Project Canterbury

The Life of Father Dolling

By Charles E. Osborne

London: Edward Arnold, 1903.

Chapter XIII.

Sermon in London on 'Soldiers and Sailors': 'Lombard Street in Lent' series (February 16, 1894)--Controversy caused by this with the Mayor of Portsmouth--Father Dolling as a friend of soldiers and sailors--Letters from officers and men in the services--An army chaplain's recollections of Dolling at Woolwich--Friendship with Bishop Corfe of Korea, then Naval Chaplain at Portsmouth--The St. Vincent boys--Lecture on the Victoria and Patriotic Funds (December 3,1893).

'A soldier's a man.'--SHAKESPEARE: Othello.

WHILE Dolling's mind was full of the facts alluded to in the last chapter he went to London to preach, on February 16, 1894, one of the Lent sermons to men for the Christian Social Union, at S. Edmund the King, Lombard Street. The subject on which he preached was 'Soldiers and Sailors.' The sermon was afterwards published, with the others of the series, in a volume entitled 'Lombard Street in Lent,' the preface to which was written by the late Bishop Westcott, the then president of the Christian Social Union. Most of the address is of a practical and almost statistical character, but the beginning of it contains a remarkable utterance in regard to the question of the abolition of war. He starts abruptly, 'Gentlemen,' and goes on:

'I must begin by making the awful and solemn declaration that after eighteen centuries of Christianity the object of the "Prince of Peace" has not been attained. War still exists, and therefore it is necessary to speak of soldiers and sailors. But the Divine Carpenter will have His revenge, and His revenge will be complete when by means of labour which He emancipated and glorified, war shall cease throughout the whole world. In a large measure, labour is already organised in England, and the working man is learning day by day his own value, but this is at best but a partial step towards peace, and it needs that the English example should be followed upon the Continent, and the movement become cosmopolitan. When once the foreign workman has realised his own powers--powers which surely we can teach him can be asserted without anarchy and the disruption of society--when shameful wages and shameful hours and the abominable sweating system, depriving men of the fruits of their labours, shall have ceased universally, as they have .begun to cease in England, then the patient pleadings of the Carpenter of Nazareth will be realised, and man--the temporal redeemer of the earth by the sweat of his brow--shall refuse to be manipulated by his brethren, either in the sweating dens of financiers, or on the battle-field, or in the armies maintained at present at an impossible cost by politicians or by monarchs for their own selfish purpose.

'The Carpenter will have His revenge, and therefore it is not Utopian to suppose that a day will come when war shall cease.

'But while it is well to have these higher ideals before us, it is certainly foolish not to look things in the face and realise what they are at the present moment. And above all, it is our duty, as their employers, to recognise the crushing evils which to-day exist among our soldiers and sailors.'

We think that among any of Dolling's sermons or addresses of which record has been kept, there is no more striking idea than that of the austere figure of 'the Divine Carpenter,' the Man of Nazareth, waiting His time until men sicken of the bloody game of war, and His turn comes, and He has His revenge. It reminds us of the question of Julian the Apostate to a Christian, 'What is the Carpenter doing now?' and of the answer which followed, 'He is making a coffin.' It was Dolling's faith from first to last that the Carpenter was, in truth, through the centuries, slowly yet surely 'making a coffin' for every evil and every wrong.

The rest of the sermon is occupied with criticism of army mismanagement, and with a statement as to the temptations soldiers and sailors are exposed to, and to which they expose others. In the end of the sermon, which we must remember was delivered to men only, he spoke of 'such sinks of iniquity as Portsmouth, Plymouth, Chatham, Aldershot, and other garrison towns.'

He then went on to expose the proportion of public-houses to other buildings on the Portsmouth Hard, and mentioned other facts about the condition of the town, alluded to in the last chapter.

When Dolling arrived at the Portsmouth terminus on hie, return from London, he found the town placarded with the following newspaper heading:


The papers teemed with letters, and it was announced that the Mayor himself would reply in public to this unpatriotic and disgraceful stigma upon Portsmouth's fame. Many shopkeepers and lodging-house-keepers, who feared that Southsea might suffer as to its summer visitors, joined with the Mayor (Mr. Emmanuel) and the publicans in the general outcry. A storm of denunciation fell on Dolling's devoted head.

Meanwhile the members of the Northsea Cycling Club and their friends mustered for their annual dinner at the Dairyman's Arms, Stamshaw. At this meeting the Mayor broke out against Dolling as follows:

' I may say that a gloom has been cast over Portsmouth by a reverend gentleman who has been referred to. I have had the pleasure of being born and bred in Portsmouth, and I am proud to stand here to-day as the chief magistrate. I think it is my duty to refer for a few moments to the scandalous speech or sermon delivered by a Portsmouth clergyman last week. Would he have dared to have preached such a sermon in Portsmouth? No. He goes from the town, he preaches in the Metropolis, and sorry indeed am I to have to stand here to-night and denounce the greater part of his sermon--that portion referring to the army and navy of this garrison and port. He says we are "a sink of iniquity." Surely if any Christian would think for a moment he would see that he was doing an injury to the town in which he lived, and to the hotels and the lodging-houses in the part of the borough upon which we have spent so much money. The stigma which he has cast upon the town is not true.'

Now follows the account by the Mayor of his famous nocturnal pilgrimage:

' I started last night at 9.40 in company with an inspector of police. I visited fifty public-houses and beerhouses in the worst part of the borough between the hours of 9.40 and 11 p.m. At each house I took the number of persons drinking or sitting down or talking, and in the fifty houses there were 460 men and women. Where would you send these people to? There was not one drunken man on the premises. Surely with 10,000 sailors in port, and nearly 6,000 troops in garrison, I am not saying too much when I say we are proud of our town, and I congratulate the brewers and the occu-piers of public-houses and beerhouses on the admirable manner in which these houses are conducted.'

Another speaker at the same meeting said: 'He knew of no town so moral, and so little drunken, and so estimable alto-gether, as Portsmouth; indeed, he was proud to call himself an inhabitant of it.'

Let us finish the account of this incident in Father Dolling's own words ('Ten Years'):

'I was threatened with a public indignation meeting. I only wish that Mr. Joseph and myself had had the chance of addressing such a meeting. We wanted to ask the Mayor whether there was any other town in England in which, between the hours of 9.40 p.m. and 11 p.m.--that is, eighty minutes--fifty public-houses could be entered, let alone thoroughly visited; whether he knew anything of the character of the houses which he passed in going from public to public; whether it could be desirable for the inhabitants to have so many licensed premises close together; and whether he believed that there were fifty other publics anywhere in England which, at that hour in the evening, were without people whom he (the Mayor) called "jolly." Surely his defence was the very best proof possible of my allegation. However, the public meeting never came off'; discretion was the better part of valour. I believe myself that the row did the town a great deal of good.'

As it was the address in London on 'Soldiers and Sailors 'which caused all this commotion, this may be a suitable place in which to insert, from a number of letters sent to us about Father Dolling by his friends of all ranks in the army and navy--for he was equally a favourite with officers and men--a few specially characteristic recollections. Like Charles Kingsley, Dolling was essentially 'a chaplain to Esau.' He was a supreme favourite with soldiers and sailors, and could have done far more than he did among them in Portsmouth, had it not been for other more immediate and necessary duties.

The following notes are written by an army chaplain who enjoyed the privilege of Dolling's friendship for many years:

'I was a newly-fledged deacon, with all the orthodoxy of Oxford still on me, when I was told of a strange being who was also a deacon, whose work was but a few yards from mine. The description was an enticing one, of a rotund, good-natured man, of years distinctly of discretion, garbed always in cassock and biretta, with the adornment of a tobacco-pipe nearly always surmounting all! His workshop in the East End (at Maidman Street, Burdett Road) was a converted warehouse, with a club on the lower floor, where recreative provision was made for East London "blokes" to amuse themselves with games, while occasionally concerts and theatricals were given by Dolling's own friends from other parts of London. One looked up through the ceiling, and saw there, through an opening surrounded with railings, an altar. And it was disconcerting, distinctly so, to the stern orthodoxy of a new deacon. One realised that wreaths of tobacco-smoke curled up into the very presence of that Holy Table, and that East End conversation, sometimes bluer than the smoke-clouds, also found its way to the same place. But orthodoxy was speechless before the gentle explanation that it was good that everyday life should be presented there, and that the altar should be part of the everyday life, and not a separate thing. Pure fun was to Bob Dolling one of God's best gifts, and the first link that attached to him many a heart was forged by his Irish humour. Afterwards, if God gave opportunity, the chain of attachment was supplemented by better gifts from Him. That Maidman Street Mission always seemed to me as the characteristic revelation of the man, whose broad sympathies and genius for hearts found room for so much in his practical life. "The human are so ungodly, and the godly are so inhuman; that is the difficulty," he once said to me, and his great talent was the marvellous combination in himself of the human and the godly; such an irresistible combination of power.

'It was in this very East End Mission that I first met soldiers. Very often indeed the Queen's uniform was seen there, a speck of brightness amid the dulness of squalor. Some of these were his own lads. He knew the environment of their homes by heart, and he judged that the Army had a redemptive influence for such. Some he enlisted because times were bad, and temptations as well as other hardships were overcome in present distress by the constant provision made by the Army. But some were friends he had made outside the Mission. I remember soldiers coming frankly to him when in trouble--and trouble of a kind that, as far as I know soldiers, they would have been very chary of telling their own chum, but there was the loving heart of the "Father"--and not the worst case was in any way spurned. So it came about that I, too, received an invitation to accompany him to a barrack-room dinner at Woolwich.

'To an East End parson even the air of Woolwich had a sniff of the country, so we started abnormally early. I remember to-day the delight of that morning of pure laziness, and how, sinning against all orthodoxy, we lay lolling on the grass, smoking pipes. Presently there was marched by a fatigue party of men, clad in the first khaki I ever saw. Someone made a remark, and then there came an unauthorized "Eyes right!" followed by a salute of guffaws and laughter. It was a trifle disconcerting, and I am sure I tried to suppress blushes. Dolling forthwith entered into a discourse on army religion, with this as a text. That, he said, was the typical attitude of the soldier to the chaplain. The salute that chaplains were said to delight in was but an artificial state of things. A gulf of officer position separated the men from the chaplain, and so forth.

'He regaled me with a story of Father Stanton, who had once accompanied him as I did that day. A soldier who sighted them approaching barracks exclaimed in most audible tones to his mate, "Look at those two Popes!" garnishing the expression with expletives. When, later, excellent relations had been established with the barrack-room, Father Stanton asked this dear Tommy, in a most innocent way, why he had hurt their feelings so much by calling them Popes, whereas "they were respectable Protestant clergymen of the Establishment." Dolling went on to say that there was a certain amount of religiousness among soldiers, but that the type of religious Tommy was offensively priggish.

'Dinner! and what dinner! Tommy is always hospitable indeed to his friends. The dinner for the whole room had been so arranged as to provide two extra portions, and these were allotted on the principle of Benjamin's mess. When not quite a quarter of the way through I was about to hold up hands and surrender, but Dolling spied me, and with a tone of him who must be obeyed informed me that I should for ever wound their feelings if I left any. It was hard work at that dinner for even Bob to keep the conversation going. Tommy was on his best behaviour, for had he not two live parsons in the room t Good behaviour implied almost being silent, as in the presence of an officer. But dinner over, there was an object-lesson of the rarest kind. There was not a treasured curio or photo, no matter even if the face was very plain, but Brother Bob went to examine it. Interest in the original, or gentle chaff about "the best girl," or something else, but always new, was poured forth. The men were irresistibly drawn to a circle of which he was the centre. It was the irresistible personality, its fund of fun, of sympathy, that was showing itself able in a moment to forge links of friendship with men brought up utterly unlike himself, a Harrow boy and a Cambridge man.

' The day ended as all other days do, and very tired he was in the train going home, but he told me that all those men would be at the Garrison Church when he preached on Sunday evening (the voluntary service) in ten days' time. When he preached to soldiers there was nothing of the traditional military reception of the preacher, with, after a short time, shuffling of feet, bad fits of coughing, clanking of swords.

' When I wrote to him that I wished to be an army chaplain, he wrote to me the most appalling philippics, beseeching me to do nothing of the kind. He insisted that if one wanted to do something for soldiers, one was far better able to do the work from outside. Inside the Army, he said, the officer position was a hopeless bar to reality. If one were asked wherein lay his great power with soldiers, it would seem to have been, quite apart from rare natural and spiritual gifts, the fact that he had not a grain of pompousness or conceit of position. He was simply a man whose heart went out very directly and fully to any other man, saint or sinner. The accident of class was nothing to him. Soldiers knew well enough that he enjoyed their company. This simplicity drew to him the hearts of all he met, whether they were Winchester boys, or New College men, or private soldiers. Sympathy and unfeigned simplicity, with a marvellous knowledge of the general tone and language of the class to which each belonged. From the letters which I hava received from soldiers in all parts of the world, there were many hearts in the army that felt themselves the poorer when it pleased God to take him to his well-earned rest. Under Dolling's influence Esau (as well as Jacob) felt that there was a Gospel for him.'

We quote the following from a letter from a private soldier received after Dolling's death:

'Not only do I miss him, but hosts of others do so, too, soldiers and sailors all over the world. He had the way of making one feel at ease, and encouraged soldiers and sailors to talk about themselves. Unlike some of the clergy he did not commence by cramming religion down the throats of soldiers. He first of all made the earthly life a little smoother and easier, and gradually brought one to think of the higher; and by his forbearance taught us a lesson which all the sermons in the world could not teach. He once told me of a certain learned clergyman being asked to take «. sermon for one of the chaplains at a garrison church at the parade service, and telling the soldiers that "if they looked in their Greek Testaments," they would find something special about a particular passage. He laughed much over this story. [The story is true. The clergyman in question was doing some temporary duty in Portsmouth.] When he himself preached to soldiers he gave plain, homely talks.'

A young Sergeant of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders writes of him:

'I really believe the secret of his successful dealings with soldiers, as a rule, was nothing more than using a little tact with them, studying each individual and acting accordingly, and never forcing religion down their throats. He would make each one feel at home and gradually draw them out. He was manly himself, and, as a rule, a soldier admires anything manly, especially in a clergyman. Even sitting with three or four fellows on leave round the fire in his study, smoking a pipe or cigar, has done them more good than going to church for a year. For, as a rule, at the church parade service the average Tommy is only too pleased when the service comes to an end; he takes it just as an ordinary parade. So that kind of thing would take until the end of the world before the soldier and the preacher got to know one another. For myself, I have lost in Mr. Dolling one of the best and dearest friends I ever had--more than a friend. Mr. Dolling was not only a true friend, he was a real "father" to many a young soldier. Hundreds of soldiers will miss him. Many a young soldier who was going wrong, when he got to know him, became straight again.'

The following extract is from a letter from Lieutenant Roland Wilberforce, Royal Sussex Regiment (son of the present Bishop of Chichester), to his mother from South Africa. (Lieutenant Wilberforce is an old Wykehamist.)

'June 7, 1902.

'One bit of news from home made me very sad, and that was the news of dear old Dolling's death. I can't tell you what an admiration and affection I had for him. I saw some of his work down at Portsmouth, and the real happiness that he brought into the lives of the very slummiesr people there. He was the most extraordinarily sympathetic man I have ever met, and nothing was too big or too small for him to undertake if it was to be the means of making others happy. Pie was simply bubbling over with Irish wit all the time. I don't suppose anyone can properly estimate the amount of good he has done, but he will be missed all over the world. To young soldiers and sailors his loss will be irreparable.'

During Dolling's time at Poplar, he gave Holy Communion in West London to a party of young officers who were just starting for the South African War, having a private interview also with several of them. We do not know that they were very religious, but they knew Dolling, and felt that he was the one man they could talk to, or could allow to talk to them on these serious matters, before facing the possibility of never returning home.

A Colonel wrote to one of Father Dolling's sisters after the latter's death:

'Your brother had an influence on me which no other man ever had. I always felt that what he said came from his heart direct. There was no one between him and Almighty God.'

An officer writes as follows about him to the writer of this book:

'It seems hardly possible for me to realise now that Dolling, my best man friend, the deep thinker, the golden-tongued speaker, the big, honest man, the man who made life different to me and to hundreds of others, is gone. It is impossible that he is now lying in the grave. Surely somewhere or other his soul goes marching on.'

Colonel the Hon. A. H. Henniker wrote as follows from South Africa, on hearing of Dolling's death:


' Your brother was to me the ideal of all that is good and beautiful in a human being. I do not think his place can be filled. He knew a soldier's failings, as he did those of other people, men and women, and yet no one ever went to him who did not get sympathy. His example shines out brightly in this too often sad world.'

One of Dolling's oldest friends was Colonel Barrington Foote, E.H.A., who had known both him and the Rev. A. Stanton from the earlier S. Alban's days.

In his 'Quarterly Letter' for June 25,1895, Dolling tells the following story which illustrates his knowledge of soldiers:

'Only last month a discharged soldier called on his way home from India to show me a piece of a Prayer-Book which a dying comrade had given to him, telling him that he was to be sure to come and tell me when he came to England that, though he had never written to me, he had never forgotten his communion at S. Agatha's, and that that was part of the Prayer-Book which I had given him. I could not remember even the name of the boy, so hopelessly careless are we about our most needed duties.'

Of the visits of the St. Vincent boys to the mission we have written already. As each of these grew up, it meant an addition to the number of men-of-war's men known to Father Dolling and his helpers, and by the latter time of his stay at Portsmouth, he had got to know a large number of sailors, and took great delight in their company, as they in his. We do not know that he knew many in the merchant service; his friends of the sea were mostly bluejackets, but indeed his friends were everywhere. He knew a good many Marines, both 'red 'and 'blue '(the latter Marine Artillery), as Portsmouth is, of course, a chief centre for that branch of the service.

Among naval chaplains he had a special affection for the Rev. C. J. Corfe. Dr. Corfe is now Bishop in Korea, and one of his former clergy there, the Rev. M. N. Trollope, has succeeded Father Dolling at S. Saviour's, Poplar.

Bishop Corfe was from time to time at S. Agatha's Church and parsonage, and was always a welcome visitor. He writes as follows:

'Dolling did me a good turn once in the Dockyard Church. He took the course of mid-day addresses to men in Holy Week. His subject was characteristic of him: "Christ: the Perfect Gentleman." The procedure was simple. Dolling appeared in a cassock, and talked for a quarter of an hour in that aifectionate but uncompromising way which was so well known to the men of Portsmouth who came to hear him. Of course there were very many men at those services who very much disapproved of S. Agatha's. Yet I have always thought that indirectly I was the means of doing S. Agatha's a good turn by those services, as they brought many men who suspected and disliked Dolling, not only to hear him, but fco be brought under his Christlike influence.'

Bishop Corfe writes also of the pleasure which a Sunday at S. Agatha's gave him when he came there as a Bishop. In regard to Dolling's character, he writes of the mingled capacities of anger and of pity which were strangely blended elements in it. Anger against unpunished wrong, and pity for the unfortunate and distressed were indeed so mingled in him that his nature was at once sternly and even fiercely masculine and tenderly feminine in its delicate tact and compassion.

We derive the following, a lighter reminiscence, from an officer in the Royal Navy:

'Father Dolling came to our ship at my invitation with two of his friends. He had tea in the mess. Father D. kept everyone in good humour. Afterwards he retired for a smoke. I left to change into mufti, and heard the following:

'A. "Who's that parson Johnnie in the smoking-room?"

'B. "Don't you knowl Why, that's old Dolling, you know; down in Charlotte Street."

'A. "Who's he come off to see?"

'B. "Hush! Old------asked him."

'A. "Are you sure that's Dolling f'

'B. "Positive------introduced him."

'A. "Well, I thought Dolling quite a different fellow. He came into the room, sat in an easy-chair, had a smoke, commenced to chat, and kept us all in roars. I'll be hanged if he didn't know more about the service than any naval parson I've been shipmates with. I'm going up to have another yarn with him."

'It was arranged for us to leave the ship at 5.15. We did not go till 6.45. I have a suspicion that our missing the first boat was a design on the part of one or two who had met Father Dolling for the first time. I am, however, convinced that the smoke, the chat, and that significant shake of the hand on parting company at the Dockyard made more impression than any number of sermons would have done. In fact, up to that time, none on our ship who met him that afternoon would have given him a hearing before, such is the force of prejudice. Four men were deeply interested; his influence took hold of them, and I believe extended through them to others.'

Dolling showed his sympathy for soldiers and sailors by his efforts to secure a better mode of distribution of the money intended for their widows and orphans, and, as he believed, mismanaged and kept back with culpable dilatori-ness by the authorities of the Patriotic Fund. Soon after the great disaster to the Victoria, in which so many men whose wives resided at Portsmouth were lost, Dolling raised a large sum from S. Agatha's congregation and friends for the Victoria Relief Fund, but he refused to allow this £95 to be handed on by the Mayor of Portsmouth to the Patriotic Fund.

On December 3,1893, he delivered in S. Agatha's and afterwards published an address to men, entitled, 'The Victoria Fund. The Real Truth about the Patriotic Fund: How England's Generosity is stifled by England's Red Tape.' In this he says:

'It ought to be the first duty of the nation, before any other debt is paid, before anyone else is honoured, to honour the dead, as far as we can to pay the debt we owe them. In all ages the widows and orphans of heroes have been a sacred charge, and these men of the Victoria are especially heroes. To die in the midst of battle, that were easy, but to die by the mistake of one man, to die by a little fault in the machinery, to go down in a calm sea under the blue sky, to stand in order in your place without murmuring, as orderly as if you were in the barrack square, that was splendid, that was sublime.

'I have no fear for the generosity of England, yet would I rather call it justice. It is for our sakes, our prosperity, our happiness, our commerce, that they deprive themselves of their homes, that they dare the tempest, that they bravely die.'

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