Project Canterbury

My Curates


By A Rector.

London: Skeffington, 1890.


"Happy are they that hear their own detractions, and can put them to mending."—Much Ado about Nothing.

BESIDES my regularly licensed Curates, who stayed for a longer or shorter time, I have had clergymen, both at Mulworth and Lulbrook, to take occasional duty. These latter, as well as some of my Curates, do not claim, from my experience of them, any lengthy notice.

They, however, helped to extend my knowledge of the members of my own profession. In this chapter I intend to draw from that knowledge somewhat promiscuously, that is, I shall allow my memory to flit backwards, and just touch upon those who worked with me, without attempting to enter minutely into details. Perhaps I shall generalise, and in some cases individualise; and it is possible that as certain of these quickly-moving forms cross my memory's vision, they may call out an occasional reflection or apostrophe.

In the foregoing chapters I have exhibited a few peculiarities which may be observable in Curates as in other men. These I shall endeavour not to recall again.

In extending the roll of the small imperfections or weaknesses which young clergymen may betray, I trust my reader will understand that it is by no means implied that such imperfections are by any means universal, or even general. They are scattered about, like dust on a coat. Specks of dust may rest on a good coat; so, in many respects, those who evidence some small faults may be very free from graver ones.

It will be my simplest plan, first to collect some of these irregularly-scattered faults, and jot them down without mentioning names; and afterwards, should occasion require, to specify a few individuals and their peculiar shortcomings.

Preaching is decidedly an important item in a clergyman's duties. As books have been written on the art of preaching, and as this book is not written on that art, I shall say little about it. But I would mention one fault into which young clergymen are here liable to fall, namely, the assumption of an air of pomposity which suggests that they have a considerable opinion of their own powers. Not infrequently united with this is an over-florid style and an effort to make the peroration of the sermon very magniloquent. To the pomposity and the magniloquence earnestness and sense are likely to be sacrificed. This kind of fault generally decreases as age advances.

A desire for admiration is a natural and not uncommon failing—it is very perceptible to a man's hearers—it sometimes increases as age advances.

In a young clergyman's social intercourse with the laity, a manifestation of what I may term professional pride is to be deplored. I am glad to say that the more refined among my Curates were free from this self-assertiveness. I have noticed that with this tendency there is often united a peculiarity—scarcely worth mentioning perhaps, although it has always irritated me; I mean a "clerical laugh" which consists of a cachinnation made by a rapid and jerky inhaling of the breath—it is not, however, inspiring; it is usually accompanied by a fierce rubbing of the hands at one's own feeble joke. I beg to state that I did not rub my hands when I italicised inspiring.

A want of consideration for other people's feelings and sentiments is not unfrequently noticeable in the young clergyman's conversation, particularly on theoretical questions of a religious nature. This arises, not from innate discourtesy or want of breeding, so much as from a dogmatic, lay-down-the-law manner conferred by a consciousness of professional importance.

If I may do so, I should recommend young clergymen to avoid gregariousness in public. It is anything but a pleasing sight, at a social gathering, to observe a number of Curates huddled together with their hands behind their backs. We are in the world, and in its good and proper sense it is well to be men of the world, helping to refine it.

Some young clergymen are easily depressed. This is a pity; it argues a want of hopefulness and trust.

There is a particular of a different bearing which I would here note. It is a caution to young clergymen to be very careful in expressing themselves on points of doctrine: I do not refer to disputed points. I mention this because one of my Curates preached a sermon on Christmas Day which verged on Apollinarianism; and another, on Trinity Sunday, really drifted into Sabellianism. They did no harm I think, for probably no one except myself noticed the discrepancies.

I find that this categorising of faults and warnings is not to my taste, so I proceed to notice a few chance individuals.

If Mr. Rashleigh be accepted as a representative of the self-confident chatterbox, I had another Curate, his exact opposite in this respect. Poor Mr. Sayce! When he came in of an evening, he bored the life out of me. He would sit on the chair opposite, with his hands on his knees and his eyes fixed on mine as if I were Solomon. He would utter but the monosyllable "Yes" the whole evening.

Mr. Sayce reminded me of the clergyman who, on being asked by his in prospectu Rector what were his views, replied, with a bow, "My views, Sir, are those of my Rector." I was glad when Mr. Sayce was appointed to a Mastership in a Grammar School.

With some reluctance, I introduce the subject of love as it appertains to fair spinsters and unmarried Curates. My apology for doing so is that I would say a word on behalf of the Curates. On this tender ground they are often blamed, more often ridiculed, and although, as a rule, I have found them to be circumspect, still they do sometimes make sad mistakes in their wooings and matrimonial engagements.

Much allowance should be made for them. Curates belong to a social species; they will go, like other young men, where girls are. In small towns or country parishes they have little chance of mixing in the society of educated young ladies. Their world becomes a small one; their ideals of womanhood are reduced in proportion; the visible realities are confined to the bourgeois and downwards. They stop to tea and supper at a friendly farmer's or trader's house: by-and-bye they discover themselves saying soft, half-meaning things to Mary Jane or Hannah. The case proceeds in the old, old way: it results in an unpleasant denouement or a wife.

I recall two episodes which caused me some anxiety and worry.

The Rev. Valentine Spooney, one of my Mulworth Curates, managed somehow to pay attention to two girls at the same time: one, the daughter of Mr. Pickle, our chemist; the other, of Mr. Skew, a large ironmonger.

For a time all went well. Mr. Spooney paid visits pretty often at both places; the girls were nice enough in their way; he seemed to like one as well as the other: perhaps the same soft sayings did for both. Unfortunately, old Pickle and old Skew met one Sunday afternoon and had a talk; they parted rather angrily. Skew went home, but Pickle proceeded to Mr. Spooney's lodgings. He shouted out my Curate's name. Spooney, who was reading over his sermon, threw up the sash, and Pickle bombarded him with "a piece of his mind." Half the people in the street heard the cannonade, and I should fancy, from what I was told afterwards, that Mr. Pickle must have had a very large mind, if that were only a piece of it.

About half an hour before evensong, and under cover of the darkness, Mr. Spooney ran in to me. His nerves were shattered; he could not preach, nor attend Church that evening: so I had to fish out an old sermon, which happened to be on "The restraint of the tongue." Pickle and Skew were at Church, and I trust they derived benefit from my discourse. Poor Spooney took the first train the following morning.

I may as well finish the story. My Curate returned two years afterwards, and Miss Pickle became Mrs. Spooney.

The other episode occurred here in Lulbrook. My Curate, Mr. Nibbler, was most frequent in his visits to the infant school. For a time I rejoiced at his zeal in teaching the little ones. Another reason transpired when it was too late: he had engaged himself to the schoolmistress, a young and rather pretty woman. Mr. Nibbler belonged to a good family. When his aunt, Lady N., heard of the affair she came at once to Lulbrook. She resorted to arguments, threats, and pleadings, and as a last resource to bribery; she told her nephew she would give the girl £2,000 if he broke off the match. It was all to no purpose. Her Ladyship swept away in a storm, a portion of which broke upon the Rectory and put my wife in a flutter for the rest of the day.

Mr. Nibbler married the schoolmistress. They are very poor; and, I fear, he is ostracised from the society of his relations.

Although it may exhibit me in a somewhat ludicrous position I must relate the following instance as a warning to my brother Rectors:—

At one time, during my tenure of S. Peter's, Mulworth, I required help for three months. A young man, calling himself the Rev. Ferdinand Lefanue, and stating that he had come over from Canada for his holiday, applied for the work. He supplied me with excellent testimonials, and came to S. Peter's. He quickly set about canvassing for a mission in Canada. Lady Scratcham took a great interest in him, invited him to lunch, found him to be a very charming man, and gave him five pounds. Besides this he raised a considerable sum. At his request I paid him his three months' stipend in advance.

He left before the end of the first month. I afterwards learned that his sudden departure was owing to his fear of the police; he was not a clergyman, but a ticket-of-leave man.

I meant this chapter to be a short one, so I bring it to a close. I am not sorry to have done with it. It is headed "Parva in parvo"—it treats of little things in a little space. I do not care about little things; so I allow my mind to rise to another and, I trust, more sententious chapter.

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