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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsHugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 19. Retrospect
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Hugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 19. Retrospect Post by :67834 Category :Nonfictions Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :1866

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Hugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 19. Retrospect

CHAPTER XIX. RETROSPECT

Now that I have traced the progress of Hugh's outer life from step to step, I will try to indicate what in the region of mind and soul his progress was, and I would wish to do this with particular care, even it the risk of repeating myself somewhat, because I believe that his nature was one that changed in certain ways very much; it widened and deepened greatly, and most of all in the seven last years of his life, when I believe that he found himself in the best and truest sense.

As a boy, up to the age of eighteen or nineteen, it was, I believe, a vivid and unreflective nature, much absorbed in the little pattern of life as he saw it, neither expansive nor fed upon secret visions. It was always a decided nature. He never, as a child, needed to be amused; he never said, "What shall I do? Tell me what to do!" He liked constant companionship, but he had always got little businesses of his own going on; he joined in games, and joined keenly in them, but if a public game was not to his taste, he made no secret that he was bored, and, if he was released, he went off on his own errands. I do not remember that he ever joined in a general game because of any sociable impulse merely, but because it amused him; and if he separated himself and went off, he had no resentment nor any pathetic feeling about being excluded.

When he went on to school he lived a sociable but isolated life. His companions were companions rather than friends. He did not, I think, ever form a romantic and adoring friendship, such as are common enough with emotional boys. He did not give his heart away; he just took a vivid and animated interest in the gossip, the interplay, the factions and parties of his circle; but it was all rather a superficial life--he used to say that he had neither aims nor ambitions--he took very little interest in his work and not much interest in games. He just desired to escape censure, and he was not greedy of praise. There was nothing listless or dreamy about it all. If he neglected his work, it was because he found talk and laughter more interesting. No string ran through his days; they were just to be taken as they came, enjoyed, dismissed. But he never wanted to appear other than he was, or to be admired or deferred to. There was never any sense of pose about hint nor the smallest affectation. He was very indifferent as to what was thought of him, and not sensitive; but he held his own, and insisted on his rights, allowed no dictation, followed no lead. All the time, I suppose, he was gathering in impressions of the outsides of things--he did not dip beyond that: he was full of quite definite tastes, desires, and prejudices; and though he was interested in life, he was not particularly interested in what lay behind it. He was not in the least impressionable, in the sense that others influenced or diverted him from his own ideas.

Neither had he any strong intellectual bent. The knowledge which he needed he acquired quickly and soon forgot it. I do not think he ever went deeply into things in those early days, or tried to perfect himself in any sort of knowledge. He was neither generous nor acquisitive; he was detached, and always rather apt to put his little possessions away and to forget about them. It was always the present he was concerned with; he did not deal with the past nor with the future.

Then after what had been not so much a slumber of the spirit as a vivid living among immediate impressions, the artistic nature began to awake in him. Music, architecture, ceremony, began to make their appeal felt; and he then first recognised the beauty of literary style. But even so, he did not fling himself creatively into any of these things at first, even as an amateur; it was still the perception of effects that he was concerned with.

It was then, during his first year at Cambridge, that the first promptings of a vocation made themselves felt towards the priesthood. But he was as yet wholly unaware of his powers of expression; and I am sure that his first leanings to the clerical life were a search for a quiet and secluded fortress, away from the world, in which he might pursue an undisturbed and ordered life of solemnity and delicate impressions of a sacred sort of beauty. His desire for community life was caused by his decided dislike of the world, of fuss and tedium and conventional occupations. He was never in the least degree a typical person. He had no wish to be distinguished, or to influence other minds or lives, or to gain honour or consideration. These things simply appeared to him as not worth striving for. What he desired was companionship of a sympathetic kind and the opportunity of living among the pursuits he liked best. He never wished to try experiments, and it was always with a spectacular interest that he regarded the world.

His call was very real, and deeply felt, and he waited for a whole year to make sure of it; but he found full decision at last.

Then came his first ministerial work at the Eton Mission; and this did not satisfy him; his strength emerged in the fact that he did not adopt or defer to the ideals he found about him: a weaker character would have embraced them half-heartedly, tried to smother its own convictions, and might have ended by habituating itself to a system. But Hugh was still, half unconsciously, perhaps, in search of his real life; he did not profess to be guided by anyone, nor did he ever suspend his own judgment as to the worth of what he was doing; a manly and robust philanthropy on Christian lines was not to his taste. His instinct was rather for the beautiful element in religion and in life, and for a mystical consecration of all to God. That did not seem to him to be recognised in the work which he was doing. If he had been less independent, he might have crushed it down, and come to view it as a private fancy. He might have said to himself that it was plain that many human spirits did not feel that more delicate appeal, and that his duty was to meet other natures on some common ground.

It is by such sacrifices of personal bias that much of the original force of the world is spoiled and wasted. It may be a noble sacrifice, and it is often nobly made. But Hugh was not cast in that mould. His effectiveness was to lie in the fact that he could disregard many ordinary motives. He could frankly admire other methods of work, and yet be quite sure that his own powers did not lie in that direction. But though he was modest and not at all self-assertive, he never had the least submissiveness nor subservience; nor was he capable of making any pretences.

Sometimes it seems to happen that men are punished for wilfulness of choice by missing great opportunities. A nature which cannot compromise anything, cannot ignore details, cannot work with others, is sometimes condemned to a fruitless isolation. But it would be wrong to disregard the fact that circumstances more than once came to Hugh's aid; I see very clearly how he was, so to speak, headed off, as by some Fatherly purpose, from wasting his life in ineffectual ways. Probably he might have worked on at the Eton Mission, might have lost heart and vigour, might never have discovered his real powers, if he had not been rescued. His illness at this juncture cut the knot for him; and then followed a time of travel in Egypt, in the Holy Land, which revived again his sense of beauty and width and proportion.

And then followed his Kemsing curacy; I have a letter written to me from Kemsing in his first weeks there, in which he describes it as a paradise and says that, so far as he can see, it is exactly the life he most desires, and that he hopes to spend the rest of his days there.

But now I feel that he took a very real step forward. The danger was that he would adopt a dilettante life. He had still not discovered his powers of expression, which developed late. He was only just beginning to preach with effect, and his literary power was practically undeveloped. He might have chosen to live a harmless, quiet, beauty-loving life, kindly and guileless, in a sort of religious aestheticism; though the vivid desire for movement and even excitement that characterised his later life would perhaps have in any case developed.

But something stronger and sterner awoke in him. I believe that it was exactly because the cup, mixed to his taste, was handed to him that he was able to see that there was nothing that was invigorating about the potion. It was not the community life primarily which drew him to Mirfield; it was partly that his power of speech awoke, and more strongly still the idea of self-discipline.

And so he went to Mirfield, and then all his powers came with a rush in that studious, sympathetic, and ascetic atmosphere. He was in his twenty-eighth year. He began by finding that he could preach with real force and power, and two years later, when he wrote _The Light Invisible_, he also discovered his gift of writing; while as a little recreation, he took up drawing, and produced a series of sketches, full of humour and delicacy, drawn with a fine pen and tinted with coloured chalk, which are at all events enough to show what he could have done in this direction.

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