Project Canterbury

My Curates


By A Rector.

London: Skeffington, 1890.


"On n'est jamais si ridicule par les qualites que 1'on a que par celles que 1'on affecte d'avoir."—Rochefoucauld.

MY next Curate, of whom I would speak at some length, is Mr. Maypole. It will have been noticed that Mr. Slimmer and Mr. Rashleigh were different in many personal characteristics, as well as in their views as Churchmen. Mr. Maypole was a contrast to both: he was as far removed from the one as from the other. Indeed I might borrow an illustration from mathematics to describe these, my three Curates—relatively they stood to one another as the points of an equilateral triangle.

Mr. Maypole was undoubtedly possessed of good parts, and some excellent qualities. Of these he gave proof at School and College, and, I have every reason to believe, during his first Curacy, to which he had been ordained, and from which he came to Mulworth. As he is by no means the least interesting among those on my list, I shall give a brief sketch of his previous life.

He was the son of a very respectable yeoman, who held a farm on the property of a Mr. Marmaduke. In compliment to this good squire, Mrs. Maypole named her first-born son after him. Mr. Marmaduke was kind enough not to consider this a trespass; he esteemed his worthy tenant, and shewed various kindnesses to his little namesake.

The boy evidenced signs of a fair amount of ability; he was sent to a small Grammar School in a neighbouring town. Here he won prizes in Bible History, and in literis humanioribus. When he approached young-manhood, unlike most boys, he manifested an inclination, as well as an aptitude for the Ministry. Owing to this, his parents made an effort which cost them some self-denial, and sent him to a Theological College. He passed through his course with credit, and came out first of his year. This honour was not necessarily a very difficult feat, as there were only two other candidates; still it argued perseverance on his part, and there is no reason against the supposition that the first of three in a small College may be as distinguished a scholar as the first of a hundred in a great University.

For the two years previous to his coming to Mulworth, Mr. Maypole had worked as Curate in a remote village near Wales. I received a most satisfactory letter from his Vicar, who mentioned that it was his Curate's wish to leave him; that, not unnaturally, he considered himself "buried alive" in so out-of-the-way a place, and desired a larger field for his energies, and one more suitable to his talents.

Mr. Maypole was a tall, dark man of twenty-six or so, when he came to me. This is about as much as I can say of his appearance, which in other respects had nothing particularly striking in it. He was neither very handsome nor very plain. In complexion he differed from the florid Mr. Slimmer; his dress, unlike that of Mr. Rashleigh, was decidedly clerical.

At our first interview he gave me the impression that he was rather taciturn; he allowed me to do most of the talking, and seemed to agree with all I said. Indeed his deference created quite a novel sensation in me, after my previous experiences.

It is not, of course, my intention to write anything like a history of my parish. Still, that Mr. Maypole’s work and character may be the better understood, it will be necessary for me to notice certain changes which had gradually sprung up, and which gave me much concern.

I have noticed that stars do not appear singly either in the calm firmament of Heaven, or in the great political and social revolutions of earth. Readers of history will note this. Men of genius come in pairs or clusters; when in pairs, they generally stand in opposition. The Ecclesiastical World, the Scientific World, the Military World endorse this statement. Ignatius Loyola started into notoriety and power almost at the same time as did Luther. Newton found a rival in Leibnitz. If France had a Napoleon, England had her Wellington.

Even so did it happen at Mulworth. I have stated that Mulworth was not very much influenced in the long run by the great powers of Mr. Slimmer. In saying this I was a little inaccurate. Indirectly he was the primary cause of a change in the ecclesiastical aspect of the parish. He sowed the seeds of some discontent; they brought forth fruit in time. He was a star, perhaps I should rather say, a meteor; and in conformity with the law to which I have alluded, another star arose in opposition. This was all in the person of Captain Filbert, a retired military gentleman. Captain Filbert, having no more battles to fight for Queen and Country, resolved to be a champion in the Church. Having nothing else to do, by which he might exercise his energy, he allowed it to flow in an ecclesiastical channel. He was certainly a member of the Church Militant.

It came to pass, then, noiselessly at first, and then with slowly-increasing sound, that a division was created among our parishioners, and two parties were formed. The waters of Jordan were disturbed, and Ephraimites and Gileadites mustered on opposite banks. In plain language, a small but strong coterie of High Church people came into existence under the leadership of Captain Filbert, whose chief aim was to swell his ranks with recruits.

It would take me too long to describe the passages-at-arms which took place from time to time; or the running fires which I had to parry or escape from by subtlety; for, being a man of peace, I dislike anything which disturbs the quiet flow of the spiritual life. Some of my congregation wanted my surplice to be shorter; others longer. Some would have my stole narrower; others broader. The new generation of High Church folk, under their gallant Captain, were for pushing me on; the old Low Church generation were for pulling me back; so that, mentally speaking, I was likely to be torn asunder by the contending parties.

It was on this account that when Mr. Maypole came to Mulworth I went so far as to request him to steer as clear as he could from any appearance of favouritism towards either party. Not that I wishes to bias his own theological opinions, but because I thought a clergyman should be no partisan in his own parish; without absolutely agreeing with all, he can be a friend of all. And surely it is far better to lead people by friendly persuasion than to drive them by an attack upon their deeply-rooted convictions, whether we call then prejudices or not.

Now I have always considered it advisable that, ere making any changes in the mode of conducting Church services, a Rector should, to a certain extent, consult the feelings of his congregation. And surely he is justified in making such changes if no rubrics are thereby infringed upon, and the alterations are likely to deepen devotion in public worship.

For instance, I am sure that it is a good plan, when the Holy Communion is celebrated at the eleven o’clock service, to preach a very short sermon of not more than seven minutes’ duration; and also to try to induce all the congregation to remain in Church to the end of the sacred service, and not for the majority to leave immediately after the prayer for the Church Militant. This, I am convinced, would cause many non-communicants to become communicants.

Again, if a clergyman and his choir are capable of doing it well, it seems to me that the Morning and Evening Prayers might occasionally be intoned. This would probably have the effect of increasing the congregation. Music, too, may be made the means of prayer as well as praise. Worship is to be the employment of the Saints in Heaven; and in Heaven there is to be music, instrumental and vocal. It will be, doubtless, very beautiful there; why then should we not have it as beautiful as possible in God’s Church on earth?

The result of these meditations was that I determined to have an intoned service, if the congregation were not antagonistic to it. I found the majority rather in favour of the proposal. Mr. Maypole, too, gladly assented; otherwise, indeed, it must have fallen through, as my knowledge of music is very limited. But my Curate was proficient in the art; he took some of the ladies in hand, and after a few weeks’ preparation an attempt was made. My wife, who is my authority on this point, told me the service went very well; she was also pleased with Mr. Maypole’s voice, which she pronounced true and resonant.

I should mention that some time before this we had discarded the gown as a preaching vestment. It is true that I felt parting as with an old friend, and at first a little uncomfortable in the pulpit. There was a certain freedom of action, if not of speech, about my old Oxford gown, and I was vain enough (for vanity will steal up to the pulpit with us) to imagine that it suited my personal appearance. My wife has since metamorphosed it into my gardening coat.

By degrees, and chiefly through the efforts of my Curate, a fairly good choir of men and boys was formed, and in a few months we actually put them into surplices. This was a great deviation from the beaten track, and it gave rise to a considerable commotion. Captain Filbert was much pleased; but Mr. Wagstaff interviewed me in the vestry after the first appearance of the white robes; he expressed himself in harsh language on the subject of what he termed "innervations." I noticed, too, that Miss Simpkin, who occupied the front seat in the nave, combined devotion with inspection; while her head was bent upon her hands in prayer she managed to peer, through a crevice in her fingers, on what was going on in the chancel.

In time, however, the dissentients grew accustomed to the change; when they perceived that it did not lead to Rome, they became satisfied. I really think that the introduction of surplices and more music into S. Peter’s, Mulworth, was most beneficial. The congregation increased, and many of our lads, who would otherwise have been very rowdy, improved considerably under the discipline of Mr. Maypole, and the refining influence of music and religion.

After this considerable, but necessary, divergence from the principal subject of the chapter, I am in a better position to return to the personal history of my third Curate.

Mr. Maypole, as I have led my readers to suppose, was a good worker. Not only did he do his duty in the Church and choir, he also, very willingly and ably, gave Scripture lessons in the day schools. I now proceed to notice some of his particular characteristics in which, as I have already said, he differed from my previous Curates.

One of these, which may appear too trivial to mention, was his accentuation. I have often considered that the sound of a voice is, to some extent, an index of character. Mr. Rashleigh, for instance, had a blunt, honest kind of voice which denoted a certain fearlessness and independence. Mr. Slimmer’s voice, although very loud, seemed to come from a throat which had been oiled.

I cannot thus tersely describe Mr. Maypole’s voice. Indeed, it appeared to me that he had two voices; his ordinary voice, which he used with ordinary, common-place people and for everyday work; and his extraordinary voice, which he retained for Sundays, and people of fashion.

When he assumed the latter intonation, it gave one the impression that he wished to be very correct in his enunciation; yet this very correctness, or rather the attempt at it, sounded unpleasant to me. For instance, he rendered the word Church dissyllabically Choe-urch, and brethren became bray-thrun. Perhaps I ought not to be so critical here, as I believe several young clergymen affect what is termed "a clerical voice," which they trust in time to exchange for an episcopal one.

Mr. Maypole employed his Sunday-clothes' voice when addressing Sir John and Lady Scratcham. Indeed I noticed that his demeanour towards them was very different to that of Mr. Rashleigh. When they came occasionally over from their own parish to our Church, Mr. Maypole politely met them at the gate, and, hat in hand, held the carriage door open, nor did he wait for invitations to Scratch Court; he considered it a duty to visit there uninvited, and generally managed to call before lunch, to which he stopped.

A slight error which my Curate made on one of these visits nearly proved fatal to his being subsequently asked to stay to lunch. The Countess of R. had just come to Scratch Court, accompanied by a "companion," a young lady of gentle birth and personal attractions, but poor. Hearing of her ladyship's arrival, Mr. Maypole was not long in paying his respects. Unfortunately he did not know anything of Lady R.'s appearance or age. When ushered into the drawing-room two ladies were seated there; one a bright, elegant young woman, whom he presumed to be Lady R.; the other an ordinary-looking old person, who, he supposed, was a sort of duenna. Regarding the latter with a supercilious air, he addressed the former with much deference; stood at a respectful distance from her, and made the most of his regulation voice. Lady Scratcham appeared on the scene; the ladies' names were made known; the duenna was the Countess, the other lady a nobody. Mr. Maypole immediately tried to rectify his mistake; he transferred his attentions to the old lady, and looked haughtily on the young. It was too late; he only made matters worse. Lady R. froze towards him, her fair companion showed the poor Curate that she was more than his match in dignity, Lady Scratcham considered it all very funny, and laughed loudly, and Sir John, when he heard of the incident, became more reserved towards Mr. Maypole.

Poor people are quicker at noticing peculiarities than we are apt to suppose. Bill Slasher and Joe Slicer noticed Mr. Maypole's two-fold voice; they had caught something of Mr. Rashleigh's power of mimicry, and they used it at my third Curate's expense.

Notwithstanding these slight peculiarities of voice, Mr. Maypole was by no means a vox et praeterea nihil; his sermons were quite up to the average, and contained a good deal of sound matter, especially on the doctrines and principles of the Church. He appeared to be free from many of those temptations to which some young Curates are subject; he was not a flirt, nor a croquet player; he upheld the dignity of the priesthood.

It was owing to my confidence in his trustworthiness that I determined upon taking a long-contemplated trip with my wife to see our son in America, leaving Mr. Maypole in sole charge during our absence of six months.

On our return I found that a great many changes had taken place in the Church and Parish. I will specify some of these, Mr. Maypole had adopted coloured stoles, green ones at this particular time; I learned that this was the colour for the Sundays after Trinity. The choir were now in cassocks as well as surplices; a processional hymn was sung before the service; and at the head of the procession Captain Filbert marched with a cross in his hands.

Some alteration was also observable in Mr. Maypole's appearance and manner. He sometimes wore his cassock cinctured with a white girdle, when going round the parish. In the reading desk and pulpit he had assumed a more statuesque attitude; he seemed to take considerable pains in arranging the ringers of one hand so as to correspond with those of the other. The intonation of his voice was now pitched in a higher key; to me it sounded more artificial than of yore.

A very uncivil war had also been declared in the columns of the "Mulworth Weekly Express!" Letters signed by "a Churchman" and by "a Protestant" succeeded each other; they were more rude than logical, more satirical than religious. Their modes of expression suggested Mr. Maypole as the "Churchman," and Mr. Slimmer as the "Protestant!" It was remarkable that these two clergymen were on anything but friendly terms.

Mr. Wagstaff had resigned his churchwardenship, and, with a few others, had joined the dissenting chapel. He, too, had contributed to the literature of the "Weekly Express"—his subject being "Rank Popery in the Church."

My Curate did not come out of the war without receiving some blows. He was hooted in the streets; I regret to add that hissing had been heard in Church. Indeed on one Sunday it had been found necessary to have some policemen in attendance. However, Mr. Maypole was compensated; he gained a tremendous popularity with Captain Filbert's party; he posed as a high priest and a martyr.

Were I to attempt to describe my own feelings, I should utterly fail. Nor do I care to try. What man (that is man in distinction to woman) is anxious to open his heart to the world, when it is vexed and troubled?

As Rector of the parish I was placed in a dilemma. Should I acquiesce in the present state of things? or should I return to our former and more simple use? My first impulse was for the latter course; not that I object to coloured stoles, for I see no harm in them, nor to a cross being carried; surely it is well to keep that grand symbol before us. No, the impulse arose from my being annoyed.

But then we must put aside our own feelings when duty is concerned. I honestly tried to do this, and weighed the matter carefully. To acquiesce would be to admit that the Shepherd was weak indeed, and such an admission is bad for a parish. Not to acquiesce would be to offend many earnest Church-people, especially the donors of several handsome gifts made to the Church in my absence; it would be to open a new campaign of undesirable warfare.

Taking a careful view of the whole situation, and of the many questions bearing on it, I resolved to leave things as they were. Perhaps some will say I was wrong. If so, I was punished for my weak concession. Some of the Low Church people called me a Puseyite and a trimmer; some of the High Church party described me as an old fossil.

From this time my old wide-sleeved surplice and black scarf became obsolete; nor could they be utilised as my gown had been. I submitted to be vested in a short, tight-fitting surplice and coloured stole. Yet I had some difficulty in appearing as cordial towards my Curate as I might have wished.

Mr. Maypole appeared to imagine that with advance in Churchmanship a proportionate advance in distinguished birth was requisite. His paper and envelopes were adorned with a crest, a hand holding a pole, with the motto " Excelsior " underneath; and I was informed that Baron Maypole fought at the battle of Crecy. Some old families degenerate, the principle of involution exists no less than does that of evolution. And, bearing on this point, I shall narrate an occurrence which gave me a further insight into my Curate's character. It may exemplify how an over-anxious desire to exhibit family antiquity can, paradoxically, lead to a non-recognition of sufficient honour towards one's immediate progenitors.

As I chanced to pass Mr. Maypole's lodgings one day, an elderly man rushed out from the house, carrying a carpet bag and large umbrella, and evidently in a perturbed frame of mind. Thinking it within my province to enquire the cause of his distress, I saluted him, and we became acquainted, He was Mr. Maypole's father, and he was under the impression that his son had treated him badly. He spoke in a rapid and excited tone of voice, and with much gesticulation. "I wanted, Sir," he went on, "to pay my respects to you, as my son's Rector, but Marmy wouldn't let me. No, he's a thankless, conceited boy; I know what he's wanting—he's ashamed of his old father and wanted to hide him, and I disown him."

I had some difficulty in calming the feelings of my new acquaintance, by assuring him he was under some mistake, and that so excellent and earnest a young clergyman as his son was could not be guilty of so serious a transgression. Finding that there was no absolute necessity for old Mr. Maypole's immediate return to his home, I insisted upon his coming to the Rectory, where he was furnished with a bed-room. I sent an invitation to my Curate to come and dine with us that evening, and, with a little management, father and son were reconciled. My wife decanted a bottle of our special old port, and I listened with much pleasure to the honest and acute observations of the kind old farmer.

Afterwards, when alone in the quiet of my study, I could not help asking myself, "Which is the more worthy scion of the hero of Crecy?" and I felt that I should experience a greater difficulty than I had anticipated in writing a contemplated sermon on "What is a true Gentleman? "

The incident reminded me of a story of a celebrated Scotch Divine; it was told me by one who lived near his birthplace in the Highlands, and may be accepted as true. The Rev. Dr. Z. was of humble origin; he rose to fame through his oratorical powers, and was received into the best London society. For some purpose he paid a visit to his father, a labourer, who lived close to a remote village. On his return to catch the coach which passed through this village, Dr. Z. was accompanied by his father, who carried his son's portmanteau. As the coach drove up, a couple of noblemen who knew him cordially saluted the Divine from the box-seat, and said they would make room for him. His own thought was, How shall I conceal that this man is my father? An expedient suggested itself; he took the portmanteau from the old man, dropped a shilling into his hand, saying, "Thank you, John." Before the poor old father had recovered his surprise, the coach was out of sight.

The following episode may serve as a caution to young clergymen desirous of gaining preferment; it may exemplify how essential are the qualifications of prudence and foresight.

A small living in our neighbourhood fell vacant about this time. Sir John Scratcham was a friend of the patron, with whom he had much influence. Mr. Maypole's name was mentioned, with the result that I received a letter asking if I could spare my Curate to take duty at Y. for a couple of Sundays. I replied in the affirmative.

Suspecting that this meant "a trotting out " (if I may use a sporting phrase), I recommended Mr. Maypole to take with him his four best sermons.

On the first Sunday evening a large congregation assembled at Y. Church; although it had rather a Ritualistic notoriety, still many Dissenters, allured by the novelty of a strange preacher, were present. The sermon was a little unfortunate; it went to show that no one outside the pale of the Catholic Church could possibly be saved; it was a diatribe against Calvinism and Lutheranism. Some of the Church people, as well as the Dissenters, were offended, and Mr. Maypole discovered he had made a mistake.

The fame of the sermon spread, and was appreciated in other quarters. An influential Roman Catholic family in the parish decided to go for once to a Church of England Service, and were present at Y. the following Sunday evening. Mr. Maypole had, meanwhile, determined to rectify matters, and on this evening he proved without the shadow of a doubt that the great Beast whose number is Six Hundred and Sixty Six could be no other than the Pope of Rome.

The Roman Catholic family did not again attend the Anglican Service; nor was Mr. Maypole offered the living of Y.

I have said little of my Curate's disposition where the tender passion is concerned. Here he was prudent; perhaps, by nature, he was not susceptible to the attractions of beauty and grace. Still I am sure that among the fair sex he had his admirers; I have noticed, by the way, that the strange paradox called Woman is ready to give her affections where there is no evidence of reciprocity, and almost as ready to make light of the love she may have won. Be this as it may, the bright eyes of Sunday School teachers and Church-decorating ladies sparkled in vain; their hearts throbbed without a response from my discreet Curate.

Yet he was not destined to be a celibate. He judiciously acted on the Hibernian principle, "Don't marry for money, but go where money is." The nieces of a wealthy brewer were his reputed heiresses. And though Mr. Maypole was at enmity with Mr. Slimmer, still—

"Fas est et ab hoste doceri."

For a time Mr. Maypole paid his addresses to the elder niece; but on his being informed by the brewer's lawyer that the younger was sole heiress, he transferred his attentions to her.

In course of time she accepted his suit. He conferred on her a name, Mrs. Marmaduke Maypole and a family lineage, of which she was proud. II was an exchange. She brought him a considerably dowry, from which he purchased the advowson, perpetual right of presentation to a living. This he presented to himself, and I had to look out for new Curate.

In looking back upon Mr. Maypole's stay with me, I find myself quoting from Rochefoucauld, "Les vertus se perdent dans 1'interet comme les fleuves se perdent dans la mer," and I meditate upon the difficculty of finding what Aristotle calls an ??????????????? a square—a four-cornered man.

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