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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsHugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 12. Cambridge Again
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Hugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 12. Cambridge Again Post by :67834 Category :Nonfictions Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :3139

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Hugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 12. Cambridge Again

CHAPTER XII. CAMBRIDGE AGAIN

Hugh went to the College of San Silvestro in Rome, and there he found many friends. He said that on first joining the Catholic Church, he felt like a lost dog; he wrote to me:


Rome, _Nov. 26_, '03.

* * * * *

My own news is almost impossible to tell, as everything is simply bewildering: in about five years from now I shall know how I felt; but at present I feel nothing but discomfort; I hate foreign countries and foreign people, and am finding more every day how hopelessly insular I am: because of course, under the circumstances, this is the proper place for me to be: but it is a kind of dentist's chair.

* * * * *

But he soon parted once and for all with his sense of isolation; while the splendours of Rome, the sense of history and state and world-wide dominion, profoundly impressed his imagination. He was deeply inspired, too, by the sight of simple and and unashamed piety among the common folk, which appeared to him to put the colder and more cautious religion of England to shame. Perhaps he did not allow sufficiently for the temperamental differences between the two nations, but at any rate he was comforted and reassured.

I do not know much of his doings at this time; I was hard at work at Windsor on the Queen's letters, and settling into a new life at Cambridge; but I realised that he was building up happiness fast. One little touch of his perennial humour comes back to my mind. He was describing to me some ceremony performed by a very old and absent-minded ecclesiastic, and how two priests stood behind him to see that he omitted nothing, "With the look in their eyes," said Hugh, "that you can see in the eyes of a terrier who is standing with ears pricked at the mouth of a burrow, and a rabbit preparing to bolt from within."

He came back a priest, and before long he settled at Cambridge, living with Monsignor Barnes at Llandaff House. Monsignor Barnes was an old Eton contemporary and friend of my own, who had begun by going to Woolwich as a cadet; then he had taken orders in the Church of England, and then had joined the Church of Rome, and was put in charge of the Roman Catholic undergraduates at Cambridge. Llandaff House is a big, rather mysterious mansion in the main street of Cambridge, opposite the University Arms Hotel. It was built by the famous Bishop Watson of Llandaff, who held a professorship at Cambridge in conjunction with his bishopric, and never resided in his diocese at all. The front rooms of the big, two-gabled house are mostly shops; the back of the house remains a stately little residence, with a chapel, a garden with some fine trees, and opens on to the extensive and quiet park of Downing College.

Hugh had a room which looked out on to the street, where he did his writing. From that date my real friendship with him began, if I may use the word. Before that, the difference in our ages, and the fact that I was a very busy schoolmaster only paying occasional visits to home, had prevented our seeing very much of each other in anything like equal comradeship. But at the beginning of 1905 I went into residence at Magdalene as a Fellow, and Hugh was often in and out, while I was made very welcome at Llandaff House. Hugh had a small income of his own, and he began to supplement it by writing. His needs and tastes were all entirely simple. He seems to me, remembering him, to have looked extremely youthful in those days, smaller in some ways than he did later. He moved very rapidly; his health was good and his activity great. He made friends at several of the colleges, he belonged to the Pitt Club, and he used to attend meetings of an undergraduates' debating club--the Decemviri--to which he had himself belonged. One of the members of that time has since told me that he was the only older man he had ever known who really mixed with undergraduates and debated with them on absolutely equal terms. But indeed, so far as looks went, though he was now thirty-four, he might almost have been an undergraduate himself.

We arranged always to walk together on Sunday afternoons. As an old member of King's College, I had a key of the garden there in the Backs, and a pass-key of the college gates, which were locked on Sunday during the chapel service. We always went and walked about that beautiful garden with its winding paths, or sat out in the bowling-green. Then we generally let ourselves into the college grounds, and went up to the south porch of the chapel, where we could hear the service proceeding within. I can remember Hugh saying, as the Psalms came to an end "Anglican double chants--how comfortable and delicious, and how entirely irreligious!"

We talked very freely and openly of all that was in our minds, and sometimes even argued on religion. He used to tell me that I was much nearer to his form of faith than most Anglicans, and I can remember his saying that the misery of being an Anglican was that it was all so rational--you had to make up your mind on every single point. "Why not," he said, "make it up on one point--the authority of the Church, and have done with it?" "Because I can't be dictated to on points in which I feel I have a right to an opinion." "Ah, that isn't a faith!" "No, only a faith in reason." At which he would shrug his shoulders, and smile. Once I remember his exhibiting very strong emotion. I had spoken of the worship of the Virgin, and said something that seemed to him to be in a spirit of levity. He stopped and turned quite pale. "Ah, don't say that!" he said; "I feel as if you had said something cynical about someone very dear to me, and far more than that. Please promise not to speak of it again."

It was in these days that I first perceived the extraordinary charm of both mind and manner that he possessed. In old days he had been amusing and argumentative enough, but he was often silent and absorbed. I think his charm had been developed by his new experiences, and by the number of strangers he had been brought into contact with; he had learned an eager and winning sort of courtesy, which grew and increased every year. On one point we wholly and entirely agreed--namely, in thinking rudeness of any kind to be not a mannerism, but a deadly sin. "I find injustice or offensiveness to myself or anyone else," he once wrote, "the hardest of all things to forgive." We concurred in detesting the habit of licensing oneself to speak one's mind, and the unpleasant English trait of confusing sincerity with frank brutality. There is a sort of Englishman who thinks he has a right, if he feels cross or contemptuous, to lay bare his mood without reference to his companion's feelings; and this seemed to us both the ugliest of phenomena.

Hugh saw a good deal of academic society in a quiet way--Cambridge is a hospitable place. I remember the consternation which was caused by his fainting away suddenly after a Feast at King's. He had been wedged into a corner, in front of a very hot fire, by a determined talker, and suddenly collapsed. I was fetched out to see him and found him stretched on a form in the Hall vestibule, being kindly cared for by the Master of a College, who was an eminent surgeon and a professor. Again I remember that we entered the room together when dining with a hospitable Master, and were introduced to a guest, to his bewilderment, as "Mr. Benson" and "Father Benson." "I must explain," said our host, "that Father Benson is not Mr. Benson's father!" "I should have imagined that he might be his son!" said the guest.

After Hugh had lived at Llandaff House for a year he accepted a curacy at the Roman Catholic church at Cambridge. I do not know how this came about. A priest can be ordained "to a bishop," in which case he has to go where he is sent, or "on his patrimony," which gives him a degree of independence. Hugh had been ordained "on his patrimony," but he was advised to take up ministerial work. He accordingly moved into the Catholic rectory, a big, red-brick house, with a great cedar in front of it, which adjoins the church. He had a large sitting-room, looking out at the back over trees and gardens, with a tiny bedroom adjoining. He had now the command of more money, and the fitting up of his rooms was a great delight to him; he bought some fine old oak furniture, and fitted the walls with green hangings, above which he set the horns of deer, which he had at various times stalked and shot--he was always a keen sportsman. I told him it was too secular an ornament, but he would not hear me.

Canon Scott, the rector, the kindest and most hospitable of men, welcomed me to the rectory, and I was often there; and our Sunday walks continued. Hugh became known at once as the best preacher in Cambridge, and great congregations flocked to hear him. I do not think he had much pastoral work to do; but now a complication ensued. A good many undergraduates used to go to hear him, ask to see him, discuss religious problems with him. Moreover, before he left the Anglican communion, Hugh had conducted a mission at Cambridge, with the result that several of his hearers became Roman Catholics. A certain amount of orthodox alarm was felt and expressed at the new and attractive religious element which his sermons provided, and eventually representations were made to one that I should use my influence with Hugh that he should leave Cambridge. This I totally declined to do, and suggested that the right way to meet it was to get an Anglican preacher to Cambridge of persuasive eloquence and force. I did eventually speak to Hugh about it, and he was indignant. He said: "I have not attempted, and shall not attempt, any sort of proselytisation of undergraduates--I do not think it fair, or even prudent. I have never started the subject of religion on any occasion with any undergraduate. But I must preach what I believe; and, of course, if undergraduates consult me, I shall tell them what I think and why I think it." This rule he strictly adhered to; and I do not know of any converts that he made.

Moreover, it was at this time that strangers, attracted by his sermons and his books, began to consult him by letter, and seek interviews with him. In this relation he showed himself, I have reason to know, extraordinarily kind, sympathetic, and straightforward. He wrote fully and as often as he was consulted; he saw an ever-increasing number of inquirers. He used to groan over the amount of time he had to spend in letters and interviews, and he used to say that it often happened that the people least worth helping took up the most time. He always gave his very best; but the people who most vexed him were those engaged in religious inquiry, not out of any profound need, but simply for the emotional luxury; and who argued round and round in a circle for the pleasure of being sympathised with. Hugh was very clear and practical in his counsels, and he was, I used to think, like a wise and even stern physician, never influenced by sentiment. It was always interesting to discuss a "case" with him. I do not mean that he discussed his cases with me, but I used to ask him how to deal with some intellectual or moral problem, and his insight seemed to me wonderfully shrewd, sensible, and clear. He had a masterly analysis, and a power of seeing alternatives and contingencies which always aroused my admiration. He was less interested in the personal element than in the psychological; and I used to feel that his strength lay in dealing with a case scientifically and technically. Sometimes he had desperate, tragic, and even alarming cases to deal with; and here his fearlessness and toughness stood him in good stead. He never shrank appalled before any moral enormity. He told me once of a series of interviews he had with a man, not a Catholic, who appealed to him for help in the last extremity of moral degradation. He became aware at last that the man was insane, but he spared no pains to rescue him.

When he first began this work he had a wave of deep unhappiness; the responsibility of the priesthood so overwhelmed him that for a time, I have learned, he used to pray night after night, that he might die in his sleep, if it were possible. I saw and guessed nothing of this, but I think it was a mood of exhaustion, because he never exhibited anything but an eager and animated interest in life.

One of his pleasures while he was at Cambridge and ever after was the writing, staging, and rehearsing of little mystery-plays and sacred scenes for the children of St. Mary's Convent at Cambridge and for the choir boys of Westminster Cathedral. These he thoroughly enjoyed; he always loved the companionship of children, and had exactly the right way with them, treating them seriously, paternally, with a brisk authority, and never sentimentally. They were beautiful and moving little dramas, reverently performed. Unhappily I never saw one of them. Even now I remember with a stab of regret that he came to stay with me at Cambridge for one of these, and besought me to go with him. But I was shy and busy, and though I could easily have arranged to go, I did not and he went off alone. "Can't you really manage it?" he said. "Pray-a-do!" But I was obdurate, and it gives me pain now to think that I churlishly refused, though it is a false pathos to dwell on such things, and both foolish and wrong to credit the dead with remembering trifling grievances.

But I do not think that his time at the Catholic rectory was a really very happy one. He needed more freedom; he became gradually aware that his work lay in the direction of writing, of lecturing, of preaching, and of advising. He took his own measure and knew his own strength. "I have _no pastoral gift," he once said to me very emphatically. "I am not the man to _prop_," he once wrote; "I can kindle sometimes, but not support. People come to me and pass on." Nor was he at ease in the social atmosphere of Cambridge--it seemed to him bleak, dry, complacently intellectual, unimaginative. He felt himself what the law describes as "a suspected person," with vague designs on the spiritual life of the place.

At first, he was not rich enough to live the sort of life he desired; but he began to receive larger incomes from his books, and to see that it would soon be in his power to make a home for himself. It was then that our rambles in search of possible houses began, while at the same time he curtailed his own personal expenditure to the lowest limits, till his wardrobe became conspicuous for its antiquity. This, however, he was wholly indifferent about; his aim was to put together a sufficient sum to buy a small house in the country, and there to settle "for ever," as he used to say. "A small Perpendicular chapel and a white-washed cottage next door is what I want just now," he wrote about this time. "It must be in a sweet and secret place--preferably in Cornwall." Or again, "I want and mean--if it is permitted--to live in a small cottage in the country; to say mass and office, and to write books. I think that is honestly my highest ideal. I hate fuss and officialdom and backbiting--I wish to be at peace with God and man." This was his dream. The house at Hare Street was the result.

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