12 DECEMBER 1885, Page 9


ARCHDEACON DENISON is one of those serious men,— there are not a few of them,—whom it is difficult to take seriously, that is, to take for what they are. There are serious men, and very serious men, too, who seem to have so much of the schoolboy and so little of self-conscious judgment in them, that, in spite of the energy with which they act, and the still greater energy with which they talk, they always suggest to us that Providence is using them, if we might say it with reverence, satirically, to show other men how much power may be wasted by carrying into the career of a strong man the thoughtless vehemence of a clumsy boy. Here is this worthy and earnest archdeacon telling a public audience that in cheering Mr. Gladstone they might as well cheer the devil ; and then, even after he has withdrawn language so unseemly, —for in his seventy-three years it seems that he has (doubt- less with much difficulty) learned that it is unseemly,— excusing it by saying that he has been intimately acquainted with Mr. Gladstone for more than fifty years, and that Mr. Gladstone has certainly during that time never been doing the work of God ; and so, by implication, we suppose, the Archdeacon wishes us to infer that he has been doing the work of the devil. In other words, the Archdeacon, having, after seventy-three years of life, actually passed through discipline enough to persuade him that it is hardly decent for a grown man and a Christian to speak of one of the greatest and purest characters of his age as Satanic, simply because its influence has always been exerted in a public direction opposite to that of his own, is yet so utterly in- capable of saying, I was all wrong in using such a phrase, and was probably impelled to use it quite as much by my own Satanic combativeness as by any other principle,' that he half justifies what he half withdraws, and thus makes his retractation quite ineffectual, and more than doubles the culpability of his own violence. There is, indeed, a certain irony in a man like the Archdeacon standing up amongst us as a great repre- sentative of the Church of Christ at all. We are by no means contending that he is not, on the whole, a good man. A man so frank and hearty and outspoken, and one who is so thoroughly cordial when, as Dr. Martineau once said of the late Dr. Hamilton of Leeds, he is called upon " to dine with the reprobate and crack jokes with the damned," is, of course, a fine specimen of generous bulldog virtues. He has not a spark of malignity in him. He forgets when be meets the antagonist whom he has described as Satan, that he has ever said anything hard of him. He is as friendly as if he were speaking to an Archdeacon after his own heart ; but all that is just part of the marvel that such a man as the Archdeacon should be a leading representative of a Church one of whose very first demands on its disciples is that they should look inwards and know something of the strange riddle of their own hearts. It would almost seem as if the Archdeacon of Taunton were simply incapable of looking inwards into that curious medley of dogmatic and moral and physical forces which make him their sport and their tool. He has him- self told us how he once nearly killed a gardener of his own by giving him, through some blunder, an enormous over-dose of rhubarb, and then, when he found what he had done, and that he had reduced the poor fellow to a mere ghost of himself, how he laughed till he nearly cried again at the shadowy appearance of the patient whom he had thus unwisely doctored. Well, that thorough enjoyment of the somewhat cruel practical jokes of life, is the schoolboy element in him which constitutes so large a proportion of the Archdeacon. But is there not a very grim irony in the fact that a great eccle- siastical dignitary, one of the pillars of the Church which calls upon us all to understand the temptations which make such havoc with us, and to bring our outward life more into con-

formity with the highest spirit we can find within, should still be, at the age of seventy-three, a mere archidiaconal schoolboy, with no more power of what the Roman Catholics call "recol- lection " and " detachment " than most boys of fifteen, and not half as much as some of them P

Yet such is Archdeacon Denison,—a man who, though he is quite wrong in supposing, as he intimates that he does sup- pose, that the English Clergy have at last come to trust him as a guide, is probably as great a favourite amongst the moderate and High-Church Clergy as any man of his day. No one who knows him can possibly dislike him. Even those at whom he casts his most wrathful anathemas enjoy meeting him as they enjoy meeting very few other men. They find it impossible to quarrel with him, and hardly possible not to be amused at his hardest blows. But nothing can prove more com- pletely than this does, how little these hard blows mean, how little reality there is in them beyond the reality of the Arch- deacon's temporary wrath. They obviously do not mean that he has reflected carefully on the significance of what he says, and that he deals them with a deliberate and conscientious con- viction. Of course, a man who speaks of an antagonist as being on the side of the devil does not even reflect for a moment on the meaning of the theological term he uses. If Archdeacon Denison thought of Mr. Gladstone as wilfully and intentionally desiring to provoke men to sin, would he or could he meet him with that genial air with which we do not doubt that he does meet him,—with which he certainly met habitually the late Dean of Westminster, though, if we remember rightly, he repeatedly used language of him very closely approaching to that which he uses of Mr. Gladstone ? The Archdeacon's strong words are just like boys' snowballs. They hit very hard, they sometimes make an antagonist very uncomfortable, and they often produce disagreeable sensations which, so far as the Archdeacon understands what he inflicts, he enjoys inflicting. He wants to " pay off " his antagonists for their misdeeds, and he is glad, not sorry, if he succeeds. But he has no more inten- tion of inflicting deep and permanent wounds, than a school- boy would have of killing the boy he pelts. It is simply that he enjoys " a good row," and more than half suspects that his enemy enjoys it too. He likes to pelt his enemy off the field much better than to be pelted off the field himself ; but still, the missiles he selects by preference, though they may hurt at times, are selected partly because they are not more substantial, because the first mild airs will melt them all away. Well, these considerations are all very much to the Archdeacon's credit, or at least they mitigate very gravely the condemnation we should otherwise be disposed to pass on him. But then, how comic a light they reflect on his theology ! A theologian who contends that his adversary is doing the work of the devil, and who means very little by it, can hardly be called a theologian at all. He has not gone so far as to realise the awful meaning of deli- berate temptation, and that no one can be doing, properly speaking, the work of the devil who does not intend to tempt men to their fall. If he uses such language as that in any milder sense, he is using language that is not only grossly extravagant, but most mischievously extravagant, because by its extravagance it tends to lower the seriousness with which the deeper kind of evil is regarded, and to accustom others to smile at terms of reprobation at which smiling should be im- possible. A man who brings contempt upon the language in which the foulest forms of human character should be described, is really doing his part to render all theology unmeaning, all spiritual distinctions insignificant. And there is no sign of the times more impressive than this,—that the man who does this, and does it so often that every one agrees to read the apparent bitterness out of his words, should yet be one of the most respected among English Church dignitaries, indeed, one who has very few equals in the general esteem of the Church- men to whom he is best known. Is not this another way of saying that the Church of England, with all her strong points, is soundest perhaps on the most conventional and the least spiritual side of the Christian life,—that side which is tested by the average standard of manly natural qualities, and which is farthest removed from the higher and more inward graces of spiritual humility and discrimination ?