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My Curates


By A Rector.

London: Skeffington, 1890.


"We may outrun
By violent swiftness, that which we run at, And lose by over-running."
Henry VIII.

THE next name on my list of Curates is that of the Rev. Roger Rashleigh. At first it was not my design to include him in these sketches, for the reason that, in many respects, he is not dissimilar to the majority of young English Clergymen. That is to say, he was fairly well educated, he had taken a University degree, and I found him to be fond of his work. Although intelligent enough, he presented no exceptional brilliancy of powers, he did not stand out in relief like Mr. Slimmer.

On second thoughts I have changed my intention, and shall devote a chapter to him. My reason for including him is really the same reason I gave for thinking of excluding him.

If, as I have supposed, he resembles other young clergymen, it is possible that some of these may read this chapter. I trust they will, and that they may be able to see their own lineaments reflected, however dimly, from the picture I shall paint of Mr. Rashleigh.

While he was my Curate at Mulworth, Mr. Rashleigh betrayed some of those foibles, rather than faults, which are incident to young men of his temperament. These I shall make no effort to disguise. He had, as I am glad to think most of our young clergymen have, many good traits of character. If I fail to note all these, it does not signify. Indeed I have my private reasons for refraining from eulogy. Mr. Rashleigh is no longer my Curate, but he is a neighbour of mine, as Vicar of an adjacent parish. He may chance to read these pages, and so suspect who wrote them and of whom they are written. If so, knowing his disposition, I am sure he would prefer a laugh at a description of his earlier mistakes to a self-applying perusal of a catalogue of virtues. But I must not anticipate, and so I proceed with my narrative.

Mr. Rashleigh's father had been an old college acquaintance of mine. He was at this time a leading barrister in London. Although we had not met for many years we occasionally corresponded. My old friend wrote to me about his son Roger, who had lately taken his degree at Cambridge, and was seeking a Title and Curacy. In this letter the writer was good enough to say that he would prefer no one to me as his son's Rector and adviser. As he knew I was single-handed, perhaps I would give him a trial. It was in this way that Roger Rashleigh became my coadjutor.

Apart from my association with his father, my new Curate impressed me favourably when, after his ordination, he came to Mulworth. I liked his appearance and manner. He was quite the self-contained, high-spirited young fellow who could give a certain brightness to our staid, quiet home, and rouse me by his sprightly conversation into recollections of my own youthful days.

When age and youth commingle in anything like harmony, each receives a benefit from the other. If the experience of age can temper youth, then, on the other hand, the kinetic energy of youth can lend something of its animation to age. Whenever Mr. Rashleigh came to the Rectory, it was as if another candle had been put in the room.

However, I must endeavour to sketch him, as faithfully as I can, in his social and clerical aspect.

At the University Mr. Rashleigh had distinguished himself by winning his "blue;" that is, he had played in the annual cricket match between Oxford and Cambridge. He was evidently very proud of this; indeed, I could gather from his observations that he regarded it as a greater distinction than if .he had taken a double first.

It is wonderful how our acquirements as well as our peculiarities cling to us.

"Quo semel est imbuta recens servabit odorem
Testa diu."

Something of his learning will be discernible in the student's gesture; the curvature of the head or shoulders is an index of thought or care. Mr. Rashleigh was not a man of deep thought; he had few cares, but he was a cricketer. And he carried something of the cricket-field with him into the ministry. When he walked up the aisle to the chancel his gait was that of a young fellow, bat on shoulder, going to take his place at the wicket, and when he stood up at the reading desk he appeared as if getting ready to play the ball.

His week-day attire, too, was more lay than clerical. The colour of his clothes appeared to me as rather too light for our sombre profession, and his short well-cut coat gave him something of a dandified air. His hat was of ellipsoidal shape; I believe this is termed a "pot" hat. Sometimes he wore a straw hat, cinctured with a light blue ribbon. He generally carried a huge stick, and was accompanied by his great Newfoundland dog, Ranger. He also cultivated a moustache, which he was fond of caressing; this caused him to expose a large gold ring which bore his crest, and which he wore on; his little finger. Indeed the only item of clothing which revealed the clergyman was a small white tie, and even this he occasionally replaced by a coloured one.

There was nothing vulgar about my Curate's dress; but it appeared to me to be incongruous with the priestly office, or even the diaconate. I considered it my duty to remonstrate with Mr. Rashleigh on the subject of his dress, my intimacy with his father would surely admit of my doing so. Not that I think the external habiliment is, intrinsically, of much importance, but because some of our parishioners might imagine that lightness of dress is indicative of a want of professional seriousness. I pointed out to him that doctors, when visiting their patients, assume a garb in keeping with their grave demeanour, and that there was all the more reason for a clergyman, liable to be called at any moment to a sick bed-side, to be as achromatic in dress as sedate in manner. The good fellow received my observations without being offended. He certainly muttered something about hypocritical ostentation and professional veneer; but I noticed that on the arrival of his next suit of clothes from his London tailor he had acted on my suggestion. I fear that it was only from his respect for me.

Although Mr. Rashleigh, so far as I could perceive, was by no means proficient in the subtleties of politics, yet he professed to be a radical, and adopted many of the stock phrases and arguments of that party. He quite shocked Mrs. Smith and myself by the way in which he spoke of Her Gracious Majesty the Queen, whom he termed, "a decent old lady, utterly unnecessary to the welfare of the State." He offended my Tory sympathies by denouncing the House of Lords as a stop-gap to enlightenment and progress.

On this matter I also deemed it right to seriously expostulate with him. I referred him to our duty to our neighbour in the Catechism, and more especially to the words, "to honour and obey the Queen .... to order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters." His reply was to the effect that he had yet to learn whether the Lords were his betters, and as for the Catechism, why it was a relic of serfdom, compiled by some Erastian sycophant of the Reformation!

This want of reverence on Mr. Rashleigh's part betrayed itself even in our own little circle. I shall give an instance of this.

Old Doctor Pilling and his wife were on intimate terms with us. It was our custom once a week to meet at each other's houses, and have a quiet rubber of whist after tea. We played the old-fashioned game, counting up to ten points. During one of our sittings Mr. Rashleigh happened to come in and look over our hands, He laughed at our play, and said it was only fit for our grandmothers. Poor Mrs. Pilling grew quite crimson when he told her that she had lost three tricks by not leading trumps, of which she had six; and my wife was disturbed from her usual serenity at being told that she shouldn't have put the queen on her partner's knave. I must admit that old Pilling and I had a conference together afterwards on my Curate's suggestions, and we concluded that he was right in some of them. But I could not prevail upon my wife to change her mode of play. She gave it as her opinion that Mr. Rashleigh, although nice in some ways, was very rude and conceited; and he certainly knew nothing about whist. When one evening he took a hand and happened to win, she affirmed that it was all luck.

The last paragraph may appear to contain too trivial a subject to have dwelt upon. I have written it for the purpose of exemplifying how clever men may make themselves disagreeable by self-assertion. There are many young men, clergymen included, who are apt to regard their elders as far beneath them in intellect, because they are not adepts where they themselves excel. They dub them "old women." They make no allowance for diversity of talent; they do not consider that even old women may be superior to young men in acquirements which are more important than whist or cricket. I have often felt how needful it is for us, when addressing others, to remember the precept, "Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt." Pertinently to this I quote an observation of my worldly-wise friend alluded to in the last chapter. "It is," he said, "a great mistake to be too clever." The remark was, I think, a wise one; it admits of different applications.

As my reader will have already discerned, Mr. Rashleigh was one of those men who are liable to make mistakes, which recoil upon themselves to their own disadvantage. I shall give a few examples of this tendency.

Gifted with youth, good spirits, and a pleasant manner, and furnished with a fair allowance by his father, my Curate was naturally a favourite in society. The county families noticed him, and invited him to their dinner parties and dances.

Here I digress into a parenthesis on the subject of dancing. I considered it my duty to take exception to my Curate indulging in a waltz; for it struck me as scarcely consonant with the dignity of a clergyman, to see him sweeping round with swallow-tails fluttering, reminding one of an excited magpie. A quadrille might be permissible; it is a more stately kind of dance. But, perhaps, I have no right to dictate or give lessons in dancing, seeing that at the last Lulbrook Harvest Home I began the village ball on the Rectory meadow with Mrs. Timmins, our dairy woman, for my partner.

To continue about Mr. Rashleigh. He was received into the best society, and Sir Thomas Scratcham, our Conservative member, desired to show him attention.

" Unfortunately, however, his political opinions and independence of manner, after a short time led to Mr. Rashleigh's exclusion from a social intercourse which would have been most beneficial to him, and which was certainly to his taste.

A Liberal meeting happened to be convened in Mulworth, for the purpose of taking steps to oust Sir Thomas from his seat. Mr. Rashleigh not only attended this meeting, but actually went so far as to attempt a speech. I heard afterwards (to my secret joy) that the speech was a ridiculous failure, and did more harm than good to the Liberal cause.

Mr. Rashleigh, although not a public speaker, was a. private mimic. At a convivial gathering he imitated Sir Thomas' nasal and somewhat drawling method of speaking. Both the meeting and the mimicry were reported at Scratch Court. When they next met, Sir Thomas bowed stiffly to my Curate, and Lady Scratcham raised her eye-glass and her eyebrows, and did not bow. In a word, they dropped him.

Mr. Rashleigh felt aggrieved at the slight; he spoke of Sir Thomas as "Sir Bombastes Nincompoop," and reminded me that Lady Scratcham was "a Yorkshire breweress." Still these mirthful explosions were but a small compensation for the loss of good dinners and genial society.

Nor were Mr. Rashleigh's mistakes confined to the direction of the upper and influential classes. He erred in an opposite manner in his connection with the shopkeepers and artizans. He made a point of going to tea with the Crockers, who kept a grocer's shop, simply because Mrs. Berbeck, our bank manager's wife, looked down on them. He invited Bill Slasher, the blacksmith, and Joe Slicer, the cobbler, to smoke in his rooms; and was hail-fellow-well-met with Mr. Grabb's apprentice boys, that he might give an evidence of the levelling influence of Christianity.

Now I agree with the sentiment, which has been often expressed, that "a clergyman should be neither above nor below anyone in his parish." But this must be held with "a mental reserve," and applied to a clergyman in his professional aspect. There are grades in society which even a clergyman cannot ignore; they are indispensable to the human race, constituted as it is. The uneducated classes cannot appreciate a recognition of equality in those they deem their betters; they are apt to regard it as condescension, as they are apt to consider modesty as the outcome of weakness. Over familiarity may not always breed contempt, but it is very likely to dispense with common courtesy. It was so in this case. Bill Slasher and Joe Slicer, who dropped their h's, sometimes dropped the Mr. when speaking of, or even to, my well-meaning Curate.

Society does exist; it has its conventionalities as well as its etiquettes, and they must be respected. Mr. Rashleigh certainly had an influence for good among the working class. He played cricket with the young men, and thereby gained a reputation for manliness and cordiality. By this means he managed to establish a Working Men's Club; he induced many of the members to come to Church. And yet, I fear, the smoke of his pipe in the cricket field clouded his good work in the parish.

In visiting the poor, he made his mistakes too. His injudicious donations were likely to pauperise some and make others lazy. Old Jane Burket, a miser with a stocking full of sovereigns, extracted half-a-crown from him by her whines; and Tim Guthrie, a worthless fellow, got dreadfully drunk in drinking the health of (to use his own words) "the decent young parson who tipped him two bob that morning."

My Curate was also deficient in that tact, that savoir faire—which is so essential to a clergyman. Mrs. Skirt, the tailor's wife, and Mrs. Cram, who kept the little toy-shop, had a quarrel about some trifle. Mr. Rashleigh endeavoured to bring about a reconciliation, with the result that they both turned upon himself as an interfering busybody. I have not said much about Mr. Rashleigh as a reader or preacher; the truth is, little is to be said about him here. He read as well as most clergymen; he preached moral theses.

Yet I must mention that even in Church he was consistent to his law-transgressing proclivities and his proneness to make mistakes. He said the Creed as if he did not quite believe all its clauses. After reading the lessons he said, "Thus endeth the first (or second) lesson; " and before the Epistle he used the words, "The Epistle is taken from, &c." However, when I pointed out to him that an ignoring of the rubric was really no improvement, and that his use sounded a little affected and pedantic, he adopted the authorised form.

He neglected to prefix the word "Saint" in mentioning the names of the Apostles, until I reminded him of the story of a Roman Catholic Priest requesting a Dissenting Minister to call the Apostles "Mister" if he objected to "Saint."

At times he was rather ambitious in his style of preaching. I give a specimen of this, which I took down in pencil at the time—

"We arrive at Evolution by the transmutation of an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity, into a definite, coherent, heterogeneity, and through a continuous system of differentiations and integrations. Therefore pneumaticism may be defined as the metempsychosis of a differentiated and integrated psychism."

As I felt rather puzzled at this elaborate sentence, I afterwards asked Mr. Rashleigh for an explanation of it. He had evidently some difficulty in giving one; indeed, I discovered that he had strung together two passages from different authors, and thereby mystified himself.

With all his faults, I was sorry when Mr. Rashleigh left me. This came about through his being offered a small country living in the gift of some relative.

Perhaps he may be deemed fortunate in gaining preferment thus early in life. There are men like him, worthy and well-meaning enough, who injure their own prospects by a certain self-sufficiency which dims their better qualities. They make enemies where they might have retained friends, without wounding their true dignity.

Men of position seldom excuse assumption in men without position : it seems to diminish their own importance. And when a Curate's preferment rests with his own unaided resources, it recedes into distance—he remains a Curate.

But I must not apostrophise. As I stated in the beginning of this chapter, Mr. Rashleigh is now a neighbour of mine. When I came to this, my present living, I found him Vicar of the next parish.

He is still a young man, young in hours as well as in years, to paraphrase from one of Lord Bacon's finest passages. He is liked in the parish, he still plays cricket. In many things he has become wiser; his politics are modified; his sermons are more simple; his manners are quieter. My wife asks him to tea and a rubber occasionally; he does not find fault, and she asks his advice as to what to lead. And yet it has struck me that he would prefer a wider scope for his energies, and that he is not quite satisfied with the prospect of remaining Vicar of a little hamlet to the end of life's chapter. When he was with us the other night I stole a look at him while his face was thoughtfully turned towards the fire, and the conversation had ceased for a minute. It is a bright face, and yet there is a soft sadness in it. I felt myself unconsciously repeating a passage I had read somewhere—"The gulf between what a man is and what he was intended to be is the truly tragic thing in his destinies."

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