Scenes of Clerical Life





  Scenes of Clerical Life

  Scenes of Clerical Life

  George Eliot

  This page copyright © 2002 Blackmask Online.

  http://www.blackmask.com

  VOL. I. THE SAD FORTUNES OF THE REV. AMOS BARTON.

  CHAPTER I.

  CHAPTER II.

  CHAPTER III.

  CHAPTER IV.

  CHAPTER V.

  CHAPTER VI.

  CHAPTER VII.

  CHAPTER VIII.

  CHAPTER IX.

  CHAPTER X.

  CONCLUSION.

  MR GILFIL'S LOVE-STORY

  CHAPTER I.

  CHAPTER II.

  CHAPTER III.

  CHAPTER IV.

  CHAPTER V.

  CHAPTER VI.

  CHAPTER VII.

  CHAPTER VIII.

  CHAPTER IX.

  CHAPTER X.

  CHAPTER XI.

  CHAPTER XII.

  CHAPTER XIII.

  CHAPTER XIV.

  CHAPTER XV.

  CHAPTER XVI.

  CHAPTER XVII.

  VOL. II. MR GILFIL'S LOVE-STORY

  CHAPTER XVIII.

  CHAPTER XIX.

  CHAPTER XX.

  CHAPTER XXI.

  EPILOGUE.

  JANET'S REPENTANCE

  CHAPTER I.

  CHAPTER II.

  CHAPTER III.

  CHAPTER IV.

  CHAPTER V.

  CHAPTER VI.

  CHAPTER VII.

  CHAPTER VIII.

  CHAPTER IX.

  GRAND ENTERTAINMENT!!!

  CHAPTER X.

  CHAPTER XI.

  CHAPTER XII.

  CHAPTER XIII.

  CHAPTER XIV.

  CHAPTER XV.

  CHAPTER XVI.

  CHAPTER XVII.

  CHAPTER XVIII.

  CHAPTER XIX.

  CHAPTER XX.

  CHAPTER XXI.

  CHAPTER XXII.

  CHAPTER XXIII.

  CHAPTER XXIV.

  CHAPTER XXV.

  CHAPTER XXVI.

  CHAPTER XXVII.

  CHAPTER XXVIII.

  VOL. I. THE SAD FORTUNES OF THE REV. AMOS BARTON.

  CHAPTER I.

  Shepperton Church was a very different-looking building five-and-twenty years

  ago. To be sure, its substantial stone tower looks at you through its

  intelligent eye, the clock, with the friendly expression of former days; but in

  everything else what changes! Now there is a wide span of slated roof flanking

  the old steeple; the windows are tall and symmetrical; the outer doors are

  resplendent with oak-graining, the inner doors reverentially noiseless with a

  garment of red baize; and the walls, you are convinced, no lichen will ever

  again effect a settlement on—they are smooth and innutrient as the summit of the

  Rev. Amos Barton's head, after ten years of baldness and supererogatory soap.

  Pass through the baize doors and you will see the nave filled with well-shaped

  benches, understood to be free seats; while in certain eligible corners, less

  directly under the fire of the clergyman's eye, there are pews reserved for the

  Shepperton gentility. Ample galleries are supported on iron pillars, and in one

  of them stands the crowning glory, the very clasp or aigrette of Shepperton

  church-adornment— namely, an organ, not very much out of repair, on which a

  collector of small rents, differentiated by the force of circumstances into an

  organist, will accompany the alacrity of your departure after the blessing, by a

  sacred minuet or an easy "Gloria."

  Immense improvement! says the well-regulated mind, which unintermittingly

  rejoices in the New Police, the Tithe Commutation Act, the pennypost, and all

  guarantees of human advancement, and has no moments when conservative-reforming

  intellect takes a nap, while imagination does a little Toryism by the sly,

  revelling in regret that dear, old, brown, crumbling, picturesque inefficiency

  is everywhere giving place to spick-and-span new-painted, new-varnished

  efficiency, which will yield endless diagrams, plans, elevations, and sections,

  but alas! no picture. Mine, I fear, is not a well-regulated mind: it has an

  occasional tenderness for old abuses; it lingers with a certain fondness over

  the days of nasal clerks and top-booted parsons, and has a sigh for the departed

  shades of vulgar errors. So it is not surprising that I recall with a fond

  sadness Shepperton Church as it was in the old days, with its outer coat of

  rough stucco, its red-tiled roof, its heterogeneous windows patched with

  desultory bits of painted glass, and its little flight of steps with their

  wooden rail running up the outer wall, and leading to the school-children's

  gallery.

  Then inside, what dear old quaintnesses! which I began to look at with delight,

  even when I was so crude a member of the congregation, that my nurse found it

  necessary to provide for the reinforcement of my devotional patience by

  smuggling bread-and-butter into the sacred edifice. There was the chancel,

  guarded by two little cherubims looking uncomfortably squeezed between arch and

  wall, and adorned with the escutcheons of the Oldinport family, which showed me

  inexhaustible possibilities of meaning in their blood-red hands, their

  death's-heads and cross-bones, their leopards' paws, and Maltese crosses. There

  were inscriptions on the panels of the singing-gallery, telling of benefactions

  to the poor of Shepperton, with an involuted elegance of capitals and final

  flourishes, which my alphabetic erudition traced with ever-new delight. No

  benches in those days; but huge roomy pews, round which devout church-goers sat

  during "lessons," trying to look anywhere else than into each other's eyes. No

  low partitions allowing you, with a dreary absence of contrast and mystery, to

  see everything at all moments; but tall dark panels, under whose shadow I sank

  with a sense of retirement through the Litany, only to feel with more intensity

  my burst into the conspicuousness of public life when I was made to stand up on

  the seat during the psalms or the singing.

  And the singing was no mechanical affair of official routine; it had a drama. As

  the moment of psalmody approached, by some process to me as mysterious and

  untraceable as the opening of the flowers or the breaking-out of the stars, a

  slate appeared in front of the gallery, advertising in bold characters the psalm

  about to be sung, lest the sonorous announcement of the clerk should still leave

  the bucolic mind in doubt on that head. Then followed the migration of the clerk

  to the gallery, where, in company with a bassoon, two key-bugles, a carpenter

  understood to have an amazing power of singing "counter," and two lesser musical

  stars, he formed the complement of a choir regarded in Shepperton as one of

  distinguished attraction, occasionally known to draw hearers from the next

  parish. The innovation of hymn-books was as yet undreamed of; even the New

  Ve
rsion was regarded with a sort of melancholy tolerance, as part of the common

  degeneracy in a time when prices had dwindled, and a cotton gown was no longer

  stout enough to last a lifetime; for the lyrical taste of the best heads in

  Shepperton had been formed on Sternhold and Hopkins. But the greatest triumphs

  of the Shepperton choir were reserved for the Sundays when the slate announced

  an Anthem, with a dignified abstinence from particularisation, both words and

  music lying far beyond the reach of the most ambitious amateur in the

  congregation:—an anthem in which the key-bugles always ran away at a great pace,

  while the bassoon every now and then boomed a flying shot after them.

  As for the clergyman, Mr Gilfil, an excellent old gentleman, who smoked very

  long pipes and preached very short sermons, I must not speak of him, or I might

  be tempted to tell the story of his life, which had its little romance, as most

  lives have between the ages of teetotum and tobacco. And at present I am

  concerned with quite another sort of clergyman—the Rev. Amos Barton, who did not

  come to Shepperton until long after Mr Gilfil had departed this life—until after

  an interval in which Evangelicalism and the Catholic Question had begun to

  agitate the rustic mind with controversial debates. A Popish blacksmith had

  produced a strong Protestant reaction by declaring that, as soon as the

  Emancipation Bill was passed, he should do a great stroke of business in

  gridirons; and the disinclination of the Shepperton parishioners generally to

  dim the unique glory of St Lawrence, rendered the Church and Constitution an

  affair of their business and bosoms. A zealous evangelical preacher had made the

  old sounding-board vibrate with quite a different sort of elocution from Mr

  Gilfil's; the hymn-book had almost superseded the Old and New Versions; and the

  great square pews were crowded with new faces from distant corners of the

  parish—perhaps from dissenting chapels.

  You are not imagining, I hope, that Amos Barton was the incumbent of Shepperton.

  He was no such thing. Those were days when a man could hold three small livings,

  starve a curate a-piece on two of them, and live badly himself on the third. It

  was so with the Vicar of Shepperton; a vicar given to bricks and mortar, and

  thereby running into debt far away in a northern country—who executed his

  vicarial functions towards Shepperton by pocketing the sum of thirty-five pounds

  ten per annum, the net surplus remaining to him from the proceeds of that

  living, after the disbursement of eighty pounds as the annual stipend of his

  curate. And now, pray, can you solve me the following problem? Given a man with

  a wife and six children: let him be obliged always to exhibit himself when

  outside his own door in a suit of black broadcloth, such as will not undermine

  the foundations of the Establishment by a paltry plebeian glossiness or an

  unseemly whiteness at the edges; in a snowy cravat, which is a serious

  investment of labour in the hemming, starching, and ironing departments; and in

  a hat which shows no symptom of taking to the hideous doctrine of expediency,

  and shaping itself according to circumstances; let him have a parish large

  enough to create an external necessity for abundant shoe-leather, and an

  internal necessity for abundant beef and mutton, as well as poor enough to

  require frequent priestly consolation in the shape of shillings and sixpences;

  and, lastly, let him be compelled, by his own pride and other people's, to dress

  his wife and children with gentility from bonnet-strings to shoe-strings. By

  what process of division can the sum of eighty pounds per annum be made to yield

  a quotient which will cover that man's weekly expenses? This was the problem

  presented by the position of the Rev. Amos Barton, as curate of Shepperton,

  rather more than twenty years ago.

  What was thought of this problem, and of the man who had to work it out, by some

  of the well-to-do inhabitants of Shepperton, two years or more after Mr Barton's

  arrival among them, you shall hear, if you will accompany me to Cross Farm, and

  to the fireside of Mrs Patten, a childless old lady, who had got rich chiefly by

  the negative process of spending nothing. Mrs Patten's passive accumulation of

  wealth, through all sorts of "bad times," on the farm of which she had been sole

  tenant since her husband's death, her epigrammatic neighbour, Mrs Hackit,

  sarcastically accounted for by supposing that "sixpences grew on the bents of

  Cross Farm;" while Mr Hackit, expressing his views more literally, reminded his

  wife that "money breeds money." Mr and Mrs Hackit, from the neighbouring farm,

  are Mrs Patten's guests this evening; so is Mr Pilgrim, the doctor from the

  nearest market-town, who, though occasionally affecting aristocratic airs, and

  giving late dinners with enigmatic side-dishes and poisonous port, is never so

  comfortable as when he is relaxing his professional legs in one of those

  excellent farmhouses where the mice are sleek and the mistress sickly. And he is

  at this moment in clover.

  For the flickering of Mrs Patten's bright fire is reflected in her bright copper

  tea-kettle, the home-made muffins glisten with an inviting succulence, and Mrs

  Patten's niece, a single lady of fifty, who has refused the most ineligible

  offers out of devotion to her aged aunt, is pouring the rich cream into the

  fragrant tea with a discreet liberality.

  Reader! did you ever taste such a cup of tea as Miss Gibbs is this moment

  handing to Mr Pilgrim? Do you know the dulcet strength, the animating blandness

  of tea sufficiently blended with real farmhouse cream? No—most likely you are a

  miserable town-bred reader, who think of cream as a thinnish white fluid,

  delivered in infinitesimal pennyworths down area steps; or perhaps, from a

  presentiment of calves' brains, you refrain from any lacteal addition, and rasp

  your tongue with unmitigated bohea. You have a vague idea of a milch cow as

  probably a white-plaster animal standing in a butterman's window, and you know

  nothing of the sweet history of genuine cream, such as Miss Gibb's: how it was

  this morning in the udders of the large sleek beasts, as they stood lowing a

  patient entreaty under the milking-shed; how it fell with a pleasant rhythm into

  Betty's pail, sending a delicious incense into the cool air; how it was carried

  into that temple of moist cleanliness, the dairy, where it quietly separated

  itself from the meaner elements of milk, and lay in mellowed whiteness, ready

  for the skimming-dish which transferred it to Miss Gibbs's glass cream-jug. If I

  am right in my conjecture, you are unacquainted with the highest possibilities

  of tea; and Mr Pilgrim, who is holding that cup in his hand, has an idea beyond

  you.

  Mrs Hackit declines cream; she has so long abstained from it with an eye to the

  weekly butter-money, that abstinence, wedded to habit, has begotten aversion.

  She is a thin woman with a chronic liver-complaint, which would have secured her

  Mr Pilgrim's entire regard and unreserved good word, even if he had not been in

  awe of her tongue, which was as sharp as his own lancet
. She has brought her

  knitting—no frivolous fancy knitting, but a substantial woollen stocking; the

  click-click of her knitting-needles is the running accompaniment to all her

  conversation, and in her utmost enjoyment of spoiling a friend's

  self-satisfaction, she was never known to spoil a stocking.

  Mrs Patten does not admire this excessive click-clicking activity. Quiescence in

  an easy-chair, under the sense of compound interest perpetually accumulating,

  has long seemed an ample function to her, and she does her malevolence gently.

  She is a pretty little old woman of eighty, with a close cap and tiny flat white

  curls round her face, as natty and unsoiled and invariable as the waxen image of

  a little old lady under a glass-case; once a lady's-maid, and married for her

  beauty. She used to adore her husband, and now she adores her money, cherishing

  a quiet blood-relation's hatred for her niece, Janet Gibbs, who, she knows,

  expects a large legacy, and whom she is determined to disappoint. Her money

  shall all go in a lump to a distant relation of her husband's, and Janet shall

  be saved the trouble of pretending to cry, by finding that she is left with a

  miserable pittance.

  Mrs Patten has more respect for her neighbour Mr Hackit than for most people. Mr

  Hackit is a shrewd substantial man, whose advice about crops is always worth

  listening to, and who is too well off to want to borrow money.

  And now that we are snug and warm with this little tea-party, while it is

  freezing with February bitterness outside, we will listen to what they are

  talking about.

  "So," said Mr Pilgrim, with his mouth only half empty of muffin, "you had a row

  in Shepperton church last Sunday. I was at Jem Hood's, the bassoon-man's, this

  morning, attending his wife, and he swears he'll be revenged on the parson —a

  confounded, methodistical, meddlesome chap, who must be putting his finger in

  every pie. What was it all about?"

  "O, a passill o' nonsense," said Mr Hackit, sticking one thumb between the

  buttons of his capacious waistcoat, and retaining a pinch of snuff with the

  other—for he was but moderately given to "the cups that cheer but not

  inebriate," and had already finished his tea; "they began to sing the wedding

  psalm for a new-married couple, as pretty a psalm an' as pretty a tune as any's

  in the prayer-book. It's been sung for every new-married couple since I was a

  boy. And what can be better?" Here Mr Hackit stretched out his left arm, threw

  back his head, and broke into melody— "'O what a happy thing it is,

  And joyful for to see,

  Brethren to dwell together in

  Friendship and unity.' But Mr Barton is all for th' hymns, and a sort o'

  music as I can't join in at all."

  "And so," said Mr Pilgrim, recalling Mr Hackit from lyrical reminiscences to

  narrative, "he called out Silence! did he? when he got into the pulpit; and gave

  a hymn out himself to some meeting-house tune?"

  "Yes," said Mrs Hackit, stooping towards the candle to pick up a stitch, "and

  turned as red as a turkey-cock. I often say, when he preaches about meeknes, he

  gives himself a slap in the face. He's like me—he's got a temper of his own."

  "Rather a low-bred fellow, I think, Barton," said Mr Pilgrim, who hated the

  Reverend Amos for two reasons—because he had called in a new doctor, recently

  settled in Shepperton; and because, being himself a dabbler in drugs, he had the

  credit of having cured a patient of Mr Pilgrim's. "They say his father was a

  dissenting shoemaker; and he's half a dissenter himself. Why, doesn't he preach

  extempore in that cottage up here, of a Sunday evening?"

  "Tchaw!"—this was Mr Hackit's favourite interjection —"that preaching without

  book's no good, only when a man has a gift, and has the Bible at his fingers'

  ends. It was all very well for Parry—he'd a gift; and in my youth I've heard the

  Ranters out o' doors in Yorkshire go on for an hour or two on end, without ever

  sticking fast a minute. There was one clever chap, I remember, as used to say,

  'You're like the woodpigeon; it says do, do, do all day, and never sets about

  any work itself.' That's bringing it home to people. But our parson's no gift at

  all that way; he can preach as good a sermon as need be heard when he writes it

  down. But when hé tries to preach wi'out book, he rambles about, and doesn't