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MEMOIR OF MR. WILLIAM FIDDIAN,
It is with a desire to preserve, in the records of the worthies of Wesleyan Methodism, the name of one who, for half a century, was connected with that section of the church of God, and actively endeavoured to promote its interests, while he felt that he was thus, at the same time, advancing his own spiritual welfare,--that the writer of the following statements has undertaken his task. Although he is aware that no incidents, of a very striking nature can be adduced in connexion with the history of Mr. Fiddian, yet a conyiction that there were in him certain moral qualities, well deserving of notice and imitation, has induced the attempt to gather up the scattered reminiscences treasured in the breasts of his relations and religious friends, and to exhibit them as illustrative of a very important class of character, that of the Christian citizen.
Mr. Fiddian was born at Hales-Owen, Shropshire, May 13th, 1773. Of his parentage little can now be remembered that is worth recording; nor is anything known of his, own early history, save that he resided with his parents, in the place of his birth, till he was about twelve years of age, when he was apprenticed in Birmingham. Soon after his arrival in that town, he strayed into the Methodist chapel one Sunday evening, and was powerfully arrested by the singing. The melody, simplicity, and devotional character which marked that part of the religious service riveted him to the spot; and when, at length, he reached his master's house, he relieved himself by a flood of tears ; not daring, however, to mention the cause of his weeping, as his master was violently opposed to Methodism. This also prevented him, for some time, from renewing his visits to the chapel ; but, at length, the failure of his master in business put an end to William's restriction and bondage.
Being removed to another situation, he found that one of his fellowapprentices was in the habit of attending the Methodist ministry ; and was, indeed, joined to the society. On account of his religion, this youth was assailed, by those around him, with every annoyance they could inflict; but he met the whole with a patience and meekness which made a deep impression on the mind of his new comrade, who said to him one day, “ Joseph, your religion is better than mine ; for VOL. I.-FOURTH SERIES.
if they were to serve me as they do you, I should fight for it. I should like to accompany you to chapel.” The following Sunday morning they repaired together to Bradford-street, and heard the Rev. Andrew Blair, who that day was preaching his farewell sermon in Birmingham, being about to leave the Circuit. In the former instance he had been most impressed by the singing ; but now he found the whole service to be affecting, and “the word preached” came with power to his heart. His companion, on their leaving the chapel, sought to ascertain whether any effect had been produced on William's mind. He replied, that he had never heard such preaching; and said, that it was his fixed determination to cast in his lot with this people; a resolution to which he was enabled to adhere for a period of fiftyfour years, and the comfort and advantage of which he repeatedly realized, especially during his last unusually severe and protracted affliction.
When he joined the Wesleyan society, his mother upbraided him with being the first who had brought disgrace upon the family, by forsaking his old religious connexions, and becoming a Methodist; but she lived to alter her opinion; and he himself often stated his conviction, that, but for this union with the Methodist body, it was not likely that he would have attained that stability in religion, and maintained that consistent deportment, which he, whilst deeply sensible of his own deficiencies, was devoutly and thankfully aware had procured for him that esteem which enabled him to exert an influence conducive to God's glory, and the good of his church.
But fidelity to the truth requires that it should be stated, that, for a short time, soon after he had first joined the Methodist society, he was induced, by the representations of one in whom he reposed great confidence, to think that something was wrong in the ecclesiastical constitution of Methodism; and that he should be more advantageously situated under the pastoral care of some who were then very assiduous in their efforts to withdraw persons from the Wesleyan Connexion, by describing the peculiar excellencies of the new system of church government which had been recently devised. The Leader of the class in which Mr. Fiddian met, being dissatisfied with the manner in which some act of discipline had been performed, determined not only to secede from the Wesleyan body himself, but to use his influence to persuade his members to follow his example. Being then young in the faith, Mr. Fiddian was easily persuaded ; but he soon found that he had taken a wrong step, and returned, therefore, to his former religious friends, from whom he was never again for a moment alienated; but retained through life the conviction, that, for his connexion with them, he should have reason for ever to bless God. This temporary secession was, however, productive of a salutary effect on his mind. From the recollection of it, he sometimes deduced arguments to guard his friends from being led astray, when, at subsequent periods, strife and agitation were rife in the church.
Of the circumstances under which Mr. Fiddian obtained peace with God, no record has been preserved ; nor can the precise time be now ascertained, when he was enabled to lay hold of the promise of salvation. At one time it would appear that it was his intention to keep a diary, and note down the results of his self-examination at successive periods; but, for some reason or other, he abandoned the intention,
at least, only one brief entry can now be found : this is dated, “ May 8th, 1809." In this he expresses his gratitude that he had been for twenty years united to the Methodists, and his feelings of humiliation on account of conscious unfaithfulness, with renewed determinations of more entire devotedness to God; but there is no reference to his early religious experience. All that is known, therefore, is, that he persevered in seeking the Lord, till at length he found what he sought; and that the fruits of his faith in Christ were soon exhibited in active endeavours to serve the church, and extend the kingdom of his God and Saviour.
In his career of usefulness he would often observe, with exultation, “I began at the lowest point, as a candle-snuffer and door-keeper." But he was led, by degrees, to fill the highest offices that a layman can sustain in the Wesleyan body; and whilst the various duties connected with these engagements, often not a little onerous, were discharged to the full satisfaction of the church, he felt honoured by the confidence reposed in him, and was thankful that he had the opportunity of serving the cause he loved.
For some time it was his practice to attend at Solihull, six or seven miles distant, early on a Sunday morning, for the purpose of holding a prayer-meeting. He was also one of the zealous band who formed the first Sunday-school in Birmingham. This was conducted in a poor woman's garret, hired for the purpose. The only accommodation for sitting was furnished by the bedstead. Here, however, he and his associates spent many an hour in this self-denying, but useful, employment; and in his latter days he often expressed his thankfulness that, from so humble a commencement, such glorious results had arisen. At the time of his death, there were no fewer than a dozen Wesleyan schools in Birmingham, comprising between three and four thousand children, and four or five hundred Teachers ; besides a large number under the direction of the other religious denominations. Not unfrequently, also, would he accompany the Local Preachers in their visits to the villages in the neighbourhood ; stand by them whilst they were preaching out of doors; and assist them in singing the hymns which they gave out. On these occasions he often had to share the illtreatment which they received. At one place, some rude person attempted to disturb the congregation by driving a number of cows amongst them. A meek and patient perseverance, however, was ultimately, by the blessing of God, successful; and the opposers, finding their unhallowed attempts unavailing, desisted from them; and in several of these villages societies were established, and chapels built, which are still the resort of attentive worshippers.
Mr. Fiddian himself never preached; but his son, the Rev. S. Fiddian, in a letter to the writer, thus speaks on the subject : “ I have heard my father say, when in health, that his Class-Leader, old Mr. Parsons, bad often expressed his opinion, that God had called him to preach, but that he himself had thought differently." However, in reviewing his life on a nearer approach to eternity, he told me that he then felt that he ought to have yielded to the impressions which he experienced at the commencement of his religious course. He said, that often, when attending prayer-meetings on the Sunday morning, he had felt strongly inclined to address an exhortation to those who were assembled together; but that his diffidence had prevailed. His. solemn conviction on his death-bed was, that, had he yielded and taken up his cross, God would have strengthened him, and made him thus directly instrumental in promoting the salvation of souls. He connected this with a modest and grateful acknowledgment indeed, that God had employed him in other paths of usefulness; but still, not so directly as would otherwise have been the case.
He became early a Visiter for the Benevolent Society, and was distinguished by his attention to the duties connected with that office, never allowing the fear of disease to prevent him from visiting the cases which were intrusted to him. For several years this connexion continued ; and though subsequently his increasing engagements in the church obliged him to desist from these regular and systematic visitations, yet, whenever he had opportunity, it was his delight to repair to the chambers of the afflicted and dying, and point the sufferers to Him who “bare our infirmities, and carried our sicknesses.” By those who were not in church-communion with himself, he was long and well known as the friend of the poor. For several years he was chosen by his fellow-townsmen as a Guardian and Overseer, at a period when there was a great prevalence of distress. He cheerfully devoted a large portion of his time to the duties which thus devolved in him ; and the judicious plans he suggested tended materially to relieve the sufferers. Regarded by the poor as one who was truly interested in their welfare, they often applied to him in cases of difficulty; and he readily interposed his influence, both for their protection and relief, whenever he judged it to be necessary. With a considerate concern for their feelings, he was always prompt in affording the aid which he had to administer; and not unfrequently, when the cases requiring attention were more numerous than usual, he would rise even at an hour greatly inconvenient to himself, that the very appearance of delay might, if possible, be prevented.
With several chapels Mr. Fiddian was connected as a Trustee, and had thus the opportunity of manifesting, practically, his anxious desire that the public services of God's house might be conducted decently, and the comfort of the worshippers promoted. During many years he made a regular sacrifice of time, very valuable to him as a man of business, that he might superintend the financial affairs of the chapel where he and his family were accustomed to worship; and by promoting the convenience of the persons composing the congregation, contribute to secure their regular attendance, and preserve the trustconcerns from embarrassment. For these services he felt himself well rewarded by the successful results of his assiduity and zeal. He was for many years a Class-Leader; and his fulfilment of the duties of his important office was characterized by great fidelity and affection. No secular engagements, though these were often numerous and pressing, were allowed to keep him from meeting those who were intrusted to his care; and only sickness, or a necessary absence from home, prevented him from being found in his place at the appointed time. He was much beloved as a Leader, his manner being kind and sympathizing; and his instructions, marked as they were by great simplicity, were particularly suited to the weak and timid of the flock, who were encouraged to confide their fears and anxieties to him, assured that these would find a response in his feeling heart. He was also a careful observer of Mr. Wesley's direction to Class-Leaders, that they