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Life, Letters, and Diaries of Sir Stafford Northcote, First Earl of Iddesleigh

From April to October 1, 1836, Northcote read with the Rev. Mr Shirley at Shirley Vicarage, Derby. From a letter written by him in 1848 (February 27) to Mrs Shirley may be gathered the principal facts about his residence with his tutor. Northcote was then the only pupil, and found Mr Shirley interested, like himself, in the classics, and heraldry, rather an unusual theme. Mr Shirley "generally took occasion to give a religious turn to our conversations on every subject, though heraldry scarcely lends itself directly to religion. Northcote, to please his tutor, at first taught in his Sunday-school. He had a very high opinion of the unobtrusive piety of his preceptor, which, indeed, coincided with his own frame of mind through life. Seldom has a modern man of so much intellect been so utterly unvexed by speculative doubts and anxieties. This freedom was part of his greatest natural gift, the gift of Happiness. He was soon, however, to be engaged, perhaps was already engaged, in one of those religious crises which early manhood, if at all intelligent, seldom escapes. In Northcote's case, as will be seen, neither doubt, nor a tendency to the Catholic doctrine, was the cause of much hard thinking and considerable anxiety. Rather he was possessed by a desire to believe more and to hope more than is consistent with a conventional orthodoxy within the Church of England. In the quiet of Shirley he felt " a peculiar happiness and serenity," which certainly does not seem consistent with a theory that he was already much concerned with the mystic speculations and the Irvingite dreams which slightly disturbed him when at Oxford.

By Andrew Lang. Published by W. Blackwood and Sons in 1890.

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