IN heroic times, when a monarch was about to make a solemn adventure into strange dominions, he chose one of the wisest and noblest of his subjects, and sent him forward as a herald. Those who indulge such fancies may have seen a mysterious revival of this custom in the fate which removed the admirable Bishop of London exactly eight days before his Queen was called upon to take the same dread journey. If ceremonial had demanded, at the approach of such an event, a sacrifice of the most honored, the most valued, the most indispensable, many alternatives would have occurred to those on whom the wretched duty of choice would have fallen, but it is certain that among the first half dozen of such precious names would have been found that of a churchman, Mandell Creighton. His wholesome virtues, his indefatigable vigor, the breadth of his sympathy, the strenuous activity of his intellect, pointed him out as the man who more than any other seemed destined to justify the ways of the national church in the eyes of modern thought, the ecclesiastic who more than any other would continue to conciliate the best and keenest secular opinion.
In Creighton, in short, a real prince of the Church seemed to be approaching the ripeness of his strength. He seemed preparing to spend the next quarter of a century in leading a huge and motley flock more or less safely into tolerably green pastures. Here, then, we thought we had found, what we so rarely see in England, a political prelate of the first rank. With all this were combined gifts of a literary and philosophical order, a lambent wit, a nature than which few have been known more generous or affectionate, and a constitution which seemed to defy the years. No wonder, then, if Creighton had begun to take his place as one of the most secure and precious of contemporary institutions. In the fullness of his force, at the height of his intellectual meridian, he has suddenly dropped out of the sky. And with all the sorrow that we feel is mingled the homely poignancy of a keen disappointment.
Mandell Creighton was the son of Robert Creighton, timber merchant of Carlisle, and of Sarah Mandell, his wife. On both sides he came of sound Cumberland stock. He was born at Carlisle, on the 5th of July, 1843. He went to school at Durham, and in 1862 he was elected “ postmaster ” of Merton College, Oxford ; that is to say, a scholar supported on the foundation. He spent the next thirteen years at the university ; and this period forms one of the most important of the sharply marked stages into which Creighton’s life was divided. Oxford, Embleton, Cambridge, Peterborough, London, — it is very seldom that the career of a modern man is subdivided by such clean sword cuts through the texture of, his personal habits. But it was the earliest of these stages which really decided the order and character of the others. It is easy to think of a Creighton who was never Bishop of Peterborough ; it is already becoming difficult to recollect at all clearly the one who was Dixie Professor at Cambridge. But to think of Creighton and not think of Oxford is impossible. From the beginning of his career to the close of it he exhaled the spirit of that university.
Those who knew Creighton as Bishop of London may feel that they knew him as a young tutor at Oxford. Those whose friendship with him goes back further than mine tell me that as quite a young undergraduate he had exactly the same manner that we became accustomed to later. He never changed in the least essential matter ; he grew in knowledge and experience, indeed, but the character was strongly sketched in him from the very first. Boys are quick in their instinctive observation, and almost as a freshman Creighton was dubbed “ the Professor.” At Merton they were fond of nicknames, and they liked them short; it followed that the future Bishop of London, during his undergraduate days, was known among his intimates as “the P.” He wore glasses, and they gleamed already with something of the flash that was to become so famous. In those earliest days, when other boys were largely playing the fool, Creighton was instinctively practicing to play the teacher. Already, indeed, he was scholastic in the habit of his mind, although never, I think, what could, with even an undergraduate’s exaggeration, be styled “ priggish.” I have heard of the zeal with which, at a very early age, quite secretly and unobtrusively, he would help lame (and presumably idle) dogs over educational stiles. He was not a cricketer, but he took plenty of strenuous exercise in the form of walking and rowing. He sought glory in the Merton boat, and it is still remembered that he was an ornament to a certain nautical club, composed of graduates, and called the Ancient Mariners. But the maniacal lovers of athletic exercise can never quote Creighton as one of their examples.
When he became a don — fellow and tutor of his college — the real life of Creighton began. The chrysalis broke, and the academic butterfly appeared. With a certain small class of men at Merton he was, I believe, for a very short time, unpopular. It was a college illustrious for the self-abandonment of high spirits, and Creighton had a genius for discipline. But he was very soon respected, and his influence over each of his particular pupils was tremendous. It is interesting to note that while everybody speaks of Creighton’s “ influence ” over himself or others, no one ever seems to recall any “ influence ” from without acting upon Creighton. As to the undergraduates brought under his care from 1866 onwards, there is probably not one surviving who does not recollect the young tutor with respect, and few who do not look back upon him with affection. As a disciplinarian he was quick and firm ; he was no martinet, but the men under his charge soon understood that they must work hard and behave themselves. From each he would see that he got the best there was to give.
He had great courage ; it was always one of his qualities. One of the most remarkable exhibitions of it, I think, was his custom — while he was a fellow at Merton, and afterwards when he was professor at Cambridge — of holding informal meeting in his rooms, at which he allowed any species of historical conundrum to be put to him, and enforced himself to give a reasonable answer to it. The boys would try to pose him, of course; would grub up out-of-the-way bits of historical erudition. Creighton was always willing “ to face the music,” and I have never heard of his being drawn into any absurd position. Few pundits of a science would be ready to undergo such a searching test of combined learning and common sense.
Of Creighton’s particular pupils, in those early days, two at least were destined to hold positions of great prominence. In none of the obituary notices of the Bishop of London, so far as I saw, were his interesting relations with Lord Randolph Churchill so much as mentioned. A few months after Creighton was placed on the governing body of Merton, Lord Randolph made his appearance there as an undergraduate. He was conspicuous, in those days, as an unpromising type of the rowdy nobleman. Nobody, not even his own family, believed in a respectable future for him; but Creighton, with that singular perspicacity which was one of his more remarkable characteristics, divined better things in Lord Randolph at once. A friend was once walking with the tutor of Merton, when down the street came swaggering and strutting, with a big nosegay at his buttonhole and a mustache curled skywards, Lord Randolph Churchill, dressed, as they say, “ to kill.” The friend could not resist a gesture of disdain, but Creighton said : “You are like everybody else : you think he is an awful ass! You are wrong: he is n’t. You will see that he will have a brilliant future, and what’s more definite, a brilliant political future. See whether my prophecy does n’t turn out true.” All through the period of Lord Randolph Churchill’s amazing harvest of wild oats Creighton continued to believe in him. I recollect challenging his faith in 1880, when Lord Randolph was covering himself, after his second election for Woodstock, with ridicule. He replied : “ You think all this preposterous conduct is mere folly ? You are wrong: it is only the fermentation of a very remarkable talent.” Of course he was right; and as he lived to rejoice in the rush of his meteor heavenwards, he lived to lament the earthward tumble of all the sparks and sticks. Another undergraduate of eminence, to whose care Creighton was specially appointed, was the Queen’s youngest son, Leopold, Duke of Albany, to whom he gave private lessons in history and literature, and over whose mind he exercised a highly beneficial influence. It was Prince Leopold who first introduced Creighton’s name to the Queen, and started her interest in his ecclesiastical career.
It was not until he became a don at Merton, in 1860, that Creighton really formed a group of intimate friends. Then, immediately, his talents and his conversation opened to him the whole circle of the best minds of Oxford. No one could be more attractive in such a society. His affectionate nature and his very fresh and vigorous intellect made him the most delightful of companions, and he was preserved by a certain inherent magnanimity from the pettiness which sometimes afflicts university coteries. From the very first it was understood that he would be an historian (although, by the irony of examinations, he had gained only a " second-class ” in modern history), but it was not clearly seen how this obvious native bent would be made to serve a profession. Suddenly, to everybody’s great surprise, in 1870 be was ordained deacon, and priest in 1873. The reasons which led him to take so unexpected a step have been frequently the subject of conjecture. I shall presently, in endeavoring to form a portrait of his character, return to a consideration of this most interesting and important question.
He was now, at the age of thirty, one of the most individual types which Oxford, then abounding in men of character, could offer to the observation of a visitor. He was already one of the features of the society; he was, perhaps, more frequently and freely discussed than any other Oxonian of his years. He was too strong a man to be universally approved of : the dull thought him paradoxical, the solemn thought him flippant ; already there was the whisper abroad that he was “ not a spiritually minded man.” But the wise and the good, if they sometimes may have doubted his gravity, never doubted his sincerity ; nor would there be many ready to denounce their own appreciation of good company by declaring his conversation anything but most attractive.
It was soon after he became a priest — it was in the early summer of 1874 — that I first met Creighton. I was on a visit to Walter Pater and his sisters, who were then residing in the suburbs of Oxford, in Bradmore Road. To luncheon on Sunday came a little party of distinguished guests, — Henry Smith and his sister, Max Müller, Bonamy Price (I think), and lastly Mr. and Mrs. Creighton ; for he had married two years before this. Much the youngest person present, I kept an interested silence; most of the talk, indeed, being fitted for local consumption, and, to one who knew little of Oxford, scarcely intelligible. During the course of the meal, at which Creighton scintillated with easy mastery, I caught his hawk’s eye fall upon me once or twice ; and when it was over, and the ladies had left us, he quitted his own friends, and coming over to me proposed a walk in the garden. I cannot say that this brilliant clergyman, of doubtful age and intimidating reputation, was quite the companion I should have ventured to choose. But we descended on to the greensward; and as, through that long golden afternoon, we walked up and down the oblong garden, I gave myself more and more unreservedly to the charm of my magnetic companion, to his serious wit and whimsical wisdom, to the directness of his sympathy, and to the firmness of his grasp of the cord of life. I was conscious of an irresistible intuition that this was one of the best as well as one of the most remarkable men whom I was ever likely to meet; and our friendship began in that hour.
From the first it seemed inevitable to count Creighton among men of letters, and yet the outward evidence of his literary life was very scanty to the close of his Oxford period. In all his spare time he was preparing for his future work, and perhaps he was already publishing anonymously some of his papers ; but the fact remains that his name did not appear on a title-page until he was leaving Oxford, in 1875. I fancy that the difficulty he found in concentrating his attention on literature was one of several reasons which so suddenly took him to Northumberland in that year. He had already begun to plan his magnum opus, The History of the Papacy, but he was struck with the impossibility of combining the proper composition of such a work with the incessant duties of a college tutor. Hence, to most people’s intense surprise, it was one day abruptly announced that Creighton had accepted the remote vicarage of Embleton. He had given no one an opportunity of advising him against the step, but it was known that he had strengthened his determination by taking counsel with Henry Smith. That wisest of men had urged upon him the necessity, if he was to enlarge his sphere of activity, and to rise to a really commanding position in the Church, of his seeing the other side of clerical life, the parochial. With the academic side Creighton was sufficiently familiar; what he needed now was the practically pastoral. Those who lamented that he should be snatched from the gardens and classrooms of Oxford, and from their peripatetic ingenuities, had to realize that their charming friend was a very strong man, predestined to do big things, and that the time had come when solitude and fixity were needful for his spiritual development.
So Creighton went off to Embleton ; and one remembers the impression among his friends that it was something worse for them, in the way of exile, than Tomi could have been for the companions of Ovid. But there was a great deal to mitigate the horrors of exile. In the first place, Embleton was the best of all the livings in the gift of Merton College, and in many respects delightful, socially as well as physically. The vicarage was a very pleasant house, nested in tall trees, which were all the more precious because of the general bareness and bleakness of the gray Northumbrian landscape. A mile away to the east, broadly ribboned by rolling lion-colored sands, is the sea, — the troubled Euxine of those parts,—with a splendid ruin, the keep of Dunstanborough Castle, crouching on a green crag. To the west, dreary flat lands are bounded, toward evening and on clear mornings, by the far-away jags of the Cheviot Hills. On the whole, it is a bright, hard, tonical country, lacking the voluptuous beauties of the south, but full of attraction to a strong and rapid man. It is a land but little praised, although it has had one ardent lover in Mr. Swinburne, that “ flower of bright Northumberland,” that “ sea bird of the loud sea strand,” who sings the strenuous Tale of Balm. It always seemed to me that this landscape, this bleak and austere Northumbrian vigor, exactly suited the genius of Creighton. It made a background to him, at all events; and if I paint his full-length portrait in my mind’s eye, it is always with the tawny sands and dark gray waters of Embleton Bay against that falcon’s head of his.
The social attractions of the Northumbrian parish were singularly many. Creighton found himself in the centre of a bouquet of county families, not a few of which preserved in the present the fine traditions of a long hospitable past. The county called, of course, on the new vicar, and was not slow to discover that he was a man of power and charm. But there were two of the acquaintances so formed which ripened rapidly into friendships of great importance to the Oxford historian. Some five miles south of Embleton vicarage lay Howick, the home of that veteran Whig statesman, the third Earl Grey, who survived until long after Creighton left Northumberland, and who died, at the age of ninety-two, in 1894. Much nearer and within his own parish, he had as neighbor Sir George Grey of Falloden, Lord John Russell’s Home Secretary, and father of the present Sir Edward Grey ; he died in 1882. With these two aged politicians, of high character and long experience, Creighton contrived to form relations which in the case of the Falloden family became positively intimate. The old Lord Grey, although he welcomed the vicar and delighted in his conversation, lived somewhat above the scope of practical mortal friendship; but his nephew, the present earl, — then the hope of politicians, and known as Mr. Albert Grey, — was one of the most frequent visitors at the vicarage.
At Oxford Creighton had found it impossible to devote himself to sustained literary work. The life of the tutor of a college is so incessantly disturbed, so minutely subdivided, that it is difficult indeed for him to produce the least example of a work of " long breath.” In Northumberland, it was not that time was unoccupied, — wherever Creighton was, there occupation instantly abounded, — but it was at least not frittered and crumbled away with hourly change of duty. Hence, directly we find him at Embleton his literary work begins ; and it is during those nine Northumbrian years that he appeals to us preëminently as a man of letters. He began with several little books, of the kind then much advocated by the historians with whom he had thrown in his lot, such as Freeman and Green. It was, in fact, for a series edited by Green that Creighton wrote his earliest published work, a little History of Rome, in 1875. The next year saw the publication of no fewer than three of his productions, two at least of which, The Age of Elizabeth and The Life of Simon de Montfort, remain highly characteristic specimens of his manner. Meanwhile he was writing anonymously, but largely, in various periodicals, such as the Saturday Review and the Athenæum, to the last of which he was for twelve years a steady contributor. In a variety of ways he was laboring to secure the recognition of the new science of history as he had accepted it from the hands of Stubbs and Freeman.
His own magnum opus was all the time making steady progress, and in 1882 were published the first two volumes of The History of the Papacy during the Period of the Reformation. Of this book the fifth and last volume was sent from Peterborough in 1894. It is a massive monument of learning ; it is the work by which Creighton, as a pure man of letters, will longest be remembered ; it is such a solid contribution to literature as few scholars are fortunate enough to find time and strength to make. The scope of the book was laid down by himself : it was " to bring together materials for a judgment of the change which came over Europe in the sixteenth century, to which the name of ' the Reformation ’ is loosely given.” He passed, in his five volumes, from the great schism in the Papacy to the dissolution of the Council of Trent. It cannot be said that Creighton’s History of the Papacy is a very amusing work. It was not intended to entertain. It seems to leave out, of set purpose, whatever would be interesting, and it tells at length whatever is dull. It was Creighton’s theory, especially at this early period, that history should be crude and unadorned ; not in any sense a product of literary art, but a sober presentation of the naked truth. Yet even the naked truth about what happened (let us say) under Pope John XXII. should, one would have supposed, have been amusing. But Creighton was determined not to stoop to the blandishments of anecdote or the siren lure of style.
At no time of his life were the mental and moral faculties of Creighton more wholesomely exercised than during the latter part of his residence in Embleton. In after years he pressed too much into his life : he was always " on the go ” at Cambridge, always rushing about at Peterborough, while in London he simply lost control of the brake altogether, and leaped headlong toward the inevitable smash. At Embleton, with his parish and his extra-parochial work, his private pupils and his hooks, his Oxford connection as public examiner and select preacher, and all the rest of his intense and concentrated activity, the machine, though already going at a perilous rate, had not begun to threaten to get beyond the power of the strong and spirited rider to stop at will. I was lucky enough, at this very moment of his career, to have an opportunity of studying closely the character and habits of my friend. In 1882 one of my children was ordered to a bracing climate, and Creighton suggested that nothing could possibly brace more tightly than the bright Northumbrian shore. He found us lodgings in the village of Embleton, and we sojourned at the door of his vicarage through the closing summer and the autumn of that year. Thus, without presenting the embarrassment of guests, who have to be “ considered,” we saw something of our fierce, rapid, alert, and affectionate vicar every day, and could study his character and mind at ease. We could share his rounds, romp with his children and our own, and engage at nights in the formidable discipline of whist.
Of all my memories of those days, — bright, hard, hot autumn days, with Creighton in the centre of the visual foreground,— the clearest are those which gather about tremendous walks. He was in his element when he could tear himself away from his complicated parochial duties, and start off, with his miledevouring stride, full of high cheerfulness, and primed for endless discussion of religion and poetry and our friends. He was a really pitiless pedestrian, quite without mercy. I remember one breathless afternoon, after hours upon the march, throwing myself on the heather on the edge of Alnwick Moor, and gasping for a respite. Silhouetted high up against the sky, Creighton shouted : “Come on! Come on ! ” And it was then that anguish wrung from me a gibe which was always thereafter a joke between us. “ You ought to be a caryatid,” I cried, “ and support some public building ! It ’s the only thing you “re fit for ! ”
He was particularly fond of driving or taking the railway to a remote point, and making a vast round on foot, preferably along some river bed. Thus have we ascended the Aln, and thus descended the more distant Blackadder in Berwickshire, and thus have we skirted the infinite serpentings of the Till from Chillingham to Fowberry Towers. But of all the wild and wine-colored Northumbrian streams, it was the enchanting Coquet which Creighton loved the best. Mr. Hamo Thornycroft reminds me of an occasion when he was staying with me at Embleton, and Creighton took us for a whole day’s tramp up the Coquet to Brinkburn Priory. The river rolls and coils itself as it approaches the sea, and, to shorten our course, the future bishop commanded us to take off our shoes and stockings, and ford the waters. There was a ridge of sharp stones from bank to bank, with depth of slightly flooded river on either side. He strode ahead like a St. Christopher, with strong legs naked from the knee, but he did not offer to take us on his back. On strained and wounded feet we arrived at last at the opposite shore, only to be peremptorily told that we need not trouble to put on our shoes and stockings, since we should have to ford the river again, after just a mile of stubble. Gentle reader, have you ever walked a mile barefoot in stubble ? When we reached the foaming Coquet again, the ridged stones of the ford seemed paradise in comparison. Truly the caryatid of Embleton was forged in iron.
The call to leave the moors and sandhills of Northumberland came abruptly and in an unexpected form. A remote benefactor of the University of Cambridge, and of Emmanuel College in particular, Sir Wolstan Dixie, of Christ’s Hospital, had left a considerable sum of money, which it was now determined to use by founding a chair of ecclesiastical history. In 1884 this chair was finally established, and all that remained was to discover the best possible first professor. A board of electors, which contained Lightfoot, Seeley, Mr. S. R. Gardiner, and Mr. Bryce, very carefully considered the claims of all the pretendants, and at last determined to do an unusual thing, namely, to go outside the university itself, and elect the man who at that moment seemed to be, beyond question, the most eminent church historian in England. That this should be Creighton offers interesting evidence of the steady way in which his literary and scholastic gifts had been making themselves felt. He was not the Cambridge candidate, but Cambridge accepted him with a very good grace. Accordingly he returned to academic life, and at the same time enjoyed the advantage of becoming familiar with the routine of a university other than that in which he was brought up. But while he was a professor at Cambridge for seven years, and was all that time entirely loyal to his surroundings, Creighton was too deeply impressed by an earlier stamp ever to be other than an Oxford man translated to the banks of the Cam.
At the very same time that Creighton became Dixie Professor, the present writer was elected to a post at Cambridge, and for five years we were colleagues in the university. Creighton’s position included the advantages of a senior fellow at Emmanuel College, and he had rooms there, which, however, he very rarely occupied. He took a house for his family about a mile out of Cambridge, in the Trumpington direction, and he did his best, by multiplying occasions of walking out and in, to keep up his habits of exercise. But he certainly missed the great pedestrian activities of Embleton. His lectures were delivered in the hall of Emmanuel College, and I believe that they were fairly well attended, as lectures go at Cambridge, by young persons of both sexes who were struggling with those cruel monsters, the History Tripos and the Theology Tripos. But this formed, I must not say an unimportant, but I will say an inconspicuous part of Creighton’s daily life, which, in a few months, became complicated with all sorts of duties. The year after he came to Cambridge, he rose a step on the ladder of clerical promotion by receiving from the Queen a canonry at Worcester Cathedral. After this, like the villains in melodrama, he lived “ a double life,” half in Cambridge, half in Worcester.
The year 1886 was one of marked expansion in the fame and force of Creighton. In the first place, Emmanuel College nominated him to represent her at the celebration of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Harvard College, and on this occasion he paid his first visit to America. This was an event of prime importance to so shrewd and sympathetic an observer. I remember that he expressed but one disappointment, when he returned, namely, that he had not been able to go out West. He was charmed with the hospitality and the culture of the East, but, as an historian and a student of men, he wanted to see the bed rock of the country. One rather superfine ornament of Massachusetts society lamented to him that he must find America “ so crude.” “ My dear sir,” said Creighton, in his uncompromising way, “ not half so crude as I want to find it. We don’t travel over the Atlantic for the mere fun of seeing a washed-out copy of Europe.” I recollect observing with interest that what Creighton talked of, in connection with America, when he returned, were almost entirely social and industrial peculiarities, neither blaming nor approving, but noting them in his extremely penetrating way.
It was in 1886, too, that he began the work by which he became best known to the ordinary cultivated reader, namely, the foundation and editorship of the English Historical Review, which he carried on for five years with marked success. Perhaps no single book has done so much as this periodical did, in Creighton’s capable hands, to familiarize the public with the principles of our newer school of scientific historians. At the same time he was writing incessantly in other quarters. To the Cambridge period belonged the third and fourth volumes of The History of the Papacy (1887), as well as the Cardinal Wolsey (1888), and several volumes of a more ephemeral character. Already, in the last preface to the Papacy, there comes an ominous note: “ The final revision of the sheets has been unfortunately hurried, owing to unexpected engagements.” Of the rush of “ unexpected engagements ” his friends were now beginning to be rather seriously conscious. Whatever was to be done, as of old, Creighton seemed to be man-of-all-work to do it. One finds among his letters of this period the constant cry of interruption. He has been on the point of finishing this or that piece of work, and it is not done. “ I had a bad day again yesterday,” he writes from Worcester, “ as I was chartered to lionize the British Association over the Cathedral. Why do all ‘ associations ’ resolve themselves mainly into ugly women with spectacles ? ” I see that some of his friends think that the Cambridge-Worcester period was a restful one ; I cannot say that this is how it struck me at the time.
It closed, at all events, in 1891. Magee, the famous Bishop of Peterborough, was made Archbishop of York in January, and about the same time Creighton received from the Queen a canonry at Windsor. He left Worcester in consequence, but he never resided at Windsor, since, before he could settle in there, he was called to fill the vacant see of Peterborough. Here, then, at last, he had started upon the episcopal career which was to carry his fame so far. He did not accept the great change in haste, although he must long have been prepared for it. We have been told, on hysterical authority, that Creighton spent a day “ in great grief, trying hard to find reasons which would justify him in refusing Peterborough.” This, of course, is sheer nonsense ; this is the sort of conventional sentiment which was particularly loathsome to Creighton. There was no question of “ grief ” with him, no ultimate doubt that he must one day be a bishop ; but there was cause for very careful consideration whether this was the particular time, and Peterborough the particular place, or not. As a matter of fact, the appointment rather awkwardly coincided with the earliest intimation he had had that his iron constitution was not absolutely impermeable to exhaustion and decay. It was in April, 1891, that he was first known to declare that he was “ rather feeble from overwork,” and before he entered upon his new duties he spent some time of absolute rest and seclusion at Lower Grayswood, the Haslemere home of his lifelong friend, Mrs. Humphry Ward.
He entered upon his episcopal duties, in fact, in no very high spirits. He took a dark view of this as, he supposed, the turning point in, or rather the sword cut which should end, his literary career. The first time that I saw him after his settling in to his new work, — it was in the dim, straggling garden of his palace, late one autumn afternoon, — almost the first thing I said to him was, “ And how about The History of the Papacy ? ” “ There ’s a volume nearly ready for press,” he replied, “ but how am I to finish it ? Do you happen to know a respectable German drudge who would buy the lease of it for a trifle ? ” “ But surely you will, you must bring this book of yours to a close, after so many years ! Your holidays, your odds and ends of time ” — “I have no odds and ends, — I ought to be at this minute arranging something with somebody ; and as to my holidays, I shall want every hour of them to do nothing at all in. Do you know,” he said, gripping my arm, and glancing round with that glittering aquiline gleam of his, “ do you know that it is very easy not to be a bishop, but that, if you are one, you can’t be anything else ? Sometimes I ask myself whether it would not have been wiser to stay where I was ; but I think, on the whole, it was right to come here. One is swept on by one’s fate, in a way ; but one thing I do clearly see, — that it is an end of me as a human being. I have cut myself off. My friends must go on writing to me, but I shan’t answer their letters. I shall get their books, but I shan’t read ’em. I shall talk about writing books myself, but I shan’t write ’em. It is my friends I miss ; in future my whole life will be spent on railway platforms, and the only chance I shall have of talking to you will be between the arrival of a train and its departure.”
These words proved to be only in part applicable to Peterborough. For the first year, his time seemed to be indeed squandered in incessant journeyings through the three counties of his diocese. But after the summer of 1892 he became less migratory, and indeed for long periods stationary in his palace. He had resigned the editorship of the English Historical Review into the hands of Dr. S. R. Gardiner as soon as he was made bishop; and for some years it seemed as though all literary work had come to a stop. But by degrees he grew used to the routine of his episcopal duties, and his thoughts came back to printer’s ink. The fifth volume of the Papacy got itself published without the help of any “ German drudge ; ” in 1894 appeared the Hulsean lectures on Persecution and Toleration ; and in 1896 he published the most popular and the most pleasingly written of all his books, his charming monograph on Queen Elizabeth. Then came London, and swallowed up the historian in the active, practical prelate.
So far as the general public is concerned, the celebrity of Creighton began with his translation to the see of London, on the promotion of Dr. Temple to the primacy, in January, 1897. It was in the subsequent four years that he contrived to set the stamp of his personality on the greatest city of the world, and to impress a whole nation with his force of character. The obituary notices which filled every journal at the time of his death abounded in tributes to his ability as Bishop of London, and in anecdotes of his conversation and his methods in that capacity. He arrived in his monstrous diocese at a time of disturbance and revolt ; he followed a prelate who had not troubled himself much about ritual. Creighton set two aims before him, in attempting to regulate his tempestuous clergy : he wished to secure “ a recognizable type of the Anglican services,” and “ a clear understanding about the limits of permissible variation.” How he carried out these purposes, and how far he proceeded in the realization of his very definite dreams, are matters which a thousand pens can speak of with more authority than mine.
But he attempted the physically impossible, and he flung his life away in a vain effort to be everywhere, to do everything, and to act for every one. No wonder that Lord Salisbury described Creighton as “ the hardest-worked man in England.” His energy knew no respite. There should have been some one sent to tell him, as the Bishop of Ostia told St. Francis of Assisi, that his duty to God was to show some compassion to his own body. An iron constitution is a dangerous gift, and the Bishop of London thought his could never fail him. But all through 1899, in his ceaseless public appearances, at services, meetings, dinners, installations, and the like, one noticed a more and more hungry look coming in the hollow cheeks and glowing eyes. In the summer of 1900 he collapsed, a complete wreck in health, and, after a very painful illness, he died on the 14th of January, 1901. The sorrow with which the news of his decease was received was national, and the most illustrious of the thousands who sent messages of sympathy was Queen Victoria, who, only eight days later, was to follow the great bishop whose career she had watched with so deep an interest.
The character and temperament of Dr. Creighton were remarkable in many respects, and were often the subject of discussion among those who knew him little or knew him ill. There is a danger that, in the magnificence of the closing scenes of his life, something of his real nature may be obscured ; that he may be presented to us as such a model of sanctity and holy pomp as to lose the sympathy which human qualities provoke. There is another danger : that, in reaction against this conventionally clerical aspect, the real excellence of his heart may be done less than justice to. I would, therefore, so far as it lies in my power, draw the man as I saw him during a friendship of six-and-twenty years, without permitting myself to be dazzled or repelled by the dignity which the crosier confers. To do this, I must go back to the original crux in the career of Creighton, — his taking of orders as a young man at Oxford.
To comprehend the position, one must first of all recollect how very “ churchy ” Oxford was between I860 and 1870. At that time, it will be remembered, there was scarcely any scope for the energies of a resident don unless he was a clergyman. It must be admitted, I think, that Creighton’s nature was not so “ serious ” at that time as it steadily became as years went on. I am prepared to believe that he took orders to a great extent for college reasons. He had an instinctive love of training and teaching, and these were things for which a priest had more scope than a layman at Oxford. There is no use in minimizing the fact that his going into the Church caused the greatest surprise among his friends, nor in pretending that at that time he seemed to have any particular vocation for the holy life. He was just a liberal — one would have said almost anti-clerical — don, of the type which had developed at Oxford toward the close of the sixties as a protest against academic conservatism. I remember that Pater, discussing Creighton about 1875, said, “ I still think, no doubt that he would have made a better lawyer, or even soldier, than priest.”
Those who judged him thus overlooked certain features in his character which, even at this early period, should have emphasized Creighton’s calling for the sacerdotal life. His intense interest in mankind, his patient and scrupulous observation of others, not out of curiosity so much as out of a desire to understand their fate, and then to ameliorate it, — this pointed him out as a doctor of souls. And his extreme unselfishness and affectionateness, — no sketch of his character can be worth a rush which does not insist upon these. He was always hurrying to be kind to some one, combining the bonitas with celeritas. Love for others, and a lively, healthy, humorous interest in their affairs, was really, I should say, the mainspring of Creighton’s actions. Voltaire says somewhere, “ II faut aimer, c’est ce qui nous soutient, car sans aimer il est triste d’être homme ; ” and Creighton, who combined something of Voltaire with something of St. John the Evangelist, would have said the same. And it was on the love of his fellow men that he built up the unique fabric of his ecclesiastical life.
And this brings us to the everlasting question, which never failed on the lips of critics of Creighton. — Was he, as they say, “ a spiritually minded man ” ? This, too, I think we may afford to face with courage. In the presence of his lambent wit, his keenness of repartee, a certain undeniable flightiness in his attitude to many subjects which are conventionally treated with solemnity, a general jauntiness and gusto in relation to mundane things, it must be conceded that the epithet which suited him was hardly this. He lacked unction ; he was not in any sense a mystic ; we cannot imagine him snatched up in an ecstasy of saintly vision. Creighton’s feet were always planted firmly on the earth. But if I resign the epithet “ spiritually minded,” it is only that I may insist upon saying that he was " spiritually souled.” He set conduct above doctrine : there is no doubt of that. The external parts of the religious life interested him very much. He had an inborn delicacy which made it painful to him to seem to check the individuality of others, and this often kept him from intruding his innermost convictions upon others. But no one can have known him well who did not perceive, underlying all his external qualities, — his energy, his eagerness, his practical wisdom, his very “ flippancy,” if you will, — a strenuous enthusiasm and purity of soul.
As a preacher, Creighton improved after he became a bishop. In earlier days, he had been dull and dry in the pulpit; of all exercises of his talent, I used to think this the one in which he shone the least. But he was an interesting lecturer, an uncertain although occasionally felicitous orator, and an unrivaled after - dinner speaker. To the end, his talent in the last-mentioned capacity was advancing, and on the very latest occasion upon which he spoke in public, — at the banquet given last summer by the Lord Mayor on the occasion of the completion of the Dictionary of National Biography, —although his face looked drawn and wasted, he was as fascinating as ever. His voice had a peculiar sharpness of tone, very agreeable to the ear, and remarkably useful in punctuating the speaker’s wit. On all ceremonial and processional occasions Creighton rose to the event. He could so hold himself as to be the most dignified figure in England ; and this was so generally recognized that when, in 1896, the archbishops had to select a representative of the English Church to attend the coronation of the Czar, their choice instantly fell upon the Bishop of Peterborough. Accordingly he proceeded, in great splendor, to Moscow, and he did honor to the Church of England by being a principal feature of the show. He was not merely one of the most learned as well as perhaps the most striking of the foreign bishops present, but he was unquestionably the most appreciative. He made great friends with the great prelates, and he was treated with exceptional favor. The actual chapel where the coronation took place was very exiguous, and the topmost potentates alone could find room in it. It was not characteristic of Creighton, however, to be left out of anything, and the other foreign representatives, to their expressed chagrin, saw the Bishop of Peterborough march into the holy of holies without them, between two of the officiating archimandrites.
To those who never saw Dr. Creighton, some picture of his outward appearance may not be unwelcome. He was noticeably tall, lean, square-shouldered. All through his youth and early middle age his frame was sinewy, like that of a man accustomed to athletic exercises, although he played no games. His head was held erect, the cold blue-gray eyes ever on the alert. His hair was red, and he wore a bushy beard, which was lately beginning to turn grizzled. The clearness of his pink complexion and the fineness and smoothness of his skin were noticeable quite late on in his life. The most remarkable feature of his face, without doubt, was his curious mouth, sensitive and mobile, yet constantly closing with a snap in the act of will. Nothing was more notable and pleasing than the way in which his severe, keen face, braced by the aquiline nose to a disciplinarian austerity, lightened up and softened with this incessantly recurrent smile. Such, in outward guise, was one of the strangest and the most original and the most poignantly regrettable men whom England has possessed and lost in the last years of the nineteenth century.