Project Canterbury

Lead, Kindly Light:
Studies of Saints and Heroes of the Oxford Movement

by Desmond Morse-Boycott


Charles Marriott

THE most pathetic hero of the Oxford Movement, Charles Marriott, is the more worthy of remembrance in the "Keble" year, 1933, because, unlike the famous men whose names are household words among Churchmen, he has been forgotten, though with Pusey he held the fort when Newman went out in the forties, rallied the scattered forces and saved the Oxford Movement from complete collapse.

He was the son of John Marriott, a polished and accomplished country parson and felicitous writer of hymns, whose "God, that madest earth and heaven" and "Thou, whose Almighty Word," are sung all the world over. Charles learned his letters from the village schoolmaster, and showed a voracious appetite, while very young, for reading all sorts of subjects. His brother wrote:

I well recollect the satisfaction my Father used to express at his rapid progress in learning. His childhood gave promise of his great powers. He very early acquired the habit of thinking out subjects for himself; and used to form his own conclusions with great distinctness, and often with a degree of judgment far above his years, on matters of difficulty and importance . . . he showed singular aptitude in acquiring languages. When quite a child he preferred reading . . . to the out-of-door amusements which occupy the leisure of most boys: never happier than when ensconced behind the window-curtain (where he could sit unobserved and unmolested) he was devouring the Encyclop¾dia Britannica.

To those early browsings in the venerable volumes of the Encyclop¾dia must be attributed his vast knowledge of out-of-the-way subjects. He seemed able to discourse on anything, and his retentive memory became an Encyclop¾dia in itself.

When taken with the children to see Exeter Cathedral [wrote a cousin], while the elder ones were trying to measure the circumference of the great bell with bits of string, Charles was heard from behind to deliver (in his small peculiar voice) the oracular counsel: "Take the diameter."

He was evidently a boy with a sacrificial outlook on life, because he neither spent nor saved his money, and he never seemed to have any. When his parents left Broad Clyst, there was a loud wail from the old almswomen who lived near the Parsonage gate. They said that they should miss Master Charles as "he always brought them his money of a Saturday." His mother died in 1821, and his father four years later. The orphan boy of fourteen went to live with an aunt at Rugby, and when she married his father’s former curate, became his pupil in a Shropshire rectory until he was old enough to go to Exeter College, Oxford.

His immense knowledge was soon noticed there, and I am indebted to him for illuminating one of the minor problems of my life. It was remarked that it was strange that anyone should have thought of educating fleas, and, anyway, how in the world did they do it. Marriott looked up from the book he was reading, and said: "The first thing to be done is to put them in a pill-box, till they are quite tired of jumping." His memory was amazing. After reading a difficult poem by Wordsworth, of 135 lines, once through, and glancing at it a second time, he repeated the whole by heart.

Such was the intellectual quality of the man who at Oriel became the office-boy of the Oxford Movement. His immense gifts were wasted because he had the faculty of attracting all the odd jobs that arise from vast literary undertakings, such as the Library of the Fathers. While he should have been creating books which would have become of permanent value to the Church, he found himself burdened by an immense and unmanageable correspondence, visitors at all hours, miles (I use the word intentionally) of proofs, intricate indexes, which could have been compiled by lesser folk, and the tedious task of correcting the translations of others. Marriott and the Library of the Fathers went together unto his life’s end. They were a halter, however, that he bore gladly, for he had no life apart from the "Movement," and seemed to regard the office of Gibeonite as appointed for him by Divine Providence. He is a warning to those who have too many things to do, and thereby fail to use gifts fully which they alone may possess.

The immense amount of work which he accumulated was made the more impossible by his untidiness. Marriott’s room was a ghastly, everlasting muddle. Books were everywhere. To sit down, a visitor had to take a heap of precious tomes off a chair, and put it on the floor. His shelves were thick with dust. There were letters everywhere, and his fine memory for facts seemed to break down completely in his domestic circle. There is a delicious account of one of his entertainments in Burgon’s Twelve Good Men.

An American Bishop . . . attended by three of his clergy, having crossed the Atlantic, would present himself at Marriott’s door—who instantly asked them all four to breakfast next morning, and sent off cards by his servant to certain of his intimates. . . . On his way from Hall or Chapel—or in the street—he would ask another, and another, and another. . . . Unfortunately he kept no reckoning. The result may be imagined. On entering the dear man’s rooms next morning, whereas breakfast had been laid for ten, fifteen guests had assembled already. While we were secretly counting the tea-cups, another rap was heard, and in came two University Professors. All laughed: but it was no laughing matter, for still another and another person presented himself. The bell was again and again rung: more and more tea and coffee,—muffins and dry toast,—butter and bread,—cream and eggs,—hops and steaks,—were ordered; and "Richard" was begged to "spread my other table-cloth on my other table." The consequence was that our host’s violoncello,—fiddle-strings and music-books,—printer’s proofs and postage stamps,—medicine bottles and pill-boxes,—respirator and veil,—grey wrapper for his throat and green shade for his eyes,—pamphlets and letters innumerable,—all were discharged in a volley on to the huge sofa. At last (thanks to Richard’s superhuman exertions) twenty of us (more or less) sat down to breakfast. . . . I am bound to say that the meal was an entire success,—as far as the strangers were concerned. They were greatly entertained,—in more senses than one. There was plenty of first-rate conversation too. Good humour certainly prevailed universally. The delightful absurdity of the whole proceeding was so painfully conspicuous, and the experience (to strangers) so unique! . . . But oh the consequences of such a scrimmage to the poor overworked student when the guests were gone, and the serious business of the day had to commence! Chaos must first be reduced to order:—the letters must be read and answered:—the proof sheets scrutinized and annotated:—there would be callers to attend to:—bores to encounter:—engagements to keep. And long before that, the second post would have come in, and perhaps another batch of "illustrious strangers" would have announced their arrival.

Such was the man who, broken-hearted when his beloved John Henry Newman went out, stepped into the gap and rallied the forces. He had studied everything: higher mathematics and astronomy; music and singing; poetry, biography, history, metaphysics, Irvingism, astrology, the habits of fleas, stars, and comets; logic; political economy, ontology; Utilitarianism; agriculture and I know not what. One thing he had studied more than all else—how to be a good priest. So, when the cholera epidemic was at its height, he would be found far from his proofs and Fathers, at the beds of the dying. The noble picture of the tired saint shriving a poor man at one bed, while a Roman Catholic priest performed a like task at the next, is one of the clearest proofs that the Oxford Movement was not an academic whimsy. All this, too, with health so frail that he had not been able to retain his post, in early life, as the first Principal of Chichester Theological College.

Possessed of some means, he made himself poor. To help Newman financially, after his secession, and perhaps to prevent him from establishing a Latin community in the cottages at Littlemore, he bought them from him, and established a printing press. He ought to have been prevented by his friends because, while it was certainly a useful asset to the Movement, the practical details were beyond his scope. One day he would toil out to Littlemore heavily laden with new type; another he would write hastily, to keep the press employed; a third he would over-order miles of paper, while all the time he should have been using his remarkable gifts in studious employ. It was a pathetic tragedy, and it killed him.

His importance, at the time of the crisis, cannot be over-estimated, though he had no gifts for leadership. Burgon says:

Never was there a time when calmness and intrepidity were more needed. . . . Hugh James Rose had been for three years removed from the scene. . . . Keble was far away at his country cure. Pusey was the only leader at head-quarters: and to him Marriott opportunely joined himself. He brought to the cause every good and perfect gift . . . above all things, a well-merited reputation for sound Theological learning and solid Classical attainment, combined with what I can only designate as a truly Apostolic holiness of character,—a most conciliatory, sympathizing disposition, entire singleness of purpose. But his prime qualification for supplying Newman’s place was his unswerving loyalty to the Church of his fathers. . . . His view of what constitutes a living branch of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church soared far above the region of logical quibbles, intellectual subtleties,—arbitrary definitions, irrelevant truisms. It was the view of Andrewes and of Hooker—of Laud and of Bull—of Barrow and of Bramhall,—of Pearson and of Butler,—of Rose and of Mill.

He died, after a long illness, on September 15, 1858, at the age of forty-seven. But for him, humanly speaking, the Anglo-Catholic Movement would not be keeping a Centenary.

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