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Dean Aldrich :

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By T. Combe, M.A., E. B. Gardner, and E. Pickard Hall,


De a n A Idr ich .

We met together here in our Hall last year to do honour,
on this our high Feast-day, to one whose lot it was to stand
up before all time in the vigour and vividness of an historic
personality ; one endowed with an energy to mould the policy
of a State, a boldness to encounter Emperors, an ambition
that sought its home in the spiritual throne of Catholic
Christendom : one who gathered up into himself, for the last
time in England's history, the gorgeous pomp and power and
splendour, which was possible only when one man could wield
at once the sword of the State and the thunders of the
Church, could robe the bare human mechanism of his autho-
rity from the king with the ghostly grandeur of an embassy
from the Emerald-bound Throne set on the Crystal Sea. To-
night I have to bring before the memory of the House a
character of a far different type ; the character of a quiet,
humble, home-like scholar, of a gentle, modest musician ; of
a man, born indeed into stormy times, but round whose
peaceful life and temper storms and tempests broke in vain ;
of one who seems ever to shrink from such publicity as his

hiG;^h qualities compel him to assume ; who, whether Mon-
mouth was fighting, or James was flying, or William was
delivering, lived on his round of College duty, content if he
could put in a good word when Papist grew rampant or Dis-
senter threatened, but never so happy as when dignity and
glory could be tossed aside, and he could sit and study Italian
scores, or edit a Classic for his scholars, or sing a catch with
a friend, or smoke his everlasting pipe. It is a curious con-
trast : the one battered with hatred, worn with struggle, seared
with strife ; now ' floating in a sea of glory,' now ' left weary
and old to the mercy of a rude stream that must for ever hide
him :' the other, moving in peaceful settled ease along the
even tenor of his way, enjoying the calm pleasure of graceful
culture, the smooth placid flow of genial friendship and of
unbroken affection, here among the dreaming spires and quiet
meadows, admired, esteemed, beloved unto the end. If the
former be the type of the strong rough energy by which
institutions are created and founded, the latter is the type of
that unceasing, steady growth, that tranquil, silent, hidden
working which they foster and by which they live.

Henry Aldrich was born in Westminster in the year 1647,
a year in which Westminster rang to the shouts of tumultuous
apprentices, and St. James's Fields were noisy with drums,
busy with enlistment, for Presbyterianism had sworn to die
in harness against the Levellers of Fairfax and Cromwell.
Strange weird noises to be sounding in a baby's ears ! and
it is this characteristic contrast of his birth, that gives a tone
to his whole life, a life of unruffled innocent peace in the very
heart of broil and turmoil. To illustrate this, I will go

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through the chief epochs of his Hfe, just recalling at each its
historical setting : for we must remember the forces that were
in activity about and around him in order to appreciate the
quiet that reigns in him.

In his early boyhood, at Westminster School, he must have
heard that howling wind that roared round the Protector's
deathbed at Whitehall in 1658. In 1660 he must have seen
from the old Dormitory windows the Abbey reddened with
the fires that blazed night after night for the return of the
Free Parliament, and heard the shouts of the multitudes in
Palace Yard who were welcoming back the old members of
the famous House that had rebelled against the father and
now met to restore the son. In 1662, when Vane, on the
scaffold at Tower Hill, was setting the last seal of blood to
the grim enthusiasm of the old Puritan faith, Aldrich, at the
age of fifteen, left Westminster for Oxford.

The last year of his undergraduate life was startled by
the sudden inroad of the Parliament at Oxford, fled from the
plague ; and we can picture the fearful news it must have
told him of the city he knew so well, of the doors staring
ghastly and ominous with the red cross of Death on tlie panels,
of the naked wilderness of streets, of the deadly silence, broken
only by the howls of the prophets of woe, or the dreary beli
of the pest-cart. Well would he believe the tale that a
flaming sword glared along the heavens from his own West-
minster to the Tower.

That Oxford Parliament passed the Five Mile Act ; and
Aldrich would thus have witnessed the most stringent triumph
of the Church.

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In 1666, while Monk and Rupert rode triumphant between
Urie and SchilHng, and De Witt, amidst the conflagration of
Brandaris, swore never to sheathe his sword till he had his
revenge — an oath blown across the Channel by the very winds
that hurled the Great Fire through London — Aldrich took his
Bachelor's Degree; and in 1669, while Charles was meditating
Rome, and Lauderdale strangling the Covenant, he became
a Master.

In 1 68 1, there was another Parliament held at Oxford, a
stormy Parliament, elected in the fierce inhuman frenzy of the
Popish plot, under a wild burst of excitement such as England
had never before known in electioneering annals : a Parlia-
ment whose Whig members arrived in Oxford surrounded by
retainers armed with staves, with ribbons of ' No Popery, no
Slavery' in their hats, all sworn to exclude the Duke of York
from the throne : a Parliament dissolved in the midst of rage
and tumult, and hurried to its end by almost a flight of the
King. It was about such a time that old Canon Speed died,
an old loyalist chaplain to the Duke of York, in one of whose
naval battles with the Dutch he is said to have

• Prayed like a Christian and fought like a Turk : '

and into his stall Aldrich was appointed, more interested, we
may suppose, in the Duke for whom his predecessor fought,
than in the Whiggery which he saw so hot and furious in its
onset on that Duke's succession.

In 1683 the tide had turned, and at the moment that the
new ebb swept away Lord Russell and Algernon Sidney in
its revenging flood, Aldrich's University passed, in answer to

the dying rebels, its famous decree of passive obedience :
* That all Readers, Tutors, and Catechists should diligently
instruct their pupils in this doctrine which is the badge of the
Church of England, the doctrine of submitting to every ordi-
nance of man for the Lord's sake, and that this submission be
clear, absolute, and without exception,'

What part Aldrich bore in this I know not ; but I cannot
doubt. It was a question to a great extent between loyal
Church and unruly Nonconformity, and Aldrich, as Hearne
says, was ' above all a sincere member of the Church of
England.' His Dean was Dr. Fell, 'a worthy successor of the
illustrious Dr. Laud ' in Oxford, says Antony a Wood ; and his
colleague in the Chapter was Dr. South.

Anyhow, when the fiery trial came, Christ Church did not
crack under the strain of its own enactment, a charge so often
thrown in the face of the heroes of Magdalen. For, in 1686,
the great Dean, Dr. Fell, died, ' a learned and pious divine,'
says Antony a Wood, ' an excellent Grecian, a great assertor
of the Church, a second founder of his College, a patron of
the whole University, a husband to the widow, a father to the
orphan :' and Aldrich and that eminent band of men then in
the House must have waited, not without some flutter of ex-
pectation, nor yet without some qualms of fear, the issue of
the royal appointment. It was just then that James had
resolved to carry out a dangerous policy with a high hand,
and for this he was ready to harry and corrupt the whole
Bench at Westminster Hall. By a rigorous purgation, eleven
Judges were secured who would give a voice to the king's
infamy. Henceforth James was free to dispense with penal


statutes on his own authority : and as he looked round for an
opening, the Deanery of Christ Church fell vacant. He had
already let the first flush of his power loose on Oxford by
freeing Obadiah Walker, Master of University College, from
the trammels in which his conversion had intricated him ; yet
this was only for the retaining of his old position, not for
positive preferment to a new. But now, under the influence
of this Walker, he chose for the highest ecclesiastical position
in the University, for the Deanery of the Cathedral, for the
Headship of this House, a renegade from the Church, a Papist,
a Layman, of an alien College — Massey of Merton.

In the December of that year, Massey was met at the
gate by the Chapter, with Aldrich, Siibdean, at its head,
and by him installed. It was not so long since Dean
Reynolds had fought his way with hammer and blows into
his College ; not many years after, Aldrich himself walked as
Vice-Chancellor in full procession to find Magdalen Hall gate
barred against its new Head, and began ' chopping it in
pieces :' but we hear of no murmuring of the Christ Church
men. They had voted their principle, and they stuck to it :
they at least would not decree passive obedience for others,
and active resistance for themselves. Yet it was a bitter cup
to swallow. Hear some words from King James's ' Licence,
Dispensation, and Pardon to our trusty and well-beloved John
Massey. We do give and grant him our royal licence to
absent himself from Church or Chapel, to forbear giving his
assent to the contents of the Book of Common Prayer ; and
do free him from doing, declaring or subscribing all and
every such acts or things in conformity to the doctrine and


Liturgy of the Church of England as he, by reason of his
being Dean, by the laws and statutes of this our realm, or
by any statute, constitution or custom of the University of
Oxford, or of the College called Christ Church, is or shall
be obliged to perform, make or subscribe ; and we do hereby
pardon, remit, exonerate and discharge the said John Massey
from all pains, penalties, censures or disabilities by him in-
curred or to be incurred.'

It can hardly have been a merry installation for our poor
Subdean under a title such as this ; and we have some inkling
of his private feelings at the time, for within a year he wrote
his ' Reply to two Discourses on the Adoration of our Lord
in the Eucharist,' Discourses written by Woodhead under the
arch-enemy Walker's direction, and printed at the Press which
another royal Dispensation had allowed ' our trusty and well-
beloved Obadiah Walker' to erect in his house for the printing
of Popish books. One wonders whether Canon Aldrich felt
overjoyed with loyalty when he stood under the Great Gate
in 1687 to meet and escort the king to his lodgings at the
Deanery ; or when he went in the royal train to Massey's
Popish Chapel in the old Refectory of Canterbury Hall, to
hear a sermon preached before all the great doctors and proc-
tors, by one William Hall, a secular priest, son of a cook in
Ivy Lane, St. Paul's Churchyard ; or when he heard of the
Magdalen Fellows summoned before the king at the Deanery,
and roundly threatened in rough language, that if they did
not elect Parker as President before the morning, it would
be the worse for them.

However, he had not to bear it long. That very year


came out the Declaration of Indulgence for Scotland, of Toler-
ation for England. Dissent was egged on by the Court to
revile the Church. Next year James heard ring in his ears
the shouts of his packed soldiery at the deliverance of the
Bishops ; Massey fled over the sea to find a less troublesome
task than the discipline of unruly Undergraduates, in the
direction of the Convent of Blue Nuns at Paris ; and peace-
fully, quietly, gently, out of all this scurry and whirl, Aldrich
attains his highest post, and on June 17th, 1689, as if to assert
the re-appearance of calm after the storm, he is vested with
the dignity of Dean. From far away, James nominated a
Pretender to the throne of Christ Church — Woodrofife, once
Canon ; but the Anti-pope felt his weakness, and retired to
the deserted quads of Gloucester Hall.

Keeping to Aldrich's public life, the very year of his ap-
pointment the king issued a Commission, 'out of his pious
and princely care for the good order, edification, and unity
of the Church of England, and for the reconciling of all dif-
ferences among our subjects,' to revise the Liturgy and Canons.
To the Bishops on the Commission were joined twenty Priests
of note— Tillotson, Stillingfleet, Patrick, and others; and 'with
such men as these were mingled,' says Lord Macaulay, 'some
divines of the High Church party, conspicuous among them
two of the rulers of Oxford — Jane and Aldrich.' They met
in the Jerusalem Chamber, and at the first meeting a dispute
ended in the withdrawal of the Oxford party, Sprat, Aldrich,
and Jane. The question was, the authority of William to issue
the Commission ; but the whole retirement bears the colouring
of an unwillingness to fall in with the prime objects of the


Commission, which tallies with the position taken up by Aldrich
in the Convocation which trod on the heels of this Commission.
There we have few records of his words ; but the temper of
opposition to the designs of Tillotson evidently found a con-
sistent representative in Aldrich. For instance, he is chosen
with Dean Kidder to represent to the Lords the objections
of the Lower House to classing the Church with other Pro-
testant bodies in an address to the king. He is on a Com-
mittee which forces the Bishops to dissolve this close union,
and which refuses to consent to any the slightest equivocation
that might seem to slur the difference or bridge the breach.
Aldrich thus put himself in the front of that strong feeling
which, throughout this Convocation, preserved the intensity
of the Church at the price of its extension.

In 1692, while England was exultant over the glory of
La Hogue, and Scotland shuddering over the shame of Glen-
coe, Aldrich became Vice-Chancellor, the last Vice-Chancellor
from this House till the honour was again renewed for us in
the person of a Dean who has seen, during his Vice-Chan-
cellorship, France suffer a greater rebuff even than La Hogue,
on the fields of Worth, Sedan, and Gravelotte. He held the
office throughout 1693, in the December of which year he set
his name to the banishment of Antony a Wood, in the Proctors'
Black Book ; and at the renewal of the office for 1694, while
William was struggling against France in the Netherlands,
Aldrich spoke a speech against ' hatts turned up on one

But the most exciting time of Aldrich's life has yet to
come, and here we find the old contrast between himself and

1: "1


his surroundings at its height. In the Convocation of 1700,
a fierce and deadly feud had arisen between the Upper and
Lower Houses. Its roots lay deep. ' The two parties,' says
Cardwell, ' into which the kingdom was divided, were placed
in more direct hostility and furnished with more deadly weapons
when they met upon ecclesiastical grounds and in a Convoca-
tion. The House of Bishops was under the influence of the
Court : the Lower House had contracted much of the spirit
of the Non-Jurors.' The struggle blazed out on the question
of prorogation. This the Archbishop claimed as against the
Prolocutor. Round this latter office, therefore, the storm raged
and thundered ; and into this office, just when the tempest
was at its Avorst, Aldrich was deputed ; deputed, too, on the
mere authority of the sick Prolocutor, in a wild peal of defi-
ance against the Archbishop and the hated Burnet.

The Dean of Christ Church advanced to say prayers, and
by importunity was prevailed upon to take the chair at once.
His very popularity disarmed the opposition, who could offer,
says White Kennet, 'no disrespect to the person thus thrust
into the chair, especially as Dr. Aldrich behaved himself with
decency and silence.' Again, when his Grace summoned them,
' we could not oppose,' Kennet owns, ' the Dean of Christ
Church going at the head of us, with cap and verger, as
formal Prolocutor.' This summoning ended in tumultuous
rebellion, Aldrich was elected Prolocutor next session, the
whole of which was spent in the prosecution of the fight. It
was during this session that the Lower House balanced its
revolt against the Upper by a Declaration of its belief in the
Divine right of Episcopacy, not the last time that the High


Church party has had to assert the apostolical authority of
Bishops in the abstract by means of a war with Bishops in
the concrete. ' The hostility of the two parties,' says Cardwell
of this session, 'became fixed and embittered, and the whole
kingdom partook in the strife.'

On February 23, 1703, in a lull of the firing, Mr. Prolocutor
Aldrich attended Mr. Speaker to thank Queen Anne for her
unexampled bounty to the Poor Clergy.

But by March he was presenting a strong representation to
the Archbishop, and his Grace explains, ' Mr. Prolocutor, it hath
pleased God to affiict me with a very severe fit of the gout,
so that I am unable to attend to your humble representation.'

In 1704, Aldrich demands reparation for a 'grievous and
groundless aspersion wherewith the Right Rev. Bishop of Old
Sarum hath thought fit to treat us.' ' We have been taught,'
reports the Dean to his Grace, 'from our very infancy to
reverence your Order, and do reverence even the Lord Bishop
of Sarum for its sake.'

In October, 1705, he presents the new Prolocutor to the
Bishops in Henry the Seventh's Chapel, ' in a speech,' says
White Kennet, 'full of angry reflections, but seeming to wish
that the controversy might sleep.' Then it all ends with a
vote of thanks to him, carried unanimously, only with a pro-
test from the minority, that ' though they had very great
esteem for that worthy person, this vote must not be taken
to approve of all he did.'

Through all this Aldrich passes, the centre of the bitterest
strife, the point at which all movements cross and crowd
and jostle each other, yet himself calm, dignified, gentle, un-


ruffled. Nothing angers ; no one can fret him. Throughout
he is self-possessed in the heart of turmoil, child-like in the
midst of bewilderment. While Atterbury is raging up and
down the ranks of the foe clamouring for a battle, Aldrich
sits aloft in the quiet supremacy of silent influence, if less
potent in the fray, yet unsullied by the heat of the melee,
uncorrupted by the fanaticism of conquest. This he can do
without ceasing to be looked up to as a champion by his
friends, and he can carr}^ himself as a champion without being
hated by his foes. In the pamphlets of the time, though
temper ran high and words were hot, I have not found a
word of malice or offence against our Dean.

The strength of his silence is astonishing. Except as chosen
spokesman, hardly a word escapes him throughout all these
turbulent debates, and, indeed, throughout his whole career.
There is a marvellous absence of pushing and pressing, of
hurry and bustle about him. History, listening in her blind-
ness to the loud and blustering heroes who shout their glories
to her out of the past, might never have caught the sound
of Aldrich's name, if it were not for the consistency with
which, in times of trial, all eyes turned to him, and bore
witness, by the prominence into which he was thus drawn,
to the power of his personal presence. It is when we light
up this shy reserve of his, this retiring tranquillity, by the
evident brilliancy of his effect upon his contemporaries, that
we can appreciate all the truth of Hearne's record, 'He was
humble and modest to a fault.'

So much for the events of his life. I turn now to his
intellectual position. And here I can only recall to you the


main lines in which his thought ran — for Aldrich exhibits a
variety and a range of genius so wide and so capable as not
to be unworthy to be ranked with that Titanic breadth, grasp,
and vigour which astound us in the Da Vincis and Buonarottis
of the Italian Renaissance. Logician, Theologian, Musician,
Scholar, Architect — he is one who had mastered the principles
of Latin and the intricacies of Greek ; who could wield the
subtle weapons of theological warfare ; who could turn from
these to revel in the Entablatures of Vignola and the Orders of
Palladio ; who was familiar with Bass -Viols and Theorboes, and
at his ease in Fugue and double Descant, in Counterpoint and
Canon— one, above all to us in Oxford, who had trodden all the
dark paths of Barbara and gazed unscathed into the deep
secrets of Bocardo.

First, as to his scholarship and literary culture. He became
Dean when this House was at its highest eminence. The first
College to right itself thoroughly after the Rebellion, under the
energetic government of Dr. Fell, supplied inexhaustibly with
excellent material from under the birch of Dr. Busby, it ab-
sorbed all the interest and brilliancy of the University. Great
names crowd it — Fell, Hammond, South, Jane, Atterbury,
Alsop, Boyle, the great Dr. Smalridge, Robert Freind, John
Freind, the noble first-fruit of science in Oxford ; Wake, our
great Archbishop ; and conspicuous by his absence, one not
indeed filled with the spirit that made Christ Church famous
then, but yet one who will make it famous for all time, John

Aldrich is found a worthy head to all this talent. Every
new year, he presents his scholars with a new edition of a


Classic ; he writes two copies of verses in Musae Anglicanae ;
he edits Clarendon with Sprat, the subject of attack from
the only enemy he ever had, H. Smith, an old Student, ex-
pelled for scandalous conduct, known to the public as
' Captain Rag.' This Smith got Oldmixon, ' a mean and dis-
honest scribbler,' to charge the editors with corrupting the
text — a charge refuted by the exiled Atterbury. The Dean
also made a work on Heraldry, ' the best Mr. Thwaits ever
saw,' — but it never saw the light. Aldrich had also once
begun an edition of Caesar's Commentaries, ' with cutts of his
own contriving.' So much for his leading. For his guidance,
it was his custom to set promising young pupils to work at an
edition — John Freind, e.g. at Demosthenes ; young Ch, Aldrich,
' a most ingenious young man,' at the Odyssey ; and Charles
Boyle on the Letters of Phalaris. The memorable storm which
raged round those unhappy letters Aldrich rode with his usual
calmness : all the passion of the fight found its home in the
war-god Atterbury — for him there is nothing more to be said
than that he was trapped into a belief in the classical judgment
of Sir W. Temple. It was an age at which Pope's Homer
appeared, it must be remembered — an age, that is, popularly
devoid of all historical feeling, incapable of critical appreciation
of primitive or artificial simplicity : and perhaps a tinge of
popularity did hang about the Christ Church scholarship.

I cannot close this better than with the words of the memoir
of the great John Freind in the Biographia Britannica : —

' Mr. Freind enjoyed the signal advantage of being under the
eye of Dr. Aldrich, who for his exemplary vigilance, true
zeal for learning, and well-conducted generosity was universally


admired and applauded, and whose praises ought always to
accompany those of the great men formed under his care.'

I turn to his character as a divine. And here, little as there
is of his theology, I cannot conceive a more interesting repre-
sentative and standard of the old Anglican position than the
Dean. He embodied, at the very moment that the counter-
floods ran highest, that Via Media of the English Church, which
alone of all Viae Mediae has had strength and sinew enough to
form a principle, to arouse an enthusiasm, and to mould a
character of its own. He reproduces, at a parallel crisis, the
spirit of the Anglican Reformation — that Reformation which,
whatever be its failings, had the courage and self-possession to
set a limit to the wild rush of Revolution with a ' thus far
shalt thou go and no further.' Aldrich came to the front just
as that mighty Catholic reaction — which, springing out of the
very heart of Rome, had seemed by the magnetic power of its
passionate zeal to drain the Reformation of its old religious


Online LibraryHenry Scott HollandDean Aldrich : a commemoration speech (Volume Talbot Collection of British Pamphlets) → online text (page 1 of 2)