31 MAY 1930, Page 4

A Great Primate T HE Christian world has lost in Archbishop

Davidson an administrator of quite exceptional sagacity, an ingeminator of peace in all his thoughts, words and acts, a man who held great place with humility, a wise and sympathetic adviser, one who lived a life of simplicity and devotion worthy of the saints, and one who was loyal to the principles he had laid down for himself with a boldness not always recognized as such. His great qualities were increasingly acknowledged as his term of office grew in length, and we think that nothing is more certain than that his renown will be still greater when a later age looks back upon the extraordinary difficulties which he faced, and most of which he overcame.

Inscrutable indeed are the ways of Providence ! When Randall Davidson was appointed Bishop of Winchester in 1903 it was complained that his health was unequal to the burden. No one could have foreseen then that the man who had been dangerously disabled as a boy by a gun accident and whose health had afterwards wavered for other reasons would be strong enough to go through' twenty-five years of unceasing strain as Archbishop of Canterbury. None of his predecessors as Primate occur pied the See for so long a time except Warham in the sixteenth century. One is reminded of the unexpectedly long reign of Leo XIII, who was Pope for twenty-five years, although some of his opponents at the time of his election had consoled themselves with the reflection that he was a man with a slight hold on life.

If Randall Davidson, by having secrets of State thrust upon him almost from the time that he Vas ordained, was exposed to the danger of thinking that the shaping of policy in courts and palaces was the summit of ecclesi= astical life, he most successfully evaded the pitfall. He only drew from that unique experience the knowledge that was to enable him to become in his maturity a wonder fully fair-minded and tolerant statesman. As Private Chaplain to Archbishop Tait and Tait's son-in-law, he was deep in counsel, for Tait had a habit of withholding nothing from his staff. Then as Dean of Windsor Randall Davidson became in a special degree the confidante of Queen Victoria in Church matters. The biographer of Archbishop Benson has made known to the world the decisive part which was played by Randall Davidson when in 1882 the successor to Tait had to be chosen. The choice was between Dr. Browne of Winchester and Dr. Benson of Truro, and Randall Davidson's memoran- dum—not by any means volunteered or flaunted, but written at the Queen's express- command—tilted the scale in favour of Benson. Greatly to his credit Davidson, as Chaplain, was as much valued by Benson as he had been by Tait, although it is evident that he steered no new course. He remained of the school of Westcott and Lightfoot—the " Cambridge School "—who, like Tait, saw the Established Church as theoretically co-extensive with the nation, and who regarded a call to some social or industrial cause, even though it bordered on politics, as naturally requiring a response from a representative of the National Church. Davidson was strongly for the Establishment not because he was unconscious of the inconvenience and irksomeness-of uninformed intervention by Parliament, but because he valued comprehensiveness above all things. The law of the State, he held, could bind and hold together many groups which otherwise would fall asunder into conflicting sects. It was a violent change from Windsor to Kennington, but as Bishop of Rochester Dr. Davidson made himself master of the life of a typically poor part of London at a time when Mr, Booth was for the first time cataloguing and scientifically expounding the character of that life.

No one was better equipped by a variety Of experience than Randall Davidson to become Archbishop of Canter- bury in 1903. True to his duty, as he saw it,-he began a- regular attendance at the debates in the House of Lords. No appreciation of -his career would be complete if it did not include a mention of the profound respect which he earned in that House as a Parliamentarian and a debater. He was no great orator, and he seemed instinctively to shrink from a calculated verbal felicity as though it might betray him •into an exaggeration or an appearance of insincerity. He was always perfectly straightforward, very judicial, and in the total effect extremely persuasive.

Of course, one who seemed frequently to be striking. a balance and to be trying to preserve the peace only' by means of what some of his critics regarded as a culpable caution was often charged with mere- trimming. If,• however, -he was a trimmer he was so only in the very reputable sense described by Halifax in the seventeenth- century in his Character of a Trimmer ; a trimmer being one who keeps the vessel on an even keel by arranging the ballast. It might have been fancied, indeed, that Archbishop Davidson acted deliberately on the great principle of Halifax that forms of Government are necessarily the expression of national character and national circumstance ; that it is their chief virtue to be adaptable, since their worth consists less in their approximation to some ideal than in their suitability to the phase of development in which the people find themselves.

The main problem which Archbishop Davidson had to face after his appointment was the increasing lawlessness in the Church. Following his master,. Tait, he was a believer in Royal Commissions and in the notoriously impartial decisions of. the Privy Council. Unhappily these methods had lost, through events, a good deal of their helpfulness, and it was not until the " Life and Liberty Movement " framed a scheme for a National , Church Assembly and a limited interference by Parlia- ment that the Archbishop discovered a force (though not of his own invention) which he thought he could use and guide. He confidently hoped that what may be called the public opinion of the Church—clerics and laymen alike, for he never forgot the laymen—expressed through the new. Church Assembly plus the long delayed revision of the Prayer Book would provide him, with a new standard of law which he would be able to enforce.

Like everybody else he saw that a Prayer Book last revised in the middle of the seventeenth century was unsuitable to our own day. Let the revision be sympathetic .enough to those who might be described as reasonable law-breakers and all would be well ! new line would be drawn with general consent and those who trespassed beyond. it would do so at their peril. The whole situation would be cleared up.

The Archbishop's personality was the principal influence in obtaining the ready consent of the House of Lords to the Revised Book, but .the House of .Commons surprised and shocked him by its hostility. Looking back on his failure we cannot see that Archbishop Davidson was to be blamed. He chose a policy which promised extremely well and in the advocacy of which his special talents were seen at their very - best. He has left to others a task which needs more time than he was permitted to give to it, but we are satisfied that no other Archbishop and no other policy, in the circum- stances, could have made a nobler bid for success,