Edith Helen Sichel.

The life and letters of Alfred Ainger online

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rather than to the "lighter heart" that he oftenest appeals.
Newman, to mention no small names, found Crabbe's pathos and
fidelity to Human Nature even more attractive to him in advanced
years than in youth. There is indeed much in common between
Crabbe's treatment of life and its problems, and Newman's.
Both may be called "stern" portrayers of human nature, not

* Essay on George Crabbe {Burford Papers).


only as intended in Byron's famous line, but in Wordsworth's use of
the epithet when he invoked Duty as the " stern Daughter of the
Voice of God." '

One possession Alfred Ainger had which never failed him —
his pure and distinguished style. It was born with him, and
he kept it intact till the end. Choiceness rather than
brilliance is its essential quality, and when he asserted that
he * wrote as the Scotsman joked — with deeficulty,' he did not
overstate the truth. 'You have pierced the joints of my
armour,' he once said to a friend, who had been writing about
the napkins in which men tied up their talents and had spoken
by the way of the paralysing fastidiousness that often deprived
literature of the most literary writers. Doubtless, he might
have written more, but then he would not have been himself,
and that he invariably was. Perhaps his gift was one of
personality rather than one of originality, and this makes his
work the harder to detach from him and therefore difficult to
quote from. Of anything second-rate he was incapable. Good
taste, which involves good sense, and the moral wisdom which
cuts deeper, were what from first to last he made for. And
in his attempt to win them, he gained something else besides
— a something which he himself has described as a distinction
of Charles Lamb's. For us it also breathes from his pages :
' The undying attraction that belongs to the unity of sincerity
and charm, which means purity of heart, and tenderness —
itself gold and turning to gold all it touches — the charity
which in literature, as in life, is the grace above all graces.'^

^ * How I traced Charles Lamb in Hertfordshire ' {Lectures and Essays).



Hitherto there had been no real break in Ainger's strength.
Delicate and changeable his health always was, but he had
the resistance that so often belongs to frail people. Until
1903 he remained active, almost young. Those who haunted
the Embankment will remember his daily walk there; they
will keep an image of his figure, leaning sliglitly forward, and
of his quick step — so quick that his companion could scarcely
keep up with it — and of his sudden halt to feed the gulls ;
of the white birds wheeling round his upturned head and
flocking round him to take the crumbs. So intent was he on
the gulls, that he was not aware of the little group that used
to gather round him, but would stride away again unconscious,
bent upon finishing his constitutional. And until the summer
of the same year he kept all his usual public engagements,
remaining faithful as ever to old ties. One of the last
committees he attended was that of the Hampstead Concert
Society, which always met at his house and received his

At Bristol, too, he had fully kept up his activities. And
outside his professional duties — the two cathedral services
daily, the chapter meetings, the philanthropic chairmanships,
the preachings for neighbouring clergymen — the list of these
activities was a long one. Nowhere else was he so constantly
asked to read, or to lecture, for charities or for educational
purposes : for a Girls'* High School, for the Pupil Teachers,
for the boys of the Cathedral School, to whom, besides this,
he set a yearly examination paper in a Shakespeare play,
himself giving the prize. And nowhere else, perhaps, did
his social life make such incessant demands upon him. He
hardly ever dined at home ; and as, year by year, the num-



ber of Bristol friends increased, friends whom he loved as
well as liked, the claims of friendship were added to those
of society.

All this he thoroughly enjoyed, yet he felt the strain
almost unconsciously, often attributing his sense of fatigue to
the relaxing climate of the place. From the first, this had
oppressed him considerably, though, like many other people,
he had tried to avoid its ill effects by living on the heights of
Clifton. But he showed no sign of giving in, unless it were
that in the last years he gave up officiating at the daily
morning service and avoided walking up and down the steep
Clifton Hill to and from the Cathedral, making, for him, the
great concession of driving home every afternoon.

Bristol repaid him by loving him. A friend of his, Mr.
Leonard, has left us a portrait of him there, which, though it
does not — as how could it ? — tell of any new qualities, yet
gives us a living impression of him at his work, framed in by
the wharfs and thoroughfares of the busiest of Cathedral

' He was/ it runs, 'a man we could ill spare. . . . His presence
counted. . . . We liked to see him moving through our streets. . . .
He did not look like other men. ... A painter indeed could
hardly have wished for a better subject than Canon Ainger ;
drawing him, perhaps, as he sat deep in his chair, his hands held
up and clasped together, as was his manner sometimes . . . his
whole face listening. . . . Or an artist with a feeling for colour
might have left us, one is temjjted to think, a picture of the
preacher, bending over his paper in the pulpit, with the beauti-
ful hair, the ivory face, and the full and long white surplice —
hopelessly out of ecclesiastical fashion, I am afraid — that he
allowed himself to wear.'

' And what was it that gave him his charm as a reader ? . . . His
voice, if not very strong, was of remarkable beauty and flexibility.
It could be, when he wished it, full of music. I shall never for-
get the way in which he read the song of Ariel in the Tempest.
One could hear the sea-nymphs ringing out the knell of the
drowned father. ... It seemed no " mortal business," no sound
framed by a human voice. The very words were like a bell.
He did not attempt to force his hearers against their will, or


beyond their intelligence, but those who had the ear to hear
might hear.' ^

The same friend tells us how he once told him some
anecdote in a letter. ' Your story was excellent,*" answered
Ainger, ' and I have already made several appreciative persons
happy with it,' ' That was it,' says Mr. Leonard, ' he made
himself and others " happy '"' with good stories.'

It was not in Bristol, but in London, in the summer of
1903, that a marked change came over him. Till June he
led his life as usual, finishing his biography of Crabbe, enjoy-
ing Joachim's music, seeing friends. But in June influenza
laid him low, weakening his heart. ' I am very ill — with two
nurses and everything handsome about me,' he wrote while
still in bed, prostrate — even then cheered by memories of
Dogberry. And though to all appearances he recovered,
he was not the same again. Family troubles, too, came
to sadden him. In July Mr. Walter Evans, the husband
of his younger niece, died, while the delicacy of the elder
one had for some time caused him anxiety. However, he
revived in Scotland, although he was obliged to give up
walking much — hitherto his favourite resource — and very
small exertions tired him. In October he resumed his duties,
and threw himself into them with his usual zest. Never did
he more enjoy the music at the Temple, or that which his
beloved organist, Walford Davies, often made for him at
home. And nothing made him happier in these last months
than the growing success of this younger friend, or interested
him more than his compositions, especially ' Everyman,' the
setting of which to music had originally been Ainger's
suggestion. The depression of the summer had vanished
and he kept his engagements without undue effort : going
down to Bristol to read a paper on preaching, on October
14, before the Church Congress; dining on the Grand Day
at the Middle Temple to meet the King ; coming from his
nephew's home at Sandwich to attend a Literary Fund Com-
mittee one morning, and travelling to Cambridge the same
afternoon. On November 19, he had pledged himself to
' Canon Ainger — a Short Study, by George Hare Leonard.


preach at St. Paul's for the London Choir Association, of
which Dr. Davies was the conductor, and the strain upon his
voice and his strength resulted in exhaustion ; nor was his state
much improved by preaching three days after in the Chapel
Royal. This was his last sermon. And the lecture that, on
the 23rd, he gave upon Cowper at Lord Brassey's, proved to
be his last lecture. Many remarked that day how ill he
looked ; and when he returned home, he himself said that he
had ahnost been compelled to sit upon the table, so weak and
unable to stand had he felt before he got through his task.
He consulted his old friend. Dr. Bowles, who found that
there was mischief at his heart and forbade him to preach or
to walk.

At first Ainger thought that the discomfort was passing,
that all would soon be as before and that January would see
him in Bristol ; but gradually the truth was borne in upon
him, and though he was not seriously anxious, he knew that a
great change had come. At the end of November he had
resolved to resign his canonry. He felt the touch of age
upon him, the first real weakening of the powers that had
never failed him till now. ' This is the saddest day of my
life,' he said, when he sent the final letter about Bristol. His
resignation was met by an outburst of regret, of letters both
from friends and strangers. Perhaps the one that gratified
him most came from Mr. Arnold Thomas, a Nonconformist
minister near Bristol, whom he hardly knew.

'Sneyd Park, Bristol.

' Dear Canon Ainger ' (it runs), — ' It was on my mind to write
to you when I read, to my great sorrow, of your resignation, but
I felt that, on the whole, it would be kinder not to trouble you.

' Now, however, that you have replied by anticipation to any
such letters as this, I feel the more free to write and say that I
grieve very much over the loss which this city has sustained.
You have been a great reconciling influence here. And we sorely
need such influences. Amid all the brawling that goes on, we
must thank Heaven for every clear eye that is steadily fixed on the
best and essential things, and every voice that is heard bearing
witness, without clamour or bitterness, to the noble simplicities


of piety and goodness. Such an eye and such a voice we have
had for these sixteen years in Bristol, and now — but we will
praise God for His gift, and try to be the right sort of people
ourselves. — Yours most truly, H. Arnold Thomas.'

And this is Canon Ainger's answer :

' Dear Mr. Thomas, — There are some letters — kind and grati-
fying — that I have been able to answer only through the public
press, but yoicrs must not be one of these ! For indeed it gave
me pleasm-e of a deep and rare sort. I think I may say without
presumption that you have truly interpreted one chief aim and
object that I have had in view during the years of my connection
with Bristol. I have tried to lay stress upon the things that
matter : the great things of God ; and to show how miserably, by
the side of these, bulk the petty things about which so many of
us spend our lives in arguing. It has been, I assure you, one of
the chiefest comforts of my Bristol career that I learned from
time to time that my Nonconformist brethren, such as yourself,
looked favourably upon my efforts, and regarded me as a fellow-
worker with themselves.

' I wish I could have seen more of you ; but the incidents of
a canonical residence make it difficult to find time for much social
and intellectual communion with o«j/ of one's fellow-teachers.

' I thank you heartily for your letter, and feel the better and
braver for it.

' 1 suppose you are seldom in London, or it would give me
extreme pleasure to see and entertain you at my Temple
House. . . .

* Once more thanking you deeply, I remain, dear Mr. Thomas,
most truly yours, Alfred Ainger.'

And he writes in the same strain to Miss Sturge from the
Temple :

' It has been ever my earnest desire and aim in my ministra-
tions at Bristol to lay stress ... on the great truths which unite
us, and to keep in the background the petty fancies and fabrica-
tions that keep us apart. My real and lasting reward was in the
appreciation of those whose approval I valued, and the friendship
of so many that I hope I may never forfeit.'

Meanwhile friends were flocking round his sofa in London


and doing their best to cheer the hours of inactivity which
went so against his nature. He had often longed for repose,
but only as a longing could it have pleased him. 'The rest
of whicli he dreamed when he retired from professional work
could only mean to such a temperament . . . restlessness' —
these words of his own about Lamb equally fit his case. Talk
was now his great resource, for reading easily fatigued him
and writing was impossible.

' November 27, 1903.

* My dear Lathbury ' (he Avrote to the editor of the Pilot), —
* You must not be angry with me — I have not been well of late
— and indeed my heart has been playing tricks, probably (my
doctor says) as a pleasant outcome of my influenza in the summer.
" Drop the Pilot " — never! As long as I have a sixpence it shall
have threepence. But never again will I write " reviews " or
compose roiind about any book. I can't do it, and I /late it ! I
wish I could think of any subject on which I could write, but I
know so little of anything, and everything has been done.

' Your reviewer of my Crahbe is handsome enough towards me.
But why does he have his knife into the poor poet, and insinuate
that he took Orders simply and solely for a livelihood .'' There is
no foundation for such a statement.

' I know that Crabbe was not a High Churchman, but his
subsequent attitude towards Dissenters ought to have warmed
the heart of any contributor to the Pilot. — Ever yours,

*A. AiNGER.'

Happily music never failed in its power to soothe him, and
more than one was at hand to play or sing to him. There
was a memorable evening in December when Dr. Davies
played and the two planned a future rendering of La Belle
Dame sans Merci, with Ainger to read it and his friend to
provide the accompaniment — an interpretation like their
former achievements, The Brook and The Ancient Mariner.
Elated by the music he had heard. Canon Ainger once more
took up a volume of Wordsworth and read 'The Ode to
Duty' and the 'Lines on the Departure of Sir Walter Scott
from Abbotsford for Naples,' letting his voice linger lovingly
on his favourite line :

' Wafting your charge to soft Parthenope.'


He read 'Rose Aylmer,' too, to the little group of friends
in the room — the group that was to hear him no more.
Christmas came on apace. On the Sunday before Christmas
Day he sat in the vestry and listened to part of the Cliristmas
Oratorio, and on Christmas Day itself he enjoyed the carols
sung by the choir-boys, who came to him in the early morn-
ing. That day he was present in church and assisted at the
Holy Communion, nor was he absent from the service on the
two following Sundays. He seemed decidedly better, and his
spirits rose accordingly. ' My doctors say I have got a dilated
heart — but your kindness has made it also a delighted one,'
he wrote to a friend, Mrs. Causton, who had just knitted
him a waistcoat — and one (as he announced with pride) that
the tailor called 'an almost perfect fit.' He liked to make
jokes about his heart. ' Although the doctor says my heart
is wrong, you shall always find it in the right place,' he said
(quoting his favourite Hood) to another friend, on New Year's

On January 5 he was allowed to travel to Darley Abbey.
Had he some vague premonition of the end ? Little things
seem to point to it. 'I am just now barred from all work
and exciting matters,' he writes from there, 'and am rest-
ing by my physician's orders as much as possible. I am
staying here with my widowed niece — the younger of the two
to whom I was long ago left guardian and who have been
to me as daughters.' These last words, sent, as they were,
to a stranger and from so reserved a man, are not without
significance ; and little chance expressions in other letters that
he wrote at this time convey a sense that just now he was
realising, with almost the acuteness of parting, the things that
had made life precious to him.

The first days of his stay went by peacefully, diversified by
country drives and undisturbed, save by his anxiety to pro-
vide preachers at the Temple.

* Do you know any " mute, inglorious " Hookers, whom I might
allow to air their fancies in that august arena ? ' he wrote to Mrs.

* Thomas Hood told a friend that the doctors said his heart was * hung too
low.' ' Never mind,' he added, 'yon shall always find it in the right place.'


Andrew Lang on January 10. 'I am thinking of doing Hood
for the Men of Letters Series — expanding for the purpose a
memoir I once prefixed to an edition of his Poems in the Evei-sley
Series. Did you ever read it .'' I ahnost think it is my best piece
of prose thus far.'

But he did not gain in strength.

' All your other news ' (he wrote to Walford Davies on January
12), 'as that of our boys taking part in the Bach Choir Chorus
was, you will believe, music to my ears. And indeed in every
success that you achieve, you have no warmer sympathisers and
rejoicers than the household of the " Master's House." ... As
for myself, I don't know of much change in my physical condi-
tion. After a past week of "physic," I am now to pass a fresh
week wUhotit any ! Which reminds me of the Irishman who fed
his pig one day, and starved it the next, in order to produce
"streaky" bacon. But I suppose there is some method in the
inscrutable ways of the medical profession. . . .'

On January 19, he read for the last time, to a girl who
was staying in the house and whom he did not want to dis-
appoint. He asked her to come close up to him so that she
might hear, and he read her Thackeray's 'Little Dinner at
Timmins's," with all his old spirit. That night he went up
to his room, never to come down again. He had caught a
severe chill, and the bad symptoms at the heart reasserted
themselves. On the evening of the 22nd he sent down a
message to his elder niece, asking her to go to him. When
she came he began to speak rather hurriedly ; he said that he
thought he should not live ; that he had no fear of death ;
that, although he knew all his faults, his faith upheld and
consoled him. 'My life," he added, 'has been happy, and
no one has had such friends as I have."" Of many of these he
talked with love and thankfulness, and he charged her with
special messages to them. After his first words he was calm
and collected, and he expressed very lucidly his wishes as to
certain matters of business. In the next few days he grew
worse, but he did not again allude to his death, excepting
once, not long before it happened, when, thinking that no


one heard him, he whispered, ' The end has come, the end
has come, I only stand and wait.'

' Well, nurse, you will have a very troublesome patient,'
was his greeting when the sick-nurse came, but he did not
fulfil his prediction. He was perfectly patient, even cheerful,
as long as he remained conscious, and tenderly considerate
of others. Pneumonia soon supervened, and matters became
more critical. Dr. Bowles, his friend of fifty years, was sent
for. 'Robert, you have come to take me out of the jaws of
death,' he said to him when he arrived — but generally he tried
to make light of his bodily distresses. ' Never mind, it will
soon be all right,' was his usual formula after any acute bout
of suffering.

He had moments of revival, but they were transitory and
his strength quickly sank again. His impressions became con-
fused, yet confused in a characteristic way. He thought, for
instance, that a photograph from an Italian picture which
hung opposite his bed was the portrait of Frederick Denison
Maurice, whose spirit, it would seem, was still with him and
guarded the approaches of death. In his last week, the first
week of February, he spoke little to others, but ' he constantly
murmured the names of those with whom he had lived in his
younger days, and often repeated the name of his faithful
old Nurse, Lem. Sometimes he would hum a few bars of
music, and one morning early, when his window was open
and he heard the birds singing, he said, "Those were very
agreeable voices I heard this morning."' These were almost
his last coherent words. When his niece came into his room
on Monday morning, the 8th of February, she saw that he had
greatly altered. As she stood near his bed, * he opened his
eyes and gave an unforgettable look — a wonderful look which
seemed to express surprise and happiness. It was as if he had
been at the gates of Heaven and had come back for a moment.'
All the morning he lay unconscious, and at a quarter to
one he passed away. The next day, February 9, would iiave
been his sixty-seventh birthday.

Many of his friends came from London to attend his funeral
in Derbyshire; many more were present at the memorial



service in the Temple Church, where Dr. Davies played the
Master's favourite song of Schubert — the beautiful Litanei
allei' Seelen. And he lies at rest, as he desired, next to his
friend, Walter Evans, in the churchyard of Darley Abbey.
On the cross above the grave are the words : ' I know
Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able
to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that

The story of Alfred Ainger is the story of a personality,
and of one more than usually elusive. The effect that he
produced upon the world is inseparable from that of his
presence, and in his case, more than in most, it may be said
that the letter killeth. His spiritual message, though a
permanent, was a quiet one, more akin to the humble pieties
of daily life than to the problems of modern thought. He
belonged to no main road, either of time or of literature ;
his gift was not for greatness, but distinction. And it was
in the winding bypaths, with their unexpected twists and
turnings, with their sudden outlooks on fair places, that his
figure was wont to wander. There it is that he will still be
found by those who seek him out ; that he will still speak to
those who love him for what he is.


AiNGEB, Canou Alfred : —

His birth aud descent, 1-4 ; cliild-
hood, 4-6 ; early literaiy abilities,
6, 28 ; dramatic power, 6-8, 25-7,
29,111,116; musical tastes, 9,23-
4, 99 ; health, 9, 24, 34, 81, 119,
127, 173, 257, 259, 310, 340,
343 ; schooldays, 9, 11 ; at King's '
College, 20 ; at Cambridge, 33 ;
his peculiarities, 25, 120, 283 ;
personal appearance, 32, 87, 185,
282, 340 ; religion, 9, 65-9, 201,
310-11, 315, 344, 347; un-
certainty as to profession, 45,
64 ; ordination (deacon), 72 ;
(priest), 80 ; work at Alrewas,
73, 75; at Sheffield, 80; ap-
pointed Reader to the Temple,
85 ; his life in chambers, 101 ;
home at Hampstead, 117; can-
onry at Bristol, 137; LL.D, of
Glasgow, 139; his resignation of
Temple Readership, 257 ; accept-
ance of St. Edward's, Cambridge,
258 ; travels, 259 ; Master of the
Temple, 366 ; Chaplain to the
Queen, 273 ; as lecturer, 185 ; as
preacher, 314-25 ; his attitude
toward literature, 187, 193 ; art,
200; music, 100, 121, 288, 345,
348 ; wit and humour, 206-15,
310 ; failing powers, 343 ; death,

Letters of, to : —

'Jocky,' 5; a little girl, 96-8,
104; Atkinson, Mrs., 76, 77,
95; Atkinson, Mr., 83, 86;
Bather, Archdeacon, 150-1, 258 ;

Beeching, Canon, 297, 300 ; Bos-
worth-Smith, Mr. , 308 ; Bowles,
Mrs., 105; Browne, Mr. R. C,
31 ; Campbell, Mr. Dykes, 129,
138, 154-6, 158, 160-2, 164, 166,
169-70, 175, 176, 178, 234-5, 237,
244,246-7, 249-54; Causton.Mrs.,
346; Cave, Mr., 170,293; Davies,
Dr. Walford, 347; Donne, Mr.
Mowbray, 159, 271, 298; Du
Maurier, Mr., 135-6, 140-3, 172-4,
177, 181-3, 260, 262, 269, 279;
Dyer, Mr. Louis, 318; Elder-
ton, Mr. Wm., 35-50, 64, 67-8;
Gelderd Somervell, Mrs., 154;
Gillies, MissMargaret,123; Gosse,
Mr. Edmund, 175-6, 177, 249, 256,
267, 289, 297; King, Miss, 30,

Online LibraryEdith Helen SichelThe life and letters of Alfred Ainger → online text (page 31 of 32)