Shane Leslie.

The end of a chapter online

. (page 5 of 10)
Online LibraryShane LeslieThe end of a chapter → online text (page 5 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

public service. His reading was limited. Lady
Sarah Spencer told me that she used to read to
Gladstone in his old age. One day while reading
Southey, the Prince of Wales called and insisted
that Gladstone should read a book which he rated

86 The End of a Chapter

very high. It was Marie Corelli's Barabbas. After
an hour's reading, Gladstone uttered one word by
way of comment : " Southey ! "

Edward VII had keener perception for men than
books. It is history how he tacitly dropped the
absurd " divine right of Kings " with all its senti-
mental superstition and practical limitations. He
preferred to wear the unassailable mantle of a
modern president. He was certainly a better
Republican than many of the Americans who
thronged his court. He lived like an epicurean
and died like a stoic. Neither devil nor doctor
could affright him much. His sudden death left
a pang of regret such as no world ruler had left
since the Emperor Titus.

The parallel between the two has not been
noticed. Each succeeded to a so-called Augustan
age, and ruled over an Empire which was settling
into comfortable stagnation. Each was accused of
indulging in revelry before succeeding to the
throne, and each seemed to die untimely for the
happiness of the world. There went out a feeling
among Edward's subjects akin to the sentiment
which used to prompt the deification of the Roman

Among Catholics a myth arose that so good a

The Dynasty of Hanover 87

King could only have died in the communion of
the Church. It was rumoured that he had returned
for his last illness not from Biarritz but from
Lourdes hard by. A nun in the Midlands was
reported to have seen his soul in the purgatory
of the just! Certain it is that good Protestants
watched Father Vaughan a little anxiously during
those last days! When the Tablet published a
photograph of King Edward with Father Vaughan
there was a slight emeute in Buckingham

George V caused no anxiety to Protestants.
Above reproach, he filled the requisition form of
an English sovereign. He proved a sedative in
feverish times. He had none of his father's am-
bition to rearrange Europe. He collected postage-
stamps in preference to racing-cups, and drew a
keener eye on pheasants than on women. The
middle classes welcomed him, and the lower ones
had no apprehensions. The upper class, who were
beginning to play at decadence, smiled at his
domestic virtues. To many, a moral king is always
a subject for satire. A king who tries to do his
duty never raises that sentiment which accrues to
selfish brilliance and even gallantry. Henry VIII
remains the most popular of English monarchs.

88 The End of a Chapter

Fate has not been kind to George V. For the
sake of the dynasty he endeavoured to win the
Derby, but " all the King's horses " were unavail-
ing. He went to the army and navy boxing,
instead of the first production of " Parsival," since
" Parsival " was said to shock the Nonconformists.
He tried to be a constitutional monarch, but only
produced an outburst in the House. A well-
intentioned effort to settle the Irish question led
to a deadlock. Civil war threatened, and was only
prevented by universal war. The conflict of
Armageddon eddied round his throne, and he
uttered well-chosen words and performed appro-
priate actions, though he saw the Guards off to
annihilation in France wearing a frock coat and
top-hat. He became a teetotaler, but his sub-
jects left him stranded " dry." Throughout his
reign he has showed himself the type intended by
the settlement a patriot King under Whig

Alone among statesmen and generals he has
made no blunders. He stands an unchanging and
homely figurehead in the strife. His throne
remains the safest if not, in view of Belgium, the
most glorious in Europe. In contrast to the
Kaiser's feverish omnipresence, his calm is a

The Dynasty of Hanover

steady guidance, if not a wild inspiration, to the

Before the war Englishmen believed in four
things : a powerless throne, a powerful navy, the
diplomacy of Sir Edward Grey, and their own
form of democracy. The scene of Grey's triumphs
has become the scene of British disasters. The
fruits of democracy have proved unappetising in
war time. The navy and the throne remain as
sheet-anchors to public hope. George V has, by
his unchanging calm and refusal to bow before
fear or imagination, proved the fibre which resists
the strain in the public mind. It is possible that
he has those needful qualities, which could not be
expected from a more brilliant sovereign the
qualities of stolid patience and imperturbable
phlegm. The elements of royal greatness are not
all glittering nor necessarily such as chroniclers
prefer to chronicle. It is something that a most
English type of Englishman sits upon the throne
in these unstable days.

George III amused his subjects by his inability
to discover how the apple entered the dumpling,
but he saw Napoleon dumped on St. Helena.
George V may be his subjects' best figurehead
sailing through the waters of Armageddon.

90 The End of a Chapter

A curious passage in Carlyle's Frederick the
Great recalls as an obstacle to Prussian plans
" Britannic George." " Suppose your Britannic
Majesty," quoth Frederick, " would make with
me an express neutrality convention?" But he
wouldn't. History often repeats itself.



"CHRISTIAN England" is a cant term much
employed by the critics and the upholders of ortho-
doxy alike. What it means is a disputed proposi-
tion. As a Catholic nation England partook nobly
of the Crusades, and built the finest set of national
cathedrals extant in Europe thanks, indeed, to
loans from the Jews, whom she treated with inter-
mittent tolerance. The Crusaders, the Lollards,
the Elizabethan High-churchman, the Catholic
divines, the Puritans, and eighteenth-century
bishops, who signed the articles of faith " with a
smile or a sigh," have all left their mark on the
national religion. A general result makes English
Christianity sentimental rather than theological.
It tends to save appearances rather than souls.

In public life religion makes little difference.
The devotee and the anticlerical is equally rare.

92 The End of a Chapter

The State bishops are objects of envy rather than
of reverence. The depths of religious awe between
a foreign Catholic and an Anglican appear in the
story of the honest Briton arguing with a French-
man and ending: " To H 11 with the Pope!"
With a pallor befitting the terrible words of his
reply, the Frenchman drew himself up and uttered :
" To H 11 with the Archbishop of Canterbury! J>
Whereat the Briton dissolved in laughter. "To
H 11 with the Gold Stick in Waiting " would
sound as comic to him. The English Primate is
a court official, and it is the Chancellor who keeps
the King's conscience. Archbishop Laud was the
only occupant of the see since the Reformation to
press divine rather than official honours on himself,
and the only one to suffer execution on the

Reverence and common sense go to the making
of English religion. "Preach the Gospel and put
down enthusiasm" was a Victorian bishop's watch-
word. The religion taught at the great schools
amounts practically to a light coat of moral dis-
temper with a sentimental affection for the school
chapel thrown in. Only Winchester maintains a
religious test. A sixth-form boy can better criti-
cise New Testament Greek, compared, say, with
Thucydides, than expound its doctrines.

The Religion of England 93

It is only at the university that such as are
religious tend to shuffle into shades and sects.
Organised effort to draw men into different doxies
fail. The ordinary Englishman has not been
troubled by religion for a hundred years. At Cam-
bridge, missioners from America were received
with polite amusement. In my time Mrs. Eddy
won the wife of a master of Trinity, and the master
of Emmanuel raised a teacup storm by distributing
an unorthodox tract by Dr. Eliot of Harvard. An
Oxford or Cambridge university training secures
a constant stream of recruits for the Church, for
it often unfits them for any other profession. To
the gentleman of culture or country pursuits, the
Church of England rectory affords a temptation
that the dissenting manse or the disciplined
Catholic presbytery cannot offer. The ideal of the
English Church has been to provide a resident
gentleman for every parish in the kingdom, and
there have been worse ideals. In the good old
days the parson read Horace and rode to hounds.
Since agricultural depression has set in, the curate
reads Kipling and plays football. The old-
fashioned Anglicanism and dissent of England
are practically dead, and parasites devour their
remains. Ritualism has eaten into the core of the
establishment, while sects and political societies

94 The End of a Chapter

have dismembered Puritanism. The Catholic
Church has made conquests in the upper
classes, but she has leaked from the lower

Anglicanism is less a creed than a condition of
mind peculiar to the English. Anglicanism spells
an ideal of temporal followed by eternal comfort.
It is the historical attempt to combine the advan-
tages of the Catholic and the reformed faith. It
implies tradition without mystery, bishops with-
out authority, an open Bible and a closed hell.
The articles of the English Church were originally
articles of peace devised to enable the rival sup-
porters of Church and Sovereign to live under one
roof. Real Protestantism came later with the
Puritans, and Cromwell was the first Nonconform-
ist. Anglican doctrine changes with dynasties and
fashions of thought. The ritual varies with each
parish. But the Church has its place as an old-
established institution, disseminating traditions of
decency and honour. Even Catholics would
deprecate its disestablishment as a social disaster,
second only to the overthrow of the House of

The two religious movements of the nineteenth
century, the Evangelical and the Catholic revivals,
loosened the stakes of Anglicanism as a mere

The Religion of England 95

Church-and-State preserve. The mediaevalist with
a taste for liturgy, the Hot Gospeller, and the
critic of the Pentateuch all entered within its
portals. The virtue of toleration, even of opposing
beliefs, has been deduced by apologists from neces-
sity. There is a delightful tale of a Bishop of
Gloucester who ruled over High and Low Church
with an equal mind, until the former presented him
with a popish mitre which he promised to wear.
On the expected day the Low Church gathered to
protest against a bishop wearing a hat in church,
but the wise bishop satisfied both by carrying the
dangerous emblem under his arm!

There is a wonderful comprehensiveness in the
Church of England. At Gibraltar or in Ulster,
Anglicanism may be a different church. The
Bishop of Gibraltar used to dress as a Catholic
prelate, whose see was Southern Europe. " I
believe I am in your lordship's diocese," was the
Pope's humorous comment to him. It was the
same Pontiff who answered an Anglican bishop's
request by giving him the formal blessing reserved
to incense before burning. The contretemps
caused by High Church bishops travelling abroad
are beyond count. The greatest sensation was
caused by a Scottish prelate who went to France
in the purple cassock of a continental bishop. As

96 The End of a Chapter

he brought his wife with him, the pious innkeeper
refused to allow her in.

" Mais je suis en vacances," explained the
paragon of diocesan respectability.

" // n'y a pas de doute que monseigneur est en
vacances," replied the poor innkeeper to whom
the situation was with difficulty explained by the

The most curious compromise in England is
that the wives of spiritual peers have no official
position. This dates from Queen Elizabeth's
cheery remark when the first married archbishop
brought his lady to court : " Mistress I would not,
wife I cannot call you."

In Ireland the Anglican bishops amounted to
Cromwellians in lawn sleeves. To-day they are
the leaders of a stranded Crusade and the trustees
of a disestablished church. For three hundred
years they preached that St. Patrick was an
Anglican, until Gladstone bade them throw up the
missionary sponge. Though the native cathedrals
and old revenues had been made theirs, the duel
had proven unequal. The Catholic Church thrived
on poverty and persecution, and became more than
ever the Church of the people. In contrast to else-
where, the Catholic Church in Ireland became so
identified with popular rights and opposed to

The Religion of England 97

feudalism that I remember an old Catholic peer
exclaiming : " We have held the faith in spite of
the priests."

Anglicanism failed in Ireland because of the
poor quality of its bishops. Swift said that they
were highwaymen who stole the papers of the true
bishops on their way over. At the end of the
eighteenth century Primate Stuart wrote to Lord
Hardwicke :

Fix Mr. Beresford at Kilmore, and we shall then have
three very inactive bishops, and, what I trust the world
has not yet seen, three bishops in one district reported to
be the most profligate men in Europe.

As late as 1822, Bishop Jocelyn of Clogher was
removed from his see for scandalous crime. There
were always exceptions. There was a Berkeley
at Cloyne and an Alexander at Armagh, the latter
of whom survived into the twentieth century, as
the last of the state-appointed bishops in Ireland.
When a child I recited : " There is a green hill
far away" to his wife, the authoress. I was asked
at the close which verse I liked best. I answered,
"The last." "And why?"

" Because it is the last," I replied frankly.

When Archbishop Alexander was old and I was
young we became close friends. I was sometimes
left in charge of him at his palace, for he grew


The End of a Chapter

very feeble. We used to drive together round
the patrimony of Patrick (the demesne that dis-
establishment had left him) and over the crest of
Armagh, where Brian Boru lies buried and the
flags taken from the French at Ballinamuck hang
in the old cathedral. After a peep to see how his
rival, Cardinal Logue, was progressing with his
brand-new structure, we used to return to discuss
Greek plays and Latin Fathers under the pictures
of all the courtiers, scoundrels, and good men who
had ever ruled Armagh for England.

Archbishop Alexander could recall Newman's
preaching at Oxford. " He was an apostle! " he
used to say, and to hear him preach in St. Mary's
he often went without the supper which his
college had made a movable feast that it might
coincide with the hour of Newman's preaching.
Dr. Alexander was a High-churchman, and when
he maintained the symbolism of the Cross, an
Orange mob stoned his carriage in Dublin!
Plunged all his life in the Irish maelstrom, he
always held out for peace with principle. Old age
found him undaunted and unsoured, nor had
humour departed from him or his neighbour,
Cardinal Logue. I wish I could sketch that quaint
and venerable pair as I remember them.

Archbishop Alexander, with his round benig-

The Religion of England 99

nant face and bulky frame, needed only a peruke
to resemble an Anglified Dr. Johnson as he laid
down the laws of poetry and the church to us
over his teacups. Cardinal Logue looked and
thought the very opposite. Like the apostles, he
came of fisher folk, and his gaunt, bony face with
bushy brows planted over his sad yet shrewd
Celtic eyes, made him like Granuaile or some such
weather-battered personification of Ireland, in a
cassock. He was a link with Ireland's penal past.
He had outlived his generation and filled the sees
of Ireland twice and three times over with his
own hands. He told me he had sat on the bishop's
bench with John MacHale of Tuam, who had been
a bishop before Catholic emancipation (1829).

The interchange of humour and respect kept
Logue and Alexander friends. When Cardinal
Vannutelli came to consecrate the new cathedral
at Armagh, Alexander left a card on the Pope's
legate. The two cardinals paid the Protestant
Primate a visit. As the three old men were
gossiping in Latin under the roof most sacred to
Protestant ascendancy, a tumult was heard in the
streets, and great was their amusement on learning
afterward that rival religious mobs had begun to
break windows in their honour.

Cardinal Logue used to describe with some

c 2

ioo The End of a Chapter

humour the conclave which elected Pius X (car-
dinals are now forbidden to mention details), how
he and two others came together socially and were
mistaken for plotters, which indeed they were not
at all, at all ! And how, had he been made Pope,
he would certainly have jumped out of the
window !

When I became a Catholic, Archbishop Alex-
ander sent for me, and, after a good-humoured
scolding, added : "I nearly did it myself when
I was your age! " He told me that almost all his
Oxford friends had become Catholic priests, but
what he mourned was that they disappeared. He
seemed to think they drifted away like wrecks.
It is certainly true that the Catholic Church made
wonderful converts in those days. The pick of
Oxford followed Newman, and what, indeed,
happened to them all? Save for a Manning or a
Ripon they were not much heard of again.

Alexander was the high-water mark of all that
was best in Anglicanism. He was tolerant without
being unorthodox. I remember the wrath which
mantled upon his gentle old face after reading a
sermon by Dean Hensley Henson. " He has
blasphemed the mother of God! " They were
brave words for an Irish primate to utter.

Alexander was the last of the great pulpit

The Religion of England 101

orators, comprising the Liddons and the Magees,
in whose wake came only the sky-squibblers and
slang preachers. The slump which has been visible
in the State has visited the Church. The Great
War found no single great man on the bishop's
bench except Gore of Oxford, who, owing to his
liberal views, was barely on speaking terms with
his diocese. The archbishoprics were filled by
courtiers and arrivistes, fashionable in doctrine as
in politics.

The leading Anglicans are generally laymen.
Gladstone was a church reader, and tried to use
his position of Premier to make theological inter-
ruptions during the Vatican council. Only the
adroitness of his diplomats saved him from a
foolish position. However, he apologetically sent
a British ship-of-war to secure the safety of the
Pope in 1870. Lord Halifax has been described
as the lay Pope of the Church of England. He
sacrificed a great career to lead the High Church,
and to further reunion with the Mother Church
of Rome, whom the High Church nicknamed
" Aunty," and the Low Church " The Scarlet
Woman." I once heard the present Archbishop of
York humorously describe her in conversation as
his Pink Aunt!

At the other pole to Lord Halifax was Lord

102 The End of a Chapter

Radstock, who, like the famous Lord Dartmouth,
"wears a coronet and prays!" Radstock was a
drawing-room preacher, who claimed to have con-
verted the old Emperor William. He once went
to preach to tKe godless French, and was heard
to entreat them publicly : " Buvez de I'eau de vie,
buvez de l y eau de vie, mes peres! " He meant
the water of life, but the witty French inquired
if brandy was the English sacrament.

Religious life in England is at its best in dealing
with the foetid slums which encumber the great
cities of the land. The High Church sent out men
devoted and true, of whom Father Dolling was
reckoned an Anglican Vincent de Paul. Though
disliking ritualism, Archbishop Alexander told me
he once went to confirm some of Dolling's dis-
ciples in a back slum, and that they rose up
singing : " We are marching to the goalf* pro-
nouncing it as though it were gaol. " Only too
true, poor fellows," whispered Dolling, who was
an Irishman, across the chancel to the arch-

England's greatest social and religious danger
lay in those slums. They remain hotbeds of
disease and unrest, which are not allayed by the
efforts of temperance workers on the one hand,
or by bouts of drunken pleasure on the other.

The Religion of England 103

Born in original gin may be said of most slum
babies, one-half of whose survivors to manhood
are found unfit for military service. Drops of oil
are dropped on the howling ocean of greater
London. Oxford and Cambridge have founded
settlements of well-meaning students, but critics
have reported them as only an expensive way of
showing the poor how the rich live. Neverthe-
less, the inculcation of muscular Christianity by a
band of stalwarts is not valueless, even if young
burglars are sometimes given the benefit of a
gymnastic training !

The present Bishop of London sprang to fame
from Oxford House. Perhaps he is the typical
modern bishop. For ever photographed and
paraded in the papers, he can be suave and cheery
to everybody. He preaches a "jolly" theology.
He is fonder of making a good phrase than a
point in controversy. He could not help describ-
ing the Great War as " The Nailed Hand versus
the Mailed Fist." He has no pretensions except
what his High Church insists on giving him. He
slaps his curates on the back and calls the working
man " Matey." He can crack a harmless joke
about church to show he is a layman, after all,
and explain to a Londoner that Christ was really
more of a sportsman than a Sunday-school teacher.

104 The End of a Chapter

The most successful of his clergy, Prebendary
Carlile, once startled us at Cambridge by referring
to the Good Shepherd from the university pulpit
as "the Divine Fox-hunter! "

On the whole, England has but a loose hold
on Christianity, which is left to the individual.
The Salvation Army men have swept up the refuse
of her pinchbeck Babylons, but they have won
their real success as an imperial sociological bureau.
The High Churches with their free gifts and
lighted candles, dot the slums like Christmas trees
planted artificially in a dreary jungle. It is the
system of bribing souls which has lost England
to the churches. Snobbery has driven away the
poor. The fashionable churches count their
coronets, and the middle-class chapels advertise
their carpet-knights.

The Church of England reigns chiefly as a social
club, with which are deposited the moral stan-
dards of society. There are more people in
London society to-day who believe in their family
ghosts than in the resurrection of Christ. Super-
stition has thrived oddly in London, as it throve
in the latter Roman Empire, to the disregard of
the old-fashioned deities. I have known an out-
going governor consult a clairvoyant rather than
a bishop. And I once attended a seance in Gros-

The Religion of England 105

venor Square, where the recently deceased wife of
an Irish viceroy sent messages to her friends in
society. High personages frequent the boudoir
of Endor. I suppose there are few who have not
consulted " Mrs. Robinson," the principal witch
to London society. The most curious superstition
prevalent is the use Protestant ladies make of St.
Anthony of Padua to find lost jewels or to help
them win at bridge. I have even known a relic
of that saint used to help a race-horse in the

The only genuine native expression of religion
is the much-derided Nonconformist conscience,
which is entirely occupied with the public care of
two commandments. There is no reason to con-
sider English public men more moral than the
French, except that they must be careful not to be
found out. In France a politician's private life
is never scanned unless a woman figures in his
death, as in the sinister cases of Gambetta, Boul-
anger, and President Faure. But in England,
public men who are caught out in their lifetime
are hounded to political or actual death. On the
day of judgment the middle classes of England
will point very triumphantly to the three principal
scapegoats they succeeded in nailing to God's barn
door: Wilde, Dilke, and Parnell.

106 The End of a Chapter

The English people will always shrink from
blasphemy and try to keep respectable, but it
cannot be said that there is a Christian England
in the sense that there is a Christian Russia, or a
Christian Ireland. The deep religious sense which
underlay " Merrie England " seems only likely
to return under the stress of deep national humilia-
tion and sorrow. What, indeed, was asked by
the Divine Prophet, to whom the Church of
England is officially dedicated, if ye gain the whole

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10

Online LibraryShane LeslieThe end of a chapter → online text (page 5 of 10)