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Fifteen Chapters of Autobiography
by George William Erskine Russell
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This prophecy was soon fulfilled, and indeed the process of fulfilment had already begun. In the Sixth Form, we naturally were influenced by Dr. Butler, who, though he certainly did not despise fine rhetoric, wrote a beautifully simple style, and constantly instructed us in the difference between eloquence and journalese. "Let us leave commence and partake to the newspapers," was an admonition often on his lips. Our Composition Masters were Edward Young, an exquisite scholar of the Eton type, and the accomplished Henry Nettleship, who detested flamboyancy, and taught us to admire Newman's incomparable easiness and grace. And there was Matthew Arnold living on the Hill, generously encouraging every bud of literary promise, and always warning us against our tendency to "Middle-class Macaulayese."

At Oxford, the chastening process went on apace. Newman became my master, as far as language was concerned; and I learned to bracket him with Arnold and Church as possessing "The Oriel style." Thackeray's Latinized constructions began to fascinate me; and, though I still loved gorgeous diction, I sought it from Ruskin instead of Macaulay.

All this time I was writing—in a very humble and obscure way, certainly, but still writing. I wrote in local newspapers and Parish Magazines. I published anonymous comments on current topics. I contributed secretly to ephemeral journals. I gave lectures and printed them as pamphlets. It was all very good exercise; but the odd part of it seems to me, in looking back, that I never expected pay, but rather spent my own money in printing what I wrote. That last infirmity of literary minds I laid aside soon after I left Oxford. I rather think that the first money which I made with my pen was payment for a character-study of my uncle, Lord Russell, which I wrote for The World; thereby eliciting from Matthew Arnold the urbane remark, "Ah, my dear George, I hear you have become one of Yates's hired stabbers."

After I entered Parliament, opportunities of writing, and of writing for profit, became more frequent. I contributed to the Quarterly, the New Quarterly, the Nineteenth Century, the Fortnightly, the Contemporary, the Spectator, and the Pall Mall. Yet another magazine recurs pleasantly to my mind, because of the warning which was inscribed on one's proof-sheet—"The cost of corrigenda will be deducted from honoraria." What fine language! and what a base economy!

It did not take me long to find that the society in which I habitually lived, and which I have described in a former chapter, was profoundly ignorant. A most amusing law-suit between a Duchess and her maid took place about the time of which I am writing, and the Duchess's incriminated letter, beginning in the third person, wandering off into the first, and returning with an effort to the third, was indeed an object-lesson in English composition. A young sprig of fashion once said to me, in the tone of a man who utters an accepted truth, "It is so much more interesting to talk about people than things"—even though those "things" were the literary triumphs of humour or tragedy. In one great house, Books were a prohibited subject, and the word "Books" was construed with such liberal latitude that it seemed to include everything except Bradshaw. Even where people did not thus truculently declare war against literature, they gave it an uncommonly wide berth, and shrank with ill-concealed aversion from such names as Meredith and Browning. "Meredith," said Oscar Wilde, "is a prose-Browning—and so is Browning." And both those forms of prose were equally eschewed by society.

Of course, when one is surveying a whole class, one sees some conspicuous exceptions to the prevailing colour; and here and there one had the pleasure of meeting in society persons admirably accomplished. I have already mentioned Lord Houghton, poet, essayist, pamphleteer, book-lover, and book-collector, who was equally at home in the world of society and the world of literature. Nothing that was good in books, whether ancient or modern, escaped his curious scrutiny, and at his hospitable table, which might truly be called a "Festive Board," authors great and small rubbed shoulders with dandies and diplomats and statesmen. On the 16th of June, 1863, Matthew Arnold wrote—"On Sunday I dined with Monckton Milnes,[51] and met all the advanced Liberals in religion and politics, and a Cingalese in full costume.... The philosophers were fearful! George Lewes, Herbert Spencer, a sort of pseudo-Shelley called Swinburne, and so on. Froude, however, was there, and Browning, and Ruskin."

The mention of Matthew Arnold reminds me that, though I had admired and liked him in a reverent sort of way, when I was a Harrow boy and he was a man, I found him even more fascinating when I met him on the more even terms of social life in London. He was indeed the most delightful of companions; a man of the world entirely free from worldliness, and a man of letters without the faintest trace of pedantry. He walked through the world enjoying it and loving it; and yet all the time one felt that his "eyes were on the higher loadstars" of the intellect and the spirit. In those days I used to say that, if one could fashion oneself, I should wish to be like Matthew Arnold; and the lapse of years has not altered my desire.

Of Robert Browning, as he appeared in society, I have already spoken; but here let me add an instance which well illustrates his tact and readiness. He once did me the honour of dining with me, and I had collected a group of eager disciples to meet him. As soon as dinner was over, one of these enthusiasts led the great man into a corner, and began cross-examining him about the identity of The Lost Leader and the meaning of Sordello. For a space Browning bore the catechism with admirable patience; and then, laying his hand on the questioner's shoulder, he exclaimed, "But, my dear fellow, this is too bad. I am monopolizing you," and skipped out of the corner.

Lord Tennyson was scarcely ever to be encountered in society; but I was presented to him at a garden-party by Mr. James Knowles, of the Nineteenth Century. He was, is, and always will be, one of the chief divinities of my poetical heaven; but he was more worshipful at a distance than at close quarters, and I was determined not to dispel illusion by a too near approach to the shrine. J. A. Froude was a man of letters whom from time to time one encountered in society. No one could doubt his cleverness; but it was a cleverness which rather repelled than attracted. With his thin lips, his cold smile, and his remorseless, deliberate, way of speaking, he always seemed to be secretly gloating over the hideous scene in the hall of Fotheringay, or the last agonies of a disembowelled Papist. Lord Acton was, or seemed to be, a man of the world first and foremost; a politician and a lover of society; a gossip, and, as his "Letters" show, not always a friendly gossip.[52] His demeanour was profoundly sphinx-like, and he seemed to enjoy the sense that his hearers were anxious to learn what he was able but unwilling to impart. His knowledge and accomplishments it would, at this time of day, be ridiculous to question; and on the main concerns of human life—Religion and Freedom—I was entirely at one with him. All the more do I regret that in society he so effectually concealed his higher enthusiasms, and that, having lived on the vague fame of his "History of Liberty," he died leaving it unwritten.

I am writing of the years when I first knew London socially, and I may extend them from 1876 to 1886. All through those years, as through many before and since, the best representative of culture in society was Mr., now Sir, George Trevelyan—a poet, a scholar to his finger-tips, an enthusiast for all that is best in literature, ancient or modern, and author of one of the six great Biographies in the English language. There is no need to recapitulate Sir George's services to the State, or to criticize his performances in literature. It is enough to record my lively and lasting gratitude for the unbroken kindness which began when I was a boy at Harrow, and continues to the present hour.

I have spoken, so far, of literary men who played a more or less conspicuous part in society; but, as this chapter is dedicated to Literature, I ought to say a word about one or two men of Letters who always avoided society, but who, when one sought them out in their own surroundings, were delightful company. Foremost among these I should place James Payn.

Payn was a man who lived in, for, and by Literature. He detested exercise. He never travelled. He scarcely ever left London. He took no holidays. If he was forced into the country for a day or two, he used the exile as material for a story or an essay. His life was one incessant round of literary activity. He had published his first book while he was an Undergraduate at Trinity, and from first to last he wrote more than a hundred volumes. By Proxy has been justly admired for the wonderful accuracy of its local colour, and for a masterly knowledge of Chinese character; but the writer drew exclusively from encyclopaedias and books of travel. In my judgment, he was at his best in the Short Story. He practised that difficult art long before it became popular, and a book called originally People, Places, and Things, but now Humorous Stories, is a masterpiece of fun, invention, and observation. In 1874, he became "Reader" to Messrs. Smith and Elder, and in that capacity had the happiness of discovering Vice Versa, and the less felicitous experience of rejecting John Inglesant as unreadable.

It was at this period of his life that I first encountered Payn, and I fell at once under his charm. His was not a faultless character, for he was irritable, petulant, and prejudiced. He took the strongest dislikes, sometimes on very slight grounds; was unrestrained in expressing them, and was apt to treat opinions which he did not share very cavalierly. But none of these faults could obscure his charm. He was the most tender-hearted of human beings, and the sight, even the thought, of cruelty set his blood on fire. But, though he was intensely humane, he was absolutely free from mawkishness; and a wife-beater, or a child-torturer, or a cattle-maimer would have had short shrift at his hands. He was genuinely sympathetic, especially towards the hopes and struggles of the young and the unbefriended. Many an author, once struggling but now triumphant, could attest this trait. But his chief charm was his humour. It was absolutely natural; bubbled like a fountain, and danced like light. Nothing escaped it, and solemnity only stimulated it to further activities. He had the power, which Sydney Smith described, of "abating and dissolving pompous gentlemen with the most successful ridicule;" and, when he was offended, the ridicule had a remarkably sharp point. It was of course, impossible that all the humour of a man who joked incessantly could be equally good. Sometimes it was rather boyish, playing on proper names or personal peculiarities; and sometimes it descended to puns. But, for sheer rapidity, I have never known Payn's equal. When a casual word annoyed him, his repartee flashed out like lightning. I could give plenty of instances, but to make them intelligible I should have to give a considerable amount of introduction, and that would entirely spoil the sense of flashing rapidity. There was no appreciable interval of time between the provoking word and the repartee which it provoked.

Another great element of charm in Payn was his warm love of Life,

"And youth, and bloom, and this delightful world."

While he hated the black and savage and sordid side of existence with a passionate hatred, he enjoyed all its better—which he believed to be its larger—part with an infectious relish. Never have I known a more blithe and friendly spirit; never a nature to which Literature and Society—books and men—yielded a more constant and exhilarating joy. He had unstinted admiration for the performances of others, and was wholly free from jealousy. His temperament indeed was not equable. He had ups and downs, bright moods and dark, seasons of exaltation and seasons of depression. The one succeeded the other with startling rapidity, but the bright moods triumphed, and it was impossible to keep him permanently depressed. His health had always been delicate, but illness neither crushed his spirit nor paralysed his pen. Once he broke a blood-vessel in the street, and was conveyed home in an ambulance. During the transit, though he was in some danger of bleeding to death, he began to compose a narrative of his adventure, and next week it appeared in the Illustrated London News.

During the last two years of his life he was painfully crippled by arthritic rheumatism, and could no longer visit the Reform Club, where for many years he had every day eaten his luncheon and played his rubber. Determining that he should not completely lose his favourite, or I should rather say his only, amusement, some members of the Club banded themselves together to supply him with a rubber in his own house twice a week; and this practice was maintained to his death. It was a striking testimony to the affection which he inspired. In those years I was a pretty frequent visitor, and, on my way to the house, I used to bethink me of stories which might amuse him, and I used even to note them down between one visit and another, as a provision for next time. One day Payn said, "A collection of your stories would make a book, and I think Smith and Elder would publish it." I thought my anecdotage scarcely worthy of so much honour; but I promised to make a weekly experiment in the Manchester Guardian. My Collections and Recollections ran through the year 1897, and appeared in book-form at Easter, 1898. But Payn died on the 25th of the previous March; and the book, which I had hoped to put in his hand, I could only inscribe to his delightful memory.

Another remarkable man of letters, wholly remote from the world, was Richard Holt Hutton, for thirty-six years (1861-1897) the honoured Editor of The Spectator. Hutton was a "stickit minister" of the Unitarian persuasion, who had been led, mainly by the teaching of F. D. Maurice, to the acceptance of orthodox Christianity; and who devoted all the rest of his life to the inculcation of what he conceived to be moral and religious truth, through the medium of a weekly review. He lived, a kind of married hermit, on the edge of Windsor Forest, and could hardly be separated, even for a week's holiday, from his beloved Spectator. His output of work was enormous and incessant, and was throughout critical and didactic. The style was pre-eminently characteristic of the man—tangled, untidy, ungraceful, disfigured by "trailing relatives" and accumulated epithets; and yet all the time conveying the sense of some real and even profound thought that strove to express itself intelligibly. As the style, so the substance. "The Spectator," wrote Matthew Arnold in 1865, "is all very well, but the article has Hutton's fault of seeing so very far into a mill-stone." And, two years later, "The Spectator has an article in which Hutton shows his strange aptitude for getting hold of the wrong end of the stick." Both were sound criticisms. When Hutton addressed himself to a deep topic of abstract speculation, he "saw so very far into it" that even his most earnest admirers could not follow the visual act. When he handled the more commonplace subjects of thought or action with which ordinary men concern themselves, he seemed to miss the most obvious and palpable points. He was a philosophical thinker, with a natural bent towards the abstract and the mystical—a Platonist rather than an Aristotelian. He saw things invisible to grosser eyes; he heard voices not audible to ordinary ears; and, when he was once fairly launched in speculation on such a theme as Personal Identity or the Idea of God, he "found no end, in wandering mazes lost."

But the very quality of aloofness from other men and their ways of thinking, which made it impossible for him to be the exponent of a system or the founder of a school, made him a peculiarly interesting friend. In homely phrase, you never knew where to have him; he was always breaking out in a fresh place. Whatever subject he handled, from impaled Bulgarians to the credibility of miracles, was certain to be presented in a new and unlooked-for aspect. He was as full of splendid gleams as a landscape by Turner, and as free from all formal rules of art and method. He was an independent thinker, if ever there was one, and as honest as he was independent. In his belief, truth was the most precious of treasures, to be sought at all hazards, and, when acquired, to be safeguarded at all costs. His zeal for truth was closely allied with his sense of justice. His mind came as near absolute fairness as is possible for a man who takes any part in live controversies. He never used an unfair argument to establish his point, nor pressed a fair argument unduly. He was scrupulously careful in stating his adversary's case, and did all in his power to secure a judicial and patient hearing even for the causes with which he had least sympathy. His own convictions, which he had reached through stern and self-sacrificing struggles, were absolutely solid. By the incessant writing of some forty years, he enforced the fundamental truth of human redemption through God made Man on the attention of people to whom professional preachers speak in vain, and he steadily impressed on his fellow-Christians those ethical duties of justice and mercy which should be, but sometimes are not, the characteristic fruits of their creed. It was a high function, excellently fulfilled.

The transition is abrupt, but no catalogue of the literary men with whom I was brought in contact could be complete without a mention of Mr. George Augustus Sala. He was the very embodiment of Bohemia; and, alike in his views and in his style, the fine flower of such journalism as is associated with the name of the Daily Telegraph. His portrait, sketched with rare felicity, may be found in Letter XII. of that incomparable book, Friendship's Garland. "Adolescens Leo" thus describes him—"Sala, like us his disciples, has studied in the book of the world even more than in the world of books. But his career and genius have given him somehow the secret of a literary mixture novel and fascinating in the last degree: he blends the airy epicureanism of the salons of Augustus with the full-bodied gaiety of our English cider-cellar. With our people and country, mon cher, this mixture is now the very thing to go down; there arises every day a larger public for it; and we, Sala's disciples, may be trusted not willingly to let it die."

That was written in 1871; and, when sixteen years had elapsed, I thought it would be safe, and I knew it would be amusing, to bring Sala and Matthew Arnold face to face at dinner. For the credit of human nature let it be recorded that the experiment was entirely successful; for, as Lord Beaconsfield said, "Turtle makes all men equal," and vindictiveness is exorcised by champagne.

The Journalist of Society in those days was Mr. T. H. S. Escott, who was also Editor of the Fortnightly and leader-writer of the Standard. I should be inclined to think that no writer in London worked so hard; and he paid the penalty in shattered health. It is a pleasure to me, who in those days owed much to his kindness, to witness the renewal of his early activities, and to welcome volume after volume from his prolific pen. Mr. Kegan Paul, essayist, critic, editor, and ex-clergyman, was always an interesting figure; and his successive transitions from Tractarianism to Latitudinarianism, and from Agnosticism to Ultramontanism, gave a peculiar piquancy to his utterances on religion. He deserves remembrance on two quite different scores—one, that he was the first publisher to study prettiness in the production of even cheap books; and the other, that he was an early and enthusiastic worker in the cause of National Temperance. It was my privilege to be often with him in the suffering and blindness of his last years, and I have never seen a trying discipline more bravely borne.

More than once in these chapters I have referred to "Billy Johnson," as his pupils and friends called William Cory in remembrance of old times. He was from 1845 to 1872 the most brilliant tutor at Eton: an astonishing number of eminent men passed through his hands, and retained through life the influence of his teaching. After leaving Eton, he changed his name from Johnson to Cory, and established himself on the top of the hill at Hampstead, where he freely imparted the treasures of his exquisite scholarship to all who cared to seek them, and not least willingly to young ladies. He was a man of absolutely original mind; paradoxical, prejudiced, and intellectually independent to the point of eccentricity. His range was wide, his taste infallible, and his love of the beautiful a passion. He lived, from boyhood to old age, the life of the Intellect; and yet posterity will know him only as having written one thin book of delightful verse;[53] a fragmentary History of England; and some of the most fascinating letters in the language.

A friend and brother-Scholar of mine at Oxford was "Willy" Arnold, son of Mr. Thomas Arnold, and nephew of Matthew. After taking his degree, he joined the staff of the Manchester Guardian, and before long became one of the first journalists of his time. He was not merely a journalist, but also a publicist, and could have made his mark in public life by his exceptional knowledge of European politics. We had not seen one another for a good many years, when we met casually at dinner in the summer of 1887. To that chance meeting I owed my introduction to the Manchester Guardian. My first contribution to it was a description of the Jubilee Garden-Party at Buckingham Palace on the 29th of June, 1887; so I can reckon almost a quarter of a century of association with what I am bold to call (defying all allusion to the fabled Tanner) the best newspaper in Great Britain.

But journalism, though now practised on a more dignified level, was only a continuation and development of a life-long habit; whereas, though I had been scribbling ever since I was a boy, I had never written a book. In 1890 Messrs. Sampson Low started a series of The Queen's Prime Ministers. Froude led off, brilliantly, with Lord Beaconsfield; and the editor[54] asked me to follow with Mr. Gladstone. Before acceding to this proposal, I thought it right to ask whether Gladstone had any objection; and, supposing that he had not, whether he would give me any help. His reply was eminently characteristic,—

"When someone proposed to write a book about Harry Phillpotts, Bishop of Exeter, the Bishop procured an Injunction in Chancery to stop him. I shall not seek an Injunction against you—but that is all the help I can give you."

Thus encouraged, or rather, I should say, not discouraged, I addressed myself to the task, and the book came out in July, 1891. I was told that Gladstone did not read it, and this assurance was in many respects a relief. But someone told him that I had stated, on the authority of one of his school-fellows, that he played no games at Eton. The next time I met him, he referred to this point; declared that I had been misinformed; and affirmed that he played both cricket and football, and "was in the Second Eleven at Cricket." In obedience to his request, I made the necessary correction in the Second Edition; but a priori I should not have been inclined to suspect my venerated leader of having been a cricketer.

It is no part of my plan to narrate my own extremely humble performances in the way of authorship. The heading of the chapter speaks not of Book-making, but of Literature; and for a man to say that he has contributed to Literature would indeed be to invite rebuff. I am thinking now, not of what I have done, but of what I have received; and my debt to Literature is great indeed. I do not know the sensation of dulness, but, like most human beings, I know the sensation of sorrow; and with a grateful heart I record the fact that the darkest hours of my life have been made endurable by the Companionship of Books.

FOOTNOTES:

[49] To Mr. Watson I owed my introduction to Matthew Arnold's Essays in Criticism—a real event in one's mental life.

[50] By Sir Walter Strickland; whose poem on William Tyndale was justly admired.

[51] Richard Monckton Milnes was created Lord Houghton, August 20, 1863.

[52] It is only fair to observe that those "Letters" were written in the strictest confidence.

[53] Ionica.

[54] Mr. Stuart J. Reid.



XIV

SERVICE

May He "in knowledge of Whom standeth our eternal life, Whose service is perfect freedom"—Quem nosse vivere, Cui servire regnare est—teach us the rules and laws of that eternal service, which is now beginning on the scene of time. R. W. CHURCH, Human Life and its Conditions.

It was my happiness to be born and brought up in a home where Religion habitually expressed itself in Social Service. I cannot remember a time when those nearest to me were not actively engaged in ministering to the poor, the sick, the underfed, and the miserable. The motive of all this incessant ministration was the Christian Faith, and its motto was Charitas Christi urget nos. The religion in which the children of an Evangelical home were reared was an intensely vivid and energetic principle, passionate on its emotional side, definite in its theory, imperious in its demands, practical, visible, and tangible in its effects. If a boy's heart—

"Were less insensible than sodden clay In a sea-river's bed at ebb of tide,"

it could scarcely fail to carry with it into the world outside the impressions stamped by such a training. I can remember quite clearly that, even in my Harrow days, the idea of Life as Service was always present to my mind: and it was constantly enforced by the preaching of such men as Butler, Westcott, and Farrar.

"Here you are being educated either for life or for fashion. Which is it? What is your ambition? Is it to continue, with fewer restrictions, the amusements which have engrossed you here? Is it to be favourite or brilliant members of a society which keeps want and misery at a distance? Would this content you? Is this your idea of life? Or may we not hope that you will have a nobler conception of what a Christian manhood may be made in a country so rich in opportunities as our own now presents?"[55]

In Dr. Butler's sermons our thoughts were directed to such subjects as the Housing of the Working Classes, Popular Education, and the contrast between the lot of the rich and the lot of the poor. "May God never allow us to grow proud, or to grow indolent, or to be deaf to the cry of human suffering." "Pray that God may count you worthy to be foremost in the truly holy and heroic work of bringing purity to the homes of the labouring classes, and so hastening the coming of the day when the longing of our common Lord shall be accomplished." "Forget not the complaints, and the yet more fatal silence, of the poor, and pray that the ennobling of your own life, and the gratification of your own happiness, may be linked hereafter with some public Christian labour."

Thus the influences of school co-operated with the influences of home to give one, at the most impressionable age, a lively interest in Social Service; and that interest found a practical outlet at Oxford. When young men first attempt good works, they always begin with teaching; and a Sunday School at Cowley and a Night School at St. Frideswide's were the scenes of my (very unsuccessful) attempts in that direction. Through my devotion to St. Barnabas', I became acquainted with the homes and lives of the poor in the then squalid district of "Jericho"; and the experience thus acquired was a valuable complement to the knowledge of the agricultural poor which I had gained at home. It was at this time that I first read Yeast and Alton Locke. The living voice of Ruskin taught us the sanctity of work for others. A fascinating but awful book called Modern Christianity a Civilized Heathenism laid compelling hands on some young hearts; and in 1875 Dr. Pusey made that book the subject of a sermon before the University, in which he pleaded the cause of the poor with an unforgettable solemnity.[56]

For two or three years, illness and decrepitude interfered with my active service, but the ideal was still enthroned in my heart; and, as health returned, the shame of doing nothing for others became intolerable. Return to activity was a very gradual process, and, if one had ever "despised the day of small things," one now learned to value it. When I came up to London, two or three of us, who had been undergraduate friends at Oxford, formed a little party for workhouse-visiting. One of the party has since been a Conservative Minister, one a Liberal Minister, and one a high official of the Central Conservative Association. Sisters joined their brothers, and we used to jog off together on Saturday afternoons to the Holborn Workhouse, which, if I remember right, stood in a poetically-named but prosaic-looking street called "Shepherdess Walk." The girls visited the women, and we the men. We used to take oranges and flowers to the wards, give short readings from amusing books, and gossip with the bedridden about the outside world. We always had the kindest of welcomes from our old friends; and great was their enthusiasm when they learned that two of their visitors had been returned to Parliament at the General Election of 1880. As one of the two was a Conservative and one a Liberal, the political susceptibilities of the ward were not offended, and we both received congratulations from all alike. One quaint incident is connected with these memories. Just outside the Workhouse was a sort of booth, or "lean-to," where a very respectable woman sold daffodils and wall-flowers, which we used to buy for our friends inside. One day, when one of the girls of our party was making her purchase, the flower-seller said, "Would your Ladyship like to go to the Lady Mayoress's Fancy Dress Ball? If so, I can send you and your brother tickets. You have been good customers to me, and I should be very glad if you would accept them." The explanation was that the flower-seller was sister to the Lady Mayoress, whom the Lord Mayor had married when he was in a humbler station. The tickets were gratefully accepted; and, when we asked the giver if she was going to the Ball, she replied, with excellent sense and taste, "Oh, no. My sister, in her position, is obliged to give these grand parties, but I should be quite out of place there. You must tell me all about it next time you come to the Workhouse."

Meanwhile, during this "day of small things" a quiet but momentous revolution had been going on all round us, in the spheres of thought and conscience; and the earlier idea of individual service had been, not swamped by, but expanded into, the nobler conception of corporate endeavour.

It had been a work of time. The Christian Socialism of 1848—one of the finest episodes in our moral history—had been trampled underfoot by the wickedness of the Crimean War. To all appearance, it fell into the ground and died. After two years of aimless bloodshed, peace was restored in 1856, and a spell of national prosperity succeeded. The Repeal of the Corn Laws had done its work; food was cheaper; times were better; the revenue advanced "by leaps and bounds." But commercialism was rampant. It was the heyday of the Ten Pound Householder and the Middle Class Franchise. Mr. Podsnap and Mr. Gradgrind enounced the social law. Bright and Cobden dominated political thinking. The Universities were fast bound in the misery and iron of Mill and Bain. Everywhere the same grim idols were worshipped—unrestricted competition, the survival of the fittest, and universal selfishness enthroned in the place which belonged to universal love. "The Devil take the hindermost" was the motto of industrial life. "In the huge and hideous cities, the awful problem of Industry lay like a bad dream; but Political Economy warned us off that ground. We were assured that the free play of competitive forces was bound to discover the true equipoise. No intervention could really affect the inevitable outcome. It could only hinder and disturb."[57] The Church, whose pride it had been in remoter ages to be the Handmaid of the Poor, was bidden to leave the Social Problem severely alone; and so ten years rolled by, while the social pressure on labour became daily more grievous to be borne. But meanwhile the change was proceeding underground, or at least out of sight. Forces were working side by side which knew nothing of each other, but which were all tending to the same result. The Church, boldly casting aside the trammels which had bound her to wealth and culture, went down into the slums; brought the beauty and romance of Worship to the poorest and the most depraved, and compelled them to come in. Whenever such a Church as St. Alban's, Holborn, or St. Barnabas, Oxford, was established in the slums of a populous city, it became a centre not only of religious influence, but of social, physical, and educational reform. Ruskin's many-coloured wisdom, long recognized in the domain of Art, began to win its way through economic darkness, and charged cheerfully against the dismal strongholds of Supply and Demand. Unto this Last became a handbook for Social Reformers. The teaching of Maurice filtered, through all sorts of unsuspected channels, into literature and politics and churchmanship. In the intellectual world, Huxley transformed "the Survival of the Fittest," by bidding us devote ourselves to the task of fitting as many as possible to survive. At Oxford, the "home" not of "lost" but of victorious "causes," T. H. Green, wielding a spiritual influence which reached farther than that of many bishops, taught that Freedom of Contract, if it is to be anything but a callous fraud, implies conditions in which men are really free to contract or to refuse; and insisted that all wholesome competition implies "adequate equipment for the competitors."

It is impossible to say exactly how all these influences intertwined and co-operated. One man was swayed by one force; another by another; and, after long years of subterranean working, a moment came, as it comes to the germinating seed deep-hidden in the furrow, when it must pierce the superincumbent mass, and show its tiny point of life above ground.[58] The General Election of 1880, by dethroning Lord Beaconsfield and putting Gladstone in power, had fulfilled the strictly political objects which during the preceding three years my friends and I had been trying to attain. So we, who entered Parliament at that Election, were set free, at the very outset of our public career, to work for the Social Reform which we had at heart. We earnestly desired to make the lives of our fellow-men healthier, sweeter, brighter, and more humane; and it was an ennobling and invigorating ambition, lifting the pursuit of politics, out of the vulgar dust of office-seeking and wire-pulling, into the purer air of unselfish endeavour. To some of us it was much more; for it meant the application of the Gospel of Christ to the practical business of modern life. But the difficulties were enormous. The Liberal party still clung to its miserable old mumpsimus of Laissez-faire, and steadily refused to learn the new and nobler language of Social Service. Alone among our leading men, Mr. Chamberlain seemed to apprehend the truth that political reform is related to social reform as the means to the end, and that Politics, in its widest sense, is the science of human happiness.

But, in spite of all discouragements, we clung to "a Social Philosophy which, however materialistic some of its tendencies might have become, had been allied with the spiritual Hegelianism with which we had been touched. It took its scientific shape in the hands of Karl Marx, but it also floated to us, in dreams and visions, using our own Christian language, and invoking the unity of the Social Body, as the Law of Love, and the Solidarity of Humanity."[59]

At the sound of these voices the old idols fell—Laissez-faire and Laissez-aller, Individualism and Self-content, Unrestricted Competition and the Survival of the Fittest. They all went down with a crash, like so many dishonoured Dagons; and, before their startled worshippers had time to reinstate them, yet another voice of warning broke upon our ears. The Bitter Cry of Outcast London, describing the enormous amount of preventable misery caused by over-crowding, startled men into recognizing the duty of the State to cope with the evil. Then came Henry George with his Progress and Poverty, and, as Dr. Holland says, he "forced us on to new thinking." That "new thinking" took something of this form—"Here are the urgent and grinding facts of human misery. The Political Economy of such blind guides as Ricardo and Bastiat and Fawcett has signally failed to cure or even mitigate them. Now comes a new prophet with his gospel of the Single Tax. He may, or may not, have found the remedy, but at any rate he has shown us more clearly than ever the immensity of the evil, and our responsibility for suffering it to continue. We profess and call ourselves Christians. Is it not about time that, casting aside all human teachings, whether Economic or Socialistic, we tried to see what the Gospel says about the subject, and about our duty in regard to it?"

Out of this stress of mind and heart arose "The Christian Social Union." It was founded in Lent, 1889, and it set forth its objects in the following statement—

"This Union consists of Churchmen who have the following objects at heart:—

(i) To claim for the Christian Law the ultimate authority to rule social practice.

(ii) To study in common how to apply the moral truths and principles of Christianity to the social and economic difficulties of the present time.

(iii) To present CHRIST in practical life as the Living Master and King, the enemy of wrong and selfishness, the power of righteousness and love."

The Christian Social Union, originating with some Oxford men in London, was soon reinforced from Cambridge, which had fallen under the inspiring though impalpable influence of Westcott's teaching. Westcott was, in some sense, the continuator of Mauricianism; and so, when Westcott joined the Union, the two streams, of Mauricianism and of the Oxford Movement, fused. Let Dr. Holland, with whom the work began, tell the rest of the story—"We founded the C. S. U. under Westcott's presidentship, leaving to the Guild of St. Matthew their old work of justifying God to the People, while we devoted ourselves to converting and impregnating the solid, stolid, flock of our own church folk within the fold.... We had our work cut out for us in dislodging the horrible cast-iron formulae, which were indeed wholly obsolete, but which seemed for that very reason to take tighter possession of their last refuge in the bulk of the Church's laity."

"Let no man think that sudden in a minute All is accomplished and the work is done;— Though with thine earliest dawn thou shouldst begin it, Scarce were it ended in thy setting sun."[60]

The spirit which created the Christian Social Union found, in the same year, an unexpected outlet in the secular sphere. In the Session of 1888, the Conservative Ministry, noting the general disgust which had been aroused by the corrupt misgovernment of Greater London, passed the "Local Government Act," which, among other provisions, made London into a County, gave it a "County Council," and endowed that Council with far-reaching powers. To social reformers this was a tremendous event. For forty years they had been labouring to procure something of the sort, and now it dropped down from the skies, and seemed at first almost too good to be true. Under the shock of the surprise, London suddenly awoke to the consciousness of a corporate life. On every side men were stirred by an honest impulse to give the experiment a good start; to work the new machine for all it was worth; and to make the administration of Greater London a model for all lesser municipalities. The Divisions of London, for the purposes of its new Council, were the same as its Parliamentary Divisions, but each constituency returned two members, and the City four. Every seat (except those for St. George's, Hanover Square) was contested, and there were often as many as six or seven candidates for one division. It was said at the time that "the uncertainty of the issues, the multitude of candidates, and the vagueness of parties made it impossible to tabulate the results with the same accuracy and completeness which are possible in the case of the House of Commons." Some candidates stood professedly as Liberals, and others as Conservatives. The majority, however, declared themselves to be "strictly non-political." Some leading objects, such as Better Housing of the Poor, Sanitary Reform, and the abolition of jobbery and corruption, were professed by all alike; and the main issues in dispute were the control of the Police by the Council, the reform of the Corporation of London and of the City Guilds, the abolition of dues on coal coming into the Port of London, and the taxation of ground-rents.

In such projects as these it was easy to discern the working of the new spirit. Men were trying, earnestly though amid much confusion, to translate the doctrines of Social Reform into fact. "Practicable Socialism" became the ideal of the reforming party, who styled themselves "Progressives." Their opponents got the unfortunate name of "Moderates"; and between the ideas roughly indicated by those two names the battle was fought. The Election took place in January, 1889. The result was that 71 candidates labelled "Progressive" were returned, and 47 "Moderates." The Act empowered the Council to complete its number by electing 19 Aldermen. Of these, 18 were Progressives, and one was a Moderate; so the total result was a "Progressive" majority of 41.

By the time of which I write I had become, by habitual residence, a Londoner; and I hope I was as keen on Social Reform as anyone in London, or outside it. But, after what I said in an earlier chapter, it will surprise no one that I declined to be a candidate for the London County Council. My dislike of electioneering is so intense that nothing on earth except the prospect of a seat in Parliament would tempt me to undertake it; so to all suggestions that I should stand in the Progressive interest I turned a resolutely deaf ear. But, when the election was over and the Progressive majority had to choose a list of Aldermen, I saw my opportunity and volunteered my services. By the goodwill of my friends on the Council, I was placed on the "Progressive List," and on the 5th of February I was elected an Alderman for six years. Among my colleagues were Lord Meath, Lord Lingen, Lord Hobhouse, Mr. Quintin Hogg, Sir Thomas Farrer, and Mr. Frederic Harrison. Lord Meath was accepted by the Progressive party, in recognition of his devoted services to the cause of social amelioration, especially in the matter of Public Gardens and Open Spaces; but, with this sole exception, the list was frankly partisan. The Progressives had got a majority on the new "Parliament of London," and had no notion of watering it down.

Before the Council was created, the governing body for Greater London had been the "Metropolitan Board of Works," which had its dwelling in Spring Gardens. The old building had to be adapted to its new uses, and, while the reconstruction was in progress, the County Council was permitted by the Corporation to meet in the Guildhall. There we assembled on the 12th of February, a highly-diversified, and, in some respects, an interesting company. A careful analysis of our quality and occupations gave the following results: Peers, 4; M.P.'s and ex-M.P.'s, 9; Clergymen, 2; Barristers, 14; Solicitors, 3; Soldiers, 4; Doctors, 5; Tutors, 2; Architects, 2; Builders, 4; Engineers, 3; Journalists, 4; Publisher, 1; Bankers, 5; Stock-Exchange men, 5; Auctioneers, 3; Brewer, 1; Clothiers, 2; Confectioner, 1; Drapers, 2; Grocers, 2; Mineral Water-maker, 1; Optician, 1; Shoemaker, 1; Merchants, 22; Manufacturers, 13; Gentlemen at large, 8; "Unspecified," 10. And to these must be added three ladies, who had been illegally elected and were soon unseated. A current joke of the time represented one of our more highly-cultured Councillors saying to a colleague drawn from another rank,—"The acoustics of this Hall seem very defective"—to which the colleague, after sniffing, replies—"Indeed? I don't perceive anything unpleasant." Which things were an allegory; but conveyed a true impression of our social and educational diversities.

The first business which we had to transact was the election of a Chairman. Lord Rosebery was elected by 104 votes to 17; and so began the most useful portion of his varied career. The honorary office of Vice-Chairman was unanimously conferred on Sir John Lubbock, afterwards Lord Avebury; and for the Deputy Chairmanship, a salaried post of practical importance, the Council chose Mr. J. F. B. Firth, who had made his name as an exponent of the intricacies of Metropolitan Government.

To watch the methods of Lord Rosebery's chairmanship was an interesting study. After much experience of public bodies and public meetings, I consider him the best chairman but one under whom I ever sat. The best was Mr. Leonard Courtney, now Lord Courtney of Penwith, who to the gifts of accuracy, promptness, and mastery of detail, added the rarer grace of absolute impartiality. Lord Rosebery had the accuracy, the promptness, and the mastery, but he was not impartial. He was inclined to add the functions of Leader of the House to those of Speaker, which were rightly his. When a subject on which he felt strongly was under discussion, and opinion in the Council was closely balanced, Lord Rosebery would intervene just at the close of the debate, with a short, strong, and emphatic speech, and so influence the division in favour of his own view. This practice is, in my judgment, inconsistent with ideal chairmanship, but in the early days of the Council it was not without its uses.

We had to furnish ourselves with a constitution, to distribute our various powers, to frame rules of debate, and to create an order of business. To do all this in a full Council of 137 members, most of them quite unversed in public life, many of them opinionated, all articulate, and not a few vociferous, was a work of the utmost difficulty, and Lord Rosebery engineered it to perfection. He was suave and courteous; smoothed acrid dissensions with judicious humour; used sarcasm sparingly, but with effect; and maintained a certain dignity of bearing which profoundly impressed the representatives of the Great Middle Class. "By Jove, how these chaps funk Rosebery!" was the candid exclamation of Sir Howard Vincent; and his remark applied quite equally to his own "Moderate" friends and to my "Progressives." It was characteristic of these gentry that they longed to call Lord Rosebery "My Lord," and were with difficulty induced to substitute "Mr. Chairman." The one member of the Council who stands out in my memory as not having "funked" the Chairman is Mr. John Burns, whose action and bearing in the Council formed one of my most interesting studies. The events of February, 1885, were still present to my memory, though the Councillor for Battersea had probably forgotten them. The change which four years had wrought was extraordinary. He spoke constantly and effectively, but always with moderation, good feeling, and common sense. At the same time, he maintained a breezy independence, and, when he thought that the Chair ought to be defied, defied it. This was awkward, for the Chairman had no disciplinary powers, and there was no executive force to compel submission to his rulings. As far as I could observe, Mr. Burns never gave way, and yet he soon ceased to enter into conflict with the Chair. What was the influence which tamed him? I often wondered, but never knew.

The Council had got itself duly divided into Committees, and it was noticeable that there was an enormous rush of Councillors anxious to serve on the Housing Committee. The "Bitter Cry of Outcast London" had not been raised in vain, and every man in the Council seemed anxious to bear his part in the work of redressing an intolerable wrong. The weekly Session of the Council was fixed for Tuesday afternoon, to the disgust of some Progressives who hankered after the more democratic hour of 7 p.m. The main part of the business was the discussion of the Reports brought up from the various Committees, and, when those were disposed of, abstract motions could be debated. Some earnest Liberals were always trying to raise such questions as Home Rule, Land Law, Enfranchisement of Leaseholds, and other matters which lay outside the purview of the Council; and it was delightful to see Lord Rosebery damping down these irregular enthusiasms, and reminding his hearers of the limits which Parliament had set to their activities. Those limits were, in all conscience, wide enough, and included in their scope Housing, Asylums, Bridges, Fire-Brigades, Highways, Reformatory Schools, Main Drainage, Parks, Theatres, and Music-Halls, besides the complicated system of finance by which all our practice was regulated. The Committees dealing with these subjects, and several others of less importance, were manned by able, zealous, and conscientious servants of the public, who gave ungrudgingly of their time (which in many cases was also money), thought, and labour. The Council as a whole displayed a voracious appetite for work, and rendered, without fee or reward, a service to Greater London which no money could have purchased.

In the autumn of this year—1889—some correspondence appeared in newspapers and reviews about what was called "The New Liberalism." By that title was meant a Liberalism which could no longer content itself with the crudities of official politics, but longed to bear its part in the social regeneration of the race. In an article in the Nineteenth Century, I commented on the insensibility of the Liberal Leaders to this new inspiration. "Who would lead our armies into Edom?" I confess that I thought of Lord Rosebery as our likeliest champion; but I put the cause above the man. "Wherever our leader may come from, I am confident that the movement will go on. Ca ira! Ca ira! Malgre les mutins, tout reussira! The cause of Social Service arouses that moral enthusiasm which cannot be bought and cannot be resisted, and which carries in itself the pledge of victory. The terrible magnitude and urgency of the evils with which we have to cope cannot be overstated. Those who set out to fight them will have to encounter great and manifold difficulties—ignorance, stupidity, prejudice, greed, cruelty, self-interest, instincts of class, cowardly distrust of popular movements, 'spiritual wickedness in high places.' And, in the face of these opposing forces, it is cheering to think that, after long years of single-handed striving, the good cause now has its workers everywhere. And to none does it make a more direct or a more imperious appeal than to us Liberal politicians. If we are worthy of the name, we must be in earnest about a cause which promises happiness, and health, and length of days to those who by their daily labour of hand and head principally maintain the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race. We must be impatient of a state of society in which healthy dwellings and unadulterated food and pure water and fresh air are made the monopolies of the rich. We must be eager to do our part towards abolishing filth and eradicating disease, and giving free scope to those beneficent laws of Nature which, if only we will obey them, are so manifestly designed to promote the welfare and the longevity of man. If we believe that every human being has equally and indefeasibly the right to be happy, we must find our chief interest and most satisfying occupation in Social Service. Our aim is, first, to lighten the load of existence for those thronging thousands of the human family whose experience of life is one long suffering, and then to 'add sunshine to daylight by making the happy happier.' The poor, the ignorant, the weak, the hungry, the over-worked, all call for aid; and, in ministering to their wants, the adherent of the New Liberalism knows that he is fulfilling the best function of the character which he professes, and moreover is helping to enlarge the boundaries of the Kingdom of God."

When those words were written, the London County Council had just begun its work. I served on it till March, 1895; and during those six years it had proved in practice what a right-minded Municipality can do towards brightening and sweetening human life. It cut broad roads through squalid slums, letting in light and air where all had been darkness and pollution. It cleared wide areas of insanitary dwellings, where only vice could thrive, and re-housed the dispossessed. It broke up the monotony of mean streets with beautiful parks and health-giving pleasure-grounds. It transfigured the Music-Halls, and showed that, by the exercise of a little firmness and common sense, the tone and character of the "Poor Man's Theatre" could be raised to the level of what would be applauded in a drawing-room. By forbidding the sale of refreshments in the auditorium, it crushed the old-fashioned superstition that public entertainment and alcoholic drink are inseparably connected. In some of these good works it was my privilege to bear a part; and, in that matter of the purification of the Music-Halls, I was proud to follow the lead of Sir John McDougall, who has since been Chairman of the Council, and who, at the time of which I am writing, fearlessly exposed himself to unbounded calumny, and even physical violence, in his crusade for the moral purity of popular amusement. Those were six years of fruitful service; and, though a long time has elapsed since I left the Council, I have constantly watched its labours, and can heartily assent to the eulogy pronounced by my friend Henry Scott Holland, when he was quitting his Canonry at St. Paul's for his Professorship at Oxford:

"As for London, my whole heart is still given to the lines of the Progressive policy on the County Council. I still think that this has given London a soul; and that it has been by far the most effective work that one has watched happening.... The hope of London lies with the County Council."

Before I say goodbye to this portion of my "Autobiography," let me record the fact that the London County Council produced a poet of its own. The first Council came to an end in March, 1892, and the second, elected on the 5th of that month, gave the Progressives a greatly increased majority. One of the newly-elected Councillors uttered his triumphant joy in song.

"Here then you have your answer, you that thought To find our London unawakened still, A sleeping plunder for you, thought to fill The gorge of private greed, and count for naught The common good. Time unto her has brought Her glorious hour, her strength of public will Grown conscious, and a civic soul to thrill The once dull mass that for your spoil you sought. Lo, where the alert majestic city stands, Dreaming her dream of golden days to be, With shaded eyes beneath her arching hands Scanning the forward pathway, like a seer To whom the riven future has made clear The marvel of some mighty destiny."[61]

Moved by the desire to gratify a young ambition, I introduced the poet to Mr. Gladstone, and that great man, who never damned with faint praise, pronounced that this was the finest thing written about London since Wordsworth's Sonnet "Composed upon Westminster Bridge."

In August, 1892, Gladstone became Prime Minister for the fourth time. He gave me a place in his Government; and for the next three years my activities were limited to North Bedfordshire, which I then represented, the House of Commons, and Whitehall. I was restored to liberty by the dissolution of July, 1895. In my chapter about Oxford, I spoke of the Rev. E. S. Talbot, then Warden of Keble, and now Bishop of Winchester, as one of those whose friendship I had acquired in undergraduate days. After serving for a while as Vicar of Leeds, he was appointed in 1895 to the See of Rochester, which then included South London. Soon after he had entered on his new work, he said to me, "Men of leisure are very scarce in South London. Will you come across the Thames, and lend us a hand?"

FOOTNOTES:

[55] Dr. Butler's Harrow Sermons. Series II.

[56] "Christianity without the Cross a Corruption of the Gospel of Christ."

[57] Rev. H. Scott Holland, D.D.

[58] Honourable mention ought here to be made of "The Guild of St. Matthew," founded by the Rev. Stewart Headlam in 1877. Its object was "To justify God to the People," and it prepared the way for later organizations.

[59] The Rev. H. S. Holland, D.D.

[60] F. W. H. Myers.

[61] F. Henderson, By the Sea, and other poems.



XV

ECCLESIASTICA

The English Church, as established by the law of England, offers the Supernatural to all who choose to come. It is like the Divine Being Himself, Whose sun shines alike on the evil and on the good. J. H. SHORTHOUSE, John Inglesant.

Mr. Shorthouse, like most people who have come over to the Church from Dissent, set an inordinate value on the principle of Establishment. He seemed (and in that particular he resembled Archbishop Tait) incapable of conceiving the idea of a Church as separate from, and independent of, the State. The words "as established by the law of England" in the passage which stands at the head of this chapter appear to suggest a doubt whether the English Church, if she ceased to be "established," could still discharge her function as the divinely-appointed dispenser of sacramental grace to the English people. Those who, like Mr. Gladstone, believe that no change in her worldly circumstances could "compromise or impair her character as the Catholic and Apostolic Church of this country," would omit Mr. Shorthouse's qualifying words, and would say, simply, that the English Church, whether established or not, offers the Supernatural to all who choose to come, and that she is, has been, and always will be, "historically the same institution through which the Gospel was originally preached to the English Nation." But this is not the place for theorization; so, for the moment, I am content to take Mr. Shorthouse's statement as it stands, and to say that a loving pride in the English Church has been the permanent passion of my life. I hold with Dean Church, a man not given to hyperbole, that "in spite of inconsistencies and menacing troubles, she is still the most glorious Church in Christendom."

I was baptized in the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Woburn, formerly a chapel dependent on the Cistercian Abbey hard by, which the first Earl of Bedford received as a gift from Henry VIII.[62] This truly interesting church was destroyed, to please an innovating incumbent, in 1864; but my earliest impressions of public worship are connected with it, and in my mind's eye I can see it as clearly as if it were still standing. It had never been "restored "; but had been decorated by my grandfather, who inherited the ecclesiastical rights of the Abbots of Woburn, and whose "Curate" the incumbent was.[63] My grandfather was a liberal giver, and did his best, according to his lights, to make the Church beautiful. He filled the East Window with stained glass, the central subject being his own coat of arms, with patriarchs and saints grouped round it in due subordination. Beneath the window was a fine picture, by Carlo Maratti, of the Holy Family. The Holy Table was a table indeed, with legs and drawers after the manner of a writing-table, and a cover of red velvet. The chancel was long; and the south side of it was engrossed by "the Duke's Pew," which was enclosed within high walls and thick curtains, and contained a fireplace. The north side of the chancel was equally engrossed by a pew for the Duke's servants. The choir, male and female after their kind, surrounded the organ in a gallery at the West End. The whole Church was pewed throughout, and white-washed, the chancel being enriched with plaster mouldings. On the capital of each pillar was a scutcheon, bearing the arms of some family allied to our own. The largest and most vivid presentment of the Royal Arms which I have ever seen crowned the chancel-arch.

Our clerical staff consisted of the incumbent (who became a "Vicar" by Act of Parliament in 1868) and a curate. Our list of services was as follows: Sunday—11 a.m., Morning Prayer, Litany, Table-prayers, and Sermon; 6 p.m., Evening Prayer and Sermon. There was Evening Prayer with a sermon on Thursdays, and a prayer-meeting in the schoolroom on Tuesday evenings. There were no extra services in Lent or Advent, nor on any Holy Days except Good Friday and Ascension Day. The Holy Communion was administered after Morning Service on the first Sunday of the month, and on Christmas and Easter Days; and after Evening Service on the third Sunday. The black gown was, of course, worn in the pulpit, and I remember a mild sensation caused by the disuse of bands. The prayers were preached; the Psalms were read; and the hymn-book in use was "The Church and Home Metrical Psalter and Hymnal"—a quaint compilation which I have never seen elsewhere. It would not be easy to describe the dreariness of the services; and the preaching corresponded to them. This is curious, for Evangelical preaching generally was rousing and effective. I remember that we heard preaching of that type from strangers who occasionally "took duty" or "pleaded for Societies"; but our own pastors always expatiated on Justification by Faith only. I cannot recall any other subject; and, even in enforcing this, "Pulpit-eloquence," topical allusions, and illustrations whether from nature or from books, were rigidly eschewed. "As dull as a sermon" is a proverbial saying which for me in early boyhood had an awful truth.

It has been stated in an earlier chapter that I discovered the Sacramental System of the Church by the simple method of studying the Prayer Book. Certainly I got no help in that direction from my spiritual pastors. The incumbent was, I should think, the Lowest Churchman who ever lived. He was a Cambridge man; a thorough gentleman; well-read; wholly devoted to his sacred calling; and fearless in his assertion of what he believed to be right. (He once refused to let Jowett preach in our pulpit, though the noble patron made the request.) He was entirely insensible to poetry, beauty, romance, and enthusiasm; but his mind was essentially logical, and he followed his creed to its extremest consequences. Baptismal grace, of course, he absolutely denied. He prepared me for Confirmation, and he began his preparation by assailing my faith in the Presence and the Succession. He defined Confirmation as "a coming of age in the things of the soul." I perfectly remember a sermon preached on "Sacrament Sunday," which ended with some such words as these, "I go to yonder table to-day; not expecting to meet the Lord, because I know He will not be there." I have seldom heard the doctrine of the Real Absence stated with equal frankness.

All my religious associations were with the Evangelical school, of which my parents were devoted adherents. My uncle, the Rev. Lord Wriothesley Russell (1804-1886), had been a disciple of Charles Simeon at Cambridge, but had completely discarded such fragments of Churchmanship as lingered in his master's teaching. My mother (1810-1884) had been in early life closely allied with "the Clapham Sect"; and our friendship with the last survivor of that sect, Miss Marianne Thornton (1797-1887), linked us to the Wilberforces, the Venns, and the Macaulays. My acquaintance with Lord Shaftesbury (1801-1885) I have always esteemed one of the chief honours of my life. He combined in a singular degree the gifts which make a Leader. He had an imperious will, a perfervid temper, unbounded enthusiasm, inexhaustible energy. Any movement with which he was connected he controlled. He brooked neither opposition nor criticism. His authority was reinforced by advantages of aspect and station; by a stately manner, by a noble and commanding eloquence. But all these gifts were as nothing when compared with the power of his lifelong consistency. When he was a boy at Harrow, a brutal scene at a pauper's funeral awoke his devotion to the cause of the poor and helpless. Seventy years later, when he lay on his deathbed, his only regret was that he must leave the world with so much misery in it. From first to last, he was an Evangelical of the highest and purest type, displaying all the religious and social virtues of that school in their perfection. Yet he left it on record that he had been more harshly treated by the Evangelical party than by any other. Perhaps the explanation is that those excellent people were only kicking against the pricks of a too-absolute control.

Such were the religious associations of my early life; and I am deeply thankful for them. I have found, by much experiment, that there is no foundation on which the superstructure of Catholic religion can be more securely built than on the Evangelical confession of man's utter sinfulness, and of the free pardon purchased by the Blood of Christ. A man trained in that confession may, without sacrificing a jot of his earlier creed, learn to accept all that the Catholic Church teaches about Orders and Sacraments; but to the end he will retain some characteristic marks of his spiritual beginnings. For my own part, I hold with Mr. Gladstone that to label oneself with an ecclesiastical nickname would be to compromise "the first of earthly blessings—one's mental freedom[64]"; but if anyone chose to call me a "Catholic Evangelical," I should not quarrel with the designation.

I said in an earlier chapter that I had an inborn fondness for Catholic ceremonial, and this, I suppose, was part of my general love of material beauty. Amid such surroundings as I have described, it was a fondness not easily indulged. When I was twelve years old, I was staying at Leamington in August, and on a Holy Day I peeped into the Roman Church there, and saw for the first time the ceremonies of High Mass; and from that day on I longed to see them reproduced in the Church of England. During one of our periodical visits to London, I discovered the beautiful church in Gordon Square where the "Adherents of a Restored Apostolate" celebrate Divine Worship with bewildering splendour. The propinquity of our house to Westminster Abbey enabled me to enter into the more chastened, yet dignified, beauty of the English rite. At Harrow the brightness and colour of our School-Chapel struck my untutored eye as "exceeding magnifical"; and the early celebrations in the Parish Church had a solemnity which the Chapel lacked.

But the happiest memory of all is connected with a little Church[65] about two miles from my home. It is a tiny structure of one aisle, with the altar fenced off by a screen of carved oak. It served a group of half a dozen houses, and it stood amid green fields, remote from traffic, and scarcely visible except to those who searched for it. There an enthusiastic and devoted priest spent five and twenty years of an isolated ministry; and there, for the first time in our communion, I saw the Divine Mysteries celebrated with the appropriate accessories.

My walks to that secluded altar, in the fresh brightness of summer mornings, can never be forgotten until the whole tablet is blotted. On the sky-line, the great masses of distant woodland, half-veiled in mist, lay like a blue cloud. Within, there was "the fair white linen cloth upon the wooden table, with fresh flowers above, and the worn slabs beneath that record the dim names of the forgotten dead"; and there "amid the faint streaks of the early dawn, the faithful, kneeling round the oaken railing, took into their hands the worn silver of the Grail—

"The chalice of the Grapes of God."[66]

Perhaps it was just as well for a boy that these glimpses of beautiful worship were few and far between. One was saved from the perils of a mere externalism, and was driven inward on the unseen realities which ceremonial may sometimes obscure. And then, when one got up to Oxford, one found all the splendours of the sanctuary in rich abundance, and enjoyed them with a whole-hearted self-abandonment. I need not repeat what I have already said about St. Barnabas and Cowley and the other strongholds of Catholic worship. I am eternally their debtor, and the friends with whom I shared them have helped to shape my life.

But, in spite of all these enjoyments, religious life at Oxford between 1872 and 1876 was not altogether happy. A strong flood of Romanism burst upon the University, and carried some of my best friends from my side; and, concurrently with this disturbance, an American teacher attacked our faith from the opposite quarter. He taught an absolute disregard of all forms and rites, and, not content with the ordinary doctrine of instantaneous conversion, preached the absolute sinlessness of the believer. The movement which, in 1874, he set on foot was marked by disasters, of which the nature can best be inferred from a characteristic saying, "The believer's conflict with Sin is all stuff." This teaching had its natural consequences, and the movement issued in spiritual tragedy.

In the following year we were touched by the much more wholesome enterprise of Messrs. Moody and Sankey. Their teaching was wholly free from the perilous stuff which had defiled the previous mission; and though it shook the faith of some who had cultivated the husk rather than the kernel of ritualism, still all could join in the generous tribute paid by Dr. Liddon on Whitsun Day, 1876:

"Last year two American preachers visited this country, to whom God had given, together with earnest belief in some portions of the gospel, a corresponding spirit of fearless enterprise. Certainly they had no such credentials of an Apostolic Ministry as a well-instructed and believing Churchman would require.... And yet, acting according to the light which God had given them, they threw themselves on our great cities with the ardour of Apostles; spoke of a higher world to thousands who pass the greater part of life in dreaming only of this; and made many of us feel that we owe them at least the debt of an example, which He Who breatheth where He listeth must surely have inspired them to give us."[67]

When I came up to London after leaving Oxford, "the world was all before me where to choose," and I made a pretty wide survey before deciding on my habitual place of worship. St. Paul's Cathedral had lately awoke from its long sleep, and, under the wise guidance of Church, Gregory, and Liddon, was beginning to show the perfection of worship on the strict line of the English Prayer-Book.

Being by temperament profoundly Gothic, I hold (with Sir William Richmond) that Westminster Abbey is the most beautiful church in the world. But it had nothing to offer in the way of seemly worship; and, while Liddon was preaching the Gospel at St. Paul's, Dean Stanley at Westminster was delivering the fine rhetoric and dubious history which were his substitutes for theology, and with reference to which a Jewish lady said to me, "I have heard the Dean preach for eighteen years, and I have never heard a word from him which I could not accept." At the Temple, Dr. Vaughan was at the height of his vogue, and Sunday after Sunday was teaching the lawyers the effective grace of a nervous and finished style.

All Saints, Margaret Street, St. Paul's, Knightsbridge, and St. Barnabas, Pimlico, showed a type of worship refined, artistic, and rather prim. St. Alban's, Holborn, "the Mother and Mistress" of all ritualistic churches, combined Roman ceremonial with the passionately Evangelical teaching of the greatest extempore preacher I have ever heard, Arthur Stanton. St. Michael's, Shoreditch, and St. Peter's, London Docks, were outposts of the ritualistic army. The Low Church congregated at Portman Chapel, and Belgrave Chapel, and Eaton Chapel (all since demolished), at St. Michael's, Chester Square, and St. John's, Paddington. Broad Churchmen, as a rule, were hidden in holes and corners; for the bizarre magnificence of Holy Trinity, Sloane Street, had not yet superseded the humble structure in which Henry Blunt had formerly preached into the Duchess of Beaufort's[68] ear-trumpet; and St. Margaret's, Westminster, had only just begun to reverberate the rolling eloquence of Dr. Farrar. At St. Peter's, Eaton Square, amid surroundings truly hideous, George Wilkinson, afterward Bishop of St. Andrews, dominated, sheerly by spiritual force, a congregation which, having regard to the numbers, wealth, and importance of the men who composed it, was the most remarkable that I have ever seen. Cabinet Ministers, great noblemen, landed proprietors, Members of Parliament, soldiers, lawyers, doctors, and "men about town," were the clay which this master-potter moulded at his will.

Then, as now, Society loved to be scolded, and the more Mr. Wilkinson thundered, the more it crowded to his feet. "Pay your bills." "Get up when you are called." "Don't stay at a ball till two, and then say you are too delicate for early services." "Eat one dinner a day instead of three, and try to earn that one." "Give up champagne for the season, and what you save on your wine-merchant's bill send to the Mission-Field." "You are sixty-five years old, and have never been confirmed. Never too late to mend. Join a Confirmation Class at once, and try to remedy, by good example now, the harm you have done your servants or your neighbours by fifty years' indifference." "Sell that diamond cross which you carry with you into the sin-polluted atmosphere of the Opera, give the proceeds to feed the poor, and wear the only real cross—the cross of self-discipline and self-denial." These are echoes, faint, indeed, but not, I think, unfaithful, of St. Peter's pulpit in its days of glory.

When I look back upon the Church in London as it was when I first knew it, and when I compare my recollections with what I see now, I note, of course, a good many changes, and not all of them improvements. The Evangelicals, with their plain teaching about sin and forgiveness, are gone, and their place is taken by the professors of a flabby latitudinarianism, which ignores sin—the central fact of human life—and therefore can find no place for the Atonement. Heresy is preached more unblushingly than it was thirty years ago; and when it tries to disguise itself in the frippery of aesthetic Anglicanism, it leads captive not a few. In the churches commonly called Ritualistic, I note one great and significant improvement. English Churchmen have gradually discovered that they have an indigenous ritual of their own—dignified, expressive, artistic, free from fuss and fidgets—and that they have no need to import strange rites from France or Belgium. The evolution of the English Rite is one of the wholesome signs of the times. About preaching, I am not so clear. The almost complete disuse of the written sermon is in many ways a loss. The discipline of the paper protects the flock alike against shambling inanities, and against a too boisterous rhetoric. No doubt a really fine extempore sermon is a great work of art; but for nine preachers out of ten the manuscript is the safer way.

As regards the quality of the clergy, the change is all to the good. When I was a boy at Harrow, Dr. Vaughan, preaching to us on our Founder's Day, spoke with just contempt of "men who choose the Ministry because there is a Family Living waiting for them; or because they think they can make that profession—that, and none other—compatible with indolence and self-indulgence; or because they imagine that a scantier talent and a more idle use of it can in that one calling be made to suffice." "These notions," he added, "are out of date, one Act of Disestablishment would annihilate them." That Act of Disestablishment has not come yet, but the change has come without waiting for it. Even the "Family Living" no longer attracts. Young men seek Holy Orders because they want work. Clerical dreams of laziness or avarice, self-seeking or self-indulgence, have gone out for ever; and the English Church has in her commissioned service a band of men whose devotion and self-sacrifice would be a glory to any Church in Christendom.

An active politician, as I was thirty years ago, has not much leisure; but all through my parliamentary work I sought to bear in mind that Life is Service. I helped to found the White Cross League, and worked hard for the cause which it represents. I bore a hand in Missions and Bible-classes. I was a member of a Diocesan Conference. I had ten years of happy visiting in Hospitals, receiving infinitely more than I could ever give. And I should think that no man of my age has spoken on so many platforms, or at so many Drawing Room meetings. But all this was desultory business, and I always desired a more definite obligation.

On St. Luke's Day, 1895, my loved and honoured friend, Edward Talbot, formerly Warden of Keble, was consecrated 100th Bishop of Rochester; and the diocese at that time included all South London. As soon as he established himself there, the new Bishop, so I have already stated, asked me to come across the Thames, and do some definite work in South London. At first, that work consisted of service on a Public Morals Committee, and of lecturing on ecclesiastical topics; but gradually the field contracted in one direction and expanded in another.

It was in 1891 that Dr. Temple, then Bishop of London, and afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, being anxious to lighten the burden of preaching which lies so heavily on hardworked clergy, determined to license lay-readers to speak in consecrated buildings. It was a bold step, and of doubtful legality; but the Bishop characteristically declared that he would chance the illegality, feeling sure that, when the Vicar and Churchwardens invited a lay-reader to speak, no one would be churlish enough to raise legal objections. The result proved that the Bishop was perfectly right, and the Diocese of London has now a band of licensed lay-preachers who render the clergy a great deal of valuable aid. I was from the first a good deal attracted by the prospect of joining this band, but Parliament and Office left me no available leisure. When Dr. Talbot became Bishop of Rochester, he at once took in hand the work of reorganizing the body of Lay-Readers in his Diocese; and before long had determined to follow the example set by Bishop Temple, and to license some of his readers to speak at extra services in consecrated buildings. He made it quite clear from the first—and the point has subsequently been established by Convocation—that there was no idea of reviving the Minor Orders. The lay-reader was to be, in every sense, a layman; and, while he might speak, under proper restrictions, in a consecrated building, he still would speak not "as one having authority," but simply as brother-man to brother-men.

I was admitted to the office of a Diocesan Lay-Reader, in the Private Chapel of the Bishop's House at Kennington, on the 15th of January, 1898, and have been permitted to spend fifteen years of happy service in this informal ministry.

FOOTNOTES:

[62] Cf. Froude's "Short Studies in Great Subjects."

[63] It may perhaps be worth noting that my parents were married, in 1834, by a Special License issued by my grandfather as Abbot of Woburn.

[64] Letters on the Church and Religion. Vol. I., p. 385.

[65] Pottesgrove.

[66] J. H. Shorthouse—Introduction to George Herbert's Temple.

[67] Influences of the Holy Spirit. University Sermons, Series II.

[68] Charlotte Sophia, Duchess of Beaufort, a leader of the Evangelical party, died 1854—aged eighty-four.

THE END

PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN.

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