Project Canterbury

Lord Halifax:

A Tribute

by Sidney Dark

[Milwaukee: Morehouse Publishing, 1934; 86 pp; hardbound]

Chapter Two

It is said that a man’s character is reflected in the quality of his friends. If this be true, I may properly think a little more highly of myself from the fact that during the last ten years of his long life, the late Lord Halifax honoured me with his friendship and with a measure of his confidence. I have in my possession a number of his letters, some of them very long and nearly all written by his own hand, in which he discussed the various ecclesiastical developments of the years. In some of these letter he expresses his gratification that there was complete agreement between us, and these are more pleasant to read again now that his long life has come to an end.

I suppose it would be true to say that a journalist, who has spent many years in his profession, and who has, in his time, been concerned with almost every side of contemporary life, is likely to have met more men of more varied types than the members of any other profession. As I look back through the years to the days when I began to earn my living as a ‘kid reporter,’ I recall good men and bad men whom I have known, dull men and amusing men, little men who thought themselves great, and great men apparently unaware of their greatness. But I never met another man quite like Lord Halifax.

His most obvious characteristic was a beautiful serenity of spirit, a serenity which he shared with the late Father Russell. Goodness is not necessarily serene. Frank Weston was a saint but he was too much troubled by the sorrow and the injustices of the world in which he lived to be serene. He was essentially the first-class fighting man, persistently engaged in conflict with the devil and all his works; and though there doubtless was deep in his heart complete and possibly joyful confidence, that was apparent to his acquaintance. Charles Gore, the memory of whose friendship I shall also treasure to my last breath, was as grim as he was good. Serenity was certainly not obviously his.

The serenity of Lord Halifax was due first of all to his superb faith, but perhaps to some extent also to his detachment from the commonplace and the ordinary, a detachment which naturally became more definite in his old age. In a sense he was a man of one idea. He was convinced that the one cure for the ills of the nation and the world was the complete recovery of the Catholic Faith. He believed profoundly that the Church of England was the Catholic Church in England. The preoccupation of his life was to persuade the Church and its ministers to recognize its character and to realize its high mission. He was persuaded that the triumph of the Catholic religion could never occur without the return of the provinces of Canterbury and York into the great Church of the west from which they seceded in the sixteenth century. The reunion of Canterbury and Rome was rarely our of his mind. As I have suggested, in common with all enthusiasts he minimized difficulties, and was inclined to ignore differences which were apparent even to those with whom he was in most complete agreement. Practical as he was, in many respects he was essentially an idealist, and the realists, whether they were Anglican or Roman Catholic, irritated him.

In view of the history of the last three hundred years, few members of the Church of England, however much they deplore the separation from Rome, find it difficult to understand the definitely hostile position that the late Cardinal Vaughan took forty years ago with regard to the negotiations in Rome concerning the validity of Anglican Orders. To Lord Halifax, however, Vaughan seemed merely tiresomely mischievous, just as Archbishop Benson seemed tiresomely timorous. He was apt to overestimate the importance of his supporters, and to underestimate his opponents.

But the greatness of the man was shown most conspicuously in the fact that while he recognized a set-back, he never admitted defeat. Twenty-five years passed between the publication of the Bull of Leo XIII, which categorically condemned Anglican Orders, and the beginning of the Malines Conversations. The Conversations appeared to do little more than to make it clear to the world that some Roman Catholics and some Anglo-Catholics profess practically the same faith. That perhaps was a great deal; but it was not so much as Lord Halifax supposed. It was the deep affectionate veneration that Lord Halifax had for Cardinal Mercier that made him, as I think, overestimate the value of Malines, for certainly nothing was attained there and nothing proved except goodwill. Though there is in the published record evidence of wide agreement between Lord Halifax and the Cardinal, there is evidence too of a wide disagreement between Dr. Gore and other Roman Catholic representatives. But Lord Halifax had no doubts. Most of my meetings and my correspondence with him took place after the Conversations had come to an end, and I have no doubt that the last years of his life were made more content by the conviction that while reunion may be yet far off, it had been brought appreciably nearer, and by profound gratitude that he had been permitted, as he believed as the instrument of Divine Providence, to play his part in so vitally important an achievement.

But thought Lord Halifax was to so great am extent a man of one idea, he was by no means uninterested in the life around him. Hickleton was in a very wonderful sense his home, and at Hickleton one saw him at his most attractive. I recall one occasion when he threw his grounds open for some local celebration, and it was a charming experience to walk through the gardens with him while he stopped and chatted to his neighbours, most of them miners, all of whom he knew, and who obviously regarded him with affectionate admiration. I recall going with him in the early morning to the church just outside his park gates and the thrill that it was to kneel close to his venerable figure. I recall his pretty habit of sitting among his guests after dinner, repeating ghost stories, of which he had an extra-ordinary repertoire. And with these memories come others of long conversations in his house in Eaton Square in which there were shrewd comments, wise judgement, and complete charity. Lord Halifax thought well of all men, even of those who denounced the things that he held most dear and who seemed farthest away from him in matters of belief.

He had deliberately refused the political career that his father had designed for him, but he was by no means uninterested in politics. He inherited a Whig tradition, and the Victorian Whig had become the Georgian Tory. In the early days of our acquaintance he was very critical of my modified support of the Labour Government. But it was very characteristic of him that he should have written to me in the autumn of 1924 a letter in which he said:

‘ Mr. MacDonald was sleeping at Doncaster the other night on his way North, and I was sorry I did not hear of it in time to ask him to come here where he would have been more comfortable. I do not know him, but I should have been glad to have made his acquaintance.’

In another letter, written after the electoral defeat of the Labour Party in which he expressed disagreement with some criticism that I had written of Mr. Winston Churchill, he wrote:

‘Personally I must also confess that I am glad Mr. Winston Churchill is in the Government – there are obvious things that can be said about him, but he is clever, courageous, and industrious, and I think his book about the Dardanelles is convincing that if his policy had been adopted sooner, and the land and military operations had been combined some months before, the expedition would have succeeded and the war would have been much shortened.’

I print this quotation because it indicates that Lord Halifax did not live in an ecclesiastical glass case, and also, as it seems to me, that he did not appreciate what are and are not the existing political influences that are in antagonism to the Christian ideal.

Lord Halifax was indeed essentially an aristocrat. He belonged to the class which governed England, with a few short intervals, from the landing of Dutch William on these shores certainly until the death of Queen Victoria, and even longer, for the end of the domination of the Whig aristocracy and their connections did not definitely come to an end until the formation of the Campbell-Bannerman Government in 1905. By that time most of the Whigs had come to call themselves Conservatives. The second Lord Halifax was born to rule, and with all his appealing Christian humility he did rule. He was eminently a masterful man.

Charles Lindley Wood was born on June 7, 1839, seven years after the passing of he first Reform Bill, for which his grandfather, Earl Grey, had been responsible. His father, Sir Charles Wood, was a Liberal Member of Parliament from 1826 until 1866, when he was raised to the peerage as Viscount Halifax. Sir Charles, the third baronet of an ancient Yorkshire family, served in various Cabinets under Palmerston and Gladstone, holding the positions, at one time and another, of Chancellor of the Exchequer, First Lord of the Admiralty, Secretary of State for India, and Lord Privy Seal. In view of the fact, that his grandson was afterwards to be one of the most successful of modern Viceroys, it is interesting to remember that, as Secretary of State for India, it fell to Sir Charles to carry out the difficult task of transferring the Government of India from the East India Company to the Crown.

The father and mother of the man who was to become famous as the champion of Catholicism n the English Church were by tradition and habit of mind entirely opposed to the Catholic Revival. Lord Halifax has himself described in an article in the Treasury, the intensely Protestant atmosphere in which he was brought up. In his boyhood there were no services in the village church at Hickleton except on Sundays and Good Fridays. Lord and Lady Halifax and their children sat in the family pew in which there was a comfortable fire. There was a sermon at Mattins on Sunday morning, and Evensong was sung at three, and then the church was locked up. There was a Communion four times a year, and no one in the village except ‘two or three old people and the parish clerk ever thought of communicating.’ A cassock was a thing unknown, and the village priest wore white bands all through Sunday and black gloves in the pulpit.

At Confirmations at this time it was not unusual for only the poorer classes to go up to the altar to receive the imposition of the bishop’s hands; the gentry sat in a pew by themselves and the bishop came down to them. ‘When one of my uncles was ordained,’ Lord Halifax has recorded, ‘the only advice the bishop gave him was not to keep cows and always to wear worsted stockings.’ And he added: ‘The only preparation for my Confirmation was being made to copy out certain devotional passages and hymns into a notebook.’

This was the condition of the English Church in a Yorkshire parish a decade after Keble had preached his Assize sermon, but looking back to his boyhood’s days, Lord Halifax believed that there must have been the promise of better things in the retention of certain ancient Catholic customs at Hickleton. Thus, the church bell always rang at eight o’clock on Sunday mornings, although Mass had not been said at that hour for generations, and the shriving bell was rung at twelve o’clock on Shrove Tuesday, although no one dreamt of going to church to be shriven.

The home atmosphere was intensely Protestant, but Charles Wood’s uncle, S.F. Wood, who died when his nephew was a child of four, and who was at Eton with Gladstone and an undergraduate at Oriel in the years of Newman’s great Oxford influence, corresponded both with Newman and with Manning, and was definitely attracted to the Tractarian teaching. Lord Halifax had a natural devotion to the uncle whom he had never known, and he cherished the crucifix which his uncle had with him on his deathbed.

In 1849, Charles Wood was sent to a preparatory school, and in 1853 he went to Eton, where his tutor was William Johnston (Cory), the uncle of the present Bishop of St. Albans. The boy had the beginning of the intense spiritual fervour which was the characteristic of the man. And it is said that this inspired the reference to him Johnson’s poem Ionica, in which he wrote:

Genius and love will uplift thee; and yet;
Walk through some passionless years by my side,
Chasing the silly sheep, snapping the lily-stalk,
Drawing my secrets forth, witching my soul with talk.
When the sap stays, and the blossom is set,
Others will take the fruit; I shall have died.

As his correspondence with the Abbe Portal shows, Lord Halifax wrote admirable idiomatic French, though I am told that he spoke French with a very strong English accent, and in this connection it is worth noting that, while at Eton, he won the Prince Consort’s prize for French.

At Eton, Charles Wood began the friendship with King Edward, who was two years his junior, which lasted until the King’s death. The young Prince of Wales was brought up according to his father’s fearsome Teutonic plan, in an atmosphere of dull exclusion. He was a gregarious boy, and he became a gregarious man, yearning for the society of his fellows, and his mother insisted that her husband’s plan of education should be so far modified as to allow a few selected boys to come to Windsor from Eton to play with the Prince. Among them were Charles Wood, William Henry Gladstone, Charles Carrington, afterwards the first Marquis of Lincolnshire, a life-long friend of King Edward and a most stalwart Protestant, and the present Lord Derby’s father. The opportunities of intercourse were restricted, says Sir Sidney Lee. Prince Albert was always present, and inspired the boy visitors with a sense of dread. But the young Prince’s good humour and charm of manner endeared him to the Eton boys and made them all his close friends for life.

In 1857, Charles Wood went with the Prince on a tour of the Lake country, and afterwards for a month in Germany and Switzerland. In 1858, he went up to Christ Church, Oxford, and in the next year the Prince of Wales also went to Oxford. Wood was again one of the few undergraduates whom the Prince was allowed to meet on anything like terms of friendship.

From an ecclesiastical point of view, Oxford had entered a dull period when Charles Wood was an undergraduate. The Tractarian movement had apparently spent itself. Pusey was still at Christ Church, a man nearing sixty, but the services in Christ Church Cathedral were dull and scanty. Prayers were said in Latin at eight o’clock in the morning in winter, and seven in summer. The Sunday morning service consisted of Mattins, Litany, and the first part of the Communion Service. There was a celebration of Holy Communion only once a month. Attendance at the Sunday morning service was compulsory.

Charles Wood lived the ordinary life of a well-to-do undergraduate. To the end of his life he was passionately fond of horses, and hunting was among his preoccupations in his Oxford days. Among his most intimate friends was Henry Chaplin, afterwards Viscount Chaplin, who was to become famous on the Turf.

Charles Wood took his degree in the honour School of Law and Modern History in Michaelmas Term, 1861. His name was in the fourth class, but it has been well pointed out that it was unusual at that time for a young man of his position to read for Honours at all. The first in the list in this term was James Bryce, afterwards British Ambassador in Washington and the author of the standard work on the American Constitution.

According to custom, on leaving the University, Charles Wood made the Grand Tour, going as far East as Suez. On his return home in 1862 he was appointed Groom of the Bedchamber to the Prince of Wales, which was the only official position that he ever held. The Prince Consort had died a year before, and the Queen agreed that the time had come for her son – it was just before his marriage – to have a household of his own. She entirely approved of the selection of Mr. Wood, and he was one of the Grooms of the Bedchamber until 1877.

In 1863, Charles Wood became private secretary to his mother’s cousin, George Grey, who was then Home Secretary, and it was assumed that following the family custom, he would stand for the House of Commons and devote his life to politics. But in 1866 he joined the English Church Union and his mind became definitely absorbed in the affairs of the Church. In this year there was an outbreak of cholera in the East End, and Wood joined Pusey, who had taken lodgings in Whitechapel, and for three months worked with him and the Devonport Sisters, his principal duty being to lay out the dead. This experience, and his intimacy with Pusey, may have convinced him that politics were an impossible career for him. He could have only entered Parliament as a Whig and the Whig policy was to weaken the authority of the Church.

The passing of the Public Worship Act in 1874 caused Wood to decide that he must resign his position in the Prince of Wales’s household. Years afterwards he wrote:

‘Certain people in high places objected to my remaining in the Prince of Wales’s household, in which I had been since his marriage. the Prince refused to accept my resignation, which I was more than ready to give; but I did not wish to compromise him in any way, so I insisted, and we parted the best of friends.’

He left the Court. But he retained the Prince’s affection. When King Edward was crowned in 1902, Lord Halifax sent him a copy of the Treasury of Devotion. When the King died, Lord Halifax went to Buckingham Palace and Queen Alexandra took him to the room in which the body lay. By the side of the bed Lord Halifax saw the book that he had given to the King nine years before. The Queen told him that wherever he went, King Edward insisted on having the book with him, and it was with him in his last hours.

In 1868, Charles Wood married Lady Agnes Elizabeth Courtney, daughter of the eleventh Earl of Devon, a lady of high and noble lineage and of equally high and noble character. The marriage took place at S. Paul’s, Knightsbridge, and was remarkable at the time for the fact that it was followed by a Nuptial Mass. William Cory recorded in his journal:

‘It was a solemn, rapt congregation; there was a flood of music and solemn tender voices. The married man and woman took the Lord’s Supper with hundreds of witnesses who did not communicate. Perhaps a good many were Church Union folk, honouring their Chairman.’

Charles Wood succeeded his father as Viscount Halifax in 1885. The relations between father and son had always been beautifully affectionate, and, in his old age, Lord Halifax regretted that he had been compelled to disappoint his father in declining to follow a political career. But the disappointment, and their dislike of his ecclesiastical opinions, made no difference whatever to the affection and admiration of his father and mother. William Cory was at Hickleton at Christmas, 1863, when Charles Wood was a man of twenty-four, and he says:

‘His father and mother seem to gather virtue and sweetness from looking at him and talking to him, thought they fight hard against his Church views, and think his zeal misdirected and are very glad to hear me trying to modify his principles. He pretends to triumph over his mother, to expose her half-truths, to scout her old-fashioned notions: she fights hard, repeats herself with indomitable confidence, scold him, and plays domestic Pope; and all the while her face gets brighter and kinder because she is looking at him.’

There was nothing ‘other-wordly’ at the time about the second Viscount Halifax. He was as keen a rider across country as his father; he loved horses; he was himself a fine type of squire. So there was always much in common between father and son. Moreover, such goodness as Charles Wood’s is all-conquering. It is related that shortly before his death his father asked Charles Wood to invite Canon Knox Little to come to Hickleton. When he was shown into his room, Lord Halifax said to him: ‘You once said something to me about confession. I want to make mine.’ And his son has said, ‘If the sky has fallen I could not have been more surprised.’

Never, indeed, was a man more happy in his family life than Lord Halifax. His sister Emily Charlotte, afterwards Mrs. Meynell-Ingram, was one of the formative influences of his early life. He once wrote:

‘My sister was everything to me. I never can remember the time when it was not so between us. I hardly ever missed writing to her every day when we were away from one another; and for many years after her marriage in 1863, and as long as her eyes were good, I don’t think she and I ever omitted writing to one another, as, indeed, we have done all through my school and college life. She is never out of my mind and thoughts.’

Lord and Lady Halifax had six children, four sons and two daughters. The three eldest sons died when they were quite young, but in the successful career of his fourth son, the present Lord Halifax, his father found both pride and consolation. I often talked to him while Lord Irwin, as he then was, was Viceroy of India, and the keen interest of an old man in a daring political experiment was immensely touching and interesting.

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