conviction as his life went on. And it was this belief which accounted to some extent for the very large part which his friendship undoubtedly played in the life of many a Cambridge undergraduate.

'For a man condemned by his fellows and himself to the position of the "ordinary man" found himself in the presence of Forbes (as all of us universally called him) to be no such thing. Gradually and with genuine surprise he learned from him—not by any definite {44} word of teaching—that though it might cost him efforts painful and many to get the better of his "special," and though athletic fame knew him not at all, yet the possibilities of his own peculiar personal life were wonderful and great. For here was one who compelled men by his genuine unaffected interest in their lives and work to be themselves genuinely interested in them too. A man could not know Forbes for long and not be quickly conscious of a new sense of the value of himself, which made him believe that his own personality and life were things of great importance. For "He is interested in me" is what almost every man felt from the start of his acquaintance with Forbes. "He is interested in me" we felt when he passed us in the street with his quaint humorous smile of recognition; we felt the same when we entered his room, to be received often without a word but with the same half smile: we felt the same again if we knew that he was watching the progress of a football match or boat race in which we were taking part. And "he is interested in me"—most wonderful of all—we felt as we listened to him in the lecture room, and were compelled to attention; for his interest in the men in front of him, coupled with his interest in his subject, forced us all—pass men and honours men alike—to listen to the history of Church and Doctrine and Creeds. It was this unfeigned interest in men, simply as men, that in the first instance gave him the influence which he certainly exercised over all sorts of men, including the kind of men whom the majority of their fellows disregarded, {45} or perhaps despised; "the babes and sucklings of the undergraduate world," to quote another. Such men, in whom most of us could find little to attract us, were to him vastly interesting—interesting for their simple human personality.

'Some men perhaps never discovered from what source his interest in them sprang. They knew that their views of the possibilities of their own life were enlarged, that they believed in themselves more for having been with him; but it was not all at once that they discovered the reason of his interest and belief in them. It was due to the Christ. With each new friendship and acquaintance which Forbes made—and this is especially true of young men—he saw deeper into the meaning of the Incarnation of Christ. This was the secret of his extraordinary interest and amazing belief in nearly every one of us. He saw in us all, however ordinary, however commonplace—yes, however unlovely were our lives—something somewhere of Jesus Christ.

'Then some of us were privileged to discover that what he felt for us was something far deeper and holier than is expressed by the word "interest." It was love. In every fullest sense he understood the grand full meaning of the word. His love for his friends was something altogether larger and deeper and truer than is generally understood by the word. It was so holy a thing that it is hard to write of it. He knew, and the knowledge is perhaps rarer than is supposed, what in all its fulness was the meaning of the love of one man for another. This is why he could enter into the spirit of Tennyson's "In {46} Memoriam" as almost no one else could. Tennyson's experience might have been so entirely his own. His love for his friends was indeed a wonderful, sacred thing, beautiful to see. With Henry Drummond he felt that it was better not to live than not to love. Love was to him a part of all his being: for in him dwelt "the strong Son of God, Immortal Love," compelling him to love his fellow-men.

'It was to him a real grief that (as he often quite wrongly supposed) one or two of those, for whom he would quite willingly have cut off his right hand if in any way it could have advantaged them, cared not at all for him, nor ever understood how he cared for them. But he found relief from the strange unsatisfied longing, engendered in him by this belief, in intense continuous prayer for those whom he loved. He prayed, it is certain, as few men pray. Prayer was to him the very breath of life. And his prayers, like his life, must have been utterly selfless. Many do not understand the amount they owe to his prayers. Some of us may some day realise the magnitude of the debt; at present it is not seen. But he prayed with all the effort of his being for his friends: eagerly, passionately, unceasingly he prayed. "Pray for him, believe in him; believe in him, pray for him," he was never tired of saying to those who spoke to him of some disappointing friend. And his own life was a proof of the power which lay behind such prayer.

'To those reading this who did not know Forbes Robinson it may seem that a man of such intensity of feeling and holiness of life would be more likely {47} to frighten away than to attract to close quarters the "average undergraduate" (whose existence he denied). This most certainly was not the case. For, if there was in him something utterly divine, he was also human as ever man could be. He admired, like the veriest freshman, the physical strength and powers of the athlete. In his presence the man of bodily attainments and strength of limb experienced the strange sensation of being looked up to by one whom he knew to be utterly superior to him. But perhaps nearly all who knew him experienced this at one time or another; for he must have been one of the most humble men that have ever lived. His humility was almost a fault. It led him to depreciate himself so far. And yet how beautiful a thing it was! He did indeed count all men better than himself.

'He easily condoned offences which in some eyes, and especially the eyes of dons, loom as a general rule heinous and large. And the riotous undergraduate, who cuts chapels and lectures, found that a don—yes, and a junior dean—could be a friend of his.

'He possessed too a keen and real sense of humour. He could, and often did, laugh with all his heart. He chaffed continuously his large circle of undergraduate friends. When he was questioning a man in the lecture-room, you felt that all the time he was half chaffing him. He addressed us all in lectures as "Mr.," in a half serious, half amused style. "It is the only chance for some men to retain any self-respect—to address them as 'Mr.'"—he would say, after the discovery of some more than usual piece of {48} ignorance in his class of "special" men; "for how can a man have any self-respect unless addressed as 'Mr.' who does not know which are the Pastoral Epistles, or who is the Bishop of Durham (then Bishop Westcott)?"

'He could not remember the name of his best friend on occasions, and he would recount with real glee how he had been known successfully to introduce two men, not knowing the name of either. On one occasion it fell to him to introduce to each other a low-caste West African native and a particularly high-caste Brahmin rejoicing in a lofty sounding polysyllabic title: of course he transposed the names—with results, so he declared, almost fatal to himself.

'He would display with humorous pride to his athletic friends a photograph of himself coming in second in a toboggan handicap race at St. Moritz, which he always maintained he morally won. He was full of spontaneous humour. When he greeted you, when he looked at you, when he talked with you, it was always with a half smile on his face. It was his sense of humour which procured him a quick entrance into many a man's life and heart. It was his sense of humour which made the hostile undergraduate, hauled for cutting lectures or chapels, forget his hostility and the presence of the don; though at the end of the interview he, probably for the first time, began to think whether chapel-going had any meaning, whether a lecture, if listened to, might conceivably profit the listener. It was his sense of humour which made all feel at home with him, which at the first attracted the most unlikely men, {49} which inspired with confidence the shyest, and made the most frivolous and thoughtless not afraid of him. Yet while he would laugh, and make us laugh, for as long as ever any one wished, through all his unaffected merriment he made men feel the strange earnestness of his life. And all knew that, while he never obtruded on us religious or even serious matters, he was ready at a moment's notice to speak with us of spiritual things. And most men felt something of what a friend of his wrote of him after his death: "He understood of 'the things that matter' more than any man that I shall ever meet." And many men who owe to Forbes Robinson their first serious thoughts of and their first insight into "the things that matter" must feel the same. It is this fact that makes it impossible to measure the far-reaching deep influence of his life. For the greatness of that life lay not in any large influence on any large body of undergraduates, though the undergraduate life of Christ's College must, as a whole, have felt his real influence; nor was his life great simply because he was a scholar and a thinker. But his life was great, and will for all time remain great, because it was an inspiration—there is no other word: it was, and is, a lasting, vivid, real inspiration to a few. What Bishop Westcott did on a large scale, Forbes Robinson did on a small. He inspired men—inspired them to search for and hold to the realities of life.

'To sum up: a man admitted into the inner chamber of his life learnt there something of these three things: (a) The value of his own personality, (b) the meaning of love, (c) the power of prayer.


'a. The value of his own personality.—A man, as he talked with Forbes, was taught with increasing clearness the amazing possibilities of life for any one who has tried to think what it means to say that "this is I." Many of us, conscious in ourselves only of very ordinary attainments, of no very high ideals, of weaknesses of character, learnt from our friend that in spite of all this, our own personality was God's greatest gift to us. We learnt from him that our own particular commonplace life was, with all its failures and inconsistencies, a tremendous enterprise, big with opportunities. He taught us this by his belief in us. He held (again like Bishop Westcott) through everything to the faith of "man naturally Christian." By his belief in a man he forced him at last to believe in himself. For he taught us that we were, each one, two men—the real "Ego" and the false—and that the real self must in the end have the mastery over the false, because that real self was the Christ.

'b. The meaning of love.—It is impossible for lesser natures to enter into all that the word "love" meant to Forbes. His love for his friends was "wonderful, passing the love of women." He loved some men with an intensity of feeling impossible to describe. It was almost pain to him. If he loved a man he loved him with a passionate love (no weaker expression will do). We undergraduates found our natures too small to understand it. Yet, as we learnt to know him more and more, we began too to learn a little of what real love is—we began to learn what can be the meaning and the wonder and the power {51} and the depth of the love of man for man. And we understood in time that his love for us and his belief in us sprang from the same high source—from the Christ in him, in us.

'c. The power of prayer.—This last lesson explained the other two. Perhaps only a few of those who knew Forbes as undergraduates learnt it. Yet an intimate knowledge of him must have forced almost any man to the belief that 'more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.' He prayed for those he loved, it is certain, for hours at a time. All his thoughts about some men gradually became prayers. He could not teach us everything that prayer meant to him; he could not teach us to pray as he prayed. Yet through him one or two at least of his undergraduate friends saw a little further into the eternal mystery of prayer. And men must sometimes—with all reverence be it said—have experienced in his presence the same kind of a feeling of some great unseen influence at work as that which the disciples must have experienced in the presence of Christ after He, apart and alone, had watched through the night with God in prayer. For many an hour of his life did Forbes spend like that, striving with God for those he loved. He believed—he knew (this was his own testimony)—that he could in this way bring to bear upon a man's life more real effective influence than by any word of direct personal teaching or advice. So did he prove once more that the man of power in the spiritual world is the man of prayer.

'These are the great lessons of Forbes Robinson's {52} life—lessons which many a careless undergraduate learnt in a greater or less degree, and, learning, caught from the teacher something of his passion for life and love and prayer, for service of God and man.

'There must be many who will not soon forget the lessons; there must be many in whose lives the influence and inspiration of that saintly life will be for ever a power making for holiness and high ideals of living; there are, it is certain, very many who will thank God continually that they were, in their undergraduate days, allowed to call Forbes Robinson friend.

'How many of us, when we heard with a shock of almost horror that he had passed from us, conjured up before us the picture we shall never see again—the picture of our friend sitting any evening at his table in Darwin's historic rooms at Christ's, dimly lighted with candles! We shall remember long the quick look up at our entrance, the half-smile on his face, the welcome of a man's love in his eyes, however busy and tired he might be. Then, though it cost him later hours out of bed, the invitation to sit down, followed quickly by an indignant remonstrance as we ousted his cat from the best arm-chair. And then the talk that followed: sometimes almost trivial; sometimes (but only if we wished it) deeply serious; sometimes—and these occasions were precious—a kind of soliloquy on his part, as he spoke of God, of the realities of life, of love, of prayer. Then, with still the same half-smile, he would bid us "Good night," and watch us out of the room with the same look of love in his eyes with which he welcomed us, {53} as he turned back to his table to work and think and pray far into the night.

'So many a one of us has left him again and again, to return to the merry, careless, selfish undergraduate world a nobler, better man. And now he has passed from us—"dead ere his prime" we should say, did we not understand that somewhere the faithful, hopeful, loving soul has better work to do. He is, as he ever was, "in Christ." He lives. His life remains here and beyond. His faith in God, in prayer; his hope for every man; his utterly wonderful, amazing love,—they still remain. For nuni menei (nothing can rob us of the word) pistis, elpis, agape, ta tria tauta; meizpon de touton he agape.'

[Transcriber's note: The above Greek phrases were transliterated as follows: nuni—nu, upsilon, nu, iota; menei—mu, epsilon, nu, epsilon, iota; pistis—pi, iota, sigma, tau, iota, final sigma; elpis—epsilon, lambda, pi, iota, final sigma; agape—alpha (soft breathing mark), gamma, alpha, pi, eta; ta—tau, alpha; tria—tau, rho, iota, alpha; tauta—tau, alpha, upsilon, tau, alpha; meizpon—mu, epsilon, iota, zeta, omega, nu; de—delta, epsilon; touton—tau, omicron, upsilon, tau, omega, nu; he—(rough breathing mark) epsilon; agape—alpha (soft breathing mark), gamma, alpha, pi, eta]



To A. V. R.

Brislington Hill, Bristol: September 24, 1890.

. . . I have been persuaded to try the Semitic Languages Tripos. I have been learning German and Syriac a little this Long with that aim in view. . . . I don't really know what to do. I am trying to do what will best fit me for my future work. It is hard to know what is right.

. . . The only thing I want is not to develop into a mere bookworm. . . . The atmosphere of Cambridge so tends to deaden one, and to make one unsympathetic with humanity; and yet the Church today does so need men who know something, men who can express with no uncertain sound the truth of Old Testament and New Testament criticism. I want so to find out what the Old Testament is, and how far we can believe in it, in its essential truth, in its historical accuracy. The question can only be settled by scholars—by scholars filled with the spirit of humility and understanding. It cannot be settled by the so-called spiritual faculty alone, but only by the intellect guided by the Spirit of Truth.

I have been reading St. John's Gospel in Greek and Syriac, and more and more I become convinced {55} that what it says is truth: zoe—life—anything worth calling life—anything that can last—anything that is of use here and hereafter—is to be gained alone by actually eating and drinking the Body of the Son of Man. The expression is awfully strong—the expression in itself. I am not talking of all sorts of modern explanations of the expression. Take it as it stands in the original: 'You have no life, unless you eat and drink. . . .'

[Transcriber's note: The word zoe in the above paragraph was transliterated from the Greek letters zeta, omega, eta.]

I wish there could be a small Greek Testament reading in the College for considering what the New Testament really means, apart from modern interpretations. Is it possible to find out the true, original meaning of that book, and to understand its problems a little and its solutions? 'Quid importat scientia sine timore Dei?'

To T. H. M.

Aldeburgh House, Blackheath: March 20, 1891.

I am gradually finding out how ignorant I am of the meaning of the New Testament, and how miserably I have read my own miserable notions and glosses into the words of St. Paul. I am sure that the solution of the greatest problems which concern humanity is to be found in his Epistles, if we could only approach them without bias and with more childishness. I feel certain that the Incarnation is the great fact of the world's, and probably of the universe's, history. 'The Word was made flesh.'

And so the Word had breath, and wrought With human hands the creed of creeds In loveliness of perfect deeds, More strong than all poetic thought.


The death on Calvary must have had effects far beyond this particular world. 'He descended into hell.' He claimed His power over all parts of His universe. The Good has conquered. The Bad is defeated.

To T. H. M.

Christ's College, Cambridge: July 18, 1891.

We have but lately heard that my missionary brother[1] has passed away into the eternal world. He died in Africa. He gave up all, he gave up his life for Christ. Terribly as we feel the loss, and shall feel it still more, I cannot help thanking the Eternal Father that He has accepted the life-sacrifice, and feeling that He calls upon us here and now, each day and moment of our lives, to offer up ourselves on the altar of universal thanksgiving. Life is sacrifice, renunciation: true life is dependence on God. Sin is isolation, death—a failure to recognise and act on our dependence. I do feel as I seldom felt before something of the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, the communion of the Spirit. We must learn that an individual hope, aspiration, ambition, is against the law of the universe—the law of self-sacrifice. We must learn that our wills are ours to make them God's; that if we have a single hope or thought which He does not inspire, which true humanity cannot share, the hope and thought are wrong. God grant that you and I may renounce {57} our individual lives, and become truly ourselves by martyrdom, by allowing the Christ in us to live.

I am to be ordained in September. Pray for me. There is no power like prayer. Let us pray for one another. The great Father longs for simple lives, simple piety, perpetual thanksgiving. And we have so much to be thankful for—so much here and now. I do long to offer body, mind, soul, affections, will, hope, to Him as a thanksgiving. Self-renunciation, life in a Church, a Body, is the only life. God grant we may live it!

[1] John Alfred Robinson, formerly a scholar of Christ's College, who died at Lokoja on the River Niger, on June 25, 1891.

To T. H. M.

Christ's College, Cambridge: November 17, 1891.

Do you know that it isn't a bad thing to feel a babe? We must all become simple little children before we enter the kingdom of heaven, because God, who lives in that kingdom, has the simplest heart in all the wide universe—the most childlike, for God is Love. He has no cross purposes. Though He is stronger and better and bigger than we are, He is simpler. He will love a poor, simple old woman in His simple way with a wonderful affection. He is so simple, because He does not know what sin is. God never sins. God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all.

It is this simplicity, this love of One who is omnipotent, uncreate, illimitable, eternal, that makes me reverence Him, adore Him, live for Him, love Him.

Simplicity is wonderfully attractive. The man who knows least of sin is most helpful to me, because {58} he is most simple and Godlike. The 'man of the world' is most repulsive, because he is most like the Devil.

To E. N. L., on the occasion of his ordination.

Cambridge: March 10, 1892.

It gives me great pleasure to think that on Sunday next you will be made a Deacon in God's Church. I thank God that He has called you to one of the highest offices on earth, that henceforth you will be 'in' or (shall we say?) 'under' orders—God's orders—that you willingly renounce your life, your thoughts, your hopes, your ambitions to Him. You will probably hear much and be told much at this time. I have nothing to say that you have not heard and will not hear said far better by others. Our Church gives the keynote in the collect for Sunday: 'We have no power.' I never realised my weakness, my pride, my hollowness so much as I did at my ordination. God has been teaching me, even in the short time since I was ordained, wonderful lessons—lessons of strength being perfected in weakness. He alone knows the depths of our hypocrisy, our vanity, our atheism, and He alone can help us. To get nearer to Him, to know Him better—this is what I want, this is eternal life. As we believe in a Person who is by our side, who is helping us, training us, we shall be able to proclaim Him to others. Do not mind about feelings. You may have beautiful feelings at your ordination time. Thank God if you have. He sends them. You may have none. Thank God if you have not, for He has kept them back. We do {59} not want to feel better and stronger; we want to be better and stronger. And He has made us better and stronger. He has given us His Spirit as we knelt before the bishop. We must go forth in that strength. We must use it, live on it, and it will be ours. Kata ten pistin humon genetheto humin. When we feel most hopeless, most wretched, most distant from God, remember 'feelings don't matter.' Remember that God's Son felt the same temptation, remember that He too was forsaken by His God. And when all seems lost, Satan seems master, we are misunderstood; remember that 'I believe in the Holy Ghost,' who is stronger than separation or death, than feelings, than our hearts. All our feelings and thoughts and wishes are nothing. God is everything and in all. All our conceptions will be shattered, all our schemes overthrown, that a Great Person behind may be revealed. To know, to love, to make known, to make men love that Person is our work in life . . . .

[Transcriber's note: The Greek words in the above paragraph were transliterated as follows: Kata—Kappa, alpha, tau, alpha; ten—tau, eta, nu; pistin—pi, iota, sigma, tau, iota, nu; humon—(rough breathing mark) upsilon, mu, omega, nu; genetheto—gamma, epsilon, nu, eta, theta, eta, tau, omega; humin—(rough breathing mark) upsilon, mu, iota, nu]

We are men sent from God. We come to bear witness of a Light. Do not let us confuse ourselves with our message. The message is everything; we are nothing. The Light simply shines through us. We must be glad to be shattered, rejected, if so be that the Light shining through us may be manifested.

One suggestion I make: that you do what I believe you are expected by the words of the Prayer-book to do—say the Morning and Evening Prayer daily always, unless you are ill, at home or in church, and the Litany on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. You will find this a greater help than almost anything else—a help against superstition, narrowness, bigotry, {60} heartlessness. If you decide not to do so, do it with some really good reason, and not because others do the same, or because it is a bother.

And now good-bye. And may God grant us to know Him on earth, so that we may together know Him better hereafter.

To W. A. B.

Blackheath: April 30, 1892.

. . . No amount of philosophical theories are worth much compared with a simple picture of home life. It is these common relations of life which are most awful and sacred. The highest life we know is, I think I may say with reverence, family life—life of Father and Son; family life on earth is a faint picture of something better in heaven. We shall be surprised some day to find that, while we have been searching for the noble and divine, we have it all the while at home. The relations of brother and brother, son and father, are eternal realities, which we shall never fathom, for God Himself is below them. 'Omnia exeunt in mysterium,' as Kingsley says in 'Yeast.' I am very pleased with that novel. The description he gives of the sufferings and squalor of villages is positively awful. We do want men who believe that self-sacrifice, not selfishness, is at the top of all, who are sure that family life is made in heaven and is made in the image of God's life, who know that in the present is the eternal, to go and live and work and die in our villages. But Kingsley shows it is not enough to give alms or other social benefits—we must do more than that, we must raise their whole {61} life and condition. I believe myself that this can only be done from inside. Thus, when God wished to redeem man, He did it from inside. Man himself fought and conquered. Deity entered into humanity. It is not merely that we must live simply, think simply, work, as they do. That is well, but we must do more. If we want to look at them from the inside, I know only one way—the old, old way which God Himself adopts. We must love them, love the Christ, the Spirit in them—not the beast, the devil in them. Like attracts like. To love and to detect that, we must have some of that Spirit, that Christ.

That means to say that to help others from the inside, we must be right inside ourselves. And yet none of us are right inside. But there is that in us which is right, that in us which is not ourselves, but is deeper than ourselves. A Son who will make us true sons, a Brother who will teach us how to be brothers, a Human Being who will show us what is in all human beings; a Love who will teach us what we always fancy we know, but what we don't know (else we should be divine)—how to love; a Man who will make us saints and gentlemen—the Man Christ Jesus. Yes, and there is in us a Great Spirit who is uniting us by invisible bonds to all that is good and healthy and Godlike, a Spirit who disciplines our will when it is weakest and most self-indulgent, who trains our spirit and fights our battles against the evil spirit, a Person who makes us persons. How then do men differ? If in every man there is the Light which lightens him, the Christ, the Spirit, what is the difference between good and bad men? Does {62} a good man possess religion, or faith, or love? No, the best men would tell you they were possessed by faith and love, rather than that they possessed them. What faith or love they have is not a possession—it is in them, not of them, not belonging to them. It comes from the Christ in them. The difference between men is not that one is inspired and another is not, but that one yields to the Spirit, another does not. We begin to obey when we lose ourselves in that Spirit and forget all but God. We ought never to settle any detail in life without taking Him into account: we are fools if we do. How can we be logical? For He is in that detail, and not to think of Him is not to understand that detail. For every detail is more than a detail—it is the expression of a Person.

I have wandered into a train of thought suggested by 'Yeast,' and in part copied directly from it. Forgive me. I was half thinking aloud. That is my one excuse for saying what I am trying to think.

I never played golf. I do that sort of thing by deputy. K—— is the sort of man to do it for me. At any rate, I trust him with my football and rowing. It doesn't tire you so much if you do it that way. Only let me give you one piece of advice, which I only wish I acted upon: 'Don't do your thinking by deputy:' do your rowing, golf, football, cricket, skittles, talking if you like, but not your thinking.

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