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