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and Canada, though in the United States the
general feeling that religion must be kept out of
politics obliges ecclesiastics to use their spiritual
powers cautiously and sparingly. England stands
alone in the fact that although the Protestant
Episcopal Church is, in so far as she is established
by law, the creature and subject of the State,
she is nevertheless so far independent as a

^ An admirable life of Archbishop Tail by his son-in-law , Dr. R. T.
Davidson (now Archbishop of Canterbury), and Canon Benham appeared
in 1 89 1.


Archbishop Tait loi

religious organisation that she retains a greater
power than in other Protestant nations. State
estabhshment, though it may have depressed, has
not stifled her ecclesiastical life, and an interest
in ecclesiastical questions is shown by a larger
proportion of her laity than one finds in Germany
or the Scandinavian kingdoms. A man of shining
parts has, as an English bishop, a wide field of
action and influence open to him outside the
sphere of theology or of purely official duty. And
the opportunities of the position attain their maxi-
mum when he reaches the primatial chair of
Canterbury, which is now the oldest and the most
dignified of all the metropolitan sees in countries
that have accepted the Reformation of the six-
teenth century.

Ever since there was a bishop at Canterbury
at all, that is to say, ever since the conversion of
the English began in the seventh century of our
era, the holder of that see has been the greatest
ecclesiastical personage in these islands, with a
recognised authority over all England, as well
as an influence and dignity to which, in the
Middle Ages, the Archbishops of Armagh and
St. Andrews (primates of the Irish and Scottish
Churches) practically bowed, even while refusing
to admit his legal supremacy. To be the most
highly placed and officially the most powerful
man in the churches of Britain, in days when
the Church was better organised, and in some

I02 Biographical Studies

ways stronger, than the State, meant a vast deal.
The successor of Augustine was often called a
Pope of his own world that world of Britain
which lay apart from the larger world of the
European continent. Down to the Reformation,
the English primates possessed a power which
made some of them almost a match for the
English kings. Dunstan, Lanfranc, Anselm,
Thomas (Becket), Hubert, Stephen Langton,
Arundel, Warham, were among the foremost
statesmen of their time. After Henry VHI.'s
breach with Rome, the Primate of England re-
ceived some access of dignity in becoming in-
dependent of the Pope ; but, in reality, the loss
of church power and church wealth which the
Reformation caused lowered his political import-
ance. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,
however, there were still some conspicuous and
influential prelates at Canterbury Cranmer, Pole,
Whitgift, and Laud the best remembered among
them. After the Revolution of 1688, a time of
smaller men begins. The office retained its
dignity as the highest place open to a subject,
ranking above the Lord Chancellor or the Lord
President of the Council, but the Church of
England, having no fightings within, nor any-
thing to fear from without, was lapped in placid
ease, so It mattered comparatively little who her
chief pastor was.

Bishoprics were in those days regarded chiefly

Archbishop Tait 103

as pieces of rich preferment with which prime
ministers bought the support of powerful adher-
ents. But since the middle of the nineteenth
century, as the Anglican Church has become at
once more threatened and more energetic, as
more of the life of the nation has flowed into
her and round her, the office of a bishop
has risen in importance. People show more
interest in the appointments to be made, and
ministers have become proportionately careful
in making them. Bishops work harder and are
more in the public eye now than they were
eighty, or even fifty, years ago. They have
lost something of the antique dignity and social
consideration which they enjoyed. They no
longer wear wigs or ride in State coaches. They
may be seen in third-class railway carriages,
or sitting on the tops of omnibuses. But they
have gained by having countless opportunities
opened up to them for exerting influence in
philanthropic as well as in religious movements ;
and the more zealous among them turn these
opportunities to excellent account.

Whatever is true of an ordinary bishop is true
a fortiori of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He
is still a great personage, but he is great in a new
way, with less of wealth and power but larger
opportunities of influence. He is also a kind
of Pope in a new way, because he is the central
figure of the Anglican communion over the

I04 Biographical Studies

whole world, with no legal jurisdiction outside
England (except in India), but far over-topping
all the prelates of that communion in the United
States or the British Colonies. Less deference is
paid to the office, considered simply as an office,
than it received in the Middle Ages, because
society and thought have been tinged by the
spirit of democratic equality, and people realise
that offices are only artificial creations, whose
occupants are human beings like themselves. But
if he is himself a man of ability and force, he may
make his headship of an ancient and venerated
church a vantage-ground whence to address the
nation as well as the members of his own com-
munion. He is sure of being listened to, which is
of itself no small matter in a country where many
voices are striving to make themselves heard at
the same time. The world takes his words into
consideration ; the newspapers repeat them. His
position gives him easy access to the ministers of
the Crown, and implies a confidential intercourse
with the Crown itself. He is, or can be, " in
touch " with all the political figures who can in
any way influence the march of events, and is
able to enforce his views upon them. All his
conduct is watched by the nation ; so that if it
is discreet, provident, animated by high and
consistent principle, he gets full credit for
whatever he does well, and acquires that in-
fluence to which masses of men are eager to

Archbishop Tait 105

bow whenever they can persuade themselves
that it is deserved. During the first half of
the nineteenth century the English people was
becoming more interested in ecclesiastical and in
theological matters than it had been during the
century preceding. It grew by slow degrees
more inclined to observe ecclesiastical persons,
to read and think about theological subjects, to
reflect upon the relations which the Church
ought to bear to civil life and moral progress.
Thus a leader of the Church of England
became relatively a more important factor than
he had been a century ago, and an arch-
bishop, strong by his character, rectitude, and
powers of utterance, rose to occupy a more
influential, if not more conspicuous, position than
his predecessors in the days of the Georges had

These changes naturally made the selection
of an archbishop a more delicate and trouble-
some business than it was in those good old
days. Nobody then blamed a Prime Minister
for preferring an aspirant who had the support
of powerful political connections. Blameless in
life he must be : even the eighteenth century
demanded that from candidates for English, if
not, according to Dean Swift, for Irish sees.
If he was also a man of courtly grace and
dignity, and a finished scholar, so much the
better. If he was a man of piety, that also was

io6 Biographical Studies

well. By the time of Queen Victoria the possession
of piety and of gifts of speech had become more
important qualifications, but the main thing was
tactful moderation. Even in apostolic days it was
required that a bishop should rule his own house
well, and the Popes esteemed most saintly have
not always been the best, as the famous instance
of Celestine the Fifth attests. An archbishop
must first and foremost be a discreet and guarded
man, expressing few opinions, and those not ex-
treme ones. His chief virtue came to be, if not
the purely negative one of offending no section by
expressing the distinctive views of any other, yet
that of swerving so little from the via media be-
tween Rome and Geneva that neither the Tract-
arian party, who began to be feared after 1837,
nor the pronounced Low Churchmen could claim
the Primate as disposed to favour their opinions.
In the case of ordinary bishops the plan could
be adopted, and has since the days of Lord
Palmerston been mostly followed, of giving every
party its turn, while choosing from every party
men of the safer sort. This method, however,
was less applicable to the See of Canterbury, for
a man on whose action much might turn could
not well be taken from any particular section.
The acts and words of a Primate, who is expected
to " give a line " to the clergy generally and to
speak on behalf of the bench of bishops as a
whole, are so closely scrutinised that he must

Archbishop Tait 107

be prudent and wary, yet not so wary as to seem
timid. He ought to be both firm and suave,
conciliatory and decided. That he may do
justice to all sections of the Church of Eng-
land, he ought not to be an avowed partisan
of any. Yet he must be able and eminent, and
of course able and eminent men are apt to throw
themselves into some one line of action or set
of views, and so come to be considered partisans.
The position which the Archbishop of Canter-
bury holds as the representative in Parliament
of the whole Established Church, makes states-
manship the most important of all qualifica-
tions. Learning, energy, eloquence, piety would
none of them, nor all of them together, make
up for the want of calmness and wisdom. Yet
all those qualities are obviously desirable, because
they strengthen as well as adorn the primate's

Archibald Campbell Tait (born in Scotland in
181 r, died 1882) was educated at Glasgow Univer-
sity and at Balliol College, Oxford ; worked at
his college for some years as a tutor, succeeded
Dr. Arnold as headmaster of Rugby School in
1842, became Dean of Carlisle and then Bishop
of London, and was translated to Canterbury
in 1868. It has been generally understood that
Mr. Disraeli, then Prime Minister, suggested
another prelate for the post, but the Queen,
who did not share her minister's estimate of

io8 Biographical Studies

that prelate, expressed a preference for Tait.
Her choice was amply justified, for Tait united,
and indeed possessed in a high degree, the
qualifications which have just been enumerated.
He was, if it be not a paradox to say so, more
remarkable as an archbishop than as a man. He
had no original power as a thinker. He was
not a striking preacher, and the more pains he
took with his sermons the less interesting did they
become. He was so far from being learned that
you could say no more of him than that he was
a sound scholar and a well-informed man. He
was deeply and earnestly pious, but in a quiet,
almost dry way, which lacked what is called
unction, though it impressed those who were
in close contact with him. He showed slight
interest either in the historical or in the specula-
tive side of theology. Though a good head-
master, he was not a stimulating teacher. Had
he remained all his life in a subordinate position,
as a college tutor at Oxford, or as canon of
some cathedral, he would have discharged the
duties of the position in a thoroughly satis-
factory way, and would have acquired influence
among his colleagues, but no one would have
felt that Fate had dealt unfairly with him in
depriving him of some larger career and loftier
post. No one, indeed, who knew him when he
was a college tutor seems to have predicted
the dignities he was destined to attain, although

Archbishop Tait 109

he had shown in the theological strife that then
raged at Oxford the courage and independence
of his character.

In what, then, did the secret of his success
lie the secret, that is, of his acquitting himself
so excellently in those dignities as to have
become almost a model to his own and the
next generation of what an Archbishop of Canter-
bury ought to be ? In the statesmanlike quality
of his mind. He had not merely moderation,
but what, though often confounded with modera-
tion, is something rarer and better, a steady
balance of mind. He was carried about by
no winds of doctrine. He seldom yielded to
impulses, and was never so seduced by any one
theory as to lose sight of other views and condi-
tions which had to be regarded. He was, I think,
the first man of Scottish birth who ever rose to
be Primate of England, and he had the cautious
self-restraint which is deemed characteristic of his
nation. He knew how to be dignified without
assumption, firm without vehemence, prudent
without timidity, judicious without coldness.
He was, above all things, a singularly just
man, who recognised every one's rights, and
did not seek to overbear them by an exercise
of authority. He was as ready to listen to his
opponents as to his friends. Indeed, he so held
himself as to appear to have no opponents, but
to be rather a judge before whom different

I lO

Biographical Studies

advocates were stating their respective cases,
than a leader seeking to make his own views
or his own party prevail. Genial he could
hardly be called, for there was little warmth,
little display of emotion, in his manner ; and the
clergy noted, at least in his earlier episcopal
days, a touch of the headmaster in his way of
receiving them. But he was simple and kindly,
capable of seeing the humorous side of things,
desiring to believe the good rather than the
evil, and to lead people instead of driving them.
With all his caution he was direct and straight-
forward, saying no more than was necessary,
but saying nothing he had occasion to be ashamed
of. He sometimes made mistakes, but they were
not mistakes of the heart, and, being free from
vanity or self-conceit, he was willing in his quiet
way to admit them and to alter his course accord-
ingly. So his character by degrees gained upon
the nation, and so even ecclesiastical partisan-
ship, proverbially more bitter than political,
because it springs from deeper wells of feeling,
grew to respect and spare him. The influence
he obtained went far to strengthen the position
of the Established Church, and to keep its
several parties from breaking out into more open
hostility with one another. He himself inclined
to what might be called a moderate Broad
Church attitude, leaning more to Evangelical
than to Tractarian or Romanising views in

Archbishop Tait 1 1 1

matters of doctrine. At one time the extreme
High Churchmen regarded him as an enemy.
But this unfriendHness had almost died away
when the death of his wife and his only son
(a young man of singularly winning character),
followed by his own long illness, stilled the voices
of criticism.

He exerted great influence in the House
of Lords by his tact, by his firmness of
character, and by the consistency of his public
course, as well as by powers of speech, which,
matured by long practice, had risen to a
high level. Without eloquence, without either
imagination or passion, which are the chief
elements in eloquence, he had a grave, weighty,
thoughtful style which impressed that fastidious
audience. His voice was strong and sonorous,
his diction plain yet pure and dignified, his
matter well considered. His thousfht moved
on a high plane ; he spoke as one who fully
believed every word he said. The late Bishop
of Winchester, the famous Dr. Samuel Wilber-
force, was incomparably his superior not only
as a talker but as an orator, but no less inferior
in his power over the House of Lords, for
so little does rhetorical brilliance count in a
critical and practical assembly. Next to courage,
the quality which gains trust and regard in a
deliberative body is that which is familiarly
described when it is said of a man, "You always

112 Biographical Studies

know where to find him." Tait belonged to no
party. But his principles, though not rigid, were
fixed and settled ; his words and votes were the
expression of his principles.

The presence of bishops in the House of
Lords is disapproved by some sections of English
opinion, and there are those among the temporal
peers who, quite apart from any political feeling,
are said to regard them with little favour. But
every one must admit that they have raised
and adorned the debates in that chamber.
Besides Tait and Wilberforce, two other prelates
of the same generation stood in the front
rank of speakers. Dr. Magee, whose wit and
fire would have found a more fitting theatre
in the House of Commons, and Dr. Thirlwall,
a scholar and historian whose massive intellect
and stately diction were too rarely used to raise
great political issues above the dust-storms of
party controversy.

Perhaps no Archbishop since the Revolution
of 1688 has exercised so much influence as Dr.
Tait, and certainly none within living memory
is so well entitled to be credited with a definite
ecclesiastical policy. His aim was to widen the
bounds of the Church of England, so far as the law-
could, without evasion, be stretched for that pur-
pose. He bore a leading part in obtaining an Act of
Parliament which introduced a new and less strict
form of clerical subscription. He realised that the

Archbishop Tait 113

Church of England can maintain her position
as a State Church only by adapting herself to
the movements of opinion, and accordingly he
voted for the Divorce Bill of 1857, and for the
Burials Bill, which relieved Dissenters from a
grievance that exposed the Established Church
to odium. The Irish Church Disestablishment
Bill of 1869 threw upon him, at the critical
moment when it went from the House of
Commons, where it had passed by a large
majority, to the House of Lords, where a still
larger majority was hostile, a duty delicate in
itself, and such as seldom falls to the lot of a
prelate. The Queen wrote to him suggesting
that he should endeavour to effect a compro-
mise between Mr. Gladstone, then head of the
Liberal Ministry, and the leading Tory peers
who were opposing the Bill, He conducted the
negotiation with tact and judgment, and succeeded
in securing good pecuniary terms for the Pro-
testant Episcopal Establishment. Though he
had joined in the Letter of the Bishops which
conveyed their strong disapproval of the book
called Essays and Reviews (whose supposed
heretical tendencies roused such a storm in
1 861), and had thereby displeased his friends,
Temple (afterwards archbishop), Jowett, and
Stanley,^ he joined in the judgment of the Privy

^ They thought his public action scarcely consistent with the language
he had used to Temple in private.


114 Biographical Studies

Council which in 1863 dismissed the charges
against the impugned Essayists. Despite his
advocacy of the Bill which in 1874 provided a
new procedure to be used against clergymen
transgressing the ritual prescribed by law, he
discouraged prosecutions, and did his utmost
to keep Ritualists as well as moderate Ration-
alists within the pale of the Church of England.
He did not succeed no one could have suc-
ceeded, even though he had spoken with the
tongues of men and of angels in stilling ecclesi-
astical strife. The controversies of his days still
rage, though in a slightly different form. But
in refusing to yield to the pressure of any section,
in regarding the opinion of the laity rather than
that of the clergy, in keeping close to the law
yet giving it the widest possible interpretation,
he laid down the lines on which the Anglican
Established Church can best be defended and
upheld. That she will last, as an Establish-
ment, for any very long time, will hardly be
expected by those who mark the direction in
which thought tends to move all over the civil-
ised world. But Tait's policy and personality
have counted for something in prolonging the
time-honoured connection of the Anglican Church
with the English State.

Perhaps a doubtful service either to the Church
or to the State. Yet even those who regret
the connection, and who, surveying the long

Archbishop Tait 115

course of Christian history from the days of the
Emperor Constantine down to our own, beHeve
that the Christian Church would have been
spiritually purer and morally more effective had
she never become either the mistress or the
servant or the ally of the State, but relied on
her divine commission only, may wish that, when
the day arrives for the ancient bond to be unloosed,
it should be unloosed not through an embittered
political struggle, but because the general senti-
ment of the nation, and primarily of religious
men throughout the nation, has come to approve
the change.


When Mr. Anthony Trollope died (December
II, 1882) at the age of sixty-seven, he was the
best known of our English writers of fiction,
and stood foremost among them if the double
test of real merit and wide popularity be applied.
Some writers, such as Wilkie Collins, may have
commanded a larger sale. One writer at least, Mr.
George Meredith, had produced work of far deeper
insight and higher imaginative power. But the
gifts of Mr. Meredith had then scarcely begun
to win recognition, and not one reader knew his
name for five who knew Trollope's. So Mr.
Thomas Hardy had published what many continue
to think his two best stories, but they had not
yet caught the eye of the general public. Mrs,
Oliphant, high as was the general level of her
work, and inexhaustible as her fertility appeared,
had not cut her name so deep upon the time
as Trollope did. Everything she did was good,
nothing superlatively good. No one placed

^ Trollope's autobiography, published in 1883, is a good specimen of
self- portraiture, candid, straightforward, and healthy, and leaves an
agreeable impression of the writer. Dr. Richard Garnett has written well
of him in the Dictionary of National Biography.


Anthony Trollope 1 1 7

Trollope in the first rank of creative novelists
beside Dickens or Thackeray, or beside George
Eliot, who had died two years before. But in
the second rank he stood high ; and though
other novelists may have had as many readers
as he, none was in so many ways represen-
tative of the general character and spirit
of English fiction. He had established his
reputation nearly thirty years before, when
Thackeray and Dickens were still in the fulness
of their fame ; and had maintained it during
the zenith of George Eliot's. For more than
a generation his readers had come from the
best-educated classes as well as from those who
lack patience or taste for anything heavier
than a story of adventure. In this respect
he stood above Miss Braddon, Mrs. Henry
Wood, Ouida, and other heroines of the circu-
lating libraries, and also above such more
artistic or less sensational writers as William
Black, Walter Besant, James Payn, and Whyte
Melville. (The school of so-called realistic
fiction had scarcely begun to appear.) None
of these had, like Trollope, succeeded in making
their creations a part of the common thought ot
cultivated Englishmen ; none had, like him, given
us characters which we treat as ty[)ical men and
women, and discuss at a dinner-table as though
they were real people. Mrs. Proudie, for instance,
the Bishop of Barchester's wife, to take the most

1 1 8 Biographical Studies

obvious instance (though not that most favourable
to Trollope, for he produced better portraits than
hers), or Archdeacon Grantly, was when Trollope
died as familiar a name to English men and
women between sixty and thirty years of age
as Wilkins Micawber, or Blanche Amory, or
Rosamond Lydgate. There was no other living
novelist of whose personages the same could be
said, and perhaps none since has attained this
particular kind of success.

Personally, Anthony Trollope was a bluff,
genial, hearty, vigorous man, typically English
in his face, his talk, his ideas, his tastes. His
large eyes, which looked larger behind his large
spectacles, were full of good-humoured life and
force ; and though he was neither witty nor
brilliant in conversation, he was what is called
very good company, having travelled widely,
known all sorts of people, and formed views,
usually positive views, on all the subjects of
the day, views which he was prompt to declare
and maintain. There was not much novelty in

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceStudies in contemporary biography → online text (page 7 of 29)