Chapter VII. The Triumph of the Mob
NO one had any right to affect surprise when, on the re-opening of the church on Sunday, November 6th, the rioting was renewed with increased vigour. The actual rioters and the vestrymen, headed by the churchwardens, without whose connivance and encouragement the riots could not have gone on, had found the Bishop a ready tool for the purpose of making the Rector's conduct of the service to appear to be the cause of the disturbances, and were encouraged by this to fresh outrages. If the Bishop had acted with that manliness about which he talked so glibly, however much he thought the Rector in the wrong, simple justice would have compelled him to say plainly that he would take no steps to interfere with the Rector's conduct, even in a fair and lawful manner, until the disgusting profanity of the mob was firmly put down. A fair-minded man would not only have refused to enter into the consideration of the charges made against the Rector until he was liberated from the pressure of mob law, but would have insisted, even at the [88/89] threat of resigning his see, on the police and Home Office authorities at once establishing the authority of the law in place of the tyranny of the mob. "Episcopi Anglicani semper pavidi" has, however, too often proved a true proverb, and the majority of the English bishops have, as a rule, adopted the Pickwickian course of shouting with what they thought the largest crowd. Sometimes it has turned out not to be the largest, but only the noisiest; and the verdict of the quieter but more sensible majority has been against them; but they have been slow to learn the lesson of the folly of counting noses, especially when you count wrong.
The newspapers stated that the Rector caused the disturbances on the day that the church was reopened by an angry and intemperate sermon that he preached at the morning service; but as the disturbances throughout the morning service, before the sermon was preached, were worse than they had been on any preceding Sunday morning, this explanation will hardly hold water. The sermon was afterwards published, and there was nothing in it that could give offence to anyone who had not come to the church for the express purpose of profaning God's House. The Rector would scarcely have been doing his duty, filled as he was, like his Master, with a zealous affection and reverence for his Father's House, if he had not alluded to the fearful sacrilege which had made it necessary to close the church. But while [89/90] speaking plainly on the sin of such sacrilegious conduct as had occurred, he said no harsh or unkind word about the sinners. His deep humility found expression in the suggestion that there must have been faults in himself and the congregation for such a state of things to be permitted, and the whole burden of the sermon was an affectionate and earnest exhortation to reverence for God's House and its services. It was the only part of the morning service that was listened to without disturbance, and it was evident to those who were present to worship that many were affected and subdued by it, who had apparently come only to join in the disturbances.
It was also stated in the newspapers that, out of resentment at the Bishop's order for the disuse of the Eucharistic vestments, the Rector had altogether discontinued the celebration of the Holy Eucharist on Sundays, the fact being that there had been a celebration at eight o'clock on that morning, and that the Rector intended to celebrate at the eleven o'clock service, but desisted simply because, on account of the disturbances at Morning Prayer, it was evident that the Holy Eucharist could not be celebrated without exposing it to desecration. This complaint of the friends of the mob, that a service was not held to provide them an opportunity of rioting, reminds the writer of a similar occurrence in his own experience of the riots at St. James', Hatcham, in 1876-7. On New Year's Eve, which happened to be a Sunday [90/91] evening, a crowd gathered round the church in anticipation of a fine opportunity for a disturbance at a midnight service, and expressed a very poor opinion of the High Churchmanship of the clergy of St. James' when, to their intense disappointment, they found that no such service would be held.
There was so much misrepresentation of the state of things at St. George's, which was too often, it is to be feared, wilful, that the committee of the St. George's Church Defence Association put out a statement, in which they describe the outrages that took place on the reopening of the church in these words:--
"The mob took possession of the seats occupied by the choir, and turned the clergy and choir out of their places in church; they shouted the responses aloud in the most indecent and outrageous manner, sometimes even into the ear of the officiating minister; they tried to stop the prayers, lessons, and sermon by continued coughing and hissing, stamping of feet, whistling, and slamming of pew doors. They turned dogs, howling from the effects of drugs purposely administered to them, into the church on one occasion, and on other occasions crackers were let off and musical instruments used in the church to disturb the service; on more than one occasion clergymen and laymen were spat upon, pelted with stones, and had mud thrown in their faces in the streets; in short, the mob behaved just as the dregs of society would behave anywhere if they thought they might do so with impunity. Whether the local authorities did really their best to check or even to discountenance these disturbances is a matter which those who have read [91/92] the papers must judge of for themselves. The presence of the police in the church for several weeks hindered the outrages of the mob for a time, but they were suddenly withdrawn on New Year's Day, notwithstanding the earnest request of the Rector that their withdrawal might be gradual, and the riots are now worse than ever; nor does there seem to be any chance of their cessation so long as the magistrate refrains from punishing those who are convicted of taking part in them."
The Defence Association had been formed to give the Rector that moral and physical support and defence which were denied to him by the ecclesiastical and civil authorities. The following list of names of the members of the General Committee is a sufficient guarantee of the kind of men, clergy and laymen, who were prominent in their support of Mr. King and the members of his regular congregation:--
General Committee of St. George's Church Defence Association
His Excellency G. J. R. Gordon, British Minister Plenipotentiary, Hanover.
The Hon. and Rev. C. Griffin, Haselor Vicarage, Stratford-on-Avon.
The Hon. Henry Walpole, 7, Halkin Street, W.
The Hon. G. F. Boyle, Cumbrae, Greenock, and 18, Chesham Place, S.W.
The Hon. Colin Lindsay, Deer Park, Honiton.
The Ven. Archdeacon Denison, East Brent.
The Ven. Archdeacon Churton, Crayke, Durham.
The Rev. Canon Jenkins, Jesus College, Oxford.
 The Rev. R. Lee, Rector of Stepney, E.
The Rev. T. T. Bazeley, Rector of Poplar, E.
The Rev. W. H. Lyall, Rector of St. Dionis, Backchurch, E.C.
The Rev. Professor H. G. Williams, Rector of Preston, Suffolk.
The Rev. Seymour Walpole, Rector of Newark, Notts.
The Rev. W. J. E. Bennett, Vicar of Frome Selwood.
The Rev. Edward Stuart, St. Mary Magdalene's, Munster Square, N.W.
The Rev. C. J. LeGeyt, St. Matthias, Stoke Newington, N.
The Rev. W. R. Wroth, St. Philip, Clerkenwell, N.
The Rev. Thomas Helmore, Priest-in-Ordinary to Her Majesty's Chapel Royal.
The Rev. T. W. Perry, Addington, Bucks.
The Rev. W. R. Scott, St. Mary Magdalene's, Harlow.
The Rev. W. L. Wigan, East Mailing, Kent.
The Rev. J. P. Kane, Cowley, Oxford.
Lieutenant-Colonel H. C. Owen, R.E.
Lieutenant-Colonel R. Moorsom.
Captain S. Hall.
Captain E. J. Ottley.
Messrs. Robert Brett, A. Sutherland Graeme, John David Chambers, C. F. Trower, Philip N. Harper, J. Burgess Knight, Charles Browne, James Mackonochie, William Elliott, John Walter Lea, Henry Pullen, George Wakeling, W. W. King, R. Porter, Edward Tylee, W. Whiteley, T. G. Ramsay, C. H. Johnstone, Frederick Stutfield, Barton Stutfield, Thomas Charrington, F. Bramly Baker, R. E. Gibbs, A. Hanson, George Akers, R. W. Motion.
In addition to the moral support given by the members of this committee and many other [93/94] sympathisers, material help was given of a more important character by a considerable body of men, who came from different parts of London, Sunday after Sunday, to defend the sanctuary, and give that protection to the clergy denied by the police, without which it would have been impossible for them to conduct the services. Prominent amongst these were Messrs. Frederick Stutfield, a parishioner of St. George's and son of a county magistrate; Richard Rhodes Bristow, who was led by what took place at St. George's to give up a promising business career and take Holy Orders; Robert Linklater, who afterwards ministered at St. Peter's as assistant priest; Charles Warren Adams, son of Mr. Sergeant Adams; and Edward Tylee, afterwards associated with St. James', Hatcham, and for several years auditor of the English Church Union. The last-named told the writer that on one occasion, when he and others were defending the altar from the violent assault of the mob, the riot became so terrific that he thought his last hour had come, and commended his soul to God. So far from the concessions on the two important points of the vestments and the hour of the lecturer's service conciliating the rioters and those who were behind them, they only caused them to be more clamorous in their demands that the services, which were now precisely similar to those in the cathedrals and in many parish churches, should be still further altered, and reduced to the level of dulness and desolation at [94/95] which Mr. King had found them. Yet Mr. King showed a readiness to make every possible concession short of an immoral and foolish acceptance of the tyranny of mob law. Thus on the Bishop complaining that the preacher's turning to the east in the pulpit to say the ascription of praise at the end of the sermon was a cause of offence to the congregation, his request that it might be discontinued was immediately complied with. And, again, when later the Bishop had illegally, according to the opinion of Dr. Phillimore, caused the removal of the choir stalls and ordered Mr. King to say the prayers in the reading-desk, which faced west, his monition, though of very doubtful legality, was obeyed. On this occasion the Times, which had always professed to regard the Rector as an unreasonable disturber of the peace of the church, was constrained, on March I2th, to admit his conciliatory disposition in the following terms:--
"It is but justice to say that by going to the reading-desk yesterday, as well as by his general conduct of the services, he has shown every disposition to make concessions, but it is plain from the conduct of the persons who ordinarily form the congregation that nothing in the way of concession will be accepted."
Meanwhile the riots had reached their climax on Sundays, January 29th and February 5th. On January 30th the Times gave this description of the disgraceful occurrences of the previous day:--
[96 "Yesterday evening there was a frightful riot, resulting in the destruction of much of the church property, in the Parish Church of St. George's-in-the-East. Unhappily, notorious as this parish has become in consequence of the religious differences which prevail, and serious as have been the disturbances which have taken place, everything which has previously occurred sinks into insignificance when compared with the terrible scene which was witnessed there last night. . . . The conduct of the congregation was, to use the only phrase at all applicable to it, 'devilish.' . . . There being at least 3,000 persons present, of whom about 1,000 were boys, who had come with the determination of making a row. . . . There was cat-calling, cock-crowing, yelling, howling, hissing, shouting, of the most violent kind, snatches of popular songs were sung, loud cries of 'Bravo' and 'Order' came from every part of the church, caps, hats, and bonnets were thrown from the galleries into the body of the church and back again, while pew doors were slammed, lucifer matches struck, and attempts more than once made to put out the gas. In this there was regular organisation, but it was not successful, although various parts of the church were at times placed in darkness. During all this time the unruly mob acted without check of any kind, for although there was a strong force outside, not one policeman was allowed to enter the church. At the Garrick Theatre, close by, where there was a religious service conducted by the incumbent of one of the district churches of St. George's-in-the-East, there were several policemen present to preserve order."
After describing attempts to wreck the altar, which were only prevented by Mr. King's voluntary defenders, the report proceeds:--
 "The scene at this time was perfectly frightful, and would in all probability have ended in bloodshed had not Inspector Alison, upon his own authority, entered the church with a dozen policemen and ordered it to be cleared. Turned out of the church, the rioters suggested an attack on Mr. King's house, and many persons who went there were very roughly handled. In the course of an hour Inspector Alison had got the whole of the disorderly mob into the street. A considerable amount of church furniture has been destroyed, the cushions in the galleries were torn up and thrown into the body of the church, Bibles and Prayer-books flew about in all directions, and many of the altar decorations have been injured."
Even Dr. Tait experienced a temporary lapse into a reasonable attitude in regard to the treatment of the rioters. In his place in the House of Lords, on January 30th, perhaps inspired by the Times, which too often supplied for him the place of a handbook of moral theology, after asking what steps the Government had taken and intended to take to preserve order, he said:--
"While the present state of things endures it is impossible for the clergy or the ecclesiastical authorities to take any measures with regard to disputed points, for it is clear that until the majesty of the law is vindicated it will be impossible to make any changes in the services, even those which are desirable, because that which is right in itself cannot be conceded to disorderly and riotous clamours. . . . I don't wish to express any opinion as to the original causes of discontent. It seems to me that they have nothing to [97/98] do with the present question, which is simply whether disturbances can be allowed to take place in a parish church which would not be tolerated in any other place of worship in England."
This was quite inconsistent with the Bishop's previous and subsequent action, since, both before and after this speech, he lost no opportunity of harassing Mr. King with requests and monitions to make changes in accordance with the demands of the rioters; but the indiscreet biography of Dr. Tait, particularly the very free-spoken letters of Dr. Temple complaining of the way in which he himself was treated by Dr. Tait in the matter of Essays and Reviews, show very clearly that his personal ambition and desire to pose as the deus ex machina in the arrangement of all ecclesiastical difficulties led him, whilst usually hunting with the hounds, to run so far with the hare as to be able to persuade himself that, if perchance it did escape, it was owing in the main to his clever intervention.
Dr. Tait did not love persecution, and would gladly have avoided any appearance of sympathy with it, if his own success could be otherwise assured. He would, no doubt, have rejoiced if the Government had, in response to his appeal, determined to treat Mr. King and the rioters with even-handed justice; but when the Government showed plainly that its sympathies were entirely with the rioters, and that Mr. King was to be left to the mercies of the mob, [98/99] the Bishop, unmoved by any sentimental influence to sacrifice his ambition to the support of an unpopular, even if a righteous cause, submissively acquiesced.
Earl Granville's reply was so lame that there can be little doubt that the Government must have given way and put down the riots, which could easily have been done, as was shown by the result whenever the police were allowed to act, if the Bishop had firmly pressed the point. Lord Granville had the effrontery to say that, whereas the only Act of Parliament under which the rioters could be satisfactorily dealt with was enacted under Philip and Mary, it was doubtful whether an Act passed with reference to Catholic Churches could be applied to what he was pleased to call Protestant Churches, as if he imagined that the Reformation had in any way excluded the buildings of the Established Church from the operation of the law of the land. He also stated that the police had been removed from duty in the church because of the inconvenience of employing so many of them for that particular work, while admitting that a large force was stationed in the neighbourhood of the church. The real reason, however, slipped out in the expression of his hope that their removal would have led to changes in the services; so that the policy of the Government was to allow the mob to regulate the conduct of the services of the church.
 In the House of Commons, Sir George Cornewall Lewis, the Home Secretary, ignoring the description of the riotous disturbances during the services given in the Times and other newspapers, spoke of it as "a very decided expression of disapprobation" at rites and ceremonies introduced into the services by Mr. King, which "at the termination of the service ended in tumult," as if that was the ordinary and reasonable way for people to express disapproval of the method of conducting service, and as if a mob of people, in no way connected with that or any other church, had a right to come in from all parts and interfere with a service which satisfied at least the majority of the regular congregation.
Such was the attitude of the Government, although the Times, which regarded the Rector as altogether in the wrong, declared that the first duty of the Government was to put down the riots, and pointed out how this could easily be effected.
On Monday, February 6th, speaking of what occurred on Sunday, the 5th, the Times said that "the violent conduct of the rioters completely eclipsed their efforts on the previous Sunday." Yet Sir G. C. Lewis, in reply to a question put to him in the House of Commons on February 6th, said he should demur to the questioner designating as outrages the scandalous scenes which occurred on Sunday at the parish church of St. George's-in-the-East; and that the course taken by Sir Richard Mayne, the Chief [100/101] Commissioner of Police, appeared to him adequate for the purpose of maintaining order.
Lord Derby protested against these statements of the Home Secretary in the House of Lords on February 8th, and stated that there was no deviation whatever in the manner in which the services were conducted at St. George's from that customary in the cathedrals, particularly mentioning St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and reminded the House that choral services had been held in St. George's for fifteen years without opposition.
Lord Brougham expressed his abhorrence of the riots, and protested against questions of ceremonial being decided by the mob, and pointed out how the police might stop the riots.
The Times, whilst speaking of Mr. King as a mistaken clergyman who ought to be removed from his benefice, said:--
"Whatever may be right about the method of conducting the church services, it is clearly not to be endured that a set of rioters should convert one of our parish churches into a bear-garden. . . . The common sense of this wretched business is to put an end to the riots first."
A memorial, which was signed by a considerable number of London clergy, and presented to the Government authorities, contained the following statement:--
"We submit that the opinions of the clergy of the [101/102] district (in which many of us do not concur) have no bearing on this question, and that the failure to defend public worship from indecent outrage is a reflection on the administration of justice in this country, which prides itself justly on its maintenance of liberty of opinion."
It might have been supposed that the last sentence would have weight with a professedly Liberal Government; but Catholic Liberals have to acknowledge with shame that they have never received more unjust treatment than at the hands of the official Liberal party, which, unhappily, depends so largely for support on the political dissenter, and has generally shown itself ready to pay any price for that support. So on this occasion the Liberal Government showed itself determined to do no more for the Catholic clergy and congregation of St. George's than they were obliged.
On February 10th, in answer to a question, Mr. Clive, for the Home Secretary, who was absent, said that "there appeared no necessity for further precautions than those already taken;" but, being further pressed, he was compelled at last by very shame to say that the police would be both outside and inside the church on the following Sunday. Lord Granville stated subsequently in the House of Lords that on that Sunday there was hissing, simulated coughing, and other scandalous conduct; and when asked by the Bishop of Exeter, who said that Mr. King's actions were within the law, why the [102/103] offenders were not arrested, he replied that, although there were sixty policemen in the church, and hundreds of people were making peculiar noises, it was impossible for the police to fix upon any one offender. It was obvious that if the police did not receive positive instructions to that effect, they must have understood that their superiors did not wish them to do more than they were compelled in the way of keeping order. The rioters, within certain limits at least, were to have their own way, and to show their disapprobation after their own method; and so with slight modification the disturbances went on.
Allusion having been made to the intervention of the Bishop (Phillpotts) of Exeter, two letters from him to Mr. King may well be given, showing how knowledge of the facts of the case elicited sympathy with Mr. King from those who had felt grave suspicion of the prudence of his line of action when they had nothing but misrepresentation of the case on which to base their opinion. The first letter was written before, the second after Mr. King had sent the Bishop of Exeter a copy of his published letter to the Bishop of London detailing the circumstances of the case.
"30th November, 1859.
"Shall I be forgiven if I presume so far on the very slight acquaintance with you with which I have been [103/104] favoured as to obtrude upon you the opinions of an old man (now in his 82nd year) who regards you as one who has not had justice done to him by all from whom he had a right to expect it.
"Entertaining these sentiments towards you, and honouring your faithfulness and fearlessness in the discharge of your duty, I venture to submit to you, whether the improved demeanour of your opponents on last Sunday may not enable you, saving your own independence and freedom of action, to do something further than you may as yet have been enabled to do towards conciliation.
"I apprehend that your use of the Vestments, strictly according to the law of Church and State, has been the most fruitful cause of disturbance.
"That you have done this in obedience to your conscience I have no doubt, and that you are desirous, consistently with obedience to your conscience, to take some course which shall put an end to the present mischievous, disgraceful, perilous proceedings of your persecutors I am equally without doubt.
"Now I wish to submit to your consideration whether your conscience demands your use of these Vestments further than as the Law of the Church requires it. I fully agree with you that this law does require you to use them if they are provided by those whose duty it is to provide them; but I do not think that you are bound to provide them. So far as regards what belongs to you as a graduate of a University, the hood--you probably are bound by law to provide it for yourself. Not so as regards the Vestments required to be used by you when ministering publicly the Word and Sacraments; the surplice, and other Vestments, be they what they may, these it is the duty of the Churchwardens to provide at the cost of the parish. If [104/105] they fail to perform their duty you are not bound to supply their lack of faithfulness.
"I know not (for, to say the truth, I have not watched the specialities of the case) whether there is any dispute respecting ornaments of the Lord's Table. If there be, I think the same observation is applicable as to the Vestments.
"Forgive my intrusion. It demands some apology. It proceeds, in part, from a sincere wish to see you relieved, with honour, from your present annoyances; in part, also, from anxiety for the Church.
"I fear (a fear founded on no light grounds) that the disturbances at St. George's-in-the-East will be made a weapon in the hands of those who are anxious to repeal or mar the Act of Uniformity--our best, perhaps I might say our only, remaining security for the Church of England, as united to the State.
"Farewell, and believe me with very sincere wishes for your best interests in time and in eternity,
"December 3rd, 1859.
"I must not permit a single post to depart without offering to you my warmest thanks for the comfort and spiritual encouragement which I have received from reading your interesting letter, and your most affecting address to your people.
"That these documents have made me exchange some painful doubts for well-grounded reliance on your Christian bearing under your trial I hope I need not assure you.
 "If you hear of any intention of any movements being made, so as to induce Parliament to interfere, perhaps you will have the goodness to inform me.
"Believe me, with sincere esteem,
The Bishop wrote again in February, asking for information with a view to giving Mr. King what support he could in Parliament; and again in May "heartily wishing for a speedy deliverance from your grievous persecution."
The next development was an illegal and arbitrary exercise of simulated authority by the Bishop of London. In 1857 the colouring of the east wall of the chancel having become defaced Mr. King put up some hangings. When one of the churchwardens objected to them, the Bishop, on being appealed to, said to Mr. King: "Of course there can be no question as to the strict legality of such decorations. When I was Dean of Carlisle Cathedral, I myself decorated the east wall with such hangings." Shortly before Lent, i860, some hangings of a more subdued character were offered to the Rector as more suitable to the season, which he at first declined, but afterwards accepted on the condition that they should be of the most quiet and unobtrusive character possible. When they were given, Mr. King found that on the curtain behind the altar there was an embroidered cross, which was more conspicuous than the one on [106/107] the old hangings, and he consequently had it altered so as to be as much like the original one as possible.
On Saturday, February 25th, when Mr. King had been summoned from home by telegraph on account of the illness of a child, in his absence the Bishop sent a letter to the churchwardens directing them to remove the new hangings, which they did just before the morning service next day. Mr. King's representatives, naturally thinking that it was the change of the hangings that was objected to, replaced the old ones after the service. On February 29th, having been informed on high legal authority that this action of the Bishop's was quite illegal, Mr. King wrote to him, making it a matter of special request that in the event of his Lordship's wishing to have any alterations made in the arrangements of the church in future, he would be kind enough to carry those wishes into effect either with the Rector's concurrence, or through the decision of a court of law.
In reply to this reasonable request the Bishop sent his chancellor and legal secretary to meet the churchwardens and inspect the hangings and other furniture in the church, the result of which was a formal presentment by the churchwardens, apparently instructed by the Bishop's judicial representative, of certain articles of furniture. This was followed, without any reference to the court, or any further consultation with Mr. King, by a monition from the Bishop requiring him "to say or sing the prayers, &c, in the [107/108] reading-desk" instead of in the choir stalls, and another to the churchwardens to remove the movable cross from the super-altar, the hangings from the walls, and the seats, which had been fitted up and used as choir stalls, from their place, all which on the same day they did. In vain Mr. King submitted to the Bishop the opinion of Dr. Phillimore on this action: "I had supposed it to be a well-established axiom of ecclesiastical law, that no ornament can be removed from a church, however illegally put up, without the authority of the Ecclesiastical Court." The mob had chosen these articles as the special objects of their profane attacks; they had taken possession of the choir seats, to exclude the choir, and had eaten their meals there while waiting for the service; they had pelted the hangings with orange-peel and bread and butter; and they had pelted and thrown down the altar cross with stair-carpet rods: therefore they must go.
On the removal of the choir seats in this illegal manner, Mr. King with the choir took refuge within the altar rails, where he had some forms placed for their accommodation; but on Sunday, May 13th, Mr. Churchwarden Thompson, the landlord of a public-house near the church, just before the evening service, opened the gates of the altar rails, and permitted the mob to take possession of these seats. On the following Saturday afternoon, when it was too late to seek advice how to meet this new invasion [108/109] on the rights of the Rector, the Bishop, whom the rioters now openly boasted they could compel to do what they chose, sent an order to the churchwardens to remove these seats, to prevent the choir from entering the space within the altar rails, to hinder them from walking into church in procession, and to place them wherever they,--the churchwardens,--might choose, the obvious intention of this being to separate the choir from the clergy, and so allow the rioters, by their unseemly interruptions and shouting of the responses, to prevent anything like a decent rendering of the services.
The question of the legality of these monitions of the Bishop was referred by the English Church Union to Dr. Phillimore and Messrs. J. D. Coleridge, Prideaux, and Stephens, who unanimously gave the opinion that they were "not worth the paper on which they were written." But whilst the regular complaint against the so-called ritualists is that they are breaking the law, it is not considered material how far the law is regarded in the means taken to suppress them.
Thus the mob triumphed all along the line,--and such a mob! The East London Association, not long before the riots took place, made a careful survey of the population contained within a parallelogram of four streets, within which the parish church of St. George's was situated. They found that it contained in all 733 houses, of which 27 were [109/110] public-houses, 13 were beer-houses, and 154 were houses of ill-fame. The Rev. R. H. Baynes, chaplain of the Sailors' Home, Wells Street, said in a letter to the Times of January 2nd, 1860:--
"I was told, not long ago, by the captain of a merchant ship, that he had been to nearly all the large ports in the world, but had never witnessed such open and abandoned profligacy as exists within half a mile from my church in Dock Street."
It was to the dregs of this population, assisted by that dangerous class of persons from all parts of London ever ready for an opportunity of defying law and order, and, still worse, to those well-to-do persons who led the agitation against the Rector, too often because they profited by the horribly immoral condition of the parish, that the civil authorities and, alas! the Bishop sacrificed Bryan King. It was a man struggling heavily and almost hopelessly against such difficulties that Dr. Davidson has thought fit to depreciate, emphasising his depreciation by contrasting the comparatively small immediate and apparent results of his labours with the marvellous success of those who came after him, who were indebted to him for the opportunity of doing in the mission chapels that grand missionary work which it was absolutely impossible for him, as it would have been impossible for them, or for anyone else, to do in the pewed church where every effort was opposed by the [110/111] churchwardens and vestry, and who were in no small degree helped in their work by his sufferings.
Dr. Davidson might have sought to show, as it must be sincerely hoped was the fact, that whilst terribly mistaken in his manner of dealing with Mr. King, Dr. Tait was acting in good faith. He has unfortunately elected to set his patron before us as the personification of wisdom, who could not make a mistake under any circumstances, and his peculiarly unecclesiastical way of dealing with Church questions as the perfection of ecclesiastical statesmanship. This necessitated the sacrifice of Mr. King's reputation to that of Dr. Tait. Dr. Davidson has challenged judgment between the two; and has therefore made it necessary for one who knew Mr. King, and reverences his memory, to take up the challenge by stating the facts of the case. To use the expression of Dr. Temple on another occasion,--and readers of Dr. Davidson's intended panegyric will not have failed to see how often it was applicable to Dr. Tait's episcopal actions,--the way in which Dr. Tait treated Mr. King "had not the intention, but it had all the effect of treachery" to Mr. King and to the whole Church.
Dr. Tait owes small thanks to his biographer for raising such questions. Any future writer of the ecclesiastical history of the period who wishes to do full justice to the character of Dr. Tait's episcopate must face the question, and there is abundant [111/112] evidence in the "Life" to decide the point, whether he was not so blinded by the conviction that his own personal victory was essential to the satisfactory settlement of any ecclesiastical question, and, at the same time, by what he called in Dr. Temple "a somewhat arrogant over-estimate of the infallibility of his own opinion," that he unconsciously followed the drift of what seemed to him the current of popular feeling, which with remarkable self-deception he fancied he was leading, and was constitutionally incapable of conceiving the possibility of there being any valid objection to the line he was taking; so that every aspect of a question that differed from his own was to him mere foolishness or perversity. It was, as the writer believes, this constitutional infirmity, and no motive of intentional injustice, which caused Dr. Tait to sacrifice Bryan King to the mob.