“Believe in God, in Spite of What the Clergy Say:”

Dr. Jowett, of Balliol, told Margot Tennant

MARGOT ASQUITH December 1 1920

“Believe in God, in Spite of What the Clergy Say:”

Dr. Jowett, of Balliol, told Margot Tennant

MARGOT ASQUITH December 1 1920

“Believe in God, in Spite of What the Clergy Say:”

Dr. Jowett, of Balliol, told Margot Tennant

"If my book causes wounded feelings it is not my fault. I have narrated facts as 1 know them. . . This is my first book and people must judge it on its merits. . . My own husband had nothing whatever to do with the book.” Thus writes Mrs. "Margot” Asquith. In Great Britain they threatened to suppress her book. But, suppressed or not, you have the opportunity of reading it in MACLEAN'S.



WHAT I really enjoyed most in London waa riding in the Row. I bought a very beauti ful hack for myself: a 15.2 bright bay, with

black points. I called it Tatts; it was so well-balanced that if I had ridden with my face to its tail I should hardly have known the difference. It was bold as a lion, vain as a peacock and extremely moody. One day I was mounted to ride in the Row ; my papa kept me waiting so long at the front door of 40, Grosvenor Square that I thought I would ride Tatts into the hall and give him a call; it only meant going up one low step from the pavement to the porch, and one higher step through the double doors held wide by two footmen.

Unluckily, after a rather curious approach by Tatts up the last step into the marble hall, he caught his own reflection in a huge mirror. He instantly stood on his hindlegs, not at all from fear but from vanity. My tall hat was crushed into the crystal chandelier and all his four legs gave way on the highly-polished floor. Down we went, the pony on top of me and all the glass on top of him and my father and the footmen helpless. I was up and on Tatts’ head in a moment, but not before he had kicked a fine old chest into splinters, while I was immovable from


My second scrape was more serious: I became engaged to be married.

If any young miss reads this autobiography and wants a little advice from a very old hand, I will say to her, when a man threatens to commit suicide after you have refused him. you may be quite sure that he is a petty fellow or a gi\ t goose; if you felt any doubts about your decision bei e you need have none after this; and in no circumstantes must you give way. To marry a man out of pity :s blcney; and if you think you are going to influence the kind of man who has “never had a chance, poor devil” you a’p profoundly mistaken. One can only influence the s' ong characters in life, not the weak; and it is the height of van.ty to suppose that you can make an honest man of anyone. My fiance was neither petty nor a goose, but a humorist; he was a very fine rider and mounted me with the Beaufort hounds; I don’t think he meant me to take him seriously; but, in spite of my high spirits, I was very serious. And he was certainly more in love with me than anyone else had ever been.

When I told my mother of my engagement, she sank back on a settee, put a handkerchief over her eyes and said: “You might as well marry your groom.”

I struggled very hard to show her how worldly she was. Who wanted money? Who wanted position? Who wanted brains? Nothing in fact was wanted except my will.

I was much surprised, a few days later, to hear from G., whom I met in the Row, that he had called every day that week but been told by the footman I was out. The underbutler was devoted to me, and when I complained he said, sadly:

“I am afraid, miss, your young gentleman has been forbidden the house.”

Forbidden the house! I rushed to my sister Charty. I found her even more upset than my mother. She pointed out with some truth that the folly of Lucy’s marriage and obstinacy with which she had pursued it had gone far towards spoiling her life; but “the squire,” as Graham Smith was called, although a character part, was a man of perfect education. He had beaten the boys at Harrow, won a hundred steeplechases and loved books; whereas my young man knew little about anything but horses, and, she added, would be no companion to me if I were ill.

My Fiance Threatened Suicide

I FLOUNCED about the room and said that forbidding him the house was grotesque and made me ridiculous in the eyes of the servants. I ended a passionate protest by telling her gravely that if I refused him he would commit suicide. I was nettled at the hilarious way with which this awful news was received.

Charty: “I should have thought you had too much sense of humor and Mr. B. too much common sense for either of you to believe this. He must think you very vain—”

I did not know at all what she meant and said with great earnestness:

“The terrible thing is I believe that I have given him a false impression of my feelings for him; for, though I love him very much, I would never have promised to marry him if he had not said he would kill himself.” Clasping my two hands together and greatly moved: “If I break it

off now and anything should happen my life is over and I should feel as if I had murdered him.”

Charty: “I should risk it, darling.”

When I discovered that my young man was forbidden the house, I made great friends with the one-legged crossing-sweeper and plied him with letters and messages. I knew things could not go on as they were doing; scenes bored me and I was quite incapable of sustaining a campaign of white lies, so I relieved my relations by telling the young man that I could not marry him. Hé gave me his beautiful mare, Molly Bawn, sold all his other horses and went to Australia. His hair was grey when he returned

two years later. I have heard of this happening, but have only known of it twice in my lifeonce on this occasion; and the other time was when the boiler of the Thunderer burst in her trial trip; the engine was made by Humphreys & Tennant’s steel works and was the first Government order the firm had ever received. Young Mr. Humphreys came to Glen with white hair after the explosion. My father told me the story and I never forgot it.

My parents were anxious to remove all traces of my foolish engagement. Sir William Miller, a friend of the family, suggested to them that his eldest son a charming young fellow since dead—should marry me. I doubt if the young man knew me by sight ; but in consequence of this we were invited to stay at Manderston, much to my father’s pleasure.

On the evening of our arrival my host said to me:

“Margot, will you marry my son Jim?”

“My dear Sir William,” I replied, “your son Jifn has never spoken to me in his life!”

Sir William : “He is shy.”

I assured him that this was not so and that I thought his son might be allowed to choose for himself, adding:

“You are like my father, Sir William, and think everyone wants to marry.”

Sir William: “So they do, don’t they?” (with a sly look) “I am sure they all want to marry you.”

Margot: (mischievously) “I wonder!”

Sir William: “Margot, would you rather marry me

or break your leg?”

Margot: “Break both, Sir William.”

I Say “Damn” Before a Clergyman

IT WAS through my beloved Lady Wemyss that I met the Master of Balliol. One evening in 1888 we were having tea in the large marble hall at Gosford.* The men had come in from shooting. To please my host I generally wore an accordion skirt as he liked me to dance to him. Some one was playing the piano and I was improvising in and out of the chairs. As I was in the act of making a final and circular curtsey, I caught my foot in my skirt and fell at the feet of an old clergyman seated hidden in the window. A loud “Damn!” resounded through the room.

I got up and, recovering my presence of mind, said: “You are a clergyman, and I am afraid I have shocked you.”

“Not at all,” he replied. “I hope you will go on; I like your dancing extremely.”

I caused much amusement by asking the family afterwards if the clergyman whose presence I had failed to notice was their minister at Aberlady. I then learnt that he was the famous Dr. Benjamin Jowett, the Master of Balliol.

Before telling how my friendship with the Master developed, I shall go back to the events in Oxford which gave him his insight into human beings and caused him much quiet suffering. In 1852 the death of Dr. Jenkyns caused the Mastership of Balliol to become vacant. Jowett’s fame as a tutor was great, but with it there had spread a suspicion of “rationalism.” Persons whispered that the great tutor was tainted with German views. This reacted unduly upon his colleagues; and when the election came he was rejected by a single vote. His disappointment was deep, but he threw himself more than ever into his work. He told me that a favorite passage of his in Marcus Aurelius—“Be always doing something serviceable to mankind and let this constant generosity be your only pleasure, not forgetting a due regard to God”—had been of great help to him at that time.

The lectures which his pupils cared most about were those on Plato and on St. Paul; both as tutor and examiner he may be said to have stimulated the study of Plato in Oxford: he made it a rival to that of Aristotle.

“Aristotle is dead,” he would say, “but Plato is alive.” Hitherto he had published little—an anonymous essay on Pascal and a few literary articles—but under the stimulus of disappointment he finished his share of the edition of St. Paul’s Epistles which had been undertaken in conjunction with Arthur Stanley. Both produced their books in 1855; but, while Stanley’s Corinthians evoked languid interest, Jowett’s Galatians, Thessalonians and Romans provoked a clamour among his friends and enemies. About that time he was appointed to the Oxford Greek Chair, which pleased him much; but his delight was rather dashed by a hostile article in the Quarterly Review, abusing him and his religious writings. The Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Cotton, required from him a fresh signature 'of the articles of the Church of England. At the interview, when addressed by two men—one pompously explaining that it was a necessary act if he was to retain his cloth and the other apologizing for inflicting a humiliation upon him -he merely said :

"Where is the pen?”

His essay on the Interpretation of Scripture, which came out in I860 in the famous volume, Essays and Reviews, increased the cry of heterodoxy against him; and the Canons of Christ Church, including Dr. Pusey, persisted in withholding from him an extra salary without which the endowment of the Greek Chair was worth only 40 pounds. This scandul was not removed till 1864, after he had been excluded from the university pulpit. He continued working hard at his translation of the whole of Plato: he had already published not»» on the Republic and analyses of the dialogues. This took up all his time till 1870, when he became Master of Balliol.

•Gosford is the Earl of Wemyss’ country place and ts attu*t*4 between Edinburgh and North Berwick.

“No Knowledge But I Know It”

JOWETT was the hardest working tutor, Vice-Chancellor and Master that Oxford has ever had. Balliol under his regime grew in numbers and produced more scholars, more thinkers, and more political men of note than any other college in the university. He had authority and a unique prestige. It was said of Dr. W he well of Trinity that "knowledge was his forte and omniscience his foible;” the same might have been said of the Master and was expressed in a college epigram written by an undergraduate. After Jowett’s death I cut the following from an Oxford magazine:

The author of a famous and often misquoted verse upon Professor Jowett has written me a note upon his lines which may be appropriately inserted here. “Several versions,” he writes, “have appeared lately, and my vanity does not consider them improvements. The lines were written :

“First come I, my name is Jowett,

There’s no knowledge but I know it.

I am Master of this College,

What I don’t know—is not knowledge.”

“ 'The First come I’ referred to its being a masque of the College in which fellows, scholars, etc., appeared in order. The short, disconnected sentences were intentional, as being characteristic. Such a line as 'all that can be known I know it’ (which some papers substituted for line 2) would express a rather vulgar Whewellian foible of omniscience, which was quite foreign to the Master’s nature; the line as originally written was intended to express the rather sad, brooding manner the Master had of giving his oracles, as though he were a spectator of all time existence, and had penetrated into the mystery of things. Of course, the last line expressed, with necessary exaggeration, what, as a fact, was his attitude to certain subjects in which he refused to be interested, such as modern German metaphysics, philology, and Greek inscriptions.”

When I met the Master in 1887,1 was young and he was old; but, whether from insolence or insight, I never felt this difference. I do not think I was a good judge of age. I have always liked people older than myself; I hardly ever meet men and women between twenty and twentyfive now with any youth.

Jowett was younger than half the young people that I know now. I imagine it was because I was not conscious of his age that we became such wonderful friends. I generally skip the preface with people, but I always read it afterwards and I have an infinite capacity for friend-

The first element of greatness is fundamental humbleness: this should not be confused with servility; the second is freedom from self; one is nature and the other temperament; the third, intrepid courage; taken in its widest interpretation it generally goes with truth, which includes character; and the fourth, the power of love, although I have put it last, is the rarest. If these go to the makings of a great man,

Jowett possessed them all.

He might have mocked at the confined narrow comprehension of Oxford and exposed the arrogance, vanity and conventionality of the Church; intellectual scorn and even bitterness might have come to him; but he preserved a zealous faith in his fellow creatures, infinite patience and an imperturbable serenity. Whether he was as great a scholar as Munro or Jebb, whether his criticisms of the Bible fluttered the faith in Oxford, or whether his long silences made the undergraduates more stupid than they would otherwise have been I care little: I only know that he was what I call great, and that he had an ennobling influence over my life. He was apprehensive of my social reputation; and in our correspondence, which started directly we parted at Gosford, he constantly gave me wise advice.

Heart-Breaker and Smoker

Í-JE WAS much shocked by hearing that I smoked.

A This is what he says:

‘What are you doing—breaking a young man’s heart? not the first time nor the second, nor the third—I believe. Poor fellows—they have paid you the highest compliment that a gentleman can pay a lady, and'are deserving of all

love. Shall I give you a small piece of counsel? It is better for you and a duty to them that their disappointed passions should never be known even to a single person, for as you are well aware one confidant means everybody, and the good-natured world, who are of course very jealous of you, will call you cruel and a breaker of hearts, etc. I do not consider this advice, but merely a desire to make you see things as others see them or nearly. The Symonds girls at Davos told me that you smoke! ! ! at which I am shocked, because it is not the manner of ladies in England. I always imagine you with a long hookah puffing, puffing, since I heard this: give it up, my dear Margaret—it will get you a bad name.

“Please to observe that I am always serious when I try to make fun. I hope you are enjoying life and friends and the weather and believe me

“Ever yours truly,


He asked me once if I ever told anyone that he wrote to me, to which I answered:

“I should rather think so! I tell every railway-porter.”

This distressed him; I told him he was evidently ashamed of my love for him but that I was proud of it.

Jowett (after a long silence): “Would you like to have your life written, Margaret?”

Margot: “Not much, unless it told the truth and was indiscreet. If I could have a biographer like Froude or Lord Hervey it would be delightful, no one would be bored by reading it—whom will you choose to write your life, Master?”

Jowett: “No one will be in a position to write my life, Margaret” (for some time he called me Margaret ; he though t it less familiar than Margot).

Margot: “What nonesense! How can you possibly prevent it? If you are not very good to me, I may even write it myself!”

Jowett: “If I could have been sure of that, I need not have burnt all my correspondence! But you are an idle

young lady and would certainly never have concentrated on so dull a subject.”

Margot (indignantly): "Do you mean to say you have burnt all George Eliot’s letters, Matthew Arnold’s, Swinburne’s, Temple’s and Tennyson’s?”

Jowett: “I have kept one or two of George Eliot’s and Florence Nightingale’s; but great men do not write good letters.”

Margot: “Do you know Florence Nightingale? I wish I did!”

Jowett (evidently surprised that I had never heard the gossip connecting his name with Florence Nightingale): “Why do you want to know her?”

Margot: “Because she was in love with my friend George Pembroke’s father.”

Jowett (guardedly): “Oh, indeed! I will take you to see her and then you can ask her about this.”

Margot: “I would love that! But perhaps she would not care for me.”

Jowett: “I do not think she will care for you, but would you mind that?”

Margot: “Oh, not at all! I am quite unfeminine in those ways: when people leave the room, I don’t say to myself, 'I wonder if they like me,’ but T wonder if I like them.’ ”

.Margot Meets Florence Nightingale ’ I 'IIIS made an impression on the Master, or I should not * have remembered it. Some weeks after this he took me to see Florence Nightingale in her house in South Street. There were groups of hospital nurses waiting in the hall to see her. She was lying on a sofa with a white shawl round her Shoulders. I noted her fine, handsome, well-bred face; after shaking hands with me, she pointed to the beautiful Richmond print of Sidney Herbert hanging above her head and said:

“I am interested to meet you as I hear the son of my beloved friend is devoted to you. Will you tell me what he is like?” •

I described Lord Pembroke, while Jowett sat in stony silence till we left the house.

One day, a few months after this visit, I was driving outside Oxford with the Master and I said to him:

“You never speak of your relations to me and you never tell me whether you were in love when you were yoOng. 1 have told you so much about myself.”

Jowett: “Have you ever heard that I was in love with anyone?”

I did not like to say that, since our visit to Florence Nightingale, I had heard that he had wanted to marry her, so I said :

“Yes, I have been told you were in love once.”

Jowett: “Only once?”

Margot: “Yes.”

Complete silence fell upon us after this. I broke it at last by saying:

“What was your lady-love like, dear Master?”

Jowett: “Violent—very violent.”

After this disconcerting description we drove back to Balliol.

I received many, many splendid letters fro-m the Master of Balliol. The following is of a particular interest: “Headington Hill,

“Near Oxford.

July 30, 1893. “My dear Margaret:

"Did you ever read these

“’Tis said that marriages are made above;

“It may be so, some few perhaps for love,,

“But from the smell of sulphur I should say “They must be making matches here all day.”

(“Orpheus returning from the lower world in a farce called the Olympic Devils, which used to be played when I was young.)

“Miss Nightingale talks to me of the feelings usually called ‘love,’ but then she is a heroine, perhaps a Goddess.

“This love-making is a very serious business, though society makes fun of it, perhaps to test the truth and earnestness of the lovers.

“Dear, I am an old man, what the poet calls ‘on the threshold of old age’ (Homer) and I am not very romantic or sentimental about such things, but I would do anything I could to save anyone who cares for me from making a mistake.

“I think that you are quite right in not running the risk without a modest abode in the country.

“The real doubt about the affair is the family: will you consider this and talk it over with your mother? The other day you were at a masqued ball as you told me—a few months hence you will have, or rather may be having, the care of five children, with all the ailments and miseries and disagreeables of children (unlike the children of some of your friends) and not your own, although you will have to be a mother to them, and this state of things will last during the greatest part of your life. Is not the contrast more than.human nature can endure? I know that it is, as you said, a nobler manner of living, but are you equal to such a struggle? If you are I can only say ‘God bless you, you are a brave girl.’ But I would not have you disguise from yourself the nature of the trial. It is not possible to be a leader of fashion and to do your duty to the five children.

“On the other hand you have at your feet a man of outstanding ability and high character and who has attained an extraordinary position -far better than any aristo-

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cratic lath or loop-hole; and you can render him the most material help by your abilities and knowledge of the world. Society will be gracious to you because you are a grata persona and everybody will wish you well because you have made the sacrifice. You may lead a much higher life if you are yourself equal to it.

“To-day I read Hume’s Life-—by himself, very striking—you will find it generally at the beginning of his History of England. There have been saints among infidels too, e.g., Hume and Spinoza, on behalf of whom I think it a duty to say something, as the Church has devoted them to eternal flames. To use a German phrase they were ‘Christians in unconsciousness.’ That describes a good many people—I believe that as Christians we should get rid of a good many doubtful phrases and speak only through our lives. “Believe me, my dear Margaret,

“Yours truly and affectionately,


Here is another;

“Balliol College,

Feb. 13, 1893.

“My Dear Margaret:

“I began at ten minutes to twelve last night to write to you but as the postman appeared at five minutes to twelve it was naturally cut short. May I begin again where I left off? I should like to talk to you about many things. I hope you wall not say, as Johnson says to Boswell, ‘Sir, you have only two subjects, yourself and me, and I am heartily sick of both.’ “I have been delighted with Mr. Asquith’s success. He has the certainty of a great man in him—such strength and simplicity and independence and superiority to the world and the clubs. You seem to me very fortunate in having three such friends as Mr. Asquith, Mr. Milner and Mr. Balfour. I believe that you may do a great deal for them and they are probably the first men of their time or not very far short of it.”

The year before his death he had a dangerous illness. Every one thought he would die. He dictated farewell letters to all his -friends by his secretary and housekeeper, Miss Knight. On receiving mine from him at Glen I was so much annoyed at its tone that I wired:

“Jowett, Balliol College, Oxford.

“I refuse to accept this as your farewell letter to me; you have been listening to some silly woman and believing what she says. Love, Margot.”

This telegram had a magical effect. Soon after, he wrote me a wonderful letter with his own hand ; I have tried to find these two letters, but in vain. I remember the reason that the first vexed me was because he believed a report that I had knocked up against a foreign potentate riding in Rotten Row for a bet, which was not only untrue but ridiculous, and I was getting a little impatient of the cattishness and credulity of the West End of London.

Week-Ends at Oxford \/iY WEEK-ENDS at Balliol were -“-*• unique. ... As the week-end guests had arrived, I went up to my room. I sat between Sir Alfred Lyall and Lord Bowen that night at dinner. There was more bouquet than body about Sir Alfred Lyall, and, to parody Gibbon, Lord Bowen’s mind was not clouded by enthusiasm; but two more delightful men never existed. After dinner, Mr. Huxley came up to me and said that the Master had confessed he had done him out of sitting next to me, so would I talk to him; we sat down together and our conversation opened on religion.

There was not much juste milieu about Huxley: he began by saying God was only there because people believed in Him and that the fastidious incognito “I am that I am” was His idea of humor, etc. I felt vexed and shocked when he ended a blasphemous tirade by saying he did not believe any man of action had been inspired by religion. I thought I would call in Lord Bowen—who was standing forlornly in the middle of the room—to my assistance; he instantly responded and drew a chair up to us. I said to him: “Mr. Huxley challenges me to produce any man of action who has been directly inspired by my religion.”

Bowen (with a sleek smile): “Between us we should be able to answer him, Miss Tennant, I think. Who is your man?”

Every idea seemed to scatter out of my brain. I suggested at random:


I might have been reading his thoughts, for it so happened that Huxley adored Gordon.

Huxley: “Ah, There you rather have

Having obviously had enough of me and changing the position of his chair, as if to engage Bowen in a tête-a-tête, he said:

“My dear Bowen, Gordon was the most remarkable man I ever met. I knew him well; he was sincere and disinterested, quite incapable of saying anything he did not think; you will hardly believe me, but one day he said to me in tones of passionate conviction that, if he were to walk round the corner of the street and have his brains shot out, he would know that he had only been transferred to a wider sphere of government.”

Bowen: “Would the absence of brains have been of any help to him?”

After this our mutual good humor was restored and I just had time for a word with Mrs. Green, before the evening was ruined by Jowett taking us across the quad to hear bad music in the hideous Balliol hall. Of all the Master’s women friends, I infinitely preferred Mrs. T. H. Green and I continue to do so. She is among the rare women who have all the qualities which in moments of disillusion I deny to them in general.

I spent my last week-end at Balliol when Jowett appeared to have recovered his health. On the Monday morning, after his guests had gone, I went as usual to his study to talk to him. My wire on receiving his death-bed letter had amused but distressed him and on my arrival he pressed me to tell him what it was he had written that had offended me. I told him I was not offended, only hurt; he asked me what the difference was; I wish I could have given him the answer that my daughter Elizabeth gave Lord Gray when he asked her the same question walking in the garden at Fallodon on the occasion of her first country house visit :

“The one touches your vanity and the other your heart.”

“Believe in God Despite the Clergy”

T DO NOT know what I said, but I told A him I was quite unoffendable and without touchiness, but that his letter had appeared to me to have all the faults of a schoolmaster and a cleric in it, and not the love of a friend; he listened to me with his usual patience and sweetness and expressed his regret.

On the Monday morning of which I am writing I had made up my mind I would hold my tongue and let the Master for once make the first move. His classical silences I had often denied; it was time however to see what would happen if I talked less.

When we got into the room and he had shut the door, I absently selected the only comfortable chair. He sat down next to me. I lit a cigarette; a long and quelling silence followed; feeling rather at a loose end, I thought out a few stage directions, “here business with handkerchief, etc.,” and adjusted the buckles of my shoes. I looked at some of the photographs and fingered a paper-knife and odds and ends on the table near me; an oppressive silencecontinued—I strolled to the bookshelves and under cover of Country Conversations peeped at the Master.

“Nothing doing,” I said to myself as I saw him immersed in thought: he appeared to be quite unaware of my existence; something had switched him off as if he had been the electric light.

“Really, Master,” I said at last, with considerable impatience, “there is very little excuse for your silence, surely you have something to say to me, something to tell me; you have had an experience since we have talked to each other that I have never had: you have been near Death.”

Jowett (not in any way put out): “I felt, no rapture—no bliss.” (Suddenly looking at me and taking my hand): “My dear„ dear child, you must believe in God in spite of what the clergy say.”