A Bishop and an Archbishop

A STRIKING contrast might be drawn between Bishop Whipple, clad in his buckskin suit and fur overcoat, astray from the road and overtaken by darkness on the Minnesota prairies, in his cutter, with the thermometer thirty degrees below zero, and Archbishop Benson, gently ambling through Hyde Park, of an afternoon, on his favorite mare Columba. And yet the two men had much in common, and they might have exchanged bishoprics without serious detriment to either charge. The Bishop of Minnesota1 is, the late Archbishop of Canterbury 2 was, a strong, masculine personage, having no touch of genius, and yet perfectly fulfilling Dr. Johnson’s definition of “ a mind of large general powers accidentally determined to some particular direction.”

It would be difficult to name any pursuit in life, excepting perhaps the fine arts, in which Bishop Whipple would not have achieved distinction. He began life, his college course at Oberlin having been interrupted by ill health, as a man of business and a politician ; and when, in 1848, he decided to study for the ministry, that keen judge Thurlow Weed expressed the hope that “ a good politician had not been spoiled to make a poor preacher.” His logical intellect and power of statement would have made him a great lawyer: there are many anecdotes which illustrate his diplomatic powers, and the bishop has actually practiced medicine and surgery and dentistry for the benefit of his Indian friends.

The same many-sidedness characterized Dr. Benson. In fact, he went beyond Bishop Whipple in this respect, for he had a distinct artistic faculty, which showed itself especially in his intense love of architecture, and of all that is fitting and beautiful in ceremony. “ I the wooden benches in Wellington College Chapel,” wrote one of his friends after his death, “ there is a tiny line of dogtooth moulding inserted among the plain lines which finish off the backs of the seats. I feel almost sure this was his doing, it is so exactly like him ; it is a mere nothing, and yet gives a certain distinction to the woodwork. It was this little touch of distinction which characterized everything he had to do with. , Such things as the tone of a bell, or even some detail in dress or jewelry or furniture, were all matters to which he was keenly alive. He was an admirable draughtsman, and, had he not been an archbishop, would have made a firstclass architect.”

This appreciation of detail was a source of weakness as well as of strength in the archbishop. “ We chaplains,” writes one of them, “used, in our irreverent moods, to make merry over the fact that, a moment after he had proved to us conclusively that he had not a single free minute in which to see some person who wrote for an interview, he would become absorbed in some detail which to him seemed for the moment all-important. The carpenter would arrive to hang a picture, and everything would give way to the absorbing interest in the picture being exactly straight. But,” he adds, “ though we made merry, we learned by degrees to discover that this was one of the secrets of the archbishop’s extraordinary success in dealing finally and conclusively with the most difficult problems. Again and again I have felt the shame of being convicted of slovenly work and imperfect information where the archbishop had already grasped each detail.” Such excessive care for detail is hardly inseparable from a lack of the sense of proportion, and it is evident that the archbishop had this defect. Bishop Whipple is entirely free from it ; and we may conjecture that he is free also from that quickness of temper which Dr. Benson never entirely conquered, and which, since it seems to have followed periods of great depression, was probably almost as much physical as mental. For many years he was a schoolmaster, — first as an assistant at Rugby, and subsequently as the head of Wellington College ; and it is on record that he once caned an innocent boy without giving him an opportunity to explain, but he begged the boy’s pardon afterward ; and the radical honesty and sweetness of his character are proved by the fact that he was, in spite of this defect of temper, a popular and even beloved schoolmaster. The following pathetic entry is taken from his diary under date of Whitsunday, 1888 : “ The great festivals seem always to come round with special trial and disappointment. I have spoiled my peace of mind, and that of others for many days to come, by a just displeasure pushed too far.”

But the most important respect in which the characters of the two bishops are alike is that of commanding personality. The Englishman, like the American, was a born leader, and never at a loss when there was occasion to say or to do something. " On a certain degree day in 1850, or thereabouts, a West African undergraduate named Crummell, of Queen’s, a man of color, appeared in the Senate-House to take his degree. A boisterous individual in the gallery called out, ‘ Three groans for the Queen’s nigger ! ’ A pale, slim undergraduate, very youthful-looking, in the front of the gallery, who appeared to be taking no particular interest in the proceedings, became scarlet with indignation, and shouted in a voice which reëchoed through the building, ‘ Shame, shame! Three groans for you, sir! ’ and immediately afterward, ' Three cheers for Crummell! ’ This was taken up in all directions, and the original offender stooped down to hide himself from the storm of groans and hisses that broke out all around him.”

Here is an incident in later life, described by a workingman in a letter to the archbishop’s son and biographer: “ I believe many of us, perhaps the majority, thought he had a workshop training in his early years, because he appeared to have the faculty of looking at things with a ‘ workman’s mind.’ I have seen hundreds of gentlemen try to do this, in my time, and fail, but your father did it unconsciously. To give an instance. Two of our committee were secularists. Once, at a meeting, when your father was speaking about a life to come, one of them, who was in the chair, dissented audibly. It was a social meeting (of men and women) following a tea, — he had had tea with us. Now, most clergymen, hearing an ejaculation of that kind, would have solemnly repeated the statement and enlarged upon it. Your father did nothing of the sort. He simply nodded his head backward to the chairman behind him, laughed, and, with a knowing kind of look at his audience, said to the chairman, ‘ Come, it won’t do, you know ; ’ meaning that the chairman’s denial of a future life would n’t ‘ go down ’ with that audience, at any rate.”

Side by side with this anecdote may be placed Bishop Whipple’s account of the manner in which he once prevented an Indian outbreak. “ Courteousness of speech,” he says, “ is a marked characteristic of the Indian. It is an act of great rudeness to interrupt another, and the last words of every speech are, ‘ I have done’ Knowledge of this fact once enabled me to settle a serious difficulty. The Indians at Leech Lake had heard — as was the fact — that the government had contracted to sell all of their pine without their knowledge and consent.” An uprising was imminent, and the Indians had already killed the government cattle. Bishop Whipple was requested by the President to go to Leech Lake and negotiate with the Indians. “ It was in the dead of winter, the thermometer below zero, and the snow deep. It was a journey of seventy-five miles through the forest, and it took us three days to reach the lake. The Indians came to their council in paint and feathers, angry and turbulent.” Flatmouth, their chief, made a violent speech, to which the bishop replied briefly, as follows: “ I shall tell you the truth. It will not be pleasant to my red brother. When you killed those cattle, you struck the Great Father in the face. When you stole those goods, you committed a crime. I am not here to tell you what the Great Father will do. He has not told me. If he does what he ought to do, he will arrest those who have committed this crime, if it takes ten thousand men.”

“ As I expected,” the bishop relates, “ the chief was very angry, and, springing to his feet, began to talk violently. I folded my arms, and sat down. When he paused, I said quietly : ‘ Flatmouth, are you talking or am I talking ? If you are talking, I will wait till you have finished ; if I am talking, you may wait till I have finished.’ The Indians all shouted, ' Ho ! ho ! ’ Their chief had committed a great breach of courtesy toward me, their friend.

“ Overwhelmed with confusion, Flatmouth sat down, and I knew that the ground was mine. I then told them that when I heard of the pine sale, I wrote to Washington and protested against it ; that I went to the man who bought the pine, and told him that I should oppose the sale, and carry the matter into the courts.”

The upshot was that the Indians remained peaceable, and the bishop succeeded in preventing the sale.

The parallel might easily be pushed too far, but, before dropping it, we will note, for the benefit of those who love horses and dogs, that both men had a belief in some kind of future existence for dumb animals. Bishop Whipple tells us of his horse Bashaw, — “ own cousin to the celebrated Patchin [probably Mambrino Patchen, the famous Kentucky sire]. He was a kingly fellow, and had every sign of noble birth, —a slim, delicate head, prominent eyes, small active ears, large nostrils, full chest, thin gambrels, heavy cords, neat fetlocks, and was black as a coal. He was my friend and companion for over fifty thousand miles, always full of spirit, and gentle as a girl. . . . He saved my life when I was lost on the prairies many times. A few months before he died, at thirty years of age, I sent him to a friend in the country to be pastured. One day some colts in the same meadow were racing, and Bashaw, who had been noted for his speed, with all his old fire joined in the race, beat the colts, and dropped dead. I wept when the news came to me. . . . These sentient creatures of God suffer because of man’s alienation from God; their wrongs cannot be righted in this world. They have memory, — memory which binds our lives in an harmonious whole, — which has the prophecy of a future life.”

So much for the American; now let us hear the English bishop. On August 21, in the year 1888, he writes in his diary : “ Coming away with Nellie [his daughter] from the workhouse at Croydon, down a little rough, irregular street, Braemore stumbled, and fell on her knees on the sharp, loose stones. She twice plunged forward in the attempt to rise, and then did rise most gallantly, and stood frightfully injured. We could scarce get her a few yards to a stable court, and the veterinary thinks the poor creature must be destroyed. She saved Nellie from being killed or dreadfully hurt by lifting herself up in such torture. Nellie would have gone on her head, if she had not. Her instinct was to stand up on her feet with her mistress on her back, whereas it would have been easier for her just to lie down and roll over, if obedient habit had not forced her effort out of her, — and she will have to be shot for her dutifulness. ‘ Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causes,’ — and no one will persuade me that Braemore comes to an end there.”

It must be remembered that we are dealing in one case with an autobiography, and in the other with a biography.

Bishop Whipple is a man of action, not given to self-analysis. He does not tell us, for example, by what mental processes he came to abandon business and politics for the ministry. He has none of that egotism of genius which gives a charm to certain autobiographies, and which reaches its highest point in the Apologia of Newman. This failure to analyze the working of his own mind makes the book less interesting than it would otherwise have been, though perhaps it tends to increase rather than to diminish one’s respect for the writer. We cannot quite forgive him, however, for not going more into detail. Even in the account of his midwinter journeys in a sleigh, the bishop passes over things which the reader longs to know. Who, for example, would not like to read a fuller account of the following experience ? —

“ I had to drive nearly one hundred and fifty miles whenever I visited Fort Wadsworth. Upon one of these visits I was unable to cross the Pomme de Terre River, for, although ice had been formed, it was not strong enough to bear my horses. The river was very broad, and as the nearest house was twenty miles back, there was nothing for me to do but to spend the night by some haystacks. The thermometer stood below zero, and a blizzard raged in full fury till morning. It was an experience which nearly cost me my life, and I was ordered by my physician to France.”

Everything that the bishop tells us about the Indians is interesting, and most of all this illuminating paragraph: " There are conflicting feelings in the Indian’s heart toward his white brother, for whom he has an inborn reverence; and there is an instinctive sense of what he should be to him. But his knowledge of what he has really been, and still is, clouds his mind so that he is swayed by a mingled sentiment of love and wrath toward him.”

In the early part of the book, speaking of his life in Chicago, where, before he was made bishop, he established a free church, Bishop Whipple says: “ Volumes would not hold the experiences of those days. So often the shadows were shifted to show that in the most brutalized lives there were traces of God’s image left.” And then he proceeds to relate a most interesting incident. We trust that a second edition will contain more of these stories and details; room for them might be found by severely editing the latter part of the book, which contains a rather bare and unprofitable summary of events.

On the other hand, the life of Archbishop Benson is a biography, — and a biography executed with the greatest skill and modesty, and with an impartiality which, considering that the writer is the bishop’s son, excites wonder and admiration. Had it been an autobiography, it would probably have been less interesting ; for, strangely enough, the archbishop, with all his artistic faculty, did not possess an attractive style. He had, however, a gift for detached sentences ; and his intellect was of that fertile, subtle kind which comes out best in letters and in memoranda. The book, consequently, is rich in memorable sayings and descriptions. We quote one such, made after a visit to Lord Carnarvon at Highclose : “ One has nowadays great heartaches in these glorious homes, with their strong heads, real pillars of the civilization that now is, and their most delicate, stately women, and children whose sweet proud curves of feature show the making of many generations, and readiness for responsibility from almost tender years ; — are all these glories going to keep together ? If not, how will they go down ? By brute force or by silent self-exilings ? ”

Posterity will perhaps find the work too long. Had it consisted of one large volume instead of two large volumes, it would probably have been better for the archbishop’s future fame. But for ourselves we make no complaint.

Henry Childs Merwin.

  1. Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate. Being Reminiscences and Recollections of the Right Reverend HENRY BENJAMIN WHIPPLE, D. D., LL. D., Bishop of Minnesota. New York : The Macmillan Company. 1900.
  2. The Life of Edward White Henson, Sotnettme Archbishop of Canterbury. By his Son, ARTHUR CHRISTOPHER BENSON. New York: The Macmillan Company. 1899.