Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 24

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Chapter XXIV: The Townsman's Sermon to the Gownsman

One morning in February, a few days after this explosion, I was on the point of starting to go to the dean's house about that weary list of subscribers, which seemed destined never to be filled up, when my cousin George burst in upon me. He was in the highest good spirits at having just taken a double first-class at Cambridge; and after my congratulations, sincere and hearty enough, were over, he offered to accompany me to that reverend gentleman's house.

He said in an off-hand way, that he had no particular business there, but he thought it just as well to call on the dean and mention his success, in case the old fellow should not have heard of it.

"For you see," he said, "I am a sort of protégé, both on my own account and on Lord Lynedale's—Ellerton, he is now—you know he is just married to the dean's niece, Miss Staunton—and Ellerton's a capital fellow—promised me a living as soon as I'm in priest's orders. So my cue is now," he went on as we walked down the Strand together, "to get ordained as fast as ever I can."

"But," I asked, "have you read much for ordination, or seen much of what a clergyman's work should be?"

"Oh! as for that—you know it isn't one out of ten who's ever entered a school, or a cottage even, except to light a cigar, before he goes into the church: and as for the examination, that's all humbug; any man may cram it all up in a month—and, thanks to King's College, I knew all I wanted to know before I went to Cambridge. And I shall be three-and-twenty by Trinity Sunday, and then in I go, neck or nothing. Only the confounded bore is, that this Bishop of London won't give one a title—won't let any man into his diocese, who has not been ordained two years; and so I shall be shoved down into some poking little country-curacy, without a chance of making play before the world, or getting myself known at all. Horrid bore! isn't it?"

"I think," I said, "considering what London is just now, the bishop's regulation seems to be one of the best specimens of episcopal wisdom that I've heard of for some time."

"Great bore for me, though, all the same: for I must make a name, I can tell you, if I intend to get on. A person must work like a horse, now-a-days, to succeed at all; and Lynedale's a desperately particular fellow, with all sorts of outré notions about people's duties and vocations and heaven knows what."

"Well," I said, "my dear cousin, and have you no high notions of a clergyman's vocation? because we—I mean the working men—have. It's just their high idea of what a clergyman should be, which makes them so furious at clergymen for being what they are."

"It's a queer way of showing their respect to the priesthood," he answered, "to do all they can to exterminate it."

"I dare say they are liable, like other men, to confound the thing with its abuses; but if they hadn't some dim notion that the thing might be made a good thing in itself, you may depend upon it they would not rave against those abuses so fiercely." (The reader may see that I had not forgotten my conversation with Miss Staunton.) "And," thought I to myself, "is it not you, and such as you, who do so incorporate the abuses into the system, that one really cannot tell which is which, and longs to shove the whole thing aside as rotten to the core, and make a trial of something new?"

"Well, but," I said, again returning to the charge, for the subject was altogether curious and interesting to me, "do you really believe the doctrines of the Prayer-book, George?"