Sydney Spencer considers his future

Sydney Spencer of Cookham agonised over what service he should offer his country, and wrote to an Oxford mentor for advice.

Wednesday August 12th
Yesterday I made up my mind after a week’s thinking it over, & pausing. This letter which I sent to Dr Pope at the Delegacy will of itself explain what I made up my mind to. I wrote as follows

Fernlea
Cookham on Thames
August 11th 1914
Dear Sir
Feeling that I cannot but offer whatever service I may, in the cause of my country, I write to you in the hope that I may be useful in some way or other. I am a student for Holy Orders at Oxford. I am aged 25, and am 5 ft 4 ½ ins in height & my weight is 8 stone. My chest measurement in 32 ins. My recent weight 8 stone 1 lb 5 oz. Physically I am by no means strong but am constitutionally very healthy. Of course I should be willing to undergo medical examination to satisfy authorities on that point. I have had no sort of military training either at Oxford or elsewhere. The only assets which I feel might be of use are a good experience in all sorts of horse work, & straightforward cooking, & a natural aptitude for attendance on sick people, when hands for the work have been wanting. I feel that these are lamentably poor assets, but hoped that they might be of use in a hospital where probably an odd job man would be of use. Also I have gone in for music a good deal & this might be helpful to men in the wards. Also at such times men may like help in the spiritual way & I feel that my future vocation should allow me to do all in my power. If a short course of training in nursing was possible, & I know where to get it, I would willingly do so, if it means making a useful instrument for my country. If I am of no use, you will excuse my troubling you on the grounds of anxiety to do my duty hoever small it might be.
Yours truly
Sydney Spencer

Of course Dr Pope knew a good many of the details of this letter but I felt it best to put in all details in case he had to send the letter on elsewhere. I have had no answer yet & only hope that some work may be found for me to do. I have started on “mods” work but it is not very spirited as yet; I had a long letter from Willie Birch this morning & he tells me that although he longs to enlist, he has hesitated for the sake of his mother. I am glad that he as been so thoughtful & not been headstrong & anxious to rush off at once regardless of consequence. Dear old “Jumbo” [Oliphant] may be gone to the front by now, but I have a good mind to write him a line at Wycliffe Hall just to find out. Mrs Raphael sent me a long letter this morning in answer to mine. She is full of sympathy as usual, & expresses great sympathy with Will in his position. She enclosed a poem which Hopkins once recited to me. It rings true & expresses a great deal of what I feel just now.

What have I to do with idols?
I have heard Him, and observed Him (Hosea XIV.8)
Hast thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him?
Is not thine a captured heart?
“Chief among ten thousand” own Him
Joyful choose the better part

Idols once they won thee, charmed thee
Lovely things of time & sense
Gilded thus does sin disarm thee
Honeyed, lest thou turn thee thence

What has stripped the seeming beauty
From the idols of the earth?
Not the sense of right or duty
But the sight of peerless worth!

Not the crushing of those idols
With its bitter void and smart
But the beaming of His beauty
The unveiling of His heart

Who extinguishes his taper
Till he hails the rising sun?
Who discards the garb of winter
Till the summer has begun?

‘Tis that look that melted Peter
‘Tis that face that Stephen saw
‘Tis that heart that wept with Mary
Can alone from idols draw

Draw, and win, and fill completely
Till the cup o’erflow the brim
What have we to do with idols
Who have companied with Him?

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/12)

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