Project Canterbury

Some Archbishops of Dublin
by T. S. Lindsay.

Dublin: Church of Ireland Printing Co., 1928.


Of Archbishop Bernard, with whom I worked as Archdeacon, I can write with a more intimate knowledge than I can of his predecessors. He was one of my closest and dearest friends; I knew him from his undergraduate days, and as our lives advanced and he rose, step by step, to be Fellow of Trinity College, Archbishop King's Lecturer in Divinity, Dean of St. Patrick's, Bishop of Ossory, Archbishop of Dublin and finally head of our great University, he was always the same to me--always simple, always brotherly, always ready with his bright smile and warm greeting. Indeed staunch friendship was one of his outstanding qualities, and I think the friendship of those whom he knew longest he cherished most.

I never met a better talker. With him it was not the brilliant monologue of Macaulay, which soon bores; it was really "conversation," not like a game of croquet or of billiards in which the good player makes a long break and his opponent has just to sit and watch; it was like tennis, where the ball flies back and forward. There was nothing of the egotist about Bernard, and, like Primate Alexander, another charming companion, he could listen just as well as he could talk. How delightful he was at the table, cheerful, humourous, brimming over with anecdote and wit, drawing out everyone's powers and making them think they sparkled too. And then the happy half-hour in the library alone with him, before work was resumed. He would dilate on the political situation, on Church affairs, on the Johannine problem which for years filled his mind, and throw new light on all. He seemed to have met everyone worth knowing, and could paint the portrait of each with a few rapid strokes of the brush. Primate Davidson of Canterbury, for example, was mentioned. "He is a good man," said Bernard, "he is the kind of man that would feel uncomfortable if he had told a lie." And then, with a twinkle in his eye, "You know you could not say that of everyone."

Bernard was an excellent man of affairs. To sit under him at a Council meeting was a lesson in the difficult art of chairmanship. He infused into all who sat round the table the happy sense that they were not wasting time, but doing important work in brotherly co-operation. He knew to a nicety how long to let discussion on any point go on, rarely intervening, letting every man have his say, not closing it prematurely, lest any should be dissatisfied, not prolonging it unduly, and then at precisely the right moment he would remark rather deferentially: "Well now, the case seems to be this----." He would sum up in a few lucid words and then he would read a resolution written, while they were talking, in the most clear and beautiful hand and perfectly expressed, which all perceived to be the correct solution of the problem and which was passed immediately. That being done, without a moment's delay he would proceed to the next business, and the meeting felt that time was not unlimited and must not be frittered away in talk by busy men.

But indeed whatever Bernard did he seemed to do perfectly. There could not be a more generally capable person. It always appeared to me that he had no special natural aptitude, but that he could exercise his great powers in any direction with equal ease. Mathematics, theology, poetry, metaphysics, history, classical and patristic literature, Biblical criticism--he mastered them all. Juvenal describes a man of many parts:--

"Grammaticus, rhetor, geometres, pictor, aliptes,
Augur, schcenobates, medicus, magus, omnia novit."

or, as Dryden wrote:--

"A man so various that he seemed to be
Not one, but all mankind's epitome."

Something like that could be said of Bernard. He professed to know nothing of flowers and to dislike machinery. Yet I suspect that this was because he had no time to turn his attention to them, for there are but twenty-four hours in the day. Every time I went to see him he had some new subject that occupied his mind. At one time it was the speech which Tennyson put into fine verse, and which the poet supposed to have been delivered in the House of Lords in 1852. At another it was the belief alluded to in Hamlet, that cocks crow at midnight on Christmas Eve. Again, he would expound to me the theory of Quaternions. And when I visited him at Mentone a few months before his death, and found him weak and ill in his room, he told me that old Sir Edward Clarke, who was in the hotel, had written a Life of Disraeli, which he had lent the Provost, and which narrated that the aged statesman, in his dying hours, was heard to utter unconscious ravings in an unknown tongue. "I know what it was," said Bernard, "I am quite sure that it was part of the Hebrew Scriptures that he had learned when a child." This brought back to my memory a story told by Sir W. Hamilton in his Metaphysics of an illiterate German old woman who, when dying, in the same way spoke some unintelligible language, and how a Lutheran clergyman had recognised it as from the Hebrew Psalter. And then it was found that when she was a little girl, an uncle, also a clergyman, had been accustomed to pace the room when he was reciting the Psalms in Hebrew. The sound had remained in her sub-conscious mind all those years, though she had never understood one word. This confirmed Bernard's guess, and he told Sir Edward of it.

Bernard could play a good game of billiards, but though it gave him the physical exercise he needed, it did not give him the fresh air of the country. And I remember the glee with which he told me how he had once won two games of chess against a good player, though knowing little more than the moves, because, having got soms odds, he proceeded recklessly to exchange pieces.

His mind was like a six-cylinder car of forty horse-power, which made the minds of most of those with whom he had to do seem slow and ramshackle machines. He knew this, and always expected to take the lead, and indeed it was usually accorded to him. He suffered fools, not indeed gladly, but patiently. He was forbearing with stupidity,' unless it were that obstinate dulness that got in his way and hindered his plans. These were the people that Whately called " proof-proof," who will, though defeated in argument, go back to their first assertions with quiet but determined stubbornness, whom he compared to a green baize door with a weak spring, which you try in vain to keep open, but which shuts again and again with a soft, resolute slam. Bernard certainly was a bit of a martinet, and he would never allow his authority to be questioned or his orders disregarded. This sometimes incurred resentment, but in the end it saved trouble, just as Cromwell's massacres in Wexford and Drogheda stopped further resistance. He could be very stern when occasion required it, but never bitter or censorious. He was a born ruler, and in whatever walk of life he might have chosen to go, he would have come to the front. Had he got into Parliament, he could hardly have failed to be Prime Minister. Had he taken to the bar, he would certainly have become Lord Chancellor. And so as a bishop he performed the functions of his office with unfailing efficiency, and when he was called to rule the Metropolitan See he brought his extraordinary powers to bear on the new work with great effect. He never had any parochial experience; yet he very soon, with his clear understanding and quick sympathy, made himself master of the difficulties and happinesses of the lives of his clergy. He was not only the scholar, with critical acumen and luminous style and careful precision and immense range of knowledge. He was also the true Father in God. And the people recognised with gratitude the warm interest which he took in their religious life as they came under the influence of his delightful personality and listened to the earnest, homely, spiritual sermons that he addressed to them from their pulpits. To see such a man, of great intellectual powers and conversant with so many fields of learning, declare himself a firm believer in the Gospel and a humble follower of Christ, must have been a wonderful strength to the faith of many. And he would visit a parish, make friends with its chief workers, greet even the humblest with unaffected cordiality and leave them inspired with love for their Church and a desire to promote the Lord's cause. Many a city or a country parson, and many a layman or lay woman, could tell a story of the sympathetic ear which he was ever ready to lend to the tale of their difficulties and the wise and kind advice which they were sure in the end to find right.

Then the call came to take the Provostship of Trinity College, and he had to make a hard decision. I well remember that anxious time, how deeply troubled his spirit was, how earnestly he sought Divine guidance. He shrank from the change; he was reluctant to leave his work in the Diocese; his interest in the welfare of the Church was intense. The move, too, was liable to be misinterpreted, and it was misinterpreted by the censorious. The very attractions of the proffered post constituted a hindrance, for people were sure to say that,he went because of the larger salary and the unique position. Ambition he certainly had--"the last infirmity of noble minds,"--but could any son of Trinity College be blamed if his heart thrilled with a just pride on being chosen to be the head of that great seat of learning. And I verily believe that in his case it was the ambition to serve, and to use the powers with which God had endowed him to the very best advantage of his country and Church. I, at least, felt that it was a call that should not be refused. The Church was a ship that had reached calm waters. Before the College lay dangerous rapids, and a strong and skilful hand was needed at the helm. There were others who could perform the duties of Archbishop with efficiency, and there were able men on the College staff, but there was no one who possessed the particular gifts required for the safeguarding of the College in the same degree as Bernard. His long and intimate knowledge of its history, its constitution and its working, his far-seeing sagacity, the terms of friendship on which he stood, as well with those who were dropping the reins of Government in the country as with those who were taking them up, and the high confidence which he had inspired in all by his high-minded integrity, marked him as the most suitable person to be head of the College. And if it was argued that in leaving the service of the Church for that of Education he was descending to a lower level, it might be replied that all true work is work for God, that it is an error to distinguish sharply between secular and religious, and that in promoting the welfare of the College he was in truth guarding the welfare of the Church.

All who knew him thank God for his memory; he being dead yet speaketh to them. And they thank God for his gentle, peaceful passage through the dim gate and into the happy home beyond. Here he saw darkly, as in a mirror; there he sees face to face. Here he knew in part; there, in the clear light of heaven, he knows, and will know more and more, even as he is known.

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