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ready to swear that the cow trespassed entirely without his knowledge or will; if he meet a hulking fellow carrying in the twilight various rails from a fence to be used as firewood ; if, on a warm summer day, the whole congregation falls fast asleep during the sermon; if a farmer tells him what a bad and dishonest man a discharged man-servant was, some weeks after the parson had found that out for himself and packed off the dishonest man; if certain of the cottagers near appear disposed to live entirely, instead of only partially, of the parsonage larder; the poor parson may sometimes be found ready to wish himself in town, compact within a house in a street with no back door; and not spreading out such a surface as in the country he must, for petty fraud and peculation. But, after all, the country parson's great worldly cross lies for the most part in his poverty, and in the cares which arise out of that. It is not always so, indeed. In the lot of some the happy medium has been reached; they have found the “neither poverty nor riches” of the wise man's prayer. Would that it were so with all! For how it must cripple a clergyman's usefulness, how abate his energies, how destroy his eloquence, how sicken his heart, how narrow and degrade his mind, how tempt (as it has sometimes done), to unfair and dishonest shifts and expedients, to go about not knowing how to make the ends meet, not seeing how to pay what he owes ! If I were a rich man, how it would gladden me to send a fifty-pound note to certain houses I have seen! What a dead weight it would lift from the poor wife's heart! Ah! I can think of the country parson, like poor Sydney Smith, adding his accounts, calculating his little means, wondering where he can pinch or pare any closer, till the poor fellow bends down his stupified head and throbbing temples on his hands, and wishes he could creep into a quiet grave.
God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb; or I should wonder how it does not drive some country parsons mad, to think what would become of their children if they were taken away. It is the warm nest upon the rotten bough. They need abundant faith ; let us trust they get it. But in a desponding mood, I can well imagine such a one resolving that no child of his shall ever enter upon a course in life which has brought himself such misery as he has known.
I have been writing down some thoughts, as I have said, for the sermon of next Sunday. To-morrow morning I shall begin to write it fully out. Some individuals, I am aware, have maintained that listening to a sermon is irksome work; but to a man whose tastes lie in that way, the writing of sermons is most pleasant occupation. It does you good. Unless you are a mere false pretender, you cannot try to impress any truth forcibly upon the hearts of others, without impressing it forcibly upon your own. All that you will ever make other men feel, will be only a subdued reflection of what you yourself bave felt. And sermon-writing is a task that is divided into many stages. You begin afresh every week : you come to an end every week. If you are writing a book, the end appears very far away. If you find that although you do your best, you yet treat some part of your subject badly, you know that the bad passage remains as a permanent blot: and you work on under the cross-influence of that recollection. But if, with all your pains, this week's sermon is poor, why, you hope to do better next week. You seek a fresh field : you try again. No doubt, in preaching your sermons you are somewhat annoyed by rustic boorishness and want of thought. Various bumpkins will forget to close the door behind them when they enter church too late, as they not unfrequently do. Various men with great hob-nailed shoes, entering late, instead of quietly slipping into a pew close to the door, will stamp noisily up the passage to the further extremity of the church. Various faces will look up at you week by week, hopelessly blank of all interest or intelligence. Some human beings will not merely sleep, but loudly evince that they are sleeping. Well, you gradually cease to be worried by these little things. At first, they jarred through every nerve; but you grow accustomed to them. And if you be a man of principle and of sense, you
know better than to fancy that amid a rustic people your powers are thrown away. Even if you have in past days been able to interest congregations of the refined and cultivated class, you will now show your talent and your principle at once by accommodating your instructions to the comprehension of the simple souls committed to your care.
I confess I have no patience with men who profess to preach sermons carelessly prepared, because they have an uneducated congregation. Nowhere is more careful preparation needed; but of course it must be preparation of the right sort. Let it be received as an axiom, that the very first aim of the preacher should be to interest. He must interest, before he can hope to instruct or improve. And no matter how filled with orthodox doctrine and good advice a sermon may be: if it put the congregation to sleep, it is an abominably bad sermon.
Surely, I go on to think, this kind of life must affect all the productions of the mind of the man who leads it. There must be a smack of the country, its scenes and its cares, about them all. You walk in shady lanes : you stand and look at the rugged bark of old trees: you help to prune evergreens: you devise flower-gardens and winding walks. You talk to pigs, and smooth down the legs of horses. You sit on mossy walls, and saunter by the river side, and through woodland paths. You grow familiar with the internal arrangements of poor
men's dwellings : you see much of men and women in those solemn seasons when all pretences are laid aside ; and they speak with confidence to you of their little cares and fears, for this world and the other. You kneel down and pray by the bedside of many sick ; and you know the look of the dying face well. Young children whom you have humbly sought to instruct in the best of knowledge, have passed away from this life in your presence, telling you in interrupted sentences whither they trusted they were going, and bidding you not forget to meet them there. You feel the touch of the weak fingers still ; the parting request is not forgotten. You mark the spring blossoms come back; and you walk among
the harvest sheaves in the autumn evening. And when you ride up the parish on your duty, you feel the influence of bare and lonely tracts, where, ten miles from home, you sometimes dismount from your horse, and sit down on a grey stone by the wayside, and look for an hour at the heather at your feet, and at the sweeps of purple moorland far away. You go down to the churchyard frequently: you sit on the gravestone of your predecessor who died two hundred years since; and you count five, six, seven spots where those who served the cure before you sleep. Then, leaning your head upon your hand, you look thirty years into the future, and
wonder whether you are to grow old. You read, through moss-covered letters, how a former incumbent of the parish died in the last century, aged twenty-eight. That afternoon, coming from a cottage where you had been seeing a frail old woman, you took a flying leap over a brook near, with precipitous sides; and you thought that some day, if you lived, you would have to creep quietly round by a smoother way. And now you think you see an aged man, tottering and grey, feebly walking down to the churchyard as of old, and seating himself hard by where you sit. The garden will have grown weedy and untidy: it will not be the trim, precise dwelling which youthful energy and hopefulness keep it now.
Let it be hoped that the old man's hat is not seedy, nor his coat threadbare : it makes one's heart sore to see that. And let it be hoped that he is not alone. But you go home, I think, with a quieter and kindlier heart.
You live in a region, mental and material, that is very entirely out of the track of worldly ambition. You do not blame it in others : you have learnt to blame few things in others severely, except cruelty and falsehood : but you have outgrown it for yourself. You hear, now and then, of this and the other school or college friend becoming a great man. One is an Indian hero : one is attorney-general : one is a cabinet minister. You like to see their names in the newspapers. You remember how, in college competitions with them, you did not come off second-best. You are struck at finding that such a man, whom you recollect as a fearful dunce, is getting respectably on through life: you remember how at school you used to wonder whether the difference between the clever boy and the booby would be in after days the same great gulf that it was then. Your life