Project Canterbury

Richard Hurrell Froude
1803-1836

Text from Lead, Kindly Light: Studies of Saints and Heroes of the Oxford Movement, by Desmond Morse-Boycott. (New York: Macmillan, 1933).


RICHARD HURRELL FROUDE was the son of a country clergyman, and, like many sons of the clergy, a naughty boy. Born at Dartington, Devonshire, on Lady Day, 1803, he was destined to become the gadfly of the Oxford Movement. We are given a glimpse by his mother of the petulant nature that was, when dedicated to the service of God, to spur all the Oxford leaders into an activity that might have been only occasional, or even temporary, had there been no restless extremist to egg them on. Extremists are very useful for the prevention of settlement into ruts, and, as the child is father to the man, we need not be surprised by Mrs. Froude's description of her fractious eldest child. She says:

From his very birth his temper has been peculiar; pleasing, intelligent, and attaching when his mind was undisturbed, and he was in the company of people who treated him reasonably and kindly; but exceedingly impatient under vexatious circumstances; very much disposed to find his own amusement in teasing and vexing others; and almost entirely incorrigible when it was necessary to reprove him.

Probably she sighed with relief when the day came for him to go to his first school at Ottery St. Mary, where he stayed until he was thirteen. Thence he went to Eton. He was eighteen when the gentle, restraining influence of his mother was withdrawn by death, and a few weeks afterwards he came under John Keble at Oriel, whose holy life and teaching had a profound effect upon him. When Keble left Oxford in 1823, at the zenith of his fame, to minister to a handful of country folk, he took Froude, with Robert Wilberforce and Isaac Williams, to read during the Long Vacation, and this period was the turning-point in Froude's life. Isaac Williams gives us, in his Autobiography, a homely story of their first day at Southrop. He says:

It was a very rainy day when I travelled outside a coach from London to Lechlade, where I slept that night, and Keble came and took me to Southrop the next morning. He said, as his house was not yet furnished, and he could not receive us, he thought of our lodging at a farmhouse, called Dean Farm, a solitary place on the Cotswold. We walked over to see it, about four miles, I think, with Froude, who was also there. It was in the evening, and Keble was out when we started from Southrop. It came on a thick mist and rain, and the night was perfectly dark, and I wandered out the whole night till near the morning. The next day I was laid up, and Keble sent me a bottle of wine and other things, it being, I think, Sunday. For six weeks we stayed at this Dean Farm, riding over every day to Southrop, and at the end of that time Keble took us into his house, where I formed a most valued friendship with Froude. He was an Eton man, and at Oriel, of a little older standing than myself. There was an originality of thought and a reality about him which were very refreshing.

The friendship there begun between Froude and Williams quickly ripened at Oxford, "Keble being a great bond between us," as Williams says. We see the Oxford Movement in its nursery. Keble, the saint and poet and scholar, swaying from a distance two young disciples, one of whom (Froude) was to bring in Newman, who in turn was to bring in Pusey, by persuading him, in a casual conversation, to contribute a paper to the Tracts for the Times; and the other (Williams), by his Tract on Reserve in Communicating Religious Knowledge, to provoke an uproar in Protestant England like the explosion of a mine, a foretaste of that persecution which was to come upon Anglo-Catholics for a century, in every way conceivable, from the suspension of Pusey at Oxford to the breaking down with axes and hammers of the beauties of the church of St. Hilary, Marazion, in the year of gracelessness, 1932.

Froude became a Fellow of Oriel in 1826, with Newman as his colleague. He was shy of Newman, but as the latter was moving slowly away from Evangelicalism, and his Liberalism was becoming tempered by the Catholic view of Apostolic Succession, they soon had a common platform. "Newman is a fellow," he wrote at first, "that I like more the more I think of him; only I would give a few odd pence if he were not a heretic." At the end of his life he wrote: "Do you know the story of the murderer who had done one good thing in his life? well; if I was ever asked what good deed I had ever done, I should say that I had brought Keble and Newman to understand each other."

Storm clouds were gathering over the Church in 1832 when Froude was obliged to go abroad for his health. His father, Archdeacon Froude, and Newman went with him. The consumption to which Froude succumbed some eight years afterwards, though a grievous chastisement, crippling his activities when they seemed most necessary to the Movement, was a blessing in disguise. It enabled Froude and Newman to think things out at a distance to formulate a plan, albeit a vague one, and to gather strength of mind and body for the first years of stress and strain. Newman has somewhere said (the reference eludes me) that when for the first time he saw Rome in the distance he desired to take the shoes from off his feet and walk into the holy ground as used the pilgrims of old to do. He had a sense of history which fought with his abhorrence of Romanism. Froude, on the other hand, could see some good in Rome and beneath the shadow of the seven hills was inspired to create a slogan for the Movement which, with great respect, I suggest the leaders of modern Anglo-Catholicism might adapt. "It has throughout a touch of defiance, a breath of war." You shall know the difference now that I am back again might well become You shall know the difference now that we are humbled by the new persecution. Froude was the embodiment of this spirit and returned to England thirsting for the fray, in advance of Newman.

He returned full of energy and of a prospect of doing something for the Church, and we walked in the Trinity College Gardens [says Isaac Williams] and discussed the subject. He said in his manner, "Isaac, we must make a row in the world. Why should we not? Only consider what the Peculiars (i.e. the Evangelicals) have done with a few half-truths to work upon! And with our principles, if we set resolutely to work, we can do the same." I said, "I have no doubt we can make a noise, and may get people to join us, but shall we make them really better Christians? If they take up our principles in a hollow way as the Peculiars (this was a name Froude had given the Low Church patty) have done theirs, what good shall we do?" To this Froude said, "Church principles, forced on people's notice, must work for good. However, we must try; and Newman and I ate determined to set to work as soon as he returns, and you must join with us. We must have short tracts, and letters in the British Magazine, and verses, and these you can do for us-and get people to preach sermons on the Apostolical Succession and the like. And let us come and see old Palmer (i.e. the author of the Origines Liturgicae and get Mm to do something." We then called on Palmer, who was one of the very few in Oxford—indeed the only one at that time—who sympathized with us, and, although he did not altogether understand Froude, or our ways and views-the less so as he was not himself an Oxford but a Dublin man—yet he was extremely hearty in the cause; looking more to external, visible union and strength than we did, for we only had at heart certain principles. We, i.e. Froude, Keble, and myself, immediately began to send some verses to the British Magazine, since published as the Lyra Apostolica.

The Oxford Movement was begun four days after Froude's return by Keble's Assize Sermon on National Apostasy, and ten days later he attended the conference in the beautiful rectory of Hadleigh in Suffolk, presided over by Hugh James Rose, its incumbent. Newman and Keble were prevented from attending, but William Palmer and the Rev. the Hon. A. P. Perceval were there. They agreed to fight for the Catholic doctrine of the Apostolic Succession, as taught in the Prayer Book, and to form a Society, if that were possible, and to prepare addresses from clergy and laity to the Archbishop. These quiet measures must have irked Froude sorely. He desired a flamboyant policy. At a council in Newman's rooms, for examples when Palmer was urging the necessity of securing the support of the "higher" clergy, Froude, stretched on Newman's sofa, interrupted with: "I don't see why we should disguise from ourselves that out object is to dictate to the Clergy of this country, and I, for one, do not want anyone else to get on the box."

He was not, however, to be allowed to play an active part, for his health necessitated another long absence abroad. "I am like the man," he said, "who fled full soon on the first of June, and bade the rest keep fighting." But though his presence was withdrawn he was weighty in letters, and contributed four of the Tracts for the Times. For awhile he acted as mathematical tutor at Codrington College in the Barbados, returning to England in May, 1835, and dying on February 18 of the following year, to the grief of his friends and the irreparable loss of the Movement.

And then his friends put their hands to a work which caused an astonishing commotion, and seemed to many to be a blunder. Froude's letters and journals were collected and published under the title Remains. The error lay in forgetfulness of the fact that the readers of the Remains had for the most part never met Froude; never been stimulated by his brilliant mind; never plumbed the depths of his sensitive soul. Dean Church says:

The Remains lent themselves admirably to the controversial process of culling choice phrases and sentences and epithets surprisingly at variance with conventional and popular estimates. Friends were pained and disturbed; foes naturally enough could not hold in their overflowing exultation tit such a disclosure of the spirit of the Movement. Sermons and newspapers drew attention to Froude's extravagances with horror and disgust. . . . The friends who published Froude's Remains knew what he was; they knew the place and proportion of the fierce and scornful passages; they knew that they really did not go beyond the liberty and the frank speaking which most people give themselves in the abandon and understood exaggeration of intimate correspondence and talk. . . . They seem to have expected that the picture which they presented of their friend's transparent sincerity and singleness of aim, manifested amid so much pain and self-abasement, would have touched readers more."

He adds the comment: "But if the publication was a mistake, it was the mistake of men confident in their own straight-forwardness."

To Froude's Remains, to Isaac Williams's Tract on Reserve in Communicating Religious Knowledge, and to Newman's secession must be attributed the suspicion which has made pious Protestants hold up their hands in holy horror of the Movement even beyond the third and fourth generation; which has been expressed in repressive acts; and has packed the Bench of Bishops with demi-semi-quavering sympathizers afraid to come out in the open or purblind prelates who have bluntly persecuted. Had the early leaders been men of cunning they would have played their cards adroitly, and by peacefully penetrating the Anglican Communion have bound it in the grave-clothes of High Churchism.

Let us remember Froude with gladness; the gay cavalier of the Catholic Revival; the extremist who made men move; the hidden saint; the priest who prophetically urged frequent Communion (then celebrated only occasionally), the abolition of pew rents, the admission to the ministry of men of low degree, the grouping of clergy in presbyteries for the more efficient working of parishes in large cities; who attacked the system of appointing bishops, and violently opposed Establishment. Froude belongs to 1933, though were he living he would possibly find the atmosphere of Abbey House too sultry, and break its windows to let fresh air in; the House of Mowbray too respectable, and re-found the Society of SS. Peter and Paul; the Church Times closed to him, and the popular press open. He would be news, for his orthodoxy would be thrilling as only orthodoxy can be; and his church would be banned by the bishop on account of Benediction, a service he would no doubt liken to the Evening Communion that bishops wink at.

But I would not end with Froude the controversialist, for Froude the saint is the finer memory. His poems, full of rugged beauty, are in the Lyra Apostolica, over the letter [beta]. He writes:

Lord, I have fasted, I have prayed,
And sackcloth has my girdle been,
To purge my soul I have essayed
With hunger blank and vigil keen;
O God of mercy! why am I
Still haunted by the self I fly?

Sackcloth is a girdle good,
O bind it round thee still:
Fasting, it is Angel's food,
And Jesus loved the night-air chill;
Yet think not prayer and fast were given
To make one step 'twixt earth and Heaven.

There is the cry of one who practised what he preached. And here, in conclusion, is a token of his consciousness of the transitoriness of all things temporal:

TYRE

High on the stately wall,
The spear of Arvad hung;
Through corridor and hall
Gemaddin's war note rung.
Where are they now? the note is o'er
Yes, for a thousand years and more
Five fathom deep beneath the sea
Those halls have lain all silently;
Nought listing save the mermaids' song,
While rude sea monsters roam the corridors along.

Far from the wandering East
Tubal and Javan came,
And Araby the blest,
And Kedar, mighty name.
Now on that shore a lonely guest,
Some dripping fisherman may rest,
Watching on rock or naked stone
His dark net spread before the sun,
Unconscious of the dooming lay,
That broods o'er that dull spot) and there shall brood for aye.


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