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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsHugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 21. Temperament
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Hugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 21. Temperament Post by :67834 Category :Nonfictions Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :2758

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Hugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 21. Temperament


Hugh never seemed to me to treat life in the spirit of a mystic or a dreamer, with unshared and secret experiences, withdrawing into his own ecstasy, half afraid of life, rapt away into interior visions. Though he had a deep curiosity about mystical experiences, he was never a mystic in the sense that he had, as great mystics seem to have had, one shell less, so to speak, between him and the unseen. He lived in the visible and tangible world, loving beautiful secrets; and he was a mystic only in the sense that he had an hourly and daily sense of the presence of God. He wished to share his dreams and to make known his visions, to declare the glory of God and to show His handiwork. He found the world more and more interesting, as he came to know it, and in the light of the warm welcome it gave him. He had a keen and delicate apprehension of spiritual beauty, and the Mass became to him a consummation of all that he held most holy and dear. He had recognised a mystical presence in the Church of England, but he found a supernatural presence in the Church of Rome; yet he had, too, the instinct of the poet, to translate into form and substance his inmost and sweetest joy, and to lavish it upon others. No one dares to speak of great poets and seers as men who have profaned a mystery by making it known. The deeper that the poet's sense of beauty is, the more does he thirst to communicate it. It is far too divine and tremendous to be secretly and selfishly enjoyed.

It is possible, of course, that Hugh may have given to those who did not see him constantly in everyday familiar intercourse, the sense of a courteous patience and a desire to do full justice to a claim. Still more may he have given this impression on social occasions and at conventional gatherings. Interviews and so-called festivities were apt to be a weariness to him, because they seemed so great an expenditure of time and force for very scanty results; but I always felt him to be one of the most naturally courteous people I have ever seen. He hated to be abrupt, to repel, to hurt, to wound feelings, to disappoint; yet on such occasions his natural courtesy was struggling with a sense of the waste of time involved and the interruptions caused. I remember his writing to me from the Catholic rectory when he was trying to finish a book and to prepare for a course of sermons, and lamenting that he was "driven almost mad" by ceaseless interviews with people who did not, he declared, want criticism or advice, but simply the luxury of telling a long story for the sake of possible adulation. "I am quite ready to see people," he added, "if only they would ask me to appoint a time, instead of simply flinging themselves upon me whenever it happens to be convenient to them."

I do not think he ever grudged the time to people in difficulties when he felt he could really help and save. That seemed to him an opportunity of using all his powers; and when he took a soul in hand, he could display a certain sternness, and even ruthlessness, in dealing with it. "You need not consult me at all, but if you do you must carry out exactly what I tell you," he could say; but he did grudge time and attention given to mild sentimentalists, who were not making any way, but simply dallying with tragic emotions excitedly and vainly.

This courtesy was part of a larger quality, a certain knightly and chivalrous sense, which is best summed up in the old word "gentleman." A priest told me that soon after Hugh's death he had to rebuke a tipsy Irishman, who was an ardent Catholic and greatly devoted to Hugh. The priest said, "Are you not ashamed to think that Monsignor's eye may be on you now, and that he may see how you disgrace yourself?" To which, he said, the Irishman replied, with perhaps a keener insight into Hugh's character than his director, "Oh no, I can trust Monsignor not to take advantage of me. I am sure that he will not come prying and spying about. He always believed whatever I chose to tell him, God bless him!" Hugh could be hard and unyielding on occasions, but he was wholly incapable of being suspicious, jealous, malicious, or spiteful. He made friends once with a man of morbid, irritable, and resentful tendencies, who had continued, all his life, to make friends by his brilliance and to lose them by his sharp, fierce, and contemptuous animosities. This man eventually broke with him altogether, and did his best by a series of ingenious and wicked letters to damage Hugh's character in all directions. I received one of those documents and showed it to Hugh. I was astonished at his courage and even indifference. I myself should have been anxious and despondent at the thought of such evil innuendoes and gross misrepresentations being circulated, and still more at the sort of malignant hatred from which they proceeded. Hugh took the letter and smiled. "Oh," he said, "I have put my case before the people who matter, and you can't do anything. He is certainly mad, or on the verge of madness. Don't answer it--you will only be drenched with these communications. I don't trouble my head about it." "But don't you mind?" I said. "No," he said, "I'm quite callous! Of course I am sorry that he should be such a beast, but I can't help that. I have done my best to make it up--but it is hopeless." And it was clear from the way he changed the subject that he had banished the whole matter from his mind. At a later date, when the letters to him grew more abusive, I was told by one who was living with him, that he would even put one up on his chimney-piece and point it out to visitors.

I always thought that he had a very conspicuous and high sort of courage, not only in facing disagreeable and painful things, but in not dwelling on them either before or after. This was never more entirely exemplified than by the way he faced his operation, and indeed, most heroically of all, in the way in which he died. There was a sense of great adventure--there is no other word for it--about that, as of a man going on a fateful voyage; a courage so great that he did not even lose his interest in the last experiences of life. His demeanour was not subdued or submissive; he did not seem to be asking for strength to bear or courage to face the last change. He was more like the happy warrior

With sudden brightness, as a man inspired."

He did not lose control of himself, nor was he carried helplessly down the stream. He was rather engaged in a conflict which was not a losing one. He had often thought of death, and even thought that he feared it; but now that it was upon him he would taste it fully, he would see what it was like. The day before, when he thought that he might live, there was a pre-occupation over him, as though he were revolving the things he desired to do; but when death came upon him unmistakably there was no touch of self-pity or impressiveness. He had just to die, and he devoted his swift energies to it, as he had done to living. I never saw him so splendid and noble as he was at that last awful moment. Life did not ebb away, but he seemed to fling it from him, so that it was not as the death of a weary man sinking to rest, but like the eager transit of a soldier to another part of the field.

"Could it have been avoided?" I said to the kind and gentle doctor who saw Hugh through the last days of his life, and loved him very tenderly and faithfully. "Well, in one sense, 'yes,'" he replied. "If he had worked less, rested more, taken things more easily, he might have lived longer. He had a great vitality; but most people die of being themselves; and we must all live as we are made to live. It was Monsignor's way to put the work of a month into a week; he could not do otherwise--I cannot think of Monsignor as sitting with folded hands."

(Arthur C. Benson's Book: Hugh: Memoirs of a Brother)

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