Heber, Reginald

Heber, Reginald bishop of Calcutta, was born at Malpas, Cheshire, April 21, 1783. He gave early indications of poetical talent. At thirteen he was placed in the school of a clergyman near London; in November 1800, he was entered at Brasenose College, Oxford, and in the same year he gained the prize for Latin verse. In the spring of 1803 he wrote his prize poem, Palestine, which has obtained a permanent place in English literature. In 1804 he became a fellow of All Souls. About the middle of 1805, in company with Mr. John Thornton, he set out on a Continental tour, and spent a year traveling through Russia, the Crimea, Hungary, Austria, and Prussia. In 1807 he took orders, and was instituted by his brother Richard to the family living at Hodnet. Here, as he himself described, he was in a "half- way situation between a parson and a squire." "While discharging the duties of his parish with great fidelity, he was ardently devoted to the pursuits of literature. He was a frequent contributor to the Quarterly Review from its commencement. In 1812 he commenced the preparation of a Dictionary of the Bible, on which he labored with much delight; but other duties compelled him to suspend this work, and no part of it was ever published. In the same year he published a small volume of Hymns adapted to the Weekly Church Service (new ed. London, 1838, 12mo). The composition of his Hymns, with a view of improving the psalmody and devotional poetry used in churches, was also a favorite recreation. He was an elegant versifier, and continued to indulge his poetical talents even while engaged in visiting his diocese in India. He had a great distaste for controversial theology, and only once was engaged in a discussion of this kind, in reply to what he conceived were the unwarrantable imputations of a writer in the British Critic. His political views were those of the High Church and Tory party, but quite devoid of bitterness. In 1815 he was appointed Bampton lecturer, and the subject he selected was The Personality and Office of the Christian Comforter (2nd ed. Lond. 1818, 8vo). In 1817, Dr. Luxmore, the bishop of St. Asaph, appointed Heber to a stall in that cathedral, at the request of his father-in-law the dean. In 1819 he edited the works of bishop Jeremy Taylor (15 vols. 8vo, with Life of Taylor). In April, 1822, he was elected preacher of Lincoln's Inn, for which he had formerly been an unsuccessful candidate." In December of that year, the see of Calcutta, vacated by the death of bishop Middleton, was offered to him, "Twice the offer was declined on account of his wife and child, but immediately after the second refusal he wrote (Jan. 12. 1823) stating his willingness to go to India. He congratulated himself upon the fact that no worldly motives led him to this decision. The prospects of usefulness in so grand a field as India overbore all pecuniary considerations, and they had no influence in determining his conduct when the proposition of going to that country was first made to him. Besides, he had often expressed his liking for such a sphere of action, and he had a lurking fondness for all which belongs to India or Asia." On the 22nd of April he saw Hodnet for the last time, and, after having been consecrated, he embarked for his diocese on the 16th of June 1823. The diocese of Calcutta extended at this time over the whole of India, and embraced Ceylon, the Mauritius, and Australasia. In India the field of the bishop's labors was three times larger than Great Britain and Ireland. The number of chaplains who constituted his staff at Bengal was fixed at twenty-eight, but this number was never completed, and of the number who were appointed several were on furlough. The bishop had no council to assist him, was required to act on his own responsibility, and to write almost every official document with his own hand. On the 15th of June 1824, bishop Heber began the visitation of his vast diocese. He visited nearly every station of importance in the upper provinces of Bengal and north of Bombay, and after an absence from Calcutta of about eleven months, during which he had seldom slept out of his cabin or tent, he arrived at Bombay. The journal which he kept during his visitation (published under the title Narrative of a Journey in Upper India, Lond. 1829, 3 vols. 8vo, since reprinted in Murray's Home and Colonial Library) shows the extent of his observations on general subjects, and the graphic power which he possessed of describing the novel scenes in which he was placed. From April to August he remained at Bombay to investigate and superintend the interests of the western portion of his diocese. On the 15th of August he sailed for Ceylon, and after remaining there some time he proceeded to Calcutta, which he reached on the 21st of October. If it had been possible to have educated his children in India, he was now prepared, he states, to end his days among the objects of his solicitude. In February, 1826, he left Calcutta for Madras to visit the southern provinces. On the 1st of April he arrived at Trichinopoli, and on the 3rd, after investigating the state of the mission and confirming fifteen natives, on whom he bestowed the episcopal benediction in the Tamul language, he retired to use a cold bath, in which he was found dead about half an hour afterwards. Within less than three weeks he would have completed his forty-third year. The candor, modesty, and simplicity of bishop Heber's manners, his unwearied earnestness, and his mild and steady zeal, combined with his talents and attainments, had inspired veneration and respect not only among the European, but the native population of India" (English Cyclopaedia, s.v.). In theology he was an Arminian. His whole life, after his elevation to the episcopate, was devoted to its great duties. He had a profound faith in the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel, and of their adaptation to the heathen. His heart daily breathed the most earnest wishes for the diffusion of its precious blessings. His tastes and pursuits were all subordinated to that grand object, and, had he been spared to the usual term of life, there is no doubt that a career, begun in the spirit and prosecuted on the system of itinerancy he had adopted, would have yielded a rich harvest of spiritual fruit to the Lord of his vineyard. Besides the works above mentioned, he published Parish Sermons (Lond. 1844, 5th ed. 2 vols. 8vo). His Poetical Works are printed in various editions. See Life of Heber, by his Widow (Lond. 1830, 2 vols. 4to); Robinson, Last Days of Heber (1830, 8vo); Memoir of Heber, abridged from the large ed. (Boston, 1856.12mo); Krohn, H.'s Leben u. Nachrichten über Indien (Berlin, 1831, 2 vols.); Quarterly Review (London), 43, 366; Edinburgh Review, 52, 431; Villemain, Revue des deux Mondes, Dec. 15,1857; Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 19, 606.

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