Edith Helen Sichel.

The life and letters of Alfred Ainger online

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' Well, it came to an end, and I got out of the Chapel, much
exhausted and rather with a sense of having lowered myself by
what I had done. However, friends whom I met outside. Lord
Aberdeen and Dr. Farquharson, were very kind, and the former,
who asked me to let him i-ide with me in my cab for part of my
way home, was most encouraging, and said the audience were
much impressed, in spite of my galloping through. . . . Since
my lunch (of oysters !) Walford has been in to try over the
Aticiefit Marine?- with music. We sat in the drawing-room amid a
wreck of dust-sheets and dislocated furniture.'

To THE Same.

'Master's House,
^Temple, E.G., Wednesday afternoon, June, 1902.
'Dearest Child, ... I sat with while he took break-
fast (10 A.M.), and then walked on to the Abbey for the 11
o'clock rehearsal. Much more brilliant than Monday — for the
peers all had their robes and coronets, and the colours were
splendid. The old archbishop was in excellent voice. There
were lots of bishops about, all in dazzling vestments. I hear
from the Sub-Dean that the new Rock newspaper has attributed
the national chastisement of the King's illness and postponement



of the coronation to — what do you think ? — the use of Copes
on the occasion ! But they were at it again to-day, quite

To Mr. Lockwood (Vicar of Widford).

' Master's House,
'Temple, E.C., June, 1902.

' My dear Lockwood, I have been long — terribly long — in
acknowledging your welcome letter with the photographs, for
which I sincerely thank you. ... I am truly ashamed of myself,
though the Coronation, with all the preparations for it, must
be allowed to bear part of the blame — for such things do
not happen every day. And now ! It is all to come over
again at some other time. I was to have been, as you perhaps
know, at the head of the procession with the other chaplains,
and had had made such a gorgeous costume — with scarlet cassock
and mantle, (provided in part at the King's cost) ! ! I went
to two rehearsals — and had just been summoned to a third when
the terrible news burst upon us like a bolt from the blue.'

To Miss Sturge.

' CoLWYN Bay,
' North \Vales, September 13, 1902.

' . . . I am glad you saw my letters originally addressed to
the Pilot, and some day, if all 's well, I will show you a most
interesting letter I received, in consequence, from a firm of
" brass band music publishers " in Liverpool, who spend their
time in arranging the music of the great musical classics for
poor men's bands, and who tell me they made the very an-ange-
ment from Schubert that I heard in Lincoln's Inn Fields !
I have sent the letter to Dr. Walford Davies, our Temple
organist, or I would have enclosed it to you now.'

To Mr. Horace Smith.

'Master's House,
'Temple, Nov. 19. 1902.

' Dearest Horace, ... I look forward to the Almanock which
I see is announced for December I. About Bradx/iaw is it.'' Do
you remember my suggested alteration in Hamlet: — "I am but
mad north-north-west ; when the wind 's southerly, 1 know a
book from a Braihhaw ! "


' told me a good story on Sunday evening: — Sergeant is

interviewing recruit as to what religious denomination he belongs
to : Man says he is not a member oiaiiy. " Why not ? " " Because
I don't believe anything."

' "■ None of your nonsense, sir. Then understand — until you do,
you 're a member of the Church of England."

'Tell me what are your favourite passages in Crahbe. I am
writing that poet's life, and want a few brilliant criticisms to
liven it uj).

' So glad you liked my article on Tennyson. is a very

brilliant fellow, but I fear he is a little like the above Recruit.

' . . . The two societies have consented to put the electric
light into this house. They acceded to my request at once.
" Where they do agree in the Temple, their unanimity is wonder-
ful ! " But I am very grateful. . . . Ever your affectionate

'Alfred Ainger.'

To THE Same.

' 8 York Place,
' CliftoNj Bristol, Friday, Feb. 20, 1903.

' Dearest Horace, A thousand thanks for the Psalms and
Hymns. They are many of them very beautiful — and better
than beautiful — and I could hardly read some of them without
tears. And I thank God, my " oldest and best friend " (which I
heartily reciprocate), that as we grow on to old age, we are not
losing touch with the only thoughts and hopes that make life
worth living. I shall make our excellent Walford Davies play
over these tunes to me when I get back to the Temple, and
already I have passed the " Key-stone " of the arch that bridges
the interval here (to quote Burns), and the ''mezzo del cammin,"
to borrow from Dante.

' I sat up by the fire and read your volume after coming
back from the Lord Mayor's dinner to the Judges. (It is
assize time.)'

To Mr. Herbert Paul.

* April 8.

' I strongly suspect that you are now so familiar a presence at
the Temple Church that you may safely run the gauntlet of all
the vergers without a card. I think I should advise you to try
this course next time. Then, if any pampered minion disputes


your entrance, draw your card from your waistcoat pocket,

" Strike him dead for thee and me ! " '

To Mr. Bosworth-Smith.

'Master's House,
'Temple, E.C., Friday, July 24, (1903?)

' My dear Bosworth-Smith, — (May we not drop prefixes ? I
will if you will, as Edward FitzGerald used to say !)

' A few weeks ago you most kindly wrote me a line, telling
me of your new paper in the Nineteenth Cejitury. . . . At the
time I could not get access to the Review, but at a friend's
house at Hampstead this week I met with it, and promptly
read your charming article. I was delighted, and look forward
to many more from your hand, and to their appearance in a
collected form. I fear, had I been with you, I could not have
contributed any anecdotes this time. The pluck of a sparrow
in renovating his home under trying circumstances has indeed
been celebrated in a sailor's song, but the language so much
savours of the briny, that I fear it could not have been sub-
mitted to Knowles' clientele, even in the elegant elegiacs into
which it was turned by an ingenious Shrewsbury scholar — one
verse of which I recall : —

" Sanguinolentus erat (si vera est fabula) passer
Cui fuitin plumbo sanguinolenta domus ;
Sanguinolenta ruit demissa tonitrua coelo
Evulsitque tuam, parve Cinaede, domum ! "

The second concluding verse dealt with the fact that when the
disreputable bird observed that the rain had ceased, he promptly
* built up there again." '

To Mr. Barclay Squire.

(In answer to an invitation to a dinner given in honour of
Mr. Lathbury, the Editor of The Pilot.)

' Master's House,

'Temple, E.C., 1903.

' . . . It would have been a real pleasure to me to show in any
manner my respect and regard for Mr. Lathbury and my admira-
tion for the skill and pluck, the patience and perseverance, with


■which he has conducted the enterprise with which his name will
ever be associated.

' For myself, I feel terribly unworthy to be associated with
the Pilot, for Mr. Lathbury has often, I know, wept over the
inadequacy of my ecclesiastical sympathies. I have the mis-
fortune to be one of those " Moderates " who in England, as
in Scotland, have always been held in well-deserved contempt.
But, though I belong partly to the West of England, if I am
not a Mr. Leeper, I at least am not a Plymouth Brother, and
our esteemed editor has always winked very hard at my short-

' I only wish I could have helped him at all in other topics,
but I have not the pen of a ready writer ; as the Scotch sub-
editor ''jocked," so I "write," with '' deeficulty." But I yet
hope when certain other literary engagements ai-e fulfilled, to
have the honour and the privilege now and again of appearing
in Mr. Lathbury's columns. I know no literary journal of higher
aims, and that can boast a higher standard of literary achievement
— and I am proud to have been allowed the place of even the
humblest of its contributors.'



' Do not think me merely professional, if I say that I regard
my sermons as my chief work in life,' — so Ainger said in
his later years. And it was as a preacher that during
those years he mainly figured. When he became Master of
the Temple, his friends often told him that they should not
dare to jest with him as heretofore; and though they meant
it in sport, there was a good deal of truth in their words.
Always sensitive to the dignities of office, he felt to the full
the weight and seriousness of his position. His appointment,
it is true, came to him at a period when he was beginning to
feel older. Social success had been his, his best literary work
was done, and he neither possessed the facility in writing nor
the need to express himself which impels some men to go on
with authorship. A career of usefulness to his fellows in the
state to which he was called seemed to him what was now
desirable ; while the improvement in health and equability
which the last years had brought him made him no longer
so dependent upon the distractions of society. His graver
qualities, always there, now came uppermost ; his brilliant
sallies grew less frequent and were generally reserved for his
intimates. In other circles, when some familiar face or old
association struck a sudden spark from him, he would still
occasionally break forth into drollery or impersonation ; but,
generally speaking, it may be said that those who met him
only after 1894 did not know the real Alfred Ainger. And
this, upon his part, was, as we have seen, the result of a deliber-
ate resolution to renounce all that was not consonant with his
position and with the Christian forbearance it demanded. Wit,
as he was fond of repeating both in public and in private, was
incompatible with kindness or with a sincere religious standard ;



and wit he tried to abandon, as far as he was able — though,
happily for his friends, the ability was not always there. In
other directions also he made for consistency, refusing to
write upon subjects that did not suit with his conception of
himself, ' No, I cannot write humorous articles for you now
that I am IVIaster of the Temple,' he replied to a petitioning
editor, and he did not break his resolve.

All the more could he concentrate his powers upon his
preaching, and the last ten years of his life produced some of
the finest sermons that he wrote. Both in London and in
Bristol, where he repeated his Temple sermons, he drew
crowded congregations and a large number of men. Yet a
popular preacher he never could have been ; his strength and
his weakness alike prevented it. He had a fastidious refine-
ment, a beautiful power of expression, but he rather disliked
eloquence. He excelled in clarity of thought and diction,
rather than in originality or motive power; in a quiet and
practical piety suited to the needs of every day, but not in
the fire that converts sinners and creates enthusiasm. His
gifts were not those that appeal strongly to the poor, or to
any man or class in storm or stress, and it was not surprising
to find that his audiences were composed almost exclusively of
cultivated people. His refusal to use any kind of bait in
order to attract the public amounted, in him, to courage ;
he would always rather be dull than swerve from strict
truth and justice. And his moderation alone would have
excluded him from popularity. Extremes offended him.
Very High Churchmen and very Low Churchmen were both
distasteful to him, though ritualism came in for the larger
share of his impatience. But he could, when he tried, be
just even to extremes and to the tenets that went most
against his grain. ' I am quite aware of the inevitable
corruption of Saint-worship,' he wrote in 1883, ' how it
must degenerate into a machinery for gettnig something for
oneself; but at the same time a Protestant abhorrence
of it is an ignoble thing.' Nothing afflicted him more
than party spirit, or the easy approbation that attended
it. 'Dr. Temple,' he once said, 'was never a party man and


therefore no party specially idolised him. This is the fate
of all men who are early disgusted with the falsehood of
extremes and are keen to avoid them,'

Canon Ainger's conception of preaching, however, needs no
explanation from the outside. He himself has defined it.

' St. Paul's method was not that of the bigot who, framing his
message in the shortest possible terms, cries, " Take that and be
saved ; or reject it and be lost." For St. Paul was a lover of men
as well as a lover of God ; though he could not have loved men so
much had he not loved God more. His method, therefore, was
not to present, as it were, a pistol to their breasts, but to commend
to them the message he was charged with ; to show its reason-
ableness, its necessity, its justice, as well as its beauty and its
compassionateness, by appealing in turn as witnesses to every
faculty of mind, heart, and spirit with which God had endowed
them. For he had learned, as every faithful preacher must surely
learn when in contact with a living, throbbing humanity, that his
own soul, heart, and intellect must enter into the great work he
is sent to do. He must be a preacher ; but to be that he must be
a teacher also. . . . He has to deal alternately with the highest
mysteries of Christian theology, and with the humblest and most
prosaic duties of the family and the home ... to rebuke fiercely,
without fear or favour ; to exhort, to control, to plead, to touch
the heart and the emotions, and to lift the hearer into the region
of the divine by that noblest eloquence, the eloquence of a
passionate enthusiasm for all that is lovely and of good report.'

' This was the idea and the method of Paul the Apostle. . . .
And that which runs through and binds together the whole like
a thread of gold is the absolute sincerity and singleness of purpose
of the man, which shames the most hostile critic from suggesting
that he is ever playing his own game . . . ever using language
that will captivate, as language, irrespective of the truth it
conveys.' ^

Thus much for the preacher; what follows is for the

'Just as the eye must bring with it the power of seeing, so the
ear must bring its power of hearing, which is but its will to hear.
Believe it well — only the cold-hearted and unspiritual will under-
rate the office of the preacher. Only the fool and the flippant

^ ' Preaching '( 7'/4(; Gospel and Human Life).


will laugh at it. For though there may be sermons that are per-
functory and unprofitable, still, just as we are not so illogical as
to deny that we have learned from the poets because much poetry
is mediocre, so we shall hai'dly decline to be thankful to the
pulpit for its successes merely because of its many and inevitable

And it was not only from the pulpit that Canon Ainger
spoke of preaching. His letters, especially such as deal with
the sermons of others, throw light on what he made for in his
own. The following notes are to Mr. Louis Dyer, the husband
of his old friend, Maggie Macmillan, who had now settled
at Oxford : —

'Hampstead, May 31, 1893.

' My dear Dyer, — I fear I must not accept the flattering
invitation of you and your colleagues to speak at the P. Brooks
meeting. The truth must be told ; I am not a very great admirer
of his sermons — and it is only through his sermons that I know
anything of him. I will tell you one day why he fails to
move me. When I saw his earliest volume I was immensely
struck, and indeed it was I who first told the Firm in Bedford
Street that they ought to get hold of his books, which you knoAv
they did. But as I read more of him, I found he did not satisfy
me — for I am one of those old-fashioned ones who think a little
theologi/, and a little unctio7i, improve a sermon.

' I dare say I am utterly wrong ; but in any case you will see
what a wet blanket any speaker would be who was not in com-
plete sympathy with the person whom the meeting sought to

' Forgive me — and " pity my ignorance " — and believe that
there is no question whatever of my love and respect for " the
Church worshipping in Sunbury Lodge." ^

' My love to all such Aquilas and Priscillas — (including Maggie
and the (V) "Olney //?/«.") 2 — Yours ever, Alfred Ainger.'

'June 3, 1893.
' My dear Dyer, — I am feeling rather conscience-stricken
about my last letter to you, concerning Phillips Brooks. Do for-

^ The Gospel and Human Life.
^ The name of the Dyers' house at Oxford.

' An allusion to the Dyers' little son, Volney, whom Canon Ainger had


give me, and ask Maggie to do the same. The truth is I owe
" my own soul " to men so very different from your eloquent
countryman, that I dare say I naturally underrate him. It was
F. D. Maurice who did for me what you say P. B. did for yo^l,
and I was just now reading with a view to a sermon of my own
one of Maurice's (in his Christmas Day and other Sermons volume),
" Human Sorrow the best evidence of Christianity " ; and if you
will some day look at it you will understand the sort of teaching
that affects me most, and indeed almost exclusively.

' Alas, Quot homines tot sententice — and I suppose the medicines
for the soul that we require come through very different chemists'
shops. At all events, forgive me, and believe that I am, always
your and Maggie's affectionate and devoted friend, A. A.'

Ainger''s preaching was more lucid than F. D. Maurice's,
and his structural power was considerable. Mr, R. C, Browne,
his old friend, whose memories have helped us so often, com-
pares him to his predecessor, Hooker.

' I have listened to many discourses of his from that pulpit
which once was Hooker's, and have mused on the contrast
and affinity of the two preachers,' says this writer. ' To tired
lawyers, in their brief Sabbath interval, with the hurrying murmur
of the working-day world still in their ears, the theological pre-
dilections of old time would have been not merely unwelcome,
but intolerable,

' But one peculiarity of Hooker is this. He may be urging
some important consideration, dwelling on and developing it as
he strictly pursues his argument. His readers may think him
oblivious of other considerations as important, to the right or left
of his course. He presently shows that he has not forgotten, has
all the while borne in mind the whole lie of the country, and has
taken the first opportunity to let them know it,

' In a different way Canon Ainger showed a like regard for the
preoccupations of his hearers. He would enlarge on some high
theme, not evidently one "coming home to their business and
bosoms," But presently he came upon things he knew were in
their minds — predominant topics— questions of the hour. These
— not as " improving the occasion," but as lifting them to a higher
plane — would be set in a clearer, diviner light than that of
common day, showing clearly and unobtrusively their relations to
the things of the spirit. And there would he leave the matter,
without any wearying stress of exhortation.'


' What interested him most in religion,"' as Canon Bceching
points out,^ ' was the character of Christ — its power of satisfy-
ing every need of man.'

' If God had not given us this witness (the Holy Spirit) in our-
selves, I think no assurance, not the Bible itself, would make
us believe. But I am sure that we have all felt a power
within us, that has protested against the doubts and despairs of
our life and has triumphed over them and has forced every one
of us to cry aloud : " I know that Christ is true, for He offers me
what I need and what no one else offers. The world cannot
satisfy me. ... I want that which will make me like in nature
unto God." '

This passage is quoted from the first sermon Ainger
preached after his ordination as priest, and he would not have
altered a syllable of it on the last day of his life. No less
characteristic are the words that follow : — ' In religious know-
ledge, as in all other things, dare to be ignorant of many
things, that you may have time and brain and heart for a few
things.' The aphorism contains the essence of what he
made for as a teacher, and on these ' few subjects ' he never
wearied of ringing the changes during the quarter of a
century, and more, that he spoke from the Temple pulpit.
But it must never be forgotten that the ' character of Christ,'
as he conceived it, was unconditionally dependent upon
Christ's divinity. He admitted of no ' broad ' interpretations,
no figurative modes of speech, no Christianity without dog-
matic orthodoxy. The division of ethics from religion was
peculiarly distasteful to him, and he could not bring himself
to think that it could produce sound results, or that any but
shallow natures believed in it.

' Having eliminated Heaven and Hell ' (he says), ' the doctrine
of the need of an atonement with God, and the hope of life
eternal, we present the moral residuum for the consideration and
acceptance of our audience. " It is good to be brotherly and
sympathetic ; it is good to deny self for others ; it is good to be
earnest and hard-working; it is good to be humble, and not to
despise others who have not our cleverness and our culture."

^ Preface to The Gospel and Human Life.


Here is our gospel ; and we present it for the acceptance of the
selfish man, who has been playing his own game and considering
his own interests for so long, that the habit has become second
nature ; of the cynic who has grown old in scorn of all the
* windy ways of men " ; of the intellectual student, who divides
all outside his circle into fools and Philistines ; for the bitter and
discontented, who are unhappy unless they have a grievance ; for
the lounger through life, who never did, and never means to do,
a stroke of work that he can help ; who has accustomed himself
to put on one side all the hardness of life, and to shirk every
responsibility that interferes with his love of ease. The world is
full of these ; and we are told again and again that they are to be
roused, if at all, not by a theology which as men of the world they
know to be exploded, but by setting forth the great lesson that
morality is after all identical with self-interest ; or else that, as
members of a social body, it is necessary to be moral in the
general interest. ..." Abhor that which is evil, cleave to that
which is good." A splendid and comprehensive cure for all the
evils of the individual and of society — if only it were followed.
But divorced from any assurance of power in us to follow it, or
of hope of its ultimate attainment, it remains a piece of advice
only, and not a gospel for sin-stricken humanity.' ^

Or take this passage from another sermon : —

' " Christianity without Dogma " — this is the medicine, people
say, for this age, and the only medicine which the sensible man
will consent to take at the hands of the religious teacher of the

' Christ's morals, without any trouble as to Christ's own state-
ments about Himself; Christ's morals without the Incarnation,
without the Atonement, without the Resurrection : Christianity,
in short, without Christ. But here, in the instance of this noble-
man and of every other sufferer who came in the same way into
connection with the Saviour, and was drawn toward Him, and
made a new creature by Him, it was the precisely opposite state
of things. Here was a man to whom not Christianity, but Christ,
was the motive force which changed him, and lifted him out of
darkness into light ! . . . Look at Jesus Christ as the nobleman
looked at Him, unencumbered with any metaphysics. Look at
Him as the Fountain of Health — health of body and of soul ; the

' ' The Enormous Influence of Character ' ( The Gospel and Human Lift).


Pattern of all Goodness ; the embodiment of a holiness which the
greatest saint that ever has lived since has found infinitely higher
than himself can hope to attain. Look at Him as the Fountain
of Pity — pity for His suffering and sinning fellows ; the Fountain
of Love — longing for each one of us — the publican and the harlot
no less than the young agnostic and man of the world. It is this
Interpreter of life, and Refuge for life's evils, that you are reject-
ing when you plead that you cannot be bothered with the intri-

Online LibraryEdith Helen SichelThe life and letters of Alfred Ainger → online text (page 28 of 32)