About a year ago I was sent a copy of a rare piece of Elizabeth’s writing, by an American University Librarian called Anne Salter. As with all deceased writers there is something doubly precious in finding a new piece of unknown writing, the chances to have them “speak” to you being limited. This piece was even more unique as it was about her Father, and had been commissioned for the forward of his book “Glorying In The Cross” an academic work on Christian life and worship. It gives a rare insight into one of Elizabeth’s most important and intensely personal relationships.
The forward is biographical, charting the growth of her father, physically, mentally, and spiritually starting with his early years and the strict home life that he grew up in, I can’t grace the time with the title childhood. It reminds one that the perceived romantic notion of childhood, is a recent, middle-class idyll, and certainly wasn’t the common experience of most people in the past.
He was born into a London family on 21st December, 1866, he was a delicate child, two of his older brothers had died in infancy, and it was several years before a sister was added to the family group. They moved from North London to the healthier surroundings of Blackheath, high above the roar and pollution of fast developing London. His father worked for the Bank of England, and his Mother was an invalid who suffered all her life with asthma. They were deeply, strictly religious Protestant Evangelicals, “every thing that was fun was wrong” (Goudge 1940 p11) yet her father developed a sense of humour, she believes in self-defence. He also managed to cultivate a love of the theatre and cricket, a game he could actually see being played from his window. Although his asthma stopped him from participating in the games he loved, it doesn’t occur to anyone that he had a long arduous trek across the heath each day to school and back, no matter the weather, and endured the usual bullying that all public schools seem to subject their boys to, under the impression that it will, presumably, inure them to life’s hard knocks. Luckily for him it seems he was clever enough to graduate quickly and escape the situation.
His religion was the standard he set himself throughout his life, and he was always open to questions and answers to test his faith, stretching the limits of his knowledge and experience so that he could make up his own mind, come to his own conclusions, measured by the yard stick of the teachings of Christ. This was very different from the rigid teachings of his up bringing. One story serves to illustrate the frustrations he put his family through on his journey. He saved up his modest pocket money and bought a Catholic missal, so that he could learn how they worshipped the better to understand their point of view. When it was discovered in his bedroom, it caused a family furore and his father was “very seriously displeased.” Even more so as Henry continued to say that he couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about, wasn’t in the least sorry and had found the missal “interesting.”
His father could feel pride in his clever accomplished son, but there was no true connection between them. Apart from his family, his father’s only interests were banking and gardening and Henry could feel no enthusiasm for either subject.
The other larger shadow that looms over his childhood was the debilitating nature of his Mother’s illness. He was her favoured nurse and companion; a little selfishly it seems to me, as it distressed him to see her suffering. It almost seems that he took on part of the parental role that his father was not able to do. I see shades of Lucilla relationship with James echoed here. His Mother died while he was studying at Oxford. “He often used to say in after years that it was nonsense to speak of youth as the time of happiness. He never knew real happiness until he had left his youth behind him.” (Goudge. 1940 p14.)
“The restrictions of his boyhood and his father’s criticism bred in him shyness and a self-distrust that he never quite lost.” (Goudge 1940 p14} How ripe he must have been then to fall under the spell of Elizabeth’s Mother intelligent, beautiful, a career woman self confident and strong. She loved the out door life and had been allowed an unusual amount of personal freedom by her unconventional Mother. A bitter blow on the surface then when a bicycle accident made an invalid out of her too, although from Elizabeth’s first hand account we know that the marriage was a love affair of great strength and longevity.
The article charts his progress through the church and all the prominent positions he held, with their inherent responsibilities and financial commitments. But the aspect that shines through is the great personal love that he gave to all that the came into contact with. All his former pupils, he taught at many theological colleges, all the sick and lonely parishioners he visited and the great men that he worked for and with all speak of his nature, “to see at a glance the spirit of Christ wherever it was to be found.” (Goudge 1940 p 16) Professor de Burgh said of him; “he was an anima naturaliter Christiana, something that sprang from constant communion with a supernatural spring of joy and hope. and that reflected the light that was its source.”
Such a person must have been demanding as well as wonderful to live with. One of the household servants was once heard to say “It won’t be the Canon’s fault if we aren’t good, I’m sure he tries hard enough to make us what we did ought to be.” (Goudge 1940 p 22) a quote concerning the ritual of daily prayers he led the household in.
But the most exciting comments are the ones which show the likenesses between Elizabeth and her father, he was a role model for her in every sense; she too strived to live the integrated Christian life, but there are other striking parallels throughout ; they both had Mothers who were invalids and dominated their home lives, they were both shy and felt that they lacked the social graces, Elizabeth famously having to come to terms with this aspect when the family lived in Oxford and Mrs Goudge suffered a nervous breakdown, their love of animals, especially dogs, their fondness for country churches and the simple services in them, the theatre, Henry read plays as recreation, and Elizabeth wrote her most famous lead David into the glamour and success of the profession and they both enjoyed correspondence, writing letters to hundreds of people over their lifetimes, neither of them employing a secretary to do so.
There are other deeper similarities too. Henry instilled in Elizabeth the ethic of doing things for the greater good of the family/community and finding a lasting happiness that way. Their views on religion were not narrow and pedantic but sprang from “a deep conviction that Sectarian rigidity and narrowness was contrary to the spirit of Christ’s religion” (Goudge 1940 p 15) He also gave to her, her abiding love of the natural world and the fact that God had put it there for people to enjoy and take spiritual nourishment from. “If you don’t look out of the window at the scenery, it is an insult to God who put it there for your pleasure” (Goudge 1940 p24) he said on one railway journey they took together. He loved birds and would watch eagerly for the first butterflies on the Michaelmas daisies, a trait Elizabeth gave to some of her favourite characters. He enjoyed long country walks and bicycling famously leaving his younger students to breathlessly trail in his wake.
Lastly they both became published authors, although in sheer volume, talent and saleability here Elizabeth eclipsed him. Henry once said that “Difficult writing is good writing” (Goudge 1940 p 27) not something I entirely agree with, as to get a message across, it is necessary to be understood and to carry the reader along with you. But he did also encourage her in her career and give some good advice. “When in later years I became a writer and complained sometimes of the difficulty of making imagination work to order I met with no sympathy. If you can’t work to time and to order you’re no good as a writer” he said. (Goudge 1940 p 27).
In agreeing to write the forward for the Memorial Volume of his book, Elizabeth has unwittingly let us into her life, in a way she does nowhere else but in her auto-biography, Joy of the Snow, enabling us to garner information about not only her father but about herself.
Goudge Elizabeth 1940 A Memorial Biography Hodder & Stoughton.