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• Will any
Ordination with new eyes as a reality; as a reality which I had voluntarily undertaken, and wilfully neglected; I began to see the true character of the Christian ministry; and it was clear that having once pledged myself it was no longer a matter of choice, so I determined to seek some work among my fellow-creatures, and no longer to shut up my existence between the covers of a book; but there was great awkwardness and difficulty in the task. I was accustomed to teach and to influence minds through the press, and my name was known as a writer, not only in my own peculiar line of verbal and historical research, but also by that volume of poems, which had unhappily been published, and which I could not now suppress. I did not care for its being in people's hands while I was shut up, perfectly apart from it; but how could I face living men and women with these things fastened to my name, so that anybody might read my thoughts and feelings and aspirations, and compare them with myself? Perhaps it was vanity; but whatever was its source, the mortification of such a prospect was very great to a man in his fortieth year, of shy manners, reserved habits, and morbid- I would say selfish-sensitiveness ; so very great that I shrunk back from several offered appointments, and at last caught at one the most unattractive to every man in my College. I heard a man say at commons, one go to the west coast of Ireland ? here is a letter from a friend of mine who is obliged to go abroad for his wife's health, and wants some one to fill his place for a few months.'
Here, I thought, I could begin my parochial life, and get away as soon as I had conquered the first difficulty. My name and my books would there be unknown, (of course they never read in Ireland !) probably there would be no work, as it was a parish stretching along the wild shore of the Atlantic, between the mountains and the ocean; but I could get accustomed to the position of a parish clergyman, (I fancied I knew its duties,) and to the sound of my own voice in a country congregation, and then-as I often repeated to myself—and then leave it for ever: so my services were offered and accepted, and I was requested to make no delay, as the rector, Mr. Mansell, must be gone before a certain Sunday, and there was not a clergyman within twenty miles who could come for a single service. It was in this brief interval I learned what would have made me draw back had it not been too late; I was to be received at the glebe by the mother and sister of the Rector, and they were to make me acquainted with the parish! 'Impossible,' I said ; 'I shall go to the village inn.'
My dear Sir, do you know the coast ? there is no village, and no inn, within twenty-three miles.'
• Then I shall lodge in a farm-house.'
‘Be it so,' answered my friend, smiling; but I advise you not to decide until you see what an Irish farm-house is like.'
And as to showing me the parish—where are the church-wardens ?' Perhaps there are none.'
" Then the squire of the parish could point out the boundaries, and so on?
* The squire, or rather the lord of the soil, has a house about ten miles from the church ; but he lives in London, or at one of his English residences.'
It was too late to retract. I heard that Mr. Mansell's father had died long ago of wounds received at Waterloo; that the son, when he entered holy orders, was presented to this living by the Government, in whose gift it was, and that his mother, Lady Eleanor, and her daughter, resided with him ; they were the eldest and youngest of a numerous family, several of whom had died in infancy, and the girl had been brought up from childhood in this wilderness, educated by her mother and brother; this was all I heard or cared to learn about them.
I need not describe the journey, and yet you, who travel the same ground so often, can have no idea of what it was then; what is now an ill-natured caricature of poor Ireland was then literally true ; broken cars, kicking horses, rope harness, tipsy drivers, and all the rest of it; and right glad I was when, on the fourth day after leaving Oxford, the unmistakeable voice of the Atlantic told me I was near my destination.
Now I shall go minutely over the first few days; you could not otherwise understand it ; and remember, dear George, that every hour is so engraven on my mind that I can call up any scene at pleasure, just as you would turn the leaves of a photographic album; so that often, when I silent in your presence, I am seeing forms, and hearing voices-yes, and enjoying conversations that exist only in my memory.
It was in this drawing-room, where I now write. I was courteously and hospitably welcomed by Lady Eleanor, who spoke of her absent son and of the benefit I conferred on them by taking his place. This was the first time I ever saw hereditary rank severed from wealth and splendour; yet nothing about Lady Eleanor ever seemed out of place or out of keeping; the Earl's daughter and the parson's mother, the lady whose early associations had been with fashion and courtly style, and the dweller in the wildest region of our empire, combined in her with perfect consistency, and a perfect dignity. It was not as if she had formerly belonged to one circle and was now reduced to another, for in the change of position she carried with her all the distinctive marks of high society, and it would have been impossible to conceive her in any circumstances that she would not adorn and elevate. She spoke of the inconveniences of my journey with regret, but without that depreciation of the manners of her country so common to Irish people when speaking to the English ; she was sorry, she said, that my kindness had been tried by so much that was disagreeable, but she hoped I might enjoy the scenery; in every country, wild mountain scenery must be reached through difficulties. It was one of those gorgeous sun-sets, which you and I, dear George, love so much; the sun was sending a glorious pillar of fire down into the sea, and casting its last rays with a power beyond the noon-tide into the VOL. 7.
room. The door opened, and a light girlish figure entered, as it were, into those sunbeams, which seemed to circle and close around her, radiant and calm. She had not heard of my arrival, and started at the sight of a stranger ; but, graciously acknowledging my presence, she passed hastily forward, and knelt down beside her mother.
I only heard the words 'burn,' and 'child,' and 'arm;' but it was evident she was relating some case of pressing want, and having received directions, she left the room with a little basket of keys. All the detail of that slight figure was stamped on my perception by a mental photography; the modest bonnet that shaded her face, the white dress, (she always wore wbite,) the black mantle so gracefully falling around her; then the unconsciousness of self which the whole movement expressed, and the varying looks of pity, of urgency of pleading, that passed over her features in that short moment, the unconscious action, the hands clasped, then raised, then pointing-all as if pleading for some urgent necessity of her own. I learned afterwards that she was begging permission to walk again to a distant cottage, where she had found a child burned; and, as usual, she obtained her petition, and carried and applied the remedies. When she returned, dressed for the evening, she welcomed me with graceful courtesy, and apologised for not having done so earlier, ‘as someone was waiting in great distress.' I had a letter of introduction to the formidable sister, and hesitated in presenting it, saying, “Perhaps the lady is not here ;' it could scarcely be that this young girl was the person to show me the parish, and direct me in its duties, and I half expected the other to appear, so that I was relieved when she said, 'Yes, thank you, it is for me,' and having glanced over it, entered into animated conversation about the writer and the subject of the letter. My anxiety lest I should be domesticated with these ladies was set at rest, for Lady Eleanor informed me that separate apartments were arranged for me, so that I need only join them when it was my pleasure to do so; my pleasure, however, never led to one solitary meal. Strange to say, that was the first evening I ever conducted family worship; it began with a hymn, in which the ladies and servants united their voices very sweetly, and then I was asked to read a chapter, which, I observed, was not the proper
Lesson. When we separated for the night, I received a gracious invitation to breakfast next morning; but before that hour I witnessed a scene which was of daily recurrence, but which, on this first occasion, took me by surprise. I was attracted to the window by a buzz of voices, and sawsome seated on garden stools and benches, some squatted on the gravelabout twenty figures, each of which would have been invaluable to Punch as a caricature of the ragged Irish ; almost all were bare-footed, and their costume was really mysterious ; what had been the original shape or material of those motley garments—how the owners ever got in or could ever get out of them, were problems; some were lame, one was blind, some had no infirmity but age, one woman carried an infant on each arm, some girls and boys were there as messengers, and two men of less ragged appearance; many held empty cans and pitchers, and while waiting to have their various wants supplied, they were chatting and laughing as merrily and as much at their ease as if by their own fire-side, while two large dogs and a small one walked gravely among the party, as if on familiar terms with them all. Soon Miss Mansell and a servant (our faithful housekeeper, dear George,) appeared among them, and then Lady Eleanor; and the window being open, I heard as well as saw what was going on. Some wanted milk, and their càns were sent to be filled; wine, old linen ; eye-water ; ' a piece to mend my gown;' 'a petticoat for the child;' baby clothes ; «straw to thatch my cabin while the weather is dry;' 'a “lock of turf” because they burned it on us for a bonfire ;' “a letter from my son for Miss Ellie to read ;' a letter to my daughter in America for Miss Ellie to write;' a request that my Lady would tell Molly somebody not to be scolding; one for “the things for the sick man;' another only to tell how the child got the night;' an old piper to see if Miss Ellie could do anything to his bagpipes, which had gone all astray, and he expected at the wedding !' one man to beg her Ladyship would write to his landlord in London, “to have patience about the rent;' another only to inquire what news from the Master ? and had the English gentleman come yet, and what was he like at all? and then I heard a 'hush' from several voices, while the ladies and servants moved among them supplying their several demands. This levée was their only attempt to reduce their charities to system, and it was a signal failure, for though it brought all these wants at a certain hour, it did not check a continuance of applications all day long, not one of which was neglected. When all were satisfied, a bell rang for prayers, and as many of these strange visitors as pleased came in along with the household and the labourers from the fields, altogether forming a larger congregation than we now have at daily service.
I shall never forget that morning assembly; the poor Irish! they are far better off now in many respects; you do not see such rags or such beggary; but certainly you do not hear so much laughter and genuine fun and drollery, or see such rosy cheeks and dancing eyes ; 'the mirth of the land has ceased.'
My first walk over these noble cliffs was with her; I had never seen the ocean in its unbroken majesty; and she said afterwards she felt as if she was going to present me to the Sovereign. I was conscious that she felt my unuttered delight, and that she guided me from point to point, with the skill of a painter and the perception of a poet; but I was struck then and always by her silence in the presence of the beautiful and the grand. She loved nature with a reverence so deep and heartfelt, that she could no more have spoken light words of praise and admiration than she could have been garrulous about her mother's love and excellence. A glance, a scarcely perceptible movement of hand or eye, directed my attention to the effect of light and shade on certain points, to the peculiarity of the outline, to any beauty that a stranger might pass unobserved, anything in which her familiarity with the scenery could assist my enjoyment of it; but she allowed me to see and admire for myself, never distracting my attention from one object by exclaiming at the beauty of another, never breaking one idea by the intervention of a different one. I have seen her cheek grow pale and flush again before the majesty of those waves; I have seen her gaze on the glorious sun-set or on the moon reflected in the water with eyes that spoke a homage beyond the sun or moon; I have seen those sweet eyes fill with tears of pleasure over a new-blown flower; I have seen the varied characters of nature reflected in her mood, making her gay or solemn, pensive or glad; but I have never heard her expatiate on the scenery in which she delighted, and seldom did she speak of her love of beauty or its influence on the mind; never, except long after, when in confidential intercourse she unfolded all her treasures of thought and imagination. We walked by the cliffs to the coast-guard station, where she said my accent would be like home music to the English families; and afterwards we visited a school, in which each child seemed to possess some peculiar interest of character or circumstance; it was a long low hovel, inscribed over the door, ‘London Ladies Hibernian Female School ;' presided over by a female teacher, who inquired would I be pleased to examine them? but when I asked a question from the Church Catechism, there was a look of blank surprise on the faces of the children, and of consternation on those of Miss Mansell and the teacher, who drew near to me and whispered, “O Sir, I beg your Reverence's pardon, but we dare not teach them anything about the Church ; they are all Roman Catholics ; and their parents put up with the New Testament for Miss Ellie's sake; but they would never come back if we spoke of the Catechism.' I then took them in the chapters they had prepared, and was indeed astonished at the clearness and brightness of their comprehension.
Many a smile and glance of quick intelligence passed between the lady and the children, while they answered the English gentleman's questions. I had thought of a parish school only as an instrument, of which the pupils formed part of the machinery, and observed with some surprise, • Each of these children seems an especial favourite.'
"Well,' she replied, each is a favourite for some reason ; no one could help loving them, they are so nice.' My idea of nice was strangely in contrast with these bare legs and laughing faces and unkempt locks; she perceived it, and said gently, 'I do not mean neat or orderly; that cannot be at present, for these are very wild children, and if we annoy them by attempting too much we shall lose them altogether; we have other schools, where they are better regulated.'
But I understood her application of the word nice when, on our way homeward, a group of these little ones stood before us, flushed and panting after a race across the fields to collect the bouquets of wild flowers which they now presented to her. She sat down on a rock to