10 September 2020, The Tablet

Few public figures are so little known as dead archbishops (apart from dead journalists)


Few public figures are so little known as dead archbishops (apart from dead journalists)
 

The nearest Cosmo Gordon Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury 1928-42, got to the Catholic Church was having a vivid dream once of Cardinal Newman urging him to travel in a third-class railway carriage. He resisted the temptation.
Although few public figures are so little known as dead archbishops (apart from dead journalists) Lang is fascinating, from the contradictions in his character. He suffered from a biography by a man who never met him, J.G. Lockhart, but in 2012 he came to life in one by Robert Beaken, a literary highlight of the year.

Lang was dutiful, disciplined, ambitious, free from gossip even in his private diaries, given to surface irritation (“This is intolerable!” he often exclaimed), unable to master the use of a fountain pen, snobbish, lonely and a noted workaholic. A small man, he excelled as an after-dinner speaker, with “eyes like a hawk’s and a voice like a bell”.

Apart from the fountain pen, Lang never got the hang of getting married either, though he proposed twice. He has been seen by some as a repressed homosexual. Beaken thinks sexuality a complicated thing but puts him down as “some sort of homosexual, who liked beautiful women”.

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