Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XLVII


But in spite of these joyful tidings it must, alas! be remembered that Poena, that just but Rhadamanthine goddess, whom moderns ordinarily call Punishment, or Nemesis when we wish to speak of her goddess-ship, very seldom fails to catch a wicked man though she have sometimes a lame foot of her own, and though the wicked man may possibly get a start of her. In this instance the wicked man had been our unfortunate Mark Robarts; wicked in that he had unwittingly touched pitch, gone to Gatherum Castle, ridden fast mares across the country to Cobbold’s Ashes, and fallen very imprudently among the Tozers; and the instrument used by Nemesis was Mr Tom Towers of the Jupiter, than whom, in these our days, there is no deadlier scourge in the hands of that goddess. In the first instance, however, I must mention, though I will not relate, a little conversation that took place between Lady Lufton and Mr Robarts. That gentleman thought it right to say a few words more to her ladyship respecting those money transactions. He could not but feel, he said, that he had received the prebendal stall from the hands of Mr Sowerby; and under such circumstances, considering all that had happened, he could not be easy in his mind as long as he held it. What he was about to do would, he was aware, delay considerably his final settlement with Lord Lufton; but Lufton, he hoped, would pardon that, and agree with him as to the propriety of what he was about to do.

On the first blush of the thing Lady Lufton did not quite go along with him. Now that Lord Lufton was to marry the parson’s sister it might be well that the parson should be a dignitary of the Church; and it might be well, also, that one so nearly connected with her son should be comfortable in money matters. There loomed, also, in the future, some distant possibility of higher clerical honours for a peer’s brother-inlaw; and the top rung of the ladder is always more easily attained when a man has already ascended a step or two. But, nevertheless, when the matter came to be fully explained to her, when she saw clearly the circumstances under which the stall had been conferred, she did agree that it had better be given up. And well for both of them that it was — well for them all at Framley — that this conclusion had been reached before the scourge of Nemesis had fallen. Nemesis, of course, declared that her scourge had produced the resignation; but it was generally understood that this was a false boast, for all clerical men at Barchester knew that the stall had been restored to the chapter, or, in other words, into the hands of the Government, before Tom Towers had twirled the fatal lash above his head. But the manner of the twirling was as follows:-

‘It is with difficulty enough,’ said the article in the Jupiter, ‘that the Church of England maintains at the present moment that ascendancy among the religious sects of this country which it so loudly claims. And perhaps it is rather from an old-fashioned and time-honoured affection for its standing than from any intrinsic merits of its own that some such general acknowledgement of its ascendancy is still allowed to prevail. If, however, the patrons and clerical members of this Church are bold enough to disregard all general rules of decent behaviour, we think we may predict that this chivalrous feeling will be found to give way. From time to time we hear of instances of such imprudence, and are made to wonder at the folly of those who are supposed to hold the State Church in the greatest reverence.

‘Among those positions of dignified ease to which fortunate clergymen may be promoted are the stalls of the canons or prebendaries in our cathedrals. Some of these, as is well known, carry little or no emolument with them, but some are rich in the good things of the world. Excellent family houses are attached to them, with we hardly know what domestic privileges, and clerical incomes, moreover, of an amount which, if divided, would make glad the hearts of many a hard-working clerical slave. Reform has been busy even among these stalls, attaching some amount of work to the pay, and paring off some superfluous wealth from such of them as were over full; but reform has been lenient with them, acknowledging that it was well to have some such places of comfortable and dignified retirement for those who have worn themselves out in the hard work of their profession. There has of late prevailed a taste for the appointment of young bishops, produced no doubt a feeling that bishops should be men fitted to get through really hard work; but we have never heard that young prebendaries were considered desirable. A clergyman selected for such a position should, we have always thought, have earned an evening of ease by a long day of work, and should, above all things, be one whose life has been, and therefore in human probability will be, so decorous as to be honourable to the cathedral of his adoption.

‘We were, however, the other day given to understand that one of these luxurious benefices belonging to the cathedral of Barchester, had been bestowed in the Rev Mark Robarts, the vicar of a neighbouring parish, on the understanding that he should hold the living and the stall together; and on making further inquiry we were surprised to learn that this fortunate gentleman is as yet under thirty years of age. We were desirous, however of believing that his learning, his piety, and his conduct, might be of a nature to add peculiar grace to his chapter, and therefore, though almost unwillingly, we were silent. But now it has come to our ears, and, indeed, to the ears of all the world, that this piety and conduct are sadly wanting; and judging of Mr Robarts by his life and associates, we are inclined to doubt even his learning. He has at this moment, or at any rate had but a few days since, an execution in his parsonage house at Framley, on the suit of certain most disreputable bill discounters in London; and probably would have another execution in his other house in Barchester close, but for the fact that he has never thought it necessary to go into residence.’

Then followed some very stringent, and, no doubt, much-needed advice to those clerical members of the Church of England who are supposed to be mainly responsible for the conduct of their brethren; and the article ended as follows:-

‘Many of these stalls are in the gift of the respective deans and chapters, and in such cases the dean and chapters are bound to see that proper persons are appointed; but in other instances the power of selection is vested in the Crown, and then an equal responsibility rests on the Government of the day. Mr Robarts, we learn, was appointed to the stall in Barchester by the late Prime Minister, and we really think that a grave censure rests on him for the manner in which his patronage has been exercised. It may be impossible that he should himself in all such cases satisfy himself by personal inquiry. But our Government is altogether conducted on the footing of vicarial responsibility. Quod facit per alium, facit per se, is a special manner true of our ministers, and any man who rises to high position among them must abide by the danger thereby incurred. In this peculiar case we are informed that the recommendation was made by a very recently admitted member of the Cabinet, to whose appointment we alluded at the time as a great mistake. The gentleman in question held no high individual office of his own; but evil such as this which has now been done at Barchester, is exactly the sort of mischief which follows the exaltation of unfit men to high positions, even though no great hope of executive failure may be placed within their reach.

‘If Mr Robarts will allow us to tender to him our advice he will lose no time in going through such ceremony as may be necessary again to place the stall at the disposal of the Crown!’

I may observe that poor Harold Smith, when he read this, writhing in agony, declared it to be the handiwork of his hated enemy, Mr Supplehouse. He knew the mark; so, at least, he said; but I myself am inclined to believe that his animosity misled him. I think that one greater than Mr Supplehouse had taken upon himself the punishment of our poor vicar. This was very dreadful to them all at Framley, and, when first read, seemed to crush them to atoms. Poor Mrs Robarts, when she heard it, seemed to think that for them the world was over. An attempt had been made to keep it from her, but such attempts always fail, as did this. The article was copied into all the good-natured local newspapers and she soon discovered that something was being hidden. At last it was shown to her by her husband, and then for a few hours she was annihilated; for a few days she was unwilling to show herself; and for a few weeks she was very sad. But after that the world seemed to go on much as it had done before; the sun shone upon them as warmly as though the article had not been written; and not only the sun of heaven, which, as a rule, is not limited in his shining in any display of pagan thunder, but also the genial sun of their own sphere, the warmth and light of which were so essentially necessary to their happiness. Neighbouring rectors did not look glum, nor did the rectors’ wives refuse to call. The people in the shops at Barchester did not regard her as though she were a disgraced woman, though it must be acknowledged that Mrs Proudie passed her in the close with the coldest nod of recognition.

On Mrs Proudie’s mind alone did the article seem to have any enduring effect. In one respect it was, perhaps, beneficial; Lady Lufton was at once induced by it to make common cause with her own clergyman, and thus the remembrance of Mr Robarts’s sins passed away the quicker from the minds of the whole Framley Court household. And, indeed, the county at large was not able to give to the matter that undivided attention which would have been considered its due at periods of no more than ordinary interest. At the present moment preparations were being made for a general election, and although no contest was to take place in the eastern division, a very violent fight was being carried on in the west; and the circumstances of that fight were so exciting that Mr Robarts and his article were forgotten before their time. An edict had gone forth from Gatherum Castle directing that Mr Sowerby should be turned out, and an answering note of defiance had been sounded from Chaldicotes, protesting on behalf of Mr Sowerby, that the duke’s behest would not be obeyed.

There are two classes of persons in this realm who are constitutionally inefficient to take any part in returning members of Parliament — peers, namely and women; and yet it was soon known through the whole length and breadth of the county that the present electioneering fight was being carried on between a peer and a woman. Miss Dunstable had been declared the purchaser of the Chace of Chaldicotes, as it were, just in the very nick of time; which purchase — so men in Barsetshire declared, not knowing anything of the facts — would have gone altogether the other way, had not the giants obtained temporary supremacy over the gods. The duke was a supporter of the gods, and therefore, so Mr Fothergill hinted, his money had been refused. Miss Dunstable was prepared to beard this ducal friend of the gods in his own county, and therefore her money had been taken. I am inclined, however, to think that Mr Fothergill knew nothing about it, and to opine that Miss Dunstable, in her eagerness for victory, offered to the Crown more money than the property was worth in the duke’s opinion, and that the Crown took advantage of her anxiety, to the manifest profit of the public at large. And it soon became known also that Miss Dunstable was, in fact, the proprietor of the whole Chaldicotes estate, and that in promoting the success of Mr Sowerby as a candidate for the county, she was standing by her own tenant. It also became known, in the course of the battle, that Miss Dunstable had herself at last succumbed, and that she was about to marry Dr Thorne of Greshambury, or the “Greshambury apothecary”, as the adverse party now delighted to call him. ‘He has been little better than a quack all his life,’ said Dr Fillgrave, the eminent physician of Barchester, ‘and now he is going to marry a quack’s daughter.’ By which, and the like to which, Dr Thorne did not allow himself to be much annoyed. But all this gave rise to a very petty series of squibs arranged between Mr Fothergill and Mr Closerstill, the electioneering agent. Mr Sowerby was named ‘the lady’s pet’, and descriptions were given of the lady who kept this pet, which were by no means flattering to Miss Dunstable’s appearance, or manners, or age. And then the western division of the county was asked in a grave tone — as counties and boroughs are asked by means of advertisements stuck up on blind walls and barn doors — whether it was fitting and proper that it should be represented by a woman. Upon which the county was again asked whether it was fitting and proper that it should be represented by a duke. And then the question became more personal as against Miss Dunstable, and inquiry was urged whether the county would not be indelibly disgraced if it were not only handed over to a woman, but handed over to a woman who sold the oil of Lebanon. But little was got by this move, for an answering placard explained to the unfortunate county how deep would be its shame, if it allowed itself to became the appanage of any peer, but more especially of a peer who was known to be the most immoral lord that ever disgraced the benches of the Upper House. And so the battle went on very prettily, and, as money was allowed to flow freely, the West Barsetshire world at large was not ill satisfied. It is wonderful how much disgrace of that kind a borough or county can endure without flinching; and wonderful, also, seeing how supreme is the value attached to the Constitution by the realm at large, how very little the principles of that Constitution are valued by the people in detail. The duke, of course, did not show himself. He rarely did on any occasion, and never on such occasions as this; but Mr Fothergill was to be seen everywhere. Miss Dunstable, also, did not hide her light under a bushel; though here I declare, on the faith of an historian, that the rumour spread abroad of her having made a speech to the electors from the top of the porch over the hotel-door at Courcy was not founded on fact. No doubt she was at Courcy, and her carriage stopped at the hotel; but neither there nor elsewhere did she make any public exhibition. ‘They must have mistaken me for Mrs Proudie,’ she said, when the rumour reached her ears. But there was, alas! one great element of failure on Miss Dunstable’s side of the battle. Mr Sowerby himself could not be induced to fight it as became a man. Any positive injunctions that were laid upon him he did, in a sort, obey. It had been a part of the bargain that he should stand the contest, and from that bargain he could not well go back. But he had not the spirit left to him for any true fighting on his own part. He could not go up on the hustings, and there defy the duke. Early in the affair Mr Fothergill challenged him to do so, and Mr Sowerby never took up the gauntlet.

‘We have heard,’ said Mr Fothergill, in that great speech which he made at the Omnium arms at Silverbridge —‘we have heard much during this election of the Duke of Omnium, of the injuries which he is supposed to have inflicted on one of the candidates. The duke’s name is very frequent in the mouths of the gentlemen — and of the lady — who support Mr Sowerby’s claims. But I do not think that Mr Sowerby himself has dared to say much about the duke. I defy Mr Sowerby to mention the duke’s name upon the hustings.’ And it so happened that Mr Sowerby never did mention the duke’s name.

It is ill fighting when the spirit is gone, and Mr Sowerby’s spirit for such things was not wellnigh broken. It is true that he had escaped from the net in which the duke, by Mr Fothergill’s aid, had entangled him; but he had only broken out of one captivity into another. Money is a serious thing; and when gone cannot be had back by a shuffle in the game, or a fortunate blow with the battledore, as may political power, or reputation, or fashion. One hundred thousand pounds gone, must remain as gone, let the person who claims to have had the honour of advancing it be Mrs B or my Lord C. No lucky dodge can erase such a claim from the things that be — unless, indeed, such dodge be possible as Mr Sowerby tried with Miss Dunstable. It was better for him, undoubtedly, to have the lady for a creditor than the duke, seeing that it was possible for him to live as a tenant in his own old house under the lady’s reign. But this he found to be a sad enough life, after all that was come and gone.

The election on Miss Dunstable’s part was lost. She carried on the contest nobly, fighting it to the last moment, and sparing neither her own money nor that of her antagonist; but she carried it on unsuccessfully. Many gentlemen did support Mr Sowerby because they were willing enough to emancipate their county from the duke’s thraldom; but Mr Sowerby was felt to be a black sheep, as Lady Lufton had called him, and at the close of the election he found himself banished from the representation of West Barsetshire; — banished for ever, after having held the county for five-and-twenty years. Unfortunate Mr Sowerby! I cannot take leave of him here without some feeling of regret, knowing that there was that within him which might, under better guidance, have produced better things. There are men, even of high birth, who seem as though they were born to be rogues; but Mr Sowerby was, to my thinking, born to be a gentleman. That he had not been a gentleman — that he had bolted from his appointed course, going terribly on the wrong side of the posts — let us all acknowledge. It is not a gentlemanlike deed, but a very blackguard action, to obtain a friend’s acceptance to a bill in an unguarded hour of social intercourse. That and other similar doings have stamped his character too plainly. But, nevertheless, I claim a tear of Mr Sowerby, and lament that he has failed to run his race discreetly, in accordance with the rules of the Jockey Club. He attempted that plan of living as a tenant in his old house at Chaldicotes, and of making a living out of the land which he farmed; but he soon abandoned it. He had no aptitude for such industry, and he could not endure his altered position in the county. He soon relinquished Chaldicotes of his own accord, and has vanished away, as such men do vanish — not altogether without necessary income; to which point in the final arrangement of their joint affairs, Mrs Thorne’s man of business — if I may be allowed so far to anticipate — paid special attention. And thus Lord Dumbello, the duke’s nominee, got in, as the duke’s nominee had done for very many years past. There was no Nemesis here — none as yet. Nevertheless, she with the lame foot will assuredly catch him, the duke, if it be that he deserve to be caught. With us his grace’s appearance has been so unfrequent that I think we may omit to make any further inquiry as to his concerns.

One point, however, is worthy of notice, as showing the good sense with which we manage our affairs here in England. In an early portion of this story the reader was introduced to the interior of Gatherum Castle, and there saw Miss Dunstable entertained by the duke in the most friendly manner. Since those days the lady has become the duke’s neighbour, and has waged a war with him, which he probably felt to be very vexatious. But, nevertheless, on the next great occasion at Gatherum Castle, Doctor and Mrs Thorne were among the visitors, and to no one was the duke more personally courteous than to his opulent neighbour, the late Miss Dunstable.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01