11 NOVEMBER 1949, Page 20


Cosmo Cantuar:

" REMEMBER always," said Mrs. Randall Davidson when the Arch- bishop of York one day at Lambeth had been talking intimately about religion, " remember always that that was the real Cosmo." That was a man of deep, humble piety, who could breathe in the air of mystical devotion. It was indubitably one part of him, and perhaps the core of an extremely complex and never completely integrated character. But it was not the Cosmo that the world knew or that more than a few were ever allowed to see. What the public saw was something very different—a magnificent prelate hold- ing a great position and a little too obviously filling it. The public admired but did not feel much attracted. He never won popular affection as his predecesor and successor did—such different men and for such different reasons. At two critical moments in his life— in the First World War and after the Abdication—he encountered, however little it was merited, a tide of violent unpopularity. Yet he was all the time a man who craved not only approval but affection.

The pomposity that could make people writhe was, I always thought, the protective carapace which had grown round a highly sensitive organism. He craved affection, yet he was on his guard against letting anybody come too near him. Perhaps it is true that the further people stood from him the less lovable was what they saw. The merciless Orpen portrait at Bishopthorpe depicts faithfully one of the many Langs—but the one which ought least to be remembered. (" That," remarked a Swedish Archbishop, " is what the devil wanted him to be, but what by the grace of God he was not.") He could be " proud, pompous and prelatical," and often was, but that is not the whole story. He could be the charming host, the friend of children ; he could be an artist, a Highland laird, a devoted pastor, a trusted counsellor to whom young men laid bare their hearts. He could be (as I know) singularly kind to quite junior clergy with no claim upon him. Beneath and behind all this there was the man now revealed in the confidential diaries, who was more like the Publican in the parable than the Cardinal Wolsey which at times he seemed. Which of these was " the real Cosmo " ? Mr. Lockhart's book is an attempt to answer that, so far as it can be answered by man's judgement. It suffers a bit from too much reliance on material left by the Archbishop. Too much of it was written by Lang himself. It would have gained by more objective evidence from those who had worked under him or with him. But it is a fine biographical study, and it paints an essentially true picture. Mr. Lockhart more than once draws attention to Lang's strongly developed " sense of theatre." He dramatised himself and his office. His career had been a dream come true—the poor Scots boy, the first subject of the King—and he was alive to its dramatic quality. If not with " effortless superiority," he had been a speL- tacular success. (One or two failures might have been salvation for him.) He played the role for which he had been cast. At the high services at York or Canterbury, and in the Abbey at the Coronation, he acted the ceremonial part superbly ; but that does not mean that he was insincere, or was—as his critics averred— merely posturing. He had his own dramatised ideal of archie- piscopal dignity, and realised it. There were, no doubt, times when it betrayed him into some of those foibles which invited criticism.

But these, after all, were on the surface. He was at his best when he was least self-conscious. "It was All Souls (Mr. Lockhart says) that knew Lang." It must be claimed in evidence of singleness of heart and magnanimity that he resigned the Archbishopric of Canterbury—which he must have found singularly hard to do—in order to make way for William Temple. The sequel to that is one of the tragic ironies.

It may be too soon to form an estimate of his place in the Church or in public affairs. Archbishop Davidson had a more powerful influence, but it was wielded largely behind the scenes. He was temperamentally Eminence grise. Lang could be nothing but Eminence rouge. He was never far from the centre of the stage. His presence, his voice, his brilliant virtuosity dominated every situation. He had in him all the elements of greatness, adorned by an unfailing sense of style which gave distinction to everything he did. Can he be rightly called a great Archbishop ? It has been held that his finest hour was the appeal to all Christian people at the Lambeth Conference of 192o, when for once he " let himself go." It may prove to have been his most important legacy.

It might be argued that his time at Canterbury was anti-climax rather than fulfilment. He steered the ship safely in heavy seas, but had he any clear vision of his landfall ? Some who had hailed him in his younger days as a heaven-sent leader and reformer felt that his Primacy was disappointing. It may be that he came to it too late ; it may be, as Mr. Lockhart thinks, that his very loyalty to Davidson proved fatal to his own achievement. His conception of the Archbishop's functions was that of the age in which he had grown up. He could not have given, either in Church or State, the kind of leadership which is now required. But he faithfully served his own generation. The fact is, I suppose, that an era. civil and ecclesiastical, died with him, and he had already to some extent outlived it. But Hensley Henson, whose judgement seldom erred in the way of dithyrambic laudations, ranked Lang " among the greater figures of ecclesiastical history."