Project Canterbury

Robert Radcliffe Dolling
by H.F.B. Mackay

"He stirreth up the people."-St. Luke xxiii. 5.

The year before Charles Lowder went down to preach in Lower Well Alley and was pelted with broken crockery by wild Irish, a little boy lay dying in a big country house in the north of Ireland. It was the boy's fourth birthday, and he asked to see his birthday cake. They brought it to him, and his eyes dwelt on it with satisfaction. "Give everybody in the house a bit," said the weak voice, "and don't forget the people in the kitchen." Having said this, the little boy took a turn for the better, and lived another forty-seven years, during which he was the champion of all the people in the world who live below stairs.

But Bob Dolling's gospel was not the easy gospel of good nature, it was the natural outcome of a direct apprehension of God.

He had recovered, and was sitting again by his mother, eating his dinner with a dessert spoon at the family luncheon. He was now four and a half. A guest began to talk about theology with Bob's father and mother and said that he had always found the doctrine of the Trinity a difficulty.

"On my plate," said Bob suddenly, "there are three things, gravy, meat and 'tatoes, but" (with a grin) "they are all one dinner. That's like the Trinity."

Dolling was never a subtle theologian, it must be confessed, to the end of his days. As I have said, he had the mystic's direct personal knowledge of God, and he no more needed a theology to support his belief in God than you need an astronomy to support your belief in the sun, moon and stars.

When Bob was seven, he and his younger sister, Josephine, had a terrifying experience. They found themselves perched on an outside car being driven at nightfall through a dark and lonely wood. All woods are terrible at nightfall, but what with banshees and other supernatural Irish beings, whose names I dare not pronounce in public, Irish woods are worse than any, and if there is a type of vehicle from which an ogre could pick you off in a moment it is an Irish outside car.

Bobby felt it was time to do something. "It's all right, Joey," he said, "I am going to pray, then nothing can hurt us. 'Lighten our darkness we beseech Thee, O Lord, and by Thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night, for the love of Thine only Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.'"

Robert Dolling had a very good Protestant father, and a very beautiful Evangelical mother who saturated her children's minds with the Gospel story: but he grew up a Catholic because he saw that Catholicism is the language through which God communicated Himself most fully and most subtly to man. Philosophically Dolling was a pragmatist, a man who believe that utility is the guide to truth; he was a Catholic because he saw that Catholicism is the religion which works, he saw in it the expression which God has devised for His message; and he was so sure of this that he never saw the slightest need for a Papal authority to enforce it, and was extremely impatient when Popes in the guise of English bishops tried to hinder it.

Scott Holland sketched Dolling's religion, and I will give you Holland's words.

"Religion," says Holland, "after all, must be religion; it must mean a spiritual life, a converted will, a humble and contrite heart, a love of God and of man. Dolling let nothing overlay these or compensate for the lack of these. He had indeed a certain body of ritual practice, more or less elaborate and very definite in its intention. And he appreciated beautiful ministrations. But the secret of his work lay behind or underneath this.

"He insisted indeed strongly on the Sacrament of Penance and Absolution, but then this was to him an essential element and agent in the process of conversion. He preserved he central dominance over all worship of Eucharistic adoration; but then the Sacrament of the Altar was to him the spirit and the life. He could not conceive a division between the inward and the outward manifestation of God's pardoning grace. Evangelical and Catholic truth found here for him their perfect fusion, in the hunger of the forgiven soul for the Body and the Blood present in the Bread and the Wine. all this he needed to have emphatic and pronounced, without disguise or modification, if his vivid missionary attack was to be possessed of its obvious completion.

"His inward message could not bear to be deprived of its outward expression, and he was angry at any cautious check put upon him, yet not so much with the Ritualist's ecclesiastical anxiety as with the Missioner's indignation at being thwarted in his Gospel."

Now I must sketch Dolling's life for you.

In Lowder and Dolling we have examples of the two age-long types of men who serve God in this world-the Priest and the Prophet.

The work of the true priest is circumscribed by his times, within their limit he serves God faithfully in the plot of ground assigned to him. In the last chapter we saw Lowder doing this, we saw him get to work on a plague spot and cleanse it.

The office of the prophet is to stand above his times and see further than his contemporaries see. Dolling's mission was to make for the forces which underlay the plague spot and try to reform them; he found them knit up with the fabric of English society. To attack society at any point is to find oneself up against much honest public opinion. Dolling attacked social evils and suffered accordingly.

Dolling, whose father had considerable estates in the north of Ireland, was an Irishman by birth, but by descent he was French and English. He was educated in England, at a private school where they chiefly remember his hatred of falsehood and cruelty; at Harrow, where they say his life was chivalrous and unstained: and for a short time at Trinity College, Cambridge, where, his health breaking down and his eyes failing, he could not read for his degree. After a time abroad he returned to Ireland and worked at land agency under his father. During the whole of this time, whenever he was at home, Dolling was a boy missionary to the lads on and round his father's estate, the lads of Kilrea. Master Robert as a little boy, the centre of all the fun and the school treats; Master Robert's parties for the boys up at the Big House; Master Robert's night school where he taught reading, writing and arithmetic; Master Robert's Bible and Prayer Book class on Sundays; Master Robert's potato patch where the boys planted potatoes, his flower garden which they made out of a plantation; his library where every boy had to read one evening a week; his expeditions to the sea, where they swam and sat on the rocks and he told them stories. The charity dances he and his boys and their fiddler gave, at which he and his boys dance half the night to help an old woman pay her rent and buy her pig. And Master Bob's sick visiting, too, when he brought food and dressed wounds; and his visits to mourners, when Master Bob spoke of our Lord and prayed aloud.

In one place or another, Kilrea, Dublin, London, Portsmouth, and again London, so Dolling lived. He was not ordained until he was thirty-one; up to then, he was, of all off things, a land agent and a rent collector in Ireland.

But towards the end of this period, whenever he could be in London he was immersed over here in St. Martin's League.

The young Orange land agent had met Arthur Stanton, and had found his ideal in Stanton and the band of five hundred postmen who constituted St. Martin's League. This was a purely social institution for postmen, with club houses where food, rest and recreation could be obtained.

Dolling had by this time made his first confession, and his Catholicism had become definite and clear in the atmosphere of St. Alban's, Holborn.

To the postmen Dolling was "Brother Bob," and both here and in Dublin which was at this time his headquarters, he helped to carry on Stanton's work, and finally became Warden of the League House in Borough Road.

Dolling was perfectly happy in the liberty, equality and fraternity of the League House in the Borough so happy that he began to feel that this was surface work and that he must dig deeper. He made friends with the boys of the lowest and roughest class, the hooligans; they were filthy and in such rags that Dolling called them "the Angels" because their tatters looked like wings. Dolling used to have his kitchen boiler lit and make the boys strip and wash themselves all over; he fed them and gave them what clothes he could collect. On one Christmas Day he is said to have given the hooligans so good a meat dinner that there was no room for more. Dolling took them for a long run to shake down the first course, then they returned to finish the pudding.

This, I think, corresponds in Dolling's life to the moment when St., Francis kissed the leper. The spruce young postmen very naturally objected; they said they could not live in an entomological museum.

This convinced Dolling that he had a mission to the verminous, and that he could not fulfil it without the priesthood. He went to Salisbury Theological College, where, I need not say, he felt rather uncomfortable, and was ordained to a parish in the Salisbury diocese, which sent him as its missionary to work in an East End district.

Under Bishop Walsham How, Dolling began his characteristic work in the East End of London at Maidman Street, Stepney: he ended his life in the East End at St. Saviour's, Poplar.

But his middle period at St. Agatha's, Landport, was his great period, and it is from this that we must gather his message to the Anglo-Catholic movement to-day.

After Dolling had been two years at Stepney, Bishop Temple ordained him priest, but declined to give him an independent sphere of work.

Our Francis had not found an Innocent III. Bishop Temple was truly a great man, but he was bound by the limitations of his position. Until the Church of England is liberated from State control it can never produce an Innocent III.

At this critical moment Dolling was offered the Winchester College Mission at St. Agatha's, Landport, vacant owing to the promotion of Dr. Linklater, the missioner, to Holy Trinity, Strouds Green.

There is nothing more honourable in recent English Church history than the relations between Dolling and Winchester College.

Winchester stands for the cultured English tradition in its finished completeness. "It had," as Scott Holland says, "the curious type of worship peculiar to the Public Schools, with its ancient prehistoric conditions, unlike anything else on the face of the earth, and its terror of anything that commits it, or of anyone who should let himself go."

"Winchester men were perhaps" (I am still quoting Scott Holland" "of all living being the most remote from the special form of spiritual work which Dolling embodies." But Winchester recognized the Prophet of God, and this shows us the essential rightness of the true English tradition. Not only did Dolling made the mission a vital part of the daily life of the school and bring the boys to have a personal share and vital pride in it, but both masters and boys drew him into school politics and school secrets, and made him their confidant. They all saw in him their deal of a religion, God-fearing man.

To Wykehamists, Dolling was Dolling, and in a category all to himself.

"Dolling has been preaching at voluntary chapel all through Holy Week at half-past four in the afternoon," once said a Wykehamist to me.

"How many did he get" said I, remembering that like most Holy Weeks it had been gorgeously fine.

"Oh, about four hundred."

St. Agatha's, Landport, as Dolling found it, was like a pirates' nest. Full of the deepest degradation, but a scene of tumult, excitement and loud laughter. Public houses of the lowest class, fifty bad houses, streets full of romping, practical jokes, horse-play; cheap jacks and round-abouts, and booths on every open space. A Bunyan's Vanity Fair of the lowest class.

For this spot Dolling collected £50,000. Here he built a parsonage big enough to take in the poor, the halt and the blind, a great gymnasium, swimming baths, and a grand basilican church. Here he gathered tramps and thieves and Winchester prefects and soldiers and sailors, and even good Bishop Thorold himself, who, being asked to select his neighbours at dinner, chose the two most accomplished thieves in the party, a party which Dolling made easy by his genial loving-kindness. He closed the fifty brothels, fought the licensing authorities, reduced the public houses, and headed a successful movement for shorter hours in the shops. He made friends with politicians of every hue, and with dissenters of every denomination. When Stewart Headlam had preached Socialism, and the Warden of Winchester had written Dolling an angry letter and Dolling had resigned, the chapels held prayer meetings for him and prayed he might remain, and Winchester hastened to say that the Warden's letter was not official and need not be remembered any more.

A general request from the town that he would reconsider his decision was headed by a leading member of the Primrose League. Dolling and a Baptist minister were the great twin brethren in the public fight with evil.

The fact is that the love of all men which radiated from him, and the utter sincerity of his life got him a hearing. When he spoke on the evils which lie beneath the surface of our civilization, men listened because all the while he was curing the ills around him and giving his life-blood to the task.

We come now to the moral of this tale.

A true Anglo-Catholic movement must not be content with remedying examples of evil when it finds them: it must fight wrong and oppression on a large scale. It must seek to remedy the conditions which maintain social wrong.

Dolling insisted that the Church had a duty to speak on social and political question. He pointed to the Psalms, he pointed out that the chief idea underlying a great part of the Psalter is the right to the poor to be heard by God and by men in all their needs and necessities and to gain the redress of their wrongs.

He reminds us that the prophets are political and social reformers, heard before kings and throughout the land and even over its borders. These men whose writings form so great a part of the Bible had one purpose, they preached the God of justice, a purpose the execution of which involved a most vigorous onslaught on every kind of oppression, on every species of wrong.

"Our Lord," continues Dolling, "gathers all this up, and comes as the champion of the weak and oppressed. The words for which He was cast out of the synagogue of Nazareth were words of social reform.

"But more-Christ preaches the royalty of every single man. He shows men that there is no height they may not rise to if they are true to the power God has given them.

"But Christ saw that some men have absorbed and monopolized the rights of others and hindered their development and denied them the fulfilment of their destiny. He bids men be free to realize their destiny.

"Hence, if any custom, if any privilege, is denying to men this opportunity, the Christian must never cease to raise his voice until this restriction is removed."

You see then how the message of Dolling, the prophet, is bound to have a wider range than the message of Lowder, the priest. Dolling had a mission to prophesy against such underlying conditions of society as helped to produce such patches of vice and disorder as he and Lowder dealt with, and he had the right to speak because he was doing the work.

If we are going to lead England forward to a better state of things we must have the grit to work and also the pluck to speak.

For a good English man or woman it is easier to work than to speak. You must borrow from the Celt. In politics, ethics, economics, as a Christian you must make yourself felt.

Is it ever said to-day that on such and such a Borough Council Anglo-Catholics are very strong and are affecting its policy? Have we begun to be remembered by Parliamentarians as a factor to be counted with?

Dolling would have this so, and so would the prophets and psalmists of the Bible.

There have been Anglo-Catholic summer schools at Oxford for the study of social questions. What a good thing you joined one and formed your mind on social problems! I know no autobiography of recent times which has impressed me more than Mrs. Sidney Webb's My Apprenticeship. The story of how that wealthy girl in her luxurious home made social questions her concern is one of the finest things I know.

Dolling left London over a dispute with Archbishop Temple. He left Landport over a dispute with Archbishop Davidson. It was about Prayers for the Dead. With a little diplomacy Dolling could have got his way, I fancy, but he was an Irishman, and when he was up against the bishop he could not help trailing his coat. Besides, he felt a principle was at stake. But the sunshine went out of his life then. He became a sadder man.

To-night he has his reward. Everything in the matter of the Faithful Departed for which he fought is concede in the Revised Prayer Book, and the altar of the Holy Souls, which he was not allowed to erect for Harry Moor in St. Agatha's, has been erected for Lord Kitchener in St. Paul's Cathedral.

It seems a pity and a waste, but no doubt Dr. Johnson was right when he said, "Sir, the only method by which religious truth can be established is by martyrdom."

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