Edith Helen Sichel.

The life and letters of Alfred Ainger online

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disliked any luxury that made itself felt. ' I cannot go to the

's house,' he once said, ' it smells so disgustingly of riches.'

The Temple was the ideal setting for his character as well as
his figure — and the Temple claimed him for her own ; not
alone her ' polished corners ' within, but her outer -courts : the
Benchers' Hall, the legal purlieus that he loved, the many un-



expected corners, Goldsmith's tomb near the Church — all the
urban calm of the place, with the roaring traffic of the Strand
at a stone"'s-throw. The Temple is still one of the few places
left for habits to grow up in ; and Canon Ainger was made
for habits. There every one knew him and he knew every
one : the old porter, for whom he so often took sandwiches,
pretending he wanted them himself; the vergers, the plumbers
on the church roof, the German bandsmen, whom he tried to
persuade to play Schubert ; the newspaper-boy from whom he
regularly bought his evening paper and who called him his
' best friend ' ; the blind beggar near the Embankment, whom
he could not pass without an alms and who never failed to
know that he was there, because of his voice. These accus-
tomed charities made a network which grew stronger with
every year of his life at the Temple. As for his servants, it is
not exaggeration to say that they adored him. No more
generous master existed, and his faith in family life opened his
heart to their needs. He knew all their domestic affairs ; he
helped their relations and invited them to stay in his house.
And the one thing that aroused his severity was to hear them
blamed before other people. His life, indeed, was full of
courtesies — little deeds of fidelity which he performed wherever
he might be ; the Times sent every day for thirty years to his
friend in the country, fastened up by himself with the same
thud, at the same moment after luncheon, as he stamped its
cover upon the floor ; the papers and the letters — and the
bank-notes — despatched with unfailing punctuality to those
left behind by life — invalids, governesses, the humble, the
depressed : these may be small things, but they made the
happiness of many.

More than one career was set going by some unknown kind-
ness from him. He delighted in helping boys to start in life,
or giving a hand to some one who was down on his luck. Of
more public enterprises he also took his share, devoting his
time and money to a few charities that he cared for — to the
People's Concert Society, for which he often spoke; to the
Children's Country Holiday Fund ; to King's College Hospital,
of whose Committee he was a faithful member ; and, foremost,


to the Inns ot Court Mission. This was the philanthropic
work which most appealed to him and to which he gave his
best efforts. Its Warden, the Rev. G. D. Latham, has left us
a record of what he was to the Mission.

' Holding/ he writes, ' the commanding position that he held,
in the Church and in the legal world, a word from him would at
any time, but more especially in its early and struggling days,
have gone far to leave upon the Inns of Court Mission any impress
that he desired. The temptation to speak that word, not once,
but many times, must have been strong to a man of his ripe ex-
perience, keen mind, and quick imagination, as he watched a
young and untried man take charge of an enterprise which was
meant by its founders to represent the best side of a great profes-
sion when organised for social and religious . , , purposes ; an
enterprise which w^as bound to affect profoundly the prestige of
the Law and of the Church among the working-classes of a certain
district. To stand aside, and never once to interfere with the
detailed workings of such an organisation, though exercising to the
full his rightful responsibility in the shaping of its broad outlines
and policy, required no little self-conti'ol. ... His support was
strong and unfailing. . . . On occasions he came to Drury Lane,
and chatted to the working men who filled the Institute, entering
with zest into the club-interests which were so strangely different
from the ordinary things of his life. On the evening of one
Easter Day he came and preached at the Mission Service ; few of
those who were there will forget him as he stood, a slight and
swaying figure, speaking quite simply, but with the spirit of earnest-
ness and reality w-hich always characterised him in his preaching.
One of the congregation was a deaf girl, who said afterwards that
his was the only preaching that she had been able to hear for
years. . . . Perhaps his greatest opportunities for manifesting an
effective interest in the work of the Mission arose out of his
position as a member of the governing body of the Mission, both
on the Council and on the Executive Committee of the Council.
He was a member of both of these bodies from the first until the
end, and, unless prevented from being present by insuperable
difficulties, never failed to attend their meetings, or to take an
active and important part in their deliberations ; while no thought
of personal convenience or inconvenience was ever allowed to
interfere with his placing the Master's House in the Temple at
the disposal of the Committee for its gatheriugs.'


One of the last things that he planned was a reading for the
Mission''s benefit; but illness interfered and his project was
not fulfilled.

Ainger kept a young man''s power of making new friends,
and the last ten years of his life brought him fresh intimacies,
as wtII as many fresh acquaintances, especially among men of
letters. The houses of the Edmund Gosses, the Andrew
Langs, the Beechings, were among those he most liked to dine
at. The first two, as w^e know, had been his colleagues in
literary research, and soon became his comrades, nor was he
slow to express his appreciation of their work. He stayed
with the Langs, too, at St. Andrews, a place which stimu-
lated him to talk. He liked to linger on Scotch subjects there,
on Walter Scott and County Guy — 'one of the finest
things in the English language ' — or upon his dearly loved
Burns. ' Leave out his debased side, when you read him,""
he said to Mrs. Lang, ' make for the poet alone."' Of
modern authors he read ever fewer, but when on occasion
he tackled them, it was impossible to predict what would
please him. If something in a book took his fancy the
rest of it was safe, even though it seemed to make against
his views. The Golden Bough, by Dr. Frazer of Trinity,
was a case in point. ' He read it,' writes j\Ir. Gosse, 'at
my suggestion, in 1898. There was much, in this remark-
able study of certain phases of anthropology, which was
foreign to Ainger's taste and habits of mind. It was quite
a chance whether he would not fling it from him. On
the contrary, it affected him like an extraordinary romance,
and for a time he was full of it. He severely snubbed,
as he could snub, an unfortunate man who objected to the
book as " heterodox." " Pooh ! " Ainger said, " you mustn't
take it as any kind of doxy. I 'm not proposing it for
use at mothers' meetings. But it is a wonderful coloured
w'indow looking out into strange places where I never looked

The one change that made itself felt in him was a certain
diminution of exuberance. Age had a little to do with it, but
deliberate dignity had more. The drolleries, the escapades of


mimicry, with which he had amused his circle, were, he thought,
no longer permissible to one who occupied his office, and
his sense of the fitness of things — his instinct for decorum
— told most at this time on his life. He was as particular
for others as for himself, and disliked any inexactness,
whether ceremonial or social. If he made some trifling
blunder himself, it caused him the deepest distress. He
once, ' in 1899 ' (to quote Mr. Gosse again), ' wrote a copy
of complimentary verses to the Dutch novelist, Maartcn
Maartens, whom he very much admired. But he was not
aware that this is a pseudonym, and when he received a
letter of charming thanks from Holland, signed " Jan
Martinus Willem van de Poorten-Schwartz," he was in
the highest dismay, and ran about showing the signature to
everybody as " the most extraordinary 7io7n de gtierre ; and who
can it be, and what had I better do } " His agitation was
soothed by being told that all he had to do had long ago been

This increased feeling for deportment no doubt also re-
strained his talk and made him oftener grave than of old, so
that many of those who met him in these latter years had no
idea he was a wit. The danger of that gift for his profession
frequently tied his tongue. ' Wit, my dear, can make you
enemies ; but it cannot make you friends ' — so he said to his
niece. But it was not true of his own wit, which certainly did
make him friends, though it never gave him a foe. Its sting,
it is true, often lay in his use of a quotation which, ten
chances to one, was not recognised by his audience. ' The
"prosperity" of an allusion, as of a jest, lies in the ear of
him that hears it,' — he once wrote concerning Elia, and the
words apply to himself. And perhaps another reason why his
sayings left no pain was the fact that they did not touch on
anxious topics. He left politics severely alone, and felt no
temptation to allow his brilliance to sharpen party strife.
Nor did he often come across politicians. There was an
exceptional occasion when he met Mr. Balfour at the house
of Mr. Gosse, an incident recounted by their host, whose
words we will once more use. ' On the 22nd of November


1901, Ainger dined with me' 'to meet Mr. A. J. Balfour,
to whom he had been introduced before, and whom he had
seen in his congregation at the Temple, but with whom
he had never yet talked. On this occasion they had a
long conversation, and Ainger spoke afterwards with great
appreciation of Mr. Balfour's agility of mind, and of the fresh
and eager manner in which he went out to meet new ideas half-
way. " In fact," Ainger said to me, " there's nothing of the
hide-bound politician about him ; he might be an ordinary
* littery ** fellow, like you or me, for all the law he lays down
about things he knows nothing about." This was great
praise from Ainger, who had a curious dislike of the ordinary
political mind, " fitted up," he once said, " with rows of little
phials full of quack medicines, and if you take one you must
take them all." '

After Ainger was made Master, his readings became rarer.
He still lectured at the Royal Institution, at Bristol, and
at Newnham, at King's College for Ladies, and elsewhere ;
indeed, some of his best lectures belong to this period. But
his Shakespeare readings had now to be kept for few and
private occasions. It was not that his zest had gone. Any
daily occurrence might start him on pages of quotation. His
niece remembers how one summer as he sat at breakfast in the
coffee-room of a Welsh hotel, a bear was led past the window
and set him off at once upon the scene of the dancing bear in
the Merry Wives of Windsor, while the occupants of the
other tables looked on at his gestures in bewilderment. And
those who heard him read Falstaff',as he did in 1902, felt that his
vigour was undiminished. The latter years of his life brought
him a fresh pleasure — a discovery in the art of interpretation.
In 1898, Mr. Walford Davies became organist at the Temple,
and from their association there originated a scheme of
Ainger's reading to music. The idea hardly sounds artistic,
but Walford Davies both wrote and played the accompani-
ment ; and no one who heard Ainger's many-toned voice in
The Brook, or The Ancient Mariner, supported, as it were,
by the sub-current of sympathetic harmonies, could doubt of
the success of the experiment. The Tempest was the last


work they had meant thus to express, but their project was
never realised.

It is difficult to speak of this time, without dwelling upon
the happiness that he found in this gifted musician''s company.
The bond that united them was not only music, although that
meant much, or the keen interest Davies gave him of watching
a budding career. His friendship was that of the older for
the younger man, both protective and admiring, and bringing
with it the sense of refreshment. Bound up as it was with the
Temple services, it cheered him more, perhaps, than anything
else in these late years. Nor did they meet only over the music
for the church, though they always arranged it in concert — by
letter when not by conversation. The Master's House became
a home to Walford Davies ; and many were the evenings that
he spent there, exploring the land of Brahms, playing
Beethoven and Bach and Schubert, while the Master stood
behind his chair, one hand upon his shoulder, the other
beating time in the air in the way so familiar to his friends.
And no success that Ainger had himself could have given him
greater delight than did the growing reputation of the artist
he had chosen for his own.

These were prosperous days with him. All went well with
his family. His elder niece kept house for him ; the younger
was married, in 1896, to Mr. Walter Evans, his host, as of
old, at Darley Abbey. And his nephew Bentley, who became
the Rector of St. Peter's, Sandwich, also married in 1895 and
had two children, a boy and a girl. They seemed the one
thing that their child-loving great-uncle wanted, and the boy,
at least, grew old enough to feel his charm. All his ancient
spells were exercised upon ' Toozleyboots,' as he called him
— and Toozleyboots thought that there was nobody like
him. It was characteristic of him — the mark of one who
really cared for children — that he did not like spoiling them,
and knew that they did not like it either ; that if at one
moment he was the magician, at the next he could be the

But his letters from 1897 arc, perhaps, the best record of
the next six years.


' Master's House,
'Templk, E.C., Nov. S, 1897.

' My dear Gosse, — Thank you very much for your new Book,
into which I have as yet only dipped at random, but with which,
thus far, I find myself everywhere in agreement. We do indeed
need a few teachers abroad to remind us of the difference between
good literature and what is bad and foolish. By the way, did you
read Andrew Lang's infinitely droll parody of Hall Caine in last
week's Punch ?

' I have been refreshing my memory of Leigh Hunt's poetry
since you last wrote ; and I must confess I find no traces of any
influence over Hood. He treated " Hero and Leander," but in so
wholly different a way. It was really on Shakespeare — notably
Femes and Adonis — that Hood there modelled himself, I believe.

'I quite agree with you that Hood took his Keats through J. H.
Reynolds. I rather thought I had conveyed my meaning to that
effect. I meant to. Nor did I at all mean to decry Reynolds
on the serious and lyrical side. I think he had a very pretty gift.
But surely when he became comic, as in Peter Bell the second, he
was very thin and weak. Think of Andrew Lang and Owen
Seaman by comparison ! — Yours always, Alfred Ainger.

To Miss Thompson.

* I took duty, but did not preach at the Foundling last Sunday.

The sermon is just the same as of old. Poor old unexpectedly

got better and preached, and was as dull as could be. ... I felt
that I would rather have been at our own service at the Temple,
where there is something like worship and life.'

To Mrs. Smith.

' Master's House,
'Temple, E.G., Christmas 1897.

' My dear Friend, — As I was about to remark last Christmas
Eve, when I suddenly found my stock of stationery exhausted,
whenever I am much duller than usual, you may be sure there is
some very good reason for it.

' It is terribly foggy to-day, moreover, and I have a pound or
two of best Wallsend wandering about in my Bronchial cavities.
Wasn't it Charles Lamb, by the way, who protested one day
against poets insisting on inciting their verses to everybody they
met ? " Now, I myself," he said, " wrote a little poem only last



night, but I should never dream of repeating it to the present
company." This of course whetted the company's appetite, and
they pressed and insisted that he would give them such a treat as
to let them hear it. He made a great fuss, of course, and at last
said, " Oh, well, of course if you wish it." And proceeded to
recite the Poem — which was

" Oh ! my Gog !
What a Fog ! "

'This reminds me that a very interesting memoir of Lamb's
friend, Thomas Hood, has been lately written by — well, I forget
the 7iame — but it is reviewed in last week's Spectator. A word to
the wise.

' I wish I had a few good stories to tell you, but you are such
go-ahead people in Sheffield, that all our jokes in London have
been known to you long before they reach what the late Mr.
Compton called "the great Metrolopus." For instance, you
know, I am sure, all the best things of poor Sir Frank Lockwood,
at whose funeral a great party to-day assembled. I have just met
Lord Rosebery who was there. He was a witty man — and was
even your Recorder, was he not ? Did he not once in Scotland,
after hearing the Highland magnates announce themselves as
" Dunvegan and Mrs. Glentoddy," and so forth, announce Iiim-
self and wife as " 24 Lennox Gardens and Mrs. Lockwood " ? The
Lawyers, among whom I often disport myself at leisure, are witty
folks. Mr. Justice Mathew, for instance, expressed himself very
happily the other day about Lord Justice Lindley, who was made
Master of the Rolls — a most excellent appointment, pf course.
But a very bad case of jobbery had occurred just before, so
Mathew said, alluding to the appointment of Lindley : " A most
extraordinary choice ! not a single quali/icatioii that I can think of,
except merit." , . .

' Who are they you will welcome at your hospital Board .'' Will
thei*e be Seymour Knyvett (as right as a trivet) and Maggie his
wife (the delight of his life) — and I guess there '11 be Katie,
whose judgment is weighty — whenever you tell her to go to the
cellar, to choose "foreign drains" in the form of champagnes —
for you 're not like some folks who play practical jokes — and give
your guests Perri/ wherewith to make merry — What have I wan-
dered /rom ? Oh ! there 's Lily and Tom — and I 'm sure that the
latter will honour his platter — for he plays (so 's the talk) a good
knife and fork — for no Master-Cutler does work that is subtler —


(It 's a Firm I ne'ei* mock would — that bears the name " Lock-
wood ") — My pen I 've just mended (I feared it had ended !), by
a Knife's timely aid, with their name on the blade. And what
makes it more pleasant — the knife was a Present ! !

'And now I 've no time to go searching for rhyme : so my very
dear friends, let my love make amends for this trumpery verse
(and it couldn't be worse) — This season of Turkey is terribly
murky. But love sheds its rays upon gloomiest days. Judge this
Fun of your friend's by the kindness it lends — and then there 's
no danger, you '11 be hard on A. Ainger.'

To THE Same.

' Master's Hovse,
'Temple, E.G., Christmas 1898.

' My dear Friend, — " As the Festive Season again recurs, I have
to solicit a renewal of that friendly confidence, which it will ever
be my study to deserve. I hope to be able to supply you with
some fine chestnuts for the Christmas dinner, of which samples
are enclosed. Joe Millers are cheap to-day." — I quote from my
favourite grocer. Lily — that "plant and flower of light" (Ben
Jonson) sends me a very gratifying account of you all, especi-
ally of Edward, who I understand is shortly to take Holy Orders.
If he would wish me to sign his " Si quis," I shall be happy to do
so — and hope he will not think I am "Si-quizzing" him. . , .

' I heard a story lately of a Butler.

' Party in a Country House. Maid dressing a guest's hair.
Guest : " I hope, Pax'ker, you are comfortable in your place." "Oh
yes, Ma'am — the society down-stairs is so superior. The Butler
leads the conversation. He is such a refined man — indeed, quite
scientific. He has been telling us all about Evolution, and we
quite understand it now. He says we are all descended from

' By the way, did you hear of Mrs. Creighton (wife of the
Bishop of London) addressing a great Mothers' Meeting at the East
End of London on how to make home attractive and comfortable
and so on.

' Old Lady at the conclusion to another old Lady, " Ah ! it 's all
very well — but I should like to know what Mrs. Creighton does
when old Mr. Creighton comes home drunk."

' And this by a natural association of ideas reminds me of an
epigram just sent me from Bristol. At Clevedon (where William
and I once sat and smoked under the Church wall) there is a very


High Church clergyman named Vicars Foote, who has been lately
reprimanded by his Bishop for excessive Ritual. A flippant person
puts into the offending parson's mouth the following retort : —

" I will not leave my benefice,
Nor change the ways I 've got.
A Bishop's foot may be put down,
A Vicar's Foot may not ! "

' I wonder if another Theological story has reached Sheffield
yet — about the old Scotch lady who heard that in the Revised
Version of the Lord's Prayer, the Revisers had substituted
"Deliver us from the evil one" for "Deliver us from evil" — (as
they have done, you know). The old lady replied, " Eh, Sirs — but
he'll be sair uplifted !"

' I have been in Scotland this year, and in Ireland, but I think
most of the good stories have been told. By the way, if you want

some good old stories, get 's recently published Volume of

Rummy-nuisances (this is my witty way of spelling it). I have
suggested (not to hini) as a motto for the next Edition —

' Under the Chestnut Tree
Who loves to lie with me ?

'As we are on the subject of the clergy, have you ever heard
this ? Scotch Minister returning to his Manse in the gloaming,
becomes aware of a figure sleeping sweetly in a ditch. On further
examination, he discovers one of his own Elders. After dragging
him up and restoring his suspended animation, he asks, with some
indignation, where his Church Officer had been. " Well, Minister,
I canna weel remember whether it was a wedding or a Funeral
— hut il tvas a gran success ! " It must have been the same gentle-
man (or one of the same pattern) who at a dinner party, after
drinking champagne during the earlier courses, was heard to
murmur: "\ hope there's some whisky coming! I get vera
tired of these mineral waters ! "

'And now that you, like this gentleman, are getting "vera
tired" of so much prose — and that, not sparkling — what say you
to dropping into poetry, like Mr. Wegg ?

' There was an old man of Bengal
Who purchased a Bat and a Ball
Some gloves, and some pads —
(It was one of his fads —
For he never played cricket at all !)

'. . . Well, I fear you and yours will have to mourn over me


that years do not seem to " bring the philosophic mind," and that
your poor friend is just as frivolous as he was thirty years ago.
Well, well, it 's Christmas time, and a few Crackers (besides Tom
Smith's) may be allowed upon the dinner table, among the plainer
and more wholesome viands. And so I trust to be forgiven, and
to be thought kindly of by my dear old friends at the "West-
wood Arms," for that is still its name to me, knowing that they
are always open to receive their attached and faithful friend,

«A. A.'

To Mr. Cave.

* Master's House,
'Temple, E.G., Dec. 20, 1899.

* My dear Dan, — . . . We are living through a strange experience
this Christmas, dear Boy, — such as you and I never knew before.
Let us have a day of National Humiliation by all means ; but do

not let us regard it as Lord does in to-day's Times, who

naively suggested that as the Boers had kept their btvn day of
Humiliation and had then enjoyed some successes, perhaps we
might adopt the same course, with the same results ! Literally
this is what the noble lord said, and I have seldom been more
saddened by a display (very common) of Christian paganism.'

To Mrs. Smith.

' Christmas, 1899.

'. . . The mention of Biblical subjects reminds me of a very
singular incident that occurred not long ago in an American
Court of Justice. The Presiding Judge had a very difficult
case befoi'e him (closely resembling one that is reported in

Online LibraryEdith Helen SichelThe life and letters of Alfred Ainger → online text (page 26 of 32)