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enter into the humour of his character. As they
unconsciously took to judging him by a standard
different from that which they applied to ordinary
Englishmen, they hardly complained of deflections
from veracity which would have seemed grave
in other persons. He had given notice that
he was not like other men, that his words must
not be taken in their natural sense, that he was
to be regarded as the skilful player of a great
game, the consummate actor in a great part.
And, once more, he gained by the many years
during which he had opportunities of displaying
his fortitude, patience, constancy under defeat,
unwavering self-confidence gifts rarer than mere
intellectual power, gifts that deserve the influence
they bestow. Nothing so fascinates mankind as
to see a man equal to every fortune, unshaken
by reverses, indifferent to personal abuse, main-
taining a long combat against apparently hopeless
odds with the sharpest weapons and a smiling
face. His followers fancy he must have hidden
resources of wisdom as well as of courage. When

66 Biographical Studies

some of his predictions come true, and the
turning tide of popular feeling begins to bear
them toward power, they believe that he has
been all along right and the rest of the world
wrong. When victory at last settles on his crest,
even his enemies can hardly help applauding a
reward which seems so amply earned. It was
by this quality, more perhaps than by anything
else, by this serene surface with fathomless depths
below, that he laid his spell upon the imagination
of observers in Continental Europe, and received
at his death a sort of canonisation from a large
section of the English people.

What will posterity think of him, and by
what will he be remembered ? The glamour has
already passed away, and to few of those who on
the 19th of April deck his statue with flowers
is he more than a name.

Parliamentary fame is fleeting : the memory of
parliamentary conflicts soon grows dim and dull.
Posterity fixes a man's place in history by asking
not how many tongues buzzed about him in his
lifetime, but how great a factor he was in the
changes of the world, that is, how far different
things would have been twenty or fifty years
after his death if he had never lived. Tried by
this standard, the results upon the course of events
of Disraeli's personal action are not numerous,
though some of them may be deemed momentous.
He was an adroit parliamentary tactician who

Lord Beaconsfield 67

held his followers together through a difficult
time. By helping to keep the Peelites from
rejoining their old party, he gave that party a
colour different from the sober hues which it
had worn during the leadership of Peel. He
became the founder of what has in later days
been called Tory democracy, winning over a
large section of the humbler classes to the
banner under which the majority of the wealthy
and the holders of vested interests already stood
arrayed. He saved for the Turkish Empire
a part of its territories, yet in doing so merely
prolonged for a little the death agony of
Turkish power. Though it cannot be said
that he conferred any benefit on India or the
Colonies, he certainly stimulated the imperial
instincts of Englishmen. He had occasional
flashes of insight, as when in 1843 he perceived
exactly what Ireland needed, and at least one
brilliant flash of foresight when he predicted that
a wide extension of the suffrage would bring no
evil to the Tory party. Yet in the case of
Ireland he did nothing, when the chance came
to him, to give effect to the judgment which he
had formed, while in the case of the suffrage he
did but follow up and carry into effect an impulse
given by others. The Franchise Act of 1867 is
perhaps the only part of his policy which has,
by hastening a change that induced other changes,
permanently affected the course of events ; and

68 Biographical Studies

it remains the chief monument of his parlia-
mentary skill. There was nothing in his career to
set the example of a lofty soul or a noble purpose.
He did not raise, he may even have lowered,
the tone of English public life.

Yet history will not leave him without a meed
of admiration. When all possible explanations of
his success have been given, what a wonderful
career ! An adventurer foreign in race, in
ideas, in temper, without money or family
connections, climbs, by patient and unaided
efforts, to lead a great party, master a powerful
aristocracy, sway a vast empire, and make him-
self one of the four or five greatest personal
forces in the world. His head is not turned by
his elevation. He never becomes a demagogue ;
he never stoops to beguile the multitude by
appealing to sordid instincts. He retains through
life a certain amplitude of view, a due sense of
the dignity of his position, a due regard for the
traditions of the ancient assembly which he leads,
and when at last the destinies of England fall
into his hands, he feels the grandeur of the
charge, and seeks to secure what he believes to
be her imperial place in the world. What-
ever judgment history may ultimately pass upon
him, she will find in the long annals of the
English Parliament no more striking figure.


I N the England of his time there was no personality-
more attractive, nor any more characteristic of
the country, than Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Dean
of Westminster. England is the only European
country in which such a figure could have appeared,
for it is the only country in which a man may hold
a high ecclesiastical post and yet be regarded
by the nation, not specially as an ecclesiastic, but
rather as a distinguished writer, an active and
influential man of affairs, an ornament of social
life. But if in this respect he was typical of his
country, he was in other respects unique. He
was a clergyman untouched by clericalism, a
courtier unspoiled by courts. No one could
point to any one else in England who occupied
a similar position, nor has any one since arisen
who recalls him, or who fills the place which his
departure left empty.

Stanley was born in 1815. His father, then
Rector of Alderley, in Cheshire, afterwards Bishop

1 A Life of Dean Stanley, in two vf)lumes, ljt;i;un by Theodore
Walrond, continued by Dean I'.radley, und comitleted by Mr. K. E.
Trothero, appeared in 1893.


70 Biographical Studies

of Norwich, belonged to the family of the Stanleys
of Alderley, a branch of that ancient and famous
line the head of which is Earl of Derby. His
mother, Catherine Leycester, was a woman of
much force of character and intellectual power.
He was educated at Rugby School under Dr.
Arnold, the influence of whose ideas remained
great over him all through his life, and at
Oxford, where he became a fellow and tutor
of University College. Passing thence to be
Canon of Canterbury, he returned to the Uni-
versity as Professor of Ecclesiastical History,
and remained there for seven years. In 1863
he was appointed Dean of Westminster, and at
the same time married Lady Augusta Bruce
(sister of the then Lord Elgin, Governor-General
first of Canada and afterwards of India). He
died in 1881.

He held an extraordinarily active and busy life,
so intertwined with the history of the University of
Oxford and the history of the Church of England
from 1 850 to 1 880, that one can hardly think of any
salient point in either without thinking also of
him. Yet it was perhaps rather in the intensity
of his nature and the nobility of his sentiments
than in either the compass or the strength of his
intellectual faculties that the charm and the force
he exercised lay. In some directions he was
curiously deficient. He had no turn for abstract
reasoning, no liking for metaphysics or any other

Dean Stanley 7 1

form of speculation. He was equally unfitted
for scientific inquiry, and could scarcely work
a sum in arithmetic. Indeed, in no held was
he a logical or systematic thinker. Neither,
although he had a retentive memory, and
possessed a great deal of various knowledge on
many subjects, could he be called learned, for
he had not really mastered any branch of history,
and was often inaccurate in details. He had never
been trained to observe facts in natural history.
He had absolutely no ear for music, and very
little perception either of colour or of scent. He
learned foreign languages with difficulty and never
spoke them well. He was so short-sighted as to
be unable to recognise a face passing close in the
street. Yet with these shortcomings he was a
born traveller, went everywhere, saw everything
and everybody worth seeing, always seized on
the most characteristic features of a landscape, or
building, or a person, and described them with a
freshness which made one feel ss if they had
never been described before. Of the hundreds
who have published books on the Desert of
Sinai and the Holy Land, many of them skilful
writers or men of profound knowledge, he is
the only one who is still read and likely to con-
tinue to be read, so vivid in colour, so exquisite
in feeling, are the pictures he has given. Nature-
alone, however, nature taken by herself, did not
satisfy him, did not, indeed, in his later days (for

72 Biographical Studies

in his boyhood he had been a passionate lover of
the mountains) greatly interest him. A building
or a landscape had power to rouse his imagina-
tion and call forth his unrivalled powers of de-
scription only when it was associated with the
thoughts and deeds of men.

The largest part of his literary work was done
in the field of ecclesiastical history, a subject
naturally congenial to him, and to which he was
further drawn by the professorship which he held
at Oxford during a time when a great revival of
historical studies was in progress. It was work
which critics could easily disparage, for there were
many small errors scattered through it ; and the
picturesque method of treatment he employed
was apt to pass into scrappiness. He fixed on
the points which had a special interest for his
own mind as illustrating some trait of personal
or national character, or some moral lesson, and
passed hastily over other matters of equal or
greater importance. Nevertheless his work
had some distinctive merits which have not re-
ceived from professional critics the whole credit
they deserved. In all that Stanley wrote one
finds a certain largeness and dignity of view.
He had a sense of the unity of history, of the
constant relation of past and present, of the simi-
larity of human nature in one age and country to
human nature in another ; and he never failed to
dwell upon the permanently valuable truths which

Dean Stanley 73

history has to teach. Nothing was too small to
attract him, because he discovered a meaning in
everything, and he was therefore never dull,
for even when he moralised he would light up
his reflections by some happy anecdote. With
this he possessed a keen eye, the eye of a
poet, for human character, and a power of
sympathy that enabled him to appreciate even
those whose principles and policy he disliked.
Herein he was not singular, for the sympathetic
style of writing history has become fashionable
among us. What was remarkable in him was
that his sympathy did not betray him into the
error, now also fashionable, of extenuating moral
distinctions. His charity never blunted the edge
of his justice, nor prevented him from reprobating
the faults of the personages who had touched his
heart. For one sin only he had little historical
tolerance the sin of intolerance. So there was
one sin only which ever led him to speak severely
of any of his contemporaries- the sin of untruth-
fulness. Being himself so simple and straight-
forward as to feel his inability to cope with
deceitful men, deceit incensed him. But he did not
resent the violence of his adversaries, for though
he suffered much at their hands he knew many
of them to be earnest, unselfish, and conscientious

His pictures of historical scenes are ad-
mirable, for with his interest in the study of

74 Biographical Studies

character there went a large measure of dramatic
power. Nothing can be better in its way
than the description of the murder of St.
Thomas of Canterbury given in the Memorials
of Canterbury, which, after Sinai and Pales-
tine and the Life of Arnold, may be deemed
the best of Stanley's books. Whether he
could, with more leisure for careful thought
and study, have become a great historian, was
a question which those of us who were dazzled
by his Public Lectures at Oxford used often
to discuss. The leisure never came, for he
was throughout life warmly interested in every
current ecclesiastical question, and ready to
bear a part in discussing it, either in the
press for he wrote in the Edinburgh Review,
and often sent letters to the Times under
the signature of " Anglicanus " or in Convoca-
tion, where he had a seat during the latter
part of his career. These interruptions not
only checked the progress of his studies, but
gave to his compositions an air of haste, which
made them seem to want system and finish. The
habit of rapid writing for magazines or other
ephemeral purposes is alleged to tell injuriously
upon literary men : it told the more upon Stanley
because he was also compelled to produce sermons
rapidly. Now sermon-writing, while it breeds a
tendency to the making of rhetorical points, sub-
ordinates the habit of dispassionate inquiry to the

Dean Stanley 75

enforcement of a moral lesson, Stanley, who
had a touch of the rhetorical temperament, and
was always eager to improve an occasion, certainly
suffered in this way. When he brings out a general
truth he is not content with it as a truth, but
seeks to turn it also to edification, or to make
it illustrate and support some view for which he
is contending at the time. When he is simply
describing, he describes rather as a dramatic artist
working for effect than as a historian solely
anxious to represent men and events as they
were. Yet if we consider how much a historian
gains, not only from an intimate knowledge of
his own time, but also, and even more
largely, from playing an active part in the
events of his own time, from swaying opinion by
his writings and his speeches, from sitting in
assemblies and organising schemes of attack and
defence, we may hesitate to wish that Stanley's
time had been more exclusively given to quiet
investigation. The freshness of his historical
portraits is notably due to the sense he carried
about with him of moving in history and being
a part of it. He never mounted his pulpit
in the Abbey or walked into the Jerusalem
Chamber when Convocation was sitting without
feeling that he was about to do something which
might possibly be recorded in the annals of his
country. I remember his mentioning, to illustrate
undergraduate ignorance, that once when he was

76 Biographical Studies

going to give a lecture to his class, he suddenly-
recollected that Mr. Goldwin Smith, then Regius
Professor of Modern History, was announced to
deliver a public lecture at the same hour. Telling
the class that they would be better employed in
hearing Mr. Goldwin Smith than himself, he led
them all there. The next time the class met,
one of them, after making some acute comments
on the lecture, asked who the lecturer was. " I
was amazed," said Stanley, "that an intelligent
man should ask such a question, and then it
occurred to me that probably he did not know
who I was either," There was nothing of per-
sonal vanity or self-importance in this. All the
men of mark among whom he moved were to him
historical personages, and he would describe to
his friends some doing or saying of a contempo-
rary statesman or ecclesiastic with the same
eagerness, the same sense of its being a fact to
be noted and remembered, as the rest of us feel
about a personal anecdote relating to Oliver
Cromwell or Cardinal Richelieu.

His sermons, like nearly all good sermons, will
be inadequately appreciated by those who now
peruse them, not only because they were composed
for a given audience with special reference to the
circumstances of the time, but also because the
best of them gained so much by his impassioned
delivery, l^hey were all read from manuscript, and
his handwriting was so illegible that it was a marvel

Dean Stanley 77

how he contrived to read them. I once asked
him, not long after he had been promoted to the
Deanery of Westminster, whether he found it
easy to make himself heard in the enormous nave
of the Abbey church. His frame, it ought to
be stated, was spare as well as small, and his
voice not powerful. He answered: "That de-
pends on whether I am interested in what I
am saying. If the sermon is on something
which interests me deeply I can fill the nave ;
otherwise I cannot." When he had got a worthy
theme, or one which stimulated his own emotions,
the power of his voice and manner was wonder-
ful. His tiny body seemed to swell, his chest
vibrated as he launched forth glowing words.
The farewell sermon he delivered when quitting
Oxford for Westminster lives in the memory of
those who heard it as a performance of extra-
ordinary power, the power springing froni the
intensity of his own feeling. No sermon has
ever since so moved the University.

He was by nature shy and almost timid, and he
was not supposed to possess any gift for extempore
speaking. But when in his later days he found
himself an almost solitary champion in Convoca-
tion of the principles of universal toleration and
comprehension which he held, he developed a de-
bating power which surprised himself as well as
his friends. It was to him a matter of honour and
conscience to defend his principles, and to defend

78 Biographical Studies

them all the more zealously because he stood
alone on their behalf in a hostile assembly. His
courage was equal to the occasion, and his faculties
responded to the call his courage made.

In civil politics he was all his life a Liberal, be-
longing by birth to the Whig aristocracy, and dis-
posed on most matters to take rather the Whiggish
than the Radical view, yet drawn by the warmth
of his sympathy towards the working classes,
and popular with them. One of his chief
pleasures was to lead parties of humble visitors
round the Abbey on public holidays. Like most
members of the Whig families, he had no great
liking for Mr. Gladstone, not so much, perhaps,
on political grounds as because he distrusted the
Hioh Churchism and anti-Erastianism of the
Liberal leader. However, he never took any
active part in general politics, reserving his
strength for those ecclesiastical questions which
seemed to lie within his peculiar province.^
Here he had two leading ideas : one, that the
Church of England must at all hazards continue
to be an Established Church, in alliance with, or
subjection to, the State (for his Erastianism was
unqualified), and recognising the Crown as her
head ; the other, that she must be a compre-

1 When J. S. Mill was a candidate for Westminster in 1868, Stanley
published a letter announcing his support, partly out of personal respect
for Mill, partly because it gave him an opportunity of expressing an
opinion on the Irish Church question, and of reprobating the charge of
atheism which had been brought against Mill.

Dean Stanley 79

hensive Church, finding room in her bosom for
every sort or description of Christian, however
much or Httle he beheved of the dogmas con-
tained in the Thirty-nine Articles and the Prayer-
Book, to which she is bound by statute. The
former view cut him off from the Nonconformists
and the Radicals ; the latter exposed him to the fire
not only of those who, like the High Churchmen
and the Evangelicals, attach the utmost import-
ance to these dogmas, but of those also among
the laity who hold that a man ought under no
circumstances to sign any test or use any form of
prayer which does not express his own convictions.
Stanley would, of course, have greatly preferred
that the laws which regulate the Church of Eng-
land should be so relaxed as to require little or
no assent to any doctrinal propositions from her
ministers. He strove for this ; and he continued
to hope that this might be ultimately won. But
he conceived that in the meantime it was a less
evil that men should be technically bound by
subscriptions they objected to than that the
National Church should be narrowed by the
exclusion of those whose belief fell short of her
dogmatic standards. It was remarkable that
not only did he maintain this unpopular view of
his with unshaken courage on every occasion,
pleading the cause of every supposed heretic
against hostile majorities with a complete forget-
fulness of his own peace and ease, but that no

8o Biographical Studies

one ever thought of attributing the course he
took to any selfish or sinister motive. It was
generally believed that his own opinions were
what nine-tenths of the Church of England would
call unorthodox. But the honesty and upright-
ness of his character were so patent that nobody
supposed that this fact made any difference, or
that it was for the sake of keeping his own place
that he fought the cause of others.

What his theological opinions were it might
have puzzled Stanley himself to explain. His
mind was not fitted to grasp abstract propo-
sitions. His historical imagination and his early
associations attached him to the doctrines of the
Nicene Creed ; but when he came to talk of
Christianity, he laid so much more stress on
its ethics than on its dogmatic side that his
clerical antagonists thought he held no creed at
all. Dr. Pusey would have said of Stanley what
he once said of Maurice, " He and I do not
worship the same God." The point of difference
between him and them was not so much that he
consciously disbelieved the dogmas they held
probably he did not as that he did not, like them,
think that true religion and final salvation depended
on believing them. And the weak point in his
imagination was that he seemed never to under-
stand their position, nor to realise how sacred and
how momentous to them were statements which
he saw in a purely imaginative light. He never

Dean Stanley 8 1

could be got to see that a Church without any
dogmas would not be a Church at all in the sense
either of mankind in the past or of mankind in
the present. An anecdote was current that once
when he had in Disraeli's presence been descant-
ing on the harm done by the enforcement of dog-
matic standards, Disraeli had observed, "But pray
remember, Mr. Dean, no dogma, no Dean."

Those who thought him a heathen would have
assailed him less bitterly if he had been content
to admit his own differences from them. What
most incensed them was his habit of assuming
that, except in mere forms of expression, there
were really no differences at all, and that they
also held Christianity to consist not in any body
of doctrines, but in reverence for God and purity
of life. They would have preferred heathenism
itself to this kind of Universalism.

As ecclesiastical preferment had not discoloured
the native hue of his simplicity, so neither did the
influences of royal favour. It says little for
human nature that few people should be proof
against what the philosopher deems the trivial
and fleeting fascinations of a court. Stanley's
elevation of mind was proof. Intensely interested
in the knowledge of events passing behind the
scenes which his relations with the reigning family
opened to him, he scarcely ever referred to those
relations, and seemed neither to be affected
thereby, nor to care a whit more for the pomps

82 Biographical Studies

and vanities of power or wealth, a whit less for
the friends and the causes he had learned to value
in his youth.

In private, that which most struck one in his
intellect was the quick eagerness with which his
imagination fastened upon any new fact, caught
its bearings, and clothed it with colour. His
curiosity remained inexhaustible. His delight in
visiting a new country was like that of an
American scholar landing for the first time in
Europe. A friend met him a year before his
death at a hotel in the North of England,
and found he was going to the Isle of Man.
He had mastered its geography and history,
and talked about it and what he was to
explore there as one might talk of Rome or
Athens when visiting them for the first tim.e.
When anybody told him an anecdote his sus-
ceptible imagination seized upon points which the
narrator had scarcely noticed, and discovered a

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceStudies in contemporary biography → online text (page 5 of 29)