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The Primate

( Originally Published 1907 )

THERE was probably never a more striking contrast in personality than when Dr. Davidson succeeded Dr. Temple at Canterbury. They remind me of silk and sackcloth," said a witty prelate of them after a certain interview. Davidson really rubbed me the wrong way, yet I hardly knew it, for he had a velvet hat-pad; but Temple took a scrubbing-brush, and fairly scoured away my notions."

Around this collision of temperaments so diverse there has gathered a wealth of legend. It is related that when Dr. Temple was presented to Queen Victoria on his appointment to the See of London, it fell to the lot of Dr. Davidson, then Bishop of Winchester, to introduce him. " Your Majesty," said the courtly Bishop of Winchester, " will remember that Dr. Temple has had the honour of being presented to your Majesty before." " No," said the Queen, " I don't remember having met Dr. Temple before." " Surely your Majesty," insisted Dr. Davidson, gently, remembers his lordship being presented on his appointment as Bishop of Exeter." " No," repeated the Queen; " I don't remember."

But, began the Bishop again, " your Majesty will recall " Dr. Temple could stand no more.

" What is the use," he broke in, in his harsh West-Country accent, " of wanting her Majesty to say she remembers when she says she forgets? " And not less delightful is that other story which tells how the two prelates were seated at dinner on either side of her Majesty. " And you were appointed to Exeter in 1867? " said the Queen to Temple. " How wonderful that your Majesty's mind should retain such details ! " interposed Dr. Davidson. " Not wonderful at all," growled Temple. " I've just told her."

These legends, whatever their basis in fact, illustrate the attitude of the two men to life. Temple was no courtier. He carried directness of speech to the point of brutality. When an obsequious clergyman related to him the sad loss of his aunt, adding, " Your lord-ship will agree that I know what bereavement is," he replied tartly, " I can't say; I didn't know your aunt. And I am told by one who was present that at some Church ceremony in the West of London he had grown weary of the excessive amiability of the vicar, and at the subsequent dinner, when the vicar sat opposite, he turned the talk to the subject of smiling people. " I hate people who are always smiling," he said to his neighbour in his most biting tones. " They smile in the morning, and they smile in the afternoon, and they smile at night. They're always smiling. Look at the vicar there he's always smiling." The vicar became suddenly grave.

Dr. Davidson probably never said a wounding word in his life. It might even be said without offence that he, too, is always smiling." He is clothed in the armour of imperturbable blandness. He is never betrayed into wrathful speech, for the smooth current of his thought is unruffled by fierce emotion. He has ever ready the soft answer that turns away wrath. He is an impalpable foe. You cannot come to hard grips with him, for he smothers your attack with silken words and leaves you angry and helpless, while he retires from the lists, cool and urbane as from a garden party.

Indeed, he is one of those to whom the world is a garden party where it is one's duty to be suavely polite, and where the unpardonable sin is over-emphasis. He moves in and out among the throng with smooth words for all, and frowns for none. The sun shines aloft: a gentle breeze stirs the foliage, and on the lawn there is the motion of colour and the hum of well-mannered speech. It is a world of delicate deportment.

The polite man lives in perpetual victory. When Renan, pushed aside in the struggle to enter an omnibus, plaintively remarked that " there is no room in the modern democratic world for the polite man," he was wrong. The assertive man may have the material victory; but the spiritual victory is always with the man of unruffled good-breeding. He is never defeated, for though he may lose the prize he does not lose himself. " I never give the wall to a scoundrel," said a man meeting Chesterfield one day in the street. " I always do," said Chesterfield, stepping with a bow into the road. The one kept his boots clean, the other went away in a cloud of victory.

Dr. Davidson is the type of the polite man. He is the courtier-statesman of the Church. He is governed by policy, and not by emotion or mood. His personality never peeps out through that panoply of considered conduct. His immediate predecessors, Temple and Benson, were both men like as we are, the one brusque and practical, breaking in on the proprieties with crashing vehemence, the other swayed by emotions, introspective, and a little sentimental. Dr. Davidson is an embodied office. You never catch him without the lawn sleeves. You never surprise him out of the clerical and courtly accent.

His career is characteristic of those qualities which have made the Scotch the most successful people in the modern world. They are the masters of themselves. They are never victimised by circumstance. They do not flame out into sudden passion. They keep cool. And it is the cool who inherit the earth. It is often said that Dr. Davidson has been " lucky." And certainly no man ever achieved more with fewer of the externals of brilliancy. His path has lain among palaces; his companionship has been the companionship of princes. Chaplain in succession to two archbishops, married to the daughter of one of them, the favourite preacher and domestic chaplain of Queen Victoria, he was raised to the episcopal bench at forty as Bishop of Rochester, refused the Primacy before he was fifty, and accepted it at fiftythree the youngest Primate on record. For those who believe in luck here indeed is a career that justifies their theory a career all springing from that friendship with young Crauford Tait, who, like him, was one of " Vaughan's lambs at Oxford, and whom, when he died, he succeeded as chaplain to the Archbishop. But, after all, what is luck but the art of taking occasion by the hand, which in turn is the result of character ? We would all have the Scots-man's trick of success if we could. We miss success, not because we have souls above it, but because we lack the self-possession and command of circumstance.

He is essentially a diplomatist who has strayed, as it were, into the Church. I never see him without being reminded of Velasquez's portrait of Innocent X. His kindly face has not the sinister note of that pre-late; but it has the same calculating quality, the same sense of a. mind delicately balancing the scales. He is the " smoother " of politics. He blurs the sharp lines of controversy. He sees both sides of a question so clearly that he takes neither. Black is not so very black, and white is really only whitish. He differs from you in sorrow, never in anger, and he leaves the door ajar for reconciliation. He wears no labels. He eludes the Ritualist as he eludes the extreme Evangelical, and embraces both in a universal benediction. He has no antipathies, and would be equally happy with Dr. Clifford or Lord Halifax, happier still with both, who would leave his presence arm-in-arm convinced that they had really been of one mind all the time. No party can claim him. He might adapt the candidate's creed to himself :

In havin' nothin' of the sort.
I ain't a Whig, I ain't a Tory,
I'm jest an Archbishop, in short.

But he loves to be on the side of authority and of Government, and prefers " Yea, yea" to Nay, nay." He is not unrelated to the Vicar of Bray.

This temperament of compromise and conciliation makes for peace and pleasantness, but it fails in the hour of crisis. It does not rise to the great argument. A significant phrase is often more revealing than the most subtle portrait. Titian's " Charles V. is among the great achievements of art, but it tells so little of the Emperor compared with what he told of himself the day when he stood beside the tomb of Luther at Wittenberg, and those about him suggested that the body of the enemy that had triumphed should be disinterred and burned at the stake in the market-place. " I war not with the dead," said Charles, and by that chivalrous word we know him. So with Luther himself. He lives, one of the most vital figures in history, by virtue of those shattering phrases that leapt from his lips like thunderclaps that reverberate for ever. " The Pope's little finger is stronger than all Germany," said the Cardinal legate to him. "Do you expect your princes to take up arms to defend you you, a wretched worm like you ? I tell you, No! and where will you be then where will you be then? " " Then, as now, in the hands of Almighty God," cried Luther. Dr. Davidson will be remembered by a phrase of ingenious compromise. He will be remembered as the man who, sitting in the highest seat of spiritual and moral authority in the land, said that Chinese labour was a regrettable necessity." The moment came for a great word and he uttered a discreet evasion. The moment came to say This is wrong," and he said " This is moderately right."

His speech wears the Court costume as naturally as Temple's wore the russet coat of the Devon moors. He thinks in crowns and sceptres. When speaking on the fundamental unity of Christians, it was characteristic that he chose as the two occasions which revealed that unity the death of the Queen and the consecration of the King. And even the stories of his wit carry us to the same atmosphere. At a meeting of the Kent Chess Association he re-marked that though he was not a brilliant player, he could claim to represent all the pieces, except the pawn. He had had a great deal to do with kings and queens, had lived in two castles, and was both a knight and a bishop. "Except the pawn." It is a notable exception, for the pawn stands for plain humanity, the rest for the trappings of circumstance.

His royal progress has not been witnessed without criticism by his fellow Churchmen. His amazingly early elevation to Rochester was keenly discussed, and Archdeacon Lefroy is credited with the remark that: If any man was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, it was Randall Davidson; but I like his pluck, although he thinks Archdeacons small fry, scarcely worth noticing." And when he went from Rochester to Winchester on the ground of health, it was a London daily journal, friendly to the Church, and friendly, indeed, to him personally, which said it preferred the candour of Sydney Smith when he said, " I must honestly say that I have been happier all my life for every additional penny I received." The thrust was tempting, but a little unjust, for the Primate's health has always been liable to collapse since, as a lad, a charge from a gun entered the base of the spine. Every autumn he is threatened with peritonitis, and for months at a time lives on nothing but milk food. And it is fair to remember that he refused the Primacy once, and accepted it with hesitation on the second occasion of its offer.

He has not touched the imagination of the country as Temple touched it, by the sense of natural force and shattering veracity, or as Benson touched it, by a certain spiritual sadness; but he has filled his great office with a high sense of its responsibility. If he has seemed timid when the occasion called for courage, it is because he conceives that office as a moderating instrument in the national life, a check upon violent oscillations, an aid to ordered development. If one misses in him the note of the passionate assertion of right, it is not because his sympathy with right is lacking, but because it is restrained by the caution of the diplomatist, anxious to wield influence without associating his office with the cause of party. And it is undeniable that this caution is at times a source 3f power, as well as at others a source of bitter regret. [t has, for example, given his intervention in the icensing controversy singular weight the weight which attaches to the man who takes a side with profound reluctance. And though carrying caution himself to the utmost extreme, he is not inappreciative of courage in others. " It is a great thing," he told a friend of mine, speaking of the Licensing Bill, to have a Government which dares to bring in a measure which it knows will lose it votes." He would be a greater personal force if he had the same indifference to consequences: but his office might have suffered. For until the Church is free, its head can never sound the dear trumpet-note of spiritual challenge, but must utter himself in the muffled accents of compromise with the world.

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