Project Canterbury

Alexander Heriot Mackonochie: A Memoir

By E.A. Towle

Edited by Edward Francis Russell.

London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co., 1890.

Chapter II.

Oxford in 1845--Religious opinions--Friends and associates--Their testimony--Political views--Charles Marriott--Extract from University Sermon

IN 1845 the Tractarian movement had already passed through its first two decades. It was a time when principles were to be put into practice, and when deep religious convictions were impelling men to action. The profound discouragement which had fallen upon some of the leading spirits was but as a spur to fresh efforts. The ranks were closing up in the courageous, if somewhat futile, endeavour to hide the vacant places. In the first disenchantment of the rude awakening from a dream of an 'ideal Church,' men had begun to realise more fully that they could not defend the liberties of the Church, nor contend for the 'faith once delivered,' without engaging in the old weary quarrel with the world, the flesh, and the devil. The lines upon which they were fighting were so far defined as to show that the battle had but begun. It was still a time of struggle and conquest of difficulty and doubt; but yet more it was a. time of disappointment and failure; of friendships broken and high hopes laid low.

Many of the first leaders of the movement were scattered. Already as early as 1823 Keble's residence at Oxford had come to an end, and his quiet pastoral life had begun. The 'Christian Year,' published in 1827, had quickened the devotional life of the Church of England, and emphasised the sacramental element in her high teaching; but its author was to be henceforth above all a parish priest, and his position with regard to the vexed questions of the day was more or less that of a spectator. In 1845 Wilberforce was about to be consecrated Bishop of Oxford; the 'Ideal of a Christian Church' had just been published, and Mr. Ward was shortly to join the Roman Communion. Hurrell Froude, with his boyish aspirations and high imaginings, 'the knight errant,' as he has been called, of the Tractarian party, had died in 1836; and Newman, who since 1841, as he writes, 'had been on his death-bed as regards the Anglican Communion,' had given up clerical duty in 1843 and withdrawn to Littlemore.

All these and many others had been like a search party in a wood, intent upon the same object though wandering in different paths. Emerging once more into the light of common day, they found to their consternation and surprise how far apart they stood. Their object had been the same and the spirit which animated them one, but the search was over and they had arrived at different conclusions. They had been held together, not only by a common cause, but by the strong bond of personal affection; it was to their honour that that bond remained unbroken, yet to the general discouragement it added the bitter sense of individual loss.

Men's minds were in an unsettled condition, either vainly searching out old landmarks, or intent upon their destruction. Liberalism and dogmatism were contending together, whilst in an atmosphere now at fever heat a fusion seemed, for the moment, possible. 'A new school of thought was rising, as is usual in doctrinal enquiries, and was sweeping the original party of the movement aside, and was taking its place.' [Newman's Apologia, p. 163]

There remained to this new school, in the ebb-tide of the Tractarian movement, two principal guides and counsellors--Dr. Pusey and Charles Marriott. With the latter Mackonochie appears to have entered into relations of more or less intimacy, but how far he already shared his religious opinions it is difficult to determine. Undoubtedly his early training had taught him to look upon them with suspicion. One of those who had some slight acquaintance with him at this time writes: 'It seems to come back to me that we knew him in college as a man of pronounced views, I should almost have said, if I dared, of pronounced Low Church views.' But there is no evidence that this was the case. Undoubtedly the whole tone of his mind was serious and religious; but a pronounced Low Churchman would hardly have concerned himself about Church government; he would hardly have sought, as Mackonochie evidently sought, an historical basis for the faith that was in him. He was not so much seeking the truth itself (which no doubt he was convinced he held already), as examining with painstaking perseverance the foundations upon which it rested. His belief could never have been a vague one. One can imagine him ignoring his human sympathies and remorselessly treading down his affections, so that he might hold with stern consistency the creed of his Calvinistic forefathers; but one cannot imagine that at any period of his spiritual life religion could have been an intangible thing; shadowy, and undefined.

He could not have lived at Oxford without being brought into almost daily contact with the controversies going on not only upon religious but upon ecclesiastical subjects. His own mind, disciplined and well regulated, demanded proportion and order in God's kingdom. The Church upon earth was a type and shadow of the Heavenly Jerusalem, 'the city that hath foundations' and 'lieth foursquare'; a vision indeed, but a vision of grace and order and symmetry.

He had not been long in Oxford when we find him writing to his mother:

I heard Pusey preach on Sunday. He gave a very good sermon on the Power of the Keys, which was a continuation of the course in which he was interrupted by his suspension, to which event he slightly alluded. The sermon seems to have given general satisfaction except to a few.

And one of his friends writes:

Of course in opinion he differed widely from the warden of that day, and I well remember his extreme annoyance at having been delayed by him in college one Sunday morning when he was particularly anxious to reach the Cathedral in time to hear Dr. Pusey's first university sermon after his three years' suspension from preaching.

Another college contemporary testifies that 'he always had the same kind of opinions which he held in the latter years of his life.'

It is quite possible that his distinctively religious tone and strictness of life may have been associated in some minds with evangelical views, and thus a mistake might easily arise. To the end of his life there was a curiously strong flavour of puritanism in his religion; his code as to the religious observance of Sunday, for instance, being of almost Jewish strictness. And he does not appear to have taken much part in the society or amusements of the college. 'He lived,' says one of those in residence with him, 'a very quiet, retired life, not belonging to any particular set, and taking no prominent part in such amusements as boating and cricketing.' To this another adds:

he was not muscularly very strong, being too long in the limb for heavy work, but he was very fond of boating, and in 1846 when all the old men had left the college boat, he was most plucky in supporting the fresh crew, and did his best in rowing whilst his strength lasted; but a few days of racing shut him up. ... As time went on he applied himself more and more to reading and less to athletics, but he was always keenly alive to the honour of the college. Whatever he did he did with a will and conscientiously. It was the custom when a freshman came up without friends in college for the sub-warden to ask a man who had been up for a term or two to call on him. In this way Mackonochie was the first man who called on me and invited me to his rooms, and I always felt that I owed him much for my first introduction to some of his friends, and for quiet warnings against some others who took a pleasure in leading freshmen astray.

Mackonochie was in his last year of undergraduate life when I went up to Oxford in October 1847 (writes the Rev. F. G. Lea, one of his intimate friends). Among the senior undergraduates were John Walter Lea, then, as always, a High Churchman; his brother, whose sympathies were with the evangelical school; John Macnaught and Walter Congreve, both Liberals; and W. H. Stowe, afterwards Fellow of Oriel, whose brilliant career closed with his death as the Times correspondent in the Crimea. Differing as they did from him and from each other on many questions both religious and political, which occupied the most thoughtful minds in the Oxford of their day, all the leading undergraduates in Oxford agreed in the cordial regard and respect which they felt for Mackonochie, as those who survive will witness on behalf of those who have passed away as well as on their own. He was a man of quiet judgment who never lost his temper; he held fast by his own opinions, but he was always fair in discussion and good-humoured as an opponent. In those days undergraduates were more given to argument than they are now; the afternoon walk of forty years ago with its accompanying discussion is a thing of the past; among reading men it was an established institution then. . . . He was one of a group of men who made a rule of attending chapel at both the daily services, and as far as I remember he was never absent. ... I am writing on King Charles's Day, the now almost forgotten 29th of May, which my Oxford memories especially associate with Mackonochie. There was in the Warden of Wadham's garden an oak, reputed to have sprung from a Boscobel acorn, which provided us with sprays for morning chapel, and an undecorated undergraduate would be consoled by a 'Never mind, you can get a spray from Mackonochie's tree;' for the devoted Scottish Jacobite always exhibited a badge of conspicuous proportions.

Very firmly as Mackonochie held an opinion when once he had satisfied himself of its truth, he was at Oxford an adherent rather than a leader. He was very cautious, and would take up no ground of which he was not sure, and he would do nothing by halves.

After he had taken his degree and when he was preparing for Holy Orders, his scrupulous and conscientious caution suggested a difficulty in the way of his ordination by an English bishop. The second of the three articles in the 36th Canon would bind him 'to use the form prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer and none other.' He was a Scottish Churchman, and how could he when in Scotland use the Scottish office? . . . I urged upon him that the pledge was only binding within the dioceses of the English Church. His other friends took the same view, and the difficulty was removed. His reading for the schools had been steady and methodical; and by way of aids to memory he used mentally to associate the events of his history or the moral and intellectual heads of his ethics with certain points in the walls or ceiling of his rooms--'Justice, perhaps, being over the fireplace, and Magnanimity in the corner by the door. He knew thoroughly what he read and never crammed.

As I recall the various subjects which used in my undergraduate time to come up for more or less eager discussion, some were merely speculative or fanciful, having no real bearing on life or duty, and with such, I think, Mackonochie rarely troubled himself. His interest was in questions influencing life and action, and among such the relative, or, as they were often represented, the opposing claims of reason and authority formed a very frequent subject. His way of living was careful and economical. Few men probably have left Oxford so absolutely free from debt. He was ordained in 1849, when he asked me to pay such debts and subscriptions as were outstanding. I have the account before me as I write, and the amount is 12l. 12s. 6d.

At Oxford (writes another fellow undergraduate) he was a poor man, and lived frugally in what was called the garret-room, which belonged to each set of rooms. He had not more than two or three irj-college acquaintances, and gave no parties. But his rowing having been observed he was made stroke of the Wadham 'Torpid.' I was one of those who pulled behind him, and the crew were allowed, during their training, early dinner daily with him in his garret apartment. Some of us who had thought him strait-laced and unattractive, found him a genial host and pleasant companion. . . . Mackonochie was during all his college course consistently religious. I remember well his collecting in college subscriptions for the Diocese of Frederickton, of which a Wadham man, Medley, had been appointed bishop. It took some boldness for an undergraduate to do that.

Every letter respecting this time, whether from friends or acquaintances, is a testimony to the 'respect' in which he was held--a curious word to use in connection with so young a man. He had the courage of his opinions, and they were not so much opinions as convictions, strong and defined, not taken up lightly nor to be lightly laid aside; yet his intimate friends appear to have been mostly men of different views. He was never one of a 'clique.' He had not the useful yet perplexing power of looking at things with other people's eyes, but at any rate he had never any desire 'to make a desert and call it peace.'

There was one thing that seemed rather difficult to understand about him (writes one of those who differed from him). His chief friend for a long time was a man who stood almost at the opposite pole of opinion from him on theological and historical questions. He was broad and liberal. The only point of similarity which seemed to outsiders to bring them together was that they both took warm interest in subjects with which many of the younger men little concerned themselves, and were both very fond of arguing.

Again, another correspondent says:

Mackonochie's warmest friends were found quite as much among the men who did not agree with him in opinion as among those who did.

It was surely an indication of strength of character, especially in this time of controversy, when party lines were so strongly marked out and party names were battle-cries or watchwords.

Nor was Mackonochie in respect to politics a party man. He took an interest in them, not unmixed, as was natural, with a good deal of youthful ignorance and presumption, but it was chiefly because at this time political and ecclesiastical questions were as closely intertwined as they had ever been in the clays of the Stuarts. Only a few years before, Newman, when he saw a French vessel at Algiers, would not even look at the tricolour, and revolutionary Paris was so hateful to him, with all its beauty, that he kept indoors the whole time he was there. . . . 'And Keble delighted to see his little nephews under his teaching snapping at all the Roundheads and kissing all the Cavaliers.' [Religious Thought, Tulloch, p. 105.] All the traditions of the Mackonochie family, all the instincts of the sons were Conservative, and it is probable that his residence at Oxford deepened rather than modified his convictions. But his interest in politics was never throughout his life divorced from their bearing upon religious and social questions. He was a Tory and a Liberationist, and long after these Oxford days we find the following words in the report of a speech made at an English Church Union meeting:

He wished to refer to the impression that the English Church Union wanted to mix political questions with those that were spiritual. Now there were on the Council men of all shades of politics from Tories to the broadest Liberals, and he had never heard at any of their Council Meetings a single allusion to politics except when it was dragged in by some member for the purpose of charging them with being a political body. It was true they presented petitions to Parliament, but that was only when there was some Act of Parliament in progress which threatened the doctrines or discipline of the Church of England.

He had no sympathy with those to whom a spurious Liberalism was but a pretext for the overthrow of ancient institutions and unwelcome restrictions, involving no self-sacrifice; but his own love for the people was a wide and enduring thing; an instinct against oppression, and a pity which was almost a passion for the weak, demanding an absolute self-surrender.

In the blossoming of lilies,
Christ was born across the sea.
Since He died to make men holy,
Let us die to make men free.

Essentially a practical man, he was not likely at this time to have given much thought to political questions. His vocation was ever before him, and his keenest as well as his highest interests were centred upon the things which concerned it.

It is not wonderful, therefore, that he should have been attracted by Charles Marriott, whom Dean Burgon calls preeminently the man of < saintly life.' He was a student and a theologian, calm, laborious, conscientious, and persuasive Next to Dr. Pusey, he was 'the leader at head-quarters of those who were searching out upon the old lines of the Tractarian movement, the historical basis of Christianity, the claims of tradition, and the catholicity of the English Church He had had much experience in dealing with young men, owing to the position he had held as head of the theological college, and had an immense attraction for men of the most opposite minds. Frederick Maurice described his character 'as one of the deepest and noblest to be found anywhere, His generosity and self-devotion in the most unobtrusive way are quite marvellous. If there are ten such, I think England is not Sodom.' And Dr. Newman, in a letter dated 1841, wrote: 'He is a grave, sober, and deeply religious person, a great reader of ecclesiastical antiquity, and has more influence with younger men than any one perhaps of his standing.'

How far that influence was exerted upon Mackonochie at this time we have no exact means of judging, but we have the strongest possible proof of its enduring character, for years after he left Oxford he periodically sought his spiritual guidance. The tie was not only one of respect. Amongst the letters which he carefully treasured we find eight or nine notes written upon scraps and half-sheets of paper. 'My dear Mackonochie .... Yours ever most sincerely, C. Marriott;' and that is all, with the exception of a few lines between giving him appointments. They were written in 1853 and 1854, and yet here they remain, evidences of an ardent affection, to which probably a strong reserve would allow him to give no other expression.

That reserve constitutes a great difficulty in judging of his character at this time. His letters are so often bare statements of facts; even in writing to those nearest and dearest to him there is no expansion. He touches, indeed, upon home interests, but where his own feelings are concerned he is silent. It is not until he has entered upon the duties of his ministry that with the formal copper-plate handwriting there also vanish the stiff old-fashioned sentences which tell us so little of his real self.

He took naturally the recreations which came in his way. The even tenour of his Oxford life was broken by visits to Wales and North Devon, and by one short tour abroad. They were not unwelcome interruptions to his work, but it was then, as always, his chief object, and the engrossing interest of life. Always humble with regard to his intellectual attainments, he was fully aware that great diligence would be required to atone for early disadvantages, and he had little expectation of doing well in the final schools. When in June 1848 he writes to inform his mother that he has taken a second class in classics, he is evidently both pleased and surprised, and in simple phrase gives thanks to Almighty God.

And so this time of preparation was over. He was to enter upon the work to which he had so long dedicated himself, and as we finish the chapter it recalls his own words in a sermon preached before the University more than twenty years after.

The University life is not simply a life in itself; it is distinctly one which is preparatory to another. . . . Many of you will tell me, no doubt, that the University is not the place for self-devotion. I fearlessly assert that to say so is to libel yourselves, your university, and your God. . . . Above all things avoid an effeminate sentimentality whether about religion, or taste, or art, or some quasi-scientific pursuit . . . not to live energetically for God in your university life is to do evil . . . live, then, within her walls 'in the Name of the Lord;' live as those who are practising in the narrower sphere of the university to work for God in the great world beyond. Take always, not the popular side, but that which is high and noble and acceptable to God. Go forth 'in the Name of the Lord,' and you will find all the blessings for which you crave and many to which you have not dared to aspire.

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