« PreviousContinue »
bequeath it to me: and then I could soon persuade myself that it was the prettiest estate and the pleasantest neighbourhood in Britain.
Now, as a general rule, the Great Disposer says to the parson, Here is your home, here lies your work through life : go and reconcile your mind to it, and do your best in it. No doubt there are men in the Church whose genius, popularity, influence, or luck is such, that they have a bewildering variety of livings pressed upon them : but it is not so with ordinary folk; and certainly it was not so with me. I went where Providence bade me go, which was not where I had wished to go, and not where I had thought to go. Many who know me through the pages which make this and a preceding volume, have said, written, and printed, that I was specially cut out for a country parson, and specially adapted to relish a quiet country life. Not more, believe me, reader, than yourself. It is in every man who sets himself to it to attain the self-same characteristics. It is quite true I have these now : but, a few years since, never was mortal less like them. No cockney set down near Sydney Smith at Foston-le-Clay: no fish, suddenly withdrawn from its native stream : could feel more strange and cheerless than did I when I went to my beautiful country parish, where I have spent such happy days, and which I have come to love so much.
I have said that the parson is for the most part saved the labour of determining where he shall pitch his tent: his place and his path in life are marked out for him. But he has his own special perplexity and labour: quite different from those of the man to whom the hundred thousand pounds to invest in land are bequeathed : still, as some perhaps would think, no less hard. His work is to reconcile his mind to the place where God has set him. Every mortal must, in many respects, face one of these two trials. There is all the world before you, where to choose ; and then the struggle to make a decided choice, with which you shall on reflection remain entirely satisfied. Or there is no choice at all : the Hand above gives you your place and your work; and then there is the struggle heartily and cheerfully to acquiesce in the decree as to which you were not consulted.
And this is not always an easy thing; though I am sure that the man who honestly and Christianly tries to do it, will never fail to succeed at last. How curiously people are set down in the Church; and indeed in all other callings whatsoever! You find men in the last places they would have chosen ; in the last places for which you would say they are suited. You pass a pretty country church, with its parsonage hard-by embosomed in trees and bright with roses. Perhaps the parson of that church had set his heart on an entirely different kind of charge: perhaps he is a disappointed man, eager to get away, and (the very worst possible policy) trying for every vacancy of which he can hear. You think, as you pass by, and sit down on the churchyard wall, how happy you could be in so quiet and sweet a spot : well, if you are willing to do a thing, it is pleasant : but if you are struggling with a chain you cannot break, it is miserable. The pleasantest thing becomes painful, if it is felt as a restraint. What can be cosier than the warm environment of sheet and blanket which encircles you in your snug bed? Yet if you awake during the night at some alarm of peril, and by a sudden effort try at once to shake yourself clear of these trammels, you will, for the half-minute before you succeed, feel that soft restraint as irksome as iron fetters. • Let your will lead whither necessity would drive,' said Locke, and you will always preserve your liberty. No doubt, it is wise advice ; but how to do all that ?
Well, it can be done : but it costs an effort. Great part of the work of the civilized and educated man consists of that which the savage, and even the uneducated man, would not regard as work at all. The things which cost the greatest effort may be done, perhaps, as you sit in an easy chair with your eyes shut. And such an effort is that of making up our mind to many things, both in our own lot, and in the lot of others. I mean not merely the intellectual effort to look at the success of other men and our own failure in such a way as that we shall be intellectually convinced that we have no right to complain of either: I do not mean merely the labour to put things in the right point of view: but the moral effort to look fairly at the facts not in any way disguised, not tricked out by some skilful art of putting things ; — and yet to repress all wrong feeling ;-all fretfulness, envy, jealousy, dislike, hatred. I do not mean, to persuade ourselves that the grapes are sour; but (far nobler surely) to be well aware that they are sweet, and yet be content that another should have them and not we. I mean the labour, when you have run in a race and been beaten, to resign your mind to the fact that you have been beaten, and to bear a kind feeling towards the man who beat you. And this is labour, and hard labour; though very different from that physical exertion which the uncivilized man would understand by the word. Every one can understand that to carry a heavy portmanteau a mile is work. Not every one remembers that the owner of the portmanteau, as he walks on carrying nothing weightier than an umbrella, may be going through exertion much harder than that of the porter. Probably St. Paul never spent days of harder work in all his life, than the days he spent lying blind at Damascus, struggling to get free from the prejudices and convictions of all his past years, and resolving on the course he would pursue in the years to
I know that in all professions and occupations to which men can devote themselves, there is such a thing as competition : and wherever there is competition, there will be the temptation to envy, jealousy, and detraction, as regards a man's competitors : and so there will be the need of that labour and exertion which lie in resolutely trampling that temptation down. You are quite certain, my friend, as you go on through life, to have to make
up your mind to failure and disappointment on your own part, and to seeing other men preferred before you. When these things come, there are two ways of meeting them. One is, to hate and vilify those who surpass you, either in merit or in success: to detract from their merit and under-rate their success : or, if you must admit some merit, to bestow upon it very faint praise. Now, all this is natural enough; but assuredly it is neither a right nor a happy course to follow. The other and better way is, to fight these tendencies to the death : to struggle against them, to pray against them: to resign yourself to God's good will: to admire and love the man who beats you. This course is the right one, and the happy one. I believe the greatest blessing God can send a man, is disappointment, rightly met and used. There is no more ennobling discipline: there is no discipline that results in a happier or kindlier temper of mind. And in honestly fighting against the evil impulses which have been mentioned, you will assuredly get help and strength to vanquish them. I have seen the plain features look beautiful, when man or woman was faithfully by God's grace resisting wrong feelings and tendencies, such as these. It is a noble end to attain, and it is well worth all the labour it costs, to resolutely be resigned, cheerful, and kind, when you feel a strong inclination to be discontented, , moody, and bitter of heart. Well said a very wise mortal, · Better is he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city. And that ruling of the spirit which is needful to rightly meet disappointment, brings out the best and noblest qualities that can be found in man.
Sometimes, indeed, even in the parson's quiet life, he may know something of the first perplexity of which we have been thinking : the perplexity of the man who is struggling to make up his mind where he is to settle down for the remainder of life. And it is not long since such a perplexity came my way. For I had reached a spot in my onward path at which I must make a decided choice. I must go either to the right or the left : for, as Goldsmith has remarked with great force, when the road you are pursuing parts into several roads, you must be careful to follow only one. And I had to decide between country and town. I had to resolve whether I was to remain in that quiet cure of souls about which I formerly told you ; or go into the hard work and hurry of a large parish in a certain great city.
I had been for more than five years in that sweet country place: it seemed a very long time as the days passed
Even slow-growing ivy grew feet longer in that time, and climbing roses covered yards and yards of wall. And for very many months I thought that here I was to live and die, and never dreamt of change. Not indeed