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Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By Critical and Biographical Essay by Alfred H. Miles

Frederick William Faber (1814–1863)

FREDERICK WILLIAM FABER was born at the Vicarage, Calverley, Yorkshire, on the 28th of June, 1814. He was educated at Harrow and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he graduated in 1836, having carried off the Newdegate prize with his poem “The Knights of St. John.” In 1837 he was elected to a fellowship at University College, and in the same year ordained deacon, accepting priest’s orders in 1839. He took a private tutorship in 1840, and during 1841 travelled extensively with his pupils upon the Continent of Europe. In 1842 he published a work entitled “Sights and Thoughts in Foreign Churches and among Foreign People,” which he dedicated to Wordsworth. In 1843 he became rector of Elton, in Huntingdonshire, and again visited the Continent, this time to inquire into the practical results of Catholic teaching, a deferred result of which was that in 1845 he entered the Church of Rome and founded a Brotherhood “of the will of God,” first located at Birmingham, and afterwards at St. Wilfred’s, Staffordshire. He was ordained priest in 1847, and in the following year joined the Oratory of St. Philip Neri under John Henry Newman, a branch of which he established at King William Street, Strand, London, in 1849. The London Oratory, which became a separate institution in 1850, was removed to Brompton in 1854, and Faber continued at its head until his death, which took place there on the 26th of September, 1863. He was buried at St. Mary’s, Sydenham. He published several volumes of verse: “The Knights of St. John” (1836); “The Cherwill Water Lily and other Poems” (1840); “The Styrian Lake and other Poems” (1842); “Sir Lancelot” (1844); “The Rosary and other Poems” (1845); “Hymns” (1848); “Jesus and Mary; or Catholic Hymns” (1849); and a complete edition of Hymns in 1862.

Faber enjoyed for a number of years the friendship of Wordsworth, to whom, as we have seen, he dedicated one of his early volumes. Upon hearing of Faber’s determination to enter the Church, Wordsworth wrote him: “I do not say you are wrong, but England loses a poet.” Whether Faber would ever have justified the application of the term poet in the high sense in which we should expect Wordsworth to use it may be doubted; but judged by any standard which it is proper to apply to sacred poetry, as such the best of his verse will take honourable rank. In “Carl Ritter,” “The Heiress of Gösting,” and the “Dream of King Crœsus,” one of his best poems, he showed some faculty for narrative verse, but he lacked originality; and when not dealing with a classical or legendary theme showed want of resource and invention. Some of his hymns, however, have become very popular, and some contain the more enduring qualities not always found in popular work.