Project Canterbury Some Archbishops of Dublin
by T. S. Lindsay.
Dublin: Church of Ireland Printing Co., 1928.
When Bishop Peacocke, who had succeeded Lord Plunket as Bishop of Meath, was elected to follow him again in Dublin, he had no easy task. For he came after one who in an unique degree had commanded the confidence and won the affection of his diocese. Men could hardly help making comparisons, and these could hardly help being unfavourable. But I do not think that from this cause he ever had a moment's uneasiness. From the first he was trusted, and as the years went on the trust deepened into love and rose into admiration. He was already well known to all, clergy and laity; he had spent most of his working life in their midst; he had been away from Dublin for the short space of three years, and by his work at St. George's and at Monkstown he had won the reputation of being one of the most successful parish priests in Ireland. Indeed pastoral work was his real métier; he was a clear, an edifying and an inspiring preacher, a born teacher, a most diligent and acceptable visitor and a first-rate organiser. And when he came to rule the Diocese he soon gained that loyal support of his clergy and laity that he was accustomed to expect in his parishes. He was a true Father in God, a wise, kind and sympathetic friend, and the only criticism that I ever heard was that through over-caution he was disinclined to a definite direction, or even counsel, when his authority was appealed to' or his advice sought. But he furnished a great example to all of a high, conscientious and scrupulous performance of duty; he never spared himself, and he gave no quarter to the slacker.
Indeed honesty was one of the chief notes of his character. Once he went to a church to dedicate a new reredos. "Your Grace," said the Incumbent in the vestry, "perhaps it would be as well, when you are speaking of it in your sermon, to call it a 'panelling,' as the word 'reredos' is unfamiliar to the people and might arouse their suspicions." "But," said the Archbishop, "Is it not a reredos?" "Well, no doubt it is, but it may be safer not to call it by that name." "Oh," said he, "if it is a reredos, I will call it so." He did, without apology or explanation, and the congregation, who were thoroughly satisfied of his orthodoxy, accepted it, and its name, without the least demur.
Perhaps he was at his best in Confirmations. Young people, on that solemn day, are very subdued, very receptive, very anxious to be taught how to be good. They do not want long theological disquisitions nor reasoned arguments; they want to be helped to realise the sacredness of the rite, the grace that they may expect to receive and the duties and joys and hopes that belong to that Christian life in which they are making a fresh start. Whately had, I believe, but one Confirmation address, which he always repeated throughout his long episcopate. He considered that in it he had said what he wanted to say as clearly as he could, that he could not improve it, that boys and girls are the same everywhere, and that as on each occasion he had a new audience, there was no reason why he should not use it over and over. Trench dwelt too much upon the hard and sad side of religion. He impressed on the young people the horror of sin, and he warned them in tragic tones to beware of the dangers that would beset their path, the pitfalls, the quagmires, the subtle temptations that would lure them from the narrow way, and the Evil One like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, until they trembled, and thought that the service of God must be a terrible and perilous business indeed. Plunket was most kind and fatherly, but inclined to go on too long, and sometimes out-wearied their attention. But Peacocke was just perfect. He was encouraging; he was sympathetic, and as they gazed at his tall and dignified figure arrayed in the unfamiliar episcopal robes, and heard the clear sonorous tones in which he gave them wise counsel, and saw the light shining in his eyes and the kindly smile of his mouth, they felt that the following of Christ must be indeed a happy lot, and they inwardly registered a vow to be His faithful servants and soldiers unto their life's end. He used to give them a text, such as "Be strong and of good courage," or "Behold, I am with you always," or "Well done, good and faithful servant," which he would ask them always to remember and keep as their life-motto. Once in my church he did not do so; I spoke to him of it and said that such a motto, given on such a solemn occasion, would never depart from their memories, but would be for ever a help and stimulus. He said that as no one had ever mentioned it to him, he imagined that it was not valued, but that he never would omit it again.
One amusing anecdote about him I may record. In August, 1897, I went to America, and among those on board the ship were several American and Canadian bishops returning from the Lambeth Conference. One was the Bishop of Albany, a handsome man with a fine figure, whom I found a very agreeable companion. He told me, with much satisfaction, that my Diocesan had created him a Duke, and laughed heartily at the recollection. The Archbishop afterwards told me the story. At the conclusion of the Conference the members were entertained at a farewell luncheon, at which the Archbishop of York proposed and the Bishop of Albany, as the senior American bishop, seconded a resolution of thanks to the Archbishop of Canterbury for his able conduct of the meetings and his gracious hospitality. A note was sent round to Archbishop Peacocke asking him, as representing the Church of Ireland, our Primate being absent, to add a few words, and at a moment's notice he did so. He said that it gave him much pleasure to support the resolution which had been so ably proposed by the Archbishop of York and seconded by the Duke of Albany. A burst of laughter from the American bishops made him conscious of his mistake. And he was afterwards told that nothing could have been more appropriate, as Albany had already excited the derision of his colleagues as being the only American bishop that wore apron and gaiters and wished to be styled "my lord." Needless to say, thenceforth he was always called "The Duke " throughout the States.