Ainger, Alfred (DNB12)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

AINGER, ALFRED (1837–1904), writer, humourist and divine, born at 10 Doughty Street, London, on 9 April 1837, was youngest of four children of Alfred Ainger by his first wife, Marianne Jagger, of Liverpool. The father, an architect of scientific tastes, who designed the first University College Hospital (demolished and rebuilt 1900–6) and the Palm House at Kew, was of French Huguenot stock and of Unitarian belief. The mother, who was musically gifted, died two years after her son Alfred's birth; her husband soon married again, and had a second family. Alfred, after attending as a child University College School, went in 1849 to Joseph King's boarding-school at Carlton Hill, where he fell under the two potent influences of Charles Dickens and of Frederick Denison Maurice (for some account of schoolmaster King see Frederic Harrison's Memoirs, i. 28 sq.). His schoolmaster took him to hear Maurice preach, and he turned from his father's unitarianism to the Church of England. Charles Dickens's sons were Alfred's schoolfellows at Mr. King's school, and with them he visited their father. Dickens early discovered the boy's dramatic gift, and for several years Alfred was his favourite dramatic pupil, acting with him and Mark Lemon in the amateur performances which Dickens organised at Tavistock House. Subsequently for a time he played with a fancy of making the stage his profession, and he was always an admirably dramatic reciter. At sixteen, Ainger passed to King's College, London, where Maurice was professor both of divinity and of English literature. Literature now absorbed Ainger. With Lamb and Crabbe, he discovered that he had many affinities. Devotion to Shakespeare manifested itself early and in 1855 he became first president of the college Shakespeare Society. A passionate love of music also developed into one of his chief resources. In October 1856 he matriculated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, with a view to a legal career. Henry Latham and Leslie Stephen were tutors of his college, while Henry Fawcett soon Ainger's intimate friend was elected a fellow in the year of Ainger's entrance. At Cambridge Ainger became the leading spirit of a literary circle which included Hugh Reginald Haweis [q. v. Suppl. II], Mr. Horace Smith, and Dr. A. W. Ward. He was a foremost contributor to a short-lived undergraduate magazine (3 nos. 1857-8), called 'The Lion,' which Haweis edited. Ainger's skit there on Macaulay and his criticisms of Shakespeare bore witness to his literary gifts and brilliant humour. At Cambridge, too, he came to know Alexander Macmillan, then a bookseller in Trinity Street, afterwards the famous London publisher, and was admitted to Macmillan's family circle. Ainger's health allowed him to do no more than take the ordinary law examination (in June 1859). He graduated B. A. in 1860 and M.A. in 1865. His father's death in November 1859 made a waiting profession impossible for him and, acting upon his own inclination and upon the advice of his friends, Leslie Stephen among them, he took holy orders. In 1860 he was ordained deacon, and soon after became curate to Richard Haslehurst, Vicar of Alrewas, in Staffordshire. In 1863 he was ordained priest, and from 1864 to 1866 was assistant master in the Collegiate School at Sheffield. In the autumn of 1865 he had competed successfully for the readership at the Temple. That post he held for twenty-seven years, and in that capacity won a wide reputation as reader and preacher.

Both Ainger's sisters married early, the younger, Marianne, to a German named Wiss, and the elder, Adeline, to Dr. Roscow of Sandgate, who died in 1865. Shortly after his resettlement in London (1867) he experienced the great sorrow of his life in the sudden death of his widowed sister, Mrs. Roscow. The shock aged prematurely and turned his hair white. He became the guardian of his sister's four children two girls and two boys, and devoted himself to their care. In 1876 Ainger moved to Hampstead, where his two nieces, Ada and Margaret Roscow, lived with him, and where he formed an intimacy with the artist of 'Punch,' George du Maurier [q. v. Suppl. I]. That companionship provided Ainger with a definite field for his wit. He constantly suggested the jests which du Maurier illustrated, .

He had an exceptional power of making friendships. When he came to the Temple, Dr. Thomas Robinson (1790-1873) [q. v.] was master ; in 1869 Robinson was succeeded by Dr. Charles John Vaughan [q. v.], with whom Ainger formed close relations. The poet Tennyson was among his acquaintances (Lord Tennyson's Life, i. 117, ii. 327), and he was elected a member of the Literary Club which was founded by Dr. Johnson (Grant Duff's Notes from a Diary, passim). He was a copious correspondent, and his letters, always spontaneous, abounded, like his conversation, in sudden turns and airy quips.

Meanwhile Ainger made a position in literature. At twenty-two he contributed his first successful article, 'Books and their Uses,' to an early number of 'Macmillan's Magazine' (December 1859, i. 110). He took the whimsical pseudonym 'Doubleday' (Doubled A). Eleven other articles appeared under the same friendly auspices between 1871 and 1896. In the latest period of his life, 1900-4, he was a regular contributor to a weekly journal called the Pilot,' edited by Mr. D. C. Lathbury.

Ainger's chief writings dealt with the life and work of Charles Lamb, with whose genius he had native sympathy. His monograph on Lamb was published in 1882, in the 'English Men of Letters' series (revised and enlarged 1888). There followed editions of 'Lamb's Essays' (1883), 'Lamb's Poems, Plays, and Miscellaneous Essays' (1884), and 'Lamb's Letters' (1888, new ed. 1904), the only collection which could lay claim at the time of publication to completeness. Ainger's life of Lamb and his edition of Lamb's writings embody much patient and original research. But Ainger was somewhat fastidious in his editorial method, and occasionally omitted from the letters characteristic passages which clashed with his conception of their writer's character. His labour remains a memorial of the editor's personal feeling and delicate insight rather than a monument of scholarship, and it has been largely superseded by Mr. E. V. Lucas's fuller biography and edition of Lamb's works and letters (1903-5). To this Dictionary Ainger contributed the articles on Charles and Mary Lamb, on Tennyson, and on George du Maurier, and wittily summed up its principle of conciseness in the motto, 'No flowers, by request,' with which he made merry in a speech at a dinner of the contributors (8 July 1897).

As a lecturer on literary subjects Ainger was popular with cultivated audiences throughout the country, and from 1889 onwards he frequently lectured at the Royal Institution, his subjects including 'True and False Humour in Literature,' 'Euphuism, Past and Present,' and the 'Three Stages of Shakespeare's Art.' In 1885 the University of Glasgow conferred upon him the honorary degree of LL.D., and he was made honorary fellow of his college, Trinity Hall. During his last twenty years Ainger's influence as a preacher grew steadily. In 1887 he became canon of Bristol, where he formed many new and agreeable ties. He was appointed select preacher of Oxford in 1893. In the same year bad health compelled him to resign his readership at the Temple. Thereupon he accepted the living of St. Edward's at Cambridge. Again illness speedily forced him to retire, and he spent two months in travel in Egypt and Greece. In June 1894 Ainger, on Lord Rosebery's recommendation, was appointed Master of the Temple in succession to Dr. Vaughan. Thenceforth his duties of preacher became the main concern of his life. In 1895 he was made honorary chaplain, in 1896 chaplain-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria, and in 1901 chaplain-in-ordinary to King Edward VII. His sermons in the Temple were marked by beauty of language, and by a quiet, practical piety, which was impationt of excess. Neither high church nor low church, Ainger professed an unaggressive, moderate evangelicalism. In 1903 Ainger's health broke after an attack of influenza, and at the end of the year he resigned his canonry at Bristol. He died of pneumonia on 8 Feb. 1904 at Darley Abbey, near Derby, the home of his younger niece, Ada Roscow, who, in 1896, had married an old friend, Walter Evans. He was buried in the churchyard of Darley Abbey.

Apart from the works already mentioned and articles in periodicals, Ainger was author of a volume of sermons (1870), a selection of Tennyson for the young (1891), a biograpliical preface to an edition of Hood's poems (1893, 1897), an introduction to an edition of Gait's 'Annals of the Parish' (1895), and a monograph on Crabbe (1903, in 'English Men of Letters' series). After his death 'The Gospel of Human Life ' (a volume of sermons, 1904) and 'Lectures and Essays' (2 vols. 1905) were edited by H. C. Beeching, dean of Norwich.

Of two portraits in oils by Hugh Gold win Riviere, one, which was painted in 1897 and has been reproduced in photogravure, belongs to Ainger's nephew, the Rev. Bentley Roscow, at Flint House, Sandwich; the other, which is smaller and was painted in 1904 after Ainger's death, is at Trinity Hall. Of two portraits by George du Maurier, one in water-colour (about 1882) belongs to the artist's widow, and the other, in black and white, dated 1882, to Ainger's niece, Miss Roscow. Mrs. Alexander Macmillan owns a portrait in pastels by the Norwegian artist, C. M. Ross; and a sixth portrait by Sir Arthur Clay, done in oils in 1893, belongs to the Rev. Bentley Roscow. A cartoon by 'Spy' appeared in 'Vanity Fair' 1892.

[Life and Letters of Alfred Ainger, by Edith Sichel, 1906; Dean Beeching's prefaces to The Gospel of Human Life and Lectures and Essays; Dr. A. W. Ward in Macmillan's Mag., April 1904; Quarterly Review, Jan. 1905; Monthly Review, March 1904; The Times 9 Feb. 1904; Old and Odd Memories, by Lionel Tollemache, 1908.]

E. S.