Alington, Cyril Argentine 1872-1955, headmaster and dean, was born in Ipswich 22 October 1872, the second son of the Rev. Henry Giles Alington, an inspector of schools, and his wife, Jane Margaret Booth. He went with classical scholarships to Marlborough where he was in the cricket eleven and to Trinity College, Oxford. A first class in honour moderations (1893) and in literae humaniores (1895) was followed by his election at the second attempt to a fellowship at All Souls in November 1896. In that year he had returned as sixth-form master to Marlborough. He was ordained deacon (1899) and priest (1901) and in the former year moved to Eton where in 1904 he became master in College. In the nine years between 1899 and 1908 he was the most alive and brilliant of the younger masters—the best preacher, the most entertaining division master, the most inspiring tutor. In 1908 he was appointed headmaster of Shrewsbury School and in January 1917 he succeeded his brother-in-law, Edward Lyttelton (whose biography he subsequently wrote for this Dictionary), as headmaster of Eton. He retired in 1933 and until 1951 was dean of Durham.
Alington was endowed with almost every gift to ensure a successful career. Extraordinarily handsome, especially in later years when robed and in the pulpit, he never failed to impress the boys at Shrewsbury and Eton. As a young man he was a very successful cricketer and for years afterwards he maintained a high standard as a player of fives and rackets. He was never quite a first-class classical scholar, nor was he looked upon as a profound theologian. He possessed a wide and extraordinarily retentive memory which enabled him to produce the apt quotation for any occasion. He was a most facile and brilliant versifier and he composed some admirable hymns. He was greatly interested in political history and wrote some historical works which are lively, readable, and often illuminating. Probably the best is Twenty Years, a study of the party system, 1815-1835 (1921). He also wrote a number of detective stories and other novels: clever, witty, but quickly perishable. All these varied publications bear witness to the incredible speed at which his mind, his imagination and his pen worked and which characterized also the brilliance of his conversation. In everyday life, at the dinner table, in after-dinner talk, it was possible, especially for a stranger, to write Alington off as a brilliant but facile and ungenuine man. But his ephemeral books and pyrotechnic conversation served as a safety-valve for the volcanic energy of his mind and for the depth of his very real emotions.
Undoubtedly his greatness lay in his genius for teaching, especially for teaching religion as distinct from theology. In A Dean's Apology (1952) Alington quotes Bishop Creighton [qv.] as saying the function of a teacher is to be an intellectual mustard plaster. This function he carried out to the full. He was probably a better teacher of the ordinary boy than of the first-class scholar. His teaching was at first a bewildering, exhausting, and always an exciting and rewarding experience for those boys who had ears to hear; and it was Alington's triumph that the deaf were made to hear. He was not concerned with imparting information but with bringing boys' minds alive.
In the pulpit Alington was much nearer to the mind of the public-school boy than was any other preacher of his time. His series of Shrewsbury and Eton Fables provided a wholly new approach to illustrating in modern idiom the fundamental Christian doctrine. His addresses to boys and also to masters and their families during Holy Week were without doubt his greatest contribution to the religious education of the young.
Alington always had a tremendous zest for living. Probably he was most serenely happy during his years in College, where he produced one of the most brilliant generation of scholars Eton had ever known; and at Shrewsbury where the time had come for new men and new measures and he gave himself wholly to the task of putting the school back on the map. He returned to Eton to triumph over the difficulties of the war years. To each successive stage of his life he brought the same infectious enthusiasm, the same kindness and capacity for friendship, so that the care he lavished on beautifying the site at Shrewsbury was easily transferred to the cathedral at Durham, and the affection which he had for the boys at Eton and Shrewsbury was equally displayed to the miners of Durham. He was blessed with the most perfect family life in which his wife played at least half the main part. The deaths in his lifetime of two of their six children were bitter blows, but they were met with a fortitude made possible only by their invincible belief in the Christian religion.
In 1904 Alington married Hester Margaret, daughter of the fourth Lord Lyttelton [qv.]. She was appointed C.B.E. in 1949 and died in 1958. They had two sons and four daughters. The elder son, Giles, became dean and senior tutor of University College, Oxford, and died in 1956; he was a much loved man, of wit, wisdom, and compassion. The second son was killed at Salerno in 1943. The eldest daughter died at the age of thirty. The three other daughters became the wives respectively of (Sir) Alec Douglas-Home, (Sir) Roger Mynors, and the Rev. John Wilkes, warden of Radley College (1937-54).
Alington proceeded Doctor of Divinity, Oxford, in 1917 and received an honorary Doctor of Civil Laws, Durham, in 1937. He was elected an honorary fellow of Trinity in 1926 and was chaplain to the King in 1921-33. He died at Treago, Herefordshire, 16 May 1955. A portrait by G. Fiddes Watt is in the possession of the family, and a drawing by Francis Dodd is at Eton.
C. A. Alington, A Dean's Apology, 1952
Eton College Chronicle, 27 May 1955
Contributor: C. R. N. Routh.