Rev Hugh Price Hughes
Transcription of Sketch in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by the Editor (Henry Yooll)
THE tragically-sudden death of the Rev. H. Price Hughes, is a severe blow to our common Methodism, and indeed to all the churches of Evangelical Christendom. Since the days of Dr. Bunting, no man has occupied so commanding a position in Wesleyanism; and certainly to the mother Church the death of so eminent and forceful a personality falls as an irreparable loss. The Venerable Dr. Rigg says: “It is certain that we shall never look upon his like again, and those who sometimes differed from him most seriously will be among those who feel most profoundly the loss of a man so gifted and so evangelically earnest from the ranks of the Christian ministry in England, and specially of the Evangelical leaders in London. If he had only learnt to spare himself he might have lived as a Christian leader for many years to come, for he came of a stock full of intense life and exuberant energy.”
We had hoped that his recent breakdown in health had been quite overcome, for it was remarked that on the evening before his death he had never preached with more freedom and power. But it has been ordered otherwise; possibly his exhausted energies could not recover their normal play, and there is at least an element of compensation which a multitude of sorrowing minds may easily seize upon in the thought that he has been spared the fretting and enfeebling of slow decay, and we can think of him as the bright, vigorous, ardent personality who has fallen as the soldier could wish, gloriously in arms. Mr. Hughes was the son of Dr. John Hughes, a Carmarthen surgeon, a noteworthy public man. His grandfather was the redoubtable Rev. Hugh Hughes, the foremost Wesleyan minister of the Principality. Deriving the best elements of the Celtic stock, with a Jewish strain on his mother’s side, he owed much to Nature’s dowry, but even more to his early religious training. When he was thirteen years of age and attending a boarding-school at The Mumbles, Swansea Bay, a number of Cornish fishermen visited the Wesleyan chapel there. Hugh was deeply impressed by their enthusiastic piety and passed through a severe spiritual crisis, which resulted in decision for Christ. At fourteen he preached his first sermon to a few old people in a cottage from the text, “This is a faithful saying, &c.” Soon after, although he had been destined for the law, he wrote to his father:-
My Dear Father, – I believe it is the will of God that I should be a Methodist preacher. – Your affectionate HUGH.
The Doctor replied:-
My Dear Boy, – I would rather you be a Methodist preacher than Lord Chancellor of England. – Your affectionate Father, JOHN HUGHES.
Never was decision more appropriate, thorough or fruitful. He at once began to preach, and gave distinct signs of his future powers of style. He received his theological training at Richmond College, where he owed much to Dr. Moulton. While here he took his M.A. degree of the London University. Here also he had the splendid fortune to meet his future wife and devoted co-worker, Katherine Barrett, daughter of the Governor of the College. His first appointment was Dover. One of his first Dover sermons led to several conversions. This was Providential. It corrected any tendency in his mind to depreciate revivalism, and henceforth “conversions” became his distinct aim in preaching. He pursued this line throughout his whole ministry. He had very special natural gifts as an evangelist: these reached their fullest use by exercise and prayerful dependence on the Holy Ghost. At Oxford, where he became a superintendent minister, his powers as a missioner had a remarkable flowering. As a contemporary says: “That mission came at a time when the power of the old “revivalist” was waning, and when the church was waiting for a new type of man. In Mr. Hughes that new type was discovered. It was seen that it was possible for a man to be an Evangelist who was cultured, graced with a University degree, and possessed of a broad and generous intellectual outlook.” To see the enthusiastic Wesleyan super: leading a cultured congregation, almost in spite of themselves, singing through the streets to one of his open-air meetings was a religious phenomenon in the University city. But remarkable fruits followed, and a marvellous influence was exerted over the youth of the University. In 1876 Mr. Hughes became Secretary to the Temperance Committee of the Wesleyan Conference, and was for some years one of the Vice Presidents of the United Kingdom Alliance. It is unnecessary to remind our readers of his strenuous interest in all social questions as they stood related to the progress of righteousness, purity and brotherhood. As the henchman of Mr. Stead, Mrs. Josephine Butler and others, he was ever foremost in the fray. He counted for a Hercules. His eager, fiery spirit revelled in abounding activity. He was the Prince Rupert of the modern militant church. His chief services to Methodism and to the modern church possess abiding value in two directions. First, he re-kindled the old fire, and admittedly brought back the Wesleyan Church to the spiritual tone and aggressive temper of its better earlier period. And secondly, but of the highest importance to all churches, he led the way in adapting the Christian and evangelic forces to the needs and conditions of present-day thought and life. Aided by his devoted wife and the Rev. Mark Guy Pearse, he began the Wesleyan “Forward Movement” by establishing the West London Mission, which is now so distinct a religious force in the Metropolis and the parent of like centres of light and healing elsewhere. Mr. Hughes felt that the chasm between the rich and the poor, both extremes of which are to be found in the West End, might be bridged over, and the rich induced to co-operate in spiritual and social work for and among the poor. He also knew that there were many rich to whom such a mission as this “Forward Movement” provided, was vitally imperative. And into this cosmopolitan centre, where the nerves of a world-humanity gathered, and the demands for a living Christianity were most urgent because of the poignant and complex aspects of evil to be grappled with, Mr. Hughes, unaided by funds, carried the militant flag. The phrase “sanctified audacity” which was so often on his lips had its concrete expression in this as in other enterprises. Results have shown that a boldness which proves the Almighty by its sincerity and sacrifice, its faith in God and man, is the highest wisdom. The organisation of the West London Mission cannot be described as other than great. It is a well-equipped agency for every branch of Christian social work, and furnishes an object-lesson to all the churches. Its bureaus, its heroic sisterhood, its saving’s banks, its care for the dying and friendless, its vigorous rescue work, &c., are a standing witness of applied Christianity, and in and through all, its passion for, and success in, saving souls, is a proof to the world that the Cross hath not lost its ancient power, and that it must “ lead the generations on.” Mr. Hughes when enlisting the co-operation of his friend, Rev. M. Guy Pearse said, “You will edify the saints, and I will pursue the sinners.” A full as well as a free and present salvation was thus preached, and “signs ” constantly followed. A special feature of Mr. Hughes’s ministry was the Sunday afternoon conferences in St. James’s Hall (suggested by Lacordaire’s conferences), to our mind a most commendable form of P.S.A., and one that is to be preferred to much that falls under these initials. Without the play and passion of party-politics, Mr. Hughes dealt with the Christianity of politics and taught in his own forcible way that our social unrest is due to the neglect to apply the ethical teaching of Jesus Christ all round. He regarded the Christian who said he had nothing to do with politics as more dangerous than the most blatant atheist, and he called upon everyone to consecrate his vote as in view of the Judgment Day. Many influential society men and women regularly attended the meetings and took an active part in the social work. To help him in this form of New Evangelism, next to the Gospel, he found certain literary sources in “Lecky’s Rise and Progress of Nationalism in Europe,” Wesley’s Journals, Dante and Browning, Mazzini, Herbert Spencer, Sabatier’s Francis of Assisi, &c. With alert brain, optimistic outlook, glowing sympathies and a superb gift of fluent, forcible speech which fascinated and compelled attention, he bravely championed the cause of righteousness and truth, and has left behind him a bright broad track in which many will be found to follow in a spirit of grateful emulation. His influence could not be confined to one Communion – it became national. He will be remembered for the chief part he took in the creation of the Evangelical Free Church Federation Movement. He was the first Methodist President of the Free Church National Council, and really the first President actually elected by the National Council itself. Practically he compiled the Catechism. Mr. Hughes believed in utilizing the Press as a religious force and became Editor of The Methodist Times, an organ which for many years has voiced the aspirations of young Methodism for a “Forward Movement.” It has been said, and with a large measure of truth, that “he made his appeal to the Methodist democracy, and administered a series of severe shocks to the starched, old fogeyism of the Connexion“ Certainly his personality was impressed on every page of this popular weekly, and it was a bon-mot to call it “a very Hughesful paper.” We need not here dwell on his many-sided work in the internal affairs of his own Church. He was the life of Committees (very much so). He championed with his unequalled genius for begging the Million Thanksgiving Fund. He was a successful author, a prince in Conference debates, and well-nigh ubiquitous on platforms. His election to the Presidency did not, could not, add to his vast and unique influence. It may be some time ere his Church quite realises how great has been her loss. To say he had defects is to say that there are spots in the sun. These were in great part the defects of his qualities. His driving power was naturally associated with exaggerations of speech. He was always facing “the most momentous issues,” – “a day of judgment in breeches,” as Mr Stead once described him. Mrs. Hughes has said of him that “he was born a Tory, but was a Radical by the grace of God.” The putting forth of his power seemed sometimes autocratic and over-mastering. He had Conservative instincts ecclesiastically and could accept a rule of Bishops. He advocated United Methodism in all sincerity, but we have sometimes wondered what sort of an amalgam it would be, and how far his concessions would have carried him in the direction of Primitive Methodism. Still, after all is said, he was a man that awakened not only admiration but love. He represents, as the best instance we know of, the dynamics of Modern Methodism. As his brain was ever near his mouth, creating clear incisive utterance, so his hand and foot were the prompt executors of his will. By the grace of God he got things done. Browning’s words are suited to him:-
“Belief’s fire once in me,
Makes of all else, but stuff to show itself;
We penetrate our life with such a glow
As fire lends wood or iron.”
To have known him intimately must have been a high privilege. He was humble and gentle, courteous and chivalrous, the fairest of fighters, and self-forgetful in the interests of others. The secret of his career lay in his passionate love of Christ. As one who knew him well remarks:- “It was characteristic of the real Hughes that he confessed his favourite hymn was ‘Jesu, Lover of my Soul,’ and his favourite lines (written in his will to be put on his tombstone) ‘Thou, 0 Christ, art all I want.’ ” Some have described him as the Napoleon of Wesleyan Methodism. We prefer to think of him in connection with his last day on earth, when he attended a lecture by Sabatier on “St. Francis of Assisi, his influence on the present Century.” He was profoundly interested in the subject, for apart from any literal following of St. Francis, he felt that as a Christian preacher and Socialist he himself could “endorse ” the mediaeval Missionary-Saint, since such a life was in so marked a degree a copy of his Lord’s. We shall for many days sigh “for the touch of a vanished hand and the sound of a voice that is still.” We shall sorely miss him in the day of stress and storm, but it is certain that his influence will abide and bear fruit in the Christian Churches, and that “he sleeps, to wake.”
Hugh was born on 9 February 1847 at Carmarthen, Wales, to parents John Hughes, a surgeon, and Anne Phillips.
Hugh was president of the Wesleyan Conference in 1898.
Hugh married Mary Katherine Howard Barrett (1853-1948) on 20 August 1873 in the Hackney Registration District, London. Census returns identify four children.
- Dorothea Katherine (1874-1964) – author and lecturer on history and art (1911)
- Annie Gwendoline (abt1876-1958) – a reader for books library (1911)
- Hugh Arnold (1880-1966) – an engineer commercial (1911); an electrical engineer (1948)
- John Bernard (1884-1955) – a solicitor (1911)
Hugh died on 17 November 1902 in London following a stroke.
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1903/31
Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers