A story of gas and a beech tree

Posted in Blog, Christianity

Dentists have been using nitrous oxide gas for over a hundred and fifty years to help relieve dental anxiety in patients. It was still common when I was a child. However, in recent years there has been a shift away from using nitrous oxide, due to a number of disadvantages.

Edward White Benson used to tell an amusing story about its use. Prior to becoming Bishop of Exeter in 1869, Frederick Temple was, for twelve years, headmaster of Rugby School. Temple did not marry until 1876 when he was 55 years old. During his years as head at Rugby, his household was run by his formidable sister, Jennetta. Like her brother she was very outspoken and direct in her actions. When Benson was 30, and eight years younger than Temple, he arrived at Rugby as an assistant master. He often told the story of how, not long after joining the school staff, he was late for an appointment with headmaster Temple.

‘Benson, you have kept me waiting,’ said Temple.

‘Yes, I must apologise,’ replied Benson, ‘but I have had a tooth out.’

‘Oh, poor fellow,’ said Temple, ‘I am sorry.’

‘Don’t waste pity on me, Dr Temple,’ said Benson, ‘I took gas.’

‘What did you take gas for?’ Temple asked in astonishment.

‘Because it hurt,’ replied Benson.

‘Hurt!’ said Temple. ‘Of course it hurt!’

And then they went on to discuss the business in hand. After the meeting, Benson called on Temple’s sister, Jennetta, to pay his respects.

‘Do you know you kept my brother waiting, Mr Benson?’ Jennetta asked.

‘Yes, I was so sorry,’ said Benson, ‘but I had to have a tooth out.’

‘Oh, how I pity you!’ said Jennetta.

‘You needn’t pity me, Miss Temple,’ replied Benson, ‘I took gas.’

‘What did you take gas for?’ asked Jennetta.

‘Because it hurt,’ explained Benson.

‘Hurt!’ said Jennetta. ‘Of course it hurt!’

But we must never assume that the Victorians were serious all the time. Benson left Rugby to become the first head of the newly established Wellington College in Berkshire, in 1859. While he was there, Temple came to visit him. Temple was struck by a magnificent beech tree in the grounds of the college and admired it very much for some time close at hand and then at a distance.

Suddenly Temple cried out to Benson, ‘I can’t resist the temptation, look out!’

And before Benson could caution him, Temple had made a rush and a leap and was scrambling up the tree. In a few seconds he succeeded in reaching the point in the tree where its magnificent branches diverged in all directions. Temple grinned with delight at his success while Benson, laughing heartily, looked up at him from below.

Benson went on to become the first Bishop of Truro in 1877, and Archbishop of Canterbury in 1883. He died suddenly, in 1896, in Hawarden Church while visiting his friend W.E. Gladstone. And who do you think succeeded him as Archbishop? None other than Benson’s old boss, Frederick Temple, at the age of 75, moving from being Bishop of London to become head of the world-wide Anglican communion. His tree climbing days were now over.