Project Canterbury

After the Tractarians
by Marcus Donovan
From the Recollections of Athelstan Riley

no place: Philip Allan, 1933.

III. Some Literary Figures

JOHN MASON NEALE stands out as one of the most influential of the post-Tractarians. Ordained in 1841, he passed away in 1866, after a life of ill-health and constant suffering, darkened by continued persecution at the hands of the authorities of the Church he was eager to serve. Into that short life Neale crowded an amazing amount of work. He was encyclopaedic. Languages, Liturgies, Literature were among his interests, and the Church owes an abiding debt of gratitude to him for his felicitous translations of Latin and Greek hymns. He was a true poet, and some of his original compositions, as well as his paraphrases, have gained a permanent place in our hymnals. Neale began his work early. As an undergraduate at Trinity, Cambridge, he started the Camden Society, which aimed at supplementing the Oxford Revival on the side where it was weakest, viz. the application of Catholic principles to religious art, architecture, etc. The spirit of church building and restoration owes much to the incentive thus given, and is not the least of Neale's contributions to the life of the Church. Neale was ordained in 1841, appointed to a country parish in 1842, the day after his ordination as priest, but only held it a few months before his health gave way and he had to spend much time abroad in the effort to recover. In 1846 he was offered, and accepted, the post of Warden of Sackville College, East Grinstead, which was practically a private chaplaincy to Earl de la Warr. From the moment of his arrival, he incurred persecution. Dr. Gilbert, his bishop, a leading anti-Tractarian, inhibited Neale in 1847 on a trivial complaint of a neighbouring clergyman. The people of the neighbourhood, distrustful of 'Pusey-ism' were soon inflamed, and Neale was often mobbed and hooted as he passed through the streets. Physical violence was resorted to: Neale had to send away his wife and children for safety when his windows were smashed and incendiary fires broke out, but he bore it all philosophically, writing "Don't think all this worries me. . . . We are like eels now and are used to it."

Despite his immense literary output, and amidst all his persecutions, Neale found time to plan the great work by which he is remembered, the founding of the Community of St. Margaret at East Grinstead. The first steps were taken in 1854 and by 1856 the Sisterhood had gained a footing. Authority was, as usual, far from sympathetic. The Vicar of the parish expressed the benevolent wish that infectious disease might break out so that he could ask the Sisters to undertake the first case of it, with the pious wish that it would get rid of them! Like Pusey, Dr. Neale was an indefatigable worker, often rising at 4 a.m. in order to get through the labours of the day. He had to raise money for his Sisterhood by begging, preaching and writing, and the strain told upon a constitution never robust. His stories are still popular, and have been reissued by S.P.C.K. His sermons have a strong mystical bent and read well, though he was not an eloquent preacher except in his own chapel. He is described as very nervous when preaching at St. Thomas', Oxford, holding his manuscript up to his face and obviously alarmed at the critical Oxford audience. No preferment ever reached him, but there can be few who have left so imperishable a memorial as John Mason Neale.

Hawker of Morwenstow is to be reckoned as one of the 'characters' of the Church Revival. He was the son of a Cornish doctor who was also a parson, and for a time was articled to a solicitor in Plymouth. He married while an undergraduate a lady twenty years older than himself, a choice which, as events proved, was entirely a happy one. Ordained in 1831, he became Vicar of Morwenstow on the North Devon coast in 1834 on the appointment of Bishop Philpott, who liked his Newdigate poem, and here he spent the rest of his life, dying in 1875. Hawker's chief title to fame rests upon his poems, which entitled him to a high place, if not to the front rank. He was a curious mixture of practicality and eccentricity. A faithful pastor of his little community of villagers and sea-farers, he was a diligent parish priest, restoring his church, building a school, and taking seriously the duties of Rural Dean, which up to that period had been scarcely more than an honorary office. The ruridecanal chapters, now general, are said to have been inaugurated by him. Hawker was generous to a fault, and his imprudence in this respect involved him in constant indebtedness. This gave rise to the unworthy suspicion of bad faith. His odd 'ritualism'--he would appear in church in a yellow vestment in which he looked like a Grand Lama, but which he declared was an exact copy of the robe worn by St. Padarn--led people to suppose that he was secretly a papist but held his living in order to pay his debts. Hawker's wayward humour did not help to clear up matters. When any busybody inquired as to his 'views,' he would take the inquirer to the vicarage window and point to the broad Atlantic. "These are my Views'," he would say, "but my opinions I prefer to keep to myself."

Hawker was an inveterate poseur. He would ride about the country in a 'poncho,' climb cliffs in a cassock, and go about his parish in a claret-coloured suit with a blue jersey, the whole surmounted by a pink hat without a brim! This last eccentricity was due to a desire to approximate to priests of the Eastern Church, whose brimless hats, however, are certainly not pink! Hawker was received into the Latin Church on his deathbed, a circumstance which occasioned much unnecessary conjecture as to how far he had wavered during his lifetime in his allegiance to the Anglican Communion. The debate is somewhat unprofitable, but perhaps the truth is that his mind had been turning more and more towards Catholic ideals, but he had not the learning, nor the steadfast application, to reach a settled conviction. Far from the centres of thought and discussion, he was occupied with many interests other than theological. He fought the Dissenters, he fought the farmers in the interests of the labourers, and the landlords in the interests of the farmers, but all the time he was doing the work which his bishop had sent him to do--he was reclaiming a neglected and practically heathen parish. Hawker began the practice of the 'weekly offertory' (a mark of the Tractarian Revival) and also instituted the Harvest Festival which was originally a High Church innovation.

Possibly long years of neglect in a remote parish accentuated the oddities of a naturally original and eccentric genius. Another West Country priest comes to mind, whose gifts were ignored by authority, Charles Marson of Hambridge. He has expressed the feelings of many when he says of the appointments (and disappointments) in the Church of England, "If your tastes are urban, your parish will be in the country, and vice versa. You will be pitchforked into any place that may chance to fall vacant. Have you a gift for coaxing spinsters, you will be sent to a University town. If you are powerful with colliers, you will be called to the Isle of Wight. If cabbages are your delight you will be pent in Peckham."

Marson was himself an instance of the mis-handling of which he complained. As Canon Scott Holland said of him, "He was never meant to be left in the country. He had capacities which belonged to the central laboratories of life. He could have made a mark in the spiritual thought of the time." There is said to be in existence a banner belonging to one of the Workers' Friendly Societies, which you may see carried in procession on Labour Day or at socialist demonstrations. On that banner is the figure of a priest in cassock and biretta. It is Charles Marson, who gained the confidence of working men when he laboured among the railway workers of Somers Town before his superiors banished him to Somerset. He died vicar of Hambridge, near Taunton, having endeared himself to his country folk, whose folk-songs and dances he had discovered and popularized, and whose joys and sorrows he shared and understood. Marson's caustic wit rendered him a difficult and puzzling character, but his delightfully humorous books Huppim and Muppim followed by And Ard have enriched the Church with salutary, though never malicious criticism.

The West Country also provided the Catholic movement with a literary champion in the person of the Rev. Sabine Baring Gould. A long list of novels and other works stands to his credit, but he will also be remembered as a faithful teacher and a robust defender of the Faith. Baring Gould was born in 1834 and ordained in the Ripon diocese and tells how Bishop Bickersteth was wont to present each of the deacons with a copy of Sermon Skeletons by a prominent Low Church divine, a practice which provoked Collins, then a deacon at St. Saviour's, Leeds, to ask his bishop "My lord, can these dry bones live?" Horbury, where Mr. Baring Gould began his labours, is and has for many years been a strong Catholic centre. Mr. Baring Gould worked for a time in Essex and then became vicar of Lew Trenchard, in Devon, where he died. His book on The Church Revival contains a wealth of information as to the progress of Catholic ideals in the provinces as well as in London. His output was prodigious. He had a great gift of imagination, which possibly made him somewhat untrustworthy as a historian. He was squire of his Devon parish, Lew Trenchard, and restored the house out of the proceeds of his literary labours. Some of his hymns, notably 'Onward Christian soldiers,' 'Hail the sign,' and 'Through the night of doubt and sorrow' (a translation from the Danish) have attained a deserved popularity.

Literary priests have been conspicuous in the ranks of the 'advanced' clergy. Two may be mentioned here whose ability and erudition were somewhat discounted by their eccentricity. Malcolm McColl was a writer of extraordinary skill. In early days he had been connected with the troublous scenes at St. James', Hatcham, and was placed in charge of that parish during the suspension of Fr. Tooth. It was, however, as a political pamphleteer that he came into note in later years, ably seconding Mr. Gladstone's efforts on behalf of the oppressed Armenians. Rewarded with a canonry of Ripon and a City living, he continued to engage in literary labours, perhaps the best known being the collection of essays which he published under the title The Reformation Settlement. This trenchant attack on the Protestant agitation, led by Sir William Harcourt in the 'nineties, proved of permanent value, and is still a book to be reckoned with.

Another literary cleric was Dr. F. G. Lee, Vicar of All Saints, Lambeth, for many years. Dr. Lee held a singular position. It must be owned that the Anglican Church had given him little encouragement, relegating him to a slum parish in the New Cut, Lambeth (then a peculiarly noisome neighbourhood), where he ministered in a tumble-down church to a small body of eccentric folk who combined an equal dislike of the Established Church and the Hanoverian succession. The strange story of the Order of Corporate Reunion created a great sensation when exploited by an ingenious Protestant controversialist, who 'told the world' that Dr. Lee, with two others, had received episcopal orders on the high seas at the hands of a Roman, a Greek, and an Armenian bishop. The 'Roman' was probably a Jansenist bishop, and there is no reason to doubt the substantial truth of the story. One of the other 'bishops' was the Rev. T. Mossman, vicar of a Lincolnshire parish, who was received into the Church of Rome on his deathbed: the other was a Dr. Seccombe, a medical man, who did not apparently exercise the orders conferred upon him. The whole thing seems, in these days, to have been rather a storm in a teacup, but Prebendary Allen Whitworth, Vicar of All Saints, Margaret Street, a scholarly Catholic leader in the 'eighties, supported by numerous High Churchmen, was seriously perturbed about it and denounced, with as much vigour as the Protestants, those who were implicated in this curious experiment. Dr. Lee was one of the first to attempt a systematic directory of ceremonial, and his Directorium Anglicanum was the precursor of many volumes designed to give the Prayer Book rite its appropriate ceremonial clothing. He adhered strictly to the Liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, and it is said that his edition of the text and music is used as the Altar-book in St. Paul's Cathedral.

As a poet, Dr. Lee attained some distinction and his hymns in honour of our Lady are found in use occasionally: one of his best hymns is 'Laud the grace of God victorious,' in honour of St. Alban. Though he wrote many historical and controversial works, he has a bad name for inaccuracy and special pleading.

Perhaps one recently taken from us may be mentioned here among the writers who have contributed largely to the understanding of the Faith. T. A. Lacey was encyclopaedic without being superficial: a brilliant critic, a sound historian, a vigorous fighter and a genuine poet. Lacey was brilliant and had a very subtle mind. He loved dialectic and was never so happy as when defending an impossible position. He liked to 'make your flesh creep' by seeming to support heresy! A well-known publisher once said that two men in the Church of England were gifted with a singularly lucid and telling style. They were Dr. Hensley Henson and Canon Lacey. As a translator, Lacey was in the succession of Neale and Caswall, and had much to do with the translation of the Eucharistic hymns for the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament. His own hymn, 'O faith of England,' is, in the opinion of many, one of the finest modern hymns. The tune, a Genevan psalm, was called the 'battle song of the Huguenots': Lacey turned it into a battle-song of the Church. With its dignified words and majestic melody, it is eminently a hymn for great occasions and large bodies of voices, but to English ears it is less attractive than the somewhat similar melody 'Lasst uns erfreuen,' ('Ye watchers and ye holy ones') which gained immediate popularity.

The humble parish magazine has done not a little to advance the Knowledge of the Faith. One of the earliest was The Church Porch, edited and largely written by W. J. E. Bennett of Frome. Another, New and Old, was the work of a scholarly priest, Charles Gutch, who laboured in St. Marylebone for many years at the little mission church of St. Cyprian, now replaced by Mr. Comper's fine church. Another was The Gospeller produced by the Brothers Pollock at St. Alban's, Birmingham. This contained many of Fr. Tom Pollock's hymns and litanies, as well as his topical 'Prologues' in verse, reviewing the events of the year. The Penny Post and the Monthly Packet, though not parish magazines, may be mentioned here. They had a wide diffusion and upheld a good standard of Churchmanship.

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