Creighton, Mandell (DNB01)
|←Crealock, Henry Hope||Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement
CREIGHTON, MANDELL (1843-1901), scholar, historian, and bishop successively of Peterborough and London, was the eldest son of Robert Creighton of Carlisle, and Sarah, daughter of Thomas Mandell of Bolton, Cumberland. He was born in Carlisle on 5 July 1843, and was educated first at the cathedral school in that town, afterwards as a scholar at the grammar school, Durham, at the time under the control of Dr. Holden. In 1862 he gained a postmastership at Merton College, Oxford, and commenced residence at the university in the autumn of the same year. As an undergraduate he threw himself vigorously into the social life of the college, rowed in the college boat, and made many friends. He had no taste for sport, but took long walks, played whist, and conversed freely with all sorts and conditions of men. His religious opinions were those of a high churchman, his political views those of a moderate liberal. While enjoying to the full the varied interests of university life, he read hard and steadily, and his diligence was rewarded by a first class in 'moderations,' a first in the final school of literæ humaniores, and a second in law and history —the last gained on six months' reading. In December 1866 he was elected a fellow of Merton, and in 1867 he was admitted to the B.A. degree. Shortly afterwards he became a tutor of his college, and settled down to academic life as a 'don.'
He soon became the leading spirit of the college common-room, and one of the most influential of the younger tutors in the university. Among his pupils were the Duke of Albany, with whom he became intimate, and Lord Randolph Churchill, in whom he early discerned the promise of political success. After lecturing for a short time for 'greats,' he devoted himself to historical work, and lectured chiefly on ecclesiastical, Italian, and Byzantine history. It was largely due to his initiative, in combination with Mr. Laing (of Corpus) and Mr. Shadwell (of Oriel), that the Intercollegiate system of lectures in history was established at Oxford. In 1870 Creighton was ordained; he took priest's orders in 1873. In 1872 he married Louise von Glehn, youngest daughter of Robert von Glehn, a London merchant, who came from Reval in the Russian Baltic provinces. In order to retain him as fellow and tutor, Merton passed a special statute enabling four of their fellows who held office to marry. He was therefore under no pressure to withdraw from college life; and, had he remained at Oxford, success and distinction were within his reach. But he desired to gain experience of clerical and especially parochial work, and he wished for leisure and quiet in order to carry on his historical studies. He accordingly accepted the college living of Embleton, on the coast of Northumberland, and in March 1875 left the academic stir of Oxford for what many of his friends regarded as the banishment of a remote country village.
The parish of Embleton is large in area and contains a scattered population of about sixteen hundred; there are four schools and many small villages in it. It was therefore no light task which he had undertaken; but he threw himself into it with great energy, and discharged his parochial duties with devotion and success. He made a point of knowing every one in the parish, and won the confidence of his Northumbrian parishioners, who consulted him on all sorts of occasions. He instituted services in two of the more distant villages. He preached twice a Sunday simple ethical discourses, dealing little with dogma, but stimulating and suggestive, salted with a shrewdness which appealed forcibly to his north-country audience. In fact, whether in private or in the pulpit, he spoke to his people not only as a clergyman but as a man of affairs. He soon became intimate with the leading families of the neighbourhood, especially with the Greys of Howick and Fallodon. As guardian of the poor, and chairman of the board for his union, he regularly attended the conferences of the poor-law unions of the four northern counties, and read several papers on educational questions. He was also (from 1877) chairman of the school attendance committee, and (from 1879) rural dean of Alnwick, in which town he frequently gave lectures on historical or literary subjects. When the diocese of Newcastle was founded (in 1881) he took a prominent part in its organisation, and became (in 1882) examining chaplain to Bishop Wilberforce. In 1883 he was made an honorary canon of Newcastle. Meanwhile he kept up his connection with Oxford by examining for the historical school (1875-6 and 1883-4); and he was select preacher at St. Mary's for several years. During the summer months he was also in the habit of receiving two or three young men into his house as private pupils, to read for university degrees.
So many and such varied occupations would have absorbed the energies of most men ; but such was Creighton's capacity for economising time and disregarding interruptions that he was able, during his residence at Embleton, to accomplish in addition a great deal of literary work. In the same year (1875) he published, in a series edited by J. R. Green, a successful primer of Roman history. In 1876 there appeared several short works: 'The Age of Elizabeth,' 'The Life of Simon de Montfort,' and an elementary 'History of England.' He also edited, while at Embleton, two series of historical handbooks, the 'Epochs of English History ' and 'Historical Biographies,' and contributed frequently to the 'Academy' and other journals. But a larger task had long occupied his main attention, the result of which was the appearance (in 1882) of the first two volumes of his 'History of the Papacy.'
It was the publication of this important work, establishing his position as an ecclesiastical historian, which led to his next move. The foundation of the Dixie professorship of ecclesiastical history at Cambridge was an outcome of the act of 1877 ; and Creighton, on whom the university of Glasgow had recently conferred the honorary degree of LL.D., became (in 1884) the first occupant of the chair. The professorship being partly endowed by a fellowship at Emmanuel, he became at the same time a fellow of that college. At Cambridge the neighbourhood of the university library was an advantage the want of which had been a serious drawback in the north. Continuing his researches into the papacy he brought out, in 1887, the third and fourth volumes of his 'History,' and nearly finished the fifth volume. He wrote (in the series of 'English Statesmen') the 'Life of Cardinal Wolsey,' and (in the series of 'Historic Towns') the 'History of Carlisle.' He also edited a series entitled 'Epochs of Church History,' which comprises fifteen volumes. In 1886 the 'English Historical Review ' was founded. Creighton became its first editor, and at once established its high position as a scientific journal. He retained the editorship till 1891. His lectures, which were delivered in almost every term during his tenure of the Dixie professorship, were largely attended. They dealt usually with ecclesiastical history, or else with some subject or period rich in ecclesiastical interest. In his ordinary lectures he kept his deeper learning in the background, but in addressing advanced students he gave it full play. Some of his most stimulating work was done in ' conversation classes 'more or less an imitation of the German professorial seminar.' With his better pupils he was on friendly and even intimate terms, often inviting them to his house and taking long walks with them in the country. He took a keen interest in the movement for the higher education of women, showed much kindness to his female pupils, and was for some time a member of the council of Newnham College. He did not, however, support the proposal to grant the B.A. degree to women; still less was he in favour of conferring upon them the political franchise. While a fellow of Emmanuel he took a full share in the general life of the college, dining frequently in hall, preaching in chapel, and attending college meetings. He did not take a very active part either in college or in university business, but he became a prominent figure in Cambridge society, and brought a wholesome intellectual stir into every company in which he found himself. So fully did he identify himself with his adopted college that he was chosen in 1886 to represent it in America, when Harvard originally founded by an Emmanuel man celebrated its 250th anniversary. On this occasion he was the guest of Professor Norton, and won golden opinions by his ready wit, affability, and many-sided sympathy.
The canonry in Worcester cathedral, which had been conferred upon Creighton in 1885, added considerably to his labours, but gave him an opportunity to develop his powers as a preacher. During the weeks of his residence he preached every Sunday evening to large congregations in the cathedral. He took an active interest in all that concerned the welfare of the city, especially in the King's school and educational matters generally ; and he acted for several years as examining chaplain to Bishop Philpot. In 1890 he was promoted to a canonry at Windsor, where he hoped it might be possible to find more leisure for his literary work. But, before his installation could take place, he was called to a far more important position in the bishopric of Peterborough (vacant by the translation of Dr. Magee to York), to which he was appointed in February 1891. From this time forward the demands of administrative work absorbed almost all his energies. He made it his business to become thoroughly acquainted with his diocese, and especially with its most important parts, the populous towns of Leicester and Northampton, in which he resided for some weeks every year. In these busy industrial and commercial communities, in which the nonconformist element is very powerful, his wide sympathies and quick intelligence, combined with liberal views and a large religious tolerance, made him deservedly popular. In his earlier years Creighton had been a follower of Gladstone, and in the general election of 1880 he supported the candidature of Mr. G. Howard at Carlisle, strongly condemning the foreign policy of Lord Beaconsfield. But the adoption of the home-rule programme inclined his sympathies to the unionist side ; and on the occasion of Lord Salisbury's visit to Cambridge in 1891 Creighton appeared on the platform among his supporters. He did not, however, take a very keen interest in passing political questions, and in general avoided especially after he became a bishop any public reference to party politics. To educational questions, on the other hand, he always devoted much attention. In this connection he deprecated partisan agitation, whether political or religious, striving to induce the public to abandon a fruitless strife over details of organisation and control, and to devote its attention to those larger educational problems which are really important to the child. While approving the legislation of 1870, he was a strong supporter of denominational education and of the system of voluntary schools. These opinions, though differing from those of nonconformists in general, did not prevent Creighton from achieving popularity and influence among all classes in his diocese an influence which enabled him to intervene with decisive effect when (in 1895) a great strike in the boot trade threatened the prosperity of Leicester. His intervention was welcomed by the leaders on both sides, and a satisfactory compromise was the result. In this episode he showed both the mastery of details and the grasp of general principles which mark the statesman and administrator. Shortly afterwards his reputation was further enhanced by his being selected to represent the English church at the coronation of the Emperor Nicholas II at Moscow in May 1896. For a duty of this description he was admirably fitted, both by the urbanity of his demeanour and by his sympathetic feelings towards other churches. He was very well received, conversed with the emperor, had interesting interviews with M. Pobiedonostzeff, and was the only person not a Russian subject invited to the state banquet which followed the coronation.
Meanwhile episcopal duties had been so engrossing as to give a serious, if not a complete, check to Creighton's literary activity. He was obliged to give up the editorship of the 'Historical Review,' which was taken over by Dr. S. R. Gardiner. On the other hand he became, in 1894, the first president of the Church Historical Society, founded in that year, and he continued to preside over it till his death. He succeeded, with no little difficulty, in bringing out the fifth volume of his 'History of the Papacy,' but there the work stopped an unfinished fragment. He produced an admirable study of personal character in the 'Life of Elizabeth,' brought out first in a large and splendidly illustrated edition, afterwards in a cheaper form. At Cambridge he delivered a course of Hulsean lectures (1893-4), subsequently published, on the congenial subject of 'Persecution and Tolerance,' in which he drew largely on his stores of historical knowledge. He also gave the Rede lecture at Cambridge (1895) on 'The Early Renaissance in England' a study mainly of literary historv ; and the Romanes lecture at Oxford (1896) on 'The English National Character ' a subject which afforded him a good opportunity for the display of a genuine but discriminating patriotism, for shrewd generalisation, and brilliant epigram.
If the occupation of the see of Peterborough precluded the devotion of much time to literature, Creighton's translation to London put an end to the hopes of those who still looked forward to further contributions to historical science from his pen. Creighton was as much a statesman and a churchman as an historian; and, when the call was so obvious and the choice so fully justified, it was only natural and right that church and state should take precedence. What is, however, to be regretted is that, while he might have continued to apply his great gifts to the elucidation of history for many years, his life was undoubtedly shortened by the mental and physical strain of his work as bishop of London.
His promotion to that see took place in January 1897, after the appointment of Bishop Temple to the primacy on the death of Archbishop Benson. The extravagances of some of the ritualistic clergy were already attracting attention ; and while they caused moderate churchmen to regret that men of enthusiasm and genuine devotion should be unable to avoid indiscretions, they were beginning to rouse in extreme protestant sections deep suspicion and indignation. The bishop, by his strong common-sense and intellectual acuteness, his wide learning combined with tolerance, his knowledge of character and persuasive manners, and not least by his sense of humour, was eminently qualified to deal with this difficult situation. He had formed no definite conclusions before his arrival in the diocese, and he took time to familiarise himself with its conditions ; but after about a year of residence he came to the conclusion that steps must be taken to prevent the mischief from spreading further. During 1898 the public mind was still further excited by Sir William Harcourt's letters to the 'Times,' in which endeavour was made to convict the episcopate of neglect of duty in failing to restrain the excesses of the extreme high church party. The bitter feelings thus excited on both sides did not facilitate the task of compromise and conciliation to which the bishop had set himself. He pursued his course, however, without yielding to clamour on one side or obstinacy on the other, and upheld the true principles of the Reformation and the church of England between the two extremes. By the wisdom and moderation of his charges and addresses, no less than by their clearness and decision, he inspired confidence and reasserted episcopal authority. But it was rather on private conference and gentle persuasion that he chiefly relied in his endeavours to bring back the recalcitrants within legal limits. In these efforts he was almost completely successful, and before his death he had, with rare exceptions, restored order and obedience throughout his diocese.
His view of the position of the English church was that it was neither the mediæval church nor a church of the continental type, nor yet a mere compromise between two extremes of religious opinion ; but that it was a church holding a unique position, as 'resting on an appeal to sound learning.' This he further explained to mean that the English reformers, learned in the scriptures and in history, and undisturbed by influences which distorted the movement elsewhere, were able to strip off mediæval accretions in doctrine and ceremony, and to restore primitive simplicity, based upon the bible and the early fathers of the church. Consequently, while willing to allow all possible latitude and even welcoming divergences as natural and stimulative, he insisted that 'a recognisable type' of service should be maintained, and that no doctrine should be publicly taught which indicated any tendency to return to Romanism or mediævalism, or to depart from the distinctive features of the English church, as agreeable to the national character. In maintaining this rule he made it clear that the episcopal authority must be obeyed, while at the same time he recognised that, in the case of an established church, the state must have the final voice in determining the nature of, and in giving authority to, ecclesiastical courts. He approved the proposal to submit differences as to ritual and ceremony to the informal decision of the two archbishops, and supported the judgments given at the 'Lambeth hearing' of 1899. In the last year of his life, at the request of the London Diocesan Conference, he summoned to Fulham a meeting of leading divines and laymen—subsequently known as the 'Round Table Conference'—for the purpose of discussing different views of the holy communion. He did not anticipate that this would lead to an agreement, but he was satisfied with I having done something to clear up the points at issue and to produce a better mutual understanding.
In addition to the work entailed on him by the ritualistic crisis, and to the heavy duties which ordinarily fall on a bishop of London, Creighton was active and assiduous in other directions. He was a member of the commission which drew up the statutes of the new university of London. He regularly attended the meetings of the ecclesiastical commissioners and of the trustees of the British Museum. He was in great request at all sorts of public functions ; he went much into society ; and he spoke on many occasions and on a large variety of topics. Nor did he altogether give up his literary pursuits, though his work during this period was mainly confined to the reissue of sermons and addresses, and the writing of prefaces or introductions to volumes composed by others. Perhaps the most notable publication of this period was 'The Story of some English Shires,' a collection of papers previously published in the 'Leisure Hour,' on sixteen English counties through which he had travelled, mostly on foot. The strain of such an active and absorbing life told eventually upon a constitution rather nervous and wiry than robust. Chronic dyspepsia undermined his strength, and at length induced internal ulceration and hæmorrhage, to which, after an illness of some four months, borne with great courage and patience, he succumbed at Fulham Palace on Monday, 14 Jan. 1901. On the Thursday following he was buried in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral.
In person Creighton was tall, spare, and upright ; and his lithe and wiry figure showed great capacity for enduring fatigue. His features were regular and finely cut; his hands long and well-shaped, and he wore a long beard. Extremely scrupulous about his dress and personal appearance, he was not averse to a certain degree of external magnificence on proper occasions, and generally wore his mitre as bishop. Hospitably inclined, with a large circle of friends, he was always accessible, and never appeared hurried or preoccupied. His conversation was sparkling and witty, and he had a large fund of humorous anecdote. A certain love of paradox, a shrewdness which some mistook for cynicism, a notable lack of unction, and occasional lapses into flippancy as a protest against cant or a refuge from boredom, sometimes conveyed a wrong impression, concealing the natural kindliness, the wide sympathy, the deep inner seriousness of a man who was more highly appreciated the more fully he was known. His domestic life was of the happiest, and he left a family of three sons and four daughters. Creighton was a D.D. of Oxford and Cambridge ; hon. LL.D. of Glasgow and Harvard ; hon. D.C.L. of Oxford and Durham ; hon. Litt.D. of Dublin. He was a corresponding member of the Massachusetts Historical Society and of the American Church History Society, and a fellow of the Societa Romana di Storia Patria.
In accordance with the decision of a committee formed at the Mansion House, London, in February 1901, with a view to commemorating Creighton's public services, a monument by Mr. Hamo Thorneycroft, R.A., is to be placed in St. Paul's Cathedral, and a portrait by Mr. Hubert Herkomer, R.A., in Fulham Palace. A painting by Mr. Harris Brown, now in the possession of Mrs. Creighton, is destined for the palace at Peterborough.
Few men engaged in administrative work have so tempered and enlarged their minds by historical study ; few have adopted more frankly or more effectively, in dealing with practical questions in church and state, the historical point of view. Few historians, on the other hand, have brought to bear on their literary work a mind more statesmanlike, more sagacious, more devoid of prejudice. Creighton's chief work is the work of a man at once practical and scientific, of a student and a man of letters who was also a consummate man of affairs. He never lived, like a Gibbon, a Freeman, or a Ranke, solely to write history ; the composition of his books, far from engrossing his mind to the exclusion of other interests and pursuits, never occupied even the larger part of his working day. Work done under such conditions both gains and suffers by them. On the one hand there breathes through Creighton's volumes the healthy air of an active practical life. There is an unerring sense of proportion, an admirable flair for the true causes of events, a searching insight into motives, combined with great caution in attributing them, a full appreciation of conditions as limiting action, with due acknowledgment of the capacity of character to override conditions. A wholesome scepticism pervades the work, as of a man who has had frequent occasion to note the inaccuracy of contemporary reports, and who knows that a chronicler is not to be implicitly trusted because he is an ambassador, nor to be hastily condemned because he is a friar. It is also distinguished by an absence of rhetoric, a contempt for mere picturesqueness, a simplicity, terseness, and directness of expression, as of a man whose business it is to lay a clear statement ! before enlightened councillors, and who is anxious rather to provide materials for judgment than to judge. On the other hand, although Creighton goes further than his predecessors in the same field, it can hardly be said that his work is exhaustive or final, even in the sense in which the work of the above-mentioned historians can be called complete or final. In some respects it has been superseded by the work of Pastor, who had larger access to manuscript sources. It also suffers from a certain want of finish ; and the style, though easy, clear, and vigorous, is not elegant and is occasionally even careless.
If the occupations of the writer have thus left their mark upon the work, still more obviously is this the case with his character. The chief merits of the 'History of the Papacy' are width of reading, clearness of statement, soundness of judgment, selection, compression, and impartiality. Creighton chose a subject for the elucidation of which he was, by training and temperament, eminently suited. His independence and intelligent sympathy, his subtlety and his sense of humour, enabled him to deal both acutely and fairly with events and persons too often misrepresented by partisan bigotry. He had thought much about religion on the practical side, and about politics as affected by personal character and religious motives. He rightly regarded the Reformation as the capital event of modern times, the main source from which modern, as distinct from mediæval, Europe has sprung ; but he saw also that to treat it exclusively as a religious movement, even to exaggerate its religious importance, was fatal to a true understanding of it. A believer in character as the most potent of social forces, he found in the motives and actions of the men with whom he dealt the main causes of great eveats, rather than in uncontrollable circumstances or inexorable laws of social development. The personal element therefore plays an unusually large part in his narrative ; and his personages are no mere shadows. A follower of Ranke, whom he seems to have regarded as the greatest of modern historians, he sought in archives and documents the leading clues to the historical labyrinth, the main links of cause and effect connecting great events. But the persons by or for whom these documents were compiled were, after all, more important to him than the documents themselves ; and the consequence is that his actors assume a clearness and a vitality which they rarely display in the pages of the great German writer. At the same time his characterisation is sober and cautious, rather analytical than synthetic. He produces no brilliant gallery of portraits in the manner of Macaulay ; rather he allows his characters to unfold themselves gradually through a succession of actions and incidents, as in a great romance or drama. On these the attention of the reader is concentrated.
That in the religious and political developments of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the conduct of the papacy is the central and permanent factor is indisputable; and Creighton set himself to trace and estimate its action. So vast is the field that only by a strenuous avoidance of digression could this end be satisfactorily attained ; and nothing is more remarkable in the book than the austerity with which the author resists the temptation to dilate, for instance, on the art and literature of the Renaissance. To him personally these subjects were of the highest interest, but they did not fall within his immediate province, which was not the history of the Reformation and all that led to it, but the history of the papacy. There is no doubt that this severe concentration of purpose gives a certain dryness to Creighton's work. The narrative flows steadily on with an unbroken current, never pausing to catch an adventitious charm, but relying for its interest solely on the greatness of the subject and the intellectuality of its treatment. The somewhat sombre and monotonous effect is heightened by the constant impartiality of the author's judgments. He never attempts to point a moral, holding that sufficient praise and blame are implied in a clear and cool exposure of actions and results. Even in the case of a Borgia we are shown how the degenerate standard and the average conditions of the day must be taken into account in judging the delinquent. The faults and blunders of the best are shrewdly detected and impartially, if tenderly, exposed. The whole treatment of the 'tragedy' of Savonarola and his conflict with Alexander VI is an admirable example of Creighton's method.
Still, in spite of his impartiality, the author's predilections are fairly clear. It is Erasmus, the reforming humanist, who has his sympathy rather than Luther, though he does full justice to Luther's powers. With Wolsey his 'Life' of whom may be regarded as a sort of continuation of the 'Papacy' he seems to feel a close affinity. Nowhere have the character and policy of this Mirabeau of the English Reformation been more clearly and sympathetically treated. The 'Life of Elizabeth 'carries on the same story another stage ; and here again, while the contemporary fusion of religion and politics supplies a problem specially adapted to his genius, the strangely complex character of the queen, in all its'strength and weakness, is made to dominate the scene, and the last of the Tudors affords a convincing illustration of the truth of his central maxim that character rules events.
Creighton's principal works are: 1. 'Primer of Roman History,' 1875. 2. 'The Age of Elizabeth' (Epochs of History), 1876. 3. 'Simon de Montfort' (Historical Biographies), 1876. 4. 'History of England' (Epochs of English History), 1879. 5. 'History of the Papacy during the Reformation' (1378-1587), 5 vols. 1882-94. 6. 'Cardinal Wolsey' (Twelve English Statesmen), 1888. 7. 'Carlisle' (Historic Towns), 1889. 8. 'A Charge' (Peterborough), 1894. 9. 'Persecution and Tolerance' (Hulsean Lectures, 1893-4), 1895. 10. ' The Early Renaissance in England' (Rede Lecture), 1895. 11. 'The English National Character' (Romanes Lecture), 1896. 12. 'Queen Elizabeth,' 1896. 13. 'The Heritage of the Spirit,' and other sermons, 1896. 14. 'Church and State' (Oxford House Papers), 1897. 15. 'The Story of some English Shires' (Religious Tract Society), 1897. 16. 'Lessons from the Cross' (Addresses &c.), 1898. 17. 'The Position of the Church of England' (an Address), 1899. 18. 'The Church and the Nation' (a Charge), 1900.
To the early volumes of this Dictionary Creighton was a frequent contributor. To the first volume he contributed four articles, including those on St. Aidan and Pope Adrian IV. Among his articles in subsequent volumes were those on Chillingworth, John Richard Green, Archbishop Grindal, Sir George Grey, three Thomas Howards, respectively second, third, and fourth dukes of Norfolk, and Bishop Jewel. His latest contribution dealt with Lady Mary Keyes, and was published in the thirty-first volume.
[Obituary notices ; Quarterly Review, April 1901 ; personal knowledge and private information.]