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to confine his own immediate government to his French territories, and to convert England into the formal state of a viceroyalty. Such, if we may believe the Lambeth biographer, * was actually his object in pressing the election of Thomas to the archbishopric. Henry was to reign in France, and Thomas in England. And afterwards it was clearly with the same object that he procured the coronation of his son as a "rex cismarinus" during his lifetime. Those whom he, and the kings before and after him, advanced by preference to high office were neither “ Anglo-Saxons” nor “ Anglo-Normans,” but absolute foreigners, natives of the Continent. This is especially to be seen in ecclesiastical promotions, Thomas is always said to have been the first Englishman who became Archbishop of Canterbury since the Conquest; it might have been added that he was nearly the first Englishman who became bishop of any
This is perfectly true. He was the first native of England, of either race, who attained to the metropolitan throne; while his predecessors, and the greater number of the contemporary bishops, were natives of the Continent. It is probably this ambiguous expression of“Englishman” which led M. Thierry into the mistake of looking on Thomas as an “ Anglo-Saxon patriot. The real phenomenon of the age is, not the struggle between the two races in England, but the fusing together of the two races preparatory to the struggle with a royal line foreign to both. This silent, gradual fusing of “Saxons and Normans,” is recorded by no chronicler, just because it was so silent and gradual. But we see it plainly enough in its results. It was the great work of the twelfth century. It is this work which gives that century that peculiar character of which we have already spoken. No process could be more important, more necessary to all that was to come after. But its silent, hidden nature is alone enough to give a sort of isolated and unintelligible character to the outward aspect of the age.
Of this fusion, Thomas, the son of Gilbert Becket of London, may be taken as the type. Though of Norman blood, his whole feeling, his whole character, is English ; and it is clear that no man in England looked upon him as a stranger. His general character, in mind and in body, stands vividly forth in his own letters, and in the descriptions of his biographers. The man of majestic presence and of unyielding soul at once rises up before
St. Thomas of Canterbury was indeed a “muscular Christian" with a vengeance. Of strength and stature beyond the common lot of men; with a quick ear, a keen eye, a fluent speech, cheerful in discourse, and ready in debate; foremnost in the mimic warfare of the chase, and on the actual field of battle,
Ap. Giles, ii. 86: cf. Garnier (et Freteval), 152.
- such was Thomas the Chancellor. And scourge and fast and sackcloth did but little to change the essential character of Thomas the Archbishop. The weapons of his warfare alone are changed. Of old he stormed the strongest castles, and unhorsed the stoutest knights in single combat. He laughed at the scruples of his sovereign which kept him back from assailing his liege lord King Lewis within the walls of Toulouse. The saint clearly took exactly the same delight in wielding his spiritual arms. He writhed under the timid and time-serving counsels of pope and cardinals, who kept back the sword of Peter from the slaughter. And yet this man, so ardent and headstrong, must have been, at both times of his life, amongst the most amiable and delightful of companions. The intense love with which he inspired his immediate followers breathes in every page of their writings. It is alike in the neophyte Edward Grim, in the fellow-exile Herbert, and in his earlier follower William Fitz-Stephen, who seems hardly to know which most to admire, the magnificent chancellor or the martyred archbishop. Nor did he awaken less attachment among men of other ways and callings. All their disputes never could quite efface the old friendship from the heart either of Henry or of Thomas. At every personal meeting the unextinguished love breaks out again, if only for one brief moment. Henry, there can be little doubt, was kept up to his opposition by men who hated Thomas far more than he did. The bishops, even the better ones, for the most part disliked him from their natural repugnance to see a man of his early life and conversation so strangely exalted over their heads. Ruffians like the De Brocs were actuated by the motives common to men of their stamp in all ages.
The higher and better class of the laity,-men like the Earls of Arundel and Leicester,-oppose Thomas with deep sorrow, and in every respect exhibit a favourable contrast to the bishops on the king's side. The love and the hatred of Thomas were passions of intense depth, and he could call out both feelings in others in as great intensity as he felt them himself.
The intellect of Thomas was clearly one ranking very high in the second order of genius. He was not a creator. We should look in vain to him for any thing original or comprehensive. He could never have left any such impress upon his age as did Hildebrand among popes, or Charles the Great among kings. His great qualities were an ardent and impetuous spirit; a practical energy, which carried every thing before him; an admirable versatility, which could adapt itself to all circumstances and all people, and a lofty sense of duty, which could support him under any amount of adversity and disappointment. His faults were chiefly the exaggeration of his virtues. His impetuosity
often grew into needless and injudicious violence; his strong will continually degenerated into obstinacy. His biographers praise him for uniting the wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove. We must confess that we can see in him very little of either dove or serpent; their other favourite quotation of "the righteous man bold as a lion,” is very
much more to the purpose. His enemies have accused him of pride and of duplicity: Doubtless he magnified his office to the extremest point; his long brooding over his wrongs at Sens and Pontigny imbued him with a fanatical spirit, and an overdone, almost frantic, longing for martyrdom. Yet how far the personal exaltation of Thomas of London was still thought of in procuring the triumph of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Legate of the Holy See, it is not for mortals to presume to judge. The charge of duplicity, which we are sorry to see brought on one occasion by so weighty a writer as Dean Milman, is, we think, without foundation. The faults of Thomas were the natural faults of his lofty and impetuous character,- the faults of obstinacy and violence. But duplicity, conscious bad faith, was utterly alien to his nature. Once, possibly twice, in his life-certainly at Clarendon, perhaps also at Montmirail-he allowed himself to be talked over into conduct which he did not thoroughly approve. He repented, he drew back; in a certain sense be violated his promise; but he was not guilty of any deliberate deception. His conduct may be called either vacillating or obstinate, two qualities quite consistent with one another; it may be called over-scrupulous, it certainly was provoking and offensive; but we do not think it fairly deserves the name of double-dealing.
The whole character of Thomas strikes us as essentially secular. He was made for the court and the camp, not for the cathedral or the cloister. His episcopacy and his saintship strike uş as mistakes. There was not a particle of hypocrisy in him; but the whole of his saintly career was artificial, unnatural, and overdone. His misfortune was to be born in an age, and in a class, to which the church alone offered means of advancement. His first great advancement was, indeed, secular; he was a statesman and a soldier, not a priest; but, strangely enough, it was only his ecclesiastical character which allowed him to become a statesman and a soldier. His parentage was respectable, but no more; he was himself in no way ashamed of his descent, but it is clear that it was humble enough to be used as a means of disparagement by his enemies. The son of Gilbert Becket of London would, as a mere layman, have had little chance of presiding in the king's Chancery or of commanding the king's armies. Once tonsured, secular as well as ecclesiastical greatness was open to him. As chancellor he nearly cast off his
clerical character. Strict men condemned the secular pomp of the great courtier and captain, who was also archdeacon of Canterbury and provost of Beverley. But two things are to be remembered : first of all, he was not a priest. Loaded with preferment, which now no deacon could hold, the terror of King Lewis and counsellor of King Henry remained ecclesiastically in that lowly order. A fighting archdeacon was a scandal, though Edward Grim seems to have thought otherwise; but the conduct of Thomas did not present the far greater scandal of a priest, one invested with the mysterious powers of sacrifice and absolution, casting off his spiritual character like Cæsar Borgia or Talleyrand. In modern estimation the difference between a priest and a deacon seems very slight; but when once the full sacerdotal idea is realised, it becomes something infinite. Secondly, though Thomas as Chancellor led a thoroughly secular life, he did not lead either an irreligious or an immoral one. Looked on as a layman, he might almost, even then, have passed for a saint. That he already bared his back to the discipline does not prove very much, as Henry himself now and then did the same. But it is no small credit that a man, whose order debarred him from marriage, should, in a profligate court, have strictly preserved his personal chastity. How far he rebuked the king's vices we know not, but he resisted many strong temptations to share in them, and was a severe censor of inferior offenders in the same line. At last came the moment of the great change. Thomas the Chancellor-Archdeacon is converted into Thomas the Archbishop. We have every reason to believe that the appointment was against his own wishes. He was as great as he could be in the line which best suited his powers, and felt no desire to adventure himself in a line for which he must then at least have felt himself less fitted. He warned his master, that, once archbishop, he should be sure to lose his favour.* But Henry insisted on the appointment, and Thomas was ordained priest, and elected and consecrated primate of all England.
And now came that great change by which, in the language of his biographers, he became another man. Was the change miraculous? Was it hypocritical? Or shall we say with Mr. Froude, that there was no sudden change at all? To us it seems merely the natural result of change of circumstances in a man of Thomas's character. He was not a man to do any thing by halves ; whatever master he served, he served to the uttermost. As the servant of the king he was the most faithful of chancellors; as the servant of the church he would be the most faithful of bishops. One at least of his biographers seems to have quite understoodt what is really no very wonderful pheno
* Herb. vii. 26: cf. Rog. i. 108; Will. Fitz-Steph. i. 193; Alan, i. 322. † “Siquidem quum ante promotionem suam tanquam unus excellentium eni
menon. Thomas was in all things a man of his own age; we never find him rising above it or sinking below it. He accepted without hesitation the current notion of a saintly prelate, and endeavoured to carry it out in his own person. The ideal ecclesiastic of his times was one who united the loftiest hierarchical pretensions with the most unbounded liberality and the severest personal mortifications. Into this ideal Thomas threw himself with characteristic fervour. His perfect sincerity no man can doubt who has studied at once human nature and the records of the time. But the change, though perfectly sincere, was still artificial; his saintship never sat quite easily upon him; with the zeal of a new convert he overdid matters. We at once see the difference between him and those holy personages whose sanctity has been the sanctity of a whole life, or those again who have been suddenly turned from notorious sinners into contritehearted penitents. Nor was he one of the class of great ecclesiastical statesmen, to whom the church has been through life as a fatherland or a political party. Had Thomas belonged to any one of those classes, he would have been somewhat more chary of his spiritual thunders. But his artificial frame of mind allowed no scope either for the long-suffering of Anselm or for the policy of Hildebrand. His fiery soul would have revolted against either as remissness in the cause of God. Thomas could be meek and gentle after a sort, yet always only by an effort; himself personally he could humble, as he did to his censor John of Salisbury; but the rights of his office, the cause of the church, were never to be humbled by him. Throughout his life the garb of saintship never fitted him. Through his whole career the old Adam is perpetually peeping out: we see the spirit of former days when he tells his slanderer at Northampton, that were he a knight, his sword should assert his righteousness; when he is detected on the Flemish coast by his eye fixed on the hawk on the young noble's wrist; when, even in his last hour, after years of scourging and penance, the strong arm which had unhorsed Engelram de Trie threw Reginald Fitz-Urse prostrate upon
the pavement of the cathedral. It peeps out in less excusable form in those words of reviling, rather than rebuke, from which he could not restrain himself even in the hour of confessorship and of martyrdom.* Had his early life been one of deeper sinfulness, his conversion might have brought a more chastened and truly mortified spirit to the service of his Maker. But a saintship artificial, though thoroughly sincere, had always something awkward and incongruous about it. If the church really tuisset seculo, non minus etiam postmodum inter præcipuos orthodoxorum eminere studuit militans Christo. Nesciebat enim nisi maximorum unus esse quemcumque sortitus esset ordinem vitæ.” Will. Cant., ap. Giles, ii. 130.
Garcionem et spurium” (Will. Cant., ap. Giles, ii, 13) at Northampton. "Lenonem appellans” at Canterbury (E. Grim, ap. Giles, i, 76).