Chapter 14.

{115} THE first day of Michaelmas term is, to an undergraduate's furniture, the brightest day of the year. Much as Charles regretted home, he rejoiced to see old Oxford again. The porter had acknowledged him at the gate, and the scout had smiled and bowed, as he ran up the worn staircase and found a blazing fire to welcome him. The coals crackled and split, and threw up a white flame in strong contrast with the newly-blackened bars and hobs of the grate. A shining copper kettle hissed and groaned under the internal torment of water at boiling point. The chimney-glass had been cleaned, the carpet beaten, the curtains fresh glazed. A tea-tray and tea-commons were placed on the table; besides a battel paper, two or three cards from tradesmen who desired his patronage, and a note from a friend whose term had already commenced. The porter came in with his luggage, and had just received his too ample remuneration, when, through the closing door, in rushed Sheffield in his travelling dress.

"Well, old fellow, how are you?" he said, shaking both of Charles's hands, or rather arms, with all his might; "here we are all again; I am just come like {116} you. Where have you been all this time? Come, tell us all about yourself. Give me some tea, and let's have a good jolly chat." Charles liked Sheffield, he liked Oxford, he was pleased to get back; yet he had some remains of home-sickness on him, and was not quite in cue for Sheffield's good-natured boisterousness. Willis's matter, too, was still on his mind. "Have you heard the news?" said Sheffield; "I have been long enough in college to pick it up. The kitchen-man was full of it as I passed along. Jack's a particular friend of mine, a good honest fellow, and has all the gossip of the place. I don't know what it means, but Oxford has just now a very bad inside. The report is that some of the men have turned Romans; and they say that there are strangers going about Oxford whom no one knows anything of. Jack, who is a bit of a divine himself, says he heard the Principal say that, for certain, there were Jesuits at the bottom of it; and I don't know what he means, but he declares he saw with his own eyes the Pope walking down High Street with the priest. I asked him how he knew it. He said he knew the Pope by his slouching hat and his long beard; and the porter told him it was the Pope. The Dons have met several times; and several tutors are to be discommoned, and their names stuck up against the buttery-door. Meanwhile the Marshal, with two bull-dogs, is keeping guard before the Catholic chapel, and, to complete it, that old drunken fellow Topham is reported, out of malice, when called in to cut the Warden of St. Mary's hair, to have made a clean white tonsure atop of him." {117}

"My dear Sheffield, how you run on!" said Reding. "Well, do you know, I can tell you a piece of real news bearing on these reports, and not of the pleasantest. Did you know Willis of St. George's?"

"I think I once saw him at wine in your rooms; a modest, nice-looking fellow, who never spoke a word."

"Ah, I assure you, he has a tongue in his head when it suits him," answered Charles; "yet I do think," he added, musingly, "he's very much changed, and not for the better."

"Well, what's the upshot?" asked Sheffield.

"He has turned Catholic," said Charles.

"What a fool I!" cried Sheffield.

There was a pause. Charles felt awkward: then he said, "I can't say I was surprised; yet I should have been less surprised at White."

"Oh, White won't turn Catholic," said Sheffield; "he hasn't it in him. He's a coward."

"Fools and cowards!" answered Charles; "thus you divide the world, Sheffield? Poor Willis!" he added; "one must respect a man who acts according to his conscience."

"What can he know of conscience?" said Sheffield; "the idea of his swallowing, of his own free will, the heap of rubbish which every Catholic has to believe! in cold blood tying a collar round his neck, and politely putting the chain into the hands of a priest! … And then the Confessional! 'Tis marvellous!" and he began to break the coals with the poker. "It's very well," he continued, "if a man is born a Catholic; I don't suppose they really believe what they are {118} obliged to profess; but how an Englishman, a gentleman, a man here at Oxford, with all his advantages, can so eat dirt, scraping and picking up all the dead lies of the dark ages—it's a miracle!"

"Well, if there is anything that recommends Romanism to me," said Charles, "it is what you so much dislike: I'd give twopence, if some one, whom I could trust, would say to me, 'This is true; this is not true'. We should be saved this eternal wrangling. Wouldn't you be glad if St. Paul could come to life? I've often said to myself, 'Oh, that I could ask St. Paul this or that!'"

"But the Catholic Church isn't St. Paul quite, I guess," said Sheffield.

"Certainly not; but supposing you did think it had the inspiration of an Apostle, as the Roman Catholics do, what a comfort it would be to know, beyond all doubt, what to believe about God, and how to worship and please Him! I mean, you said, 'I can't believe this or that'; now you ought to have said, 'I can't believe the Pope has power to decide this or that'. If he had, you ought to believe it, whatever it is, and not to say, 'I can't believe'."

Sheffield looked hard at him: "We shall have you a papist some of these fine days," said he.

"Nonsense," answered Charles; "you shouldn't say such things, even in jest."

"I don't jest; I am in earnest: you are plainly on the road."

"Well, if I am, you have put me on it," said Reding, wishing to get away from the subject as quick as he {119} could; "for you are ever talking against shams, and laughing at King Charles and Laud, Bateman, White, rood-lofts and piscinas."

"Now you are a Puseyite," said Sheffield in surprise.

"You give me the name of a very good man, whom I hardly know by sight," said Reding; "but I mean, that nobody knows what to believe, no one has a definite faith, but the Catholics and the Puseyites; no one says, 'This is true, that is false; this comes from the Apostles, that does not'."

"Then would you believe a Turk," asked Sheffield, "who came to you with his 'One Allah, and Mahommet his Prophet'?"

"I did not say a creed was everything," answered Reding, "or that a religion could not be false which had a creed; but a religion can't be true which has none."

"Well, somehow that doesn't strike me," said Sheffield.

"Now there was Vincent at the end of term, after you had gone down," continued Charles; "you know I stayed up for Littlego; and he was very civil, very civil indeed. I had a talk with him about Oxford parties, and he pleased me very much at the time; but afterwards, the more I thought of what he said, the less was I satisfied; that is, I had got nothing definite from him. He did not say, 'This is true, that is false'; but 'Be true, be true, be good, be good, don't go too far, keep in the mean, have your eyes about you, eschew parties, follow our divines, all of them';—all which {120} was but putting salt on the bird's tail. I want some practical direction, not abstract truths."

"Vincent is a humbug," said Sheffield.

"Dr. Pusey, on the other hand," continued Charles, "is said always to be decisive. He says, 'This is Apostolic, that's in the Fathers; St. Cyprian says this, St. Augustine denies that; this is safe, that's wrong; I bid you, I forbid you'. I understand all this; but I don't understand having duties put on me which are too much for me. I don't understand, I dislike, having a will of my own, when I have not the means to use it justly. In such a case, to tell me to act of myself, is like Pharaoh setting the Israelites to make bricks without straw. Setting me to inquire, to judge, to decide, forsooth! it's absurd; who has taught me?"

"But the Puseyites are not always so distinct," said Sheffield; "there's Smith, he never speaks decidedly in difficult questions. I know a man who was going to remain in Italy for some years, at a distance from any English Chapel—he could not help it—and who came to ask him if he might communicate in the Catholic churches; he could not get an answer from him; he would not say yes or no."

"Then he won't have many followers, that's all," said Charles.

"But he has more than Dr. Pusey," answered Sheffield.

"Well, I can't understand it," said Charles; "he ought not; perhaps they won't stay."

"The truth is," said Sheffield, "I suspect he is more of a sceptic at bottom."{121}

"Well, I honour the man who builds up," said Reding, "and I despise the man who breaks down."

"I am inclined to think you have a wrong notion of building up and pulling down," answered Sheffield; "Coventry, in his 'Dissertations,' makes it quite clear that Christianity is not a religion of doctrines."

"Who is Coventry?"

"Not know Coventry? He is one of the most original writers of the day; he's an American, and, I believe, a congregationalist. Oh, I assure you, you should read Coventry, although he is wrong on the question of Church-government: you are not well au courant with the literature of the day unless you do. He is no party man; he is a correspondent of the first men of the day; he stopped with the Dean of Oxford when he was in England, who has published an English edition of his 'Dissertations,' with a Preface; and he and Lord Newlights were said to be the two most witty men at the meeting of the British Association, two years ago."

"I don't like Lord Newlights," said Charles; "he seems to me to have no principle; that is, no fixed, definite religious principle. You don't know where to find him. This is what my father thinks; I have often heard him speak of him."

"It's curious you should use the word principle," said Sheffield; "for it is that which Coventry lays such stress on. He says that Christianity has no creed; that this is the very point in which it is distinguished from other religions; that you will search {122} the New Testament in vain for a creed; but that Scripture is full of principles. The view is very ingenious, and seemed to me true, when I read the book. According to him, then, Christianity is not a religion of doctrines or mysteries; and if you are looking for dogmatism in Scripture, it's a mistake."

Charles was puzzled. "Certainly," he said, "at first sight there is no creed in Scripture.—No creed in Scripture," he said slowly, as if thinking aloud; "no creed in Scripture, therefore there is no creed. But the Athanasian Creed," he added quickly, "is that in Scripture? It either is in Scripture or it is not. Let me see, it either is there, or it is not ... What was it that Freeborn said last term? ... Tell me, Sheffield, would the Dean of Oxford say that the Creed was in Scripture or not? perhaps you do not fairly explain Coventry's view; what is your impression?"

"Why, I will tell you frankly, my impression is, judging from his Preface, that he would not scruple to say that it is not in Scripture, but a scholastic addition."

"My dear fellow," said Charles, "do you mean that he, a dignitary of the Church, would say that the Athanasian Creed was a mistake, because it represented Christianity as a revelation of doctrines or mysteries to be received on faith?"

"Well, I may be wrong," said Sheffield, "but so I understood him."

"After all," said Charles sadly, "it's not so much more than that other Dean, I forget his name, said at {123} St. Mary's before the Vacation; it's part of the same system. Oh, it was after you went down, or just at the end of term: you don't go to sermons; I'm inclined not to go either. I can't enter upon the Dean's argument; it's not worth while. Well," he added, standing up and stretching himself, "I am tired with the day, yet it has not been a fatiguing one either; but London is so bustling a place."

"You wish me to say good-night," said Sheffield. Charles did not deny the charge; and the friends parted.

Chapter 1-15

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