Chapter 5.

{29} EVERY year brings changes and reforms. We do not know what is the state of Oxley Church now; it may have rood-loft, piscina, sedilia, all new: or it may be reformed backwards, the seats on principle turning from the Communion-table, and the pulpit planted in the middle of the aisle; but at the time when these two young men walked through the churchyard, there was nothing very good or very bad to attract them within the building; and they were passing on, when they observed, coming out of the church, what Sheffield called an elderly don, a fellow of a college, whom Charles knew. He was a man of family, and had some little property of his own, had been a contemporary of his father's at the University, and had from time to time been a guest at the parsonage. Charles had, in consequence, known him from a boy; and now, since he came into residence, he had, as was natural, received many small attentions from him. Once, when he was late for his own hall, he had given him his dinner in his rooms; he had taken him out on a fishing expedition towards Faringdon; and had promised him tickets for some ladies, lionesses of his, who were coming up to {30} the Commemoration. He was a shrewd, easy-tempered, free-spoken man, of small desires and no ambition; of no very keen sensibilities or romantic delicacies, and very little religious pretension; that is, though unexceptionable in his deportment, he hated the show of religion, and was impatient at those who affected it. He had known the University for thirty years, and formed a right estimate of most things in it. He had come out to Oxley to take a funeral for a friend, and was now returning home. He hallooed to Charles, who, though feeling at first awkward on finding himself with two such different friends and in two such different relations, was, after a time, partially restored to himself by the unconcern of Mr. Malcolm; and the three walked home together. Yet, even to the last, he did not quite know how and where to walk, and how to carry himself, particularly when they got near Oxford, and he fell in with various parties who greeted him in passing.

Charles, by way of remark, said they had been looking in at a pretty little chapel on the common, which was now in the course of repair. Mr. Malcolm laughed. "So, Charles," he said, "you're bit with the new fashion."

Charles coloured, and asked, "What fashion?" adding that a friend, by accident, had taken them in.

"You ask what fashion," said Mr. Malcolm; "why, the newest, latest fashion. This is a place of fashions; there have been many fashions in my time. The greater part of the residents, that is, the boys, change once in three years; the fellows and tutors, perhaps, in half a dozen; and every generation has its own fashion. There is no principle of stability in Oxford, except the {31} Heads, and they are always the same, and always will be the same to the end of the chapter. What is in now," he asked, "among you youngsters—drinking or cigars?"

Charles laughed modestly, and said he hoped drinking had gone out everywhere.

"Worse things may come in," said Mr. Malcolm; "but there are fashions everywhere. There was once a spouting-club, perhaps it is in favour still; before it was the music-room. Once geology was all the rage; now it is theology; soon it will be architecture, or medieval antiquities, or editions and codices. Each wears out in its turn; all depends on one or two active men; but the secretary takes a wife, or the professor gets a stall; and then the meetings are called irregularly, and nothing is done in them, and so gradually the affair dwindles and dies."

Sheffield asked whether the present movement had not spread too widely through the country for such a termination; he did not know much about it himself, but the papers were full of it, and it was the talk of every neighbourhood; it was not confined to Oxford.

"I don't know about the country," said Mr. Malcolm; "that is a large question; but it has not the elements of stability here. These gentlemen will take livings and marry, and that will be the end of the business. I am not speaking against them; they are, I believe, very respectable men; but they are riding on the spring-tide of a fashion."

Charles said it was a nuisance to see the party-spirit {32} it introduced. Oxford ought to be a place of quiet and study; peace and the Muses always went together; whereas there was talk, talk, in every quarter. A man could not go about his duties in a natural way, and take every one as he came, but was obliged to take part in questions, and to consider points which he might wish to put from him, and must sport an opinion when he really had none to give.

Mr. Malcolm assented in a half-absent way, looking at the view before him, and seemingly enjoying it. "People call this county ugly," said he, "and perhaps it is; but whether I am used to it or no, I always am pleased with it. The lights are always new: and thus the landscape, if it deserves the name, is always presented in a new dress. I have known Shotover there take the most opposite hues, sometimes purple, sometimes a bright saffron or tawny orange." Here he stopped: "Yes, you speak of party spirit; very true, there's a good deal of it ... No, I don't think there's much," he continued, rousing; "certainly there is more division just at this minute in Oxford, but there always is division, always rivalry. The separate societies have their own interests and honour to maintain, and quarrel, as the orders do in the Church of Rome. No, that's too grand a comparison; rather, Oxford is like an almshouse for clergymen's widows. Self-importance, jealousy, tittle-tattle are the order of the day. It has always been so in my time. Two great ladies, Mrs. Vice-Chancellor and Mrs. Divinity-Professor, can't agree, and have followings respectively: or Vice-Chancellor himself, being a new broom, sweeps all the {33} young Masters clean out of Convocation House, to their great indignation: or Mr. Slaney, Dean of St. Peter's, does not scruple to say in a stage-coach that Mr. Wood is no scholar; on which the said Wood calls him in return 'slanderous Slaney'; or the elderly Mr. Barge, late Senior Fellow of St. Michael's, thinks that his pretty bride has not been received with due honours; or Dr. Crotchet is for years kept out of his destined bishopric by a sinister influence; or Mr. Professor Carraway has been infamously shown up, in the Edinburgh, by an idle fellow whom he plucked in the schools; or (majora movemus) three colleges interchange a mortal vow of opposition to a fourth; or the young working Masters conspire against the Heads. Now, however, we are improving; if we must quarrel, let it be the rivalry of intellect and conscience, rather than of interest or temper; let us contend for things, not for shadows."

Sheffield was pleased at this, and ventured to say that the present state of things was more real, and therefore more healthy. Mr. Malcolm did not seem to hear him, for he did not reply; and, as they were now approaching the bridge again, the conversation stopped. Sheffield looked slily at Charles, as Mr. Malcolm proceeded with them up High Street; and both of them had the triumph and the amusement of being convoyed safely past a proctor, who was patrolling it, under the protection of a Master.

Chapter 1-6

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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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