Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter VI

Mr Harold Smith’s Lecture

On the whole the party at Chaldicotes was very pleasant and the time passed away quickly enough. Mr Robarts’s chief friend there, independently of Mr Sowerby, was Miss Dunstable, who seemed to take a great fancy to him, whereas she was not very accessible to the blandishments of Mr Supplehouse, nor more especially courteous to her host than good manners required of her. But then Mr Supplehouse and Mr Sowerby were both bachelors, while Mark Robarts was a married man. With Mr Sowerby Robarts had more than one communication respecting Lord Lufton and his affairs, which he would willingly have avoided had it been possible. Sowerby was one of those men who are always mixing up business with pleasure, and who have usually some scheme in their mind which requires forwarding. Men of this class have, as a rule, no daily work, no regular routine of labour; but it may be doubted whether they do not toil much more incessantly than those who have.

‘Lufton is so dilatory,’ Mr Sowerby said. ‘Why did he not arrange this at once, when he promised it? And then he is afraid of that old woman at Framley Court. Well, my dear fellow, say what you will; she is an old woman, and she’ll never be younger. But do write to Lufton, and tell him that this delay is inconvenient to me; he’ll do anything for you, I know.’ Mark said that he would write, and, indeed, he did so; but he did not at first like the tone of the conversation into which he was dragged. It was very painful to him to hear Lady Lufton called an old woman, and hardly less so to discuss the propriety of Lord Lufton’s parting with his property. This was irksome to him, till habit made it easy. But by degrees his feelings became less acute, and he accustomed himself to his friend Sowerby’s mode of talking.

And then on Saturday they went over to Barchester. Harold Smith during the last forty-eight hours had become crammed to overflowing with Sarawak, Labuan, New Guinea, and the Salomon Islands. As is the case with all men labouring under temporary specialities, he for the time had faith in nothing else, and was not content that any one near him should have any other faith. They called him Viscount Papua and Baron Borneo; and his wife, who headed the joke against him, insisted on having her title. Miss Dunstable swore that she would wed none but a South Sea Islander; and to Mark was offered the income and duties of Bishop of Spices. Nor did the Proudie family set themselves against these little sarcastic quips with any overwhelming severity. It is sweet to unbend oneself at the proper opportunity, and this was the proper opportunity for Mrs Proudie’s unbending. No mortal can be seriously wise at all hours; and in these happy hours did that usually wise mortal, the bishop, lay aside for awhile his serious wisdom.

‘We think of dining at five tomorrow, my Lady Papua,’ said the facetious bishop; ‘will that suit his lordship and the affairs of state? he, he, he!’ And the good prelate laughed at the fun. How pleasantly young men and women of fifty or thereabouts can joke and flirt and poke their fun about, laughing and holding their sides, dealing in little innuendoes and rejoicing in nicknames, when they have no Mentors of twenty-five or thirty years near them to keep them in order! The vicar of Framley might perhaps have been regarded as such a Mentor, were it not for that capability of adapting himself to the company immediately around him on which he so much piqued himself. He therefore also talked to my Lady Papua, and was jocose about the Baron — not altogether to the satisfaction of Mr Harold Smith himself. For Mr Harold Smith was in earnest, and did not quite relish these jocundities. He had an idea that he could in about three minutes talk the British world into civilizing New Guinea, and that the world of Barsetshire would be made to go with him by one night’s efforts. He did not understand why others should be less serious, and was inclined to resent somewhat stiffly the amenities of our friend Mark.

‘We must not keep the Baron waiting,’ said Mark, as they were preparing to start for Barchester.

‘I don’t know what you mean by the Baron, sir,’ said Harold Smith. ‘But perhaps the joke will be against you, when you are getting up in your pulpit tomorrow, and sending the hat round among the clod-hoppers of Chaldicotes.’

‘Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, eh, Baron?’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘Mr Robarts’s sermon will be too near akin to your lecture to allow of his laughing.’

‘If we can do nothing towards instructing the outer world till it’s done by the parsons,’ said Harold Smith, ‘the outer world will have to wait a long time, I fear.’

‘Nobody can do anything of that kind short of a member of Parliament and would-be minister,’ whispered Mrs Harold. And so they were all very pleasant together, in spite of a little fencing with edge-tools, and at three o’clock the cortege of carriages started for Barchester, that of the bishop, of course, leading the way. His lordship, however, was not in it.

‘Mrs Proudie, I’m sure you’ll let me go with you,’ said Miss Dunstable, at the last moment, as she came down the big stone steps. ‘I want to hear the rest of that story about Mr Slope.’ Now this upset everything. The bishop was to have gone with his wife, Mrs Smith, and Mark Robarts; and Mr Sowerby had so arranged matters that he could have accompanied Miss Dunstable in his phaeton. But no one ever dreamed of denying Miss Dunstable anything. Of course Mark gave way; but it ended in the bishop declaring that he had no special predilection for his own carriage, which he did in compliance with a glance from his wife’s eye. Then other changes of course followed, and, at last, Mr Sowerby and Harold Smith were the joint occupants of the phaeton. The poor lecturer, as he seated himself made some remark such as those he had been making for the last two days — for out of a full heart the mouth speaketh. But he spoke to an impatient listener. ‘D— the South Sea Islanders,’ said Mr Sowerby. ‘You’ll have it all your own way in a few moments, like a bull in a china-shop; but for Heaven’s sake let us have a little peace till that time comes.’ It appeared that Mr Sowerby’s little plan of having Miss Dunstable for his companion was not quite insignificant; and, indeed, it may be said that but few of his little plans were so. At the present moment he flung himself back in the carriage and prepared for sleep. He could further no plan of his by a tete-a-tete conversation with his brother-inlaw. And then Mrs Proudie began her story about Mr Slope, or rather recommenced it. She was very fond of talking about this gentleman, who had once been her pet chaplain, but was now her bitterest foe; and in telling her story, she had sometimes to whisper to Miss Dunstable, for there were one or two fie-fie little anecdotes about a married lady, not altogether fit for young Mr Robarts’s ears. But Mrs Harold Smith insisted on having them out loud, and Miss Dunstable would gratify that lady in spite of Mrs Proudie’s winks.

‘What, kissing her hand, and he a clergyman!’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘I did not think they ever did such things, Mr Robarts.’

‘Still waters run deep,’ said Mrs Harold Smith.

‘Hush-h-h,’ looked, rather than spoke, Mrs Proudie. ‘The grief of spirit which that bad man caused me nearly broke my heart, and all the while, you know, he was courting —’ and then Mrs Proudie whispered a name.

‘What, the dean’s wife?’ shouted Miss Dunstable, in a voice which made the coachman in the next carriage give a chuck to his horse as he overheard her.

‘The archdeacon’s sister-inlaw!’ screamed Mrs Harold Smith.

‘What might he have not attempted next?’ said Miss Dunstable.

‘She wasn’t the dean’s wife then, you know,’ said Mrs Proudie, explaining.

‘Well, you are a gay set in the chapter, I must say,’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘You ought to make one of them in Barchester, Mr Robarts.’

‘Only perhaps Mrs Robarts might not like it,’ said Mrs Harold Smith.

‘And then the schemes which he tried on with the bishop!’ said Mrs Proudie.

‘It’s all fair in love and war, you know,’ said Miss Dunstable.

‘But he little knew whom he had to deal with when he began that,’ said Mrs Proudie.

‘The bishop was too many for him,’ suggested Mrs Harold Smith, very maliciously.

‘The bishop was not, somebody else was; and he was obliged to leave Barchester in utter disgrace. He has since married the wife of some tallow-chandler.’

‘The wife!’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘What a man!’

‘The widow, I mean; but it’s all one to him.’

‘The gentleman was clearly born when Venus was in the ascendant,’ said Mrs Smith. ‘You clergymen usually are, I believe, Mr Robarts.’ So that Mrs Proudie’s carriage was by no means the dullest as they drove into Barchester that day; and by degrees our friend Mark became accustomed to his companions, and before they reached the palace he acknowledged to himself that Miss Dunstable was very good fun. We cannot linger over the bishop’s dinner, though it was very good of its kind; and as Mr Sowerby contrived to sit next to Miss Dunstable, thereby overturning a little scheme made by Mr Supplehouse, he again shone forth in unclouded good humour. But Mr Harold Smith became impatient immediately on the withdrawal of the cloth. The lecture was to begin at seven, and according to his watch that hour had already come. He declared that Sowerby and Supplehouse were endeavouring to delay matters in order that the Barchesterians might become vexed and impatient; and so the bishop was not allowed to exercise his hospitality in true episcopal fashion.

‘You forget, Sowerby,’ said Supplehouse, ‘that the world here for the last fortnight has been looking forward to nothing else.’

‘The world shall be gratified at once,’ said Mrs Harold, obeying a little nod from Mrs Proudie. ‘Come, my dear,’ and she took hold of Miss Dunstable’s arm, ‘don’t let us keep Barchester waiting. We shall be ready in a quarter of an hour, shall we not, Mrs Proudie?’ and so they sailed off.

‘And we shall have time for one glass of claret, said the bishop.

‘There; that’s seven by the cathedral,’ said Harold Smith, jumping up from his chair as he heard the clock. ‘If the people have come it would not be right in me to keep them waiting, and I shall go.’

‘Just one glass of claret, Mr Smith, and we’ll be off,’ said the bishop.

‘Those women will keep me half an hour,’ said Harold, filling his glass, and drinking it standing. ‘They do it on purpose.’

It was rather late when they all found themselves in the big room of the Mechanic’s Institute; but I do not know whether this on the whole did any harm. Most of Mr Smith’s hearers, excepting the party from the palace, were Barchester tradesmen with their wives and families; and they waited, not impatiently, for the big people. And then the lecture was gratis, a fact which is always borne in mind by an Englishman, when he comes to reckon up and calculate the way in which he is treated. When he pays his money, then he takes his choice; he may be impatient or not as he likes. His sense of justice teaches him so much, and in accordance with that sense he usually acts. So the people on the benches rose graciously when the palace party entered the room. Seats for them had been kept in the front. There were three arm-chairs, which were filled, after some little hesitation, by the bishop, Mrs Proudie, and Miss Dunstable — Mrs Smith positively declining to take one of them; though, as she admitted, her rank as Lady Papua of the islands did give her some claim. And this remark, as it was made quite out loud, reached Mr Smith’s ears as he stood behind a little table on a small raised dais, holding his white kid gloves; and it annoyed him and rather put him out. He did not like that joke about Lady Papua. And then the others of the party sat upon a front bench covered with red cloth. ‘We shall find this very hard and very narrow about the second hour,’ said Mr Sowerby, and Mr Smith on his dais again overheard the words, and dashed his gloves down to the table. He felt that all the room would hear it.

And there were one or two gentlemen on the second seat who shook hands with some of our party. There was Mr Thorne of Ullathorne, a good-natured old bachelor, whose residence was near enough to Barchester to allow of his coming in without much personal inconvenience; and next to him was Mr Harding, an old clergyman of the chapter, with whom Mrs Proudie shook hands very graciously, making way for him to seat himself close behind her if he would so please. But Mr Harding did not so please. Having paid his respects to the bishop he returned quietly to the side of his old friend Mr Thorne, thereby angering Mrs Proudie, as might easily be seen by her face. And Mr Chadwick also was there, the episcopal man of business for the diocese; but he also adhered to the two gentlemen above named. And now that the bishop and the ladies had taken their place, Mr Harold Smith hummed three times distinctly, and then began.

‘It was,’ he said, ‘the most peculiar characteristic of the present era in the British islands that those who were high placed before the world in rank, wealth, and education were willing to come forward and give their time and knowledge without fee or reward, for the advantage and amelioration of those who did not stand so high in the social scale.’ And then he paused for a moment, during which Mrs Smith remarked to Miss Dunstable that that was pretty well for a beginning; and Miss Dunstable replied, ‘that as for herself she felt very grateful to rank, wealth and education.’ Mr Sowerby winked to Mr Supplehouse, who opened his eyes very wide and shrugged his shoulders. But the Barchesterians took it all in good part and gave the lecturer the applause of their hands and feet. And then, well pleased, he recommenced —‘I do not make these remarks with reference to myself —’

‘I hope he’s not going to be modest,’ said Miss Dunstable.

‘It will be quite new if he is,’ replied Mrs Smith.

‘— so much as to many noble and talented lords and members of the Lower House who have lately from time to time devoted themselves to this good work.’ And then he went through a long list of peers and members of Parliament, beginning, of course, with Lord Boanerges, and ending with Mr Green Walker, a young gentleman who had lately been returned by his uncle’s interference for the borough of Crewe Junction, and had immediately made his entrance into public life by giving a lecture on the grammarians of the Latin language as exemplified at Eton School. ‘On the present occasion,’ Mr Smith continued, ‘our object is to learn something as to those grand and magnificent islands which lie far away, beyond the Indies, in the Southern Ocean; the lands of which produce rich spices and glorious fruits, and whose seas are embedded with pearls and corals — Papua and the Philippines, Borneo and the Moluccas. My friends, you are familiar with your maps, and you know the track which the equator makes for itself through those distant oceans.’ And then many heads were turned down, and there was a rustle of leaves; for not a few of those ‘who stood not so high in the social scale’ had brought their maps with them, and refreshed their memories as to the whereabouts of those wondrous islands.

And then Mr Smith also, with a map in his hand, and pointing occasionally to another large map which hung against the wall, went into the geography of the matter. ‘We might have found that out from our atlases, I think, without coming all the way to Barchester,’ said that unsympathetic helpmate Mrs Harold, very cruelly — most illogically too, for there be so many things which we could find out ourselves by search, but which we never do find out unless they be specially told to us; and why should not this latitude and longitude of Labuan be one — or rather two of these things? And then, when he had duly marked the path of the line through Borneo, Celebes, and Gilolo, through the Macassar Strait and the Molucca passage, Mr Harold Smith rose to a higher flight. ‘But what,’ said he, ‘avails all that God can give to man, unless man will open his hand to receive the gift? And what is this opening of the hand but the process of civilization — yes, my friends, the process of civilization? These South Sea islanders have all that a kind Providence can bestow on them; but that all is as nothing without education. That education and that civilization it is for you to bestow upon them — yes, my friends, for you; for you, citizens of Barchester as you are.’ And then he paused again, in order that the feet and hands might go to work. The feet and hands did go to work, during which Mr Smith took a slight drink of water. He was now quite in his element, and had got into the proper way of punching the table with his fists. A few words dropping from Mr Sowerby did now and again find their way to his ears, but the sound of his own voice had brought with it the accustomed charm, and he ran on from platitude to truism, and from truism back to platitude, with an eloquence that was charming to himself.

‘Civilization,’ he exclaimed, lifting his eyes and his hands to the ceiling. ‘O Civilization —’

‘There will not be a chance for us now for the next hour and a half,’ said Mr Supplehouse, groaning. Harold Smith cast one eye down at him, but it immediately flew back to the ceiling.

‘O Civilization! Thou that ennoblest mankind and makest him equal to the gods, what is like unto thee?’ Here Mrs Proudie showed evident signs of disapprobation, which, no doubt would have been shared by the bishop, had not that worthy prelate been asleep. But Mr Smith continued unobservant; or at any rate, regardless. ‘What is like unto thee? Thou art the irrigating stream which makest fertile the barren plain. Till thou comest all is dark and dreary; but at thy advent the noontide sun shines out, the earth gives forth her increase; the deep bowels of the rocks render up their tribute. Forms which were dull and hideous become endowed with grace and beauty, and vegetable existence rises to the scale of celestial life. Then, too, Genius appears clad in a panoply of translucent armour, grasping in his hand the whole terrestrial surface, and making every rood of earth subservient to his purposes; — Genius, the child of Civilization, the mother of the Arts!’ The last little bit, taken from the ‘Pedigree of Progress’, had a great success, and all Barchester went to work with its hands and feet; — all Barchester, except that ill-natured aristocratic front row together with the three arm-chairs at the corner of it. The aristocratic front row now felt itself to be too intimate with civilization to care much about it; and the three arm-chairs, or rather that special one which contained Mrs Proudie, considered that there was a certain heathenness, a papism sentimentality almost amounting to infidelity, contained in the lecturer’s remarks, with which she, a pillar of the Church, could not put up, seated as she was now in public conclave.

‘It is to civilization that we must look,’ continued Mr Harold Smith, descending from poetry to prose as a lecturer well knows how, and thereby showing the value of both —‘for any material progress in these islands; and —’

‘And to Christianity,’ shouted Mrs Proudie, to the great amazement of the assembled people, and to the thorough wakening of the bishop, who, jumping up in his chair at the sound of the well-known voice, exclaimed, ‘Certainly, certainly.’

‘Hear, hear, hear,’ said those on the benches who particularly belonged to Mrs Proudie’s school of divinity in the city, and among the voices was distinctly heard that of a new verger in whose behalf she had greatly interested herself.

‘Oh, yes Christianity, of course,’ said Harold Smith, upon whom the interruption did not seem to have operated favourably.

‘Christianity and Sabbath-day observation,’ exclaimed Mrs Proudie, who, now that she had obtained the ear of the public, seemed well inclined to keep it. ‘Let us never forget that these islanders can never prosper unless they keep the Sabbath holy.’ Poor Mr Smith, having been so rudely dragged from his high horse, was never able to mount it again, and completed the lecture in a manner not at all comfortable to himself. He had there, on the table before him, a huge bundle of statistics, with which he had meant to convince the reason of his hearers, after he had taken full possession of their feelings. But they fell very dull and flat. And at the moment when he was interrupted, he was about to explain that that material progress to which he had alluded could not be attained without money; and that it behoved them, the people of Barchester before him, to come forward with their purses like men and brothers. He did also attempt this; but from the moment of that fatal onslaught from the arm-chair, it was clear to him, and to every one else, that Mrs Proudie was now the hero of the hour. His time had gone by, and the people of Barchester did not care a straw for his appeal. From these causes the lecture was over a full twenty minutes earlier than any one had expected, to the great delight of Messrs Sowerby and Supplehouse, who, on that evening, moved and carried a vote of thanks to Mrs Proudie. For they had gay doings yet before they went to their beds.

‘Robarts, here one moment,’ Mr Sowerby said, as they were standing at the door of the Mechanic’s Institute. Don’t go off with Mr and Mrs Bishop. We are going to have a little supper at the Dragon of Wantly, and, after what we have gone through, upon my word, we want it. You can tell one of the palace servants to let you in.’ Mark considered the proposal wistfully. He would fain have joined the supper party had he dared, but he, like many others of his cloth, had the fear of Mrs Proudie before his eyes. And a very merry supper they had; but poor Mr Harold Smith was not the merriest of the party.

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