The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 80

THE CLOISTER

Brother Clement had taught and preached in Basle more than a twelvemonth, when one day Jerome stood before him, dusty, with a triumphant glance in his eye.

“Give the glory to God, Brother Clement; thou canst now wend to England with me.”

“I am ready, Brother Jerome; and expecting thee these many months, have in the intervals of teaching and devotion studied the English tongue somewhat closely.”

“’Twas well thought of,” said Jerome. He then told him he had but delayed till he could obtain extraordinary powers from the Pope to collect money for the Church’s use in England, and to hear confession in all the secular monasteries. “So now gird up thy loins, and let us go forth and deal a good blow for the Church, and against the Franciscans.”

The two friars went preaching down the Rhine for England. In the larger places they both preached. At the smaller they often divided, and took different sides of the river, and met again at some appointed spot. Both were able orators, but in different styles.

Jerome’s was noble and impressive, but a little contracted in religious topics, and a trifle monotonous in delivery compared with Clement’s, though in truth not so, compared with most preachers.

Clement’s was full of variety, and often remarkably colloquial. In its general flow, tender and gently winning, it curled round the reason and the heart. But it always rose with the rising thought; and so at times Clement soared as far above Jerome as his level speaking was below him. Indeed, in these noble heats he was all that we hue read of inspired prophet or heathen orator: Vehemens ut procella, excitatus ut torrens, incensus ut fulmen, tonabat, fulgurabat, et rapidis eloquentiae fiuctibus cuncta proruebat et perturbabat.

I would give literal specimens, but for five objections; it is difficult; time is short; I have done it elsewhere; an able imitator has since done it better and similarity, a virtue in peas, is a vice in books.

But (not to evade the matter entirely) Clement used secretly to try and learn the recent events and the besetting sin of each town he was to preach in.

But Jerome, the unbending, scorned to go out of his way for any people’s vices. At one great town, some leagues from the Rhine, they mounted the same pulpit in turn. Jerome preached against vanity in dress, a favourite theme of his. He was eloquent and satirical, and the people listened with complacency. It was a vice that they were little given to.

Clement preached against drunkenness. It was a besetting sin, and sacred from preaching in these parts: for the clergy themselves were infected with it, and popular prejudice protected it, Clement dealt it merciless blows out of Holy Writ and worldly experience. A crime itself, it was the nursing mother of most crimes, especially theft and murder. He reminded them of a parricide that had lately been committed in their town by all honest man in liquor; and also how a band of drunkards had roasted one of their own comrades alive at a neighbouring village. “Your last prince,” said he, “is reported to have died of apoplexy, but well you know he died of drink; and of your aldermen one perished miserably last month dead drunk, suffocated in a puddle. Your children’s backs go bare that you may fill your bellies with that which makes you the worst of beasts, silly as calves, yet fierce as boars; and drives your families to need, and your souls to hell. I tell ye your town, ay, and your very nation, would sink to the bottom of mankind did your women drink as you do. And how long will they be temperate, and contrary to nature, resist the example of their husbands and fathers? Vice ne’er yet stood still. Ye must amend yourselves, or see them come down to your mark, Already in Bohemia they drink along with the men. How shows a drunken woman? Would you love to see your wives drunken, your mothers drunken?” At this there was a shout of horror, for mediaeval audiences had not learned to sit mumchance at a moving sermon. “Ah, that comes home to you,” cried the friar. “What madmen! think you it doth not more shock the all-pure God to see a man, His noblest work, turned to a drunken beast, than it can shock you creatures of sin and unreason to see a woman turned into a thing no better nor worse than yourselves.”

He ended with two pictures: a drunkard’s house and family, and a sober man’s; both so true and dramatic in all their details that the wives fell all to “ohing” and “ahing,” and “Eh, but that is a true word.”

This discourse caused quite all uproar. The hearers formed knots; the men were indignant; so the women flattered them and took their part openly against the preacher. A married man had a right to a drop; he needed it, working for all the family. And for their part they did not care to change their men for milksops.

The double faces! That very evening a hand of men caught near a hundred of them round Brother Clement, filling his wallet with the best, and offering him the very roses off their heads, and kissing his frock, and blessing him “for taking in hand to mend their sots.”

Jerome thought this sermon too earthly.

“Drunkenness is not heresy, Clement, that a whole sermon should be preached against it.”

As they went on, he found to his surprise that Clement’s sermons sank into his hearers deeper than his own; made them listen, think, cry, and sometimes even amend their ways. “He hath the art of sinking to their peg,” thought Jerome, “Yet he can soar high enough at times.”

Upon the whole it puzzled Jerome, who had a secret sense of superiority to his tenderer brother. And after about two hundred miles of it, it got to displease him as well as puzzle him. But he tried to check this sentiment as petty and unworthy. “Souls differ like locks,” said he, “and preachers must differ like keys, or the fewer should the Church open for God to pass in. And certes, this novice hath the key to these northern souls, being himself a northern man.”

And so they came slowly down the Rhine, sometimes drifting a few miles down the stream; but in general walking by the banks preaching, and teaching, and confessing sinners in the towns and villages; and they reached the town of Dusseldorf.

There was the little quay where Gerard and Denys had taken boat up the Rhine, The friars landed on it. There were the streets, there was “The Silver Lion.” Nothing had changed but he, who walked through it barefoot, with his heart calm and cold, his hands across his breast, and his eyes bent meekly on the ground, a true son of Dominic and Holy Church.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33