15 DECEMBER 1961, Page 21


Anglo-Christian Attitudes


rr HE British public, as Wilde observed, is never

more ridiculous than when engaged in one of its periodical fits of morality. Yet what is one to think when one is faced, not, so to speak, with a passing tantrum, but with one hundred years of unrelaxed religious and moral en- thusiasm? For this is what confronts you if you consider the history of our island from, let us say, the year 1790. So sustained an effort can scarcely be called ridiculous, has indeed a claim to be called heroic. Perhaps I am safest in saying that, like all forlorn hopes, it was a mixture of the two, and will commend itself to history as at once grim, dotty, brave, inspired and ulti- mately futile; more interesting, and certainly more attractive, for the men who led it than for the cause it served. And yet—time after time one asks oneself—why? Why, after three genera- tions of scepticism, laughter and sweet reason, after the clarity of Hume, the engaging worldli- ness of Gibbon, the acid good sense of Lord Chesterfield, did obsession, guilt and zealotry, those rampant poltergeists of Pauline conjur- ing, come to trouble the peaceful drawing-rooms once more?

Mr. Ford K. Brown, who is somewhat equivo- cal both in style and in attitude, is more con- cerned with the who and the *how of Evangeli- calism than with the what or the why.* In so far as the latter detain him, he postulates a growing public dissatisfaction, at the end of the eighteenth century, with everything from juvenile prostitu- tion to the coarse manners of clergymen. Given Wilberforce and Hannah More to canalise and exploit this, given the, half-idiot Duke of Gloucester (Silly Billy) to lend respectability to the enterprise, and the contest was on. But so far Mr. Brown has explained very little. Did Wilberforce, one wonders, express or dictate the sentiments of the time? How far was this alleged dissatisfaction, in high places or low, really there already, and how far was it Wilber- force's, or Mrs. More's, creation? (It can hardly have been Silly Billy's.) But if Mr. Brown, per- haps wisely, is disinclined to speculate on such Matters, he does point out that Wilberforce's methods, unlike Wesley's, were by no means wholly spiritual, that Wilberforce was ready to use such expedients, despised by Wesley, as ver- bal evasion, snob-appeal, flattery of conservative and rentier interests, and, in the last resort, sheer hard cash, in order to bring the Kingdom of God to the public notice. Result : Wilberforce succeeded on a far wider front than Wesley Could ever have manned, and the triumph is seen as depending not only on the efficacy of the Holy Spirit but also on pounds sterling, strawberry leaves and sound pragmatic abilities.

In any case, the idea had caught on, and no- where more strongly than among the emerging middle class which, unsure of its worldly title, Was eager to avail itself of supernal sanctions. Faith, chastity, prudence, sobriety—there were


by now recommendations which must be ac- cepted, however reluctantly, in the highest circles of society. And, of coUrse, such virtues must be passed on to the children of the new estate. The problem was to find the right for- mula; for there was something unbalanced, not to say hysterical, about Evangelicalism which excited as much mistrust in a hard-headed middle class as it did, for less creditable reasons, among an intransigent aristocracy. But the problem, after all, was not insoluble; Wilberforce himself, with his insistence on practical tactics, had given the hint, and Dr. Thomas Arnold, who disliked introversion and appreciated intellect, was quick to take it.

How Arnold tamed Evangelicalism and turned it, from a kind of primitive moral blockbuster, into a precise instrument of education is admir- ably, if rather repetitively, explained by Mr. David Newsome.t The first two of Mr. New- some's four long essays deal with the Arnoldian aims and methods and their subsequent applica- tion by his fervent friend and imitator•, James Prince Lee: the third with the schoolboy embodiment of Arnold's and Lee's ideal in Martin Benson, the son of Lee's favourite pupil : and the last with the decline of the ideal into the good- form ethos of the stiff upper lip. The ideal of 'Godliness and Good Learning,' to which Mr. Newsome introduces us at the beginning of his book, turns out to insist on 'intel- lectual toughness, moral earnestness and deep spiritual conviction'; to enjoin an adult seriousness in all affairs whatever, yet not to eschew lively and improving pleasures (nature rambles being highly commended); to purvey a wide academic syllabus, if with little ' regard to the natural sciences; to make some allowance for the levity of infants; to encourage social responsibility, gentlemanly conduct and, not least, masculine loyalties and friendships; and to preach the great joy of work properly under- taken (under God, of course) and well completed (to His greater glory).

The trouble was that little room remained for human frailty; nor is this fact lost even on the admiring Mr. Newsome, who quietly prepares us for things to go wrong and is coolly amused when the old Adam raises his head—or rather several heads, these belonging to 'the intensely aristocratic Wellington governors who appeared to view with indifference—and even with amuse- ment—the presence in the school of boys who had had carnal knowledge of a girl of fourteen.' But this is to anticipate. For a long while all went well. James Prince Lee, the darling of Trinity, Cambridge, passed several edifying years with Arnold at Rugby, went on, primed with the ideal and Arnold's blessing, to be headmaster of King Edward's School, Birmingham, and there dropped his mantle firmly on Edward White Benson, later Arch-

t GODLINESS AND GOOD LEARNING: FOUR STUDIES IN A VICTMIAN IDEAL. By David Newsome. (Mur- ray, 28s.) bishop of Canterbury. It is only in 1850 that we feel the first chill in the air; for Prince Lee had now some years since sent Benson into the world and himself become Bishop of Manchester; and from the first his ministration had been a con- spicuous failure. Failure? A man who pre- ferred the Greek Testament to anything in Attic, who was assiduous in prayer and never• even went for a walk without there was a church or a rare flower at the end of it? Well, quite so, but perhaps if he. could have been just a little more tolerant of other people's short- comings. . . .

And then the chill in the air becomes icy. E. W. Benson's eldest son, Martin, the 'exemplar,' as Mr. Newsome calls him, of the ideal, but by nature a spontaneous, intelligent and happy little boy, is overwhelmed by the weight of parental ordinance and dies of menin- gitis—dies, in fact, of a surfeit of Godliness and Good Learning, which had broken his heart and smashed his brain. His father wrote a journal and a poem, either of which I defy anyone to read without tears, but it was too late; com- pounding for his guilt by treating his other children more leniently, he was rewarded by seeing them become, respectively, don, novelist, Papist and madwoman, so possibly he was too late even with them.

The ideal, then, killed little Martin Benson, just as years ago it had broken Arthur Clough, and everywhere others beside Archbishop Ben- son were reading the writing on the wall. In a fascinating final essay, Mr. Newsome tells how the ideal of 'Godliness and Good Learning' was allowed to degenerate into the cult of 'Godliness and Manliness,' in which the old fiery pieties of intellect and endeavour were replaced by the safer shibboleths of team games and the house spirit. For had not Arnold himself schooled Thomas Hughes as well as Dean Stanley? And Hughes believed, for all his love of the Doctor, in straight bats and neat pairs of fists, in lithe figures and cold baths. So did Warre of Eton, so did Thring of Uppingham, so, even, did William Cory (though he at least may have had his motives rather mixed). The old way had been for the few, they thought; and hoping to make the many pure and 'manly' (still under God, of course) through honest sport, they succeeded merely in dedicating all to the pursuits of children. The fundamental porten- tousness of Evangelicalism had led, in the fullness of time, to the fundamental frivolity of the changing-room.

And in a way it was just as well. The old rule had been for the sons of Titans, not of mere sober citizens. Middle-class parents had never wanted anything quite so formidable for their children even when they were most in need of confidence -and moral support; and by the end of the century they no longer needed either. 'God- liness and Manliness' had brought things down to a natural, a popular level—that of the evening hymn after the well-fought game of footer—and would provide an altogether more suitable intro- duction, whether to the mess or the counting house. A characteristic compromise had been achieved; and while we may regret the resulting contempt of intellectual matters, we may observe, with Mr. Newsome, the merits of the correspond- ing indifference to spiritual ones. Where there was no longer strong feeling, there could no longer be interference or persecution, so that the agnostic, the rational infidel, was now free once more to get on with his work in peace. 'Godliness and Manliness' was doomed to decline, not only into heartiness, but also into unbelief; but that is another story.