Dr. Wortle's school, by Anthony Trollope

“Everybody’s Business”

But there arose a trouble greater than that occasioned by the “Broughton Gazette.” There came out an article in a London weekly newspaper, called “Everybody’s Business,” which nearly drove the Doctor mad. This was on the last Saturday of the holidays. The holidays had been commenced in the middle of July, and went on till the end of August. Things had not gone well at Bowick during these weeks. The parents of all the four newly-expected boys had — changed their minds. One father had discovered that he could not afford it. Another declared that the mother could not be got to part with her darling quite so soon as he had expected. A third had found that a private tutor at home would best suit his purposes. While the fourth boldly said that he did not like to send his boy because of the “fuss” which had been made about Mr and Mrs Peacocke. Had this last come alone, the Doctor would probably have resented such a communication; but following the others as it did, he preferred the fourth man to any of the other three. “Miserable cowards,” he said to himself, as he docketed the letters and put them away. But the greatest blow of all — of all blows of this sort — came to him from poor Lady Anne Clifford. She wrote a piteous letter to him, in which she implored him to allow her to take her two boys away.

“My dear Doctor Wortle,” she said, so many people have been telling so many dreadful things about this horrible affair, that I do not dare to send my darling boys back to Bowick again. Uncle Clifford and Lord Robert both say that I should be very wrong. The Marchioness has said so much about it that I dare not go against her. You know what my own feelings are about you and dear Mrs Wortle; but I am not my own mistress. They all tell me that it is my first duty to think about the dear boys’ welfare; and of course that is true. I hope you won’t be very angry with me, and will write one line to say that you forgive me.

Yours most sincerely, ANNE CLIFFORD

In answer to this the Doctor did write as follows —

MY DEAR LADY ANNE

Of course your duty is very plain — to do what you think best for the boys; and it is natural enough that you should follow the advice of your relatives and theirs.

Faithfully yours, JEFFREY WORTLE

He could not bring himself to write in a more friendly tone, or to tell her that he forgave her. His sympathies were not with her. His sympathies at the present moment were only with Mrs Peacocke. But then Lady Anne Clifford was not a beautiful woman, as was Mrs Peacocke.

This was a great blow. Two other boys had also been summoned away, making five in all, whose premature departure was owing altogether to the virulent tongue of that wretched old Mother Shipton. And there had been four who were to come in the place of four others, who, in the course of nature, were going to carry on their more advanced studies elsewhere. Vacancies such as these had always been pre-occupied long beforehand by ambitious parents. These very four places had been pre-occupied, but now they were all vacant. There would be nine empty beds in the school when it met again after the holidays; and the Doctor well understood that nine beds remaining empty would soon cause others to be emptied. It is success that creates success, and decay that produces decay. Gradual decay he knew that he could not endure. He must shut up his school — give up his employment — and retire altogether from the activity of life. He felt that if it came to this with him he must in very truth turn his face to the wall and die. Would it — would it really come to that, that Mrs Stantiloup should have altogether conquered him in the combat that had sprung up between them?

But yet he would not give up Mrs Peacocke. Indeed, circumstanced as he was, he could not give her up. He had promised not only her, but her absent husband, that until his return there should be a home for her in the school-house. There would be a cowardice in going back from his word which was altogether foreign to his nature. He could not bring himself to retire from the fight, even though by doing so he might save himself from the actual final slaughter which seemed to be imminent. He thought only of making fresh attacks upon his enemy, instead of meditating flight from those which were made upon him. As a dog, when another dog has got him well by the ear, thinks not at all of his own wound, but only how he may catch his enemy by the lip, so was the Doctor in regard to Mrs Stantiloup. When the two Clifford boys were taken away, he took some joy to himself in remembering that Mr Stantiloup could not pay his butcher’s bill.

Then, just at the end of the holidays, some good-natured friend sent to him a copy of “Everybody’s Business.” There is no duty which a man owes to himself more clearly than that of throwing into the waste-paper basket, unsearched and even unopened, all newspapers sent to him without a previously-declared purpose. The sender has either written something himself which he wishes to force you to read, or else he has been desirous of wounding you by some ill-natured criticism upon yourself. “Everybody’s Business” was a paper which, in the natural course of things, did not find its way into the Bowick rectory; and the Doctor, though he was no doubt acquainted with the title, had never even looked at its columns. It was the purpose of the periodical to amuse its readers, as its name declared, with the private affairs of their neighbours. It went boldly about its work, excusing itself by the assertion that Jones was just as well inclined to be talked about as Smith was to hear whatever could be said about Jones. As both parties were served, what could be the objection? It was in the main good-natured, and probably did most frequently gratify the Joneses, while it afforded considerable amusement to the listless and numerous Smiths of the world. If you can’t read and understand Jones’s speech in Parliament, you may at any rate have mind enough to interest yourself with the fact that he never composed a word of it in his own room without a ring on his finger and a flower in his buttonhole. It may also be agreeable to know that Walker the poet always takes a mutton chop and two glasses of sherry at half past one. “Everybody’s Business” did this for everybody to whom such excitement was agreeable. But in managing everybody’s business in that fashion, let a writer be as good-natured as he may and let the principle be ever so well-founded that nobody is to be hurt, still there are dangers. It is not always easy to know what will hurt and what will not. And then sometimes there will come a temptation to be, not spiteful, but specially amusing. There must be danger, and a writer will sometimes be indiscreet. Personalities will lead to libels even when the libeller has been most innocent. It may be that after all the poor poet never drank a glass of sherry before dinner in his life — it may be that a little toast-and-water, even with his dinner, gives him all the refreshment that he wants, and that two glasses of alcoholic mixture in the middle of the day shall seem, when imputed to him, to convey a charge of downright inebriety. But the writer has perhaps learned to regard two glasses of meridian wine as but a moderate amount of sustentation. This man is much flattered if it be given to be understood of him that he falls in love with every pretty woman that he sees — whereas another will think that he has been made subject to a foul calumny by such insinuation.

“Everybody’s Business” fell into some such mistake as this, in that very amusing article which was written for the delectation of its readers in reference to Dr Wortle and Mrs Peacocke. The “Broughton Gazette” no doubt confined itself to the clerical and highly moral views of the case, and, having dealt with the subject chiefly on behalf of the Close and the admirers of the Close, had made no allusion to the fact that Mrs Peacocke was a very pretty woman. One or two other local papers had been more scurrilous, and had, with ambiguous and timid words, alluded to the Doctor’s personal admiration for the lady. These, or the rumours created by them, had reached one of the funniest and lightest-handed of the contributors to “Everybody’s Business,” and he had concocted an amusing article — which he had not intended to be at all libellous, which he had thought to be only funny. He had not appreciated, probably, the tragedy of the lady’s position, or the sanctity of that of the gentleman. There was comedy in the idea of the Doctor having sent one husband away to America to look after the other while he consoled the wife in England. “It must be admitted”, said the writer, “that the Doctor has the best of it. While one gentleman is gouging the other — as cannot but be expected — the Doctor will be at any rate in security, enjoying the smiles of beauty under his own fig-tree at Bowick. After a hot morning with “tyrtw“ in the school, there will be “amo” in the cool of the evening.” And this was absolutely sent to him by some good-natured friend!

The funny writer obtained a popularity wider probably than he had expected. His words reached Mrs Stantiloup, as well as the Doctor, and were read even in the Bishop’s palace. They were quoted even in the “Broughton Gazette,” not with approbation, but in a high tone of moral severity. “See the nature of the language to which Dr Wortle’s conduct has subjected the whole of the diocese!”

That was the tone of the criticism made by the “Broughton Gazette” on the article in “Everybody’s Business. “What else has he a right to expect?” said Mrs Stantiloup to Mrs Rolland, having made quite a journey into Broughton for the sake of discussing it at the palace. There she explained it all to Mrs Rolland, having herself studied the passage so as fully to appreciate the virus contained in it. “He passes all the morning in the school whipping the boys himself because he has sent Mr Peacocke away, and then amuses himself in the evening by making love to Mr Peacocke’s wife, as he calls her.” Dr Wortle, when he read and re-read the article, and when the jokes which were made upon it reached his ears, as they were sure to do, was nearly maddened by what he called the heartless iniquity of the world; but his state became still worse when he received an affectionate but solemn letter from the Bishop warning him of his danger. An affectionate letter from a bishop must surely be the most disagreeable missive which a parish clergyman can receive. Affection from one man to another is not natural in letters. A bishop never writes affectionately unless he means to reprove severely. When he calls a clergyman his “dear brother in Christ”, he is sure to go on to show that the man so called is altogether unworthy of the name. So it was with a letter now received at Bowick, in which the Bishop expressed his opinion that Dr Wortle ought not to pay any further visits to Mrs Peacocke till she should have settled herself down with one legitimate husband, let that legitimate husband be who it might. The Bishop did not indeed, at first, make reference by name to “Everybody’s Business”, but he stated that the “metropolitan press” had taken up the matter, and that scandal would take place in the diocese if further cause were given. “It is not enough to be innocent”, said the Bishop, “but men must know that we are so.”

Then there came a sharp and pressing correspondence between the Bishop and the Doctor, which lasted four or five days. The Doctor, without referring to any other portion of the Bishop’s letter, demanded to know to what “metropolitan newspaper” the Bishop had alluded, as, if any such paper had spread scandalous imputations as to him, the Doctor, respecting the lady in question, it would be his, the Doctor’s, duty to proceed against that newspaper for libel. In answer to this the Bishop, in a note much shorter and much less affectionate than his former letter, said that he did not wish to name any metropolitan newspaper. But the Doctor would not, of course, put up with such an answer as this. He wrote very solemnly now, if not affectionately. “His lordship had spoken of “scandal in the diocese.” The words”, said the Doctor, “contained a most grave charge. He did not, mean to say that any such accusation had been made by the Bishop himself; but such accusation must have been made by someone at least of the London newspapers or the Bishop would not have been justified in what he has written. Under such circumstances he, Dr Wortle, thought himself entitled to demand from the Bishop the name of the newspaper in question, and the date on which the article had appeared.”

In answer to this there came no written reply, but a copy of the “Everybody’s Business” which the Doctor had already seen. He had, no doubt, known from the first that it was the funny paragraph about ”tyrtw“ and amo to which the Bishop had referred. But in the serious steps which he now intended to take, he was determined to have positive proof from the hands of the Bishop himself. The Bishop had not directed the pernicious newspaper with his own hands, but if called upon, could not deny that it had been sent from the palace by his orders. Having received it, the Doctor wrote back at once as follows —

RIGHT REVEREND AND DEAR LORD

Any word coming from your lordship to me is of grave importance, as should, I think, be all words coming from a bishop to his clergy; and they are of special importance when containing a reproof, whether deserved or undeserved. The scurrilous and vulgar attack made upon me in the newspaper which your lordship has sent to me would not have been worthy of my serious notice had it not been made worthy by your lordship as being the ground on which such a letter was written to me as that of your lordship’s of the 12th instant. Now it has been invested with so much solemnity by your lordship’s notice of it that I feel myself obliged to defend myself against it by public action.

If I have given just cause of scandal to the diocese I will retire both from my living and from my school. But before doing so I will endeavour to prove that I have done neither. This I can only do by publishing in a court of law all the circumstances in reference to my connection with Mr and Mrs Peacocke. As regards myself, this, though necessary, will be very painful. As regards them, I am inclined to think that the more the truth is known, the more general and the more generous will be the sympathy felt for their position.

As the newspaper sent to me, no doubt by your lordship’s orders, from the palace, has been accompanied by no letter, it may be necessary that your lordship should be troubled by a subp+oena, so as to prove that the newspaper alluded to by your lordship is the one against which my proceedings will be taken. It will be necessary, of course, that I should show that the libel in question has been deemed important enough to bring down upon me ecclesiastical rebuke of such a nature as to make my remaining in the diocese unbearable — unless it is shown that that rebuke was undeserved.

There was consternation in the palace when this was received. So stiff-necked a man, so obstinate, so unclerical — so determined to make much of little! The Bishop had felt himself bound to warn a clergyman that, for the sake of the Church, he could not do altogether as other men might. No doubt certain ladies had got around him — especially Lady Margaret Momson — filling his ears with the horrors of the Doctor’s proceedings. The gentleman who had written the article about the Greek and the Latin words had seen the truth of the thing at once — so said Lady Margaret. The Doctor had condoned the offence committed by the Peacockes because the woman had been beautiful, and was repaying himself for his mercy by basking in her loveliness. There was no saying that there was not some truth in this? Mrs Wortle herself entertained a feeling of the same kind. It was palpable, on the face of it, to all except Dr Wortle himself — and to Mrs Peacocke. Mrs Stantiloup, who had made her way into the palace, was quite convincing on this point. Everybody knew, she said, that the Doctor went across, and saw the lady all alone, every day. Everybody did not know that. If everybody had been accurate, everybody would have asserted that he did this thing every other day. But the matter, as it was represented to the Bishop by the ladies, with the assistance of one or two clergymen in the Close, certainly seemed to justify his lordship’s interference.

But this that was threatened was very terrible. There was a determination about the Doctor which made it clear to the Bishop that he would be as bad as he said. When he, the Bishop, had spoken of scandal, of course he had not intended to say that the Doctor’s conduct was scandalous; nor had he said anything of the kind. He had used the word in its proper sense — and had declared that offence would be created in the minds of people unless an injurious report were stopped. “It is not enough to be innocent,” he had said, “but men must know that we are so.” He had declared in that his belief in Dr Wortle’s innocence. But yet there might, no doubt, be an action for libel against the newspaper. And when damages came to be considered, much weight would be placed naturally on the attention which the Bishop had paid to the article. The result of this was that the Bishop invited the Doctor to come and spend a night with him in the palace.

The Doctor went, reaching the palace only just before dinner. During dinner and in the drawing-room Dr Wortle made himself very pleasant. He was a man who could always be soft and gentle in a drawing-room. To see him talking with Mrs Rolland and the Bishop’s daughters, you would not have thought that there was anything wrong with him. The discussion with the Bishop came after that, and lasted till midnight. “It will be for the disadvantage of the diocese that this matter should be dragged into Court — and for the disadvantage of the Church in general that a clergyman should seem to seek such redress against his bishop.” So said the Bishop.

But the Doctor was obdurate. “I seek no redress”, he said, “against my bishop. I seek redress against a newspaper which has calumniated me. It is your good opinion, my lord — your good opinion or your ill opinion which is the breath of my nostrils. I have to refer to you in order that I may show that this paper, which I should otherwise have despised, has been strong enough to influence that opinion.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trollope/anthony/wortle/chapter14.html

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