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Restoring a reputation

11 April 2014

Michael Wheeler finds this old-style life of a Victorian good value

"Nolo Episcopari": A Life of C. J. Vaughan
Trevor Park
St Bega Publications £14*
Church Times Bookshop £12.60 (Use code CT127 )

THE "lives and letters" of notable Victorian clerics often ran to three or four stout volumes in the 19th century. These are mines of information for the modern student of ecclesiastical history. They shed light on not only their main characters, but also the complex web of friendships and rivalries that make up "the Victorian Church". No publisher would touch such works today: too unfashionable, too long, and too expensive to produce.

Canon Trevor Park has circumvented the problem by publishing his life (and letters) of Charles John Vaughan himself. Running to almost 450 pages, this splendid book must be one of the bargains of the millennium. The absence of an editor may lead to the odd solecism, but allows the author to quote Vaughan's letters in all their Victorian voluminousness.

Vaughan probably wrote about 300,000 letters, of which only 300 survive: there were bonfires, at his request. Widely regarded as one of the finest preachers of the age, he was also famous for his innovative methods of ordination training: of several hundred "doves", as Vaughan's pupils were known, 18 became bishops, and two became archbishops. Benson, Davidson, Westcott, and Jowett all regarded him as one of the wisest and noblest clergymen in the C of E. Yet he turned down several episcopal appointments, possibly including Canterbury. Why?

Phyllis Grosskurth thought she knew in 1964, when she revealed that the the father of one of his pupils, J. A. Symonds, had accused Vaughan, then the youthful headmaster of Harrow, of sexual misconduct with a pupil. Like Mark Wagland in an article of 2008, Park argues strongly that Vaughan was innocent: a "besmirched reputation" is restored. Vaughan had "romantic friendships" with pupils past and present, but there is no solid evidence of misconduct. His subsequent refusal to accept preferment, Parks argues, was more to do with the nature of his vocation than a threat of exposure from an outraged Harrow parent.

Vaughan was the son of the Vicar of St Martin's, Leicester (now the cathedral), a living that was to be held by both Charles and a brother. In January 1830, just three months after his father's death, he went to Rugby, where Thomas Arnold was inventing the modern public-school system and casting a spell over brilliant pupils such as Vaughan. Glittering prizes and a fellowship awaited him at Trinity College, Cambridge, and he became Vicar of St Martin's in 1841.

By 1845, he was running Harrow. In 1850, he married A. P. Stanley's sister, Catherine. Like the Stanleys, the Vaughans had no children. Having fulfilled what he claimed was his settled plan to retire after 15 years, as Arnold had hoped to do at Rugby, Vaughan returned to Leicester before serving with distinction as Vicar of Doncaster, Master of the Temple, and, in plurality with the Temple, Dean of Llandaff. His appointment as Deputy Clerk of the Closet kept him in touch with an appreciative Queen.

Would he have been a great bishop or even archbishop? Park believes that his avoidance of controversy and silence on such matters as ritual practice suggest not. Did he behave inappropriately with any of the boys? Park believes not. As in so many such cases, past and present, it might be safest to say, "Not proven."

Dr Wheeler is a Visiting Professor at the University of Southampton and a former Lay Canon of Winchester.

*Available from St Bega Publications, 20 Seacroft Drive, St Bees, Cumbria CA27 0AF.

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