Chapter 9.

{228} THE Vacation passed away silently and happily. Day succeeded day in quiet routine employments, bringing insensible but sure accessions to the stock of knowledge and to the intellectual proficiency of both our students. Historians and orators were read for a last time, and laid aside; sciences were digested, commentaries were run through; and analyses and abstracts completed. It was emphatically a silent toil. While others might be steaming from London to Bombay or the Havannah, and months in the retrospect might look like years, with Reding and Sheffield the week had scarcely begun when it was found to be ending; and when October came, and they saw their Oxford friends again, at first they thought they had a good deal to say to them, but when they tried, they found it did but concern minute points of their own reading and personal matters; and they were reduced to silence with the wish to speak.

The season had changed, and reminded them that Horsley was a place for summer sojourn, not a dwelling. There were heavy raw fogs hanging about the hills, and storms of wind and rain. The grass no longer afforded them a seat; and when they betook themselves indoors {229} it was discovered that the doors and windows did not shut close, and that the chimney smoked. Then came those fruits, the funeral feast of the year, mulberries and walnuts; the tasteless, juiceless walnut; the dark mulberry, juicy but severe, and mouldy withal, as gathered not from the tree, but from the damp earth. And thus that green spot itself weaned them from the love of it. Charles looked around him, and rose to depart as a conviva satur. "Edisti satis, tempus abire" seemed written upon all. The swallows had taken leave; the leaves were paling; the light broke late, and failed soon. The hopes of spring, the peace and calm of summer, had given place to the sad realities of autumn. He was hurrying to the world, who had been up on the mount; he had lived without jars, without distractions, without disappointments; and he was now to take them as his portion. For he was but a child of Adam; Horsley had been but a respite; and he had vividly presented to his memory the sad reverse which came upon him two years before—what a happy summer—what a forlorn autumn! With these thoughts, he put up his books and papers, and turned his face towards St. Saviour's.

Oxford, too, was not quite what it had been to him: the freshness of his admiration for it was over; he now saw defects where at first all was excellent and good; the romance of places and persons had passed away. And there were changes too: of his contemporaries some had already taken their degrees and left; others were reading in the country; others had gone off to other Colleges on Fellowships. A host of {230} younger faces had sprung up in hall and chapel, and he hardly knew their names. Rooms which formerly had been his familiar lounge were now tenanted by strangers, who claimed to have that right in them which, to his imagination, could only attach to those who had possessed them when he himself came into residence. The College seemed to have deteriorated; there was a rowing set, which had not been there before, a number of boys, and a large proportion of snobs.

But, what was a real trouble to Charles, it got clearer and clearer to his apprehension that his intimacy with Sheffield was not quite what it had been. They had, indeed, passed the Vacation together, and saw of each other more than ever; but their sympathies in each other were not as strong, they had not the same likings and dislikings; in short, they had not such congenial minds as they fancied when they were freshmen. There was not so much heart in their conversations, and they more easily endured to miss each other's company. They were both reading for honours—reading hard; but Sheffield's whole heart was in his work, and religion was but a secondary matter to him. He had no doubts, difficulties, anxieties, sorrows, which much affected him. It was not the certainty of faith which made a sunshine to his soul, and dried up the mists of human weakness; rather, he had no perceptible need within him of that vision of the Unseen which is the Christian's life. He was unblemished in his character, exemplary in his conduct; but he was content with what the perishable world gave him. Charles's characteristic, perhaps above anything else, was an {231} habitual sense of the Divine Presence; a sense which, of course, did not insure uninterrupted conformity of thought and deed to itself, but still there it was—the pillar of the cloud before him and guiding him. He felt himself to be God's creature, and responsible to Him—God's possession, not his own. He had a great wish to succeed in the schools; a thrill came over him when he thought of it; but ambition was not his life; he could have reconciled himself in a few minutes to failure. Thus disposed, the only subjects on which the two friends freely talked together were connected with their common studies. They read together, examined each other, used and corrected each other's papers, and solved each other's difficulties. Perhaps it scarcely came home to Sheffield, sharp as he was, that there was any flagging of their intimacy. Religious controversy had been the food of his active intellect when it was novel; now it had lost its interest, and his books took its place. But it was far different with Charles; he had felt interest in religious questions for their own sake; and when he had deprived himself of the pursuit of them it had been a self-denial. Now, then, when they seemed forced on him again, Sheffield could not help him, where he most wanted the assistance of a friend.

A still more tangible trial was coming on him. The reader has to be told that there was at that time a system of espionage prosecuted by various well-meaning men, who thought it would be doing the University a service to point out such of its junior members as were what is called "papistically inclined". They did {232} not perceive the danger such a course involved of disposing young men towards Catholicism, by attaching to them the bad report of it, and of forcing them farther by inflicting on them the inconsistencies of their position. Ideas which would have lain dormant or dwindled away in their minds were thus fixed, defined, located within them; and the fear of the world's censure no longer served to deter, when it had been actually incurred. When Charles attended the tea-party at Freeborn's he was on his trial; he was introduced not only into a school, but into an inquisition; and since he did not promise to be a subject for spiritual impression, he was forthwith a subject for spiritual censure. He became a marked man in the circles of Capel Hall and St. Mark's. His acquaintance with Willis; the questions he had asked at the Article-lecture; stray remarks at wine-parties—were treasured up, and strengthened the case against him. One time, on coming into his rooms, he found Freeborn, who had entered to pay him a call, prying into his books. A volume of sermons, of the school of the day, borrowed of a friend for the sake of illustrating Aristotle, lay on his table; and in his book-shelves one of the more philosophical of the "Tracts for the Times" was stuck in between a Hermann De Metris and a Thucydides. Another day his bedroom door was open, and No. 2 of the tea-party saw one of Overbeck's sacred prints pinned up against the wall.

Facts like these were, in most cases, delated to the Head of the House to which a young man belonged; who, as a vigilant guardian of the purity of his undergraduates' {233} Protestantism, received the information with thankfulness, and perhaps asked the informer to dinner. It cannot be denied that in some cases this course of action succeeded in frightening and sobering the parties towards whom it was directed. White was thus reclaimed to be a devoted son and useful minister of the Church of England; but it was a kill-or-cure remedy, and not likely to answer with the more noble or the more able minds. What effect it had upon Charles, or whether any, must be determined by the sequel; here it will suffice to relate interviews which took place between him and the Principal and Vice-Principal of his College in consequence of it.

Chapter 2-10

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