|THE SOUL OF A BISHOP
H. G. WELLS
CHAPTER THE FIRST - THE DREAM
CHAPTER THE SECOND - THE WEAR AND TEAR OF EPISCOPACY
CHAPTER THE THIRD - INSOMNIA
CHAPTER THE FOURTH - THE SYMPATHY OF LADY SUNDERBUND
CHAPTER THE FIFTH - THE FIRST VISION
CHAPTER THE SIXTH - EXEGETICAL
CHAPTER THE SEVENTH - THE SECOND VISION
CHAPTER THE EIGHTH - THE NEW WORLD
CHAPTER THE NINTH - THE THIRD VISION
"Man's true Environment is God"
J. H. OLDHAM in "The Christian Gospel"
(Tract of the N. M. R. and H.)
THE SOUL OF A BISHOP
CHAPTER THE FIRST - THE DREAM
IT was a scene of bitter disputation. A hawk-nosed young man
with a pointing finger was prominent. His face worked violently,
his lips moved very rapidly, but what he said was inaudible.
Behind him the little rufous man with the big eyes twitched at
his robe and offered suggestions.
And behind these two clustered a great multitude of heated,
excited, swarthy faces....
The emperor sat on his golden throne in the midst of the
gathering, commanding silence by gestures, speaking inaudibly to
them in a tongue the majority did not use, and then prevailing.
They ceased their interruptions, and the old man, Arius, took up
the debate. For a time all those impassioned faces were intent
upon him; they listened as though they sought occasion, and
suddenly as if by a preconcerted arrangement they were all
thrusting their fingers into their ears and knitting their brows
in assumed horror; some were crying aloud and making as if to
fly. Some indeed tucked up their garments and fled. They spread
out into a pattern. They were like the little monks who run from
St. Jerome's lion in the picture by Carpaccio. Then one zealot
rushed forward and smote the old man heavily upon the mouth....
The hall seemed to grow vaster and vaster, the disputing,
infuriated figures multiplied to an innumerable assembly, they
drove about like snowflakes in a gale, they whirled in
argumentative couples, they spun in eddies of contradiction, they
made extraordinary patterns, and then amidst the cloudy darkness
of the unfathomable dome above them there appeared and increased
a radiant triangle in which shone an eye. The eye and the
triangle filled the heavens, sent out flickering rays, glowed to
a blinding incandescence, seemed to be speaking words of thunder
that were nevertheless inaudible. It was as if that thunder
filled the heavens, it was as if it were nothing but the beating
artery in the sleeper's ear. The attention strained to hear and
comprehend, and on the very verge of comprehension snapped like a
The word remained like a little ash after a flare.
The sleeper had awakened and lay very still, oppressed by a
sense of intellectual effort that had survived the dream in which
it had arisen. Was it so that things had happened? The slumber-
shadowed mind, moving obscurely, could not determine whether it
was so or not. Had they indeed behaved in this manner when the
great mystery was established? Who said they stopped their ears
with their fingers and fled, shouting with horror? Shouting? Was
it Eusebius or Athanasius? Or Sozomen.... Some letter or apology
by Athanasius?... And surely it was impossible that the Trinity
could have appeared visibly as a triangle and an eye. Above such
That was mere dreaming, of course. Was it dreaming after
Raphael? After Raphael? The drowsy mind wandered into a side
issue. Was the picture that had suggested this dream the one in
the Vatican where all the Fathers of the Church are shown
disputing together? But there surely God and the Son themselves
were painted with a symbol--some symbol--also? But was that
disputation about the Trinity at all? Wasn't it rather about a
chalice and a dove? Of course it was a chalice and a dove! Then
where did one see the triangle and the eye? And men disputing?
Some such picture there was....
What a lot of disputing there had been! What endless disputing!
Which had gone on. Until last night. When this very disagreeable
young man with the hawk nose and the pointing finger had tackled
one when one was sorely fagged, and disputed; disputed. Rebuked
and disputed. "Answer me this," he had said.... And still one's
poor brains disputed and would not rest.... About the Trinity....
The brain upon the pillow was now wearily awake. It was at once
hopelessly awake and active and hopelessly unprogressive. It was
like some floating stick that had got caught in an eddy in a
river, going round and round and round. And round. Eternally--
"But what possible meaning do you attach then to such a phrase
as eternally begotten?"
The brain upon the pillow stared hopelessly at this question,
without an answer, without an escape. The three repetitions spun
round and round, became a swiftly revolving triangle, like some
electric sign that had got beyond control, in the midst of which
stared an unwinking and resentful eye.
Every one knows that expedient of the sleepless, the counting
You lie quite still, you breathe regularly, you imagine sheep
jumping over a gate, one after another, you count them quietly
and slowly until you count yourself off through a fading string
of phantom numbers to number Nod....
But sheep, alas! suggest an episcopal crook.
And presently a black sheep had got into the succession and was
struggling violently with the crook about its leg, a hawk-nosed
black sheep full of reproof, with disordered hair and a pointing
finger. A young man with a most disagreeable voice.
At which the other sheep took heart and, deserting the numbered
succession, came and sat about the fire in a big drawing-room and
argued also. In particular there was Lady Sunderbund, a pretty
fragile tall woman in the corner, richly jewelled, who sat with
her pretty eyes watching and her lips compressed. What had she
thought of it? She had said very little.
It is an unusual thing for a mixed gathering of this sort to
argue about the Trinity. Simply because a tired bishop had fallen
into their party. It was not fair to him to pretend that the
atmosphere was a liberal and inquiring one, when the young man
who had sat still and dormant by the table was in reality a keen
and bitter Irish Roman Catholic. Then the question, a
question-begging question, was put quite suddenly, without
preparation or prelude, by surprise. "Why, Bishop, was the
Spermaticos Logos identified with the Second and not the Third
Person of the Trinity?"
It was indiscreet, it was silly, to turn upon the speaker and
affect an air of disengagement and modernity and to say: "Ah,
that indeed is the unfortunate aspect of the whole affair."
Whereupon the fierce young man had exploded with:
"To that, is it, that you Anglicans have come?"
The whole gathering had given itself up to the disputation,
Lady Sunderbund, an actress, a dancer--though she, it is true,
did not say very much--a novelist, a mechanical expert of some
sort, a railway peer, geniuses, hairy and Celtic, people of no
clearly definable position, but all quite unequal to the task of
maintaining that air of reverent vagueness, that tenderness of
touch, which is by all Anglican standards imperative in so deep,
so mysterious, and, nowadays, in mixed society at least, so
infrequent a discussion.
It was like animals breaking down a fence about some sacred
spot. Within a couple of minutes the affair had become highly
improper. They had raised their voices, they had spoken with the
utmost familiarity of almost unspeakable things. There had been
even attempts at epigram. Athanasian epigrams. Bent the novelist
had doubted if originally there had been a Third Person in the
Trinity at all. He suggested a reaction from a too-Manichaean
dualism at some date after the time of St. John's Gospel. He
maintained obstinately that that Gospel was dualistic.
The unpleasant quality of the talk was far more manifest in the
retrospect than it had been at the time. It had seemed then bold
and strange, but not impossible; now in the cold darkness it
seemed sacrilegious. And the bishop's share, which was indeed
only the weak yielding of a tired man to an atmosphere he had
misjudged, became a disgraceful display of levity and bad faith.
They had baited him. Some one had said that nowadays every one
was an Arian, knowingly or unknowingly. They had not concealed
their conviction that the bishop did not really believe in the
Creeds he uttered.
And that unfortunate first admission stuck terribly in his
Oh! Why had he made it?
Sleep had gone.
The awakened sleeper groaned, sat up in the darkness, and felt
gropingly in this unaccustomed bed and bedroom first for the edge
of the bed and then for the electric light that was possibly on
the little bedside table.
The searching hand touched something. A water-bottle. The hand
resumed its exploration. Here was something metallic and smooth,
a stem. Either above or below there must be a switch....
The switch was found, grasped, and turned.
The darkness fled.
In a mirror the sleeper saw the reflection of his face and a
corner of the bed in which he lay. The lamp had a tilted shade
that threw a slanting bar of shadow across the field of
reflection, lighting a right-angled triangle very brightly and
leaving the rest obscure. The bed was a very great one, a bed for
the Anakim. It had a canopy with yellow silk curtains, surmounted
by a gilded crown of carved wood. Between the curtains was a
man's face, clean-shaven, pale, with disordered brown hair and
weary, pale-blue eyes. He was clad in purple pyjamas, and the
hand that now ran its fingers through the brown hair was long and
lean and shapely.
Beside the bed was a convenient little table bearing the light,
a water-bottle and glass, a bunch of keys, a congested pocket-
book, a gold-banded fountain pen, and a gold watch that indicated
a quarter past three. On the lower edge of the picture in the
mirror appeared the back of a gilt chair, over which a garment of
peculiar construction had been carelessly thrown. It was in the
form of that sleeveless cassock of purple, opening at the side,
whose lower flap is called a bishop's apron; the corner of the
frogged coat showed behind the chair-back, and the sash lay
crumpled on the floor. Black doeskin breeches, still warmly lined
with their pants, lay where they had been thrust off at the
corner of the bed, partly covering black hose and silver-buckled
For a moment the tired gaze of the man in the bed rested upon
these evidences of his episcopal dignity. Then he turned from
them to the watch at the bedside.
He groaned helplessly.
These country doctors were no good. There wasn't a physician in
the diocese. He must go to London.
He looked into the weary eyes of his reflection and said, as
one makes a reassuring promise, "London."
He was being worried. He was being intolerably worried, and he
was ill and unable to sustain his positions. This doubt, this
sudden discovery of controversial unsoundness, was only one
aspect of his general neurasthenia. It had been creeping into his
mind since the "Light Unden the Altar" controversy. Now suddenly
it had leapt upon him from his own unwary lips.
The immediate trouble arose from his loyalty. He had followed
the King's example; he had become a total abstainer and, in
addition, on his own account he had ceased to smoke. And his
digestion, which Princhester had first made sensitive, was
deranged. He was suffering chemically, suffering one of those
nameless sequences of maladjustments that still defy our ordinary
medical science. It was afflicting him with a general malaise, it
was affecting his energy, his temper, all the balance and comfort
of his nerves. All day he was weary; all night he was wakeful. He
was estranged from his body. He was distressed by a sense of
detachment from the things about him, by a curious intimation of
unreality in everything he experienced. And with that went this
levity of conscience, a heaviness of soul and a levity of
conscience, that could make him talk as though the Creeds did not
matter--as though nothing mattered....
If only he could smoke!
He was persuaded that a couple of Egyptian cigarettes, or three
at the outside, a day, would do wonders in restoring his nervous
calm. That, and just a weak whisky and soda at lunch and dinner.
His conscience, his sense of honour, deserted him. Latterly he
had had several of these conscience-blanks; it was only when they
were over that he realized that they had occurred.
One might smoke up the chimney, he reflected. But he had no
cigarettes! Perhaps if he were to slip downstairs....
Why had he given up smoking?
He groaned aloud. He and his reflection eyed one another in
There came before his memory the image of a boy's face, a
swarthy little boy, grinning, grinning with a horrible
knowingness and pointing his finger--an accusing finger. It had
been the most exasperating, humiliating, and shameful incident in
the bishop's career. It was the afternoon for his fortnightly
address to the Shop-girls' Church Association, and he had been
seized with a panic fear, entirely irrational and unjustifiable,
that he would not be able to deliver the address. The fear had
arisen after lunch, had gripped his mind, and then as now had
come the thought, "If only I could smoke!" And he had smoked. It
seemed better to break a vow than fail the Association. He had
fallen to the temptation with a completeness that now filled him
with shame and horror. He had stalked Dunk, his valet-butler, out
of the dining-room, had affected to need a book from the
beyond the sideboard, had gone insincerely to the sideboard
humming "From Greenland's icy mountains," and then, glancing over
his shoulder, had stolen one of his own cigarettes, one of the
fatter sort. With this and his bedroom matches he had gone off to
the bottom of the garden among the laurels, looked everywhere
except above the wall to be sure that he was alone, and at last
lit up, only as he raised his eyes in gratitude for the first
blissful inhalation to discover that dreadful little boy peeping
at him from the crotch in the yew-tree in the next garden. As
though God had sent him to be a witness!
Their eyes had met. The bishop recalled with an agonized
distinctness every moment, every error, of that shameful
encounter. He had been too surprised to conceal the state of
affairs from the pitiless scrutiny of those youthful eyes. He had
instantly made as if to put the cigarette behind his back, and
then as frankly dropped it....
His soul would not be more naked at the resurrection. The
little boy had stared, realized the state of affairs slowly but
surely, pointed his finger....
Never had two human beings understood each other more
A dirty little boy! Capable no doubt of a thousand kindred
It seemed ages before the conscience-stricken bishop could tear
himself from the spot and walk back, with such a pretence of
dignity as he could muster, to the house.
And instead of the discourse he had prepared for the
Shop-girls' Church Association, he had preached on temptation and
falling, and how he knew they had all fallen, and how he
understood and could sympathize with the bitterness of a secret
shame, a moving but unsuitable discourse that had already been
subjected to misconstruction and severe reproof in the local
press of Princhester.
But the haunting thing in the bishop's memory was the face and
gesture of the little boy. That grubby little finger stabbed him
to the heart.
"Oh, God!" he groaned. "The meanness of it! How did I bring
He turned out the light convulsively, and rolled over in the
bed, making a sort of cocoon of himself. He bored his head into
the pillow and groaned, and then struggled impatiently to throw
the bed-clothes off himself. Then he sat up and talked aloud.
"I must go to Brighton-Pomfrey," he said. "And get a medical
dispensation. If I do not smoke--"
He paused for a long time.
Then his voice sounded again in the darkness, speaking quietly,
speaking with a note almost of satisfaction.
"I shall go mad. I must smoke or I shall go mad."
For a long time he sat up in the great bed with his arms about
Fearful things came to him; things at once dreadfully
blasphemous and entirely weak-minded.
The triangle and the eye became almost visible upon the black
background of night. They were very angry. They were spinning
round and round faster and faster. Because he was a bishop and
because really he did not believe fully and completely in the
Trinity. At one and the same time he did not believe in the
Trinity and was terrified by the anger of the Trinity at his
unbelief.... He was afraid. He was aghast.... And oh! he was
He rubbed his eyes.
"If I could have a cup of tea!" he said.
Then he perceived with surprise that he had not thought of
praying. What should he say? To what could he pray?
He tried not to think of that whizzing Triangle, that seemed
now to be nailed like a Catherine wheel to the very centre of his
forehead, and yet at the same time to be at the apex of the
universe. Against that--for protection against that--he was
praying. It was by a great effort that at last he pronounced the
"Lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee, O Lord ...."
Presently be had turned up his light, and was prowling about
the room. The clear inky dinginess that comes before the raw dawn
of a spring morning, found his white face at the window, looking
out upon the great terrace and the park.
CHAPTER THE SECOND - THE WEAR AND TEAR OF EPISCOPACY
IT was only in the last few years that the bishop had
experienced these nervous and mental crises. He was a belated
doubter. Whatever questionings had marked his intellectual
adolescence had either been very slight or had been too
adequately answered to leave any serious scars upon his
And even now he felt that he was afflicted physically rather
than mentally, that some protective padding of nerve-sheath or
brain-case had worn thin and weak, and left him a prey to strange
disturbances, rather than that any new process of thought was
eating into his mind. These doubts in his mind were still not
really doubts; they were rather alien and, for the first time,
uncontrolled movements of his intelligence. He had had a
sheltered upbringing; he was the well-connected son of a
comfortable rectory, the only son and sole survivor of a family
of three; he had been carefully instructed and he had been a
willing learner; it had been easy and natural to take many things
for granted. It had been very easy and pleasant for him to take
the world as he found it and God as he found Him. Indeed for all
his years up to manhood he had been able to take life exactly as
in his infancy he took his carefully warmed and prepared bottle
--unquestioningly and beneficially.
And indeed that has been the way with most bishops since
It is a busy continuous process that turns boys into bishops,
and it will stand few jars or discords. The student of
ecclesiastical biography will find that an early vocation has in
every age been almost universal among them; few are there among
these lives that do not display the incipient bishop from the
tenderest years. Bishop How of Wakefield composed hymns before he
was eleven, and Archbishop Benson when scarcely older possessed a
little oratory in which he conducted services and--a pleasant
touch of the more secular boy--which he protected from a too
inquisitive sister by means of a booby trap. It is rare that
those marked for episcopal dignities go so far into the outer
world as Archbishop Lang of York, who began as a barrister. This
early predestination has always been the common episcopal
experience. Archbishop Benson's early attempts at religious
services remind one both of St. Thomas a Becket, the "boy
bishop," and those early ceremonies of St. Athanasius which were
observed and inquired upon by the good bishop Alexander. (For
though still a tender infant, St. Athanasius with perfect
correctness and validity was baptizing a number of his innocent
playmates, and the bishop who "had paused to contemplate the
sports of the child remained to confirm the zeal of the
missionary.") And as with the bishop of the past, so with the
bishop of the future; the Rev. H. J. Campbell, in his story of
his soul's pilgrimage, has given us a pleasant picture of himself
as a child stealing out into the woods to build himself a little
Such minds as these, settled as it were from the outset, are
either incapable of real scepticism or become sceptical only
after catastrophic changes. They understand the sceptical mind
with difficulty, and their beliefs are regarded by the sceptical
mind with incredulity. They have determined their forms of belief
before their years of discretion, and once those forms are
determined they are not very easily changed. Within the shell it
has adopted the intelligence may be active and lively enough, may
indeed be extraordinarily active and lively, but only within the
There is an entire difference in the mental quality of those
who are converts to a faith and those who are brought up in it.
The former know it from outside as well as from within. They know
not only that it is, but also that it is not. The latter have a
confidence in their creed that is one with their apprehension of
sky or air or gravitation. It is a primary mental structure, and
they not only do not doubt but they doubt the good faith of those
who do. They think that the Atheist and Agnostic really believe