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Robert Nelson died in the January of 1715, a man so universally esteemed that it would be probably impossible to find his name connected in any writer with a single word of disparagement. It would be folly to speak of one thus distinguished by singular personal qualities as if he were, to any great extent, representative of a class. If the Church of England had been adorned during Queen Anne's reign by many such men, it could never have been said of it that it failed to take advantage of the signal opportunities then placed within its reach. Yet his views on all Church questions, and many of the characteristic features of his character, were shared by many of his friends both in the Established Church and among the Nonjurors. He survived almost all of them, so that with him the type seemed nearly to pass away for a length of time, as if the spiritual atmosphere of the eighteenth century were uncongenial to it. His younger acquaintances in the Nonjuring body, however sincere and generous in temperament, were men of a different order. It was but natural that, as the schism became more pronounced and Jacobite hopes more desperate, the Church views of a dwindling minority should become continually narrower, and lose more and more of those larger sympathies which can scarcely be altogether absent in any section of a great national Church.

First in order among Nelson's friends--not in intimacy, but in the affectionate honour with which he always remembered him--must be mentioned Bishop Ken. He was living in retirement at Longleat; but Nelson must have frequently met him at the house of their common friend Mr. Cherry of Shottisbrooke,[8] and they occasionally corresponded. Nelson may have been the more practical, Ken the more meditative. The one was still in the full vigour of his benevolent activity while the other was waiting for rest, and soothing with sacred song the pains which told of coming dissolution. In his own words, to 'contemplate, hymn, love, joy, obey,' was the tranquil task which chiefly remained for him on earth. But they were congenial in their whole tone of thought. Their views on the disputed questions of the day very nearly coincided. Nelson, as might be expected of a layman who throughout his life had seen much of good men of all opinions, was the more tolerant; but both were kindly and charitable towards those from whom they most differed, and both were attached with such deep loyalty of love to the Church in whose bosom they had been nurtured that they desired nothing more than to see what they believed to be its genuine principles fully carried out, and could neither sympathise with nor understand religious feelings which looked elsewhere for satisfaction. Both were unaffectedly devout, without the least tinge of moroseness or gloom. Nelson specially delighted in Ken's morning, evening, and midnight hymns. He entreated his readers to charge their memory with them. 'The daily repeating of them will make you perfect in them, and the good fruit of them will abide with you all your days.'[9] He subjoined them to his 'Practice of True Devotion;' and Samuel Wesley tells us that he personally knew how much he delighted in them. It was with these that--

    He oft, when night with holy hymns was worn, Prevented prime and wak'd the rising morn.[10]

He has made use of many of Ken's prayers, together with some from Taylor, Kettlewell, and Hickes, in his 'Companion for the Festivals and Fasts.' There is an intensity and effusion of spirit in them, in which his own more studied compositions are somewhat wanting.

Among the other Nonjuring bishops Nelson was acquainted with, but not very intimately, were Bancroft and Frampton. The former he loved and admired; and spoke very highly of his learning and wisdom, his prudent zeal for the honour of God, his piety and self-denying integrity.[11] The little weaknesses and gentle intolerances of the good old man were not such as he would censure, nor would he be altogether out of sympathy with them. Bishop Frampton was in a manner an hereditary friend. He had gone out to Aleppo as a young man, half a century before, in capacity of chaplain of the Levant Company, at the urgent recommendation of John Nelson, father of Robert,[12] who had the highest opinion of his merits. From his cottage at Standish in Gloucestershire, where he had retired after his deprivation, he occasionally wrote to Robert Nelson, and must have often heard of him from John Kettlewell, the intimate and very valued friend of both. He was a man who could not fail to be esteemed[13] and loved by all who had the privilege of his acquaintance. He had been a preacher of great fame, whom people crowded to hear. Pepys said of him that 'he preached most like an apostle that he ever heard man;'[14] and Evelyn, noting in his diary that he had been to hear him, calls him 'a pious and holy man, excellent in the pulpit for moving the affections.' His letters, of which several remain, written to Ken, Lloyd, and Sancroft, about the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries, give the idea of a man of unaffected humility and simple piety, of a happy, kindly disposition, and full of spirit and innocent mirth. Though he could not take the oaths, he regularly communicated at the parish church.[15] Controversy he abhorred; it seemed to him, he said to Kettlewell, as if the one thing needful were scarcely heard, amidst the din and clashings of _pros_ and _cons_, and he wished the men of war, the disputants, would follow his friend's example, and beat their swords and spears into ploughshares and pruning hooks.[16]

John Kettlewell died in 1695, to Nelson's great loss, for he was indeed a bosom friend. Nelson had unreservedly entrusted him with his schemes for doing good, his literary projects, his spiritual perplexities, and 'the nicest and most difficult emergencies of his life; such an opinion had he of his wisdom, as well as of his integrity.'[17] More than once, observes Dr. Lee, he said how much gratitude he owed to Kettlewell for his good influence, sometimes in animating him to stand out boldly in the cause of religion, sometimes in concerting with him schemes of benevolence, sometimes in suggesting what he could best write in the service of the Church. They planned out together the 'Companion for the Festivals and Fasts;' they encouraged one another in that gentler mode of conducting controversy which must have seemed like mere weakness to many of the inflamed partisans of the period. Nelson proposed to preserve the memory of his friend in a biography. He carefully collected materials for the purpose, and though he had not leisure to carry out his design, was of great assistance to Francis Lee in the life which was eventually written.[18]