Royden Family History Pages
STUDIES IN RELIGIOUS PERSONALITY
A GENTLEMAN WITH A DUSTER
(first published 1922)
MISS MAUDE ROYDEN
. . . their religion, too (i.e. the religion of women), has a mode of expressing itself, though it seldom resorts to the ordinary phrases of divinity.
Those "nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love," by which their influence is felt through every part of society, humanising and consoling wherever it travels, are their theology. It is thus that they express the genuine religion of their minds; and we trust that if ever they should study the ordinary dialect of systematised religion they will never, while pronouncing its harsh gutturals and stammering over its difficult shibboleths, forget their elder and simpler and richer and sweeter language.—F.D. MAURICE.
Pushkin said that Russia turned an Asian face towards Europe and a European face towards Asia.
This acute saying may be applied to Miss Royden. To the prosperous and timid Christian she appears as a dangerous evangelist of socialism, and to the fiery socialist as a tame and sentimental apostle of Christianity. As in the case of Russia, so in the case of this interesting and courageous woman; one must go to neither extremity, neither to the bourgeoisie nor to the apacherie, if one would discover the truth of her nature.
Nor need one fear to go direct to the lady herself, for she is the very soul of candour. Moreover, she has that charming spirit of friendliness and communication which distinguished La Bruyère, a philosopher "always accessible, even in his deepest studies, who tells you to come in, for you bring him something more precious than gold or silver, if it is the opportunity of obliging you."
Certainly Miss Royden does not resemble, in her attitude towards either God or the human race, that curious religieuse Mdme. de Maintenon, who having been told by her confessor in the floodtime of her beauty that "God wished her to become the King's mistress," at the end of that devout if somewhat painful experience, replied to a suggestion about writing her memoirs, "Only saints would find pleasure in its perusal."
Miss Royden's memoirs, if they are ever written, would have, I think, the rather unusual merit of pleasing both saints and sinners; the saints by the depth and beauty of her spiritual experience, the sinners by her freedom from every shade of cant and by her strong, almost masculine, sympathy with the difficulties of our human nature. Catherine the Great, in her colloquies with the nervous and hesitating Diderot, used to say, "Proceed; between men all is allowable." One may affirm of Miss Royden that she is at once a true woman and a great man.
It is this perfect balance of the masculine and feminine in her personality which makes her so effective a public speaker, so powerful an influence in private discourse, and so safe a writer on questions of extreme delicacy, such as the problem of sex. She is always on the level of the whole body of humanity, a complete person, a veritable human being, neither a member of a class nor the representative of a sex.
Perhaps it may be permitted to mention two events in her life which help one to understand how it is she has come to play this masculine and feminine part in public life.
One day, a day of torrential rain, when she was a girl living in her father's house in Cheshire, she and her sister saw a carriage and pair coming through the park towards the house. The coachman and footman on the box were soaking wet, and kept their heads down to avoid the sting of the rain in their eyes. The horses were streaming with rain and the carriage might have been a watercart.
When the caller, a rich lady, arrived in the drawing-room, polite wonder was expressed at her boldness in coming out on such a dreadful day. She seemed surprised. "Oh, but I came in a closed carriage," she explained.
This innocent remark opened the eyes of Miss Royden to the obliquity of vision which is wrought, all unconsciously in many cases, by the power of selfishness. The condition of her coachman and footman had never for a moment presented itself to the lady's mind. Miss Royden made acquaintance with righteous indignation. She became a reformer, and something of a vehement reformer.
The drenched carriage coming through a splash of rain to her home will remain for ever in her mind as an image of that spirit of selfishness which in its manifold and subtle workings wrecks the beauty of human existence.
Miss Royden, it should be said, had been prepared by a long experience of pain to feel sympathy with the sufferings of other people. Her mind had been lamentably ploughed up ever since the dawn of memory to receive the divine grain of compassion.
At birth both her hips were dislocated, and lameness has been her lot through life. Such was her spirit, however, that this saddening and serious affliction, dogging her days and nights with pain, seldom prevented her from joining in the vigorous games and sports of the Royden family. She was something of a boy even in those days, and pluck was the very centre of her science of existence.
The religion of her parents suggested to her mind that this suffering had been sent by God. She accepted the perilous suggestion, but never confronted it. It neither puffed her up with spiritual pride nor created in her mind bitter thoughts of a paltry and detestable Deity. A pagan stoicism helped her to bear her lot quite as much as, if not more than, the evangelicalism of Sir Thomas and Lady Royden. Moreover, she was too much in love with life to give her mind very seriously to the difficulties of theology. Even with a body which had to wrench itself along, one could swim and row, read and think, observe and worship.
Her eldest brother went to Winchester and Magdalen College at Oxford; she to Cheltenham College and Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford. Education was an enthusiasm. Rivalry in scholarship was as greatly a part of that wholesome family life as rivalry in games. There was always a Socratic "throwing of the ball" going on, both indoors and out. Miss Royden distinguished herself in the sphere of learning and in the sphere of sports.
At Oxford the last vestiges of her religion, or rather her parents' religion, faded from her mind, without pain of any order, hardly with any consciousness. She devoted herself wholeheartedly to the schools. No longer did she imagine that God had sent her lameness. She ceased to think of Him.
But one day she heard a sermon which made her think of Jesus as a teacher, just as one thinks of Plato and Aristotle. She reflected that she really knew more of the teaching of Plato and Aristotle than she knew of Christ's teaching. This seemed to her an unsatisfactory state of things, and she set herself, as a student of philosophy, to study the teaching of Jesus. What had He said? Never mind whether He had founded this Church or that, what had He said? And what had been His science of life, His reading of the riddle?
This study, to which she brought a philosophic mind and a candid heart, convinced her that the teaching should be tried. It was, indeed, a teaching that asked men to prove it by trial. She decided to try it, and she tried it by reading, by meditation, and by prayer. The trial was a failure. But in this failure was a mystery. For the more she failed the more profoundly conscious she became of Christ as a Power. This feeling remained with her, and it grew stronger with time. The Christ who would not help her nevertheless tarried as a shadow haunting the background of her thoughts.
There was a secret in life which she had missed, a power which she had never used. Then came the second event to which I have referred. Miss Royden met a lady who had left the Church of England and joined the Quakers, seeking by this change to intensify her spiritual experience, seeking to make faith a deep personal reality in her life. This lady told Miss Royden the following experience:
One day, at a Quakers' meeting, she had earnestly "besieged the Throne of Grace" during the silence of prayer, imploring God to manifest Himself to her spirit. So earnestly did she "besiege the Throne of Grace" in this silent intercession of soul that at last she was physically exhausted and could frame no further words of entreaty. At that moment she heard a voice in her soul, and this voice said to her, "Yes, I have something to say to you, when you stop your shouting."
From this experience Miss Royden learned to see the tremendous difference between physical and spiritual silence. She cultivated, with the peace of soul which is the atmosphere of surrender and dependence, silence of spirit; and out of this silence came a faith against which the gates of hell could not prevail; and out of that faith, winged by her earliest; sympathy with all suffering and all sorrow, came a desire to give herself up to the service of God. She had found the secret, she could use the power.
Her first step towards a life of service was joining a Women's Settlement in Liverpool, a city which has wealth enough to impress and gratify the disciples of Mr. Samuel Smiles, and slums enough to excite and infuriate the disciples of Karl Marx. Here Miss Royden worked for three years, serving her novitiate as it were in the ministry of mercy, a notable figure in the dark streets of Liverpool, that little eager body, with its dragging leg, its struggling hips, its head held high to look the whole world in the face on the chance, nay, but in the hope, that a bright smile from eyes as clear as day might do some poor devil a bit of good.
She brought to the slums of Liverpool the gay cheerfulness of a University woman, Oxford's particular brand of cheerfulness, and also a tenderness of sympathy and a graciousness of helpfulness which was the fine flower of deep, inward, silent, personal religion.
It is not easy for anyone with profound sympathy to believe that individual Partingtons can sweep back with their little mops of beneficence and philanthropy the Atlantic Ocean of sin, suffering, and despair which floods in to the shores of our industrialism—at high tide nearly swamping its prosperity, and at low tide leaving all its ugliness, squalor, and despairing hopelessness bare to the eye of heaven.
Miss Royden looked out for something with a wider sweep, and in the year 1908 joined the Women's Suffrage Movement. It was her hope, her conviction, that woman's influence in politics might have a cleansing effect in the national life. She became an advocate of this great Movement, but an advocate who always based her argument on religious grounds. She had no delusions about materialistic politics. Her whole effort was to spiritualise the public life of England.
Here she made a discovery—a discovery of great moment to her subsequent career. She discovered that many came to her meetings, and sought personal interviews or written correspondence with her afterwards, who were not greatly interested in the franchise, but who were interested, in some tragic cases poignantly interested, in spiritual enfranchisement. Life revealed itself to her as a struggle between the higher and lower nature, a conflict in the will between good and evil. She was at the heart of evolution.
It became evident to Miss Royden that she had discovered for herself both a constituency and a church. Some years after making this discovery she abandoned all other work, and ever since, first at the City Temple and now at the Guildhouse in Eccleston Square, has been one of the most effective advocates in this country of personal religion.
She does not impress one by the force of her intellect, but rather by the force of her humanity. You take it for granted that she is a scholar; you are aware of her intellectual gifts, I mean, only as you are aware of her breeding. The main impression she makes is one of full humanity, humanity at its best, humanity that is pure but not self-righteous, charitable but not sentimental, just but not hard, true but not mechanical in consistency, frank but not gushing. Out of all this come two things, the sense of two realisms, the realism of her political faith, and the realism of her religious faith. You are aware that she feels the sufferings and the deprivations of the oppressed in her own blood, and feels the power, the presence, and the divinity of Christ in her own soul.
It is a grateful experience to sit with this woman, who is so like the best of men but is so manifestly the staunchest of women. Her face reveals the force of her emotions, her voice, which is musical and persuasive, the depth of her compassion. In her sitting-room, which is almost a study and nearly an office, hangs a portrait of Newman, and a prie-Dieu stands against one of the walls half-hidden by bookshelves. She is one of the few very busy people I have known who give one no feeling of an inward commotion.
Apart from her natural eloquence and her unmistakable sincerity, apart even from the attractive fullness of her humanity, I think the notable success of her preaching is to be attributed to a single reason, quite outside any such considerations. It is a reason of great importance to the modern student of religious psychology. Miss Royden preaches Christ as a Power.
To others she leaves the esoteric aspects of religion, and the ceremonial of worship, and the difficulties of theology, and the mechanism of parochial organisation. Her mission, as she receives it, is to preach to people who are unwilling and suffering victims of sin, or who are tortured by theological indecision, that Christ is a Power, a Power that works miracles, a Power that can change the habits of a lifetime, perhaps the very tissues of a poisoned body, and can give both peace and guidance to the soul that is dragged this way and that.
One may be pardoned for remarking that this is a rather unusual form of preaching in any of the respectable churches. Christianity as a unique power in the world, a power which transfigures human life, which tears habitude up by the roots, and which gives new strength to the will, new eyes to the soul, and a new reality to the understanding; this, strange to say, is an unusual, perhaps an unpopular subject of clerical discourse. It is Miss Royden's insistent contribution to modern theology.
She tells me that so far as her own experience goes, humanity does not seem to be troubled by intellectual doubts. She is inclined to think that it is even sick of such discussions, and is apt to describe them roughly and impatiently as "mere talk." Humanity, as she sees it, is immersed in the incessant struggle of moral evolution.
There is an empiricism of religion which is worth attention. It challenges the sceptic to explain both the conversion of the sinner and the beauty of the saint. If religion can change a man's whole character in the twinkling of an eye, if it can give a beauty of holiness to human nature such as is felt by all men to be the highest expression of man's spirit, truly it is a science of life which works, and one which its critics must explain. The theories of dogmatist and traditionalist are not the authentic documents of the Christian religion. Let the sceptic bring his indictment against the changed lives of those who attribute to Christ alone the daily miracle of their gladness.
What men and women want to know in these days, Miss Royden assures me out of the richness of her great experience, is whether Christianity works, whether it does things. The majority of people, she feels sure, are looking about for "something that helps"—something that will strengthen men and women to fight down their lower nature, that will convince them that their higher nature is a reality, and that will give them a living sense of companionship in their difficult lives—lives often as drab and depressing as they are morally difficult.
Because she can convey this great sense of the power of Christianity, people all over the country go to hear her preach and lecture. She is, I think, one of the most persuasive preachers of the power of Christianity in any English-speaking country. It is impossible to feel of her that she is merely speaking of something she has read about in books, or of something which she recommends because it is apostolic and traditional; she brings home to the mind of the most cynical and ironical that her message, so modestly and gently given, is nevertheless torn out of her inmost soul by a deep inward experience and by a sympathy with humanity which altogether transfigures her simple words.
It must be difficult, I should think, for any fairminded sceptic not to give this religion at least a practical trial after hearing Miss Royden's exposition of it and after learning from her the manner in which that experiment should be carried out. For she speaks as one having the authority of a deep personal experience, making no dogmatic claims, expressing sympathy with all those who fail, but assuring her hearers that when the moment comes for their illumination it will come, and that it will be a veritable dayspring from on high. Earnestness is hers of the highest and tenderest order, but also the convincing authority of one who has found the peace which passes understanding.
She has spoken to me with sympathy of Mr. Studdert-Kennedy, whose trench-like methods in the pulpit are thoroughly distasteful to a great number of people. It is characteristic of Miss Royden that she should fasten on the real cause of this violence. "I don't like jargon," she said, "particularly the jargon of Christian Science and Theosophy. I love English literature too much for that; and I don't like slang, particularly slang of a brutal order; but I feel a deep sympathy with anybody who is trying, as Mr. Studdert-Kennedy is trying, to put life and power into institutionalism. It wants it so badly—oh, so very badly—life, life, life and power."
Of one whose scholarship greatly impresses her, and for whose spiritual life she has true respect, but whose theology fills her soul with dark shadows and cold shudders, she exclaimed, as though it were her own fault for not understanding him, "It is as if God were dead!"
Always she wants Christianity as life and power.
She remains a social reformer, and is disposed to agree with Bishop Gore that the present system is so iniquitous that it cannot be Christianised. She thinks it must be destroyed, but admits the peril of destructive work till a new system is ready to take its place.
Yet I feel fairly certain that she would admit, if pressed with the question, that the working of any better system can depend for its success only upon a much better humanity. For she is one of those who is bewildered by the selfishness of men and women, a brutal, arrogant, challenging, and wholly unashamed selfishness, which publicly seeks its own pleasures, publicly displays the offending symbols of its offensive wealth, publicly indulges itself in most shameful and infuriating luxuries, even at a time when children are dying like flies of starvation and pestilence, and while the men of their own household, who fought to save civilisation from the despotism of the Prussian theory, tramp the streets, hungry and bitter-hearted, looking for work.
On her mind, moving about England at all times of the year, the reality of these things is for ever pressing; the unthinkable selfishness of so many, and the awful depression of the multitude. She says that a system which produces, or permits, such a state of things must be bad, and radically bad.
There are moments, when she speaks of these things, which reveal to one a certain anger of her soul, a disposition, if I may say so with great respect, towards vehemence, a temper of impatience and indignation which would surely have carried her into the camp of anarchy but for the restraining power of her religious experience. She feels, deeply and burningly, but she has a Master. The flash comes into her eyes, but the habitual serenity returns.
I think, however, she might be persuaded to believe that it is not so much the present system but the pagan selfishness of mankind which brings these unequal and dreadful things to pass. The lady in the closed carriage would not be profoundly changed, we may suppose, by a different system of economics, but surely she might be changed altogether—body, soul, and spirit—if she so willed it, by that Power which has directed Miss Royden's own life to such beautiful and wonderful ends.
Nevertheless, Miss Royden must be numbered among the socialists, the Christian socialists, and Individualism will be all the better for asking itself how it is that a lady so good, so gentle, so clear-headed, and so honest should be arrayed with its enemies.
I should like to speak of one memorable experience in Miss Royden's later life.
She has formed a little, modest, unknown, and I think nameless guild for personal religion. She desires that nothing of its work should get into the press and that it should not add to its numbers. She wishes it to remain a sacred confraternity of her private life, as it were the lady chapel of her cathedral services to mankind, or as a retreat for her exhausted soul.
Some months ago she asked a clergyman who has succeeded in turning into a house of living prayer a London church which before his coming was like a tomb, whether he would allow the members of this guild, all of whom are not members of the Church of England, to come to the Eucharist. He received this request with the most generous sympathy, saying that he would give them a private celebration, and one morning, soon after dawn, the guild met in this church to make its first communion. No one else was present.
Miss Royden has told me that it was an unforgettable experience. Here was a man, she said, who has no reputation as a great scholar, and no popularity as an orator; he is loved simply for his devotion to Christ and his sympathy with the sorrows of mankind. Yet that man, as no other man had done before, brought the Presence of God into the hearts of that little kneeling guild. It was as if, Miss Royden tells me, God was there at the altar, shining upon them and blessing them. Never before had she been more certain of God as a Person.
It is from experiences of this nature that she draws fresh power to make men and women believe that the Christian religion is a true philosophy of reality, and a true science of healing. She is, I mean, a mystic. But she differs from a mystic like Dean Inge in this, that she is a mystic impelled by human sympathy to use her mysticism as her sole evangel.
this biography prefaced the article:
Return to Home Page
Return to Frankby Roydens Page