Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 16

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Chapter XVI: Cultivated Women

I was thus brought in contact, for the first time in my life, with two exquisite specimens of cultivated womanhood; and they naturally, as the reader may well suppose, almost entirely engrossed my thoughts and interest.

Lillian, for so I must call her, became daily more and more agreeable; and tried, as I fancied, to draw me out, and show me off to the best advantage; whether from the desire of pleasing herself, or pleasing me, I know not, and do not wish to know—but the consequences to my boyish vanity were such as are more easy to imagine, than pleasant to describe. Miss Staunton, on the other hand, became, I thought, more and more unpleasant; not that she ever, for a moment, outstepped the bounds of the most perfect courtesy; but her manner, which was soft to no one except to Lord Lynedale, was, when she spoke to me, especially dictatorial and abrupt. She seemed to make a point of carping at chance words of mine, and of setting me, down suddenly, by breaking in with some severe, pithy observation, on conversations to which she had been listening unobserved. She seemed, too, to view with dislike anything like cordiality between me and Lillian—a dislike, which I was actually at moments vain enough (such a creature is man!) to attribute to—jealousy!!! till I began to suspect and hate her, as a proud, harsh, and exclusive aristocrat. And my suspicion and hatred received their confirmation, when, one morning, after an evening even more charming than usual, Lillian came down, reserved, peevish, all but sulky, and showed that that bright heaven of sunny features had room in it for a cloud, and that an ugly one. But I, poor fool, only pitied her, made up my mind that some one had ill-used her; and looked on her as a martyr—perhaps to that harsh cousin of hers.

That day was taken up with writing out answers to the dean's searching questions on his pamphlet, in which, I believe, I acquitted myself tolerably; and he seemed far more satisfied with my commentary than I was with his text. He seemed to ignore utterly anything like religion, or even the very notion of God, in his chains of argument. Nature was spoken of as the wilier and producer of all the marvels which he describes; and every word in the book, to my astonishment, might have been written just as easily by an Atheist as by a dignitary of the Church of England.

I could not help, that evening, hinting this defect, as delicately as I could, to my good host, and was somewhat surprised to find that he did not consider it a defect at all.

"I am in no wise anxious to weaken the antithesis between natural and revealed religion. Science may help the former, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the latter. She stands on her own ground, has her own laws, and is her own reward. Christianity is a matter of faith and of the teaching of the Church. It must not go out of its way for science, and science must not go out of her way for it; and where they seem to differ, it is our duty to believe that they are reconcilable by fuller knowledge, but not to clip truth in order to make it match with doctrine."

"Mr. Carlyle," said Miss Staunton, in her abrupt way, "can see that the God of Nature is the God of man."

"Nobody denies that, my dear."

"Except in every word and action; else why do they not write about Nature as if it was the expression of a living, loving spirit, not merely a dead machine?"

"It may be very easy, my dear, for a Deist like Mr. Carlyle to see his God in Nature; but if he would accept the truths of Christianity, he would find that there were deeper mysteries in them than trees and animals can explain."