Dr. Wortle's school, by Anthony Trollope

Correspondence with the Palace

The possible glory of Mary’s future career did not deter the Doctor from thinking of his troubles — and especially that trouble with the Bishop which was at present heavy on his hand. He had determined not to go on with his action, and had so resolved because he had felt, in his more sober moments, that in bringing the Bishop to disgrace, he would be as a bird soiling its own nest. It was that conviction, and not any idea as to the sufficiency or insufficiency, as to the truth or falsehood, of the editor’s apology, which had actuated him. As he had said to his lawyer, he did not in the least care for the newspaper people. He could not condescend to be angry with them. The abominable joke as to the two verbs was altogether in their line. As coming from them, they were no more to him than the ribald words of boys which he might hear in the street. The offence to him had come from the Bishop — and he resolved to spare the Bishop because of the Church. But yet something must be done. He could not leave the man to triumph over him. If nothing further were done in the matter, the Bishop would have triumphed over him. As he could not bring himself to expose the Bishop, he must see whether he could not reach the man by means of his own power of words — so he wrote as follows —

MY DEAR LORD

I have to own that this letter is written with feelings which have been very much lacerated by what your lordship has done. I must tell you, in the first place, that I have abandoned my intention of bringing an action against the proprietors of the scurrilous newspaper which your lordship sent me, because I am unwilling to bring to public notice the fact of a quarrel between a clergyman of the Church of England and his Bishop. I think that, whatever may be the difficulty between us, it should be arranged without bringing down upon either of us adverse criticism from the public press. I trust your lordship will appreciate my feeling in this matter. Nothing less strong could have induced me to abandon what seems to be the most certain means by which I could obtain redress.

I had seen the paper which your lordship sent to me before it came to me from the palace. The scurrilous, unsavoury, and vulgar words which it contained did not matter to me much. I have lived long enough to know that, let a man’s own garments be as clean as they may be, he cannot hope to walk through the world without rubbing against those who are dirty. It was only when those words came to me from your lordship — when I found that the expressions which I found in that paper were those to which your lordship had before alluded as being criticisms on my conduct in the metropolitan press — criticisms so grave as to make your lordship think it necessary to admonish me respecting them — it was only then, I say, that I considered them to be worthy of my notice. When your lordship, in admonishing me, found it necessary to refer me to the metropolitan press, and to caution me to look to my conduct because the metropolitan press had expressed its dissatisfaction, it was, I submit to you, natural for me to ask you where I should find that criticism which had so strongly affected your lordship’s judgment. There are perhaps half a score of newspapers published in London whose animadversions I, as a clergyman, might have reason to respect — even if I did not fear them. Was I not justified in thinking that at least some two or three of these had dealt with my conduct, when your lordship held the metropolitan press in terrorem over my head? I applied to your lordship for the names of these newspapers, and your lordship, when pressed for a reply, sent to me — that copy of “Everybody’s Business.”

I ask your lordship to ask yourself whether, so far, I have overstated anything. Did not that paper come to me as the only sample you were able to send me of criticism made on my conduct in the metropolitan press? No doubt my conduct was handled there in very severe terms. No doubt the insinuations, if true — or if of such kind as to be worthy of credit with your lordship, whether true or false — were severe, plain-spoken, and damning. The language was so abominable, so vulgar, so nauseous, that I will not trust myself to repeat it. Your lordship, probably, when sending me one copy, kept another. Now, I must ask your lordship — and I must beg of your lordship for a reply — whether the periodical itself has such a character as to justify your lordship in founding a complaint against a clergyman on its unproved statements, and also whether the facts of the case, as they were known to you, were not such as to make your lordship well aware that the insinuations were false. Before these ribald words were printed, your lordship had heard all the facts of the case from my own lips. Your lordship had known me and my character for, I think, a dozen years. You know the character that I bear among others as a clergyman, a schoolmaster, and a gentleman. You have been aware how great is the friendship I have felt for the unfortunate gentleman whose career is in question, and for the lady who bears his name. When you read those abominable words did they induce your lordship to believe that I had been guilty of the inexpressible treachery of making love to the poor lady whose misfortunes I was endeavouring to relieve, and of doing so almost in my wife’s presence?

I defy you to have believed them. Men are various, and their minds work in different ways — but the same causes will produce the same effects. You have known too much of me to have thought it possible that I should have done as I was accused. I should hold a man to be no less than mad who could so have believed, knowing as much as your lordship knew. Then how am I to reconcile to my idea of your lordship’s character the fact that you should have sent me that paper? What am I to think of the process going on in your lordship’s mind when your lordship could have brought yourself to use a narrative which you must have known to be false, made in a newspaper which you knew to be scurrilous, as the ground for a solemn admonition to a clergyman of my age and standing? You wrote to me, as is evident from the tone and context of your lordship’s letter, because you found that the metropolitan press had denounced my conduct. And this was the proof you sent to me that such had been the case!

It occurred to me at once that, as the paper in question had vilely slandered me, I could redress myself by an action of law, and that I could prove the magnitude of the evil done me by showing the grave importance which your lordship had attached to the words. In this way I could have forced an answer from your lordship to the questions which I now put to you. Your lordship would have been required to state on oath whether you believed those insinuations or not; and, if so, why you believed them. On grounds which I have already explained I have thought it improper to do so. Having abandoned that course, I am unable to force any answer from your lordship. But I appeal to your sense of honour and justice whether you should not answer my questions — and I also ask from your lordship an ample apology, if, on consideration, you shall feel that you have done me an undeserved injury.

I have the honour to be, my lord, your lordship’s most obedient, very humble servant, JEFFREY WORTLE

He was rather proud of this letter as he read it to himself, and yet a little afraid of it, feeling that he had addressed his Bishop in very strong language. It might be that the Bishop should send him no answer at all, or some curt note from his chaplain in which it would be explained that the tone of the letter precluded the Bishop from answering it. What should he do then? It was not, he thought, improbable, that the curt note from the chaplain would be all that he might receive. He let the letter lie by him for four-and-twenty hours after he had composed it, and then determined that not to send it would be cowardly. He sent it, and then occupied himself for an hour or two in meditating the sort of letter he would write to the Bishop when that curt reply had come from the chaplain.

That further letter must be one which must make all amicable intercourse between him and the Bishop impossible. And it must be so written as to be fit to meet the public eye if he should be ever driven by the Bishop’s conduct to put it in print. A great wrong had been done him — a great wrong! The Bishop had been induced by influences which should have had no power over him to use his episcopal rod and to smite him — him, Dr Wortle! He would certainly show the Bishop that he should have considered beforehand whom he was about to smite. ““Amo” in the cool of the evening”! And that given as an expression of opinion from the metropolitan press in general! He had spared the Bishop as far as that action was concerned, but he would not spare him should he be driven to further measures by further injustice. In this way he lashed himself again into a rage. Whenever those odious words occurred to him he was almost mad with anger against the Bishop.

When the letter had been two days sent, so that he might have had a reply had a reply come to him by return of post, he put a copy of it into his pocket and rode off to call on Mr Puddicombe. He had thought of showing it to Mr Puddicombe before he sent it, but his mind had revolted from such submission to the judgment of another. Mr Puddicombe would no doubt have advised him not to send it, and then he would have been almost compelled to submit to such advice. But the letter was gone now. The Bishop had read it, and no doubt re-read it two or three times. But he was anxious that some other clergyman should see it — that some other clergyman should tell him that, even if inexpedient, it had still been justified. Mr Puddicombe had been made acquainted with the former circumstances of the affair; and now, with his mind full of his own injuries, he went again to Mr Puddicombe.

“It is just the sort of letter that you would write, as a matter of course,” said Mr Puddicombe.

“Then I hope that you think it is a good letter?”

“Good as being expressive, and good also as being true, I do think it.”

“But not good as being wise?”

“Had I been in your case I should have thought it unnecessary. But you are self-demonstrative, and cannot control your feelings.”

“I do not quite understand you.”

“What did it all matter? The Bishop did a foolish thing in talking of the metropolitan press. But he had only meant to put you on your guard.”

“I do not choose to be put on my guard in that way,” said the Doctor.

“No; exactly. And he should have known you better than to suppose you would bear it. Then you pressed him, and he found himself compelled to send you that stupid newspaper. Of course he had made a mistake. But don’t you think that the world goes easier when mistakes are forgiven?”

“I did forgive it, as far as foregoing the action.”

“That, I think, was a matter of course. If you had succeeded in putting the poor Bishop into a witness-box you would have had every sensible clergyman in England against you. You felt that yourself.”

“Not quite that,” said the Doctor.

“Something very near it; and therefore you withdrew. But you cannot get the sense of the injury out of your mind, and, therefore, you have persecuted the Bishop with that letter.”

“Persecuted?”

“He will think so. And so should I, had it been addressed to me. As I said before, all your arguments are true — only I think you have made so much more of the matter than was necessary! He ought not to have sent you that newspaper, nor ought he to have talked about the metropolitan press. But he did you no harm; nor had he wished to do you harm — and perhaps it might have been as well to pass it over.”

“Could you have done so?”

“I cannot imagine myself in such a position. I could not, at any rate, have written such a letter as that, even if I would; and should have been afraid to write it if I could. I value peace and quiet too greatly to quarrel with my bishop — unless, indeed, he should attempt to impose upon my conscience. There was nothing of that kind here. I think I should have seen that he had made a mistake, and have passed it over.”

The Doctor, as he rode home, was, on the whole, better pleased with his visit than he had expected to be. He had been told that his letter was argumentative and true, and that in itself had been much.

At the end of the week he received a reply from the Bishop, and found that it was not, at any rate, written by the chaplain.

MY DEAR DR WORTLE said the reply; your letter has pained me exceedingly, because I find that I have caused you a degree of annoyance which I am certainly very sorry I have inflicted. When I wrote to you in my letter — which I certainly did not intend as an admonition — about the metropolitan press, I only meant to tell you, for your own information, that the newspapers were making reference to your affair with Mr Peacocke. I doubt whether I knew anything of the nature of “Everybody’s Business”. I am not sure even whether I had ever actually read the words to which you object so strongly. At any rate, they had had no weight with me. If I had read them — which I probably did very cursorily — they did not rest on my mind at all when I wrote to you. My object was to caution you, not at all as to your own conduct, but as to others who were speaking evil of you.

As to the action of which you spoke so strongly when I had the pleasure of seeing you here, I am very glad that you abandoned it, for your own sake and for mine, and the sake of all us generally to whom the peace of the Church is dear.

“As to the nature of the language in which you have found yourself compelled to write to me, I must remind you that it is unusual as coming from a clergyman to a bishop. I am, however, ready to admit that the circumstances of the case were unusual, and I can understand that you should have felt the matter severely. Under these circumstances, I trust that the affair may now be allowed to rest without any breach of those kind feelings which have hitherto existed between us.

Yours very faithfully, C. BROUGHTON.

“It is a beastly letter,” the Doctor said to himself, when he had read it, “a beastly letter;” and then he put it away without saying any more about it to himself or to anyone else. It had appeared to him to be a “beastly letter,” because it had exactly the effect which the Bishop had intended. It did not eat “humble pie”; it did not give him the full satisfaction of a complete apology; and yet it left no room for a further rejoinder. It had declared that no censure had been intended, and expressed sorrow that annoyance had been caused. But yet to the Doctor’s thinking it was an unmanly letter.

“Not intended as an admonition’! Then why had the Bishop written in that severely affectionate and episcopal style? He had intended it as an admonition, and the excuse was false. So thought the Doctor, and comprised all his criticism in the one epithet given above. After that he put the letter away, and determined to think no more about it.

“Will you come in and see Mrs Peacocke after lunch?” the Doctor said to his wife the next morning. They paid their visit together; and after that, when the Doctor called on the lady, he was generally accompanied by Mrs Wortle. So much had been effected by “Everybody’s Business”, and its abominations.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trollope/anthony/wortle/chapter17.html

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