Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 49

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Chapter XLIX

On his return to Cambridge in the May term of 1858, Ernest and a few other friends who were also intended for orders came to the conclusion that they must now take a more serious view of their position.  They therefore attended chapel more regularly than hitherto, and held evening meetings of a somewhat furtive character, at which they would study the New Testament.  They even began to commit the Epistles of St Paul to memory in the original Greek.  They got up Beveridge on the Thirty-nine Articles, and Pearson on the Creed; in their hours of recreation they read More’s “Mystery of Godliness,” which Ernest thought was charming, and Taylor’s “Holy Living and Dying,” which also impressed him deeply, through what he thought was the splendour of its language.  They handed themselves over to the guidance of Dean Alford’s notes on the Greek Testament, which made Ernest better understand what was meant by “difficulties,” but also made him feel how shallow and impotent were the conclusions arrived at by German neologians, with whose works, being innocent of German, he was not otherwise acquainted.  Some of the friends who joined him in these pursuits were Johnians, and the meetings were often held within the walls of St John’s.

I do not know how tidings of these furtive gatherings had reached the Simeonites, but they must have come round to them in some way, for they had not been continued many weeks before a circular was sent to each of the young men who attended them, informing them that the Rev. Gideon Hawke, a well-known London Evangelical preacher, whose sermons were then much talked of, was about to visit his young friend Badcock of St John’s, and would be glad to say a few words to any who might wish to hear them, in Badcock’s rooms on a certain evening in May.

Badcock was one of the most notorious of all the Simeonites.  Not only was he ugly, dirty, ill-dressed, bumptious, and in every way objectionable, but he was deformed and waddled when he walked so that he had won a nick-name which I can only reproduce by calling it “Here’s my back, and there’s my back,” because the lower parts of his back emphasised themselves demonstratively as though about to fly off in different directions like the two extreme notes in the chord of the augmented sixth, with every step he took.  It may be guessed, therefore, that the receipt of the circular had for a moment an almost paralysing effect on those to whom it was addressed, owing to the astonishment which it occasioned them.  It certainly was a daring surprise, but like so many deformed people, Badcock was forward and hard to check; he was a pushing fellow to whom the present was just the opportunity he wanted for carrying war into the enemy’s quarters.

Ernest and his friends consulted.  Moved by the feeling that as they were now preparing to be clergymen they ought not to stand so stiffly on social dignity as heretofore, and also perhaps by the desire to have a good private view of a preacher who was then much upon the lips of men, they decided to accept the invitation.  When the appointed time came they went with some confusion and self-abasement to the rooms of this man, on whom they had looked down hitherto as from an immeasurable height, and with whom nothing would have made them believe a few weeks earlier that they could ever come to be on speaking terms.

Mr Hawke was a very different-looking person from Badcock.  He was remarkably handsome, or rather would have been but for the thinness of his lips, and a look of too great firmness and inflexibility.  His features were a good deal like those of Leonardo da Vinci; moreover he was kempt, looked in vigorous health, and was of a ruddy countenance.  He was extremely courteous in his manner, and paid a good deal of attention to Badcock, of whom he seemed to think highly.  Altogether our young friends were taken aback, and inclined to think smaller beer of themselves and larger of Badcock than was agreeable to the old Adam who was still alive within them.  A few well-known “Sims” from St John’s and other colleges were present, but not enough to swamp the Ernest set, as for the sake of brevity, I will call them.