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My Curates


By A Rector.

London: Skeffington, 1890.


"The obscure trouble of a baffled instinct."

BY this time S. Peter's, Mulworth, had gained the reputation of being decidedly High Church; its Rector was regarded as a Ritualist! When, on Mr. Maypole's departure, I advertised for a Curate, several High Churchmen were among the applicants.

Were it not a breach of confidence, I might possibly amuse my readers by giving extracts from some of the letters which I received. Yet I was instructed by them. For instance, in two of these letters the expression occurred, "I hold the Six Points." This led me to enquire into and discover what the six points are. I took exception to the mode of summing up in a few of these letters; my correspondents signed themselves, "Yours faithfully in Christ," &c.; The phrase appeared to me a little affected, and I consider that pious ejaculations are superfluous in letters.

After some debate and a considerable correspondence, my choice fell upon the Rev. Peter Parchment, and he became Curate of S. Peter's.

Now, apart from the interest which I trust may be awakened in Mr. Parchment himself, I have two particular reasons for introducing him to my readers.

In the first place, he is very like and also very unlike my next Curate, whom I recall with the tenderest feelings. And if these two young clergymen, presenting a similarity and a contrast, are compared, the truth will appear that two men, who closely resemble each other in disposition, education, and purpose, may separate widely in the later experiences of life and religion.

My second reason is, that even if Mr. Parchment does not adorn a tale, he certainly points a moral. The moral is this; I state it from my own observation, and much could be written on the subject: those members of the Church of England, who, in early life, have been carefully educated in the Church's doctrines and principles, seldom leave the faith of their fathers. On the other hand, a barren Protestantism, which teaches little else than antagonism to Rome and to scepticism, is the training-school in which some weak young minds are prepared to embrace one or other of these systems in later life.

I have known of parents who, through fear lest their children should develop a tendency towards Romanism, disguised from them the doctrines in which England approaches Rome. These well-meaning but short-sighted people were unconsciously the Jesuits' paidagogoi. And I have known of more than one fatuous instructor of youth, exulting in their very sciolism, preparing their pupils for scientific scepticism by stating that Christianity would fall to pieces if the world had not been made in six days of twenty-four hours each.

Surely we need have no fear of the truth and the whole truth; and must we not expect that the religion which is maintained by evasion will have ill results? "Train up a child in the way he should go." Give him sound, honest, definite Church teaching, and when he is old he will not depart therefrom.

I have allowed myself to drift into a didactic and dogmatic style. With some effort I turn from it to my new Curate.

Mr. Parchment was a clergyman's son. Both his parents were extreme Evangelicals. Good, pious, God-fearing people, they impressed upon young Peter the great lesson of the Atonement; it was his one and almost only lesson in Theology.

When he went up to Oxford, which he did with the intention of taking Holy Orders, he quickly discovered how extremely ignorant he was. Such a discovery is generally a most beneficial one, as wise old Socrates reminds us; but there are exceptions, and Mr. Parchment's case was an exception.

The Theocratic teaching of the University was a revelation to the young neophyte; he discerned that the Creed had more clauses than one; the Church was a far larger building than he had imagined; he could not compute its extent, for its limits had not been denned for him. His religious principles had been hitherto imprisoned in the sombre and narrow shrine of Calvinism; they were now let loose in a vast Cathedral.

At first the expanse awed him; the complex lights dazzled him; the grand architecture subdued and terrified him. But he gradually shook off his timidity, and allowed his soul to revel in its new-found freedom. The empty mind hungered for food; it had not been trained to distinguish between the wholesome and unwholesome, and so it ignored the truth of the adage—

"Est modus in rebus; sunt certi denique fines
Quos ultra citraque nequit consistere rectum."

I do not for a moment reflect upon the training which candidates for the Ministry receive at my old University. It may be, it probably is, excellent, so far as it goes, and suitable for well-constituted minds. But it appears to me that scarcely enough care is given to those young intellects which are warped and contracted in their earlier stages, and which, so to speak, exchange the Dame School for the Lyceum with a suddenness which may be overpowering.

Such is a brief, perhaps I should add a semi-metaphorical, outline of Mr. Parchment's theological training. When he came to me he was what I may term lop-sided in his religious principles. Too much had been built on a small foundation, and in certain places the structure was in danger of toppling over.

There is much to say in favour of Mr. Parchment. He was ardent, devout, and earnest, a reader and worker. But he was a dreamer, too. His sermons were peculiar, dreamy rhapsodies seasoned with mysticism; they oscillated between a philosophical materialism and a speculative Platonism—at times they appeared to me as scarcely orthodox.

In the arrangements of his person and dress he, if I may use the expression, flirted with Rome. His face was cleanly shaved; his collar was fringed with black silk; his hat was decorated with bell-like pendants, and his coat reached to his ankles. I believe he would have considered it a compliment had be been mistaken for a Roman Priest.

His manner and conversation indicated that he was dissatisfied; he craved for something which he could not himself explain; his thirst for the indefinite was so insatiable that he drank from every visionary brook; some of the waters were stale, and brackish, and bad for his digestion. At times he figured as a melancholy aesthete, seeking peace amid the flowers of an earthly Paradise. The Paradise was of his own making, and the flowers were reared in his imagination, and soon faded.

When, one evening, he preached a carefully prepared and laboriously delivered sermon on Apostolical Succession, his mournful face and dejected voice seemed to testify that he felt the weight of all the Apostles' hands pressing heavily upon his head.

Strangely combining with this melancholy of disposition there was a sense of humour which occasionally displayed itself in my Curate. We were passing the Dissenting Chapel together one day; Mr. Parchment stopped opposite the gate, and gravely raising his hat, solemnly repeated the words of the Litany, "From all false doctrine, heresy, and schism . . . Good Lord, deliver us."

Another incident is worth recording, as it exhibits a certain manliness in the character of my saturnine Curate. In relating it I trust that I may not be considered over-partial to cricket. If I should be, my defence is that cricket may be regarded as not only a national, but also a clerical and even an Episcopal and Cardinal game. It may not be uninteresting to some to know that in the records of an early University Cricket Match, the following item occurs in the Cambridge score—C. Wordsworth, cd- Wordsworth, bd- Manning. These great names are too well known to need comment; the last of them suggested something like a pun to me, so I have put the word Cardinal in italics.

But for the incident. A novel cricket match, Clergy of Blankshire v. Mulworth and district, was arranged to take place on the Mulworth cricket field. The clerical captain had some difficulty in getting his team together, and at the last moment included Mr. Parchment in the eleven.

The hour fixed for the match arrived; the rival combatants mustered in force, the young clergymen looked quite picturesque in their flannels, their caps and coats of many colours. All, save Mr. Parchment, who entered the field in his most clerical habiliments, and looked as if he were going to take a funeral.

The parsons won the toss, and Bill Slasher and Joe Slicer were told off to bowl. At length Mr. Parchment's turn came; his name was put down on the fall of the seventh wicket. He took off his coat with a sigh, carefully folded it up, and emerged from the pavilion.

His appearance was greeted with a titter from the spectators, and I must admit that I smiled, for a remarkable contrast presented itself to my mind. I have stated that my former Curate, Mr. Rashleigh, walked up to the reading desk as if he were going to a wicket; my present Curate inverted this modus eundi; he carried his bat under his arm as if it were a Prayer Book; his hands were clasped, and he walked to the wicket as if he were going to the reading desk.

The two bowlers were holding a conversation as Mr. Parchment passed near them. Sheer sniggered, and Slasher remarked, "It ain't Mr. Rashleigh this time." Mr. Parchment heard the remark, and a feeble smile brushed his face. He quietly took his place, and asked for "guard;" then, after taking a survey of the field, he placed himself on the defensive. As he bent slightly forward the graceful curvature of his lithe frame denoted that he knew something of what is called "form." Joe Slicer winked at the umpire, and bowled a cunning slow. A sudden flash of the bat followed, then a loud cheer—the ball had been sent to the fence for five. The next ball which Mr. Parchment received he cut for four, and the bowlers ceased to grin.

But it would take me over-long to describe the rest of the innings. Suffice it to say that there was tremendous cheering; the clergy shouted like schoolboys, and Mr. Parchment carried out his bat, or rather was carried himself, with a score of fifty-one. At the close of the game the Church was victorious.

It transpired afterwards that although Mr. Parchment had not been in the Oxford eleven, he was considered the best bat of his college. I noticed that, after this event, Bill Slasher and Joe Slicer respectfully touched their hats to my Curate, which they had omitted doing before.

Would that we had some more of such cricket matches! or, indeed, anything that would have shaken my Curate out of himself and his dreary dreams. But no—he had just emerged for a few hours into the sunlight, and then retreated once ,more into his contemplative cell.

Gradually his sermons became more definite in their tendency. It did not require much perception to see that he sought in the direction of Rome a goal of longed-for peace. His genuflections were frequent; he advocated a cultus of the Blessed Virgin, of whom he spoke as the Queen of Heaven. I felt it was my duty to expostulate with him. In our succeeding conversations I gathered that he was unsettled as to the validity of Anglican Orders. But there is little good in repeating all we said, nor is it necessary for me to assert how earnestly I endeavoured to dissuade him from drifting into a religious economy which demands the surrender of reason in matters of faith.

Possibly some conceit, mingled with bad logic, weighed with him. He may have reasoned thus: "Manning and Newman went over to Rome; they were great men. Therefore, if I go over to Rome I must be a great man." I have heard other men establishing their theories by syllogisms not in the least more cogent. Better admit that the will is stronger than argument, and that the conscience can be strangely clouded.

Not long after this Mr. Parchment left me for Rome.

Although he was thus a renegade, I still felt a sorrowful interest in him; I was allowed an occasional glimpse at his career. There is a well-known passage in Horace—

"Quia me vestigia terrent
Omnia te adversum spectantia, nulla retrorsum."

This has been freely translated—"The footprints to Rome terrify me. None that go there ever return."

This is generally, but not universally true. Mr. Parchment found that Rome had her limits, in some directions narrower than those of England, and he did not find there a calm resting-place for the soul. He was in time received back into the Anglican Church. When I last heard of him, he was in sole charge of a little country parish. The Church was always beautifully decorated; the music of a high order.

Perhaps he seeks, in the aestheticism of nature and in the sweet melodies of art, an echo of that peace which the world cannot give.

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