Received with Thanks.
By H. A. Wilson.
London and Oxford: A.R. Mowbray, 1940.
Digitized by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2016
MARCUS ETHELBERT ATLAY
 THE old gentleman who had the monopoly of the appointment of chaplains to the army professed himself satisfied with my qualifications, gave me a list of the necessary articles of apparel that I should purchase, appeared to be pleased that I could leave my parish at short notice, and stated that I should receive official notice of my appointment within a few days.
“If I were you,” said a C.F. friend of mine, “I shouldn’t buy any uniform until you get something in writing.” It was as well that I took his advice. Weeks passed, during which I had no word from the Chaplain-General’s department, and my vicar engaged my successor. At length I wrote, and received a curt reply that he “regretted his inability to avail himself” of my offer. To this day I do not know what dark secrets of my murky past were discovered; though I do know that I was by no means the only young Catholic-minded priest to be similarly treated.
I then applied to the Archdeacon of the Fleet, who held a similar corner in the appointment of chaplains to the Royal Navy. By him I was treated, according to tradition, [There is a, doubtless libelous, tale of the members of the Army and the Navy Rugby Fifteens bathing after their annual match at Twickenham. Quoth a ruffled soldier to a fellow-subaltern, “I did think we should be playing against gentlemen” “Oh! did you?” remarked a member of the senior service who overheard him; “we didn’t.”] more as a gentleman than [31/32] as a German secret-service agent or a Roman Catholic wolf in sheep’s clothing. He regretted, quite reasonably, that, as I was only four-and-twenty and a three-months’-old priest, I was a little young and inexperienced to have the sole spiritual charge of hundreds of men on a war-ship.
Disconsolate, I was staying at the hospitable vicarage at Folkestone when an advertisement appeared in The Church Times to the effect that a priest was needed at St. Matthew’s, Westminster. “Write to Atlay at once, sonny,” said Tindall; “it’s a fine church, and he ‘s a first-class priest. I’ll write to him too.”
My reply was startling. Atlay was sorry that he could not engage a married priest of over forty years of age. But Tindall’s made it clear that mine was another instance of a secretary having put the wrong letter into the right envelope.
After an interview; and, I suspect, thanks in no small degree to what the former vicar of Ashford had written about me; I was so fortunate as to be offered, this time by the right letter in a similar envelope, the post of junior curate at St. Matthew’s.
On an October afternoon in 1915 I rang at the door of the clergy-house in Great Peter Street, Westminster. The maid wished to usher me into the small waiting-room set apart for unknown male visitors and for all but a select few of known [32/33] members of the opposite sex. “Thank you,” said I; “but I have come to stay.” [Ten years later I went from Haggerston to see Father Cornibeer. I rang at the familiar front-door. It was opened by a new maid “which knew not Joseph.” In reply to my inquiry as to whether the vicar was at home, she asked me my name, said that she would find out, and ushered me politely into the small waiting-room.]
It is safe to say that St. Matthew’s is one of the best-known churches in the land; and that its name will always be linked with that of perhaps its greatest vicar, William Bouverie Trevelyan, whose influence and saintly example remained long after his retirement in 1907, and—I doubt not—are remembered still in Peabody’s Buildings and Old Pye Street.
He was vice-principal of Ely Theological College when he was appointed to the living in 1884. St. Matthew’s was an evening-communion church; the parish a slum of the worst description.
The state of the streets was appalling and they were badly lit; groups of gamblers stood at every corner, and the police—if they ventured at all into Great Peter Street—dared not interfere. There were 40 common lodging-houses in the parish, where men and women of all conditions obtained shelter for 3d. a night, among whom were frequently to be found broken-down professional men ruined through drink.
Men and women hung about the doors of the houses, children played almost naked in the streets, and if the parents did not choose to pay the penny school fee the boys were sent at a very early age to be crossing-sweepers or paper boys. Where the National Society’s building now stands opposite the church there was a row of small cottages whose upper rooms were reached by ladder-like stairs. Holland Street led to Romney Place,—a Court with cottages [33/34] and gardens,—beyond which was a second Court bearing a bad reputation; and a few yards further on was Holland Gardens, chiefly occupied by men who had “done time” and by women whose “husbands” were still in prison. St. Ann’s Street, which bounded the east end of St. Matthew’s Church, was simply a resort of street walkers and their bullies. St. Ann’s Court was a favourite resort of the Guards—a hell of a place,—where drink, quarrelling, and fighting mingled with the screaming of the women who fought each other for their man, and fought the “picket” too when it came after ten at night to pick up the defaulters.
A state of lawlessness existed which it is hard now to conceive. Boots were often removed and stolen from drunken men asleep in the streets; fights between families went on for days together, especially in the Courts which opened from the street by narrow passage gateways, so that when a row broke out the gate was closed and all access barred by the placing of furniture against it. Few of the people could read or write. Drink was widespread. Three public houses immediately surrounded the church, which had itself been built on a site known locally as “The devil’s acre.” The church was cold and colourless.
The first two incumbents worked hard and made a most courageous fight during the thirty-three years for which they successively held the living, but such were still the bad conditions in 1884. [ W. B. Trevelyan. Published by S.P.C.K.]
Bishop Winnington-Ingram of London wrote, “Trevelyan was a true saint, if ever there was one: I always felt that even to look at him did one good.” Little by little, with infinite tact and the courtesy of a priest who was also a gentleman, and aided [34/35] by the loyalty and devotion of such curates as W. H. H. Jervois, R. E. Giraud, H. E. Simpson, J. B. Croft, Frank Weston, G. W. Hockley, F. P. Vasey, C. Cator, and M. E. Atlay, he Christianized his parish, beautified his church, attracted to it many from other parts of London, and by the beginning of the present century had made St. Matthew’s, Westminster, a power in the land.
When he was persuaded to resign the living in order to become the first Warden of Liddon House, London, he wrote:
Such a break as this, after twenty-three years, must be a trial to those who have been bound together by so many close and intimate ties; and it is impossible for me to express what the wrench is: you know it without my saying. When the time came near for the matter to be finally settled, I would have given everything I possess not to have to leave. Had it not been possible for me to remain—as I hope still to do—in close touch with the parish, and had I not known that I should have a successor (the Rev. G. W. Hockley) who is in complete sympathy with the teaching and practice of so many years past,—I should never have left. I should never, I think, have left St. Matthew’s for any other parish.
It may be that his spirit is still not far away from the church that he served so faithfully and the parish that he loved so dearly. It can no more be doubted that that square mile of Westminster still has his prayers in the Church beyond the veil, than that his honoured name will always be remembered in the House of God that is pre-eminently Trevelyan’s St. Matthew’s.
 G. W. Hockley, at the moment Archdeacon of Cornwall, more than fulfilled the high hopes of both Trevelyan and St. Matthew’s people; and it seemed a tragedy when, after a brilliant vicariate of only six years, ill health compelled him to resign the living. But his mantle—and, indeed, much of that of Trevelyan, his constant friend and frequent adviser —fell on M. E. Atlay, a second St. Matthew’s curate to be appointed to the living; in this case one who had served in no other parish since his ordination as deacon in 1904. He was instituted and inducted in 1914.
The parish lies to the right of Victoria Street, as one “proceeds”—if one is a sailor—from the Southern Railway terminus towards Whitehall; and is between the Army and Navy Stores and Westminster Abbey.
When I first turned my steps to the right down Strutton Ground, with its street-barrows and pungent fried-fish emporia, it was a different place to that which Trevelyan had known in his early days. It is true that it still housed many who were very poor, and were forced to live under conditions that seemed the more anomalous when one remembered the close proximity of the House of Commons. It is also true that more than one dwelling justified the reputation of being the sort of place from which one came out with more than when one went in. But three large blocks of Peabody’s Buildings—”Big Square,” “Small Square,” and “Rochester”—provided decent homes; three large gasholders, [36/37] opposite the clergy-house, had taken the place of a number of small courts and alley-ways; the presentable buildings of the National Society had ousted a number of cottages and overcrowded houses; and St. Matthew’s had both its clergy-house on one side of the church, and its own schools on the other—as well as its parish hall, Trevelyan Hall, in close proximity. Though it may be inferred that I found Westminster airs and aromas different from those of a Kent country town.
In general, life in a clergy-house is not among the most comfortable or homely forms of existence. The majority of such London caravanserai seem to abound in waste of space, stone staircases, chilly echoing passages, and (as has already been remarked) slamming doors: it is also apparent that they have a bland disregard for even the most elementary labour-saving devices—such as running water in bedrooms, or a proximity of the dining-room to the kitchen—, or for such rudimentary attributes of comfort as the placing of bathrooms on the same floor as bedrooms. It is also inevitable that, in a flourishing and busy parish, the clergy-house front-door and telephone bells should ring frequently and often simultaneously, that a night-bell should be provided for emergencies, and that there should be no such thing as an Eight Hour Day for vicar or curates. As with the medical profession, the parish-priest is—and must be—continually available. St. Matthew’s Clergy House is a large red-brick edifice of three floors and an attic, built on two sides of a square of which the church [37/38] supplies the third and fourth. The streets of Great Peter and St. Anne lie beneath half its windows; the remainder open on to a minute asphalt quadrangle in which is a circular patch of earth where nothing has ever grown. In my days it housed five priests, two laymen, one housekeeper, and a modicum of fairly frequently changing maids. Half the ground floor comprised a parish-room—where choristers practised hymn-tunes, I wrestled with illustrations on Catechism blackboards, men’s smoking-concerts were held at not infrequent winter intervals, people of every age and in every imaginable article of déshabillé sheltered during air-raids, and subsequently the only office of the First Anglo-Catholic Congress had its quarters. There were no bedrooms on the ground floor, but there was a bathroom. The majority slept on the second floor; naturally, the other bathroom—like the dining-room—was on the first, the kitchen being of course on street-level. But each man had two rooms, and the unfortunate incumbent had to pay the large General Rates.
To the church—which in itself is not a thing of either great beauty or much dignity, but which has for many years immediately impressed each visitor as being a place that is homely and is soaked in many years of prayer and worship—Trevelyan had added a singularly beautiful mortuary-chapel, known officially as the Chapel of All Souls but colloquially as “the dead-’ouse”; the Lady Chapel, approached by a stone staircase from the nave and on a level with the first floor of the clergy-house; and Bodley’s impressive rood screen. [38/39] Atlay continued to reserve The Blessed Sacrament in the Lady Chapel, instituted High Mass as the principal service both on Sundays and the greater weekday festivals, gave to the church an image of our Lady as a memorial to his mother, improved Trevelyan Hall, taught with each member of his staff in the schools every week, and maintained the mission Chapel of The Good Shepherd in Strutton Ground as a flourishing concern for such as felt more at home there than in the church. St. Matthew’s was a model Christian parish in the days when I was lucky enough to become
one of its priests.
Atlay was then only thirty-four years old: during the seven happy years for which I served under him in Westminster he was at the height of his considerable powers. I can draw no better pen-picture of him than that which The Church Times gave after his sudden death, as Canon of Gloucester, at the age of fifty-three, in July, 1934.
Marcus Ethelbert Atlay was the youngest son of the late Dr. James Atlay, Bishop of Hereford. He was educated at St. Paul’s School and St. John’s College, Cambridge. After a year’s course at Ely Theological College, he was ordained deacon to a title at St. Matthew’s, Westminster. The church was closely allied to Ely, for the Rev. W. B. Trevelyan, to whom was due its revived life as a centre of Catholic teaching and worship, had been vice-principal of the college, and other students had also become attached to the staff of clergy.
At the outset of his ministry in Westminster, Atlay’s interest was largely given to the Men’s Union in the [39/40] parish which his vicar (Trevelyan) particularly directed. House to house visiting formed a regular part of the day’s work, and through this Atlay collected the nucleus of a Bible class which became a marked feature of the work of the parish. His forcible manner rather than originality made his teaching effective.
It was the same in the pulpit. He possessed the rare gift of relating simple facts of Bible history or the elementary doctrines of the Faith as though they were new truths. The effect was both impressive and attractive, as was proved by the good attendance which marked the midday addresses on weekdays.
Atlay was intensely practical, and a favourite point of his was whether a thing was really serviceable. He suggested to the congregation that they might as well devote their christening rings and childish forks and spoons to a useful purpose. This met with such a generous response that with them the present large St. Matthew’s processional silver cross was made.
As a chairman Atlay excelled. He was always able to combine forcible expression of opinion with abounding good humour. Moreover, he had the knack of making very personal remarks without hurting the feelings of the victim, and could happily and amusingly draw attention to the idiosyncrasies of a previous speaker while making it crystal clear that he was only speaking in a merry mood. Thus there was never any sting in his personal quips.
From curate, Atlay became vicar in 1914. During his incumbency the High Mass superseded the Missa Cantata as the chief Sunday service. A renewed impetus was given to the cause of foreign missions, and particularly that of U.M.C.A., for which Atlay had a special devotion. An elder brother met with a tragic death while in the service of the Mission, and Bishop Weston had at one time been on the staff of [40/41] St. Matthew’s; there were thus strong personal links to stimulate enthusiasm.
Atlay came into great prominence as chairman of the First Anglo-Catholic Congress, held at the Albert Hall, London, in 1920. None who was present at the meetings will forget how his strong personality and evident devotion and conviction dominated the proceedings and gave the Congress a large part of that spirit of adventure which it has never lost.
In the less congenial circumstances of Gloucester he continued to exert his power in support of the Catholic cause, and spent himself freely in assisting the single-handed incumbents of the diocese by preaching and conducting missions, as well as by the wisdom and sympathy which were ever at the service of those who sought his counsel. By his death Catholicism in the West of England has lost a stalwart soldier and servant.
To which I added my tribute, in the same issue of that journal.
“In 1915 the Chaplain-General of the Army first accepted and then refused my offer. It is uncertain whether or not this was the Army’s loss; it is quite certain that it was my gain. For Fr. Atlay then asked me to join his staff at St. Matthew’s, Westminster. I shall always be most grateful to him, not only for the original and inexplicable invitation, but even more for the cheerfulness and affection with which he endured my inexperience and immaturity until he resigned the living some seven years later. It seems to me that he was one of the finest parish priests of his generation, and perhaps especially so during the difficult years of war.
“A man of outstanding and striking personality both in the pulpit and out of it, a great gentleman whose [41/42] kindness and courtesy never failed under any provocation, a Catholic priest of wise counsel and Christian gentleness to an immense clientele of penitents from all parts of London and many other localities, a wholly delightful person to live with and look up to; fortunate indeed were they who had the honour of serving his famous church in his company.
“The dignified and reverent manner in which he said Mass; his uncompromising devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and our Lady; his arresting and dominating figure in the pulpit (few of his audiences will soon forget his preaching of the Passion on nights in Holy Week and during the Three Hours of Good Friday); his wise counsel on the hearing of confessions; his evangelical insistence on the duty of parish priests to visit their people; his charming way with men and children; his great kindness to the old and ailing, the sick and dying; his unfailing sense of humour and the child’s heart which always underlay his commanding presence (I remember how the tears would stream down his face as he watched Bethlehem tableaux at the Good Shepherd Mission in Strutton Ground)—his curates could not but be greatly influenced for good by their contact with the possessor of such attributes. For myself, I know that in him I saw what a parish priest could and should be; I have not forgotten his example, I hope I never shall forget it. St. Matthew’s Church, Westminster, has a short but fine roll of honour of priests who have served her faithfully and are at rest; to the names of Weston and Trevelyan, Jervois and Giraud, is now to be added that of Atlay: it is of equal value.
“He will also, of course, be always associated with the First Anglo-Catholic Congress. This originated in the mind of the Rev. C. R. Deakin, then vicar of Christ Church, South Hackney, East London; but both he and each member of the executive committee [42/43] would agree that its successful consummation was due to the chairman more than to any other. On a summer day in 1919 he strode into my room at the clergy-house in Great Peter Street, seated himself in the most comfortable armchair (which belonged to him), lit another Capstan cigarette, and said, “Next summer there’s going to be an Anglo-Catholic Congress.” “Oh,” I answered; “and what in the world is that?” He replied, “Well! I’m not at all sure yet; but you’re the secretary, and I’m the chairman.” I know that it was his leadership, enthusiasm, and statesmanship which carried both the inexperienced committee-members and its untried secretary through the following year of difficult preparation; just as I, and every one else behind the scenes, realized that the actual Congress owed almost all its success to the same qualities of the priest who was virtually its president and literally its driving force.
“He and I stood together at the corner of Gray’s Inn Road on St. Peter’s Day, 1920, and watched twelve hundred vested priests and a score of overseas bishops, headed by our own great silver crucifix and smoking censers, process along Holborn to High Mass at St. Alban’s Church; while similar scenes were being enacted by the laity at eight other London churches. It was then that we knew that Fr. Deakin’s and our dream had come true. That afternoon in the Albert Hall, Bishop Vyvyan of Zululand made his challenge to the Congress to contribute such an offering for foreign missions as would convince the world that Catholicism was not dead; it was chiefly due to the committee’s chairman that the response in three days amounted to more than £43,000 (£37,059 in money; and gifts subsequently sold for £6,688). The first of many Anglo-Catholic Congresses will, I hope, always be remembered as “Atlay’s.”
I do not think that I shall ever forget him. [43/44] I know that I owe to him very much of anything that is of worth in my priesthood. I thank the good God for the loan of him. And I pray for the rest and happiness of his very gallant soul.”
When first I sat in a long armchair in his room that overlooked both Great Peter Street and the entrance to his church; undergoing kindly inspection by the spare, tall, cassocked priest of the thin, shrewd, smiling face, who was making up his mind whether to invite me to join his staff; he said, “If you do come here, I think that I can promise you as much variety of experience in a twelve-month as you would be likely to get in a couple of years at most other parishes.” He was right.
Twenty thousand communions a year were made in St. Matthew’s in those days. The congregations were in every sense catholic of composition: at the chief Sunday Mass the right side of the nave was reserved for men, and was generally full—there you would find Lord Kitchener’s personal friend and private secretary (that gentle knight and preux chevalier, George Arthur), the monocled surgeon-general of the Canadian Army, more than one admiral, the curly-haired torpedo expert of the Royal Navy, members of Parliament, a Judge of the Divorce Court, the head of the Navy’s Secret Service, kneeling side by side with Bill who sold fish off a barrow in Strutton Ground, moderately clean urchins from Old Pye Street and Perkin’s Rents, and “Billy Hooley” of the white hair and old-young face who had several screws loose: the left aisle would be filled with the six and eighty [44/45] scarlet-coated “Newport Boys,” who had come swinging down Great Peter Street behind their clashing brass band; and every other pew in the church, that held more than five hundred, would be occupied by ladies from such diverse quarters as Ashley Gardens, Vincent Square, Rochester Buildings, Queen Anne’s Mansions, and St. Anne’s Lane.
By reason of our close proximity to Victoria Station, the number of confessions that we heard was legion: it was in St. Matthew’s that I was first privileged to minister the Sacrament of Penance —I was told that a priest was in church, wishing to make his confession; Atlay and the others were out; I went in, and thought it advisable to explain to the penitent that I had not yet begun to hear confessions; when I saw who he was, I added that I was so young that he both knew my father before he was married and had nursed me as a baby; “My dear father,” he said, “none of that matters—will you hear my confession, please?”; I did.
Atlay was the soul of hospitality; scarcely a day passed without there being a guest at one or other of our meals round the long table in the room that faced the gas-works: Bishop Gore in town from Oxford, dressed maybe as a humble country parson; “Uncle” Wallis, ex-postman, come from the New Cut in Lambeth to “make his duties”; Fr. Waggett of Cowley, in khaki on his way out East, asking Atlay to take care of his polo-boots until he should send for them; a Scotland Yard official who served at the altar once a week, and came to breakfast afterwards; soldiers and sailors home on leave from [45/46] France or the North Sea; the present Bishop of Masasi, whom I saw with my own eyes publicly burn The Book of Common Prayer (the new fire of Holy Saturday was so damp with holy water that it refused to kindle; Fr. Lucas of U.M.C.A., home on furlough and staying with us for Easter, seized a prayer book from the nearest bookcase, tore out a page or two, set fire to them and saved the situation); Frank Weston of Zanzibar, ever welcome; Trevelyan; and hosts of others, great and humble, well-known and unknown, but all Atlay’s friends.
We were hard-worked in those days. Westminster Hospital, across the way in Broad Sanctuary, had no resident chaplain; it was our telephone or night-bell that was rung when death approached a Christian there in the small hours, and the ministrations of a priest were needed. One of us was chaplain to a large hospital for Army Nurses in Vincent Square, though all of us did what we could for those gallant ladies. Another of us went to France as a chaplain to the troops: the day before his departure he received a parcel from a devout and elderly female member of the congregation, with the request that he would not open it until he was overseas; packing-necessities, however, compelled him to disregard her plea, and he was delighted to find that the parcel contained a large supply of the best toilet-paper, his donor being given to understand that the quality of this necessary commodity supplied to His Majesty’s Forces left much to be desired. For myself, in addition to the section of the parish for [46/47] the visiting of which I was responsible, Atlay soon put me in charge of all the boys of St. Matthew’s; and also made me both Chaplain and Secretary of the Newport Market Army Training School, then situate in Greencoat Place, off Vauxhall Bridge Road.
But none of us worked so hard as M.E.A.—it was characteristic of the really happy band of brothers which then formed St. Matthew’s clerical staff that, as at Ashford, there were so many priests rather than one vicar and some curates; and that he should have an affectionate nickname for each of his confreres, while all of them thought and spoke of him among themselves by his initials. All too frequently came the news of the death in action of yet another St. Matthew’s man, whom Atlay had known and loved since his boyhood; the loss of the Hampshire in 1916, with the sudden deaths of Lord Kitchener and many others, was—by reason of our friendship with George Arthur—an intimate as well as a national disaster; and it was in St. Matthew’s Chapel of the Holy Souls that there rested, on its last journey from Scotland to Eastbourne, the drowned body of the Field Marshal’s Military Secretary, Colonel FitzGerald. M.E.A. was extremely sensitive; each such death would affect him as though it had been the loss of a brother; to the mourners in humble Westminster homes or less humble West End flats he would go at once, and there will be many who still remember what he said to them and did for them in their dark hours. But he was also a man of high courage, and that sense [47/48] of humour which is among the most precious gifts of the gods. He would, in a manner of speaking, shake his thin tired form, grin, and set us all going again with some anecdote or incident that had pleased him.
“What do you think Lady So-and-so said to me just now?” he would ask, as he strode, shouting with laughter, into the dining-room where we were reading the long casualty-lists or grim accounts of the latest German atrocity; “she said that she thought London working-men were growing much gentler in these days. I asked her what led her to make such a supposition. ‘Well! father,’ she answered, ‘I was walking over Westminster Bridge this afternoon. A coster’s donkey was struggling up the slope, pulling a heavy cart; and I distinctly heard its owner say to it, ‘Will you not lift your poor bleeding feet?’“
“Look at this! I ask you.” It was Christmas. He was unwrapping parcels, mostly gifts from admiring lady-members of the congregation. “This” was a hand-knitted grey woollen waistcoat, bearing a black cross to go over his heart.
His and my bedrooms were on the first floor; so was the night-bell. When it rang both he and I would remain snug in bed for a few moments, hoping that the other would rise and answer it. One cold night of streaming rain neither of us heard the other’s bored and slippered feet, and both reached the front-door together. He opened it; turned on the light. In the porch stood a man who was exceedingly drunk, and leaned heavily against [48/49] the wall. “Well, my man!” said M.E.A., in a voice like a sergeant-major’s; “and what can I do for you?” For a space he looked at us in our black cassocks slipped over pyjamas. Then he said, “I thought (hiccup) I’d like to tell you (hiccup) that (hiccup) I’m jusht ash good a proteshtant ash you.” “Thanks very much,” said Atlay; “very thoughtful of you. Good night.” And laughed so long and loudly behind the shut door that I thought he would wake the whole household.
His, too, was the heart of a child; of which it has been written that “of such is . . .” Every Westminster small boy and girl knew and loved him; [Among the many rewards of a faithful priest come the love and joy of children. Children come round a priest not only by a natural instinct, drawn by kindness, but by a supernatural instinct as to one who belongs to them by right. The love of children for a priest is the most unselfish love on earth. Manning. The Eternal Priesthood.] for none are quicker to recognize the child-hearted than the very old and the very young. He could sympathize with, and often re-tell the tale of the small street-arab whom a frigid spinster, with whom he had nearly collided, rebuked for hurrying out of church by the west door and turning cart-wheels down the length of the passage to the street. “Naughty little boy! That’s not the right way to come out of God’s House.” “Why not, miss? If yer’ve bin to confession, an’ don’t ‘arf feel ‘appy.”
He announced that the following Sunday would be kept as an occasion of thanksgiving for the harvest; but hastened to add that neither vegetable-marrows, tomatoes, giant loaves, nor the corpses of sucking pigs were required for the decoration of the [49/50] church. But when a child came up to him in the street, presented him with one green apple in which were teeth-marks, and asked him to give it to God for her, it would have needed a chillier heart than his not to have placed it at the foot of the high-altar crucifix at the time of High Mass on the Sunday morning.
Laughter as of a carefree schoolboy would convulse him when an urchin described a certain portly and over-dressed wealthy lady in the congregation as “that woman with the pompey ‘at”; when a clergy-house maid asked him through the dining-room speaking-tube if he could “come downstairs and see the little boy Burst”; and when some young friends of his told him in confidence their favourite secret pastime after school-hours—which was to stand on Westminster Bridge, and spit on the captain of a river-tug as he passed defenceless beneath their feet; and, if he showed his disapproval, to hurry across the road and spit on him again when he emerged on the other side.
Now and then his behaviour would be that of a boy who has sat too long at his lessons and is compelled to “let off steam.” One of the esteemed elderly laymen who lodged with us—a highly respected London bank-director—had such difficulties with his interior economy that he bought cascara tablets by the hundred; and, for some reason best known to himself, resolutely refused to throw away the empty bottles. It was also his unchanging custom to wear a red necktie. On his return from a holiday he found, reposing on his pillow, the bearded head of a stuffed goat round whose neck were one of his [50/51] own collars and scarlet cravats; dozens of the aforementioned empty bottles were delicately balanced in the form of a leaning tower of Pisa upon the bedside-table; and the outside of the door bore, in Atlay’s inelegant scrawl, the statement “Sagrada Grange.” Many might well have resented such buffoonery; somehow, it was never possible to lose one’s temper with M.E.A. His delight in his own childishness was too infectious; one knew that it harboured no sort of malice; and he himself would be both laughing at and with you, and subsequently helping you to put the room to rights.
One of his curates had a reverence for all Royalty, in particular for Queen Alexandra. Atlay spent the better part of a summer day “decorating” his sitting-room against his return from conducting a retreat somewhere out of London. In the centre of the room he stood one of those old-fashioned wicker devices that were used in Victorian days to hang dresses on (it had been sent for a current Jumble Sale). He draped it with a second-hand petticoat, skirt, blouse, fur boa, pair of boots. For its head he produced from somewhere a carved black wooden model of a face and hairy head, and spent hours smearing its countenance with the contents of tube after tube of toothpaste. An aged hat, festooned with battered ostrich-feathers, crowned the hideous and startling effigy that almost reached the ceiling. He then hurried into Victoria Street and bought quantities of that pink, ribbon-like paper that people used to burn in sick-rooms; shut the windows; and set the stuff alight. Finally, he scrawled on a large [51/52] piece of cardboard, “Hail to the Sea-king’s daughter”; and hung it outside the door. The room was so thick with fumes, when his curate returned late at night, that it was some time before he saw the loathly giant image that grinned at him. Simultaneously shouts of delight from his vicar’s room hailed him; and both vicar and curate were occupied until past midnight in clearing up the debris.
I was on holiday, and had returned to my host’s house for tea after a long day on the golf-course. A parcel awaited me. Had I known my vicar better, I should not have opened it in the drawing-room; but I had only been in Westminster for a few months. Its contents were a piece of stale cake “in case you are hungry,” a Capstan cigarette, a picture-postcard of St. Matthew’s “lest you have forgotten what we look like,” a child’s wooden spade “to dig with on the shore,” and a purple stole “in case your host is not behaving as he should.”
“I don’t want to go to school and learn solemn things. No one is going to catch me, and make me a man. I want always to be a boy, and to have fun.” So said Barrie’s Peter Pan. Without doubt Atlay had learned many solemn things in the meaner streets of Westminster and in the school of the confessional. Certainly Westminster had caught him, and made him a man. In public he was often, as he had need to be, stern, vehement, austere, severe. At the altar and in the ministration of any of the other sacraments he was nothing but a reverent priest; who—like all such who entertain a lively sense of their vocation and profession—”seeks both [52/53] to draw aside the veil that conceals God from his people, and to hide himself in its folds.” But we, who lived with him and were acquainted with not a little of his private life, knew that side by side with all this his boyhood never wholly left him; and this was not the least of the reasons why we loved him as we did.
During the wave of philanthropy that swept London in the eighteen-sixties there was founded in Soho, near to the Newport Market off Charing Cross Road, a Refuge to give shelter to men and women anxious to obtain work, and to assist them to find it. With them to the Refuge went so many destitute boys that it was found necessary to open a school for them, and it was quickly discovered that the bands of the army provided them with the chance of a stable and honourable career. In course of time the Refuge ceased to exist, and the Army Training School (retaining its title, Newport Market) was moved to more commodious buildings in Westminster. For many years it had been closely connected with St. Matthew’s. There the boys worshipped every Sunday morning; and one of its priests was the honorary school chaplain. I was proud when the lot fell on me; and still prouder when, two years later, I was made secretary (also honorary).
The eighty-six boys were aged between eleven and fourteen; the majority being sons of soldiers, many of whom had died in action. They received a good education, in addition to fulfilling the school’s main [53/54] object, the training of them for military bands; and they were (as I doubt not they still are in their healthier surroundings in Kent) about the toughest as well as the cheeriest collection of small boys it has been my lot to encounter.
The whole of their religious education was in my hands alone. On most mornings in the week I would leave the clergy-house soon after breakfast, having of course said Mass, and make my way along Great Peter Street, across Strutton Ground, down Rochester Row, into the narrow street known as Greencoat Place. Then I taught in school for the best part of an hour.
Thirty or more I would prepare for confirmation each year; and they would make their monthly communions at St. Matthew’s. The school had no chapel; once a month I would sit, for an hour or more, in a species of cloak-room surrounded by uniforms and tiers of diminutive army-boots, and hear their confessions. After which would take place the solemn “burning of sins”: most of the children wrote their confessions on bits of paper, none of them had any place in which to keep personal belongings except the pockets of the clothes they stood up in, it was obviously undesirable that the written results of self-examination should be left lying about; so after each absolution the penitent presented me with his small list, and when the whole proceeding was over we all adjourned together to the furnace-chamber and consigned the papers to the flames. The rite supplied an excellent outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual effect of absolution.
 At Christmas it was my happy privilege to raise funds from the long-suffering St. Matthew’s congregation, and therewith provide a giant tree that bore precisely six and eighty Christmas presents. Often during the year I would take parties of them to friends’ country-houses. Once a week I spent an evening with them, playing games and subsequently visiting their two dormitories to say evening prayers with them and wish them good-night. It was on one of my first night-visits that I was struck with what I thought to be the piety of a certain number of them, who had palm-crosses tied to the heads of their iron bedsteads. I remarked on this. The former staff-sergeant-major accompanying me on my rounds coughed in a slightly embarrassed manner, and said in a gruff sotto voce, “No, sir. Weak in the water-works, sir. They’re to show me who to wake up last thing before I go to bed.” “Quite, sergeant,” I hastened to remark, as though this was the obvious and customary purpose of the emblems blessed and distributed on Palm Sunday; “carry on, please.”
It was at, and for, “Newport” that I embarked for the first time on the adventure of raising money; an experience that, I may add, has long since ceased to be embellished with the excitement of novelty. This taught me two not unimportant lessons: the amazing generosity of those who are not particularly well off; and the fact that you can get almost anything, if you have enough cheek. The school funds were lamentably low (a large percentage of the boys had an entirely free education, and—so far as I can [55/56] remember—none of them paid, or could pay, an adequate fee): the country was at war: they were sons of soldiers, being trained for the army; and they were the first London boys to be used by Scotland Yard, before the introduction of maroons, to give warning by their bugles of impending air-raids. It seemed to me that the fates were propitious for the making of a public appeal; and I eventually persuaded my elderly and rather conservative committee-members to allow me to launch and conduct one.
It succeeded beyond even my wild and youthful dreams; and my chef d’oeuvre was when, one afternoon, I walked round to Wyndham’s Theatre and asked at the stage-door to see Mr. (as he then was) Gerald du Maurier. “Have you an appointment, sir?” enquired the door-keeper. No, I had not; but I should like to see him.
See him I did; and within half an hour that kind and most human actor had promised to give me a Special Matinee for my Newports, if I could persuade one or more members of Royalty to attend it. “Certainly,” I assured him; with youth’s airy confidence as regards the apparently unattainable.
I adjourned from the actor-manager’s dressing-room to the main entrance in Whitehall of the War Office, where I required to see Sir George Arthur. Had I an appointment, asked the resplendent and be-ribboned figure in gold-braided top-hat? No; but I should like to see him. And it was he who both asked Queen Mary to grace our theatrical afternoon, and obtained his request. But it was not [56/57] until after the war that I learned that my easy access to Lord Kitchener’s private secretary, on the several occasions that I had to consult him on Newport Market affairs, was due to the fact that the commissionaire who guarded the sacred doorway was under the firm impression that “the young minister” (as he invariably announced me) was in reality a member of the British Secret Service.
It is one of my chief delights that to this day, more than twenty-five years after, I still get letters from those who once were Newport boys, knew a priest whom they nicknamed “Tug” (every Wilson is thus known in the Services, though I am uncertain as to the reason), and are now non-commissioned-officers with small boys of their own. They taught me much in the old days at Greencoat Place; far more than I taught them.
GERMAN SPY IN WESTMINSTER!
CARRIER-PIGEON, BEARING SECRET MESSAGES,
SHOT IN ST. MATTHEW’S SCHOOL-YARD!!
SPECIAL CONSTABLE MURDERED!
Do you know Scraggley-Bits?
Have you met The Triangle?
COME TO TREVELYAN HALL AND
SEE THE GREATEST SPY-PLAY OF MODERN TIMES
 I do not suppose that the 13th (St. Matthew’s) Westminster Troop of Boy Scouts and Pack of Wolf Cubs of my day differed greatly from any other similar conglomeration of boys, varying in age between ten and eighteen, and panoplied in the familiar shorts, shirts or jerseys, green-topped stockings, and bizarre hats or caps. But I do know that we had great fun together, and that I was glad to be their Scoutmaster; though nothing would induce me ever to don the prescribed uniform.
There was that Spy Play, which centred round a pigeon. (I have forgotten who Scraggley-Bits was, though I think he was the villain of the piece). It was a real pigeon, though dead; purchased in the Provisions Department of the Army and Navy Stores. The spy, having tied the code-message to one of its legs, released it from a window at the back of the stage in order that it might fly to the Fatherland. It was my role to stand in the school-yard beneath the window, and catch the corpse. After some half a dozen performances, to say nothing of a couple of dress-rehearsals, on warm summer evenings, it will be understood that the pigeon became very dead indeed. Had gas-masks been issued in those days, I should certainly have worn mine on the night of the last performance; when the unfortunate bird descended into my unwilling hands, a high mass of maggots redolent of decomposition in its most advanced stages, and I hurried it away to instant cremation in the boiler-house.
There was the incident of The Epileptic Lady and The Whistle. The maroons, that then signalled [58/59] air-raids, had sounded in the course of a scout-parade in Trevelyan Hall. I had sent home the boys who lived in the parish, and had adjourned to my room in the clergy-house with the few whose homes were some distance away. An intercession-service was in progress in the Lady Chapel: from it emerged some one with the news that So-and-so had had a fit. George and Wilfred, my Assistant Scoutmasters, went with me to the rescue. We removed the unconscious lady from the chapel, and were about to carry her down the stone stairs into the church when Wilfred suggested that it would be well to place something between her teeth to prevent her from biting her tongue. I agreed, and asked him if he had anything suitable. He had his scout-whistle. Down those steps, in a darkened church echoing with the din of anti-aircraft guns in action, we carried her; and, naturally, every time she breathed the whistle blew. I am afraid that, by the time that we had reached the vestry and had handed her over to the care of a nurse, the three of us were almost as helpless with laughter as the sufferer was with her epilepsy.
There was perhaps the most original of all Scout Summer Camps in the last year of the war, when, since we were not allowed to live under canvas, I hired an empty house on the sea-front at Southend in the height of the season for £2 a week; and forty of us slept on the floors, and enjoyed ourselves in daylight, unperturbed by a couple of air raids. There was, in the summer after the war ended, a real Camp in tents at Dymchurch; when the [59/60] weather was fine for the whole three weeks, that ideal holiday-place for children had not become spoiled by popularity, and I returned to make my first acquaintance with a patient’s bed in Westminster Hospital. There was, too, a Camp at Maidencombe in Devon; when, for days on end, the heavens opened and the rains of an English August poured upon our defenceless heads. My camp-bed having split under the weight of boys who played cards all day long in the Officers’ Tent, I had to “sleep” suspended on three gladstone-bag straps over a liquid sea of red mud. In the small hours I remarked to the man who was sharing the tent, “G.G.: I swear to you, here and now, that if ever I get back alive to Westminster I will never again sleep in a tent.” I have kept my oath.
Interspersed between such high days and holidays, there was the usual weekly routine of parades with all the paraphernalia of scouting in general; the whole of which was, as it should be in a Christian parish, a means to the end of teaching boys to be Christians in more than name. On every parade I wore my priest’s cassock; that was my uniform. Always and everywhere, not excluding camp-days, I tried to be, in my boys’ eyes, a priest first, and a scoutmaster second. Confirmation, Confession, and Communion were held to be, in the mind of the troop and pack, of greater importance than the attainment of Proficiency Badges and All-Round-Cords. Attendance at Sunday Mass was of obligation to all without exception; every parade ended with prayers; and many were the Westminster boys whom it was my [60/61] privilege to prepare for, and to minister to, the Church’s sacraments. Most of them are now men, some with families of their own: it is delightful when they bring their wives and children down Hackney Road, and, in another clergy-house, we look together at photograph-albums and talk of happy days. Two of them are sheep-farmers in Australia: when, a few years ago, doctors ordered me to take a sea-voyage, they motored hundreds of miles to Adelaide in the most ancient Ford I have ever met, and were my guests for a couple of days. It was when they told me that, their nearest church being miles from their home, it was their custom to teach the Christian religion to their children every Sunday afternoon by means of the catechism-instructions that I had given them (and compelled them to write) years ago in Westminster, that I realized that what I tried to do for St. Matthew’s boys had not been wholly in vain.
But, with Newport and Westminster boys alike, it was M.E.A. who was both my chief spur and my inspiration. To him I would go with my small problems in their connection; he was rarely too busy to hear them, never at fault in his advice. At times he would, without warning, stride up into the hall on a parade-night, sit at the back and watch what we were doing, when it was finished roam about and chat with this small boy or that, always be really interested in our camp-plans, send us vast food-hampers. At times, too, he would come round with me to Greencoat Place; and be, for an hour or more, with the boys there the boy that he himself [61/62] always was at heart. And never would he allow me, even if I wished, to grow disheartened or discouraged by the disappointments or apparent slowness of visible returns that are, I suppose, only too familiar to priests who work amongst boys. I knew that I always had his interest and unfailing support; the boys knew it too: which was well for both them and me.
What was left of the rest of the weekday afternoons and evenings was spent in visiting, at first in the part of the parish allotted to me, later—as my individual clientele increased—also in districts further afield.
If there was one duty that Trevelyan impressed on his curates, after that of the sanctity of their lives, it was that a parish-priest must visit, visit, visit; it is even said that, in his first days, he insisted that they should do so in top-hats and frock-coats—on the theory that, since in those Victorian days they would not call on acquaintances outside the parish clad in anything but those emblems of respectability, it would be derogatory to the poor of the parish to do so. But I am thankful that this custom had died before my day. Indeed, it has never befallen me to wear, let alone possess, either a top-hat or that strange garment with the “step up” collar known as the clerical frock-coat. However, Atlay did not forsake the tradition that those who inhabited the clergy-house knew personally, and were known by, all who lived elsewhere in the parish.
He made me read three books that I could wish [62/63] were put in the hands of all young assistant-priests by their vicars: Keatinge’s The Priest, his Character and Work; Manning’s The Eternal Priesthood; and Bishop Walter Carey’s My Priesthood. In the first it is written:
Like the apostles of old, Thomas and Paul, Peter and Andrew and the rest, we parish-priests are vowed to go forth, lonely men without purse or scrip, to preach the gospel to every creature. Like Patrick in Ireland and Xavier in India, like Boniface in Germany and Augustine in England, it is ours, by the call of God, to gather new sheep into the fold of Jesus Christ. . . Speaking generally, clergy of other denominations have little to offer to individual souls in their churches. Their services and their sermons, as with us, are intended for the multitude. Our sacraments, especially the sacrament of penance with all that it implies, are entirely individual. Visiting cannot be dispensed with. There are those who will not come to us. Some of them do not want us; others want us and will respond, but only if we go to them, leaving, if need be, the ninety-nine. There are those to whom a visit from their priest may mean a new beginning and a fresh start. Without visiting we shall hardly get the knowledge requisite for fruitful work and effective preaching. We must know our people in their workaday clothes in their own homes. A house-going parson, it is said, makes a church-going people.
The great Westminster Cardinal wrote:
The joy of a pastor over the souls of his flock is to him a great reward. The relation of pastor and flock is threefold—mutual knowledge, mutual love, mutual charity. The mutual knowledge is to know the number, the name, and the needs of his flock one by [63/64] one, and to be known by them as their father, friend, and guide: the mutual charity is that he loves them for our Lord’s sake, for their own sake, as heirs of eternal life, and as his spiritual children in Jesus Christ: and the mutual service is that he bestows upon them his care, labour, time, strength, health, and, if need be, life itself; and that they render to him the service of filial charity, generosity, and obedience. When pastor and flock are so united, then the words of St. John are fulfilled: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” . . . As life draws on, and the work of a priest in the midst of his flock has brought him into contact with the good and the evil, the innocent and the penitent, he can look round upon it as the sower in the lingering summer, when the corn is ripening, looks upon the harvest-field. He sees the mildew and the blight, and here and there many a stalk laid low by the rain and wind, pale and sickly; but the field is full of life, and the sun is upon the reddening ears, in a little while to be reaped for the great harvest-home. And in the midst of many sorrows he can rejoice: “joy before thee according to the joy in harvest.”
The bishop’s book was passed through the Press while its author was a naval chaplain on the high seas in 1915. His wise words are as brisk, as fresh, and as salutary, as a North Sea breeze.
It is said of King David that the people loved him because he went in and out among them. Perfectly true of all true pastors. They must know their people, and their people them. If you sit in church till your people come to you, you are a heartless inefficient, and they will never come. Forgive the strong expression, but that sort of attitude maddens me. It is so grossly inhuman, so opposed to the temper of the [64/65] Incarnation, wherein God did not sit in heaven waiting for us to climb to him, but came himself among us, that by his humility and affection he might win us. Do not trust a priest who does not visit. He is sure to be full of moans about the hopeless state of the Church of England and of religion generally; but he has not earned the right to grumble, for he has not done his duty. Do not accept a curacy with a vicar who does not believe in visiting. He is no good; only another excrescence on the face of the Church. He may be full up with committees and meetings, he may be a fluent speaker; but he is no good, no real labourer. Of course there are difficulties. No one likes to have doors shut in his face, and first visits as a rule are trying; but if you persevere, you will see for yourself how necessary and right is this spadework. Do not, I beseech you, accept any excuse for not visiting. There is no excuse.
My district comprised Westminster Buildings, Small Square, and Rochester Buildings; three almost contiguous blocks of flats (to give them a generous title) built under the auspices of the American philanthropist, George Peabody, who, in the eighteen-sixties, gave £500,000 “for the erection of dwelling-houses for the working-classes in London”; and who, unlike many Americans, was offered a baronetcy and declined it. I do not know that “my” buildings were as old as all that, but they were not ultra-modern.
Up and down those draughty and, in summer, dust-laden stone stairways I trudged on most afternoons; behind the doors that opened on to the landings I made, as the years passed, many good friends, by some of whom I stood—in the small hours [65/66] when life laps at its lowest ebb—and did what I could to ease their passing. There was the elderly lady of several chins, with a small beard between each, who was subject to hiccups, and was wont to remark, between her spasms, “Hexcoos me risin’.” There was a youngster under ten, who died in my arms after a street-accident, with an attempt at a smile on his plucky Cockney face, and on his lips the last, and all-sufficient, word “Jesus.” There was a motherless boy, “the terror of Small Square,” whom his father, called to go a-soldiering, left in my charge; “an’ if you thinks ‘e wants beatin’, well, beat ‘im, father”; and there came a day when I both thought and did. There was a middle-aged lady whom I instructed for Confirmation once a week for an entire year, and then led in triumph to St. Paul’s Cathedral for a Saturday morning Confirmation of adults: on the top of the steps facing Ludgate Hill she discovered that she had left one of her white gloves behind; it was only by the direst threats, and almost by the use of brute force, that I drove her into the cathedral. There was one who died, of cancer of the tongue, in the act of receiving last communion; I had to take the half-consumed Host from her mouth, and put it into mine. There were many others, of almost all sorts and conditions of men, women, boys, girls, and children, belonging to what I consider to be among the finest of human breeds, the Cockneys of London Town; I came to know them very well in my happy years in Westminster, and the better I knew them the more I admired and envied their courage, kindness, and [66/67] unfailing cheerfulness. They were—and still are—among my best friends.
And always, when I returned to the clergy-house for afternoon tea, or biscuits and a glass of hot water late at night, there was M.E.A. wanting to know whom I had seen that day, asking how So-and-so was, telling me out of his longer knowledge something more about Such-an-one: never, however weary or busy he might be (and he was often both), too tired or too preoccupied to hear about those who were his own people.
But, like every wise employer of labour, he was careful about the health and recreation of his curates.
In Trevelyan’s days there had been a godly custom that, after every seven years of service, each St. Matthew’s priest—whether incumbent or other-wise—was given six months’ leave of absence on full pay, provided that during it he went abroad. M.E.A. departed at the end of my seven years, and I did not get my six months; but that was not his fault.
On the other side of the park, in St. James’ Street, was his club, the New University—as to which it was a curious coincidence that, within six months of myself becoming a member twelve years later, it closed down and was demolished. There he would often entertain us, singly or en masse, on some feast or festival of Church or State, or if he thought that we were weary or dispirited.
He was, too, insistent that each of us should have [67/68] a weekly twenty-four hours’ Sabbath, and that it should be spent if possible out of Westminster; though the fact that it was, more often than not, impossible for him to get away for months at a time, had, I suspect, not a little to do with his early breakdown and, so far as one can judge, untimely death.
At times I would spend my day and night “off” at Folkestone [Seldom do I use the expression without recalling the flippant verse, of which I believe the author to be Monsignor Ronald Knox: St. Gregory the Great - Was asked to “take the eight.” - He replied, with a slight cough, - “I’m afraid it’s my day off.”]; walking by or swimming in the sea, or cycling on to the Romney Marsh which I have known and loved since childhood’s days; and sleeping at the parish church vicarage where I knew that I was always welcome. Tindall, of course, was doing magnificent war-work there: he would, for he was always at his happiest and best with young men. His wife has written to me of those days:
Of course you could not know much of that time of his at Folkestone, nor of what he did for the countless young soldiers who came to him at the vicarage and packed the church. Many and many a time, when he had come in after 10.30 at night—having been up at the Manor House Hospital for wounded men, at the furthest end of the Leas, all the evening—, I would hear the door-bell ring. It was sure to be a Tommy, and the question was generally the same: “Is the padre in?” I always answered, “Yes. Do come in,” and went to tell Frank. Downstairs he would come; as often as not, he would call up to me, “Will you turn on the lights in the chapel?”; and I knew [68/69] that some lad wanted to make his confession before he returned to France on the morning boat.
At times, if the boat was to sail very early, Frank used to celebrate in the chapel especially in order that the boy, or boys, might receive Communion; at times the regular hour of the daily celebration fitted the time of the boat-sailing, and we could give the men breakfast at the vicarage.
Great as his work at Ashford was, I am not sure that what he did at Folkestone was not greater; and he was no longer a young man.
But usually I went home, to my mother and father; and in the old Croydon house did nothing for four-and-twenty hours, and did it extremely well.
So the war years passed.
Air-raids, by day and by night, came and went. Night-flying Zeppelins were shot down in flames over North London and lit up Westminster as they fell; hostile aeroplanes were attacked in daylight over our very heads, but no bomb fell in the parish. There was a moonlit September night when Atlay and I forsook the crowded parish-room for a few moments, adjourned to the upstairs dining-room, leaned out of the windows in search of fresh air during a temporary lull of shell-fragments clattering on to the gas-holders on the other side of the street: along Great Peter Street rattled a gun, which halted beneath our windows: “I say, my man,” shouted M.E.A., in the tones of a brigadier-general, “is that an anti-aircraft gun?”; “Yes, sir,” replied a startled sergeant: “Well, take it away, and don’t fire it here,” answered Atlay; and the sergeant did.
 The twenty-minutes’ mid-day Lent instructions, which M.E.A. always conducted, were never given to less than two hundred people. Almost continuously, it seemed, one or other of us was required to go into church to hear a confession. More and more often came the sad news that yet another St. Matthew’s man had been killed in action. Over and over again one went to Victoria Station in the gloom of an early morning, to see some one off by the leave-train; and to stand, after its tail-lights had disappeared over Grosvenor Bridge, among silent women with white faces down which tears were at last allowed to fall. In the last Holy Week of the war (1918) Atlay suddenly forsook his practice of reading, at the crowded evening-services, the Gospels’ account of the Passion and commenting on it: “Things are so serious in France,” he said; “everybody is so anxious, that nobody wants to be talked to. We all only wish to be quiet, and speak to our Lord”: so he and I solemnly carried the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle in the small Lady-chapel at the top of the stairs, and placed It on the high altar: thus, and then, it was that there began at St. Matthew’s the service known as Devotions or Adoration. It was during the previous Christmas-tide that there took place the memorable incident of Paul in the Crib: Atlay had a passion for Persian cats, and possessed two splendid specimens named Peter and Paul: Paul liked the straw in the crib, and not infrequently sneaked into church to sleep in its warm embrace: in the dusk a devout spinster was praying before the [70/71] outward and visible memento of the Incarnation when, to her horror, the plaster ox rose, stretched itself, yawned and walked away,—while the lady, not surprisingly, was taken with hysterics.
All the time, on grave days as well as gay, both in the church and in the clergy-house, M.E.A. was teaching his junior curate—not always by word of mouth, and often unconsciously—lessons that are to this day by no means forgotten, and that have proved their value when the supposed divine grace of the vicariate has also fallen upon that erstwhile youngest of four.
At first he rightly criticized my preaching: told me that I must avoid this or that mannerism, that I had used “purple patches,” that I had been too long in “the wood” (as he invariably called our pulpit). “Always preach,” he would say; “as though you were the greatest living authority on the subject. But, at the same time, never fail to remember that you are not.” He insisted that I should write every word, even though I left the manuscript behind at sermon-time. He continuously urged the importance of preaching, and was always reminding me (unnecessarily, as it happened) that it was an insult to the congregation to deliver stuff that was unprepared. “Model your sermons on those of Frank Weston,” he would say with a grin; “and you will not go far wrong”; though he knew, as well as I did, that that was an impossible counsel of perfection. Occasionally he would say that the sermon was good, and I knew that his praise was worth having; after two years or so, no criticisms would be [71/72] forthcoming—and the confidence necessary to every preacher began to come to me. But it was a wise rule in that clergy-house that the discussion of “shop” should be avoided as far as possible in the dining-room, and that criticism of sermons there was absolutely taboo.
As to how one should talk in church to children, he had not, so far as I can remember, much advice to give; nor do I think that this was his particular forte. The Catechisms were left in the hands of two of us, and one quickly discovered—for children are the most candid and outspoken of critics—where one was at fault. On a Sunday afternoon in Advent I remember that I felt moved to narrate, as preparation for Christmas, the apocryphal and somewhat sentimental legend of the manner in which the glow-worm achieved the light on its head. All the animals decided, on the first Christmas morning, to go to Bethlehem in order that each might present The Holy Child with a birthday-gift. The cow would take its milk, the sheep its wool, the lark its song; and so on. The worm had no offering to make; but, despite the derision of the rest, was determined to go with them. The Child was so pleased to see it, that He touched its head, which ever after carried a light. When I learned, some days later, that a child repeated the anecdote to her mother, with the addition “that the pig took his sausages,” I decided that in future I had better be less mythical and more practical.
As regards the hearing of confessions, Atlay—who, in his day, heard almost as many as any priest in London—[72/73] had valuable advice to give as I began to administer that sacrament which, of all others save one, appeals most to the parish-priest’s heart. In the confessional, he would say, any and every priest can find his métier; if only he will be patient, and wait for the penitents. “A man may be unable to preach, though you mustn’t think me personal,” he said one evening, as we sat in two immense armchairs before his fire; “he may be fairly feeble with children, not much good in the schools, shy and awkward with strangers, and possibly a not very attractive visitor. But, if only he will have the strength of mind to sit still in the confessional, and wait—perhaps for a longtime—, sure enough people will begin to come to him.” He it was who first told me what penances to set; how to deal with difficult cases; when to give counsel and advice, and when to refrain from doing so; how important it was to remember always the inviolability of the seal of the confessional; and how essential it was to shun the not unknown custom of trying out one’s next Sunday’s sermon on the luckless and defenceless penitent. So, under his wise guidance, I first began to hear the sad brave tales of the falls and valiant risings again of Christian children and their elders; and there first began to flow through me the cleansing tides of absolution. It is true that the hours in the confessional are often long, and that there the weariness of the flesh may be great; it is also true, experto crede, that it is the ministration of this sacrament that is the salt which keeps a man’s priesthood sweet, humble, and wholesome, and makes God’s [73/74] sunlight dance on a priest’s life that may otherwise be very drab. Often, when I sit nowadays in the Haggerston confessional that Fr. Mackonochie once used or by a deathbed in a small East London home or a large East London hospital, my mind goes back to the time when I first sat as a confessor near the great Calvary at the west end of St. Matthew’s church; and I do not fail to remember, or be grateful for, what Atlay taught me.
The hospital-nurse in the waiting-room by the clergy-house front-door was almost in tears. Hers was a pathetic tale. She had been given forty-eight hours’ leave from her Scottish hospital in order that she might say goodbye to her only brother before he went to France with his regiment. She had seen him off by the leave-train, and had had her handbag stolen at the station. In it was, not only her purse, but also her return-ticket to Scotland. She showed me the hospital-matron’s written permission of leave, which stated that this expired on the following morning. She was sorry to trouble a clergyman to whom she was unknown, but could I possibly be so exceedingly kind as to lend her the cost of her rail-fare? This would enable her to catch the night-train from Euston, and prevent her from being dismissed; which would certainly be her fate if she was not on duty the next morning, for I could have no idea how strict and stern was the matron.
I asked her to take a seat by the gas-fire, went upstairs, and related the sad story to Atlay; for I [74/75] had been “had” before, and was beginning to grow wiser and thicker-skinned. “Yes,” said M.E.A.; “a clever tale! So clever that, if it is true, we must help her. However, arrange for her to sleep the night in the Good Shepherd Mission House (the nuns will look after her), and tell her to come and see you again to-morrow morning.”
I returned to the nurse, who thought that this suggestion was admirable, but asked me to send a telegram to the matron explaining why she was overstaying her leave. I said that I would.
After dinner, I put through a trunk call to the hospital; and was informed by the matron that, not only were none of her nurses on leave at the moment, but also that no nurse of that name was known to her.
After breakfast, at the Sisters’ expense, my lady returned smiling to the clergy-house; but dissolved into floods of tears when I told her of my telephoning. “There must be some dreadful mistake. I love that hospital. I have worked there for years.” “That is as may be,” I answered; “I’m afraid that all I can do for you is to give you fourpence, which will take you by bus to the Church Army Headquarters near the Marble Arch. I will tell them that you will be arriving, and will ask them to go into your case.” The tears vanished with remarkable speed; and I became the most callous and hardhearted clergyman she had ever encountered, whom she would certainly report to the Bishop of London. We then parted.
I had, however, omitted to inform her that, on the opposite pavement in Great Peter Street, [75/76] stood a friend of mine from Rochester Row Police Station, whose size in boots was nothing like that popularly attributed to plain-clothes’ detectives. He boarded the same bus; sat at the next table in Lyons’ Charing Cross Corner-House, while she consumed a second breakfast; took an intelligent interest in her morning’s shopping in Oxford Street (all on my fourpence); and arrested her when she presented herself at the Church Army Headquarters. The next day he brought me an interesting collection of her varying photographs, professions, and aliases.
Atlay taught me the invaluable lesson which I could wish that more clergymen learned, the evil of indiscriminate charity. [ “The work,” says Mr. Booth, speaking of a well-known Anglican church, “has been very futile on the religious side, and on the social side positively mischievous. Huge sums have been raised by rather questionable means, and spent none too wisely. There is a considerable and remarkable consensus of opinion that the evil conditions of the neighbourhood have been accentuated by the action of this church.” In another place a vicar says to the writer: “I do raise my emphatic protest against the pauperizing which follows. . . Either as a reward for, or to promote, attendances at church-services, doles and gifts in money or kind are distributed often with a lavish hand with the most utter disregard of all sound principles of charity. As a result, there are many who go from mission-room to mission-room for what they can pickup.” “But this reckless charity,” continues Mr. Booth, “is not by any means confined to irresponsible missions. The churches complain of each other. Sisters are almost beyond control in this matter.” “Incense and candlesticks don’t matter,” said an outspoken London clergyman; “the real question is relief. If that is put on a right basis the Church will do some good; if not, not.” Charles Booth. Life and Labour of the People of London.] As I have tried to indicate, he yielded to none in kindness and generosity. Very many came to our clergy-house door who were genuinely in need of help and shelter, sometimes of food and clothing. None such “went empty away.” But the door-bell was being constantly rung by [76/77] clever rogues of both sexes (I have even known one or two disguised as clergymen); and, apart from the harm done by an indolent gift of a shilling, we had to take some measures of self-preservation. I was always suspicious if the first word addressed to me was “Father”; and I developed a useful technique in regard to the frequent cases who had “a job to go to to-morrow; straight I have, father: I only wants a few coppers to tide me over the night”—it was to ask for the name of the firm, say that I would ring them up to verify the statement, step along the passage to the telephone, jiggle the receiver so that the bell tinkled, and wait a few moments: on nine occasions out of every ten, when I returned to the waiting-room, I found it empty and the front-door open, for the bird had flown. If you think they are genuine, said M.E.A., give them food, a ticket for a night’s lodging, clothes, or even go to the Army and Navy Stores and buy the railway-ticket: but don’t give money. With many people, he added, the giving of money is the first thought that occurs to them when there is a question of relieving distress; it ought to be the last thought, instead of the first. I am sure that he was right.
From a French railway-carriage, drawn up at a siding in a forest on a November day in 1918, there came to a weary Europe a cessation of hostilities that was to last for a millennium; and endured precariously for one and twenty years. From a mirrored hall in a French palace seven months later there broke out a peace that contained all the seeds of [77/78] the next war. [ “It is eighteen years,” I cried. “You must come no more. We know your names. We know that you are the dead. Must you march for ever from France and the last, blind war?” “Fool! From the next!” they said. S. V. Benét (1936). Not this August, nor this September you have this year to do in what you like. Not next August, nor next September; that is still too soon; they are still too prosperous from the way things pick up when armament factories start at near capacity; they never fight as long as money can still be made without. . . But the year after that, or the year after that, they fight. E. Hemingway. Notes on the Next War (1935).] But we too in Westminster were happy, and held our services of thanksgiving in St. Matthew’s. I remember two incidents of the actual Armistice-Day, both of them characteristic of Atlay and his regime. The first thoughts of many inhabitants of the parish were of “celebration” (though I do not here use the word in its ecclesiastical sense); they sallied forth with empty jugs, and made bee-lines for the nearest public-house. But those who went to “The Rose and Shamrock” were disappointed. Its doors were locked; for its hoteliers—who had learned the true religion from M.E.A., and whose only child lay in a soldier’s grave in France—were on their knees before the Blessed Sacrament in St. Matthew’s. My memory of the other incident is less clear; for Atlay took his curates to dine at his club, and it was a very good dinner.
Preparations for the First Anglo-Catholic Congress began in the following summer, and reached fruition on June 29, 1920.
This is not the place in which to give a detailed account, either of that not inconsiderable achievement, or of the preceding twelve months of hard [78/79] work that it entailed for each of the few who were responsible for it—of which the main burden naturally rested on the shoulders of Atlay, its chairman. It is to be hoped that some enterprising and abler pen will write, before its origins are lost in obscurity, a history of the modern movement known as A.C.C., which has done, and is doing, much for the Church of England in this generation.
It may, however, be recalled here that this first of such congresses was originally intended for the clergy only; and that the then Church House (seating 1,500) in Great Smith Street, Westminster, was engaged for it. There arose, however, such an outcry from members of the Catholic laity, that it was felt impossible to exclude them; and when, in the early winter of 1919, I inserted a letter in The Church Times asking those who hoped to be present eight months hence to send me postcards to that effect, I received some two thousand almost by return of post.
We were refused the use of the Methodists’ Central Hall, Westminster; [ Methodists appear to be greatly exercised over what their journal describes as “the misuse of our premises in Westminster.” The Central Hall has not, we think, been let for a prize-fight: but it has been let recently for a meeting of the National Socialist Party, at which “disorderly scenes and free fights were frequent.” In fact, it seems to be available for all and sundry except the Anglo-Catholic Congress, which has the proud distinction of having been refused the use of the hall. The Church Times.] and engaged the Queen’s Hall in Langham Place. A few months later we had outgrown that, and had no alternative but to hold all the eight sessions of the congress (for which some 16,000 membership-tickets were sold) in the, at that time, microphone-less and loud-speakerless, Royal Albert Hall in Kensington Gore.
 The only secretary was both unpaid and the junior curate of St. Matthew’s, who struggled as best he could with his standing parish duties. The only office was the parish-room on the ground floor of the clergy-house in Great Peter Street; though a bed-room became the scene of the arrangement of altars for hundreds of priests who wished to say Mass, and an erstwhile Surgeon-General of the Canadian Expeditionary Force screwed his monocle more firmly into one of his eyes and tackled with signal success in one of our bath-rooms the enrolment and instruction of Voluntary stewards.
At the close of his paper during the first session Bishop Vyvyan, of Zululand, said:
Let there be made before the end of this week, before the Lambeth Conference begins its deliberations, as an earnest of what is to come, an offering for Foreign Missions such as will be a real proof to an unbelieving public that the Catholic Movement is not dead, but alive and moving, and has the worldwide view of him by whose Spirit we believe the movement to have been inspired and to whom we look for the future. Let this sum be a large one, let it be given promptly without further request or organization, and sent to the chairman of this great congress. There are those who can give large sums, others smaller ones. There are those who can pour jewels of value into the treasury of God’s cause. Is this an extravagant appeal? If so, even let it be successful; some recklessness in giving to the Foreign Missions of the Church will be a refreshing novelty.
No appeal could have been made that was nearer to the hearts of Atlay and his committee. At St. Matthew’s we had a Foreign Missions Association, [80/81] the members of which regularly gave between £200 and £300 a year to the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa and to the Mission in Corea. “Let us raise £10,000,” said H.F.B. Mackay, at the hurriedly-convened committee-meeting in the artistes’ room behind the platform of the Albert Hall. “No, father,” answered the chairman; “we shall do that easily, and every one will go home satisfied that they have fulfilled their obligation to the Church Overseas. Let us aim at an impossible goal. Let us go for £50,000 in these three days.” [ Neville read a paragraph out of the Observer about the Anglo-Catholic Congress, and about that Grandmamma was a little severe, for Grandpapa had not been an Anglo-Catholic, and indeed in his day there were none of these, you were either High Church, Broad Church, or Evangelical. (Unless, of course, you had been led astray by Huxley and Darwin, and were nothing of the sort.) Grandpapa had been Broad, with a dash of Evangelical; or perhaps it was the other way round; but anyhow Grand-papa had not been High Church, or, as they called it in his time, Tractarian. So Grandmamma inquired snippily, “Who are these Anglo-Catholics, my dear? One seems to hear so much of them in these days. I can’t help thinking they are rather noisy. . .” as she might have spoken of Bolshevists, or the Labour Party, or the National Party, or Sinn Fein, or any other of the organizations of which Grandpapa had been innocent. . . Mrs. Hilary joined in to say that Anglo-Catholics were very ostentatious people, and only gave all that money which they had, undoubtedly, given at the recent Congress in order to make a splash and show off. “Tearing off their jewellery in public like that,” she continued, in disgust, as she might have said “tearing off their chemises,” “and gold watches lying in piles on the collection table, still ticking.” It was indecent, she felt, that the watches should have been still ticking; it made the thing an orgy, like a revival meeting, or some cannibal rite at which victims were offered up still breathing. Rose Macaulay. Dangerous Ages.] Go for it we did, with the result that I have already stated. Day after day, night after night, Atlay stirred the vast audiences to great enthusiasm. His dominant personality blazed out from the small platform: his strong voice reached every part of the immense round hall’s most distant gallery: he made us almost [81/82] cry: he made us laugh (“You may make your cheques payable to me. Atlay is my name. One initial will suffice, M: M for Mug.”) In my mind’s eye I can still see the expressions on the faces of two stolid London policemen, as they sat throughout the nights in a small room in the Albert Hall, gazing at piles of sovereigns, notes, jewels, brooches, valuable furs, and so on, until the banks should open in the morning.
There was precisely one English diocesan bishop —though all had been invited—who openly identified himself with the congress, and preached a notable sermon to his brother clergy at the Mass in St. Alban’s Church, Holborn: the late Bishop Ridgeway of Salisbury. When he reached the Albert Hall on the same evening he was hailed with ringing cheers from the entire congress as—to use M.E.A.’s words—”the bravest bishop in England.”
The Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s Cathedral refused to allow us a Thanksgiving Service; though we only asked to be permitted to sing Te Deum, and to listen to a sermon—and promised that incense would not be used.
I treasure the memory of a protracted conversation over the telephone-wires with Mr. G. K. Chesterton, who had telegraphed his inability to speak on the grounds that he would be inaudible. He was persuaded to fulfil his engagement, and began his speech as follows:
I should have very great doubt and diffidence in addressing this meeting at all for a great many [82/83] different reasons, but I am somewhat comforted and relieved because of the simple and single fact that I am perfectly certain that nobody will hear a word I say. This is rather a bore for you—perhaps after all not so much a bore as if you did hear. I can only assure you that it is only in part my fault.
When I was asked some time ago to take part, as any one might, in what I imagined to be a debate about Labour, I had not the faintest idea that it would be at this magnificent meeting in this magnificent place; and when I discovered it, I did my best to implore your secretary to allow somebody with a voice larger than that of a mouse to come and read my paper to you. But your secretary, I may remark, is a man of ruthless and adamantine character, and he insisted on dragging the body of the criminal into court.
Well, as I say, I can only apologize to you; and if you get bored before I sit down I think you will be fully justified in storming the platform. So long as your secretary perishes also, I shall die content.
At this moment a plaintive voice from the gallery was heard to shout: “Speak up. Can’t hear a word.” To the owner of which Mr. Chesterton screamed, “I have just told you you wouldn’t.”
The programme of the sessions was as follows (the Tuesday and Wednesday evening meetings consisting of repetitions of certain papers).
Tuesday, June 29. Afternoon.
THE MESSAGE OF THE CHURCH
The Faith and Modern Criticism
Professor C. H. Turner, M.A.; Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford; University Lecturer in [83/84] the History and Literature of the Early Church; Ireland Professor of Exegesis in the University of Oxford; author of many important works on the Church in its early ages.
The Faith and Modern Speculation
Professor A. E. Taylor, M.A.; Fellow of Merton College, Oxford; Professor of Moral Philosophy in St. Andrew’s University; author of many philosophical works.
The Faith and the Evangelisation of the World
The Right Rev. W. L. Vyvyan, D.D.; Bishop of Zululand.
The Kingdom of God
The Rev. Fr. L. S. Thornton, M.A.; member of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield.
Wednesday, June 30. Morning
Authority and Belief
The Rev. N. P. Williams, M.A.; Chaplain and Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford.
Authority and Discipline
The Rev. Leighton Pullan, M.A.; Fellow of St. John’s College, Oxford.
The Limits of Toleration
The Rev. Francis Underhill, M.A.; Vicar of St. Alban’s Church, Birmingham.
The Right Rev. F. Weston, D.D.; Bishop of Zanzibar.
Wednesday, June 30. Afternoon.
The Roman Catholic Church
The Rev. E. M. Milner-White, M.A., D.S.O.; Chaplain, Fellow, and Dean of King’s College, Cambridge.
The Holy Orthodox Church of the East
The Rev. Fr. W. H. Frere, D.D.; Superior of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield.
Other Christian Bodies
The Rev. G. H. Clayton, M.A.; Fellow of Peter-house, Cambridge; Vicar of the Church of St. Mary-the-less, Cambridge.
The Witness of the English Church
The Rev. C. S. Gillett, M.A.; Chaplain of Liddon House, London.
Thursday, July 1. Morning.
The Sacrifice of the Altar
The Rev. C. J. Smith, M.A.; Dean of Pembroke College, Cambridge.
The Reserved Sacrament
The Rev. G. A. Michell, M.A.; Principal of St. Stephen’s House, Oxford.
The Faithful Departed; with a note on Spiritualism as seen in the light of Catholic philosophy.
The Rev. Arnold Pinchard, M.A.; Secretary of the English Church Union.
The Saints and Angels
The Rev. Darwell Stone, D.D.; Principal of Pusey House, Oxford.
Thursday, July I. Afternoon.
Prayer and Communion
The Rev. G. W. Hockley, M.A.; Rector of Liverpool.
Meditation and Mysticism
The Rev. G. C. Rawlinson, M.A.; Assistant Priest at St. Barnabas’ Church, Pimlico, London.
The Rev. J. F. Briscoe, M.A.; Rector of West Bagborough, Somerset.
The Religious Life
The Rev. Fr. H. P. Bull, M.A.; Superior of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Cowley.
Thursday, July I. Evening.
THE CHURCH AND SOCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL PROBLEMS
The Right Rev. Bishop Gore, D.D.; formerly Bishop of Birmingham and of Oxford.
Mr. G. K. Chesterton.
Mr. A. Moore, President of the Silvertown Branch of the Rubber-Workers’ Union.
The Rev. Fr. E. K. Talbot, M.A.; Member of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield.
 The original members of the Executive Committee, in addition to its chairman and secretary, were Mr. F. E. Sidney (Churchwarden of St. Alban’s, Holborn), Vice-Chairman; Mr. H. W. Hill (former secretary of the English Church Union), Treasurer; the Rev. C. R. Deakin (Vicar of Christ Church, South Hackney); the Rev. P. H. Leary (Vicar of St. Augustine’s, Kilburn); the Rev. H. F. B. Mackay (vicar of All Saints’, Margaret Street); the Rev. A. Montford (vicar of The Ascension, Lavender Hill); the Rev. E. A. Morgan (vicar of St. Andrew’s, Willesden Green); the Rev. H. Ross (vicar of St. Alban’s, Holborn); the Rev. F. L. Underhill (vicar of St. Alban’s, Birmingham); Mr. E. W. Hansell; Mr. Astley J. S. Morris; and Mr. E. J. Wythes. Others joined this committee at later dates; but these are they who might be described as fontes et origines of the Congress Movement, of which the Rev. C. R. Deakin, as has been said, is without doubt the “father.”
Atlay’s opinions of “his” congress were, perhaps, best expressed, in his characteristic style, in the following month’s edition of St. Matthew’s Magazine.
It will be readily understood, I think, that I do not find it easy to write the Notes for the Magazine this month. The memory of those wonderful days of the congress still overshadows everything else in my mind. To say that all our highest hopes and desires were more than fulfilled sounds trite and commonplace; but what else can I say?
Since I have been away on holiday I have been studying with some care the Press notices of the [87/88] congress, and it is from the Catholic standpoint a lamentable fact that what really interested and most impressed the Press, and through the Press the general public, was the Thankoffering for Foreign Missions; whereas that which most filled our hearts with thanksgiving was the spirit that permeated the whole congress. No one who witnessed the procession through the streets to St. Alban’s, Holborn, will, I am confident, ever forget the impression made upon them, as the column of priests moved slowly by, each priest reciting his Office, and all of them manifestly filled with the spirit of prayer for God’s blessing upon the great venture. At St. Matthew’s we certainly anticipated that there would be a great congregation for the High Mass, but we certainly did not expect that there would be literally hundreds who would fail to get into the church at all! Again, we knew that if all the ticket-holders used their tickets the Albert Hall would be filled at each session; but we did not expect that a queue would begin to form outside the hall, at 7.30 each morning, of enthusiasts who were prepared to wait two hours and a half if only they might obtain a good seat. It is worth recording, I think, that one of the attendants at the Albert Hall told me that no boxing match had ever filled the place as it was filled, eight times over, during our congress. It was a great disappointment that the rain came down on Thursday night, just in time to make the overflow meeting impossible.
But I think on the whole that perhaps the Thanksgiving Services were in some ways the most striking feature of the congress. I am told that by 7.30 on Friday evening the queue of people waiting to get into Southwark Cathedral stretched from the Cathedral gates right across London Bridge to the Monument. It is the first time, surely, at any rate since the Reformation, that London Bridge heard a great [88/89] crowd singing to the honour of the Mother of our Lord, as the waiting multitude sang again and again, “Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary, full of grace.”
These are some of the things which passed practically unnoticed in the newspapers; but which we shall never forget.
But it is possible that not the least notable result of that first congress happened in St. Matthew’s Church on the day after it ended; when the priests of that church heard confessions for very many hours, of which a number were made for the first time and not only by the laity.
The Atlay of the Albert Hall was a revelation, as well as an inspiration, to the majority of those who thronged it during that strenuous and memorable week in the summer of 1920 and to the many who could only take part in it by reading about the congress. But we, who were so fortunate as to be his curates or members of his St. Matthew’s congregation, knew that there he was only being his natural self, and that the Atlay of Kensington Gore was the M.E.A. of Westminster.
It will, therefore, be realized that his words in the parish-paper of February, 1922, caused both sorrow and consternation.
It is exceedingly difficult for me to have to tell you that I feel the time has come when I ought to leave St. Matthew’s. Under no circumstances can it be an easy thing for a man to break the ties of eighteen years; but the relationship between priests and people here has always been so close that you will, I [89/90] think, understand something of what it means to me to uproot myself from this church and parish. But, great as the wrench must inevitably be, I cannot for a moment doubt that it is right that I should go.
Ever since the congress I have been increasingly conscious that the manifold calls made upon my time and energy by work for the Church as a whole made it more and more impossible for me to give to St. Matthew’s what the parish has a right to expect from its vicar; and the problem which I have had to face has been whether it was my duty to abandon the work of the Chairmanship of the Anglo-Catholic Congress Committee, my seat in Convocation and the National Assembly, together with committees in connection with these bodies; or to leave my work here.
I have naturally consulted persons, whose judgement and opinion I value: but the final decision could only be made by myself. In making it, three factors have chiefly influenced me.
(1) The fact that, having given the whole of the first fourteen years of my ministerial life to St. Matthew’s and St. Matthew’s alone, outside work, entirely unsought by me, should have during the last three and a half years absorbed more and more of my time and attention. This seems to me to indicate that it is God’s will that my work henceforth lies elsewhere.
(2) I have had to consider very seriously the question of health. Both the doctors whom I have consulted have been emphatic in their opinion that I cannot expect to avoid a serious break-down if I attempt to go on combining outside work on the scale which I have been attempting, with the work of the vicar of such a parish as St. Matthew’s.
(3) The parish and congregation of St. Matthew’s have a right to expect a vicar whose whole time and energy are given to the work here. [90/91] Under no circumstances which I can foresee at present would it be possible for me to give to St. Matthew’s that undivided attention.
He was a big man and a great priest (I use the adjectives in more than one sense). He told me once that he liked priests to be six feet or more in height: “it generally means that they have big hearts.” Perhaps he had the faults common to such men. He was not prone to “suffer fools gladly.” He was not a man of wide reading or of much sympathy with the arts. [ Mackay, of All Saints’, Margaret Street, read, I believe, a novel a week, and frequently went to the theatre.] As a general rule it is, I think, a mistake to appoint to a living a curate who has served in no other parish; it is possible that Atlay suffered because this rule was not observed by the patron of St. Matthew’s. He was a forceful, rather than a brilliant, preacher; though one to whom it was not possible to avoid listening. He was, perhaps, inclined to be intolerant and impatient with people who held opinions that differed from his own. But of meanness and pettiness of spirit he had no trace: big men never do. It was easy to smile at his vehemence and enthusiasm (on a Sunday in every January each member of his congregation knew that he would announce from the pulpit that he considered it his or her bounden duty to become a member of the Free Will Offering Fund; and that he would, as was his wont when he wished to be emphatic, smite the unfortunate piece of furniture at the word “bounden”).
But nobody paid attention to, or was bothered by, [91/92] such small flaws in the character of the priest for whom many had great affection and whom all held in high esteem. There is, perhaps, no more searching test of a priest’s character than to live in a clergy-house, cheek by jowl with fellow-priests: they at least will be under no illusions as to the man’s real nature. Thanks primarily to him the large red house in Great Peter Street was “a happy ship.” All who lived in it could not be unaware, on any and every day, of his sterling priestly virtues. His complete fearlessness: his humility (“I say, old man,” he would remark, as he hurried into the room of his junior curate, aged less than thirty; “am I disturbing you? Would you mind listening to this? I want to be sure that it is all right”—it being a sermon for a cathedral): his chivalry towards all women, especially the old and ill: his boundless energy (there is no doubt that the seeds of his early death were sown in those strenuous Westminster days, where—like so many Catholic priests in varying parts of the world—he began to burn himself out): the boy that was always in him, and would look out of his eyes—and occasionally govern his actions—at all kinds of unexpected moments; but, above all, his unfailing sense of awe and reverence, and the burning love for human souls that must be the twin hall-marks of every parish-priest who is worthy of the name. Such, and others (he would never tolerate a risky tale or an oath; to be late in keeping an appointment, at the altar, in the confessional, in the schools, even at a committee-meeting, was intolerable to him —nor did he take it kindly from his curates; [92/93] slovenliness, in any form, he loathed—”any priest, however poor he is, can afford a clean collar every day,” he would say; “and you may be pretty certain that a man who says Mass unshaven, or with dirty hands or finger-nails, is careless about saying his daily Offices and his private prayers”) were his shining virtues, apparent to and the encouragement of those who lived with him, and counted it no small an honour to be—at one and the same time—both his curates and his trusted friends. It was impossible to be disloyal to M.E.A.; for which he had only himself to thank.
It is, under God, to him, as to Tindall, that I owe the greater part of any virtues that my exercise of the priesthood may possess. I shall never, in this world or the next, forget or cease to be grateful to both.
He died suddenly, while on holiday in France, apparently in better health than he had enjoyed for some time. It is curious that priests—who have taken the last sacraments possibly more often than they can remember to those in sudden need of them, who are by the nature of their profession on familiar terms with death—not infrequently receive their own call with little or no warning, often pass with no priest at hand to give the last sacraments to them. But I do not think that M.E.A. was unready: there are lives which, in themselves, are preparations for eternal life.
He has never failed to making his confession regularly, or in his Mass morning by morning, or in his [93/94] Office punctually and in due season. He has lived as if by the side of his divine master; and, beginning and ending the day with him, he has ordered all the hours and works of the day for his service. He has lived among his people, and their feet have worn the threshold of his door. His day comes at last, and a great sorrow is upon all homes when it is heard that the father of the flock has died. [Manning. The Eternal Priesthood.]
“Let us cross the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.” [General “Stonewall” Jackson’s last words.]
“When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me: because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him. The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me; and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. I was a father to the poor.” [3 Job. Chapter 29.]
The earthly life of a faithful parish-priest is a wonderful thing; his death, with the love and affection of those to whom he has ministered still around him, is more wonderful. They and he are knit together by a bond that is closer and more vital than that of kindred, that is unbroken by distance or death, and that shall unite them again to all eternity in the day when the faithful shepherds of earth gather round the Good Shepherd of the sheep in the Church’s one and undivided fold upon the everlasting hills.