DEATH OF MR. JOHN STEPHENS, FOR MERLY OF LONDON, LATE OF ADE- LAIDE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA.
From the Wesleyan Times, of May 5.
We have had frequent occasion of late to notice the ravages of death among the more conspicuous adherents of the dominant party. These events must prove solemn premonitions to the members of the party themselves,
the majority of whom are verging upon, if they have not actually passed, the Psalmist's average limit of three score years and ten. The rider of the pale horse, however, is an impartial destroyer; and we Reformers shall do well to hold ourselves prepared for his inevitable and, per- haps, unexpected visits. We shall not be the worse ser- vants of a good cause for performing our duty as ' ever in the Great Taskmaster's eye.' On the contrary, we shall appreciate its importance, and advance its interests, in exact proportion as the sense of our own mortality, and of the uncertainty of life, lead us to revise our acts, and regulate our proceedings by -the light of eternity. Whatsoever our hand findeth us to do, let us do it with our might ; since there is neither knowledge, wisdom, nor device in ths grave, whereunto we are all hastening. The last Australian mail has brought intelligence from that quarter of the globe which will painfully interest the minds of those of our readers who are old enough, as Methodist Reformers, to remember the great conflict of 1835. At that memorable epoch, the opposition to the ruling faction was led by a weekly journal entitled the Christian Advocate; with the business management of which the name of John Stephens was long connected. We learn from the journals of South Australia, that he died in the month of November, 1850, in his brother's house, near Adelaide, the capital of the colony, at the early age of forty-four years. His name and history are too closely identified with the cause to which we have devoted our energies, to make any apology necessary for a brief reference to his career. The second son of the late Rev. John Stephens, he received his education partly at the Wesleyan Academy, Woodhouse-grove, and subsequently at the Grammar school in Leeds, of which Circuit his venerable father was then Superintendent. He did not, however, dis- cover much taste for classical learning, but early evinced a predilection for business, and for that of bookselling in particular. It fell to his father's lot, as the Senior Preacher, to receive and dispose of the Magazines and other books forwarded from the Book-room in London to his Circuit; and those who know how little aptitude that venerable gentleman had for such an occupation, will easily conceive the relief he must have experienced, when his youthful son, still a mere boy, took this uncon- genial labour off his hands. The result was, that the precocious bibliopolist was transferred to the care of the Rev. Thomas Blanshard, who at that time acted as Book-steward, and, under his auspices, served a regular apprenticeship to ' the Trade.' Ultimately, young Stephens started in business on his own account, and is remem- bered by many persons now living as the assiduous book- seller of No. 16, City-road. While occupying those pre- mises, he was united in marriage to the only daughter of Mr. William Fleming, an active member of the City -road Society. and of the Missionary Committee.
Not long after this event the Christian Advocate was projected, and brought to maturity by the joint exer- tions of Mr. John Stephens, who became the publisher, and of another Preacher's son, who became the Editor, but whose name, as he is still living, we do not feel at liberty publicly to mention. The journal was started on neutral ground, as to general politics, and also as to Wes- leyan Methodist affairs. That neutrality, so difficult to maintain, and so insipid in its results, was faithfully pre- served, until the election of Lord Sandon (the present Earl of Harrowby) as Member of Parliament for Liver- pool. The contest in which he was engaged turned chiefly upon the question of Slavery ; and he was well known to be the candidate, not of the Anti-slavery party, but of those electors who, if not directly opposed to Abolition, were, at the best, very cool and indifferent on the subject. Now, the religious feeling of the time ran very high in favour of making unconditional Aboli- tionism the test of each candidate's fitness; and the ministers of various denominations united in resolutions tending strongly in that direction. The most conspicuous member of the Wesleyan Conference was then stationed in Liverpool, and joined in this decided Anti-slavery demonstration. What, then, was the surprise, not to say the disgust, of the Anti-slavery party, on hearing that the reverend gentleman had actually accompanied Lord Sandon in his carriage, to assist him in his canvass of the electors. This instance of shameless tergiversation was immediately denounced in the Christian Adcocate, which was the recognised organ of the Anti-slavery party, its articles on that subject being furnished by the then most influential and active non- Parliamentary leader of that body. From this time, the proceedings of the individual de- tected in this act of treachery to the cause of humanity were watched by the Christian Advocate with sleepless vigilance. No wonder, therefore, that it speedily found itself at war with the dominant section of the Wesleyan Conference. We happen to have the most distinct re- membrance of all that occurred in the progress of that great and protracted struggle; but the time has not vet come (and it may be long in coming !) when its history may with propriety be fully written. Let us hope that some man will survive to do justice to exertions which the Reformers of those days did not adequately appre- ciate, and to principles and motives which the reigning Clique bespattered with the utmost liberality of abuse. It must suffice for us to observe, that if, in the gallant though unequal onslaught, our predecessor in the work of Methodist Reform was occasionally betrayed into a severity of personal reflection which, in that wavering age, was not adapted to promote the success of the single- handed encounter with a hundred-headed antagonist, the blame of his imprudence must not be visited upon the memorv of his indefatigable coadjutor, who, as con- fining his attention to the business department of the journal, had no participation in the editorial work, and no control over the manner of its performance. Now, therefore, that the grave has closed over Mr. Stephens's remains, any persons who have rankling recollections of the plain speaking which distinguished the Christian Ad- vocate may accept the assurance that to think of him as the cause of their uneasiness would be an injustice to his
memory. On the other hand, it must not be imagined that he identified himself with the Methodist Reformers of 1835 as a mere matter of business. In nothing was he half- hearted, and certainly not in this. He had a settled conviction that Methodism 'as it is.' — a phrase even then adopted to describe the stereotyped ideas of the ruling faction — required a Radical Reform ; and, even when his best energies and his whole fortune had been exhausted in the unequal struggle without the recom- pense of success, he did not waver in that conviction. To him, as to many with whom he acted in those trying times, it must have been a rich reward for all their la- bours and all their suffurings to have lived to see the seed which they sowed in faith and hope springing up with ihe fair promise of an abundant harvest. With failing health and an impoverished purse, Mr. Stephens embarked for South Australia, a colony in whose prosperity the circumstance that two of his brothers
were among the first settlers had naturally inspired him with a lively interest. In the meantime he had lost by death his first wife, and, after some years' widowhood, had married a second time. With Mrs. Stephens and Miss Stephens, his only surviving child by his first wife, he landed at Port Adelaide, and immediately applied himself with his wonted vigour to the improvement of his fortunes. Besides establishing a bookselling business and a general agency, he started two newspapers, which he found time to conduct without assistance ; and that so efficiently, that they speedily acquired a high character, and had no small share in promoting whatever measures tended to the development of the natural resources of a rising province. In the midst of these multifarious engagements, Mr. Stephens was smitten in his tenderest part by the illness and subsequent death of his darling daughter. From her birth, she had betrayed the utmost delicacy of constitution ; and those who happen to remem- ber her when an infant, will be surprised to learn that so frail a creature lived to years of womanhood. Apart from a Higher Source, nothing could have led to such a result but the incessant care and more than paternal vigilance of her devoted father. Well, therefore, can the writer of this brief tribute understand, that the loss of a treasure cherished with so much solicitude and affec- tion inflicted a blow from which he found it impossible to recover. And such, it appears, was the touching fact. From the time of her departure, his health as well as his spirits drooped; and, though, a faithful wife remained to soothe his grief, and three infant children, with numerous avocations, were present to divert his thoughts and to solicit his energies, yet he never recovered from the stroke; but, after eight long month of unrelieved sor- row, sank down into the tomb, the victim of a fond paternal Peace be with his ashes ! And let none dare attempt
to deprive his surviving offspring of the inheritance, of an honest and untarnished reputation. Had their indo- mitable father known how to postpone conscience to expediency, and public good to private advantage, he might have left them in worldly affluence. The course which he took was exactly the reverse; and his high character is their sole estate. But ' a good name is better than riches.'