Project Canterbury Some Archbishops of Dublin
by T. S. Lindsay.
Dublin: Church of Ireland Printing Co., 1928.
SINCE the year 1040, when the See of Dublin was founded by the Danes, there have been four Bishops and fifty-three Archbishops. It is not the most ancient of the Irish Sees, nor has it the longest line of Bishops. But it is unique in two respects. It alone can fix the exact date on which all its prelates began their rule. And it claims, and is allowed, the Primacy of Ireland. The Archbishop of Dublin is styled "Primate of Ireland." One might imagine that this settled the question as to which Diocese should take precedence. But no, for the Archbishop of Armagh is styled "Primate of All Ireland" and so enjoys the first place, and Dublin has to be content with the second. It may be imagined thait Dublin did not concede this without a struggle. The quarrel began in Danish times. Dublin, since the foundation of the See, had been subject to Canterbury, and therefore was under the Pope, while Armagh, a more ancient Diocese, held out until 1172, when the subjection of Ireland to the Papal obedience was ratified at the Synod of Cashel after the Norman invaders possessed the land. But the rivalry continued, sometimes fierce and bitter, all through the period of Papal supremacy, with appeals from time to time to the English King and to the Pope, and indeed after that until the end of the i8th century, when an exhaustive enquiry by a Roman Catholic Bishop settled the question, and since that time Dublin has quietly submitted to the claims of Armagh.
Of some of the Archbishops of Dublin we know nothing beyond their names and dates, of many others very little. But some were men of distinction who wielded great and beneficent power in their day, and left their mark upon the city and the Diocese. The last occupants of the See have all been, in different ways, great and good men who ruled their clergy with wisdom and success, and set the example of diligence, of sanctity and of learning that a chief shepherd is bound to show.
The first of these that I remember was Whately. I did not know him personally, I was but a child when he died; but I heard much of him, and I have read many of his letters written to a relation of mine by marriage, Mrs. Hill, who was one of his most intimate and trusted friends. He wrote to her constantly, and she helped him in the composition of some of his books by her quick wits and range of knowledge. No one now reads these books; all are out of print, but in his lifetime they had a wide circulation and they exercised a deep influence on that generation. Books, of course, give only their authors' best, and if we were to judge Shakespeare, Milton or Pope by their published works we should have but a one-sided view of their characters. And so Whately's books do not reflect his foibles or faults, but they represent to the full his great powers, his sound scholarship, his wit, his analytical gifts, his quick and sure perception of a fallacy and his extraordinary felicity in making his arguments clear by a happy metaphor. This faculty shone in his conversation. Nothing pleased him better than to fence with a foeman worthy of his steel, and in such contests he usually came out triumphant. How delightful it would have been to witness such a dialectical combat between him and Johnson, each in his generation the leading exponent of the great game, each an acknowledged oracle and accustomed to dominate the eager company that sat around. What repartees one would have heard, what scathing replies, what crushing arguments the folly of which would be immediately made plain by the adversary. Surely, like a game of chess between two equal players, it would have ended in a draw. But if not, if either were clearly worsted, I fear that the loser would not have suffered defeat with good humour, for neither could bear being worsted. But I da not think that either had ever to endure such a test of temper, for neither ever met his match.
Whately was accustomed to meet, and to bully in a manner very agreeable to himself, his inferiors not only in intellect but in ecclesiastical rank, and none of the clergy who were wont ta assemble at the Palace for his five-o'clock dinners ever ventured to dispute the dicta which the great man uttered with such magisterial authority. They laughed loudly at his jests; they applauded his decisions, and if after they left his hospitable board they mocked at his childish vanity, while their legs were under his mahogany they lauded him as the greatest living master of logic. For he was as greedy of flattery as a Roman Emperor; he never disguised it, and to be deferred to admiringly seemed to him to be the most natural thing in the world. He had a strong sense of the ludicrous, and he loved to place another person in the entertaining position of being held up to ridicule because, in an unguarded moment, he had uttered some opinion which, after the Archbishop had spoken, was plainly seen to be blatantly silly. There was in him something of the bully, and no one is more mortified by defeat than a bully. It is true that this was a rare experience for him, but it did sometimes happen that he had to suffer from a stinging and unanswerable retort from one who did not fear him. Lefanu records that one day he walked in the fields with his chaplain and another gentleman. Whately, who liked to display his knowledge of nature, picked up a fungus, and in his sententious manner said:--"It is commonly supposed that, with the exception of the mushroom, the agaric family is unwholesome, or even poisonous. This is an error. For example, this variety is quite edible. Try it, W." W. took a small bite and munched it dutifully, taking care not to make a wry face. "Excellent, your Grace, excellent." "Try it, Mr. ----." "Thank you," replied that gentleman, "I have a brother, a clergyman, but he is in the Diocese of Meath."
Whately had, indeed, an insatiable appetite for praise, but, as Tennyson says, "Face-flatterers and back-biters are the same," and even in the days of the Psalmist, "with the flatterers were busy mockers." I am afraid that if his clergy sought, like the courtiers of Louis XIV., to gain his favour by slavish adulation, they made up for it afterwards by unseemly jests about those foibles of which they were well aware. Nor did the flattery always succeed. It is related that before he was to preach in one of the city churches, the Rector went to the expense of having a complete set of his works handsomely bound, and these he laid in a conspicuous place on the Vestry table. To his intense chagrin, and I need not say to the delight of his brother clergy when the story went round, the Archbishop either failed to notice, or at least affected not to see them.
Whately's manners were not all that could be desired. They were, indeed, often brusque and rude in the extreme. But this arose, not from pleasure in hurting people's feelings, but from shyness or from pre-occupation. He would often affront the proud and make the timid very uncomfortable by his lack of courtesy. But this he did not perceive; had he done so it would have pained him, for he was really a kind-hearted man. It is told of him that one Sunday morning, in St. Stephen's Church, the Curate was reading the Second Lesson, which happened to be the i6th chapter of the Romans, a chapter full of pitfalls for the unwary, and pronounced several of the names incorrectly. The Archbishop listened intently, and whenever he heard a false quantity he gave a jump in his seat as from a pang of pain, which, no doubt, kind friends afterwards duly reported to the unfortunate fellow. Yet if that man were afterwards in need, the Archbishop would help him in the kindest and most generous way. Indeed generosity was a salient feature of his character, and his alms were bestowed wisely and courageously, for he never did anything to court popularity. When an old man, he said: "I must have given away £70,000 in my life, and I thank God that I never gave a beggar a penny." Once he was surrounded by a crowd of beggars who then swarmed in Dublin, and who made piteous appeals to his charity. "I am going to give each of you," said he--and their faces lit up with expectation--"exactly the same that I always give." Then, after a pause, "and that is nothing." To a woman who said, with the beggar's whine, "Give us a penny for the love of God to get a cup of tay," he said: "I never give to anyone in the street." Instantly came the question, "An' where would your Grace wish me to wait on you?"
As illustrating his quickness of wit another story is told. He went to St. Stephen's Church on a wet week-day evening to preach a Lenten sermon. In the vestry the curate peeped into the church and then said, " I fear there will be but a small congregation this evening." "Why," said Whately, " should a Lent preacher expect to have no one at all?" "I do not know, your Grace." "Because he is a loan."
Whately had not only his foibles, but his limitations. By his own confession he knew nothing of art, of architecture, nor of antiquities, nor did he desire to know. Poetry did not generally appeal to him, though he greatly admired some writers, Shakespeare, Scott and Crabbe. "Non omnia possumus omnes."
But he was a great man, and not only intellectually, but morally. Trench said, "Whately had a common-sense which amounted to genius." And he was a fine scholar, with an active, a keen and a powerful mind. But he was also a good man. He was ever a lover of, and a seeker after, the truth. He had a strong sense of duty. His one wish as a ruler was to do the fair and just thing, and he harboured petty spite against none. Above all, he was a true servant of God and a loving and humble follower of Jesus Christ. And his deeply-rooted faith shone out brightly in his last days of weakness, when the world was falling away from him and his hold of the Saviour's hand became tighter and his trust and hope more sure.
"Yea, there be saints who are not like the painted
And haloed figures fix'd upon the pane,
Not outwardly and visibly ensainted,
But hiding deep the lights which they contain.
The rugged gentleness, the wit whose glory
Flash 'd like a sword because its edge was keen,
The fine antithesis, the flowing story,
Beneath such things the sainthood is not seen.
Till in the hours when the wan hand is lifted
To take the bread and wine, through all the mist
Of mortal weariness our eyes are gifted
To see a quiet radiance caught from Christ;
Till from the pillow of the thinker, lying
In weakness, comes the teaching then best taught;
That the true crown for any soul in dying
Is Christ not genius, and is faith not thought.
By his dear Master's holiness made holy
All lights of hope upon that forehead broad,
Ye mourning thousands quit the Minster slowly,
And leave the great Archbishop with his God."