A WEEKLY JOURNAL
CONDUCTED BY CHARLES DICKENS
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 1, 1855
WE have no wish to write of charity in an uncharitable vein, and now that we again find ourselves forced to dwell upon the public scandal of the Charterhouse, we shall endeavour to put the most liberal construction possible upon the conduct of its chief promoter. The genius of one of our best authors has touched lovingly of late upon Carthusian discipline—so lovingly and tenderly, indeed, that readers of future generations who shall hang with generous emotion over the deathbed of Colonel Newcome, will be apt to see in the gown of a Poor Brother of the Charterhouse a badge of honoured poverty, that must, at any rate in Mr. Thackeray’s days, have been most fit clothing for a ruined gentleman in whom the spirit of honour remained fresh and young. We would not have a line unwritten of that chapter which in the room of a Poor Brother of Charterhouse closes, in a spirit of generosity and human tenderness, a novel that the nation will not fail to take to heart and cherish. Let it be felt rather that, in the Newcomes, Mr. Thackeray shows what a Poor Brother of Charterhouse should be in theory, and is in fiction; and let the master and the governors betake themselves with all speed to the task of wiping out the sad discrepancy that now exists between the fiction and the fact.
Three years and a half ago (in number one hundred and sixteen of this journal), we described from substantial evidence and personal inspection the real nature of a Poor Brother’s position. Since that time it has not changed for the better, whatever efforts may have been made to produce amendment. The Poor Brothers themselves have drawn up a case, in which they temperately express their sense of their position to the governors. The master of Charterhouse, Archdeacon Hale, has replied to the case in a pamphlet. Somebody has put forward in another pamphlet the story of a Poor Brother’s expulsion, and somebody else in yet another pamphlet has advised the complete destruction and reform of the degenerated charity. In the meantime, there has also been a charity commission before which the Charterhouse successfully resisted any attempt to make critical investigation of its management.
Now, we by no means desire to back every grievance that we find urged in the pamphlets we have mentioned, or to refuse credit for their good intentions and good deeds to the governors and master. The foundation was established for the free education of forty poor boys and for the sustenance of eighty ancient gentlemen, captains, and others, brought to distress by shipwrecks, wounds, or other reverse of fortune. It was liberally endowed, and the founder desired that its bounty might be more extended as its means increased. Its means have increased, and although purely of lay origin it has fallen more and more under ecclesiastical control. At first the master was a layman; but after the appointment of the third master it was ordered that the office should thenceforth be held by a minister of the church, who, however, “shall neither have nor accept of any place of preferment or benefit in church or commonwealth, whereby he may be drawn from his residence, care, or charge.” That order has remained in force to this day when the master—whose salary was fixed in the time of his predecessor at eight hundred pounds a-year, with various pecuniary extras; who is provided with a residence containing more than thirty rooms, with daily dinner and wine—is the Rev. W. H. Hale, whose attention is distracted by the cure of many thousand souls as vicar of St. Giles’s, Cripplegate, in the vicarage of which parish he is supposed also to reside; who is resident canon of St. Paul’s; and enjoys other pluralities to the extent of a sum that, in all, amounts to something like four thousand pounds a-year. By this gentleman, subject to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishop of London, Charterhouse is virtually managed, for the other governors are busy statesmen who can rarely interfere in affairs which belong only indirectly to their necessary business. To the business of the great churchmen Charterhouse affairs belong very directly, inasmuch as the institution has become, in fact, a notable church seminary. The school has been cherished. To the forty poor boys of the foundation have been added several times forty others, who pay liberally to the masters for their board, while the foundation boys, clothed, fed, and charged only one item of five pounds a-year for washing, have consisted of such young gentlemen as the sons of the grand masters (past and present), sons or relations of the past and present registrars and others, with names as significant as (George James Blomfield, Alfred Plantagenet Frederick Charles Somerset, the Hon. V. Byron, Dawson Damer—certainly not legitimate objects of any other charity than that which may be required to forgive their presence there. Upon exhibitions at the universities of one hundred pounds a-year for four or five years, and donations towards the placing out of scholars, about two thousand pounds a-year are spent. The school, in short, has become the Charterhouse; to support the school as one of the great church seminaries for the feeding of the clerical profession, is the leading purpose of its clerical conductors, and the attendant necessity of providing harbour for the eighty poor gentlemen is an incumbrance to them; the Poor Brothers are, in short, a bore. Not long ago they were brought into harmony with the new form of the institution by the declaration that none should be admitted who did not bring proof that they were members of the Church of England; and a nominee of the Queen’s was rejected because he was a poor scholar—pious certainly, but tainted with dissent.
Perhaps there is something not very unnatural in this course of affairs. Riches are akin to change, and the diversion of the Charterhouse funds into the lap of the church was to be expected, when the distribution of them was left merely to the control of churchmen. Nor do we care to quarrel actively with that result. Such money as this may very possibly be better spent in giving a sound education to the sons of gentlemen, and in making them worthy clergymen and scholars, than in the mere diffusion of a knowledge of the A. B. C., the catechism, and the pence table among the poor. This, only, we would hint to pious fathers of the church. That as Sutton left his money in charity, and not having been very pious in obtaining it during his life-time, was particularly anxious that it should be put to pious use when he was dead, the church might be equally well served if the blessings of a gratuitous education, and support at the university, were offered to the sons of a class of gentlemen which surely does exist within the bosom of the church itself. We have reason to suspect that there exist a dozen or two in the country of hard-working clergymen, who give the food out of their mouths, and the clothes from their backs, to find for their sons that education which the Charterhouse politely offers as a dole of mercy to Plantagenets and moneyed men, to noble youths and holy offspring of some race that claims alliance with a bishop. The governors of Charterhouse must know that there are gentlemen in ample need of every indirect support that can be obtained for them, by the care of the church they serve with toil incessant. For, to be sure, the Charterhouse has in its gift eleven livings, and the fattest of these is a rectory which yields one thousand one hundred and four pounds per annum, for the cure of souls somewhat exceeding one thousand in number; while another yields six hundred for the cure of four hundred one pound ten per soul; another, two hundred and forty-four pounds for the cure of fifty—nearly a five pound note per soul; while it has also the bestowal upon some industrious gentleman, of ninety-seven pounds a-year for the spiritual cure of two thousand one hundred and eighty- three parishioners—for each soul ten pence half-penny. We trust that we do not outstrip the proper bounds of charity in saying, that the benefit of Founder Sutton’s money would be felt as a more real blessing by the Parson Adamses of England, than it can ever be by any members of the hierarchy or aristocracy of Britain; and that if Master Adams and his cousins had what is enjoyed by Master Somerset and Master Blomfield, Master Hale, and the Honourable Master Byron, there would be no desire whatever on the part of the public to complain of churchmen on account of their wish to appropriate the Charterhouse school to the use and comfort of their order. The school itself is well conducted— Master of Charterhouse does not mean Master of the school—we utter no complaint against the management of that. We only point out how in its development it has cast out, as uncongenial, the element of charity, and how it might be what it is, even in the hands of ecclesiastics, and still be of a kind to make the memory of Sutton dear to many: a benefaction that might be enjoyed by the poor gentleman with no more of a blush than is now brought by it to the face of wealthier recipients.
From the school we turn to the department of the Poor Brothers, whereof nothing can be made. A presentation to a place on the foundation in the school, which to a boy entering at ten, and able to go with an exhibition to one of the universities, may be valued, under the present system, at something not far from a thousand pounds, is worth giving to one’s nephew, or bestowing as a mark of kindness on the nominee of any noble friend. But a presentation to a Poor Brother’s cell and badge of poverty. . . . Faugh! What sort of patronage is that! The dignitaries of the church are sorry, of course, for poor people; but, then, these brothers claim to be considered poor gentlemen; and who can grasp the idea of a poor old man standing upon points of gentility. Preposterous! The Master of Charterhouse in his pamphlet is sarcastic upon this; mentions gentility in italics; and endeavours to show that the Poor Brothers have no rightful claim to such a thing. (We particularly entreat Mr. Thackeray’s attention to this.) In fact, the whole Poor Brother business is a bore. It is now and then, openly so declared, and the Poor Brethren feel and know that it is considered a bore.4
And so it indeed is, the moment we dismiss the spirit of the charity that offers decayed gentlemen in Charterhouse a place of rest and solace, tenanted not at the caprice of any neighbour, but by the goodwill towards them, and all men like them, of a money-maker whose bones long since crumbled into dust. Let it be granted that a churchman taking twenty shillings of the dead man’s money for attending to the comfort of the brother who gets only one, can look on the shilling brother as an inferior being, because he has the inferior dole; and at once you may write for Poor Brother, Poor Bore. As to lodging, the deceased Sutton, is drawn upon by the Master for thirty-three luxurious apartments; by the Poor Brother for only one room, with, in some cases, a bed closet, one bed without sheets, one deal table, and a chair. How paltry a recipient of charity must the Poor Brother be in his great Master’s eyes! And in what way the Poor Brother is made to feel that he owes his pittance, not to the dead Sutton, but to the pleasure of his living Master, let the following little story tell.
Probably the most impracticable Bore who ever puzzled Charterhouse officials, was its hero, Simon Slow. The name is fiction, but the story is made public in a pamphlet wholly thereunto devoted, as a piece of fact. The author of the pamphlet does not see that Simon was a bore; we do. Mr. Slow had been for half a century a city merchant, a shipowner, and manufacturer, well known as a man not only wealthy, but beneficent. He suffered sudden shipwreck of his fortunes, and became a pauper, with unsullied character for honour and integrity; he became even as Colonel Newcome, and upon the nomination of a noble lord, this old man, in March, eighteen hundred and fifty, entered Charterhouse as a Poor Brother. Now, this Newcome certainly did grumble a little when he found that he was lodged in a room without curtains, or even shutters to the window ; witli a bare floor; and with the gaol allowance of one elm-chair, one plain deal table, and less bedding than is to be had in gaols; the whole, moreover, as it soon appeared, a nest of vermin. Of the vermin the old gentleman complained to a servant of the place, who told him in a familiar merry way, —for your Poor Brother is nobody in the eyes of any underling at Charterhouse,—that “he would find plenty of companions of that sort.” The new Brother found that he was put down much more emphatically when he carried complaints against dirt to the manciple, and his dignity was hurt at finding that he was become a man for the porter at the gate to patronise, with a clap on the shoulder and a familiar, “How are you, old fellow?” A multitude of small daily reminders of his poverty taking such form as these, wounded an old gentleman tenacious of the respect due to his age and former standing in the world, which no misdeed had forfeited. But he suffered all quietly. His character of Bore grew out of a distinct department of his mind. Mr. Slow was, unfortunately for himself and his superiors strictly a religious man.
There is service in the chapel every day at Charterhouse, a morning and an evening service, at one of which, on pain of threepence or a shilling, according to the holiness of the day, every Poor Brother is commanded to be present. There is no exemption from this law, except for the sick; one Poor Brother, deaf for twenty years, is nevertheless required to do his share of coughing in the chapel. Now, on the days that are least holy, when worship may be dispensed with for the charge of threepence,—on the ordinary week-days,—prayers in the chapel seem to have been got through by common consent with all convenient expedition. Every one knows how such prayers of form are disposed of in cathedrals and other establishments before the presence of a dozen wheezy worshippers, and (consciously) before no other Presence, let us hope. Something of this kind was the case at Charterhouse; where it turned out that this old merchant was so strict a formalist as to be resolved on having time to think of what he said when he repeated his prayers. The Master, although himself bound to attend in chapel daily, was but seldom present to observe how service was performed. Probably he was too rich a man to be fined threepence; or, if fined, was able to afford the money for a dispensation. The old merchant was not,—he, moreover, did not wish to stay away from chapel. His fault was, that he was obstinately bent on being reverent when there, and would persist in giving the responses audibly and slowly, with a full deliberation of their import. His fellow-brethren naturally looked upon this lengthening of daily penance with no friendly eyes, and the old bore was abundantly tormented by them. But he persevered. After all, may we not believe his to have been a weakness pardonable enough in an old man? The defect in his judgment was only, that he did not understand his place. He expressed his feeling to the preacher, who replied, that he had “no right to any opinion on the subject. Circumstanced as you are, instead of making complaints, you ought to be grateful for the asylum the Hospital affords you.” The ungrateful man said, that he should attend another place of worship, if his sense of decency were further outraged. The reverend gentleman replied, “I dare you to do so, at your peril.”
On the tenth of February, eighteen hundred and fifty-one, the old gentleman’s impatience of what he considered an irreverent mockery of sacred duties, became manifested openly. He closed his prayer-book suddenly, and walked out of the chapel. The manciple came to know what was his reason for so doing. He replied, The irreverent manner in which service is conducted. On the following day, after chapel service (from which the Master himself was, as usual absent), the old man was summoned by a verbal message through a servant into the presence of the Vicar of Cripplegate. He was preparing to obey the summons, when the manciple burst in, crying, “If you don’t attend the Master instantly, you’ll be discommoned!” The old gentleman did what every young gentleman would have done—altered his mind and remained where he was; disposed in hot blood, to return the great autocrat for his polite message, an answer couched in the same style. No more was said; no charge was notified to the Bore; no witness was examined, until the date of the following order, which contains the Master’s revenge upon his sinful Brother; we italicise one or two words:
CHARTERHOUSE.—At an assembly of the governors, held on Saturday, the twenty-ninth day of March, eighteen hundred and fifty-one:—Upon hearing the Master’s report, that complaint having been made to him of the conduct of Simon Slow, one of the Poor Brothers in the chapel, he had summoned him to attend and answer such complaints, and that the said Simon Slow had peremptorily, and in very disrespectful language, refused to attend. And upon hearing the said Simon Slow, we order that he leave the hospital on or before Thursday next, the third day of April, and be deprived of all benefit of his place for three calendar months; and we warn the said Simon Slow, that if, on his return to the hospital, such misconduct be repeated, he will be expelled.
And so the old gentleman who had been too obstinately reverent to his Great Master, and too impatiently irreverent towards his little master, was sent adrift to learn behaviour to his betters. During his absence, the order for his suspension was, in the usual manner, posted in the public hall.
When he came back, the knowledge that he had been posted in this way was the first wound to Slow’s feelings. He appealed to the Master about that, and the great man poured in balm by curtly telling him, that the matter had been disposed of. But the old subject of contention still existed: the old man, with his stiff conscience, was as much a Bore as ever. Next year there appeared, accordingly, another order, setting forth that upon the Master’s statement relative to Simon Slow’s usual conduct in chapel, it is ordered that he be deprived of all benefit of his place for three calendar months. With this order the reverend Master conveyed private intimation, that on the old man’s writing an apology, it might be cancelled. But old Simon felt, of course, in his obstinacy, that he was a person wronged, not a wrong-doer, and so he went adrift into the world again. Upon his return he made an attempt, in which he had before been checked by an imperious Must from the head of the establishment, to assure peace by absenting himself from the chapel in which his sense of religious duty was offended, and betaking himself quietly to an adjacent church instead. He did this at his peril, but for several months did it unmolested. At last came the peremptory order of the Master that he should go to worship where there was for him—though not necessarily for others—only irreverence and discord; and, on the twenty- second of March last year thus the final order ran:
The Master having stated that one of the Poor Brothers had again offended against the regulations of the hospital, by removing from the place assigned to him among the Poor Brothers in the chapel; that although twice admonished, he had not returned to his place, but had absented himself from divine service in the chapel for a fortnight and upwards, the said Simon Slow was called in, and what he had to say in answer having been heard, it was ordered that he be not permitted to reside in the hospital after the thirty-first day of March instant, and that he leave the hospital accordingly; but that he be allowed the sum of fifty pounds per annum, payable quarterly, during the pleasure of the governors, in lieu of his pension, and all other benefits of his place as a Poor Brother.
The fifty pounds per annum Mr. Slow, with the spirit of a gentleman still in him, refuses to receive, and there the matter ends. We do not wholly agree with the tone of the pamphlet in which a friend of Mr. Slow’s has laid his case before Prince Albert, as one of the governors of Charterhouse. We see evidence in Mr. Slow of the existence of a temper difficult to deal with in a worldly way; the temper of an old gentleman extremely obstinate upon his sense of right, and perhaps more or less crotchety. But, in another way—in the way of Christian charity, which is supposed to be the main- spring of the Charterhouse foundation—how easily may all such cases be met! The preceding narrative shows how the formalism of the Poor Brother met the formalism of Charterhouse, and how one crushed the other. There is no hint that Mr. Slow was any other than a most orthodox churchman and a pious man. Would charity have been outraged if, now a kindly preacher, now a considerate Master, had dropped in at the old gentleman’s room, sat with him, listened to him with respect, and, with the help of a spirit of kindness, and the obvious Christianity imparted by their bearing to the whole tone of the place, had dissipated his objections, set at rest his scruples, put him at ease in his new position? If, after all, he did not like the chapel service, why must he needs be denied liberty to go where he could worship more at ease? Throughout the case, we see an old man fretted by imperious dictation.
Here and in other cases, insolence to the Master seems to be the crime into which the Poor Brother most easily falls, and for which he is most frequently punished by suspension from his privileges. The Poor Brethren resent the lordship of the pluralist. The Vicar of St. Giles’s Cripplegate, and Archdeacon of London, and Canon Residentiary of St. Paul’s, comes among them manifestly playing turtle to their sprat: well beneficed as he is, he draws large funds out of the institution which, though meant for them, barely supplies their wants, and therefore they readily resent all his authoritative dealings with them.
By this light let us observe what are the main points of their case as stated in a document of their own framing, and we shall see at once how even the best intentions of the Master (and that he has meant and has done well in many respects we cheerfully admit) are defeated by the false position in which, as a pluralist, he necessarily must stand. With the case, let us take also the Master’s answer to each point on which it dwells.
After reciting the origin of the charity, the Poor Brothers venture to remind the Governors and the Master, that three years subsequently to the founder’s death, the hospital was opened by his executors, who had been solemnly enjoined by the old man, “as they will answer at the Day of Judgment, to endeavour to see my last will performed, according to my true meaning and charitable intent.” Accordingly, it is urged, there entered into the hospital when it was opened by the executors—who knew what the true meaning of the founder was—captains and gentlemen (meaning the Poor Brothers), scholars, and officers.
Hereupon replies the Master, in his pamphlet, that the emphatic warning as to the performance of his true meaning and charitable intent “had not more direct reference to the interest which the hospital might have in his will, than to his other numerous charitable bequests and legacies.” As to the supposed intention of the founder to constitute the society of the poor men in his hospital a society of gentlemen, it will be proved, writes the Master, that this idea is erroneous, and refuted by evidence the most conclusive —viz., the founder’s own acts. Having boldly stated this, the Master has supplied his proof and refutation, and assumes the question to be settled. The only most conclusive refutation of the right of the Poor Brothers to be selected from the rank of decayed gentlemen, and treated as such with proportionate consideration, is that which occurs three or four pages later, in this passage: “The founder, during the six weeks which elapsed between the completion of the foundation by the conveyance of the estates and his death, never exercised the power of making orders; but if the palace which had been purchased for the hospital had been ready to receive its inmates, it is probable that the poor, aged, maimed, needy and impotent people placed in it would have been persons such as the founder had designated for his hospital at Hallingbury—viz., poor men, who would have been maintained in diet, clothes and fuel, at the cost of ten pounds thirteen shillings and fourpence a-year.” (No small sum, a quarter of a thousand years ago.) Upon the strong assertion, evidence like this comes as a strange anticlimax; but the Master of the Charterhouse appears to be an autocrat complete at every point. His method is: I say the case stands positively thus. Come to me afterwards with no rebellious arguments; because, if I have said a thing—as was observed to Slow—the matter has been disposed of.
But, the Poor Brothers in their case show further evidence of the position it was meant, from the beginning, that they were to hold, and which it is now commonly supposed they do hold, notwithstanding any sneers of the Master, who repeatedly scorns in italics, as applied to Poor Brothers, the words gentility and gentlemen,—to which we again most earnestly call the attention of Colonel Newcome’s patron. He even produces a table put into a peculiar form for the purpose of still further discrediting the notion of the Poor Brothers’ gentility. The present Brothers are grouped by the Grand Master according to their former stations:—
Clergymen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Legal and Medical Men . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5
Military and Naval Men . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Merchants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8
Schoolmasters and Literary Men . . . . . . .7
Land Stewards. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2
Tradesmen, Clerks, Servants. . . . . . . . .41
One Vacancy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Total . . . . . . . . . . . .80
Behold how the great pluralist makes out his case by winding up with a riff-raff of forty-one tradesmen, clerks, servants! Is the tradesman, in this land of shopkeepers, in no case to be reckoned among gentlemen? May he not be as wealthy with his honest gains, as any lofty churchman who pockets gains honest men condemn. Possibly, in a well-adjusted table of respectability, the pluralist might rank with people meaner than the servants.
But there is no doubt that many wear the gown of the Poor Brother, for whom it never was intended. That is one part of the abuse. The patronage of the school blesses the nobleman’s young friend; the patronage of the Poor Brother’s stall trumpery as it is, may allow your lordship to be charitable to your superannuated lackey. And so the worn-out lackey is sent as a companion, to the ruined gentleman, and the magnificent archdeacon as a haughty Master.
Furthermore, urge the petitioners: After the nature of the foundation had been settled and defined, it was declared in the letters patent of King James (after whom the place is called King James’s Hospital), that in the event of any increase of revenue, all and every such increase shall be employed to the maintenance of more and other poor people to be placed in the said hospital; or to the further augmentation of the allowances of those persons that for the time being shall be in the said hospital, according to the true intent and meaning of those presents, and shall not be converted or employed to any private use; and that such construction shall be made upon this foundation and incorporation as shall be most beneficial and available for the maintenance of the poor, and for the repressing and avoiding of all acts and devices to be invented or put in use, contrary to the true meaning of these presents. It is then pointed out, that the salaries of officials have increased more rapidly than the revenue, and that the Master’s salary, as now received by him, is increased sixteen-fold since the first establishment of the hospital, while the Poor Brother’s income is only augmented to four times the original stipend. It was natural enough in the petitioners to add to this fact the prophecy of Lord Bacon, when attorney-general, that in a short time the Charterhouse would degenerate, to be made a preferment of some great person to be Master, and he to take all the sweet, and the poor to be stinted and take but the crumbs, and would be but a wealthy benefice in respect of the Mastership; but the poor, which is the propter quid, little relieved.
And to all this, what does the humble priest consider a sufficient answer? The answer to this complaint, writes the Archdeacon-cum-Canon-cum-Almoner-cum-Vicar- cum-Chaplain-cum-Master, is, that the division of the revenues of the hospital amongst its members, according to a fixed scale or perpetual rule of proportion, is a principle not recognised in any of the instruments to which the governors are bound to look for direction; nor is there any recognition of such a principle in their orders or proceedings. The fixed scale of justice, the perpetual rule of charity, the principle of right, are not written in the bond. The pound of flesh is mine, and I will have it.
In all this, what can be more evident than that one half the cause of discontent in Charterhouse would be removed, if any other than a grossly overpaid man occupied the Master’s chair? The dole of the Poor Brothers is enough, and some little increase of liberality, in a moral as well as material sense, taking the direction of a care for their comfort and consolement, would suffice to make them happy, if there were no spectacle of injustice constantly held close before their eyes. In truth, though by an accident, the dole of the brethren has increased exactly in proportion to the increase of the funds by which they are supported. For, it will amaze all men of business to hear, that the nominal value of the wide estates and possessions of the Charterhouse has increased only fourfold in two hundred and fifty years. The average yield of the extensive estates attached to the foundation, actually now falls short of ten shillings an acre. A revenue which ought to be forty or fifty thousand pounds a-year is only half as much. We note this by the way. The Master’s share of such revenue has in the meantime increased, as the archdeacon tells us, upon no scale of proportion and the Poor Brothers are scandalised because the money is paid to a gentleman who snubs them, and of whom they cannot help observing, that he is engaged in laying up for himself treasure upon earth in many places. What the Poor Brothers think about the Master we have fully shown, and we have now only to add what the Master, in a moralising humour, thinks of them. “It is no uncharitable supposition, that such persons are often soured as well as disappointed; for it is a sad truth, that affliction rarely improves any who are not really religious men. It does not soften the temper of the irritable, nor humble the heart of the proud; it does not make men more distrustful of their own opinion, or to think less of their own merits.” Does the writer of such a sentence say, with a loud voice, when he prays, I thank thee, O Lord, that I am not afflicted as these publicans!(?)