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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsHugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 20. Attainment
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Hugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 20. Attainment Post by :67834 Category :Nonfictions Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :1691

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Hugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 20. Attainment

CHAPTER XX. ATTAINMENT

And then Hugh made the great change of his life, and, as a Catholic, found his dreams realized and his hopes fulfilled. He found, indeed, the life which moves and breathes inside of every faithful creed, the power which supplements weakness and represses distraction, the motive for glad sacrifice and happy obedience. I can say this thankfully enough, though in many ways I confess to being at the opposite pole of religious thought. He found relief from decision and rest from conflict. He found sympathy and confidence, a sense of corporate union, and above all a mystical and symbolical devotion embodied in a great and ancient tradition, which was visibly and audibly there with a movement like a great tide, instead of a scheme of worship which had, he thought, in the Anglican Church, to be eclectically constructed by a group or a circle. Every part of his nature was fed and satisfied; and then, too, he found in the Roman Catholic community in England that sort of eager freemasonry which comes of the desire to champion a cause that has won a place for itself, and influence and respect, but which is yet so much opposed to national tendencies as to quicken the sense of active endeavour and eager expectation.

After his quiet period of study and thought in Rome and at Llandaff House, came the time when he was attached to the Roman Catholic Church in Cambridge; and this, though not congenial to him, gave him an insight into methods and conditions; and all the while his own forces and qualities were learning how to concentrate and express themselves. He learned to write, he learned to teach, to preach, to speak, to be his own natural self, with all his delicate and ingenuous charm, in the presence of a great audience; so that when at last his opportunity came to free himself from official and formal work, he was able to throw all his trained faculties into the work which he had at heart. Moreover, he found in direction and confession, and in careful discussion with inquirers, and in sympathetic aid given to those in trouble, many of the secret sorrows, hopes, and emotions of the human heart, so that his public work was enforced and sustained by his ever-increasing range of private experience.

He never, however, took whole-heartedly to pastoral work. He said frankly that he "specialised" in the region of private direction and advice; but I doubt if he ever did quite enough general pastoral work of a commonplace and humdrum kind to supplement and fill out his experience of human nature. He never knew people under quite normal conditions, because he felt no interest in normal conditions. He knew men and women best under the more abnormal emotion of the confessional; and though he used to maintain, if challenged, that penitence was a normal condition, yet his judgment of human beings was, as a consequence, several times gravely at fault. He made some unwise friendships, with a guileless curiosity, and was obliged, more than once, to extricate himself by summary abandonments.

He wrote of himself once, "I am tired to death of giving myself away, and finding out too late.... I don't like my tendency to agree with people wildly; my continual fault has been to put on too much fuel." Like all sensitive people, who desire sympathetic and friendly relations, he was apt to discover the best of new acquaintances at once, and to evoke in them a similarly genial response. It was not till later, when the first conciliatory impulse had died down, that he discovered the faults that had been instinctively concealed, and indeed repressed by his own personal attractiveness.

He had, too, an excessive confidence in his power of managing a critical situation, and several times undertook to reform people in whom corruption had gone too far for remedy. He believed in his power of "breaking" sinners by stern declarations; but he had more than once to confess himself beaten, though he never wasted time in deploring failures.

Mr. Meynell, in his subtle essay which prefaces my brother's little book of poems, speaks of the complete subjugation of his will. If I may venture to express a different view, I do not feel that Hugh ever learned to efface his own will. I do not think his temperament, was made on the lines of self-conquest. I should rather say that he had found the exact _milieu in which he could use his will to the best effect, so that it was like the charge of powder within the gun, no longer exploding itself vaguely and aimlessly, but all concentrated upon one intense and emissive effort. Because the one characteristic of the last years of his life was his immense enjoyment of it all. He wrote to a friend not long before the end, when he was feeling the strain upon him to be heavier than he could bear; after a word or two about the war--he had volunteered to go to the front as a chaplain--he said, "So I am staying here as usual; but the incessant demands on my time try me as much as shrapnel and bullets." That sentence seems to me to confirm my view that he had not so much sacrificed as devoted himself. He never gained a serene patience; I have heard him over and over again speak with a sigh of his correspondence and the demands it made on him; yet he was always faithful to a relation once formed; and the number of letters written to single correspondents, which have been sent me, have fairly amazed me by their range, their freshness, and their fulness. He was deeply interested in many of the letters he received, and gave his best in his prompt replies; but he evidently also received an immense number of letters from people who did not desire guidance so much as sympathy and communication. The inconsiderate egotism of unimaginative and yet sensitive people is what creates the burden of such a correspondence; and though he answered his letters faithfully and duly, and contrived to say much in short space, yet he felt, as I have heard him say, that people were merciless; and much of the time he might have devoted to creative work, or even to recreation, was consumed in fruitless toil of hand and mind. And yet I am sure that he valued the sense that he could be useful and serviceable, and that there were many who depended upon him for advice and consolation. I believe that his widespread relations with so many desirous people gave him a real sense of the fulness and richness of life; and its relations. But for all that, I also believe that his courtesy and his sense of duty were even more potent in these relations than the need of personal affection. I do not mean that there was any hardness or coldness about him; but he valued sympathy and tranquil friendship more than he pursued intimacy and passionate devotion. Yet in the last year or two of his life, I was both struck and touched by his evident desire to knit up friendships which had been severed, and to renew intercourse which had been suspended by his change of belief. Whether he had any feeling that his life was precarious, or his own time short, I do not know. He never said as much to me. He had, of course, used hard words of the Church which he had left, and had said things which were not wholly impersonal. But, combative though he was, he had no touch of rancour or malice in his nature, and he visibly rejoiced in any sign of goodwill.

Yet even so, he was essentially solitary in mind. "When I am alone," he once wrote, "I am at my best; and at my worst in company. I am happy and capable in loneliness; unhappy, distracted, and ineffective in company." And again he wrote, "I am becoming more and more afraid of meeting people I want to meet, because my numerous deficiencies are so very apparent. For example, I stammer slightly always and badly at times."

This was, I believe, more an instinctive shrinking from the expenditure of nervous force than anything else, and arose from the feeling that, if he had to meet strangers, some brilliancy of contribution would be expected of him. I remember how he delighted in the story of Marie Bashkirtseff, who, when she was summoned to meet a party of strangers who desired to see her, prayed as she entered the room, "Oh God, make me worth seeing!" Hugh disliked the possibility of disappointing expectations, and thus found the society of unfamiliar people a strain; but in family life, and with people whom he knew well, he was always the most delightful and charming of companions, quick, ready, and untiring in talk. And therefore I imagine that, like all artistic people, he found that the pursuit of some chosen train of thought was less of a conscious effort to him than the necessity of adapting himself, swiftly and dexterously, to new people, whose mental and spiritual atmosphere he was obliged to observe and infer. It was all really a sign of the high pressure at which he lived, and of the price he paid for his vividness and animation.

Another source of happiness to him in these last days was his sense of power. This was a part of his artistic nature; and I believe that he enjoyed to the full the feeling of being able to give people what they wanted, to enchant, interest, move, and sway them. This is to some natures a great temptation, because they come to desire applause, and to hunger for tangible signs of their influence. But Hugh was marvellously saved from this, partly by a real modesty which was not only never marred, but which I used to think increased with the years. There is a story of William Morris, that he could read aloud his own poetry, and at the end of a fine stanza would say: "That's jolly!" with an entire freedom from conceit, just as dispassionately as he could praise the work of another. I used to feel that when Hugh mentioned, as I have heard him do, some course of sermons that he was giving, and described the queue which formed in the street, and the aisles and gangways crowded with people standing to hear him, that he did so more impersonally than anyone I had ever heard, as though it were a delightful adventure, and more a piece of good luck than a testimony to his own powers.

It was the same with his books; he wished them to succeed and enjoyed their success, while it was an infinite delight to him to write them. But he had no egotism of a commonplace sort about him, and he never consciously tried to succeed. Success was just the reverberating echo of his own delight.

And thus I do not look upon him as one who had bent and curbed his nature by stern self-discipline to do work of a heavy and distasteful kind; nor do I think that his dangerous devotion to work was the fierce effort of a man who would have wished to rest, yet felt that the time was too short for all that he desired to do. I think it was rather the far more fruitful energy of one who exulted in expressing himself, in giving a brilliant and attractive shape to his ideas, and who loved, too, the varieties and tendencies of human nature, enjoyed moulding and directing them, and flung himself with an intense joy of creation into all the work which he found ready to his hand.

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