Study Guide

Eminent Victorians

by Lytton Strachey

Eminent Victorians eText - Chapter X.

Chapter X.

IN that gaunt and gloomy building-- more like a barracks than an Episcopal palace-- Archbishop's House, Westminster, Manning's existence stretched itself out into an extreme old age. As his years increased, his activities, if that were possible, increased too. Meetings, missions, lectures, sermons, articles, interviews, letters-- such things came upon him in redoubled multitudes, and were dispatched with an unrelenting zeal. But this was not all; with age, he seemed to acquire what was almost a new fervour, an unaccustomed, unexpected, freeing of the spirit, filling him with preoccupations which he had hardly felt before. 'They say I am ambitious,' he noted in his Diary, 'but do I rest in my ambition?'

No, assuredly he did not rest; but he worked now with no arriere pensee for the greater glory of God. A kind of frenzy fell upon him. Poverty, drunkenness, vice, all the horrors and terrors of our civilisation seized upon his mind, and urged him forward to new fields of action and new fields of thought. The temper of his soul assumed almost a revolutionary cast. 'I am a Mosaic Radical,' he exclaimed; and, indeed, in the exaltation of his energies, the incoherence of his conceptions, the democratic urgency of his desires, combined with his awe-inspiring aspect and his venerable age, it was easy enough to trace the mingled qualities of the patriarch, the prophet, and the demagogue. As, in his soiled and shabby garments, the old man harangued the crowds of Bermondsey or Peckham upon the virtues of Temperance, assuring them, with all the passion of conviction, as a final argument, that the majority of the Apostles were total abstainers, this Prince of the Church might have passed as a leader of the Salvation Army. His popularity was immense, reaching its height during the great Dock Strikes of 1889, when, after the victory of the men was assured, Manning was able, by his persuasive eloquence and the weight of his character, to prevent its being carried to excess. After other conciliators-- among whom was the Bishop of London-- had given up the task in disgust, the octogenarian Cardinal worked on with indefatigable resolution. At last, late at night, in the schools in Kirby Street, Bermondsey, he rose to address the strikers. An enthusiastic eye-witness has described the scene: 'Unaccustomed tears glistened in the eyes of his rough and work-stained hearers as the Cardinal raised his hand and solemnly urged them not to prolong one moment more than they could help the perilous uncertainty and the sufferings of their wives and children. Just above his uplifted hand was a figure of the Madonna and Child; and some among the men tell how a sudden light seemed to swim around it as the speaker pleaded for the women and children. When he sat down all in the room knew that he had won the day, and that, so far as the Strike Committee was concerned, the matter was at an end.'

In those days, there were strange visitors at the Archbishop's House. Careful priests and conscientious secretaries wondered what the world was coming to when they saw labour leaders like M.r John Burns and Mr. Ben Tillett, and land-reformers like Mr. Henry George, being ushered into the presence of his Eminence. Even the notorious Mr. Stead appeared, and his scandalous paper with its unspeakable revelations lay upon the Cardinal's table. This proved too much for one of the faithful tonsured dependents of the place, and he ventured to expostulate with his master. But he never did so again.

When the guests were gone, and the great room was empty, the old man would draw himself nearer to the enormous fire, and review once more, for the thousandth time, the long adventure of his life. He would bring out his diaries and his memoranda, he would rearrange his notes, he would turn over again the yellow leaves of faded correspondences; seizing his pen, he would pour out his comments and reflections, and fill, with an extraordinary solicitude, page after page with elucidations, explanations, justifications, of the vanished incidents of a remote past. He would snip with scissors the pages of ancient journals, and with delicate ecclesiastical fingers, drop unknown mysteries into the flames.

Sometimes he would turn to the four red folio scrapbooks with their collection of newspaper cuttings, concerning himself, over a
period of thirty years. Then the pale cheeks would flush and the close-drawn lips would grow even more menacing than before. 'Stupid, mulish malice,' he would note. 'Pure lying--conscious, deliberate and designed.' 'Suggestive lying. Personal animosity is at the bottom of this.'

And then he would suddenly begin to doubt. After all, where was he? What had he accomplished? Had any of it been worthwhile? Had he not been out of the world all his life! Out of the world! 'Croker's "Life and Letters", and Hayward's "Letters",' he notes, 'are so full of politics, literature, action, events, collision of mind with mind, and that with such a multitude of men in every state of life, that when I look back, it seems as if I had been simply useless.' And again, 'The complete isolation and exclusion from the official life of England in which I have lived, makes me feel as if I had done nothing'. He struggled to console himself with the reflexion that all this was only 'the natural order'. 'If the natural order is moved by the supernatural order, then I may not have done nothing. Fifty years of witness for God and His Truth, I hope, has not been in vain.' But the same thoughts recurred. 'In reading Macaulay's life I had a haunting feeling that his had been a life of public utility and mine a vita umbratilis, a life in the shade.' Ah! it was God's will. 'Mine has been a life of fifty years out of the world as Gladstone's has been in it. The work of his life in this world is manifest. I hope mine may be in the next. I suppose our Lord called me out of the world because He saw that I should lose my soul in it.' Clearly, that was the explanation.

And yet he remained sufficiently in the world to discharge with absolute efficiency the complex government of his diocese almost up to the last moment of his existence. Though his bodily strength gradually ebbed, the vigour of his mind was undismayed. At last, supported by cushions, he continued, by means of a dictated correspondence, to exert his accustomed rule. Only occasionally would he lay aside his work to plunge into the yet more necessary duties of devotion. Never again would he preach; never again would he put into practice those three salutary rules of his in choosing a subject for a sermon: '(1) asking God to guide the choice; (2) applying the matter to myself; (3) making the sign of the cross on my head and heart and lips in honour of the Sacred Mouth;' but he could still pray; he could turn especially to the Holy Ghost. 'A very simple but devout person,' he wrote in one of his latest memoranda, 'asked me why in my first volume of sermons I said so little about the Holy Ghost. I was not aware of it; but I found it to be true. I at once resolved that I would make a reparation every day of my life to the Holy Ghost. This I have never failed to do to this day. To this I owe the light and faith which brought me into the truefold. I bought all the books I could about the Holy Ghost. I worked out the truths about His personality, His presence, and His office. This made me understand the last paragraph in the Apostles' Creed, and made me a Catholic Christian.'

So, though Death came slowly, struggling step by step with that bold and tenacious spirit, when he did come at last the Cardinal was ready. Robed in his archiepiscopal vestments, his rochet, his girdle, and his mozzetta, with the scarlet biretta on his head, and the pectoral cross upon his breast, he made his solemn Profession of Faith in the Holy Roman Church. A crowd of lesser dignitaries, each in the garments of his office, attended the ceremonial. The Bishop of Salford held up the Pontificale and the Bishop of Amycla bore the wax taper. The provost of Westminster, on his knees, read aloud the Profession of Faith, surrounded by the Canons of the Diocese. Towards those who gathered about him, the dying man was still able to show some signs of recognition, and even, perhaps, of affection; yet it seemed that his chief preoccupation, up to the very end, was with his obedience to the rules prescribed by the Divine Authority. 'I am glad to have been able to do everything in due order', were among his last words. 'Si fort qu'on soit,' says one of the profoundest of the observers of the human heart, 'on peut eprouver le besoin de s'incliner devant quelqu'un ou quelque chose. S'incliner devant Dieu, c'est toujours le moins humiliant.'

Manning died on January 14th, 1892, in the eighty-fifth year of his age. A few days later Mr. Gladstone took occasion, in a letter to a friend, to refer to his relations with the late Cardinal. Manning's conversion was, he said, 'altogether the severest blow that ever befell me. In a late letter the Cardinal termed it a quarrel, but in my reply I told him it was not a quarrel, but a death; and that was the truth. Since then there have been vicissitudes. But I am quite certain that to the last his personal feelings never changed; and I believe also that he kept a promise made in 1851, to remember me before God at the most solemn moments; a promise which I greatly valued. The whole subject is to me at once of extreme interest and of considerable restraint.' 'His reluctance to die,' concluded Mr. Gladstone, 'may be explained by an intense anxiety to complete unfulfilled service.'

The funeral was the occasion of a popular demonstration such as has rarely been witnessed in the streets of London. The route of the procession was lined by vast crowds of working people, whose imaginations, in some instinctive manner, had been touched. Many who had hardly seen him declared that in Cardinal Manning they had lost their best friend. Was it the magnetic vigour of the dead man's spirit that moved them? Or was it his valiant disregard of common custom and those conventional reserves and poor punctilios which are wont to hem about the great? Or was it something untameable in his glances and in his gestures? Or was it, perhaps, the mysterious glamour lingering about him, of the antique organisation of Rome? For whatever cause, the mind of the people had been impressed; and yet, after all, the impression was more acute than lasting. The Cardinal's memory is a dim thing today. And he who descends into the crypt of that Cathedral which Manning never lived to see, will observe, in the quiet niche with the sepulchral monument, that the dust lies thick on the strange, the incongruous, the almost impossible object which, with its elaborations of dependent tassels, hangs down from the dim vault like some forlorn and forgotten trophy-- the Hat.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

E. S. Purcell. Life of Cardinal Manning. A. W. Hutton. Cardinal Manning. J. E. C. Bodley. Cardinal Manning and Other Essays. F. W. Cornish. The English Church in the Nineteenth Century. Dean Church. The Oxford Movement. Sir J. T. Coleridge. Memoir of the Rev. John Keble. Hurrell Froude. Remains. Cardinal Newman. Letters and Correspondence in the English Church. Apologia pro Vita Sua. Wilfrid Ward. Life of Cardinal Newman. W. G. Ward and the Oxford Movement. W. G. Ward and the Catholic Revival. Life of Cardinal Wiseman. H. P. Liddon. Life of E. B. Pusey. Tracts for the Times, by Members of the University of Oxford. Lord Morley. Life of Gladstone. Lives of the Saints, edited by J. H. Newman. Herbert Paul. Life of J.A. Froude. Mark Pattison. Autobiography. T. Mozley. Letters from Rome on the Occasion of the Oecumenical Council. Lord Acton. Letters. H. L. Smith and V. Nash. The Story of the Dockers' Strike.

Florence Nightingale

EVERY one knows the popular conception of Florence Nightingale. The saintly, self-sacrificing woman, the delicate maiden of high degree who threw aside the pleasures of a life of ease to succour the afflicted; the Lady with the Lamp, gliding through the horrors of the hospital at Scutari, and consecrating with the radiance of her goodness the dying soldier's couch. The vision is familiar to all-- but the truth was different. The Miss Nightingale of fact was not as facile as fancy painted her. She worked in another fashion and towards another end; she moved under the stress of an impetus which finds no place in the popular imagination. A Demon possessed her. Now demons, whatever else they may be, are full of interest. And so it happens that in the real Miss Nightingale there was more that was interesting than in the legendary one; there was also less that was agreeable.

Her family was extremely well-to-do, and connected by marriage with a spreading circle of other well-to-do families. There was a large country house in Derbyshire; there was another in the New Forest; there were Mayfair rooms for the London season and all its finest parties; there were tours on the Continent with even more than the usual number of Italian operas and of glimpses at the celebrities of Paris. Brought up among such advantages, it was only natural to suppose that Florence would show a proper appreciation of them by doing her duty in that state of life unto which it had pleased God to call her--in other words, by marrying, after a fitting number of dances and dinner-parties, an eligible gentleman, and living happily ever afterwards. Her sister, her cousins, all the young ladies of her acquaintance, were either getting ready to do this or had already done it.

It was inconceivable that Florence should dream of anything else; yet dream she did. Ah! To do her duty in that state of life unto which it had pleased God to call her! Assuredly, she would not be behindhand in doing her duty; but unto what state of life HAD it pleased God to call her? That was the question. God's calls are many, and they are strange. Unto what state of life had it pleased Him to call Charlotte Corday, or Elizabeth of Hungary? What was that secret voice in her ear, if it was not a call? Why had she felt, from her earliest years, those mysterious promptings towards... she hardly knew what, but certainly towards something very different from anything around her? Why, as a child in the nursery, when her sister had shown a healthy pleasure in tearing her dolls to pieces, had SHE shown an almost morbid one in sewing them up again? Why was she driven now to minister to the poor in their cottages, to watch by sick-beds, to put her dog's wounded paw into elaborate splints as if it was a human being? Why was her head filled with queer imaginations of the country house at Embley turned, by some enchantment, into a hospital, with herself as matron moving about among the beds? Why was even her vision of heaven itself filled with suffering patients to whom she was being useful? So she dreamed and wondered, and, taking out her diary, she poured into it the agitations of her soul. And then the bell rang, and it was time to go and dress for dinner.

As the years passed, a restlessness began to grow upon her. She was unhappy, and at last she knew it. Mrs. Nightingale, too, began to notice that there was something wrong. It was very odd-- what could be the matter with dear Flo? Mr. Nightingale suggested that a husband might be advisable; but the curious thing was that she seemed to take no interest in husbands. And with her attractions, and her accomplishments, too! There was nothing in the world to prevent her making a really brilliant match. But no! She would think of nothing but how to satisfy that singular craving of hers to be DOING something. As if there was not plenty to do in any case, in the ordinary way, at home. There was the china to look after, and there was her father to be read to after dinner. Mrs. Nightingale could not understand it; and then one day her perplexity was changed to consternation and alarm. Florence announced an extreme desire to go to Salisbury Hospital for several months as a nurse; and she confessed to some visionary plan of eventually setting up in a house of her own in a neighbouring village, and there founding 'something like a Protestant Sisterhood, without vows, for women of educated feelings'. The whole scheme was summarily brushed aside as preposterous; and Mrs. Nightingale, after the first shock of terror, was able to settle down again more or less comfortably to her embroidery. But Florence, who was now twenty-five and felt that the dream of her life had been shattered, came near to desperation.

And, indeed, the difficulties in her path were great. For not only was it an almost unimaginable thing in those days for a woman of means to make her own way in the world and to live in independence, but the particular profession for which Florence was clearly marked out both by her instincts and her capacities was at that time a peculiarly disreputable one. A 'nurse' meant then a coarse old woman, always ignorant, usually dirty, often brutal, a Mrs. Gamp, in bunched-up sordid garments, tippling at the brandy bottle or indulging in worse irregularities. The nurses in the hospitals were especially notorious for immoral conduct; sobriety was almost unknown among them; and they could hardly be trusted to carry out the simplest medical duties.

Certainly, things HAVE changed since those days; and that they have changed is due, far more than to any other human being, to Miss Nightingale herself. It is not to be wondered at that her parents should have shuddered at the notion of their daughter devoting her life to such an occupation. 'It was as if,' she herself said afterwards, 'I had wanted to be a kitchen-maid.' Yet the want, absurd and impracticable as it was, not only remained fixed immovably in her heart, but grew in intensity day by day. Her wretchedness deepened into a morbid melancholy. Everything about her was vile, and she herself, it was clear, to have deserved such misery, was even viler than her surroundings. Yes, she had sinned--'standing before God's judgment seat'. 'No one,' she declared, 'has so grieved the Holy Spirit'; of that she was quite certain. It was in vain that she prayed to be delivered from vanity and hypocrisy, and she could not bear to smile or to be gay, 'because she hated God to hear her laugh, as if she had not repented of her sin'.

A weaker spirit would have been overwhelmed by the load of such distresses-- would have yielded or snapped. But this extraordinary young woman held firm, and fought her way to victory. With an amazing persistency, during the eight years that followed her rebuff over Salisbury Hospital, she struggled and worked and planned. While superficially she was carrying on the life of a brilliant girl in high society, while internally she was a prey to the tortures of regret and of remorse, she yet possessed the energy to collect the knowledge and to undergo the experience which alone could enable her to do what she had determined she would do in the end. In secret she devoured the reports of medical commissions, the pamphlets of sanitary authorities, the histories of hospitals and homes. She spent the intervals of the London season in ragged schools and workhouses. When she went abroad with her family, she used her spare time so well that there was hardly a great hospital in Europe with which she was not acquainted; hardly a great city whose shims she had not passed through. She managed to spend some days in a convent school in Rome, and some weeks as a 'Soeur de Charite' in Paris. Then, while her mother and sister were taking the waters at Carlsbad, she succeeded in slipping off to a nursing institution at Kaiserswerth, where she remained for more than three months. This was the critical event of her life. The experience which she gained as a nurse at Kaiserswerth formed the foundation of all her future action and finally fixed her in her career.

But one other trial awaited her. The allurements of the world she had brushed aside with disdain and loathing; she had resisted the subtler temptation which, in her weariness, had sometimes come upon her, of devoting her baffled energies to art or literature; the last ordeal appeared in the shape of a desirable young man. Hitherto, her lovers had been nothing to her but an added burden and a mockery; but now-- for a moment-- she wavered. A new feeling swept over her--a feeling which she had never known before-- which she was never to know again. The most powerful and the profoundest of all the instincts of humanity laid claim upon her. But it rose before her, that instinct, arrayed--how could it be otherwise?-- in the inevitable habiliments of a Victorian marriage; and she had the strength to stamp it underfoot. 'I have an intellectual nature which requires satisfaction,' she noted, 'and that would find it in him. I have a passionate nature which requires satisfaction, and that would find it in him. I have a moral, an active nature which requires satisfaction, and that would not find it in his life. Sometimes I think that I will satisfy my passionate nature at all events. ...'

But no, she knew in her heart that it could not be. 'To be nailed to a continuation and exaggeration of my present life ... to put it out of my power ever to be able to seize the chance of forming for myself a true and rich life'--that would be a suicide. She made her choice, and refused what was at least a certain happiness for a visionary good which might never come to her at all. And so she returned to her old life of waiting and bitterness. 'The thoughts and feelings that I have now,' she wrote, 'I can remember since I was six years old. A profession, a trade, a necessary occupation, something to fill and employ all my faculties, I have always felt essential to me, I have always longed for. The first thought I can remember, and the last, was nursing work; and in the absence of this, education work, but more the education of the bad than of the young... Everything has been tried-- foreign travel, kind friends, everything. My God! What is to become of me?' A desirable young man? Dust and ashes! What was there desirable in such a thing as that? 'In my thirty-first year,' she noted in her diary, 'I see nothing desirable but death.'

Three more years passed, and then at last the pressure of time told; her family seemed to realise that she was old enough and strong enough to have her way; and she became the superintendent of a charitable nursing home in Harley Street. She had gained her independence, though it was in a meagre sphere enough; and her mother was still not quite resigned: surely Florence might at least spend the summer in the country. At times, indeed, among her intimates, Mrs. Nightingale almost wept. 'We are ducks,' she said with tears in her eyes, 'who have hatched a wild swan.' But the poor lady was wrong; it was not a swan that they had hatched, it was an eagle.