Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Bickersteth, Edward Henry

BICKERSTETH, EDWARD HENRY (1825–1906), bishop of Exeter, only son of the Rev. Edward Bickersteth (1786–1850) [q. v.] by his wife Sarah, eldest daughter of Thomas Bignold of Norwich, was born at Barnsbury Park, Islington, on 25 Jan. 1825, when his father was assistant secretary to the Church Missionary Society. Edward Bickersteth (1814–1892) [q. v.], dean of Lichfield, and Robert Bickersteth [q. v.], bishop of Ripon, were his cousins. Brought up at the rectory of Watton, Hertfordshire, which his father accepted in 1830, Edward remained faithful through life to the earnest evangelical piety of his family. At fourteen he determined to take holy orders. Educated entirely at home, his tutor was Thomas Rawson Birks [q. v.], his father's curate, and subsequently his son-in-law. In 1843 he matriculated from Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1847 he graduated B.A. as a senior optime and third classman in classics. He proceeded M.A. in 1850, and hon. D.D. in 1885. His comparatively low place in the class lists was atoned for by his unique success in winning the chancellor's medal for English verse in three successive years, 1844^-5-6 (a volume of 'Poems' collected these and other verses in 1849). Later, in 1854, he won the Seatonian prize for an English sacred poem on 'Ezekiel,' which was also published. Ordained deacon in 1848 and priest in 1849 by Bishop Stanley, Bickersteth was licensed as curate-in-charge of Banningham near Aylsham. On a failure of health in 1851 he became curate to Christ Church, Tunbridge Wells. In 1853 he was appointed by Lord Ashley, afterwards earl of Shaftesbury, to the rectory of Hinton Martell near Wimborne, Dorset, and in 1855 he accepted the important vicarage of Christ Church, Hampstead.

Bickersteth remained vicar of Christ Church, Hampstead, for thirty years. His incumbency furnishes a typical example of the pastoral ideals of current evangelical piety. He insisted on the value of retreats and quiet days. In 1879 he established daily services in his parish and recommended the open church. His devotion to the Church Missionary Society was hereditary. Throughout his Hampstead incumbency he was a member of the committee, and the yearly contribution of his congregation ultimately reached 1000l. He paid two long visits to the East, mainly to encourage missionary work, in 1880-1, when he visited India and Palestine, and in 1891, when he went to Japan. When he was a deacon he composed for the jubilee of the Church Missionary Society the well-known hymn 'O Brothers, lift your voices,' and fifty years later he composed another for use when he presided over the centenary of the society. He also impartially supported many church and diocesan societies which lacked earlier evangelical sanction.

While at Hampstead Bickersteth won a wide recognition as a religious writer in both verse and prose. In 1866 he published 'Yesterday, To-day, and For Ever; a poem in twelve books,' which achieved remarkable popularity among religious people. It was estimated that 27,000 copies were sold in England and 50,000 in America; the seventeenth English edition appeared in 1885. The poem embodied in copious flowing blank verse the account of heaven and the last things given in the Apocalypse. It supplied evangelicals with poetry that did not offend their piety, and took for them the place held by Keble's 'Christian Year' among another school of churchmen. As literature it has the weakness of nearly all imitations of Milton.

Bickersteth was a voluminous writer of hymns. In 1858 he brought out 'Psalms and Hymns,' based on his father's 'Christian Psalmody' (new edit. 1860). A second effort, to which he gave the title 'The Hymnal Companion to the Book of Common Prayer,' soon superseded in evangelical parishes all other compilations; there were two editions, one with and one without annotation (1870; revised and enlarged 1876, and 1880). About thirty of Bickersteth's own hymns are in common use, the best-known being 'Peace, perfect peace,' which appeared in 'From Year to Year' (1883; 3rd edit. 1896), his best collection of scattered verse (Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, pp. 141, 342). Bickersteth's religious writing in prose includes a 'Practical and Expository Commentary on the New Testament' (1864), intended especially for family use, of which more than 40,000 copies were sold. Of his devotional works 'The Master's Home Call, or, Brief Memorials of [his daughter] Alice Frances Bickersteth, by her Father' (1872; 3rd edit, in the same year) circulated most widely.

In January 1885 Bickersteth was appointed dean of Gloucester, but immediately after his institution the prime minister, Gladstone, pressed upon him the bishopric of Exeter, in succession to Frederick Temple [q. v. Suppl. II], who was translated to London. Bickersteth's appointment was probably intended as a counterpoise to the nomination of Edward King [q. v. Suppl. II] to the see of Lincoln. Both bishops were consecrated in St. Paul's Cathedral on St. Mark's Day, 25 April 1885, when Canon Liddon preached on the episcopal office. Bickersteth carried forward many reforms in the diocese which Temple had initiated, notably the employment of the canons of the cathedral in diocesan work. Despite his gentleness, Bickersteth's spiritual gifts as a pastor made him a potent influence. His hospitality was comprehensive. For five months in 1891 In 1891 he was in Japan and Bishop Barry officiated in his absence. In 1894 he presided over the Church Congress at Exeter, and in an opening address advocated compulsory retirement from clerical work at seventy unless a medical certificate of efficiency could be produced. The death of his son Edward, the bishop of South Tokyo [q. v.], in 1897, was a heavy blow, and after a serious attack of influenza in the spring of 1900 he resigned his see. After five years of illness, he died on 16 May 1906, at his residence in Westbourne Terrace, London, and was buried at Watton.

In 1898 his portrait, a three-quarter length in oils, was painted by A. S. Cope, and given to the bishop to be kept in the Palace, with a replica for Mrs. Bickersteth. A memorial monument was placed in Exeter cathedral.

Bickersteth married twice: (1) in February 1848 his cousin Rosa, daughter of Sir Samuel Bignold of Norwich; she died in 1873, having borne him six sons and ten daughters; (2) in 1876 his cousin Ellen Susanna, daughter of Robert Bickersteth of Liverpool, who was the devoted companion of his later life and survived him without issue.

Besides the poetical works already mentioned Bickersteth published 'Nineveh, a poem' (1851), and 'The Two Brothers and other Poems' (1871; 2nd edit. 1872).

His prose work included, besides charges, sermons and the works cited, 1. 'Water from the Well-Spring . . . being Meditations for every Sunday,' 1852; revised and reissued 1885. 2. 'The Rock of Ages; or Scripture Testimony to the one Eternal Godhead of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,' 1859, 1860; new edit. 1888. 3. 'The Blessed Dead: what does Scripture reveal of their State before the Resurrection?' 2nd edit. 1863. 4. 'The Second Death; or the Certainty of Everlasting Punishment, &c.' 1869. 5. 'The Reef and other Parables,' 1874; 2nd edit. 1885. 6. 'The Lord's Table,' 1884; reissued as 'The Feast of Divine Love; or The Lord's Table,' 1896. 7. 'Thoughts in Past Years,' 1901, a volume of 18 selected sermons.

[F. K. Aglionby, Life of E. H. Bickersteth, 1907; The Times, 17 May 1906; information from son, Dr. Samuel Bickersteth, vicar of Leeds.]

R. B.