Header image  
    home - biography


   The year 1915, which saw the close of Dr. Swete's work as Regius Professor, saw also a change in his home life. In April his niece married Dr. Knight, the bishop Gibraltar, and the happy household of two became the equally happy home of three.

The professor for some time had intended to leave Cambridge upon his retirement, and had fixed upon Ely as his choice of residence; the Cathedral, with his position as an Honorary Canon and his many friends there, made its attraction. But his efforts to obtain a suitable house were of no avail, and it became necessary to look elsewhere. Hitchin offered itself as a conveniet centre; halfway between London and Cambridge, with a good train service, it met the requirements both of the Professor and of the Bishop when in England. A house with a room large enough to contain his books and with a garden /82/ which pleased him was taken, and October found him settling down in the picturesque little town.

Cambridge ties were still strong. He was still a Fellow of his College; and his new position of Emeritus Professor of Divinity was welcomed by him; it bound him to the University and, though he would have been slow to confess it, he liked being still “the Professor” or more commonly “E.P.” to his friends. His appointment as Lady Margaret Preacher in 1916 was very pleasant to him, and few who heard his vigorous sermon or witnessed his joy and his eagerness to meet his friends and to make the most of his week-end visit would have easily credited his eighty-one years. A further link between the past and the present was made for him by the Rev. J.M. Creed, also a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, taking up war-time work as Curate in Hitchin. Mr. Creed was as a scholar-son to him. He had not only the run of the Professor's library but all the resources of his learning, sympathy, and advice on which to draw for the important theological work upon which he was engaged. If the daily meeting of the two scholars was the occasion of help and stimulus to the younger, it was no less a gain and a delight to the elder to have the companionship of so keen and appreciative a disciple. It was a genuine grief to him when Mr. Creed, after twelve /83/ months' work in Hitchin, felt it to be his duty to join the Army as a Chaplain.

All doubts as to Dr. Swete's happiness apart from residence in the University were speedily dispelled, and the next eighteen months were undoubtedly among the happiest in his life. The pastoral instinct drew him at once into the Church life of the parish; to assist the clergy in any way however small was a joy to him, and more than once he gladly took the week-day evensong for one of the curates who was anxious to fulfil another engagement. He was ever ready to celebrate or preach in one of the mission churches attached to St. Mary's, and he was filled with pride when once or twice his ministrations enabled the whole staff to take a day's outing together. He preached sometimes in St.Mary's Church itself, and in the Advent of 1916 he gave a course on Sunday mornings on The Kingdom of God. But the church was over large for his voice, and it is as ministering in the Chapel of the Holy Trinity that he will be chiefly remembered. It was here that he gave his Lenten addresses on The Forgiveness of Sins, 1916, and The Life of the world to come, 1917; here also that he spoke so constantly to the men of the Bible Class; here that he was to be found day after day at evensong, occasionally accompanying the hymn or taking the service; it was to this chapel that he gave a lectern because he thought the lack of one made a dignified /84/ reading of the Lessons impossible; and it was here that his friends of the Bible Class brought his body to rest the night before his burial.

But to preache and teach were not enough for the Professor; he must visit also. Some half-dozen aged or chronic invalids were handed over to him by the Vicar, and he ministered to them with unfailing regularity and care. His ἑπισκεπτόμενοι, as he called them, were in his mind to the last, and when he relinquished his charge he insisted on seeing the Vicar himself and made him take a note of this one and that.

His literary activity went on quietly and without break. The Forgiveness of Sins was published in October 1916; the Journal of Theological Studies had several articles from him; and he was editing a volume of Essays on the Early History of the Church and Ministry. He had also in contemplation another volume which he hoped to add to those that he had already written on the last articles of the creed – “The Resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” But when The Forgiveness of Sins was finished he craved a change of work. At one time he inclined to a selection of passages from St. Clement of Alexandria with a translation, at another to studies in the Pastoral Epistles of St. Paul; and indeed made a beginning in each. But he tired of Clement, and found himself failing into preparation for another big Commentary. This /85/ he knew was out of the question, and he reluctantly laid it by. He undertook a Preface for an edition of Andrewes' Devotions for S.P.C.K., beganb it with characteristic zest, and left it completed. After this he meant to collect into a volume some of his published papers and also to print some of his sermons, and made preliminary selections of both. But his teaching was not limited to literary work; a Study Circle, in connexion with the Central Society for Sacred Study. for the clergy of the town and neighbourhood was held monthly in his house, and to his great delight some fourteen joined it.

Shortly after taking up his residence at Hitchin he received the following resolution, beautifully inscribed on vellum, from the Oxford Board of Theological Study:

Viro Reverendissimo Henrico B. Swete,
S.T.P. Catabrigiensi S.D.P Henricus
S. Holland, S.T.P. Oxoniensis.

mihi hodie a theologis oxoniensibus permissum est te post tot annos munus professorium sponte tua deponentem observantia, votis, precibusque prosequi. quanti scripta tua theologica aestimaverit academia nostra satis declaravit quum quatuor abhinc annos te cantabrigiensem inter nostrates doctorem in litteris ascripserit. scilicet opera tua vetus testamentum graecum ad fidem codicum optimorum castigatum in lucem prodiit; verba domini nostri jesu christi luculentissime interpretatus es; doctrinam de spiritu sancto et in novo testamento et in patrum scriptis traditam accuratissime /86/ expromsisti; symbolum nostrum, liturgia nostra quomodo ex fontibus gradatim creverint summa industria eruisti. praeterea quis nescit quanta discipulorum corona te legentem audierit, quanto studio juniores adjuveris, seniores ad studia theologica cohortatus sis? jam tandem, rude omnium judicio dignis tibi ipse rudem dedisti. viridis, precamur, maneat senectus tua, fructus suos et otium habeat, teque diu protegat deus o.m. donec manu leni in portum voluntatis tuae te deducat.
data pridie nonas novembr. oxoniae, ex aede christi.


Perhaps few things ever gave him more pleasure than this wholly unexpected recognition of his life's work from his brother theologians of Oxford.

The people of Hitchin gave to Dr. Swete and his family a most kind welcome and shewed them real friendship. In eighteen months Dr. Swete won the affection of all who knew him. The charm of his gentle courtesy, his kindliness, his willingness to make friends, his interest in all that concerned Hitchin, drew all classes alike to him. It was remarkable how much in the last few years of his life the old shyness vanished. There was a constant coming and going of guests all through the year 1916, and it was surprising to see the interest he took in new acquaintances and how eager he was to make them welcome not only to the house but also to his beloved library and garden.

His garden became an absorbing hobby; it was /87/ his special department in the household economy, and he was careful to assert a complete autocracy in it. Technical knowledge of gardening he had none, nor would he seriously try to acquire it, and there were not a few points of difference between him and the gardenere. But his enthousiasm and delight in his flowers and vegetables, his bewildering array of nurserymen's catalogues, his many almost surreptitious and always mysterious journeys into the town to enquire for seed potatoes, young tomato plants and the like, were an endless joy to him and to his friends.

His health and power of walking steadily improved during these months; his walk after luncheon was a regular institution, and would be in addition to little errands in the town, a visit to the library to change his novel, and the daily evensong at the parish church. To those who had known him in previous years his activity was little short of marvellous.

The end came without warning. A sudden attack of gastric influenza laid him low on April 5th, and a few days his life was despaired of; but he shewed so great a vitality and power of resistance that he was able to throw off the disease, and for some ten days a recovery was hoped for. The strain, however, of such an ilness was too great for his years, and the whole constitution began to give way. It was soon clear to those /88/ around him that there could be but one end; he, on the contrary, was confident of his recovery, “I am being spared to finish the Essays” was his constant remark, and no patient ever assisted doctor and nurse more by his indomitable spirit. On May 7th came the first signs of heart failure, and with it the knowledge of the truth. The three days that followed were characteristic of the man and all that had gone before. His life's was laid down without one word of regret: “C.H. Turner is the man to edit the Essays if the Archbishop approves” was his only reference to it. And if a note of wistfullnes crept into “I was so looking forward to going round the garden in the wheel-chair,” it was corrected by “I have had a long and very happy life.” His one fear was lest the end should be unduly prolonged and thus increase the strain on the household, “You say you do not mind or feel the strain, but as a matter of fact nothing is more trying.” His care for others was always uppermost; “Do go out and have a walk and never mind me,” and a few minutes before he passed, “Don't waste your time, Bishop,” all told the same tale. Equally touching and uplifting to those with him was his deep humility; “I look back and can see only sin”; “Tell me the words of the publican's prayer — in Greek, please”; and after Rev. xxii.3 — “His /89/ servants shall do Him service; and they shall see His face” — had been read to him, he said, “I'm not worthy, not worthy.” When sympathy was expressed that the call was so long in coming, he answered, “Don't be sorry, it is good for me; let patience have its perfect work.” He dwelt much on the collect for Ascension Day, and it was said for him constantly. After hearing the first part of Psalm lxiii., he said, “What would be better?” and after his favourite St. John xiv., “Inexhaustible words!” So with all his accustomed thought and courtesy for others, in all his old humility, and with his own calm serenity he passed on to the fuller life. He fell asleep on May 10th in the eighty-third year of his age and the fifty-ninth of his ministry. Thus the life and ministry of his father and himself were of the same length. His body was laid to rest, as he wishes, in Hitchin cemetery on May 14th. The Bishop of Ely, his Diocesan as an Honorary Canon and a much loved former colleague in the Professoriate at Cambridge, and Dr. Stanton, his successor in the Regius Professorship, both took part in the office. The Bishop of the Diocese closed with his benediction a service which, in glorious afternoon sunshine, was for many a Te Deum for a life of sancitified beauty and single-hearted devotion to his Master and his Church.

The Bishop of Ely is not mentioned by name. Since 1905 it was Frederick Henry Chase and it could be that he is the author of this part of the biography. RCV
Swete and Henry Joseph Corbet Knight and his wife and Swete's niece Minnie Bridged Knight lived at 23 Old Park Road, Hitchin