Chapter 11.

{242} MRS. REDING was by this time settled in the neighbourhood of old friends in Devonshire; and there Charles spent the winter and early spring with her and his three sisters, the eldest of whom was two years older than himself.

"Come, shut your dull books, Charles," said Caroline, the youngest, a girl of fourteen; "make way for the tea; I am sure you have read enough. You sometimes don't speak a word for an hour together; at least, you might tell us what you are reading about."

"My dear Carry, you would not be much the wiser if I did," answered Charles; "it is Greek history."

"Oh," said Caroline, "I know more than you think; I have read Goldsmith, and a good part of Rollin, besides Pope's Homer."

"Capital!" said Charles; "well, I am reading about Pelopidas—who was he?"

"Pelopidas!" answered Caroline; "I ought to know. Oh, I recollect, he had an ivory shoulder."

"Well said, Carry; but I have not yet a distinct idea of him either. Was he a statue, or flesh and blood, with this shoulder of his?" {243}

"Oh, he was alive; somebody ate him, I think."

"Well, was he a god or a man?" said Charles. "Oh, it's a mistake of mine," said Caroline; "he was a goddess, the ivory-footed—no, that was Thetis."

"My dear Caroline," said her mother, "do not talk so at random; think before you speak; you know better than this."

"She has, ma'am," said Charles, "what Mr. Jennings would call 'a very inaccurate mind'."

"I recollect perfectly now," said Caroline, "he was a friend of Epaminondas."

"When did he live?" asked Charles. Caroline was silent.

"Oh, Carry," said Eliza, "don't you recollect the memoria technica?"

"I never could learn it," said Caroline; "I hate it."

"Nor can I," said Mary; "give me good native numbers; they are sweet and kindly, like flowers in a bed; but I don't like your artificial flower-pots."

"But surely," said Charles, "a memoria technica makes you recollect a great many dates which you otherwise could not?"

"The crabbed names are more difficult even to pronounce than the numbers to learn," said Caroline.

"That's because you have very few dates to get up," said Charles; "but common writing is a memoria technica."

"That's beyond Caroline," said Mary.

"What are words but artificial signs for ideas?" said Charles; "they are more musical, but as arbitrary. There is no more reason why the sound 'hat' {244} should mean the particular thing so called, which we put on our head, than why 'abul-distof' should stand for 1520."

"Oh, my dear child," said Mrs. Reding, "how you run on! Don't be paradoxical."

"My dear mother," said Charles, coming round to the fire, "I don't want to be paradoxical; it's only a generalisation."

"Keep it, then, for the schools, my dear; I dare say it will do you good there," continued Mrs. Reding, while she continued her hemming; "poor Caroline will be as much put to it in logic as in history."

"I am in a dilemma," said Charles, as he seated himself on a little stool at his mother's feet; "for Carry calls me stupid if I am silent, and you call me paradoxical if I speak."

"Good sense," said his mother, "is the golden mean."

"And what is common sense?" said Charles.

"The silver mean," said Eliza.

"Well done," said Charles; "it is small change for every hour."

"Rather," said Caroline, "it is the copper mean, for we want it, like alms for the poor, to give away. People are always asking me for it. If I can't tell who Isaac's father was, Mary says, 'O Carry, where's your common sense?' If I am going out of doors, Eliza runs up, 'Carry,' she cries, 'you haven't common sense; your shawl's all pinned awry'. And when I ask mamma the shortest way across the fields to Dalton, she says, 'Use your common sense, my dear'." {245}

"No wonder you have so little of it, poor dear child," said Charles; "no bank could stand such a run."

"No such thing," said Mary; "it flows into her bank ten times as fast as it comes out. She has plenty of it from us; and what she does with it no one can make out; she either hoards or she speculates."

"Like the great ocean," said Charles, "which receives the rivers, yet is not full."

"That's somewhere in Scripture," said Eliza.

"In the 'Preacher,'" said Charles, and he continued the quotation; "'All things are full of labour, man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing'."

His mother sighed; "Take my cup, my love," she said; "no more".

"I know why Charles is so fond of the 'Preacher,'" said Mary; "it's because he's tired of reading; 'much study is a weariness to the flesh'. I wish we could help you, dear Charles."

"My dear boy, I really think you read too much," said his mother; "only think how many hours you have been at it today. You are always up one or two hours before the sun; and I don't think you have had your walk today."

"It's so dismal walking alone, my dear mother; and as to walking with you and my sisters, it's pleasant enough, but no exercise."

"But, Charlie," said Mary, "that's absurd of you; these nice sunny days, which you could not expect at this season, are just the time for long walks. Why {246} don't you resolve to make straight for the plantations, or to mount Hart Hill, or go right through Dun Wood and back?"

"Because all woods are dun and dingy just now, Mary, and not green. It's quite melancholy to see them."

"Just the finest time of the year," said his mother; "it's universally allowed; all painters say that the autumn is the season to see a landscape in."

"All gold and russet," said Mary.

"It makes me melancholy," said Charles.

"What! the beautiful autumn make you melancholy?" asked his mother.

"Oh, my dear mother, you mean to say that I am paradoxical again; I cannot help it. I like spring; but autumn saddens me."

"Charles always says so," said Mary; "he thinks nothing of the rich hues into which the sober green changes; he likes the dull uniform of summer."

"No, it is not that," said Charles; "I never saw anything so gorgeous as Magdalen Water-walk, for instance, in October; it is quite wonderful, the variety of colours. I admire, and am astonished; but I cannot love or like it. It is because I can't separate the look of things from what it portends; that rich variety is but the token of disease and death."

"Surely," said Mary, "colours have their own intrinsic beauty; we may like them for their own sake."

"No, no," said Charles, "we always go by association; else why not admire raw beef, or a toad, or some {247} other reptiles, which are as beautiful and bright as tulips or cherries, yet revolting, because we consider what they are, not how they look?"

"What next?" said his mother, looking up from her work; "my dear Charles, you are not serious in comparing cherries to raw beef or to toads?"

"No, my dear mother," answered Charles, laughing, "no, I only say that they look like them, not are like them."

"A toad look like a cherry, Charles!" persisted Mrs. Reding.

"Oh, my dear mother," he answered, "I can't explain; I really have said nothing out of the way. Mary does not think I have."

"But," said Mary, "why not associate pleasant thoughts with autumn?"

"It is impossible," said Charles; "it is the sick season and the deathbed of Nature. I cannot look with pleasure on the decay of the mother of all living. The many hues upon the landscape are but the spots of dissolution."

"This is a strained, unnatural view, Charles," said Mary; "shake yourself, and you will come to a better mind. Don't you like to see a rich sunset? yet the sun is leaving you."

Charles was for a moment posed; then he said, "Yes, but there was no autumn in Eden; suns rose and set in Paradise, but the leaves were always green, and did not wither. There was a river to feed them. Autumn is the 'fall'."

"So, my dearest Charles," said Mrs. Reding, "you {248} don't go out walking these fine days because there was no autumn in the garden of Eden?"

"Oh," said Charles, laughing, "it is cruel to bring me so to book. What I meant was, that my reading was a direct obstacle to walking, and that the fine weather did not tempt me to remove it."

"I am glad we have you here, my dear," said his mother, "for we can force you out now and then; at College I suspect you never walk at all."

"It's only for a time, ma'am," said Charles; "when my examination is over, I will take as long walks as I did with Edward Gandy that winter after I left school."

"Ah, how merry you were then, Charles!" said Mary; "so happy with the thoughts of Oxford before you!"

"Ah, my dear," said Mrs. Reding, "you'll then walk too much, as you now walk too little. My good boy, you are so earnest about everything."

"It's a shame to find fault with him for being diligent," said Mary: "you like him to read for honours, I know, mamma; but if he is to get them he must read a great deal."

"True, my love," answered Mrs. Reding; "Charles is a dear good fellow, I know. How glad we all shall be to have him ordained, and settled in a curacy!"

Charles sighed. "Come, Mary," he said, "give us some music, now the urn has gone away. Play me that beautiful air of Beethoven, the one I call 'The Voice of the Dead'."

"Oh, Charles, you do give such melancholy names to things!" cried Mary. {249}

"The other day," said Eliza, "we had a most beautiful scent wafted across the road as we were walking, and he called it 'the Ghost of the Past'; and he says that the sound of the Eolian harp is 'remorseful'."

"Now, you'd think all that very pretty," said Charles, "if you saw it in a book of poems; but you call it melancholy when I say it."

"Oh, yes," said Caroline, "because poets never mean what they say, and would not be poetical unless they were melancholy."

"Well," said Mary, "I play to you, Charles, on this one condition, that you let me give you some morning a serious lecture on that melancholy of yours, which, I assure you, is growing on you."

Chapter 2-12

Top | Contents | Works | Home


Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.