The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXII

Mr Crawley’s Letter to the Dean

Mr Crawley, when he got home after his walk to Silverbridge, denied that he was at all tired. ‘The man at Silverbridge, whom I went to see administered refreshment to me; — nay, he administered it with salutary violence,’ he said, affecting even to laugh. ‘And I am bound to speak well of him on behalf of mercies over and beyond that exhibited by the persistent tender of some wine. That I should find him judicious I had expected. What little I have known of him taught me so to think of him. But I found with him also a softness of heart for which I had not looked.’

‘And you will not give up the living, Josiah?’

‘Most certainly I will. A duty, when it is clear before a man, should never be made less so by any tenderness in others.’ He was still thinking of Giles Hoggett. ‘It’s dogged as does it.’ The poor woman could not answer him. She knew well that it was vain to argue with him. She could only hope that in the event of his being acquitted at the trial, the dean, whose friendship she did not doubt, might re-endow him with the small benefice which was their only source of bread.

On the following morning there came by post a short note from Dr Tempest. ‘My dear Mr Crawley,’ the note ran, ‘I implore you, if there be yet time, to do nothing rashly. And even though you should have written to the bishop or to the dean, your letters need have no effect, if you will allow me to make them inoperative. Permit me to say that I am a man much older than you, and one who has mixed much both with clergymen and with the world at large. I tell you with absolute confidence, that it is not your duty in your present position to give up your living. Should your conduct ever be called in question on this matter you will be at perfect liberty to say that you were guided by my advice. You should take no step till after the trial. Then, if the verdict be against you, you should submit to the bishop’s judgment. If the verdict be in your favour, the bishop’s interference will be over.’

‘And you must remember that if it is not your duty as a clergyman to give up your living, you can have no right, seeing that you have a wife and family, to throw it away as an indulgence to your pride. Consult any other friend you please — Mr Robarts, or the dean himself. I am quite sure that any friend who knows many of the circumstances as I know will advise you to hold the living, at any rate till after the trial. You can refer any such friend to me. — Believe me, to be yours very truly, MORTIMER TEMPEST’

Mr Crawley walked about again with this letter in his pocket, but on this occasion he did not go in the direction of Hoggle End. From Hoggle End he could hardly hope to pick up further lessons of wisdom. What could any Giles Hoggett say to him beyond what he had said to him already? If he were to read the doctor’s letter to Hoggett, and to succeed in making Hoggett understand it, Hoggett could only caution him to be dogged. But it seemed to him that Hoggett and his new friend at Silverbridge did not agree in their doctrines, and it might be well that he should endeavour to find out which of them had most of justice on his side. He was quite sure that Hoggett would advise him to adhere to his project of giving up the living — if only Hoggett could me made to understand the circumstances.

‘He had written, but had not as yet sent away his letter to the dean.

His letter to the bishop would be but a note, and he had postponed the writing of that till the other should be copied and made complete.

He had sat up late into the night composing and altering his letter to his old friend, and now that the composition was finished he was loth to throw it away. Early in this morning, before the postman had brought to him Dr Tempest’s urgent remonstrance, he had shown to his wife the draft of his letter to the dean. ‘I cannot say that it is not true,’ she had said.

‘It is certainly true.’

‘But I wish, my dear, you would not send it. Why should you take any step till the trial be over?’

‘I shall assuredly send it,’ he had replied. ‘If you will peruse it again, you will see that the epistle would be futile were it kept till I shall have been proved to be a thief.’

‘Oh, Josiah, such words kill me.’

‘They are not pleasant, but it will be well that you should become used to them. As for the letter, I have taken some trouble to express myself with perspicuity, and I trust that I may have succeeded.’ At that time Hoggett was altogether in the ascendant; but now, as he started on his walk, his mind was somewhat perturbed by the contrary advice of one, who after all, might be as wise as Hoggett. There would be nothing dogged in the conduct recommended to him by Dr Tempest. Were he to follow the doctor’s advice, he would be trimming his sails, so as to catch any slant of a breeze that might be favourable to him. There could be no doggedness in a character that would submit to such trimming.

The postman came to Hogglestock but once a day, so that he could not despatch his letter till the next morning — unless, indeed, he chose to send it a distance of four miles to the nearest post-office. As there was nothing to justify this, there was another night for the copying of his letter — should he at last determine to send it. He had sworn to his wife that it should go. He had taken much trouble with it. He believed in Hoggett. But, nevertheless, this incumbency of Hogglestock was his all in the world. It might be that he could still hold it, and have bread at least for his wife to eat. Dr Tempest had told him that he would be probably acquitted. Dr Tempest knew as much of all the circumstances as he did himself, and had told him that he was not guilty. After all, Dr Tempest knew more about it that Hoggett knew.

If he resigned the living, what would become of him — of him — of him and his wife? Whither would they first go when they turned their back upon the door inside which there had at any rate been shelter for them for so many years? He calculated everything that he had, and found that at the end of April, even when he should have received his rent-charge, there would not be five pounds in hand among them. As for his furniture, he still owed enough to make it impossible that he should get anything out of that. And these thoughts all had reference to his position if he should be acquitted. What would become of his wife if he should be convicted? And as for himself, whither would he go when he came out of prison?

He had completely realised the idea that Hoggett’s counsel was opposed to that given to him by Dr Tempest; but then it might certainly be the case that Hoggett had not known all the facts. A man should, no doubt, be dogged when the evils of life are insuperable; but need he be so when the evils can be overcome? Would not Hoggett himself undergo any treatment which he believed to be specific for rheumatism? Yes; Hoggett would undergo any treatment that was not in itself opposed to his duty. The best treatment for rheumatism might be to stay away from the brick- field on a rainy day; but if so, there would be no money to keep the pot boiling, and Hoggett would certainly go to the brick-field, rheumatism and all, as long as his limbs would carry him there. Yes; he would send his letter. It was his duty, and he would do it. Men looked askance at him, and pointed at him as a thief. He would send the letter, in spite of Dr Tempest. Let justice be done, though the heaven may fall.

He had heard of Lady Lufton’s to his wife. The offers of the Lady Luftons of the world had been sorely distressing to his spirit, since it had first come to pass that such offers had reached him in consequence of his poverty. But now there was something almost of relief to him in the thought that the Lady Luftons would, after some fashion, save his wife and children from starvation — would save his wife from the poorhouse, and enable his children to have a start in the world. For one of his children a brilliant marriage might be provided — if only he himself were out of the way. How could he take himself out of the way? It had been whispered to him that he might be imprisoned for two months — or for two years. Would it not be a grand thing if the judge would condemn him to be imprisoned for life? Was thee ever a man whose existence was so purposeless, so useless, so deleterious, as his own? And yet he knew Hebrew well, whereas the dean knew but very little Hebrew. He could make Greek iambics, and doubted whether the bishop knew the difference between an iambus and a trochee. He could disport himself with trigonometry, feeling confident that Dr Tempest had forgotten his way over the asses’ bridge. He knew ‘Lycidas’ by heart; and as for Thumble, he felt quite sure that Thumble was incompetent of understanding a single allusion in that divine poem. Nevertheless, though all his wealth of acquirement was his, it would be better for himself, better for those who belonged to him, better for the world at large, that he should be put an end to. A sentence of penal servitude for life, without any trial, would be of all things the most desirable. Then there would be ample room for the practice of the virtue that Hoggett had taught him.

When he returned home the Hoggethan doctrine prevailed, and he prepared to copy his letter. But before he commenced his task, he sat down with his youngest daughter, and read — or made her read to him — a passage of a Greek poem, in which are described the troubles and agonies of a blind giant. No giant would have been more powerful — only that he was blind, and could not see to avenge himself on those who had injured him. ‘The same story is always coming up,’ he said, stopping the girl in her reading. ‘We have it in various versions, because it is true to life.

“Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him Eyeless in Gaza, at the mill with slaves.”

It is the same story. Great power reduced to impotence, great glory to misery, by the hand of Fate — Necessity, as the Greeks called her; to goddess that will not be shunned. At the mill with slaves! People, when they read it, do not appreciate the horror of the picture. Go on my dear. It may be a question whether Polyphemus had mind enough to suffer; but, from the description of his power, I should think he had. “At the mill with slaves!” Can any picture be more dreadful than that? Go on, my dear. Of course you remember Milton’s Samson Agonistes. Agonistes indeed!’ His wife was sitting stitching at the other side of the room; but she heard his words — heard and understood them; and before Jane could again get herself into the swing of the Greek verse, she was over at her husband’s side, with her arms round his neck. ‘My love!’ she said. ‘My love!’

He turned to her, and smiled as he spoke to her. ‘These are old thoughts with me. Polyphemus and Belisarius, and Samson and Milton, have always been pets of mine. The mind of the strong blind creature must be sensible of the injury that he has been done to him! The impotency, combined with the strength, or rather the impotency with the misery of former strength and former aspirations, is so essentially tragic!’

She looked into his eyes as he spoke, and there was something of the flash of old days, when the world was young to them, and when he would tell her of his hopes, and repeat to her long passages of poetry, and would criticise for her advantage the works of the old writers. ‘Thank God,’ she said, ‘that you are not blind. It may yet be all right with you.’

‘Yes — it may be,’ he said.

‘And you shall not be at the mill with slaves.’

‘Or, at any rate, not eyeless in Gaza, if the Lord is good to me. Come, Jane, we will go on.’ Then he took up the passage himself, and read it on with clear, sonorous voice, every now and then explaining some passage or expressing his own ideas upon it, as though he were really happy with his poetry.

It was late in the evening before he got out his small stock of best letter-paper, and sat down to work at his letter. He first addressed himself to the bishop; and what he wrote down to the bishop was as follows:-

‘HOGGLESTOCK PARSONAGE, April 11, 186-

‘MY LORD BISHOP,

‘I have been in communication with Dr Tempest, of Silverbridge, from whom I have learned that your lordship has been pleased to appoint a commission of inquiry — of which commission he is the chairman — with reference to the proceedings which it may be necessary that you should take, as bishop of the diocese, after my forthcoming trial at the approaching Barchester assizes. My lord, I think it right to inform you, partly with a view to the comfort of the gentlemen named on that commission, and partly with the purport of giving you the information which I think that a bishop should possess in regard to the clerical affairs of his own diocese, that I have by this post resigned my preferment at Hogglestock into the hands of the Dean of Barchester, by whom it was given to me. In these circumstances, it will, I suppose, be unnecessary for you to continue the commission which you have set in force; but as to that, your lordship will, of course, be the only judge. — I have the honour to be, my Lord Bishop, your most obedient and very humble servant,

‘JOSIAH CRAWLEY Perpetual Curate of Hogglestock ‘The Right Reverend ‘The Bishop of Barchester, ‘&c, &c, &c The Palace, Barchester’

But the letter which was of real importance — which was intended to say something — was that to the dean, and that also shall be given to the reader. Mr Crawley had been for a while in doubt how he should address his old friend in commencing this letter, understanding that its tone throughout must be, in a great degree, be mad conformable with its first words. He would fain, in his pride, have begun ‘Sir’. The question was between that and ‘My dear Arabin’. It had once between them always been ‘Dear Frank,’ and Dear Joe’’ but the occasions for ‘Dear Frank’ and ‘Dear Joe’ between them had long been past. Crawley would have been very angry had he now been called Joe by the dean, and would have bitten his tongue out before he would have called the dean Frank. His better nature, however, now prevailed, and he began his letter, and completed it as follows:-

‘MY DEAR ARABIN,

‘Circumstances, of which you have probably heard something, compel me to write to you, as I fear, at some length. I am sorry that the trouble of such a letter should be forced upon you during your holidays’; — Mr Crawley, as he wrote this, did not forget to remind himself that he never had any holidays; —‘but I think you will admit, if you will bear with me to the end, that I have no alternative.

‘I have been accused of stealing a cheque for twenty pounds, which cheque was drawn by Lord Lufton on his London bankers, and was lost out of his pocket by Mr Soames, his lordship’s agent, and was so lost, as Mr Soames states — but with an absolute assertion — during a visit which he made to my parsonage here at Hogglestock. Of the fact that I paid the cheque to a tradesman in Silverbridge there is no doubt. When questioned about it, I first gave an answer which was so manifestly incorrect that it has seemed odd to me that I should not have had credit for a mistake from those who must have seen that detection was so evident. The blunder was undoubtedly stupid, and it now bears heavily on me. I then, as I have learned, made another error — of which I am aware that you have been informed. I said that the cheque had come from you, and in saying so, I thought that it had formed a portion of that alms which your open-handed benevolence bestowed upon me when I attended on you, not long before your departure, in your library. I have striven to remember the facts. It may be — nay, it probably is the case — that such struggles to catch some accurate glimpse of bygone things do not trouble you. You mind is, no doubt, clearer and stronger than mine, having been kept to its proper tune by greater and fitter work. With me, memory is all but gone, and the power of thinking is on the wane! I struggled to remember, and I thought that the cheque had been in an envelope which you handed to me — and I said so. I have since learned, from tidings received, as I am told, direct from yourself, that I was wrong in the second statement as I had been in the first. The double blunder has, of course, been very heavy on me.

‘I was taken before the magistrates at Silverbridge, and was by them committed to stand my trial at the assizes to be holden in Barchester on the twenty-eighth of this month. Without doubt, the magistrates had not alternative but to commit me, and I am indebted to them that they have allowed me my present liberty upon bail. That my sufferings in all this should have been grievous, you will understand. But on that head I shall not touch, were it not that I am bound to explain to you that my troubles with reference to this parish of Hogglestock, to which I was appointed by you, have not been the slightest of those sufferings. I felt at first, believing then that the world around me would think it unlikely that such a one as I had wilfully stolen a sum of money, that it was my duty to maintain myself in my church. I did so maintain myself against an attack made upon me by the bishop, who sent over to Hogglestock one Mr Thumble, a gentleman doubtless in holy orders, though I know nothing and can learn nothing of the place of his cure, to dispossess me of my pulpit and to remove me from my ministrations among my people. To Mr Thumble I turned a deaf ear, and would not let him so much as open his mouth inside the porch of my church. Up to this time I myself have read the services, and have preached to the people, and have continued, as best I could, my visits to the poor and my labours in the school, though I know — no one knows as well — how unfitted I am for such work by the grief which has fallen upon me.

‘Then the bishop sent for me, and I thought it becoming on my part to go to him. I presented myself to his lordship at his palace, and was minded to be much governed in my conduct by what he might say to me, remembering that I am bound to respect the office, even though I may not approve of the man; and I humbled myself before his lordship, waiting patiently for any directions which he in his discretion might think it proper to bestow on me. But there arose up between us that very pestilent woman, his wife — to his dismay, seemingly, as much as to mine — and she would let there place for no speech but her own. If there be aught clear to me in ecclesiastical matters, it is this — that no authority can be delegated to a female. The special laws of this and of some other countries do allow that women shall sit upon the temporal thrones of the earth, but on the lowest step of the throne of the Church no woman has been allowed to sit as bearing authority, the romantic tale of the woman Pope notwithstanding. Thereupon, I left the palace in wrath, feeling myself aggrieved that a woman should have attempted to dictate to me, and finding it hopeless to get a clear instruction from his lordship — the woman taking up the word whenever I put a question to my lord the bishop. Nothing, therefore, came of that interview but fruitless labour to myself, and anger, of which I have since been ashamed.

‘Since that time I have continued in my parish — working, not without zeal, though, in truth, almost without hope — and learning even from day to day that the opinion of men around me have declared me to be guilty of the crime imputed to me. And now the bishop has issued a commission as preparatory to proceedings against me under the Act for the punishment for clerical offences. In doing this, I cannot say that the bishop has been ill-advised, even though the advice may have come from that evil-tongued lady, his wife. And I hold that a woman may be called upon for advice, with most salutary effect, in affairs as to which any show of female authority should be equally false and pernicious. With me it has ever been so, and I have had a counsellor by me as wise as she has been devoted.’ It must be noticed that in the draft copy of his letter which Mr Crawley gave to his wife to read this last sentence was not inserted. Intending that she should read his letter, he omitted it till he made the fair copy. ‘Over this commission his lordship has appointed Dr Tempest of Silverbridge to preside, and with him I have been in communication. I trust that the labours of the gentlemen of whom it is composed may be brought to a speedy close; and, having regard to their trouble, I have informed Dr Tempest that I should write this letter to you with the intent and assured purpose of resigning the perpetual curacy of Hogglestock in your hands.

‘You will be good enough, therefore, to understand that I do so resign the living, and that I shall continue to administer the services of the Church only till some clergyman, certified to me as coming from you or from the bishop, may present himself in the parish, and shall declare himself prepared to undertake the cure. Should it be so that Mr Thumble be sent hither again, I will sit under him, endeavouring to catch improvement from his teaching, and striving to overcome the contempt which I felt for him when he before visited this parish. I annex beneath my signature a copy of the letter which I have written to the bishop on this subject.

‘And now it behoves me, as the guardianship of the souls of those was placed in my hands by you, to explain to you as shortly as may be possible the reasons which had induced me to abandon my work. One or two whose judgment I do not discredit — and I am allowed to name Dr Tempest of Silverbridge as one — have suggested to me that I should take no step till after my trial. They think that I should have regard to the chance of the verdict, so that the preferment may still be mine should I be acquitted; and they say, that should I be acquitted, the bishop’s action against me must of necessity cease. That they are right in these facts I do not doubt; but in giving such advice they look only to the facts, having no regard to the conscience. I do not blame them. I should give such advice myself, knowing that a friend may give counsel as to outer things, but that a man must satisfy his inner conscience by his own perceptions of what is right and what is wrong.

‘I find myself to be ill-spoken of, to be regarded with hard eyes by those around me, my people thinking that I have stolen this money. Two farmers in this parish, have, as I am aware, expressed opinions that no jury could acquit me honestly, and neither of these men have appeared in my church since the expression of that opinion. I doubt whether they have gone to other churches; and if not they have been deterred from all public worship by my presence. If this be so, how can I with a clear conscience remain among these men? Shall I take from their hands wages for those administrations, which their deliberately formed opinions will not allow them to accept from my hands?’ And yet, though he thus pleaded against himself, he knew that the two men of whom he was speaking were thick-headed dolts who were always tipsy in Saturday nights, and who came to church perhaps once in three weeks.

‘Your kind heart will doubtless prompt you to tell me that no clergyman could be safe in his parish if he were to allow the opinion of chance parishioners to prevail against him; and you would probably lay down for my guidance the grand old doctrine “Nil conscire sibi; nulla pallescere culpa.” Presuming that you may do so, I will acknowledge such guidance to be good. If my mind were clear in this matter, I would not budge an inch for any farmer — no, nor for any bishop, further than he might by law compel me! But my mind is not clear. I do grow pale, and my hairs stands on end with horror, as I confess to myself that I do not know whether I stole this money or no! Such is the fact. In all sincerity I tell you that I know not whether I be guilty or innocent. It may be that I picked up the cheque from the floor of my room, and afterwards took it out and used it, not knowing whence it had come to me. If it be so, I stole it, and am guilty before the laws of my country. If it be so, I am not fit to administer the Lord’s sacraments to these people. When the cup was last in my hand and I was blessing them, I felt that I was not fit, and I almost dropped the chalice. That God will know my weakness and pardon me the perplexity of my mind — that is between Him and His creature.

‘As I read my letter over to myself I feel how weak are my words, and how inefficient to explain to you the exact position in which I stand; but they will suffice to convince you that I am assuredly purposed to resign this parish of Hogglestock, and that it is therefore incumbent on you, as patron of the living, to nominate my successor to the benefice. I have only further to ask your pardon for this long letter, and to thank you again for the many and great marks of friendship which you have conferred on me. Alas, could you have foreseen in those old days how barren of all good would have been the life of him you then esteemed, you might perhaps have escaped the disgrace of being called the friend of one whom no one now regards with esteem. — Nevertheless, I may still say that I am, with all affection, yours truly, ‘JOSIAH CRAWLEY’

The last paragraph of the letter was also added, since his wife had read it. When he had first composed the letter, he had been somewhat proud of his words, thinking that he had clearly told his story. But, when sitting alone at his desk, he read it again, filling his mind as he went on with ideas which he would fain have expressed to his old friend, were it not that he feared to indulge himself with too many words, he began to tell himself that his story was anything but well told. There was no expression there of the Hoggethan doctrine. In answer to such a letter as that the dean might well say, ‘Think again of it. Try yet to save yourself. Never mind the two farmers, or Mr Thumble, or the bishop. Stick to the ship while there is a plank above the water.’ Whereas it had been his desire to use words that should make the dean clearly understand that the thing was decided. He had failed — as he had failed in everything throughout his life; but nevertheless the letter must go. Were he to begin again he would not do it better. So he added to what he had written a copy of his note to the bishop, and the letter was fastened and sent.

Mrs Crawley might probably have been more instant in her efforts to stop the letter, had she not felt that it would not decide everything. In the first place it was improbable that the letter might not reach the dean till after his return home — and Mrs Crawley had long since made up her mind that she would see the dean as soon as possible after his return. She had heard from Lady Lufton that it was not doubted in Barchester that he would be back at any rate before the judges came into the city. And then, in the next place, was it probable that the dean would act upon such a letter by filling up the vacancy, even if he did get it? She trusted in the dean, and knew that he would help them, if any help were possible. Should the verdict go against her husband, then indeed it might be that no help would be possible. In such case she thought that the bishop with his commission might prevail. But she still believed that the verdict would be favourable, if not with an assured belief, still with a hope that was sufficient to stand in lieu of a belief. No single man, let alone no twelve men, could think that her husband had intended to appropriate the money dishonestly. That he had taken it improperly — without real possession — she herself believed; but he had not taken it as a thief, and could not merit a thief’s punishment. After two days he got a reply from the bishop’s chaplain, in which the chaplain expressed the bishop’s commendation of Mr Crawley’s present conduct. ‘Mr Thumble shall proceed from hence to Hogglestock on next Sunday,’ said the chaplain, ‘and shall relieve you for the present from the burden of your duties. As to the future status of the parish, it will perhaps be best that nothing shall be done till the dean returns — or perhaps till the assizes shall be over. This is the bishop’s opinion.’ It need hardly be explained that the promised visit of Mr Thumble to Hogglestock was gall and wormwood to Mr Crawley. He had told the dean that should Mr Thumble come, he would endeavour to learn something even from him. But it may be doubted whether Mr Crawley in his present mood could learn anything useful from Mr Thumble. Giles Hoggett was a much more effective teacher.

‘I will endure even that,’ he said to his wife, as she handed to him back the letter from the bishop’s chaplain.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43