Project Canterbury

The Life of Father Dolling

By Charles E. Osborne

London: Edward Arnold, 1903.

Chapter XI.

Father Dolling's action in regard to social and political matters--His principles of citizenship--Christian Socialism--The lectures at S. Agatha's by the Guild of S. Matthew (Lent, 1890)--Difficulty caused in reference to Rev. S. D. Headlam's lecture--Resignation of Father Dolling--Meeting in Landport--Explanation by Winchester College authorities--The resignation withdrawn--Father Dolling's sermon on 'The Christian Clergyman's Place in Politics' (August 7, 1892).

'I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.'

'This is true liberty, when freeborn men,
Having to advise the public, may speak free.'
'Euripides,' translated by MILTON.

IN the last chapter we have considered Father Dolling at S. Agatha's as a religious leader and spiritual teacher, as evangelist, priest, and preacher.

In this it will be useful to look at his action in social and political matters, and to trace the events which led to certain serious difficulties in regard to these questions, in connection with a lecture delivered at S. Agatha's by the Rev. Stewart D. Headlam, warden of the Guild of S. Matthew.

To see Father Dolling only at the altar of S. Agatha's, or preaching from its pulpit, was by no means to have exhausted the resources of his work for the betterment of the people's bodies and souls. Often might he be seen in his study in the evening in a well-worn cassock, a cigar in his mouth (for he was an inveterate smoker), and around this robust, genial priest, looking in every inch of him the man and the citizen as well as the pastor and religious teacher, a heterogeneous company. It would be a special night, not one of those when he was seated at the gymnasium or the club, marking the attendance or taking a hand at whist with some of the fellows, nearly always including some of the bodyguard of soldiers or sailors who looked in at S. Agatha's social gatherings from time to time. This would be a more serious evening---no chaff, no cards, no comic songs, but a gathering of men who meant business, strenuous, keen-faced, level-headed men. Most of these would be of the working class and of its aristocracy; several of them Nonconformists of the human rather than Calvinistic type; occasionally even a minister of one of the non-Episcopal bodies, some minister who read Gore and F. D. Maurice, and was touched with Christian Socialism. Temperance workers were often to be seen in Father Dolling's study, labour leaders and trades unionists also, and officials of the great artisan benefit societies. Many of these he got to know through his presidency of a large debating society, most of the members of which were working men.

The subjects discussed at these informal gatherings at the parsonage were no mere theories, but the best way to 'go for 'some crying abuse in the town, such as flagrant cases of overcrowded dwellings, or sweated labour, or badly-conducted public-houses. A conference between Father Dolling, a leading Nonconformist named Rev. C. Joseph, and some of the Labour Party resulted in the bringing the force of public opinion to bear upon the question of the excessive hours for which the shop assistants of the town had to work. Dolling asked the shop assistants to use the clergy house as a place for committee meetings in forming a union, and it was in working for reform in this direction that he and Mr. Joseph (the leading pastor of the Baptists in Portsmouth) came to know each other in a very friendly and cordial way. Both of them had in their congregations a number of growing lads and girls whose physical health was injured and their mental and spiritual development rendered impossible by the conditions of their labour, caused by the selfishness and greed of a few of the Landport shopkeepers, who would not agree to any reasonable measures of early closing. Scarcely a minister of religion in the town took up this question or spoke about it with the exception of this Ritualistic priest and this Baptist minister.

Dolling held, in regard to social politics, that while the Church must not be tied up with any one political party, yet that the subservience of the Church of England in the past to the interests of political Conservatism, and her timid hesitancy (semper pavidi, as her rulers have been described) or total apathy where social wrong ought to have been rebuked, have largely forfeited for her the confidence of those who are in any sense leaders of their fellows in intelligence among the working classes of this country.

In inviting the Guild of S. Matthew to send lecturers to give some addresses on social and other subjects in connection with religion, Dolling introduced to Portsmouth the warden of the guild, the Rev. Stewart D. Headlam, a well-known London clergyman, whose convictions, as well as those of the guild of which he is the head, are expressed, in regard to the matters we are now dealing with, by the words 'Christian Socialism.' This phrase is capable of many different shades of meaning. Mr. Headlam uses it as before him did Charles; Kingsley and Frederic Denison Maurice, and as many Continental writers and workers, both Catholic and Protestant, have done, and still do. Bishop Westcott would not probably have refused the title of a 'Christian Socialist.' Father Dolling was not afraid of the term, though as a rule he disliked all labelling of himself in these matters. We suppose, whatever the differences that divide many of them from each; other, that all of the school we are alluding to agree in this main principle: the belief that mere commercialist Individualism is inadequate and morally unsatisfactory as a solution of the problem presented by the vast inequalities in the distribution of wealth, and of the opportunities for legitimate human development. The common point of agreement in this increasing school in all Christian churches lies in its rejection r of laissez faire as the expression of an unchanging law, like those of Nature, and in its regarding it rather as a generalisation from a condition of things in the past largely due to the unrestrained play of selfish and solely personal interests unchecked by higher moral considerations.

The little Guild of S. Matthew was the pioneer of the larger and more widely-extended Christian Social Union, which now numbers even bishops among its officers and members. Dolling asked the help of this guild, because of the great prevalence of Secularism at that time among the Radical working men's clubs of Portsmouth. The guild aimed at removing the prejudices of Secularists both by showing that Catholic Christianity is not identified with the crude Puritanism, with its Sabbatarianism, Verbal Inspiration, and material Hell, which so many intelligent working men confuse with the Christian religion, and also that Christ's mission was not intended by revealing Heaven so to dwarf earth into insignificance that Christianity should be indifferent to true social development and to the progressive betterment of mankind. One chief object of the lectures and addresses given by the guild was to call attention to the fact that the faith of the Incarnation deals with man as a whole, with his body and intelligence as well as with his soul, with his social condition here as well as his immortal future hereafter..

Five addresses to men were arranged in connection with S. Agatha's, to be given by members of this guild. They were on the following subjects: (1) 'Christian Socialism;' (2) 'Why men do not believe the Bible;' (3) 'Why is the Church of England a failure?' (4) 'The Incarnation: its value to Humanity;' (5) 'Prayer.' The first lecture, which was by Mr. Headlam, was announced for February 23, 1890 (first Sunday in Lent), in the Mission Church. The rest of the addresses were to follow on subsequent Sundays.

Meanwhile some persons in Portsmouth of the Mr. Podsnap or Mrs. Grundy type got hold of the fact that Mr. Headlam had got into difficulties with the then Bishop of London in regard to his advocacy of the ballet as a graceful form of theatrical performance. We know that Dolling, enthusiast as he was for getting boys and girls to dance together, was no great admirer of the ballet. It bored him, and he thought it stupid. However, not only did the Portsmouth papers fill their columns with letters from very indignant people, mostly ladies, describing Mr. Headlam as a clergyman who went about as a propagandist of the ballet, but Father Dolling was accused of sharing in the same vile proceedings. The Guild of S. Matthew and its lecturers received an extensive gratuitous advertisement, and Southsea held up its hands in startled propriety at 'Mr. Headlam, Father Dolling, and that awful S. Agatha's.' The hapless dancers of the London theatres also came in for much reprobation.

On the afternoon of Mr. Headlam's lecture--the lecturer meanwhile had grown in the pages of the local press into 'a priest suspended by his own bishop '(which was absolutely untrue)--S. Agatha's was packed with men from end to end. No doubt, however, many had come from curiosity. If, however, they expected anything sensational, they were disappointed. Mr. Headlam's appearance was not that of an incendiary, but of a quiet and self-possessed clergyman of the Church of England.

His address was on 'The Social Question 'in general. It was directed rather to the head than to the heart. It had little of Dolling's moving passion, and rather seemed to avoid sentiment than otherwise. It was an address characteristic of one who as an eminent and most useful member of the London School Board is essentially practical and business-like. The earlier part of the address was mainly on the lines of Maurice and Kingsley, urging with blunt directness, what, indeed, the congregation of S. Agatha's had often heard before, that Christianity, if it is a living thing, must deal with man as a whole, with his body as well as his soul, with society as well as with the individual. Towards the end, however, land reform was advocated, and the lines of the 'Single Tax 'appeared to be pointed out as the course to aim at. 'Free Education,' which then (so quickly have we since moved) was regarded as a very extreme measure, and free breakfasts in Board Schools to poor children were also mentioned as desirable things. Socialism in the strictest sense was not directly dealt with, but the whole tone of the lecturer was certainly not calculated to reassure anyone who mainly valued the Church of England as a form of the police force in the interests of landed estates and of property generally.

In a day or two a storm burst over Dolling's head. Mr. Headlam's address had been prominently reported in the Portsmouth papers, and some influential subscribers to the mission wrote to announce, in consequence of the lecture, the withdrawal of their subscriptions. They had, of course, a perfect right to do so; nor did Dolling resent it. One cannot take the line he did without being prepared to suffer some criticism and opposition. Originality in all departments of life must pay a penalty for getting itself listened to.

What was, however, more serious was that both the Bishop of Winchester (Dr. Harold Browne), and the Warden of Winchester College (the late Rev. G. B. Lee), wrote to express their strong disapprobation of what Mr. Headlam was reported to have said, and their censure of Dolling for inviting him to speak on such a subject. Bishop Browne did not probably know that a little time before Bishop Thorold of Rochester had preached a sermon for the Guild of S. Matthew. Winchester was not a diocese the clergy of which were brought into touch with modern problems in the way those of London and the South London part of Rochester Diocese were. The Winchester episcopal regime, with all Bishop Browne's learning and goodness, was not well adapted to grapple with such a question as the relation of Christianity to the social evolution involved in modern democracy. The Warden of Winchester College, it must be remembered in regard to this discussion, was only the nominal head of the school; the head de facto was, of course, Dr. Fearon.

Both the Bishop and the Warden implied that should Dolling not publicly dissever himself from the utterances of Mr. Headlam, they would be compelled to sever their connection with him as head of the mission. The Bishop hinted this; the Warden plainly expressed it as follows:

'With your ultra High-Church proclivities on the one hand, and your Socialist teaching on the other, no sober-minded and loyal citizen can be expected to support the mission, my connection with which must now be severed so long as you continue to be the head of it.'

The Bishop wrote in a milder strain, and very kindly towards Dolling personally. He was pathetically unable to see that the kind of Socialism so dreaded is often only the exaggerated reaction from an unreal Christianity false to the teachings of fraternity delivered by its Divine Founder, and that the official Church has too often done nothing to oppose evils which are in direct contradiction to the teaching of Christ. One of the Radical papers represented Bishop Browne as writing to Dolling that he should teach the poor 'contentment with their lot here, and a bright and happy home in the world to come.' This was not exactly what he wrote, but it was an exaggeration of it from a hostile pen to which his letter to Dolling easily laid him open. The Bishop had concluded his letter by writing:

'This so-called Christian Socialism as exhibited in Mr. Headlam's address, in the writings of Count Leo Tolstoi and others, appears to me to strike at the very root of all Christianity. I have, as you know, declined to interfere with your proceedings, lest I should mar your mission work . . . but I must consider whether the good of your mission is not more than counterbalanced by the evil of those whom you associate with yourself, and whether I can suffer it to go on under my authority.'

Father Dolling, in his reply, consented that the remaining lectures should not be given in the church, but insisted that they should be continued in the gymnasium on the Lent Sunday afternoons. He also wrote to the Bishop, saying that he must protest against the way in which his lordship had spoken of the lecturers, some of whom, we believe, were contemplating measures of legal redress. Dolling wrote also:

'I fear that in all honesty I must tell you, though I hate paining your lordship, that I hold myself, and have preached, and must continue to preach, all that Mr. Headlam's lecture taught, except on some matters of detail.'

The last sentence we believe referred to the 'Single Tax 'method as the best solution of the land difficulty. Dolling resolved to resign, as he considered that the Warden would not have written as he had if he had not voiced the mind of the school authorities, and he had no wish also to force the Bishop to more definite measures. As a missioner he had, of course, no freehold, even had he wished to fight the matter. The lectures went on in the gymnasium. The title of one of them, 'Why is the Church of England a Failure?' gave much offence in Southsea, especially as at this very time the Church Defence Society was placarding the town with 'Working men, what has the Church of England done for you? She has gained Magna Charta.' Dolling remarked, 'That was in 1215, wasn't it? Bather a long time ago.' Dr. Fearon, who was a strong friend to Dolling all through, was deeply distressed at the possible loss of the missioner, and tried to arrange matters, but for a time it looked as if an impasse had been reached between the latter and the ecclesiastical authorities. The direct difficulty, however, was the Warden's letter. The Bishop had not as yet written anything which necessarily involved the missioner's resignation.

On Sunday, March 9, 1890, Father Dolling announced his resignation in a sermon at S. Agatha's to a congregation mainly composed of men, and many standing to the doors.

His text was, 'Thy Will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.'

He said that he 'dared not go on ministering there without letting men know that he believed every social question was a question of the Lord Jesus Christ.'

No sooner was the resignation known than a strong feeling was excited in Portsmouth, where Father Dolling was by this time one of the leading citizens, as well as one of the most respected clergy. Many who were opposed to some points in Mr. Headlam's lecture were eager to retain Dolling in the town. A crowded and enthusiastic meeting was held on Thursday, March 13, in Fuller's Hall, Landporfc, on this subject. The chair was taken by General Harward, a member of the Primrose League. A memorial was handed in signed by 2,000 of the parishioners. General Harward expressed his disagreement with Mr. Headlam's lecture, but his intense admiration for the priest of S. Agatha's. A deputation was appointed to wait on the Bishop. During the meeting it was announced that the Dean of Manchester (the ]ate Dr. Oakley) had wired to Father Dolling to ask him to preach in his Cathedral. We may quote the last speech at this meeting, as it was by a leading Nonconformist of the district:

'Mr. A. J. Owen, as an outsider and a Dissenter, said he felt that his knowledge of Mr. Dolling's work compelled him to put in an appearance at their meeting. Though he differed from Mr. Dolling in his opinions, yet he must admit that he had performed in that district a work which he did not think any other man had ever done or attempted before. They were there that night to recognise a man who had devoted his life to the poor, and in that respect was following in the footsteps of Him whose life and sacrifice he preached. He said the poor were never tired of talking of Mr. Dolling's goodness to them. As a Nonconformist, he thought he should speak in recognition of the fact that when a Dissenting minister (Mr. Griggs), who laboured in Mr. Dolling's district, fell suddenly ill and died, Mr. Dolling was one of the first to visit the widow, and one of the first to subscribe to the fund for her relief. He had gone occasionally to Mr. Dolling's church, and was surprised at the number of young fellows who went there to listen to his words and counsel. He could bear testimony to the character of the work Mr. Dolling was doing, and he trusted that the petitioners would be successful in retaining amongst them in the neighbourhood the services of our friend, your friend, and my friend, for one who laboured for the good of humanity was a friend to every man.'

After arrangements were made to take the petition to the Bishop, Major Arnold proposed a vote of thanks, and the proceedings terminated.

The same evening of this meeting Father Dolling and the present writer had gone to Winchester College by invitation of Dr. Fearon. The latter assured Dolling that the Warden had only acted in his private capacity as a subscriber and disclaimed all idea of conveying an official censure. The Bishop meanwhile had withdrawn from the contest. Dolling consented to withdraw his resignation if the Warden would publicly in print repeat what Dr. Fearon had felt authorised to say in regard to the letter which had caused the trouble.

In a few days the Warden wrote to the Portsmouth papers as follows:

'I am not, and never have been (as is commonly supposed), the head of the Winchester College Mission. I have never been even a member of the committee.'

As soon as this letter appeared, Dolling wrote to Dr. Fearon and the Bishop to withdraw his resignation, and the storm became a thing of the past, buried by the troubles caused by other and even more serious storms to come. Dolling, in his next 'Quarterly Letter,' says:

'I fear the fact that I am Irish makes the pvitting up with me a real Christian exhibition of patience, and certainly no man has ever had a support, a tenderness, a forbearance like that which I have experienced from Winchester.'

We may add that no loss of cordial affection for their missioner from the school followed at this time, and, what is really extraordinary, considering the very Conservative views held by many of the subscribers, neither did the mission suffer in any pecuniary way, although the dispute was matter of public property, being fully reported in the London papers. Dolling's generous helpers loved him and trusted him with their support and money to the end, even when some of his sayings and doings were not wholly to their liking. Many of them were strong Conservatives, some were even old-fashioned high Tories, some were Low Church, several were Broad Church, and many no Church. Still, they all agreed in loving Dolling. His extraordinary personality held them to the end. This is a fact worth remembering, when we are told that unless the clergy are cautious and safe they will get no money for their work. We may also note the way in which Dissenters stood by him at this time. He writes in his 'Quarterly Letter':

'What surprised us most was the intense sympathy of the Dissenting clergy. In our great trouble only one Church clergyman wrote to me, but in three Dissenting meeting-houses public prayer was offered for us, and many of them sent me messages of sympathy by their deacons and others. We are the last Church one would suppose they would sympathise with.'

We append to this chapter an extract from a striking address to men which Father Dolling delivered in S. Agatha's on August 7, 1892, entitled, 'The Christian Clergyman's Place in Politics.' It was preached as a justification for his action in speaking for the Radical Candidate M.P.s of that time at Portsmouth, because they promised to support the social reforms about which he was keen.

'I feel an interest in politics, and express that interest, first of all, because I am a Christian, and, secondly, because I am an Englishman. There was a day, you know, when in a large measure the Church of God exercised a mighty influence by speaking the truth upon political subjects. If you take, for instance, the Old Testament, you will find that in the Book of Psalms, which are, I suppose, the part of the Old Testament most read by modern Christians, the chief idea which underlies large parts of that wonderful collection is the right of the poor to be hoard alike by God and man in all their needs and necessities, and to gain the redress of their wrongs. If you go farther into the Old Testament, and take the lives of God's prophets and their words, you will find that, as a rule, they were essentially political and social reformers, speaking with the authority of the voice of God, and under the influence of a power which carried them into the palaces of kings and made their voice heard throughout the land of Israel, and even penetrated into the countries which were brought in contact with their own nation. You find these inspired men of God having one single purpose, and that was to preach of the God of Justice, a purpose the execution of which involved a most vigorous onslaught on every kind of oppres sion and on every species of wrong.

'In fact, I suppose there has never been gathered together in any volume such magnificent statements of the rights of the weak and the helpless as you will find in almost every one of the writings of the prophets of the Old Testament.

'Then you must remember that these are but the forerunners of Jesus Christ, that He is in Himself the gatherer up of all that the psalmists sung, of all that the prophets foretold, and therefore you may expect to find in Him also the Champion of the weak and oppressed, and something more than that--the One who preached with a voice which is still sounding throughout all the world the royalty of every single man, who revealed to man His Divine origin, and showed not merely God's unceasing care for humanity, but God's desire that by his own actions, by using the powers which He had given him, that man should be lifted up even to the very highest of all ideals, that there should be no altitude of virtue or intelligence that it should not be possible for man to attain to, if he were but true to the power which God had placed in his soul. Looking round on the world, Christ discovered that there were those who had, as it were, absorbed or monopolised these human rights, and rendered well-nigh impossible the development of man, and who had by that very monopoly denied to him the possibility of his attainment to the ideal which God had willed for him. Therefore the voice of Christ, whether it speaks from Galilee or whether it speaks in the courts of the temple, sounds and resounds to-day, and it shall never cease to re-echo as long as the world has Christianity existing in its midst. It bids a man not merely to be free in the sense in which human laws could give freedom--that is, to be free from the bondage or the oppression with which the cruelty of others had bound him--but to be free in a much higher and truer sense, that he may reach the stature which our Lord Himself foresaw for him when He made him in the Divine Image. And if there be in any country in which men live any custom, any privilege of others which denies to men this opportunity, the Christian, be he priest or be he layman, must never cease raising his voice until such restriction is removed, until such privilege has been abolished, and the man is able in the fulness of his Manhood to realise God's eternal Will for him.'

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