HL Deb 27 May 1930 vol 77 cc1066-72

My Lords, I am sure that, on the first meeting of your Lordships' House after the loss which we and all his fellow-countrymen have suffered through the death of Archbishop Davidson, your Lordships would like this House to have an opportunity of expressing or hearing a short reference to his work and life. I feel that much of his public life was spent in this House. He often addressed us, and we were always grateful to him for his wise and far-seeing guidance, particularly as it was directed towards the spirit of conciliation. To-day I should like to say a few words from the point of view of an Anglican laymen who, for the greater part of the late Archiepiscopate, occupied a confidential position in relation to the Archbishop and constantly went to him in all questions of doubt and difficulty. I believe that to the laity of the Anglican Church the late Archbishop was and will remain an example of a great Archbishop, perhaps the greatest of modern times. I do not pause to make anything like a relative appreciation, but I know of no Archiepiscopate in modern times that is more likely to be remembered in the historical evolution of Christianity in this country than that of the late Archbishop Davidson.

It was my good fortune, as I have stated, to be closely associated with him over a number of years. I was confidential adviser to Archbishop Temple, and succeeded to the same position, which I held for many years, in relation to Archbishop Davidson, and I think, when we remember what he did here and outside, we shall feel that his years of public duty will long leave their mark on the history of the recognition of Christian understanding and Christian obligation, both in this country and in the Empire, and through all parts of the world. It was, I think, chiefly because he was endowed with a wise and far-seeing spirit of conciliation, tolerant in his sense of sympathetic understanding, but was rightly and strongly—that is not always appreciated—rightly and strongly tenacious on matters which appeared to him to be fundamental matters of Christian principle. In order to summarise in the most convenient form what I know his views to have been, I should ask leave to quote one passage from the historical charge delivered at the Second Visitation of the Diocese of Canterbury in 1912, which I think contains a more considered account of the deeper meanings which he attached to his Christian obligations than I can find in any other record or document. I know that he sent me a copy of this Visitation Charge at the time, and later, when under conditions of doubt and difficulty I appealed to him, he sent me a further copy with this passage underlined; and your Lordships must recollect that it was not addressed to any one individual, but was a public exhortation during his Visitation to his Diocese. He said—this was the answer I received to a doubt and difficulty— I believe unreservedly that it is the duty of every man to pursue unflinchingly the search for truth, and to free himself so far as he can from narrowing and fettering preconceptions as to the conclusions to which his search will lead him. They are words very similar to those that we find in the writings of that great churchman and statesman, Sir Thomas More. They are, I think, the true touchstone by which we can test whether a particular action constitutes true sincerity or not.

During the later years of his Archiepiscopate, he largely gave his time to leading the movement which resulted in the passing of the Enabling Act, the purpose of which he expressed to be, and is, to secure a fuller expression of the spiritual independence of the Church, as well as of the national recognition of religion. In other words, he desired the maximum of spiritual independence consistent with what he believed to be one of the great matters for the good of the whole world and mankind, that is, the preservation of our establishment. Those who were present in your Lordships' House will not forget the speech with which he introduced the Enabling Bill to the notice of your Lordships. He described the Bill, in the simple and direct language which we so often heard from him, as one to enable the Anglican Church to do its work properly, and expressed the belief that disestablishment would be an immeasurable loss to the whole nation. This is no occasion, of course, to enter upon the differences of opinion that arose in connection with the Prayer Book. Those must be left to the judgment of time.

The late Archbishop, as we know, constantly addressed us, particularly on social matters. He gave us his guidance, counselling moderation, and ever asked for time for the adjustment of difficulties as against what I think he once called, in one of his Visitation addresses, the principle of short cuts. He urgently desired to relieve human suffering and to alleviate human sorrow in all parts of the world, expressing the view that in a Christian land, happily constituted like our own, degrading poverty ought to be, and might be, practically abolished altogether. He was not of course, appealing to political thought and still less to a political Party. He was above Party, and addressed himself from a higher level than ordinary political thought. He was thinking of the gospel of Christianity, as taught in the words and actions of its Founder. No guidance, not even his guidance, can be without its share of error and failure, but all who knew him will treasure the life and work of the late Archbishop, and will cherish the hope that in this case the good which he has done will live after him, and constitute a real advance in the progress of human content and Christian friendliness. We shall miss him long in this House, where he so often assisted us in our deliberations.


My Lords, perhaps you will allow me to add one or two words to the observations which have fallen from the noble and learned Lord, the Leader of the House. I think he was especially wise to have marked for his notice of this great man's life the knowledge which we had of him in your Lordships' House. As to his attitude towards the House of Lords, much of it would be spoken of with greater effect by one of his brethren on that Bench, but we laymen, as we listened to him day after day—for he was almost always in 'attendance—could not fail to note that he spoke as one having authority; that is to say, that he represented in his person the opinion, as he believed, of the Church at large and of his brethren with whom he sat. I do not pretend that I had the same official connection with Archbishop Davidson which the Leader of the House possessed, but it was my privilege to act with him on many occasions and frequently to be in council with him; and the impression left upon my mind was that of a man who was almost wholly selfless in his attitude towards public affairs. I need not say there was no vanity, but there did not appear to be any thought at all except for the public good. There was no bitterness. Everything was for peace. And, as the noble and learned Lord has said, his greatest title to the memory and affection of us all lay in his efforts for conciliation—conciliation amongst Churchmen, amongst Christians, amongst his own countrymen, to whatever faith they belonged.

This is not the place and I am not the man to speak of his great position in the Christian world, but there is none of us but must be conscious of the great change which took place in the Church of England under his leadership—a change almost overwhelming. There was, as it were, a quickening of the spiritual consciousness of the Church in this country amongst Churchmen, but also of its marvellous influence with its allied Churches throughout the world. The great power And authority and influence of the Church of England has multiplied tenfold during the time that Archbishop Davidson presided over the See of Canterbury. It is not possible yet to realise how much he himself contributed to these great developments, but at any rate it was his guiding leadership and his moderating influence that were largely responsible for the wonderful result. We may be grateful that we had for so many years amongst our most eminent members this great Archbishop, and we shall all join in deeply regretting his death.


My Lords, the sincere and admirable words which have just been spoken by the Leader of the House and by the noble Marquess who has just sat down have fully expressed the thoughts which fill our minds when we think of Lord Davidson, yet it may be fitting that I should add some words. I do not find it easy to speak. It is difficult to hold oneself, so to say, in detachment from one who was bound to me by the ties of a close friendship—on my part always reverent, on his always most generous—and to summarise in a few sentences the impressions left upon my mind after twenty-five years of the closest association with all his thoughts and plans. I must needs have other opportunities of speaking of his great work for the Church and for the country. I would confine myself in what I venture to say to the place he filled in this House.

It is not, I think, too much to say that; to this House he was not merely attached, he was devoted. It was a place to him not only of responsibility, but also of real recreation. It was a stimulus to him to be in the midst of its historical memories, of the movement of great affairs—to be in contact with the men who took a leading part in their settlement. Again and again when some of us, knowing the pressure upon his time, used to urge upon him that, as there was no business of great importance before this House, he might well take some needed rest, he would for the moment acquiesce and, after a short time, we would find that, moved as it were by an irresistible impulse, he had found his way from Lambeth to his familiar seat in this House. And perhaps nothing gave him greater consolation in what was to him the great trial of his retirement than the fact that, by His Majesty's gracious kindness, he was permitted to the end of his life to remain a member of this House.

He did not claim to be an orator. He was not even ready in speech, sometimes perhaps even laboured; but the very absence of everything that was unreal and artificial, of any striving after effect, gave to his words a greater weight. We felt that we were listening to a man of transparent honesty and integrity, whose only desire was to speak truthfully what was in his mind and to reach himself, and to help others to reach, a right judgment in all that concerned the public weal. Most of all he valued his place in this House because it symbolised that long association of the Church and the Realm which to him had the deepest spiritual significance, and because it gave him an opportunity of speaking and acting as a representative of Christian citizenship throughout the land. We, in our turn, valued increasingly the guidance of a wisdom which was the fruit of a singularly balanced and fair mind, and was matured by an unrivalled experience of men and affairs in all parts of the world. We learned to value his counsel the more because we felt that it was disinterested, and was deepened and disciplined by a great sense of responsibility. May I say that we discerned in him, though we might not always have expressed it, the truth of the old words that the "fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom"?

As he advanced in influence, in reputation, in authority, the essential character of the man became more and more apparent to his contemporaries—his sincerity, his simplicity, his honesty and humility, his single-minded desire to be of service to his country and his Church and, so far as he could, to the whole human race throughout the world. I have never known a man in whom there were combined a more exalted sense of the responsibilities of his office and a more humble sense of himself. Thus it was that to trust there was added more and more surely and on the part of many who only knew him as a public man a deep and reverent affection. In this House, the place where he sat for many years will know him no more; but, surely, the memory will long be treasured of this great-hearted single-minded servant of God and of the Church and Realm of England.


My Lords, I should not like this occasion to pass without saying something, however inadequate it may be, in addition to what has already been said by those who have spoken, on behalf of my noble friends. We are all deeply conscious of the loss which this House has suffered in the death of Archbishop Lord Davidson. I was profoundly impressed by what was said by the most rev. Primate in the course of his remarks. Nothing struck me more in the character of Archbishop Lord Davidson than his manifest modesty and humility. It showed itself constantly in private life. Great Prelate as he was, there was nobody less assuming than he or more ready to learn from those whom he met. That modesty showed itself in public life too. Sound as most of us thought his judgment to be, he never was content, I think, to express his own opinion without having consulted the very best advice which he could possibly consult. No doubt we should find that no speech was ever made in your Lordships' House or elsewhere and no opinion was ever expressed without the Archbishop having taken a very great deal of trouble in getting hold of the very best advice before he said anything upon any particular subject. In those circumstances we all of us learned to trust his judgment. If he was cautious, as becomes those who come from his own country, he at any rate never made mistakes. Thinking over the speeches which he made in this House I would venture to think that there is not one of your Lordships who would not say that the advice which he gave on many occasions was always sound, right and wise.

The noble Marquess who sits beside me spoke of the increase in the importance of the Church of England throughout the world since the late Archbishop assumed office. That, I think, is profoundly true and is largely due to his personality. But what we feel now is that if the position of the Church of England to-day is greater, and it is greater, the importance attaches, just as Archbishop Lord Davidson himself would have wished, not to the person but to the office itself. In all communications with other Churches—Churdhes in direct communion with the Church of England, and also the Orthodox Churches of the East—there is, I think, no doubt at all that the position of the Archbishopric of Canterbury is far higher than it was when Lord Davidson assumed his office. I think we can say in regard to this House that if in any coming reform such as will probably take place one day, we insist upon the representation of the Church of England, it will be largely due to the constant attendance of, and to the wise advice which was given to your Lordships' House by, the late Archbishop. May I, in conclusion, say one more intimate word? May I not venture to express, on behalf of your Lordships, our deepest sympathy with his constant and loved partner, Lady Davidson?

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