Chapter 10.

{73} CHARLES went up this term for his first examination, and this caused him to remain in Oxford some days after the undergraduate part of his college had left for the Long Vacation. Thus he came across Mr. Vincent, one of the junior tutors, who was kind enough to ask him to dine in Common-room on Sunday, and on several mornings made him take some turns with him up and down the Fellows' walk in the college garden.

A few years make a great difference in the standing of men at Oxford, and this made Mr. Vincent what is called a don in the eyes of persons who were very little younger than himself. Besides, Vincent looked much older than he really was; he was of a full habit, with a florid complexion and large blue eyes, and showed a deal of linen at his bosom, and full wristbands at his cuffs. Though a clever man, and a hard reader and worker, and a capital tutor, he was a good feeder as well; he ate and drank, he walked and rode, with as much heart as he lectured in Aristotle, or crammed in Greek plays. What is stranger still, with all this he was something of a valetudinarian. He had come off from school on a foundation fellowship, and had the reputation both at {74} school and in the University of being a first-rate scholar. He was a strict disciplinarian in his way, had the undergraduates under his thumb, and having some bonhomie in his composition, was regarded by them with mingled feelings of fear and good will. They laughed at him, but carefully obeyed him. Besides this he preached a good sermon, read prayers with unction, and in his conversation sometimes had even a touch of evangelical spirituality. The young men even declared they could tell how much port he had taken in Common-room by the devoutness of his responses in evening-chapel; and it was on record that once, during the Confession, he had, in the heat of his contrition, shoved over the huge velvet cushion in which his elbows were imbedded upon the heads of the gentlemen commoners who sat under him.

He had just so much originality of mind as gave him an excuse for being "his own party" in religion, or what he himself called being "no party man"; and just so little that he was ever mistaking shams for truths, and converting pompous nothings into oracles. He was oracular in his manner, denounced parties and party-spirit, and thought to avoid the one and the other by eschewing all persons, and holding all opinions. He had a great idea of the via media being the truth; and to obtain it, thought it enough to flee from extremes, without having any very definite mean to flee to. He had not clearness of intellect enough to pursue a truth to its limits, nor boldness enough to hold it in its simplicity; but he was always saying things and unsaying them, balancing his thoughts in impossible {75} attitudes, and guarding his words by unintelligible limitations. As to the men and opinions of the day and place, he would in the main have agreed with them, had he let himself alone; but he was determined to have an intellect of his own, and this put him to great shifts when he would distinguish himself from them. Had he been older than they, he would have talked of "young heads," "hot heads," and the like; but since they were grave and cool men, and outran him by fourteen or fifteen years, he found nothing better than to shake his head, mutter against party-spirit, refuse to read their books, lest he should be obliged to agree with them, and make a boast of avoiding their society. At the present moment he was on the point of starting for a continental tour to recruit himself after the labours of an Oxford year; meanwhile he was keeping hall and chapel open for such men as were waiting either for Responsions, or for their battel money; and he took notice of Reding as a clever, modest youth of whom something might be made. Under this view of him, he had, among other civilities, asked him to breakfast a day or two before he went down.

A tutor's breakfast is always a difficult affair both for host and guests; and Vincent piqued himself on the tact with which he managed it. The material part was easy enough; there were rolls, toast, muffins, eggs, cold lamb, strawberries, on the table; and in due season the college-servant brought in mutton cutlets and broiled ham; and every one eat to his heart's, or rather his appetite's, content. It was a more arduous undertaking to provide the running accompaniment of thought, or {76} at least of words; without which the breakfast would have been little better than a pig-trough. The conversation or rather mono-polylogue, as some great performer calls it, ran in somewhat of the following strain:

"Mr. Bruton," said Vincent, "what news from Staffordshire? Are the potteries pretty quiet now? Our potteries grow in importance. You need not look at the cup and saucer before you, Mr. Catley; those came from Derbyshire. But you find English crockery everywhere on the Continent. I myself found half a willow-pattern saucer in the crater of Vesuvius. Mr. Sikes, I think you have been in Italy?"

"No, sir," said Sikes; "I was near going; my family set off a fortnight ago, but I was kept here by these confounded smalls."

"Your Responsiones," answered the tutor in a tone of rebuke; "an unfortunate delay for you, for it is to be an unusually fine season, if the meteorologists of the sister University are right in their predictions. Who is in the Responsion schools, Mr. Sikes?"

"Butson of Leicester is the strict one, sir; he plucks one man in three. He plucked last week Patch of St. George's, and Patch has taken his oath he'll shoot him; and Butson has walked about ever since with a bulldog."

"These are reports, Mr. Sikes, which often flit about, but must not be trusted. Mr. Patch could not have given a better proof that his rejection was deserved."

A pause—during which poor Vincent hastily gobbled up two or three mouthfuls of bread and butter, the knives and forks meanwhile clinking upon his guests' plates. {77}

"Sir, is it true," began one of his guests at length, "that the old Principal is going to be married?"

"These are matters, Mr. Atkins," answered Vincent, "which we should always inquire about at the fountainhead; antiquam exquirite matrem, or rather patrem; ha, ha! Take some more tea, Mr. Reding; it won't hurt your nerves. I am rather choice in my tea; this comes overland through Russia; the sea-air destroys the flavour of our common tea. Talking of air, Mr. Tenby, I think you are a chemist. Have you paid attention to the recent experiments on the composition and resolution of air? Not? I am surprised at it; they are well worth your most serious consideration. It is now pretty well ascertained that inhaling gases is the cure for all kinds of diseases. People are beginning to talk of the gas-cure, as they did of the water-cure. The great foreign chemist, Professor Scaramouch, has the credit of the discovery. The effects are astounding, quite astounding; and there are several remarkable coincidences. You know medicines are always unpleasant, and so these gases are always fetid. The Professor cures by stenches, and has brought his science to such perfection that he actually can classify them. There are six elementary stenches, and these spread into a variety of subdivisions. What do you say, Mr. Reding? Distinctive? Yes, there is something very distinctive in smells. But what is most gratifying of all, and is the great coincidence I spoke of, his ultimate resolution of fetid gases assigns to them the very same precise number as is given to existing complaints in the latest treatises on pathology. Each complaint has its gas. {78} And, what is still more singular, an exhausted receiver is a specific for certain desperate disorders. For instance, it has effected several cures of hydrophobia. Mr. Seaton," he continued to a freshman, who, his breakfast finished, was sitting uncomfortably on his chair, looking down and playing with his knife—"Mr. Seaton, you are looking at that picture"—it was almost behind Seaton's back—"I don't wonder at it; it was given me by my good old mother, who died many years ago. It represents some beautiful Italian scenery."

Vincent stood up, and his party after him, and all crowded round the picture.

"I prefer the green of England," said Reding.

"England has not that brilliant variety of colour," said Tenby.

"But there is something so soothing in green."

"You know, of course, Mr. Reding," said the tutor, "that there is plenty of green in Italy, and in winter even more than in England; only there are other colours too."

"But I can't help fancying," said Charles, "that that mixture of colours takes off from it the repose of English scenery."

"The repose, for instance," said Tenby, "of Binsey Common, or Port Meadow in winter."

"Say in summer," said Reding; "if you choose place, I will choose time. I think the University goes down just when Oxford begins to be most beautiful. The walks and meadows are so fragrant and bright now, the hay half carried, and the short new grass appearing."

"Reding ought to live here all through the Long," {79} said Tenby; "does any one live through the Vacation, sir, in Oxford?"

"Do you mean they die before the end of it, Mr. Tenby?" asked Vincent. "It can't be denied," he continued, "that many, like Mr. Reding, think it a most pleasant time. I am fond of Oxford; but it is not my habitat out of term-time."

"Well, I think I should like to make it so," said Charles, "but, I suppose, undergraduates are not allowed."

Mr. Vincent answered with more than necessary gravity, "No"; it rested with the Principal; but he conceived that he would not consent to it. Vincent added that certainly there were parties who remained in Oxford through the Long Vacation. It was said mysteriously.

Charles answered that, if it was against college rules, there was no help for it; else, were he reading for his degree, he should like nothing better than to pass the Long Vacation in Oxford, if he might judge by the pleasantness of the last ten days.

"That is a compliment, Mr. Reding, to your company," said Vincent.

At this moment the door opened, and in came the manciple with the dinner paper, which Mr. Vincent had formally to run his eye over. "Watkins," he said, giving it back to him, "I almost think today is one of the Fasts of the Church. Go and look, Watkins, and bring me word."

The astonished manciple, who had never been sent on such a commission in his whole career before, hastened {80} out of the room, to task his wits how best to fulfil it. The question seemed to strike the company as forcibly, for there was a sudden silence, which was succeeded by a shuffling of feet and a leave-taking; as if, though they had secured their ham and mutton at breakfast, they did not like to risk their dinner. Watkins returned sooner than could have been expected. He said that Mr. Vincent was right; today he had found was "the feast of the Apostles".

"The Vigil of St. Peter, you mean, Watkins," said Mr. Vincent; "I thought so. Then let us have a plain beefsteak and a saddle of mutton; no Portugal onions, Watkins, or currant-jelly; and some simple pudding, Charlotte pudding, Watkins—that will do."

Watkins vanished. By this time, Charles found himself alone with the college authority; who began to speak to him in a more confidential tone.

"Mr. Reding," said he, "I did not like to question you before the others, but I conceive you had no particular meaning in your praise of Oxford in the Long Vacation? In the mouths of some it would have been suspicious."

Charles was all surprise.

"To tell the truth, Mr. Reding, as things stand," he proceeded, "it is often a mark of party, this residence in the Vacation; though, of course, there is nothing in the thing itself but what is perfectly natural and right."

Charles was all attention.

"My good sir," the tutor proceeded, "avoid parties; be sure to avoid party. You are young in your career among us. I always feel anxious about young men of {81} talent; there is the greatest danger of the talent of the University being absorbed in party."

Reding expressed a hope that nothing he had done had given cause to his tutor's remark.

"No," replied Mr. Vincent, "no"; yet with some slight hesitation; "no, I don't know that it has. But I have thought some of your remarks and questions at lecture were like a person pushing things too far, and wishing to form a system."

Charles was so much taken aback by the charge, that the unexplained mystery of the Long Vacation went out of his head. He said he was "very sorry," and "obliged"; and tried to recollect what he could have said to give ground to Mr. Vincent's remark. Not being able at the moment to recollect, he went on. "I assure you, sir, I know so little of parties in the place, that I hardly know their leaders. I have heard persons mentioned, but, if I tried, I think I should, in some cases, mismatch names and opinions."

"I believe it," said Vincent; "but you are young; I am cautioning you against tendencies. You may suddenly find yourself absorbed before you know where you are."

Charles thought this a good opportunity of asking some questions in detail, about points which puzzled him. He asked whether Dr. Brownside was considered a safe divine to follow.

"I hold, d'ye see," answered Vincent, "that all errors are counterfeits of truth. Clever men say true things, Mr. Reding, true in their substance, but," sinking his voice to a whisper, "they go too far. It {82} might even be shown that all sects are in one sense but parts of the Catholic Church. I don't say true parts, that is a further question; but they embody great principles. The Quakers represent the principle of simplicity and evangelical poverty; they even have a dress of their own, like monks. The Independents represent the rights of the laity; the Wesleyans cherish the devotional principle; the Irvingites, the symbolical and mystical; the High Church party, the principle of obedience; the Liberals are the guardians of reason. No party, then, I conceive, is entirely right or entirely wrong. As to Dr. Brownside, there certainly have been various opinions entertained about his divinity; still, he is an able man, and I think you will gain good, gain good from his teaching. But mind, I don't recommend him; yet I respect him, and I consider that he says many things very well worth your attention. I would advise you, then, to accept the good which his sermons offer, without committing yourself to the bad. That, depend upon it, Mr. Reding, is the golden though the obvious rule in these matters."

Charles said, in answer, that Mr. Vincent was overrating his powers; that he had to learn before he could judge; and that he wished very much to know whether Vincent could recommend him any book, in which he might see at once what the true Church-of-England doctrine was on a number of points which perplexed him.

Mr. Vincent replied, he must be on his guard against dissipating his mind with such reading, at a time when his University duties had a definite claim upon him. {83} He ought to avoid all controversies of the day, all authors of the day. He would advise him to read no living authors. "Read dead authors alone," he continued; "dead authors are safe. Our great divines," and he stood upright, "were models; 'there were giants on the earth in those days,' as King George the Third had once said of them to Dr. Johnson. They had that depth, and power, and gravity, and fulness, and erudition; and they were so racy, always racy, and what might be called English. They had that richness, too, such a mine of thought, such a world of opinion, such activity of mind, such inexhaustible resource, such diversity, too. Then they were so eloquent; the majestic Hooker, the imaginative Taylor, the brilliant Hall, the learning of Barrow, the strong sense of South, the keen logic of Chillingworth, good, honest old Burnet," etc., etc.

There did not seem much reason why he should stop at one moment more than another; at length, however, he did stop. It was prose, but it was pleasant prose to Charles; he knew just enough about these writers to feel interested in hearing them talked about, and to him Vincent seemed to be saying a good deal, when, in fact, he was saying very little. When he stopped, Charles said he believed that there were persons in the University who were promoting the study of these authors.

Mr. Vincent looked grave. "It is true," he said, "but, my young friend, I have already hinted to you that indifferent things are perverted to the purposes of party. At this moment the names of some of our {84} greatest divines are little better than a watchword by which the opinions of living individuals are signified."

"Which opinions, I suppose," Charles answered, "are not to be found in those authors."

"I'll not say that," said Mr. Vincent. "I have the greatest respect for the individuals in question, and I am not denying that they have done good to our Church by drawing attention in this lax day to the old Church-of-England divinity. But it is one thing to agree with these gentlemen; another," laying his hand on Charles's shoulder, "another to belong to their party. Do not make man your master; get good from all; think well of all persons, and you will be a wise man."

Reding inquired, with some timidity, if this was not something like what Dr. Brownside had said in the University pulpit; but perhaps the latter advocated a toleration of opinions in a different sense? Mr. Vincent answered rather shortly, that he had not heard Dr. Brownside's sermon; but, for himself, he had been speaking only of persons in our own communion.

"Our Church," he said, "admitted of great liberty of thought within her pale. Even our greatest divines differed from each other in many respects; nay, Bishop Taylor differed from himself. It was a great principle in the English Church. Her true children agree to differ. In truth," he continued, "there is that robust, masculine, noble independence in the English mind, which refuses to be tied down to artificial shapes, but is like, I will say, some great and beautiful production of nature—a tree, which is rich in foliage and fantastic in {85} limb, no sickly denizen of the hothouse, or helpless dependent of the garden wall, but in careless magnificence sheds its fruits upon the free earth, for the bird of the air and the beast of the field, and all sorts of cattle, to eat thereof and rejoice."

When Charles came away, he tried to think what he had gained by his conversation with Mr. Vincent; not exactly what he had wanted, some practical rules to guide his mind and keep him steady; but still some useful hints. He had already been averse to parties, and offended at what he saw of individuals attached to them. Vincent had confirmed him in his resolution to keep aloof from them, and to attend to his duties in the place. He felt pleased to have had this talk with him; but what could he mean by suspecting a tendency in himself to push things too far, and thereby to implicate himself in party? He was obliged to resign himself to ignorance on the subject, and to be content with keeping a watch over himself in future.

Chapter 1-11

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