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Charles John Vaughan: Wikis


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Chromolithograph of Vaughan in Vanity Fair, November 1872

Charles John Vaughan (August 16, 1816 – October 15, 1897), was an English scholar and churchman.

He was educated at Rugby School and Cambridge, where he was bracketed senior classic with Lord Lyttelton in 1838.[1] In 1839 he was elected fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and for a short time studied law. He took orders in 1841, and became vicar of St Martin's, Leicester. Three years later he was elected headmaster of Harrow School. He resigned the headship in 1859 and accepted the bishopric of Rochester, but afterwards withdrew his acceptance. In 1860 he was appointed vicar of Doncaster. He was appointed master of the Temple in 1869, and dean of Llandaff in 1879. In 1894 he was elected president of University College, Cardiff, in recognition of the prominent part he took in its foundation.

Vaughan was a well-known Broad Churchman, an eloquent preacher and an able writer on theological subjects, his numerous works including lectures, commentaries and sermons;

Scandal at Harrow

Until the 1970s the reason for Vaughan's resignation from Harrow School was unknown. Speculation ranged from exhaustion to his pious attempt to rein in his ambition (from an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography which states that Vaughan engaged in 'a severe struggle with his ambition'). This ended when Phyllis Grosskurth discovered the diaries of John Addington Symonds, who attended Harrow School while Vaughan was headmaster.

Harrow of the 1840s and 1850s was, despite its ostensibly reformed veneer, filled with what the rumour-mills called "sexual irregularities". Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy calls it "an adolescent boy's jungle; a jungle where lust and brute strength raged completely unrestrained". The attractive students were each given a female nickname and were either made public property, in which case they were forced into acts of obscenity in public and elsewhere, or they were made the "bitch" of an older student. The line between lust and loathing was very thin, as observed by Symonds in the case of a boy whose lovers, each a monitor, turned on him to spit, kick, or throw books. As for Symonds, he himself was propositioned numerous times, but managed to be left alone.

Vaughan's response to this environment seemed to be all upstanding disapproval. A teacher at Harrow intercepted a note being passed between two of the boys, and then passed it along to Vaughan himself. He summoned the whole school immediately, and read the whole letter aloud. He then banned the sending of such letters, and the use of female names, and flogged both culprits.

Through all of this Vaughan was, in the words of Gathorne-Hardy, "... not for the first time... in the grip of a devastating physical passion which he was completely unable to control." In early 1851, Alfred Pretor (b.1840), a spirited, good-looking friend of J.A. Symonds, sent Symonds a letter, telling him that he was having an affair with Headmaster Vaughan. Symonds, thinking it was inconceivable, didn't believe him. Pretor then showed him numerous love letters, and Symonds was shocked. He remained stunned, and did not mention the incident for eight years, though dwelled upon it constantly. Symonds was, at the time, struggling with his growing awareness of his own homosexuality, and his guilt over these feelings seemed to transfer to guilt over not revealing Vaughan's. Finally, in 1859 he blurted out the whole story to the Corpus Professor of Latin at Oxford, John Conington. Conington, appalled, encouraged Symonds to tell his father. He did.

Dr. Symonds did not hesitate, and immediately wrote Dr. Vaughan to inform him that he knew of his behaviour with Pretor. He would not expose him publicly, as long as Vaughan agreed to resign at once. After a long confrontation, about which nothing is known, Vaughan agreed. On September 16 Vaughan sent a circular to the parents. It read: "I have resolved after much deliberation, to take that opportunity of relieving myself from the long pressure of these heavy duties and anxious responsibilities which are inseparable from such an office, even under the most favourable circumstances."

Four years later, in 1863, Vaughan accepted the position of Bishop of Rochester, perhaps thinking that after this time Dr. Symonds would have relented his command that Vaughan also never hold any high position in the church. After Dr. Symonds heard the news, he immediately telegrammed Vaughan, ordering him to resign or risk public exposure. So he resigned again.

That the scandal remained unknown up until the 20th century is remarkable. There were some leaks from Pretor’s boasting, which he bitterly regretted. Pretor was livid at Symonds’s part in the scandal and refused to speak to him ever again. Still, the secret was kept. Horatio Brown, Symonds’s biographer, good friend and literary executor, skipped the Harrow years, saying merely “The autobiography of the Harrow period is not copious”. Upon his death Vaughan had all papers destroyed and forbade any biographies of him to be written.

See also


  1. ^ Vaughan, Charles John in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.

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