Project Canterbury

Some Archbishops of Dublin
by T. S. Lindsay.

Dublin: Church of Ireland Printing Co., 1928.


Whately was succeeded by Trench, Dean of Westminster, who occupied the See for twenty-one years. I served under him when I was Curate to. Archdeacon Scott, one of his most loved and trusted friends, and so came into frequent contact with him, of course at a respectful distance. He was, unlike Whately and so many of his predecessors, an Irishman by birth and by descent; but he was a scion not of the Celtic but of the Anglo-Irish stock, or indeed rather of the French, both in the paternal and in the maternal line. For while his mother was purely French, the Trench family was founded by a Frenchman who came over in the i6th century. But he had little of the Irish character. Among his many gifts was not that of humour; he could hardly taste a joke made by another, much less make one himself, and he had none of that rollicking, careless, happy-go-lucky good-nature that marks the true Irishman. Perhaps he owed this in part to his English up-bringing, for all his early years were spent in England. He was educated at Harrow and Cambridge, he was Vicar of a Hampshire parish and Dean of Westminster, and he did not come to Ireland until he was fifty-six years old. All his friends and associates were English, and the list of those of them who reached fame or high station in the first half of Victoria's reign would be a long one. It would include Tennyson, Arthur Hallam, John Sterling, Carlyle, Froude, Kingsley, Newman, Manning, Liddon, Wilberforce, Maurice, Sedgwick, Keble, Wordsworth, Clough, Browning, Matthew Arnold, Thackeray, Dean Stanley, Neale, Dean Church and many other distinguished names. His sympathies in the sphere of theology were entirely with the Tractarians. He was an old-fashioned High Churchman of the Keble and Liddon type, and though he was on friendly terms with Stanley, Frederick Maurice and Thomas Arnold, he felt a repulsion to the Broad Church teaching of their school.

When he came to Ireland he found himself forced to breathe an uncongenial atmosphere. The Church of Ireland was traditionally Evangelical; it counted among its worthies few High Churchmen like Laud, Cosin and Ken that had adorned the sister (or should we say, the daughter?) Church, and it had only in a very slight degree been drawn into the Tractarian current, then running strongly. Accordingly Trench, suddenly called to be one of its rulers, felt extremely uncomfortable, and was looked upon with suspicion and dislike. But his sweetness of temper, his beautiful humility, his saintliness, which though never displayed could not be concealed, and his undoubted scholarship and fine literary gifts did not fail to win for him, and more and more as age came on, a respect, a reverence and even a passionate devotion such as few men have enjoyed.

His tenure of the See came at a critical time. The threatened disestablishment of the Church filled men's minds, the boat neared the rapids and needed skilful steering. The Church wanted men strong and bold and of statesmanlike quality to guide it, and for such a role Trench was not fitted, either by nature or by education. He might have exclaimed with Hamlet, "The times are out of joint, O cursed spite That ever I was born to set them right." And when the crisis had passed, when the Church was disendowed, when she was free to enact her own laws, to settle her doctrines and to order her forms of worship as she pleased, when the system of government by Synods was set up and a democratic Constitution established in which the laity were given equal, or nearly equal, rights with the clergy, the poor Archbishop could only groan and submit. How well Alexander, in his memorial ode, described the poignant situation:--

"Thou, when an angry spell
On clamorous hundreds fell;
Or sometimes when men pressed
Thorns to that patient breast,
Or their suspicion laid
Upon that stately head,
Slowly didst turn away
Heart-wounded from the fray,
And unto God alone
Madest majestic moan."

He hated the whole thing; he had no gifts as a popular leader; he Was no Demosthenes with a fluent and impressive eloquence that would stir the hearts and quicken the pulse of multitudes; he was a halting speaker delaying for a nice choice of words and too often boring his audience. And more; he was generally on the unpopular side, and he could never feel that he had the sympathy of those who listened to him so impatiently. They would hang on the golden imagery, the flashes of magic beauty that Alexander uttered in ringing tones; they were swayed by Magee's splendid eloquence, but Trench's careful, hesitating and half audible remarks were received in stony silence, and the speaker was not thereby inspired. For, as Bacon says:--"True oratory lies in the ear of the hearers as much as in the mouth of the speaker." No wonder that the poor Archbishop was discouraged.

But his single-hearted honesty, his intense conviction, his purity of motive and the immense erudition that lay behind all he said could not fail to be recognised. And throughout the long and sometimes bitter controversies that raged for years over the revision of the Prayer Book he held his own, not cheerfully, but manfully, and if he did not win the adhesion of the Church people of Ireland to his views, at any rate he gained their respect, and in their heart of hearts they were proud of him.

Trench was a fine scholar with a vast range of reading. One has only to glance through any of his books, "New Testament Synonyms," "Mediaeval Church History," "Studies in the Gospels," his volumes on the Parables and on the Miracles, or his smaller books on the English language, the best of their kind ever written, to see this. Illustrations and quotations are gleaned from obscure sources; nothing that was ever written on the subject in hand seems to have escaped him; either he had a marvellous memory or a notebook that pigeon-holed endless multitudes of facts and opinions with extraordinary fulness and accuracy.

He was also a real poet; not a poet of surpassing genius, but one of grace and beauty, often of fire and force. Some of his sonnets and shorter pieces are perfectly exquisite, gems sparkling with light and colour. I remember his saying to me in his deep, creaking voice, " One does not secrete poetry in one's old age." But he did; his last poem, "Timoleon," was written when he was seventy-four, and ft shows little token of failing powers. Its concluding lines, though put into the mouth of a heathen, seem to foreshadow his own desire:--

"and then shall wait on me
The golden tribute of a people's love.
And when my work is ended, multitudes
Apparelled all in white and crowned with flowers,
As for a great day of high festival,
Shall with large tears of sorrow and of joy
Bear me, a victor, to my funeral pyre."

This was fulfilled at his burial in Westminster Abbey. His biographer tells how "the robes of the choir on the south side and the wreaths and crosses on the east and north sides made a white garland round the enclosed space. . .. . ' Now the labourer's task is o'er ' was sung after the coffin had been lowered into the grave. There was a pause after the Benediction, and then, as the mighty wail of the Dead March filled the cathedral aisles, the mourners laid the flowers which they carried around the tomb, and left their father to rest under the shadow of his own loved Abbey, waiting till the mortal put on immortality, till the precious seed sown in weakness be raised in power, till death be swallowed up in life, and the ineffable vision of joy and brightness and perfection, after which his soul panted on earth, be his full and everlasting portion in his Father's house, the eternal home of the redeemed."

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