George MacDonald.

[Works] (Volume 3) online

. (page 15 of 35)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonald[Works] (Volume 3) → online text (page 15 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the reverie which always gathers about the feather-end
of my pen the moment I take it up to write these re-
collections, interfere with the work before me.

After this Christmas-tide, I found myself in closer
relationship to my parishioners. No doubt I was always
in danger of giving unknown offence to those who were
ready to iancy that I neglected them, and did not dis-


tribute my favours equally. But as I never took offence,
the offence I gave was easily got rid of. A clergyman,
of all men, should be slow to take offence, for if he does,
he will never be free or strong to reprove sin. And it
must sometimes be his duty to speak severely to those,
especially the good, who are turning their faces the
wrong way. It is of little use to reprove the sinner, but
it is worth while sometimes to reprove those who have a
regard for righteousness, however imperfect they may be.
" Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee ; rebuke a
wise man, and he will love thee.''

But I took great care about interfering; though I
would interfere upon request not always, however,
upon the side whence the request came, and more
seldom still upon either side. The clergyman must
never be a partisan. When our Lord was requested
to act as umpire between two brothers, He refused.
But He spoke and said, " Take heed, and beware of
covetousness." Now, though the best of men is un-
worthy to loose the latchet of His shoe, yet the servant
must be as his Master. Ah me ! while I write it, I
remember that the sinful woman might yet do as she
w ould with His sacred feet. I bethink me : Desert
may not touch His shoe-tie : Love may kiss His feet.

I visited, of course, at the Hall, as at the farmhouses
in the country, and the cottages in the village. I did
not come to like Mrs Oldcastle better. And there was
one woman in the house whom I disliked still more :
that Sarah whom Judy had called in my hearing a white
wolf. Her face was yet whiter than that of her mistress,


only it was not smooth like hers ; for its whiteness came
apparently from the small-pox, which had so thickened
the skin that no blood, if she had any, could shine
through. I seldom saw her only, indeed, caught a
glimpse of her now and then as I passed through the

Nor did I make much progress with Mr Stoddart
He had always something friendly to say, and often
some theosophical theory to bring forward, which, I
must add, never seemed to me to mean, or, at least, to
reveal, anything. He was a great reader of mystical
Looks, and yet the man's nature seemed cold. It was
sunshiny, but not sunny. His intellect was rather a
lambent flame than a genial warmth. He could make
things, but he could not grow anything. And when I
came to see that he had had more than any one else to
do with the education of Miss Oldcastle, I understood
her a little better, and saw that her so-called e-ducation
had been in a great measure re-pression of a negative
sort, no doubt, but not therefore the less mischievous.
For to teach speculation instead of devotion, mysticism
instead of love, word instead of deed, is surely ruinously
repressive to the nature that is meant for sunbright
activity both of heart and hand. My chief perplexity
continued to be how he could play the organ as he did.

My reader will think that I am always coming round
to Miss Oldcastle ; but if he does, I cannot help it. I
began, I say, to understand her a little better. She
seemed to me always like one walking in a " watery
sunbeam," without knowing that it was but the wintry


pledge of a summer sun at hand. She took it, or was
trying to take it, for the sunlight ; trying to make herself
feel all the glory people said was in the light, instead of
making haste towards the perfect day. I found after-
wards that several things had combined to bring about
this condition ; and I know she will forgive me, should
I, for the sake of others, endeavour to make it under-
stood by and by.

I have not much more to tell my readers about this
winter. As out of a whole changeful season only one
day, or, it may be, but one moment in which the time
seemed to burst into its own blossom, will cling to the
memory ; so of the various interviews with my friends,
and the whole flow of the current of my life, during that
winter, nothing more of nature or human nature occurs
to me worth recording. I will pass on to the summer
season as rapidly as I may, though the early spring will
detain me with the relation of just a single incident.

I was on my way to the Hall to see Mr Stoddart. I
wanted to ask him whether something could not be done
beyond his exquisite playing to rouse the sense of music
in my people. I believed that nothing helps you so
much to feel as the taking of what share may, from the
nature of the thing, be possible to you ; because, for one
reason, in order to feel, it is necessary that the mind
should rest upon the matter, whatever it is. The poorest
success, provided the attempt has been genuine, will
enable one to enter into any art ten times better than
before. Now I had, I confess, little hope of moving
Mr Stoddart in the matter; but if I should succeed, I


thought it would do himself more good to mingle with
his humble fellows in the attempt to do them a trifle of
good, than the opening of any number of intellectual
windows towards the circumambient truth.

It was just beginning to grow dusk. The wind was
blustering in gusts among the trees, swaying them sud-
denly and fiercely like a keen passion, now sweeping
them all one way as if the multitude of tops would break
loose and rush away like a wild river, and now subsiding
as suddenly, and allowing them to recover themselves
and stand upright, with tones and motions of indignant
expostulation. There was just one cold bar of light in
the west, and the east was one gray mass, while over-
head the stars were twinkling. The grass and all the
ground about the trees were very wet. The time seemed
more dreary somehow than the winter. Rigour was
past, and tenderness had not come. For the wind was
cold without being keen, and bursting from the trees
even- now and then with a roar as of a sea breaking on
distant sands, whirled about me as if it wanted me to go
and join in its fierce play.

Suddenly I saw, to my amazement, in a walk that
ran alongside of the avenue, Miss Oldcastle struggling
against the wind, which blew straight down the path
upon her. The cause of my amazement was twofold
First, I had supposed her with her mother in London,
whither their journeys had been not infrequent since
Christmas-tide; and next why should she be fighting
with the wind, so far from the house, with only a shawl
drawn over her head?


The reader may wonder how I should know her in
this attire in the dusk, and where there was not the
smallest probability of finding her. Suffice it to say that
I did recognise her at once ; and passing between two
great tree-trunks, and through an opening in some under-
wood, was by her side in a moment. But the noise ot
the wind had prevented her from hearing my approach,
and when I uttered her name, she started violently,
and, turning, drew herself up very haughtily, in part,
I presume, to hide her tremor. She was always a little
haughty with me, I must acknowledge. Could there have
been anything in my address, however unconscious of
it I was, that made her fear I was ready to become in-
trusive 1 Or might it not be that, hearing of my footing
with my parishioners generally, she was prepared to
resent any assumption of clerical familiarity with her;
and so, in my behaviour, any poor innocent " bush was
supposed a bear." For I need not tell my reader that
nothing was farther from my intention, even with the
lowliest of my flock, than to presume upon my position
as clergyman. I think they all gave me the relation I
occupied towards them personally. But I had never
seen her look so haughty as now. If I had been watch-
ing her very thoughts she could hardly have looked more

" I beg your pardon," I said, distressed ; " I have
startled you dreadfully."

' Not in the least," she replied, but without moving,
and still with a curve in her form like the neck of a
frayed horse.


I thought it better to leave apology, which was evi-
dently disagreeable to her, and speak of indifferent

" I was on my way to call on Mr Stoddart," I said.

" You will find him at home, I believe."

" I fancied you and Mrs Oldcastle in London."

" We returned yesterday."

Still she stood as before. I made a movement in the
direction of the house. She seemed as if she would
walk in the opposite direction.

" May I not walk with you to the house ? "

" I am not going in just yet."

" Are you protected enough for such a night ?"

" I enjoy the wind."

I bowed and walked on ; for what else could I do 1

I cannot say that I enjoyed leaving her behind me in
the gathering dark, the wind blowing her about with no
more reverence than if she had been a bush of privet.
Nor was it with a light heart that I bore her repulse as
I slowly climbed the hill to the house. However, a
little personal mortification is wholesome though I
cannot say either that I derived much consolation from
the reflection.

Sarah opened the glass door, her black, glossy, rest-
less eyes looking out of her white face from under gray
eyebrows. I knew at once by her look beyond me that
she had expected to find me accompanied by her young
mistress. I did not volunteer any information, as my
reader may suppose.

I found, as I had feared, that, although Mr Stoddart


seemed to listen with some interest to what I said, I
could not bring him to the point of making any prac-
tical suggestion, or of responding to one made by me ;
and I left him with the conviction that he would do
nothing to help me. Yet during the whole of our inter-
view he had not opposed a single word I said. He was
like clay too much softened with water to keep the form
into which it has been modelled. He would take some
kind of form easily, and lose it yet more easily. I did
not show all my dissatisfaction, however, for that would
only have estranged us ; and it is not required, nay, it
may be wrong, to show all you feel or think : what is
required of us is, not to show what we do not feel or
think ; for that is to be false.

I left the house in a gloomy mood. I know I ought
to have looked up to God and said : " These things do
not reach to Thee, my Father. Thou art ever the same ;
and I rise above my small as well as my great troubles
by remembering Thy peace, and Thy unchangeable
Godhood to me and all Thy creatures." But I did not
come to myself all at once. The thought of God had
not come, though it was pretty sure to come before I
got home. I was brooding over the littleness of all I
could do ; and feeling that sickness which sometimes
will overtake a man in the midst of the work he likes
best, when the unpleasant parts of it crowd upon him,
and his own efforts, especially those made from the will
without sustaining impulse, come back upon him with a
feeling of unreality, decay, and bitterness, as if he had
been unnatural and untrue, and putting himself in false


relations by false efforts for good. I know this all came
from selfishness thinking about myself instead of about
God and my neighbour. But so it was. And so I was
walking down the avenue, where it was now very dark,
with my head bent to the ground, when I in my turn
started at the sound of a woman's voice, and looking
up, saw by the starlight the dim form of Miss Oldcastlc
standing before me.

She spoke first.

" Mr Walton, I was very rude to you. I beg your

" Indeed, I did not think so. I only thought what a
blundering awkward fellow I was to startle you as I did.
You have to forgive me."

" I fancy " and here I know she smiled, though how
I know I do not know " I fancy I have made that
even," she said, pleasantly; "for you must confess I
startled you now."

" You did ; but it was in a very different way. I
annoyed you with my rudeness. You only scattered a
swarm of bats that kept flapping their skinny wings in
my face."

"What do you mean? There are no bats at this
time of the year."

" Not outside. In ' winter and rough weather ' they
creep inside, you know."

" Ah ! I ought to understand you. But I did not
think you were ever like that. I thought you were too

" I wish I were. I hope to be some day. I am not


yet, anyhow. And I thank you for driving the bats
away in the meantime."

" You make me the more ashamed of myself to think
that perhaps my rudeness had a share in bringing them.
Yours is no doubt thankless labour sometimes."

She seemed to make the last remark just to prevent
the conversation from returning to her as its subject.
And now all the bright portions of my work came up
before me.

"You are quite mistaken in that, Miss Oldcastle.
On the contrary, the thanks I get are far more than
commensurate with the labour. Of course one meets
with a disappointment sometimes, but that is only when
they don't know what you mean. And how should they
know what you mean till they are different themselves I
You remember what Wordsworth says on this very
subject in his poem of Simon Lee 1 "

" I do not know anything of Wordsworth."

" ' I 've heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds

With coldness still returning ;
Alas ! the gratitude of men

Hath oftener left me mourning.' "

" I do not quite see what he means."

" May I recommend you to think about it ? You
will be sure to find it out for yourself, and that will be
ten times more satisfactory than if I were to explain it to
you. And, besides, you will never forget it, if you do."

" Will you repeat the lines again ? "

I did so.

All this time the wind had been still. Now it rose

1 II K AVRNl'F- 243

with a slow gush in the trees. Was it fancy 1 Or, as
the wind moved the shrubbery, did I see a white face 1
And could it be the White Wolf, as Judy called hert

I spoke aloud :

" But it is cruel to keep you standing here in such a
night. You must be a real lover of nature to walk in
the dark wind."

" I like it. Good night."

So we parted. I gazed into the darkness after her,
though she disappeared at the distance of a yard or
two ; and would have stood longer had I not still sus-
pected the proximity of Judy's Wolf, which made me turn
and go home, regardless now of Mr Stoddart's doughiness.

I met Miss Oldcastle several times before the summer,
but her old manner remained, or rather had returned, for
there had been nothing of it in the tone of her voice in
that interview, if interview it could be called where
neither could see more than the other's outline.



Y slow degrees the summer bloomed. Green
came instead of white ; rainbows instead of
icicles. The grounds about the Hall seemed
the incarnation of a summer which had taken
years to ripen to its perfection. The very grass seemed
to have aged into perfect youth in that " haunt of ancient
peace ;"* for surely nowhere else was such thick, delicate-
bladed, delicate-coloured grass to be seen. Gnarled old
trees of may stood like altars of smoking perfume, or
each like one million-petalled flower of upheaved white-
ness or of tender rosiness, as if the snow which had
covered it in winter had sunk in and gathered warmth
from the life of the tree, and now crept out again to
adorn the summer. The long loops of the laburnum
hung heavy with gold towards the sod below ; and the
air was full of the fragrance of the young leaves of the
limes. Down in the valley below, the daisies shone in


all the meadows, varied with the buttercup and the
celandine ; while in damp places grew large pimpernels,
and along the sides of the river, the meadow-sweet stood
amongst the reeds at the very edge of the water, breath-
ing out the odours of dreamful sleep. The clumsy pol-
lards were each one mass of undivided green. The mill-
wheel had regained its knotty look, with its moss and its
dip and drip, as it yielded to the slow water, which would
have let it alone, but that there was no other way out of
the land to the sea.

I used now to wander about in the fields and woods,
with a book in my hand, at which I often did not look
the whole day, and which yet I liked to have with me.
And I seemed somehow to come back with most upon
those days in which I did not read. In this manner I
prepared almost all my sermons that summer. But,
although I prepared them thus in the open country, I
had another custom, which perhaps may appear strange
to some, before I preached them. This was, to spend
the Saturday evening, not in my study, but in the church.
This custom oi mine was known to the sexton and his
wife, and the church was always clean and ready for me
after about mid-day, so that I could be alone there as
soon as I pleased. It would take more space than my
limits will afibrd to explain thoroughly why I liked to do
this. But I will venture to attempt a partial explanation
in a few words.

This fine old church in which I was honoured to lead
the prayers of my people, was not the expression of the
religious feeling of my time. There was a gloom about


it a sacred gloom, I know, and I loved it; but such
gloom as was not in my feeling when I talked to my
flock. I honoured the place ; I rejoiced in its history ;
I delighted to think that even by the temples made with
hands outlasting these bodies of ours, we were in a sense
united to those who in them had before us lifted up holy
hands without wrath or doubting ; and with many more
who, like us, had lifted up at least prayerful hands with-
out hatred or despair. The place soothed me, tuned me
to a solemn mood one of self-denial, and gentle glad-
ness in all sober things. But, had I been an architect,
and had I had to build a church I do not in the least
know how I should have built it I am certain it
would have been very different from this. Else I
should be a mere imitator, like all the church-architects
I know anything about in the present day. For I always
found the open air the most genial influence upon me
for the production of religious feeling and thought. I
had been led to try whether it might not be so with me
by the fact that our Lord seemed so much to delight in
the open air, and late in the day as well as early in the
morning would climb the mountain to be alone with His
Father. I found that it helped to give a reality to every-
thing that I thought about, if I only contemplated it
under the high untroubled blue, with the lowly green be-
neath my feet, and the wind blowing on me to remind
me of the Spirit that once moved on the face of the
waters, bringing order out of disorder and light out of
darkness, and was now seeking every day a fuller entrance


into my heart, that there He might work the one will of
the Father in heaven.

My reader will see then that there was, as it were, not
so much a discord, as a lack of harmony between the
surroundings wherein my thoughts took form, or, to use
a homelier phrase, my sermon was studied, and the sur-
roundings wherein I had to put these forms into the
garments of words, or preach that sermon. I therefore
sought to bridge over this difference (if I understood
music, I am sure I could find an expression exactly
fitted to my meaning), to find an easy passage between
the open-air mood and the church mood, so as to be
able to bring into the church as much of the fresh air,
and the tree-music, and the colour-harmony, and the
gladness over all, as might be possible ; and, in order
to this, I thought all my sermon over again in the after-
noon sun as it shone slantingly through the stained
window over Lord Eagleye's tomb, and in the failing
light thereafter and the gathering dusk of the twilight,
pacing up and down the solemn old place, hanging my
thoughts here on a crocket, there on a corbel ; now on
the gable-point over which Weir's face would gaze next
morning, and now on the aspiring peaks of the organ.
I thus made the place a cell of thought and prayer.
And when the next day came, I found the forms around
me so interwoven with the forms of my thought, that I
felt almost like one of the old monks who had built the
place, so little did I find any check to my thought or
utterance from its unfitness for the expression of my


individual modernism. But not one atom the more did
I incline to the evil fancy that God was more in the past
than in the present ; that He is more within the walls of
the church, than in the unwalled sky and earth ; or seek
to turn backwards one step from a living Now to an
entombed and consecrated Past

One lovely Saturday, I had been out all the morning.
I had not walked far, for I had sat in the various places
longer than I had walked, my path lying through fields
and copses, crossing a country road only now and then.
I had my Greek Testament with me, and I read when
I sat, and thought when I walked. I remember well
enough that I was going to preach about the cloud of
witnesses, and explain to my people that this did not
mean persons looking at, witnessing our behaviour not
so could any addition be made to the awfulness of the
fact that the eye of God was upon us but witnesses to
the truth, people who did what God wanted them to
do, come of it what might, whether a crown or a rack,
scoffs or applause ; to behold whose witnessing might
well rouse all that was human and divine in us to chose
our part with them and their Lord. When I came
home, I had an early dinner, and then betook myself to
my Saturday's resort. I had never had a room large
enough to satisfy me before. Now my study was to my

All through the slowly-fading afternoon, the autumn
of the day, when the colours are richest and the shadows
long and lengthening, I paced my solemn old-thoughted
church. Sometimes I went up into the pulpit and sat


there, looking on the ancient walls which had grown up
under men's hands that men might be helped to pray by
the visible symbol of unity which the walls gave, and
that the voice of the Spirit of God might be heard ex-
horting men to forsake the evil and choose the good.
And I thought how many witnesses to the truth had
knelt in those ancient pews. For as the great church is
made up of numberless communities, so is the great
shining orb of witness-bearers made up of millions of
lesser orbs. All men and women of true heart bear
individual testimony to the truth of God, saying, " I
have trusted and found Him faithful." And the feeble
light of the glowworm is yet light, pure, and good, and
with a loveliness of its own. " So, O Lord," I said,
" let my light shine before men." And I felt no fear of
vanity in such a prayer, for I knew that the glory to
come of it is to God only " that men may glorify their
Father in heaven." And I knew that when we seek
glory for ourselves, the light goes out, and the Horror
that dwells in darkness breathes cold upon our spirits.
And I remember that just as I thought thus, my eye was
caught first by a yellow light that gilded the apex of the
font-cover, which had been wrought like a flame or a
bursting blossom : it was so old and worn, I never could
tell which ; and then by a red light all over a white
marble tablet in the wall the red of life on the cold
hue of the grave. And this red light did not come from
any work of man's device, but from the great window of
the west, which little Gerard Weir wanted to help God
to paint. I must have been in a happy mood that


Saturday afternoon, for everything pleased me and made
me happier; and all the church-forms about me blended
and harmonised graciously with the throne and foot-
stool of God which I saw through the windows. And I
lingered on till the night had come ; till the church only
gloomed about me, and had no shine ; and then I found
my spirit burning up the clearer, as a lamp which has
been flaming all the day with light unseen becomes a
glory in the room when the sun is gone down.

At length I felt tired, and would go home. Yet I
lingered for a few moments in the vestry, thinking what
hymns would harmonize best with the things I wanted
to make my people think about. It was now almost

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonald[Works] (Volume 3) → online text (page 15 of 35)