He is the son of an Anglican bishop, a good man whose strong evangelical convictions led him, among many other similar activities, to hold missionary services on the sands of Blackpool. His mother died in his infancy, and he was brought up largely with uncles and aunts, but his own home, of which he speaks always with reverence and affection, was a kind and vigorous establishment, a home well calculated to develop his scholarly wit and his love of mischievous fun. Nothing in his surroundings made for gloom or for a Calvinism of the soul. The swiftness of his intellectual development might have made him sceptical of theology in general, but no influence in his home was likely in any way to make him sceptical of his father’s theology in particular.
He went to Eton, and the religion in which he had been brought up stood the moral test of the most critical years in boyhood. It never failed him, and he never questioned it. But when that trial was over, and after an illness which shook up his body and mind, he came under the influence of a matron who held with no little force of character the views of the Anglo-Catholic party. These views stole gradually into the mind of the rather effeminate boy, and although they did not make him question the theology of his father for some years, he soon found himself thinking of the religious opinions of his uncles and aunts with a certain measure of superiority.
“I began to feel,” he told me, “that I was living in a rather provincial world—the world described by Wells and Arnold Bennett.”
This restlessness, this desire to escape into a greater and more beautiful world, pursued him to Oxford, and, for the moment, he found that greater and beautiful world in the life of Balliol. Bishop Ryle, a good judge, has spoken to me of the young man’s extraordinary facility at turning English poetry at sight into the most melodious Greek and Latin, and of the remarkable range of his scholarship. He himself has told us of his love of port and bananas, his joy in early morning celebrations in the chapel of Pusey House, his tea-parties, his delight in debates at the Union, of which he became President, and of his many friendships with undergraduates of a witty and flippant turn of mind. Like many effeminate natures, he was glad of opportunities to prove himself a good fellow. In spite of no heel-taps when the port went round, he won the Hertford in 1907, the Ireland and Craven in 1908, and in 1910 took a first in Greats.
He became a Fellow and Lecturer of Trinity College for two years, then its Chaplain for five years, and, after leading a life of extravagant and fighting ritualism as an Anglican priest, at the end of that period, 1917, he retired from the Church of England and was received into the Church of Rome.
The consolations of Anglo-Catholicism, then, were insufficient for the spiritual needs of this scion of the Low Church.
What were those needs?