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Charles Marriott

London: The Catholic Literature Association, 1933.

IT is a fact that the first leaders of the Oxford Movement brought their own peculiar honours to the cause: to the position which they held in common they added their own unique personal contributions. For to them the religious movement which they made was the center of their lives, the sum of their being, and their own qualities of mind and heart were brought to serve it. It has been the custom, originated perhaps by Dean Church, to evaluate t he work of the Tractarians in accordance with their own distinctive ability, each as it left its mark upon the movement. This process is not, however, easily entered upon in any discussion of Charles Marriott. His influence is strangely intangible, for he left little behind him in the way either of deed or words--only a deep veneration amongst those who knew him.

The progress of Marriott's life was uneventful. He had no great qualities of leadership such as distinguished Keble or Newman; nor had he the latter's command of words, for his speech was halting and the delivery of his sermons wretched. He had none of Hurrell Froude's genius for 'making a noise in the world'; and though a scholar, his learning had not that impressive weightiness and authority which marked the work of Pusey. He suffered no exile or persecution; nor were his spiritual difficulties, if ever he had any, of such a nature as to excite the attention of a curious world. Even his turning to the Oxford Movement was a matter-of-fact affair, occupying some years, and having none of that element of the miraculous such as had blazed upon Isaac Williams' conversion, and guided his life afterwards.

These factors have contributed to the comparative obscurity in which Marriott's name is hidden. Dean Burgon, attempting to collect material for his sketch of Marriott, complained that the only evidence he could discover was a store of grateful memory. Yet the lack of intimate association with stirring incidents, or the possession of a restful mind, should not prevent later generations from realizing the quiet greatness of the man, or from appreciating the very real and live work which he did for that movement to which the English Church owes so much.

The essential evenness of Marriott's life characterized his childhood. He was brought up in a devout and cheerful home circle which must have prepared him for the life which was to be his at Oxford. His father was a mildly famous cleric, a friend of Sir Walter Scott, and himself the author of some attractive verse. He was eager to see Charles make the best of his life, and he expressed his anxieties in some sincere, if slightly banal, lines written at his son's baptism. His interest in the child continued; he himself guided his education, and was probably responsible for stimulating in him that love of knowledge which was a trait of Marriott's at Oxford.

Though his father was rector of Church Lawford in Warwickshire, where Charles was born in 1811, the family for the most part resided at Broad Clyst in Devon, where the Rev. John Marriott held a curacy. Here the young Charles was brought up and taught in company with other youngsters of similar age. He remained somewhat apart from his companions, and was precocious at an early age. While the others were at play, he might be discovered behind the curtains in the drawing-room, reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Perhaps he was precluded from sharing the life of his young fellows by his health, which was always delicate; but his studious habits did not estrange their affections as so often happens in such circumstances. Charles was not only loved, but reverenced, by his playmates, in a fashion unusual amongst young children. He was generous both with his time and with his possessions, and early developed a quaint and almost adult wit and way of looking at things which convinced the children around him of his profound ability.

When Charles was fourteen, however, his father died, and, his mother being already dead, he was compelled to leave Broad Clyst and to go to live with his aunt at Rugby. When he departed from his old home, there arose a lamentation from the old almswomen in the village, and only then was the mystery solved of what Charles did with his pocket-money. For he neither bought nor saved; but every Saturday had gone round to distribute his pence amongst the old people. Generosity was not a virtue which Charles Marriott cultivated: it was an essential part of his nature.

At Rugby was tried the experiment of sending him to school, but he found the rigours of public school life too much for him. He was withdrawn after a year, and moved with his aunt to Kennersley, and was there coached by the Rev. Andrew Burn, curate and later incumbent, whom his aunt had married. The Rev. Andrew was a good scholar, and must have been a good tutor, but exercised little influence upon his pupil. Indeed, it is doubtful if anyone did, until Marriott reached Oxford. He was coached for a University scholarship, and, after one failure, succeeded in gaining an 'Open' at Balliol. He matriculated in 1829. He had a distinguished academic career, gaining a 'first' in classics and a 'second' in mathematics, herein disappointing himself and surprising his friends, who had considered him a certainty for a double first.

His gifts were, however, at once recognized by the University, and he was appointed to a junior lectureship at an age remarkable even then. In 1833, the year of great significance, Marriott was elected to a fellowship at Oriel, where he came under the influence of Newman. He was not yet, however, associated with the Oxford Movement. After six uneventful years, he became the first Principal of Chichester Theological College at the express invitation of Bishop Otter. Here he remained for two years, but though he did some useful work, his health necessitated his retirement, and in 1841 he returned to Oxford as sub-dean of Oriel.


Marriott returned to watch with anxious eyes the development of a first-class crisis. From 1842 Newman was upon what he himself called his 'death-bed' in regard to his membership in the Anglican communion. Nor did Marriott fail to perceive the danger signs or to realize the significance of Newman's condition. As he wrote to Bishop Selwyn, then in New Zealand, 'The times are forcing on us a change which under God must be prevented from issuing in confusion and must receive a character by the efforts of a few; and though I have scarcely any judgment or power of calculation in the matter, I have a place which seems assigned to me by Providence. It is a subordinate one: but I do not know how to relinquish it without a real desertion of duty.' It was Marriott's task to be one of those few, nor were his efforts unsuccessful.

His constant cheerfulness and hope that all would be well in the end slightly irritated Newman, though the two remained close friends. It is to Newman's credit that when he fled weeping from the mother who had no milk wherewith to feed her starving children, he made no attempt to take with him one over whom he had so much influence, but 'gave him over' to Pusey. And credit is also due to Marriott that despite his self-imposed character of ' subordinate,' and for all his great love of Newman, he had the courage to remain at the post his leader had left, and to labour there to secure the position which that 'defection' had left so critical.

Marriott at once identified himself with the Tractarian cause and brought to it every gift which most it needed. His scholarship, holiness and sympathy counted for much, but it was his unswerving determination to stay where he was, his confidence in his own mind and in his Church, and his absolute singleness of purpose, which the movement most required of him at that time. Nor was Charles Marriott the person to be driven from his course by the reviling of his neighbours or the adverse winds of fortune. Despite his physical delicacy, he had a will of steel. 'Though I may be suspected, hampered, worried and perhaps actually persecuted, I will fight every inch of ground before I will be compelled from the service of that mother to whom I owe my new birth in Christ and the milk of his word.'

It was in no spirit of forced cheerfulness that he took up his task. Newman's departure had indeed left a sad wreckage behind it. The movement itself seemed almost derelict. The early brightness of the morning of the Revival had passed, and with it the buoyancy of its leaders' hearts. Marriott faced the gloomy prospect sorrowfully. 'A change,' he wrote, 'has come over the face of things here . . . all seems altered. My own hope is to labour on towards the restoration of our Church: but it must be in heaviness the best part of my days.' Nevertheless, this heaviness of heart did not paralyze him. There was a great work to be done, for it seemed that the leaders had lost their way and the sheep were shepherd-less. Nor did Marriott fall into the temptation of bitterness against the English Church: he deplored the extravagant professions of disloyalty made by such as Faber, Oakley, and Ward. 'I wish they would not push things to such extremities,' he said, 'as drive people mad and almost absolutely paralyze the Church of England.' He realized that that attitude served no useful purpose, blinded men to the real values of the Tractarian standpoint, and merely provoked an anti-Romanist frenzy. 'We are likely to be rough handled,' he remarked in the casual way in which he spoke of his own personal danger.

During the next few years most of his labours were devoted, as he told his aunt, ' towards checking the now almost prevailing tide of secession.' He found himself, he said, surrounded by the 'perplexed and half-hearted, the desponding and the despairing.' Dean Burgon tells us that he was 'written to, worried, by all the doubts, scruples and perplexities' then abroad. This was Marriott's great opportunity to exhibit his value. Amid the suspicion of enemies and the doubt and disillusion of friends, he recovered in Oxford much sympathy for the Tractarian cause. In his study, which looked less like a study than a 'ransacked library,' he was always ready to see or to write to anyone who cared to come or to write to him. He had a welcome for everybody, friend or stranger, learned scholar or callow youth, who came wending his way through the deep maze of his books. And he had a genius for transmitting his own conviction to his hearers. He made no great flourish, no trumpet-blasts of oratory came from his lips, to stay the departure of the one-time Tractarian disciples; he was no conspicuous breakwater to stem the flood of secession. But how many troubled and weary souls found peace and courage again in the quiet of Marriott's rooms, how many heart-broken men discovered anew their former inspiration in his words, can never be known. That is not the kind of work which is talked of by the world at large and known to all men, nor is it preserved in books and set down in writing. Often the only knowledge of its success is locked in the solemn privacy of a grateful heart.

It was by such a network of what in modern jargon would be called 'personal contacts' that Marriott assisted in the salvation of the Oxford Movement. The 1851 crisis, when the Gorham Judgment set another party of fainthearts on the Romeward path, exhibited him in a similar light. His faith 'did not stand or fall by the judgments of the Privy Council,' and still he laboured on. It was not without some symbolical significance that Marriott had succeeded to Newman's rooms, for if he did not step into the position of leadership, he did much to fill that emptiness which his departure had left behind.


Such rescue work, however, would have been futile had not the remaining Tractarians continued to strengthen the intellectual foundation of their position. In one particular aspect of this construction Marriott was pre-eminent. Since 1842 he had been engaged upon editing the Library of the Fathers, and the real burden of the work was always his. The project was begun in 1836, and Newman, Keble and Pusey were the other editors. But Newman was gone, and Keble's name was little more than an ornament to the scheme. Though this was a great and necessary work, Marriott's friends and biographers have felt that too much of the mechanical labour connected with it devolved on him. For a man of such brilliant gifts as his, the drudgery of editorship was undoubtedly sheer waste of time, but he continued uncomplainingly. It was the task which had been given to him, and he did it. A friend tells of how he discovered Charles late one night, none too well, and tired out, toiling away at some indexing. For such work Marriott was far too good a man; but if he had not done it, perhaps nobody would, and in his few years he edited more than half the library. It is due to Marriott as much as to anyone that we have to-day that monument of the scholarship of the Tractarians, which did so much to fix the Catholic Revival in the English Church upon a sure basis.

It was in 1850 that he began a new phase of his career, as vicar of St. Mary's, the University Church. It is surprising that a man so essentially academic should have been successful as a parish priest. That success merely illustrates his many-sided ability. His sermons, a friend of his admitted, were 'singularly unadorned productions,' yet they attracted listeners because they were 'precious views on the deepest of subjects.' In public speech, as in private conversation, Marriott, though he could not sweep people away by eloquence, yet had a facility in clearing up difficulties which always ensured him a sympathetic and even eager hearing. As a shepherd of his flock, he was reverenced by those to whom he ministered. An old parishioner of St. Mary's who remembered him as vicar voiced the common sentiment when he told a successor, 'Mr. Marriott was a saint, if ever there was one.'

The cholera epidemic which swept Oxford in 1854 called forth all Marriott's strength and courage. An outbreak of small-pox added to the perils of the situation. But nothing could keep him away from the sick beds, and a lady, Miss Hughes, who worked as a nurse, described his labours as 'fearless and faithful.' The worst cases both of body and soul he made a special care, and there is one touching story of how he insisted upon seeing a dying woman, an atheist, who was going to meet her Maker with curses and blasphemy upon her lips. Marriott spoke to her for some time, while she mocked him and cried, 'Too late!' But he persisted in his gentle way, and when the end came, she died quietly and peacefully, murmuring, 'Jesus, save me!' His toil was unremitting. His constant visiting, hearing confessions, carrying the message of comfort and salvation, wore him out, and he himself fell a victim to small-pox. Prompt attention, however, secured his recovery, and in a comparatively short time he was at his post again.


Marriott's all too brief active career was now drawing to a close, and it will be well to look back at some of the many miscellaneous activities which occupied his time and thought. It is a striking fact, in view of the charge often levelled against the Tractarians, that they took little or no interest in social matters, that Charles Marriott was deeply concerned with the ethics of commerce. As a child he puzzled over whether it was right to sell a thing at a profit. At Oxford he was greatly interested in the Universal Purveyor, a kind of co-operative scheme inaugurated as a protest against false advertisement and waste, due to competition and methods of distribution. The last thing that he possessed, however, was practical commercial ability, and indeed the whole affair, grossly mismanaged from the start, ended in fiasco, involving him in much worry and loss of money.

Marriott, too, partly to relieve Newman and partly as an experiment, bought up the quasi-monastic establishment at Littlemore, converting it into a printing press. But there was never enough work for it to do, even when the primitive plant, set up by Marriott himself at a greater cost than he could well afford, had at length been installed. He wrote often for the purpose of keeping the press at work, but it had eventually to be closed down. Thus, if his excursions into the realms of commerce were unfortunate, they at least revealed a mistrust of things as they were. The Tractarians were, indeed, not a number of spiritually minded young gentlemen whose pose was the ascetic life. That asceticism was a necessary protest against the vulgarizing influence of 'two-bottle orthodoxy,' but it did not imply a rejection of the world. Rather was it a preliminary to reforming that world, in the light of their vision of the Kingdom, a task which has been left to a succeeding generation. Coupled with these schemes was his interest in the problem of poor scholars. The procuring of a University education for poor and promising students was always a concern of his, and though his work in this direction bore no immediate fruit, he assisted to arouse a conscience in this matter, which has had such striking effect in more recent years. He was specially anxious to provide for the theological training of poor men seeking Holy Orders, and outlined a scheme not unlike that which was later adopted at Kelham. It is interesting to observe also that Marriott early perceived the essence of the Reunion problem, at a time when strife and bitterness rendered reasonable discussion almost impossible. He, Pusey and Keble were responsible for a prayer for Reunion issued in 1845, of all years! He was also concerned with the letter of protest sent to Samuel Gobat, Bishop of Jerusalem, who had been proselytizing Greek Christians, revealing therein the sympathy for, and understanding of, the Holy Orthodox Church, which have ripened into a tradition of the Catholic Revival.


No sketch of an eminent man, however brief it may be, can be complete without some mention of his personal characteristics, of those habits and eccentricities which went to make up that objective self which his friends knew and loved. Charles Marriott was a handsome person, with a fine brow, beautifully cut features, and a mouth full of firmness and expression. But Dean Burgon complained that no portrait had succeeded in catching his 'manliness, character and dignity.' He was always delicate, and, though no hypochondriac, was accustomed to exaggerate the normal human precautions against inclement weather. Sleepy college porters have been startled by Marriott's appearance out of the night, his long, lean figure shrouded from head to foot in black, with his notorious black muffler covering his face. It was this particular garment that won for him the title of 'the veiled prophet.' He combined an academic, donnish humour with a sense of fun and an appreciation of the ludicrous which he had as a child, and retained even in the paralysis which struck him down three years before his death. Perhaps it was a combination of these which prompted his delight when an unfortunate undergraduate of Oriel, apparently more acquainted with four-wheelers than with the Apocrypha, announced the lesson as taken from the Book of the Prophet Barouche.

His breakfast parties were a famous institution in their day, but the numbers present frequently exceeded both his own expectations and his rooms' capacity. For neither was he careful of the numbers he invited, nor did he remember those who were to come. But there would be Marriott, at the head of the table, amid the clatter of eating and talking, perfectly happy and almost equally silent. For he, indeed, was not a good talker: his tongue was embarrassed by the multitude of his ideas; and yet, if one had the patience to sit through his painful silences and none too coherent approaches, something worth hearing was often the reward. Perhaps it was his somewhat shy nature which kept him quiet; but this did not detract from his offices of kindness. Always ready to assist his friends with their work, he did not neglect those most needing his help. He would make a point of attending to those in the company who seemed awkward or retiring. 'He was always the succourer, advocate, champion of the neglected and the forlorn, the feeble and the friendless, the lowly and retiring.' He loved children, and would entertain the boys of the college choir at excessive inconvenience to himself, for his charity outran his powers of discipline.

His virtues were many, and his friends found difficulty in deciding which were most prominent. 'Of his many conspicuous graces,' wrote one of them, 'I am really at a loss which to single out for the foremost place. Sometimes his profound humility of spirit first presents itself to my memory; at other times, his singleness of purpose; at others, his purity of heart; at others, his utter unselfishness; at others, his candour and forbearance.' And a fellow don said: 'He seemed to move in a spiritual region out of the reach of us ordinary mortals.' Dean Burgon, searching for a brief description of Marriott, entitled his sketch of his friend, 'The man of saintly life.' His holiness, in fact, was outstanding, even amongst the Tractarians. 'Whenever he comes among us,' remarked one, 'he seems to bring a blessing with him.'

Such a person was Charles Marriott, scholar, philosopher, priest, friend of the poor and humble, saint, and, one might almost add, martyr. The remainder of his story is soon told. Worn out by the work he undertook, his correspondence, now almost unmanageable, his literary labours, his brave personal efforts on behalf of the Tractarian cause, his college and University duties (for he was elected to the hebdominal council), all contributed to his collapse. On St. Peter's Day, 1855, he was stricken with paralysis, and though he lived for three more years, it was in practical solitude at his brother's house at Bradfield, in Berkshire. 'Early called and ever obeying the call,' wrote Pusey, 'he has been allowed both active duty and an early rest.'

It is impossible not to raise the question as to whether Marriott's life was a failure. It is a doubt which must arise after perusal of his story. It is easy to say how much more profitable his life might have been. His abilities were splendid, his opportunities unique, his attainments rare, but his achievements apparently few. Yet one must hesitate to describe him as a failure. It was his nature of 'discipleship,' as Dean Church has pointed out, that led Marriott to efface himself. His seeming need for a leader to follow, his attachment to Pusey after Newman had left, are the more surprising in view of his remarkable influence over others. We may always acknowledge the precept that was Marriott's life, and with Dean Burgon 'render thanks for the blessing of his bright example, and pray for grace to follow, at however humble a distance, in his holy footsteps.' But this is not the whole significance of that life. 'If there is any good in me, I owe it to Charles Marriott,' said Edward King, bishop, head of one theological college and founder of another. Father Mackonochie also owned himself Marriott's spiritual pupil. And many others, neither famous priests nor bishops, owed 'the good that was in them' to Charles Marriott. 'He lives at this day,' wrote Dean Burgon; 'he will go on living in the good lives of others.' And we may add that Marriott's influence is amongst us at this hour, for he was part of the very breath of the Catholic Revival.

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