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THE WALK TO CHURCH.
I was glad to be able to arrange with a young clergyman who was on a visit to Kilkhaven, that he should take my duty for me the next Sunday, for that was the only one Turner could spend with us. He and I and Wynnie walked together two miles to church. It was a lovely morning, with just a tint of autumn in the air. But even that tint, though all else was of the summer, brought a shadow, I could see, on Wynnie's face.
"You said you would show me a poem of--Vaughan, I think you said, was the name of the writer. I am too ignorant of our older literature," said Turner.
"I have only just made acquaintance with him," I answered. "But I think I can repeat the poem. You shall judge whether it is not like Wordsworth's Ode.
'Happy those early days, when I Shined in my angel infancy; Before I understood the place Appointed for my second race, Or taught my soul to fancy ought But a white, celestial thought; When yet I had not walked above A mile or two from my first love, And looking back, at that short space, Could see a glimpse of his bright face; When on some gilded cloud or flower My gazing soul would dwell an hour, And in those weaker glories spy Some shadows of eternity; Before I taught my tongue to wound My conscience with a sinful sound, But felt through all this fleshly dress Bright shoots of everlastingness. O how I long to travel back----'"
But here I broke down, for I could not remember the rest with even approximate accuracy.
"When did this Vaughan live?" asked Turner.
"He was born, I find, in 1621--five years, that is, after Shakspere's death, and when Milton was about thirteen years old. He lived to the age of seventy-three, but seems to have been little known. In politics he was on the Cavalier side. By the way, he was a medical man, like you, Turner--an M.D. We'll have a glance at the little book when we go back. Don't let me forget to show it you. A good many of your profession have distinguished themselves in literature, and as profound believers too."
"I should have thought the profession had been chiefly remarkable for such as believe only in the evidence of the senses."
"As if having searched into the innermost recesses of the body, and not having found a soul, they considered themselves justified in declaring there was none."
"Well, that is true of the commonplace amongst them, I do believe. You will find the exceptions have been men of fine minds and characters--not such as he of whom Chaucer says,
'His study was but little on the Bible;'
for if you look at the rest of the description of the man, you will find that he was in alliance with his apothecary for their mutual advantage, that he was a money-loving man, and that some of Chaucer's keenest irony is spent on him in an off-hand, quiet manner. Compare the tone in which he writes of the doctor of physic, with the profound reverence wherewith he bows himself before the poor country-parson."
Here Wynnie spoke, though with some tremor in her voice.
"I never know, papa, what people mean by talking about childhood in that way. I never seem to have been a bit younger and more innocent than I am."
"Don't you remember a time, Wynnie, when the things about you--the sky and the earth, say--seemed to you much grander than they seem now? You are old enough to have lost something."
She thought for a little while before she answered.
"My dreams were, I know. I cannot say so of anything else."
I in my turn had to be silent, for I did not see the true answer, though I was sure there was one somewhere, if I could only find it. All I could reply, however, even after I had meditated a good while, was--and perhaps, after all, it was the best thing I could have said:
"Then you must make a good use of your dreams, my child."
"Because they are the only memorials of childhood you have left."
"How am I to make a good use of them? I don't know what to do with my silly old dreams."
But she gave a sigh as she spoke that testified her silly old dreams had a charm for her still.
"If your dreams, my child, have ever testified to you of a condition of things beyond that which you see around you, if they have been to you the hints of a wonder and glory beyond what visits you now, you must not call them silly, for they are just what the scents of Paradise borne on the air were to Adam and Eve as they delved and spun, reminding them that they must aspire yet again through labour into that childhood of obedience which is the only paradise of humanity--into that oneness with the will of the Father, which our race, our individual selves, need just as much as if we had personally fallen with Adam, and from which we fall every time we are disobedient to the voice of the Father within our souls--to the conscience which is his making and his witness. If you have had no childhood, my Wynnie, yet permit your old father to say that everything I see in you indicates more strongly in you than in most people that it is this childhood after which you are blindly longing, without which you find that life is hardly to be endured. Thank God for your dreams, my child. In him you will find that the essence of those dreams is fulfilled. We are saved by hope, Turner. Never man hoped too much, or repented that he had hoped. The plague is that we don't hope in God half enough. The very fact that hope is strength, and strength the outcome, the body of life, shows that hope is at one with life, with the very essence of what says 'I am'--yea, of what doubts and says 'Am I?' and therefore is reasonable to creatures who cannot even doubt save in that they live."
By this time, for I have, of course, only given the outlines, or rather salient points, of our conversation, we had reached the church, where, if I found the sermon neither healing nor inspiring, I found the prayers full of hope and consolation. They at least are safe beyond human caprice, conceit, or incapacity. Upon them, too, the man who is distressed at the thought of how little of the needful food he had been able to provide for his people, may fall back for comfort, in the thought that there at least was what ought to have done them good, what it was well worth their while to go to church for. But I did think they were too long for any individual Christian soul, to sympathise with from beginning to end, that is, to respond to, like organ-tube to the fingered key, in every touch of the utterance of the general Christian soul. For my reader must remember that it is one thing to read prayers and another to respond; and that I had had very few opportunities of being in the position of the latter duty. I had had suspicions before, and now they were confirmed--that the present crowding of services was most inexpedient. And as I pondered on the matter, instead of trying to go on praying after I had already uttered my soul, which is but a heathenish attempt after much speaking, I thought how our Lord had given us such a short prayer to pray, and I began to wonder when or how the services came to be so heaped the one on the back of the other as they now were. No doubt many people defended them; no doubt many people could sit them out; but how many people could pray from beginning to end of them I On this point we had some talk as we went home. Wynnie was opposed to any change of the present use on the ground that we should only have the longer sermons.
"Still," I said, "I do not think even that so great an evil. A sensitive conscience will not reproach itself so much for not listening to the whole of a sermon, as for kneeling in prayer and not praying. I think myself, however, that after the prayers are over, everyone should be at liberty to go out and leave the sermon unheard, if he pleases. I think the result would be in the end a good one both for parson and people. It would break through the deadness of this custom, this use and wont. Many a young mind is turned for life against the influences of church-going--one of the most sacred influences when pure, that is, un-mingled with non-essentials--just by the feeling that he must do so and so, that he must go through a certain round of duty. It is a willing service that the Lord wants; no forced devotions are either acceptable to him, or other than injurious to the worshipper, if such he can be called."
After an early dinner, I said to Turner--"Come out with me, and we will read that poem of Vaughan's in which I broke down today."
"O, papa!" said Connie, in a tone of injury, from the sofa.
"What is it, my dear?" I asked.
"Wouldn't it be as good for us as for Mr. Turner?"
"Quite, my dear. Well, I will keep it for the evening, and meantime Mr. Turner and I will go and see if we can find out anything about the change in the church-service."
For I had thrown into my bag as I left the rectory a copy of The Clergyman's Vade Mecum--a treatise occupied with the externals of the churchman's relations--in which I soon came upon the following passage:
"So then it appears that the common practice of reading all three together, is an innovation, and if an ancient or infirm clergyman do read them at two or three several times, he is more strictly conformable; however, this is much better than to omit any part of the liturgy, or to read all three offices into one, as is now commonly done, without any pause or distinction."
"On the part of the clergyman, you see, Turner," I said, when I had finished reading the whole passage to him. "There is no care taken of the delicate women of the congregation, but only of the ancient or infirm clergyman. And the logic, to say the least, is rather queer: is it only in virtue of his antiquity and infirmity that he is to be upheld in being more strictly conformable? The writer's honesty has its heels trodden upon by the fear of giving offence. Nevertheless there should perhaps be a certain slowness to admit change, even back to a more ancient form."
"I don't know that I can quite agree with you there," said Turner. "If the form is better, no one should hesitate to advocate the change. If it is worse, then slowness is not sufficient--utter obstinacy is the right condition."
"You are right, Turner. For the right must be the rule, and where the right is beyond our understanding or our reach, then the better, as indeed not only right compared with the other, but the sole ascent towards the right."
In the evening I took Henry Vaughan's poems into the common sitting-room, and to Connie's great delight read the whole of the lovely, though unequal little poem, called "The Retreat," in recalling which I had failed in the morning. She was especially delighted with the "white celestial thought," and the "bright shoots of everlastingness." Then I gave a few lines from another yet more unequal poem, worthy in themselves of the best of the other. I quote the first strophe entire:
"I cannot reach it; and my striving eye Dazzles at it, as at eternity. Were now that chronicle alive, Those white designs which children drive, And the thoughts of each harmless hour, With their content too in my power, Quickly would I make my path even, And by mere playing go to heaven.
* * * * *
And yet the practice worldlings call Business and weighty action all, Checking the poor child for his play, But gravely cast themselves away.
* * * * *
An age of mysteries! which he Must live twice that would God's face see; Which angels guard, and with it play, Angels! which foul men drive away. How do I study now, and scan Thee more than ere I studied man, And only see through a long night Thy edges and thy bordering light I O for thy centre and midday! For sure that is the narrow way!"
"For of such is the kingdom of heaven." said my wife softly, as I closed the book.
"May I have the book, papa?" said Connie, holding out her thin white cloud of a hand to take it.
"Certainly, my child. And if Wynnie would read it with you, she will feel more of the truth of what Mr. Percivale was saying to her about finish. Here are the finest, grandest thoughts, set forth sometimes with such carelessness, at least such lack of neatness, that, instead of their falling on the mind with all their power of loveliness, they are like a beautiful face disfigured with patches, and, what is worse, they put the mind out of the right, quiet, unquestioning, open mood, which is the only fit one for the reception of such true things as are embodied in the poems. But they are too beautiful after all to be more than a little spoiled by such a lack of the finish with which Art ends off all her labours. A gentleman, however, thinks it of no little importance to have his nails nice as well as his face and his shirt."
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