Distinguished Churchmen and Phases of Church Work/Montague Fowler
THE REV. MONTAGUE FOWLER, M.A.
THE REV. MONTAGUE FOWLER, M.A.
Rector of All Hallows’, London Wall.
THE CHURCH IN HER RELATION TO THE CHURCHES IN THE EAST.
“Rise, happy morn; rise, holy morn,
Draw forth the cheerful day from night;
O Father! touch the East, and light
The light that shone when Hope was born.”
Tennyson, In Memoriam.”
Lamentable Condition of Affairs in the East—“Christian Egypt”—St Mark's Martyrdom—The Mohammedan Conquest: the Scourge of a False Religion—The Coptic Church has the Sympathy of English Archbishops, notably Howley, Benson and Temple—Fund for the Egyptian Bishopric—Sir John Fowler's Work in Egypt—How He helped the Government and the Expedition after General Gordon's Death—Sir John's Third Son at Harrow and Cambridge—With Archbishop Benson—Mr and Mrs Fowler in the Literary World—Features of the Work at All Hallows’—Investigations in Egypt—Proposal for Egyptian Bishopric; the Difficulties between the Promoters and the Government—Lord Cromer's Attitude—Brighter Prospects—The Down-trodden Nestorian or East Syrian Church—Recollections of Archbishop Benson and Archbishop Thomson.
To readers of Old Testament history there has been vouchsafed, at any rate, some knowledge of Egypt. But it is at best very limited and very 246 DISTINGUISHED CHURCHMEN
ancient ; and, in view of these facts, it is surprising what little light has since been shed, through the medium of the press, on this land of varying fortunes.
With regard to religious work in the East, the Rev. Montague Fowler, M.A., has proved himself much alive to the needs of the situation, and the opinions he has formed, after close observation and diligent investigation on the spot, found telling ex pression last year in his volume, entitled Christian Egypt (publishers, " Church Newspaper Company, Limited"), which should become as popular with, and as helpful to, travellers as the indispensable Cook s Guide, besides being a veritable acquisition to the library. In parts the book reminds one of the New Testament narratives let us say, of the narratives of St Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, in relation to the Church at Corinth, at Antioch, at Ephesus, at Galatia and at Macedonia. From beginning to end it imparts an abundance of information. In consecutive order, the author brings into review all the romantic history of the Church of Egypt from the dawn of the Christian era through the stormy days of Athanasius and Cyril, the bitterness of the Mohammedan Conquest, and the sub sequent oppression of the Coptic Church down to the dawn of the twentieth century, and in terse language he describes the doings of the Anglican, the Greek, and the Roman Catholic Churches, as well as those of the several Nonconformist bodies.
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Mr Fowler adheres to the universal tradition, both of East and West, connecting St Mark, the Evangelist, with the foundation of the Church of Alexandria. The Coptic Church, it needs to be explained, is the name by which the ancient Christian Church of Egypt, comprised within the Patriarchate of Alexandria, is generally known in the present day. He tells how when the Apostles and disciples were dispersed into different countries to carry out the Master s farewell command, " Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature," it fell to the lot of St Mark (who, according to St Jerome, was the disciple and inter preter of St Peter) to accompany that Apostle to Rome, and afterwards to proclaim the message of salvation in Egypt, Nubia and Abyssinia. St Mark s mission he dates from A.D. 37, and the founding of the Church at Alexandria from A.D. 40. He goes on to recount the melancholy circum stances surrounding St Mark s death twenty-two years later, and this death of martyrdom reads like the story of a modern tragedy bereft of its foulest details. The Evangelist, it seems, had returned to Egypt from Rome about A.D. 49, after having written his Gospel, the original of which the Egyptian tradition maintains was not in the Greek, but in the Coptic, language. Thence on ward he laboured indefatigably in the East. But, alas ! even in those early days jealousy was rife, and it came about that the increasing results of St
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Mark s preaching aroused the hatred and venge ance of the Egyptians. The Evangelist, we are told, was subjected to gross cruelty, and dragged through the town by a rope tied round his neck, until death overcame him and delivered him from his tormentors. St Mark, let it be added, was buried in the Church which he had built at Baucalis, where for many centuries the election of the patriarchs took place by the side of his tomb.
The unhappy dissensions which arose in the Christian Church during the fifth century, and the subject of the Mohammedan Conquest, are dealt with at great length, the spread of Mohammedanism being closely followed through twelve centuries. About the change which came over Egypt Mr Fowler offers trenchant criticism. " Had Chris tianity," he says, " been able to oppose a united front to the new crusade, it is more than probable that the teaching of Mahomet would have died with him ; but the complete departure from the principles laid down by Jesus Christ for the government of His Church, and the absence of that spirit of brotherhood and life which He advocated, both by His words and example, drew down upon mankind the scourge of a false religion, against which Oriental Christianity has struggled in vain."
A glimpse at the feeble work of the Coptic Church in the eighteenth and nineteenth cen turies, and at the endeavours of the Anglican
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Church to come to her aid, constitutes an interesting feature of the book. According to this, the Rev. Henry Tattam visited Egypt before the middle of the last century, and reported to Archbishop Howley, of Canterbury, that both priests and people were in a very low and fallen condition as a Christian Church. " They have a form of Christianity among them," the report proceeded, " but of its spiritual nature they appear to have no notion whatever. Still, there are many things of a pleasing character, which lead me to believe they will one day arise from the dust and return to a pure faith." Not long after the receipt of this report by the Archbishop, a training college was established, in order that those seeking Holy Orders in the Coptic Church might be educated for the ministry. When, however, the Church Missionary Society withdrew their mission in 1848 the scheme fell through, though its influence had undoubtedly been felt in the Coptic Church. Meanwhile, other bodies had become active in Egypt among them, the Roman Catholics and the American Presbyterians. A curious state of things then arose. So suspicious of the methods of the Anglican Church was the Patriarch that he even refused to see Dr Blyth, to whom, in 1887, had been committed episcopal jurisdiction over the Anglican congregations in Egypt and the Soudan. "Since then," says Mr Fowler, "the patriarch has learnt to realise that the Church
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of England has no desire to interfere in any way with the independence of the sister Church. She strongly deprecates and discourages proselyt- ism from the Coptic or any other branch of the Eastern Church ; but she aims at promoting, by every means in her power, the re - union of Christendom, by which the power of the Gospel in the world would be enormously increased."
And this brings us down to Mr Fowler s visit to Egypt in 1900, when he had several interviews with His Holiness Cyril V., Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, whom he found well disposed towards the Church of England, and anxious to promote a closer relationship between that Church and the Church of Egypt. Dr Popham Blyth, to whom reference has previously been made, was consecrated by Archbishop Benson Bishop of the Church of England in Jerusalem and the East, and he has done remarkably good work there. Of the efforts in the direction of providing an independent Bishop for Egypt Mr Fowler speaks in the subjoined dialogue, but modest man he is dumb to much of the help he personally has ren dered to the object in view. Ever since his visit to Egypt, of which his volume affords a faithful record, scarcely a week has passed but his pen has been used in advocacy of this latest scheme for the extension of Anglican Church influence in Egypt. In the columns of Church Bells he started and still continues a " Fund for the Egyptian
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Bishopric," and the readers of that non-party organ generously responded with contributions amounting to upwards of ^"2000 in twelve months. Now that political and other difficulties have been removed, it is confidently expected the fund will grow apace.
So much by way of a general summary of Anglican endeavour in Egypt, and of the condi tions that demanded it. But now for a few bio graphical facts relating to the man who has so much identified himself with this particular phase of Church work. By birth the Rev. Montague Fowler is a Londoner, born in 1858 in close proximity to that well-recognised centre of Church influence, known as Dean s Yard, Westminster. He does not, however, come of clerical stock. His father was Sir John Fowler, the distinguished engineer, to whose genius the Underground Rail way and the colossal Forth Bridge afford lasting testimony. Mr Fowler, the engineer, was made a K.C.M.G. in 1885 for services rendered to the Government under Mr Gladstone in connection with the Egyptian campaign. It came about in this way. When the lamented General Gordon was murdered, the Government wanted to send an expedition under Lord Wolseley, but they were perplexed as to how he was to get to Khar toum. Various routes were suggested one through Suakim to Berber ; but, knowing that Mr Fowler had acted as Consulting Engineer to the Egyptian Government, and that he had surveyed the whole
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country between the second cataract and Khartoum, with a view to the construction of the Soudan Railway, the British Government pleaded with the Egyptian Government for his services. Thereupon the engineer proceeded to his office, and, having looked up his original tracings, conveyed them to the War Office. They proved of the greatest use at a critical time, and it is on record that Lord Wolseley s own candid confession was that he could not have succeeded in the expedition without them, because they showed the possible routes, and, moreover, the only places the oases where the troops could get water.
As an engineer, Sir John Fowler s crowning work was, of course, the Forth Bridge, and for this Queen Victoria conferred a baronetcy upon him. His third son (Montague) received his early education at Harrow under Dr Butler, the present Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and among his contemporaries there were three men who were destined to shine in the political world, viz., Mr G. W. E. Russell (Mr Gladstone s Under Secre tary of State for Foreign Affairs), the Earl of Crewe, and the Honourable Robert Spencer. Then, as now, Harrow was noted for its cricket, and young Fowler was frequently to be seen either at the wickets or in the field. But per haps the event of his school days to which he looks back with most joy was his trip to Egypt with his father on the occasion, at Wadi Haifa,
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of the cutting of the first sod of the Soudan Rail way. Out of this, no doubt, arose his first interest in Egypt and in everything connected with it.
A few years with a private tutor and at King s College, London, and he proceeded to the premier college at Cambridge, viz., Trinity. At this point it is well to note that Sir John Fowler, unlike most parents, evinced so much faith in his own profession as to desire his son to train for it. The latter, however, succumbed to the ecclesiasti cal influences of Varsity life, and, with his father s sanction, resolved to take Orders. This he did after taking a double degree, ranking among the Senior Optimes in the Mathematical Tripos, and in the second class in the Theological Tripos.
On leaving Cambridge, Mr Fowler embarked on what must be considered a unique career for a clergyman. In the first place, he became Curate to the present Bishop of Peterborough at St Mary Abbot s, Kensington, but before many weeks had elapsed he was invited to become Assistant Chap lain and Secretary to Archbishop Benson. When Dr Randall Davidson (now Bishop of Winchester) went to Windsor as Dean, Mr Fowler had the honour to succeed him as Domestic Chaplain to the Archbishop, in which position he remained for five and a half years. His next piece of work was as Vicar of St Lawrence, Isle of Thanet the Mother Church of Ramsgate where he com pleted four years successful ministry. Subse-
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quently, he turned his attention to journalism, and became part proprietor and editor of Church Bells and the Illustrated Ckurch News, etc. Then came a succession of appointments. For one winter he was Chaplain at Costebelle, Riviera ; for five years, 1894-99, he held a Sunday preachership at St Stephen s, Kensington; and in 1900 he became Chaplain to Bishop Blyth, of Jerusalem.
Mr Fowler is essentially a busy man without a doubt, one of the busiest men in Orders. Editing, arduous enough to some people, he looks upon as a pastime, and so enthusiastic is his literary bent that it has carried him into authorship on a considerable scale. Besides Christian Egypt^ he has written such acceptable works as Some Notable Archbishops of Canterbury, Church History in Queen Victorias Reign, The Popular Life of Archbishop Benson, and many special articles for the religious and secular press on both sides of the Atlantic. About the time he commenced his pastoral work at Rams- gate, Mr Fowler had the good fortune to wed Miss Ada Dayrell, the daughter of the late Colonel Edward Thomson, C.S.I., and niece of Archbishop Thomson, of York. By virtue of this marriage, and his previous responsible position under Dr Benson, Mr Fowler enjoyed the unusual experience of being brought into close touch with the primates of the two English provinces. It is not venturing beyond the line prescribed by proper taste, it is hoped, to mention that the union is a singularly happy one.
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The sympathy in thought and in literary tastes so markedly apparent in the case of Mr and Mrs Fowler enables each to assist and supplement the work of the other. For example, while Mr Fowler obtained a grant of ^250 for the re building of the Coptic Church at Khartoum, Mrs Fowler recently collected and sent out a sum of money sufficient to provide a complete set of altar vessels, vestments, and other orna ments for the same Church.
After his visit to Egypt, Mr Fowler was appointed Rector of All Hallows , London Wall, in succession to the late Rev. S. J. Stone, author of the well-known hymn " The Church s One Foundation," and the selection was appropriate if only inasmuch as it will be seen that one literary man in Orders succeeded another. There the new Rector has largely developed the social, as well as the religious, side of the parochial work inaugurated by his predecessor. To the girls and women reaching the city hours before they are due at business, because of their desire their need, in fact to avail themselves of the workmen s trains, All Hallows Church is a haven of rest, and, at the same time, a source of spiritual enlightenment, and the best testimony the Rector could have of the leavening influence of his effort came, only recently, in a spontaneous petition from his early morning congregation of toilers to have a communion service at least once a month. Of course he com-
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plied, and he will, doubtless, be only too glad to respond to a similar appeal from the men who, for the want of better accommodation, now find separate housing in a tent in the church grounds. This effort in the interests of the men has sprung from the Rector entirely, and his latest project is to erect an enlargement of the church, which will form a shelter for the male toilers from the cold blasts and the beating rains of winter.
��"With regard to Egypt," Mr Fowler remarked in the course of the interview, "my interest had always been very great since my early visit as a boy, and when the appeal was issued by the Arch bishops and Bishops for the endowment of an Anglican Bishopric for Egypt, I advocated the idea, and was instrumental in raising a good deal of the money that came during the first year, chiefly through the medium of Church Bells. On studying the question, I found that difficulties had arisen between the promoters of the Bishopric and the Government. Every effort that was made to push the scheme forward was met by the remark that the Government was not in favour of it, and that it must be allowed to wait.
" The original idea was to have a Suffragan to the Bishop in Jerusalem, resident in Egypt, in order to avoid arousing international jealousies.
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At Bishop Blyth s invitation, I decided to go out to Egypt, thinking that if I knew exactly the circumstances on the spot, I might be able to be of some use at home in the promotion of the scheme. Arrived there, I talked to one or two people on the subject, and then received a welcome message from Lord Cromer asking me to call on him. As the result, I found the reason why Lord Cromer seemed averse to the establishment of the Suffragan Bishopric was that the promoters were pushing it forward as a valuable opportunity for carrying on missionary work among the Moham medans, both in Egypt and in the Soudan. He explained to me that the difficulties of maintaining order, and establishing good government among the Soudanese, would be enormously increased if active missionary operations were commenced there so soon after the conquest of the country, as the people would inevitably interpret such a course as being an attempt on the part of the British Govern ment to force Christianity upon them, and it might lead to rebellion."
" And what happened ? "
" Well, after several interviews and long dis cussions, I obtained Lord Cromer s permission to prepare a draft letter in the hope of effecting a compromise. In this it was pointed out that the suppression of the Bishopric would be a somewhat serious matter, after the united Episcopate had appealed for funds, and had received some ,5,000
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or 6,000 in response. The other main points of the document were that, instead of a Suffragan Bishopric there should be an independent Bishopric, and that the ecclesiastical authorities would under take that for the present the operations of the Bishop would be confined to Lower and Upper Egypt, and not extend to the Soudan. I then obtained Bishop Blyth s approval of the scheme, which I brought home and submitted to the Arch bishop of Canterbury."
" Did the Archbishop take kindly to the scheme ? "
" Yes. After some further communications had passed between Lord Cromer and the Archbishop on the arrival of the former in England, a fresh appeal, based upon this draft scheme, was issued by the Archbishop for the amount required as endow ment for this independent Bishopric. The position of things to-day is that something like ^8,000 has been raised out of the ^30,000 required, and that, as soon as sufficient endowment has been got together, the Bishop can be appointed. It will be seen that the opposition of Lord Cromer to the Egyptian Bishopric was not dictated by any im mutable hostility to the scheme ; but as the repre sentative of the British Government in that country, he felt himself unable to consent to the proposal, unless the active missionary projects attached to it by Churchmen at home were modified. It is no secret in Cairo that Lord Cromer, so far as his own
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personal feelings are concerned, is by no means an enthusiastic promoter of the Bishopric ; but the spirit of tolerance and justice, which animates all Lord Cromer s policy, has led him, at the cost of a vast amount of labour and trouble, to guide rather than oppose a movement, which he realises is regarded by the Bishops at home as an important extension of the Church s work ; and it is due to his sense of fairness, and to his respect for Dr Temple s opinion on Church questions, that the scheme for the Egyptian Bishopric has been piloted through the difficulties that lay before it. The result of the negotiations has been that, instead of the establish ment of a Suffragan Bishopric to Bishop Blyth (which was the most that was hoped for in England), Lord Cromer, and through his influence the Govern ment, has practically agreed to the immediate ap pointment of a permanent Bishop for Egypt. The extension of Anglican Church influence in Egypt, and its beneficial effect in strengthening and con solidating the native churches, are eagerly looked forward to as the result of this latest development of the episcopate, which, in the opinion of the ecclesiastical authorities at home, is greatly needed." " Now, Mr Fowler, in addition to your interest in the Coptic Church, you have been closely associ ated with the work of the Anglican Church in connection with the down-trodden and persecuted Nestorian or East Syrian Church. Will you afford some information about that ? "
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The Rector of All Hallows reflected for a moment. " More than fifty years ago," he said, " the Bishops of the Church in Assyria appealed to the English Bishops to help them. Besides being subjected to difficulties by the Mohammedan rulers, one part of the district being situated in Turkey and the other part in Persia, they were in danger of being led away from their ancient faith by the Roman Catholic missionaries on the one hand, and the American Presbyterians on the other. The Church is one of the oldest branches of the Catholic Church, believed to have been founded by St Thomas, and during the Middle Ages it was a powerful missionary church ; but having espoused the cause of Nestorius when he was ex communicated, it broke itself off from communion with the rest of Christendom. For a long time the appeals from the East Syrian Bishops were without avail ; but Archbishop Tait sent a clergyman out to endeavour to set on foot some kind of mission work. Nothing practical was accomplished, however."
" But what happened in Archbishop s Benson s time?"
" Soon after Archbishop Benson succeeded to the Primacy, he established his mission to the Assyrian Christians, and in this I have been interested from the first, having been placed by Archbishop Benson on that committee. The Archbishop sent out a succession of extremely able men, the first head of the mission being the Rev. A. J. Maclean,
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who was afterwards Dean of Argyll, and he associated with the mission clergy in their work a band of Sisters belonging to the community of the Sisters of Bethany. The aim of the mission has been educational, and not proselytising, the methods being to establish colleges in the different centres of the country two in Turkey, and one in Persia for the education of the clergy and candidates for ordination. The poverty of the people is very great, many of the Bishops even having to earn their living as labourers in the fields. These priests and candidates, after going through the four or five months course at the college, return home in order to carry out their work, and there establish village schools, in which they teach the younger children what they themselves have learnt during their session at college. Thus a gradual leavening of religious education has been steadily going on ; but under no circumstances are their clergy permitted to join the Anglican Church. The object of the mission is to help in the education of the people, and to build up the oppressed and down-trodden native church, in order that it may gradually regain its position as a power for Christ among the Mohammedans, in whose midst it is placed.
" I believe most strongly, both in regard to this effort, and that to the Coptic Church, that the true secret of successful mission work among Mohammedans is to be found in the Church of England endeavouring by every means in its
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power to strengthen and build up these native churches, as it is only through them that the Mohammedans will ultimately be brought to a knowledge of the Gospel. My reason for this belief, based on careful study of the question both at home and in the East, is that it is only the Oriental character which can successfully deal with the Oriental modes of thought of the Mohammedan."
"But there are hindrances?"
"Yes, unfortunately. Within the last few years the work of the mission has been some what checked by the action of the Russian Church, in sending out a number of clergy who have detached a considerable portion of the Nestorian Christians from their own body to join the Russian Church. But there still remains a sufficient amount of work to do to render the position of the Archbishop s mission a very useful one. Not only has the presence of our missionaries been valuable from the spiritual side, but also from the temporal side. Some years ago an organised plan was made, with the con nivance of the Mohammedan Governor of the district, to have one of their periodical massacres of the Christians in one of the villages. These were generally carried out by the Kurds, who used to swoop down upon the village selected, murdering all the men, attacking the women and carrying off all their flocks. It is on account of
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these periodical assaults that most of the churches are built like fortresses, in order that the threatened people may run to them for shelter. On that occasion the Kurds were waiting in order that one of our missionaries should leave there and go back to another part of the mission. He got wind of what was likely to happen, and insisted on remaining. Moreover, he wrote to our Am bassador at Constantinople, with the result that such pressure was brought to bear in the matter that the Turkish Government was compelled to order that the massacre should not take place."
Mr Fowler was warm in his acknowledgment of the help rendered by Mr Athelstan Riley, who went out at his own expense, and brought all the facts he could ascertain to the notice of the Arch bishop. On his return home Mr Athelstan Riley, it may be remembered, contributed an excellent article to the press.
" During the lives of Archbishop Benson and Archbishop Thomson you must have had excel lent opportunities for forming a judgment of their characters and dispositions. You were, of course, brought much in contact with them in relation to ecclesiastical matters ; but, I believe, also both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Arch bishop of York paid long visits to your father (Sir John Fowler) at his Scotch home? The reading public, I am sure, would welcome some of your impressions of those two distinguished men."
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Mr Fowler thought for a moment, and then observed, " They were men of a widely different calibre. The general impression appears to be that Archbishop Benson was a man of extreme courtesy of manner, while Archbishop Thomson was somewhat unapproachable and austere. Cer tainly in the case of the Archbishop of York that character was only superficial, because he was one of the kindest-hearted of men. There might have been now and then a case where he gave the impression of considerable sternness in regard to a particular clergyman, but while having to take up a judicial attitude because of some charge of misdemeanour, he would more likely than not be privately helping that same man and his family in their financial difficulty. A case like that was of frequent occurrence. Perhaps Dr Thomson s great power was to be found in his addresses to mass meetings of working men, and in the won derful facility which he possessed of assimilating knowledge of any subject towards which he turned his attention. You may have heard the story of how on one occasion, while going over some works in one of our maufacturing towns, he so astonished the foreman by his accurate knowledge of the various details of the machinery, that the man subsequently said, * What a good iron-master they spoilt when they made William Thomson a Bishop ! Among his other accomplishments, the late Archbishop of York was one of the best
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amateur photographers in the kingdom, being far more skilful than many professionals."
" With regard to Archbishop Benson, un doubtedly the special branch of his work was the drawing together of the different Colonial branches of the Church in a closer bond of affection towards the Mother Church. In fact, he succeeded in carry ing out in ecclesiastical matters that Imperial Federation which Mr Chamberlain has now effected in a political sense. There was one interesting point of difference between these two Archbishops. While Dr Thomson was absolutely impervious to criticism, Dr Benson was keenly affected by it, and this made him very cautious in his dealings with the press, sometimes making him to refuse information which might well have been given, and at other times leading him to create difficulties by unburdening his mind to a not over-scrupulous reporter."