Chapter 8.

{402} CHARLES'S trials were not at an end; and we suspect the reader will give a shudder at the news, as having a very material share in the infliction. Yet the reader's case has this great alleviation, that he takes up this narrative in an idle hour, and Charles encountered the reality in a very busy and anxious one. So, however, it was: not any great time elapsed after the retreat of Zerubbabel, when his landlord again appeared at the door. He assured Mr. Reding that it was no fault of his that the last two persons had called on him; that the lady had slipped by him, and the gentleman had forced his way; but that he now really did wish to solicit an interview for a personage of great literary pretensions, who sometimes dealt with him, and who had come from the West End for the honour of an interview with Mr. Reding. Charles groaned, but only one reply was possible; the day was already wasted, and with a sort of dull resignation he gave permission for the introduction of the stranger.

It was a pale-faced man of about thirty-five, who, when he spoke, arched his eyebrows, and had a peculiar smile. He began by expressing his apprehension {403} that Mr. Reding must have been wearied by impertinent and unnecessary visitors—visitors without intellect, who knew no better than to obtrude their fanaticism on persons who did but despise it. "I know more about the Universities," he continued, "than to suppose that any congeniality can exist between their members and the mass of religious sectarians. You have had very distinguished men among you, sir, at Oxford, of very various schools, yet all able men, and distinguished in the pursuit of Truth, though they have arrived at contradictory opinions."

Not knowing what he was driving at, Reding remained in an attitude of expectation.

"I belong," he continued, "to a Society which is devoted to the extension among all classes of the pursuit of Truth. Any philosophical mind, Mr. Reding, must have felt deep interest in your own party in the University. Our Society, in fact, considers you to be distinguished Confessors in that all-momentous occupation; and I have thought I could not pay yourself individually, whose name has lately honourably appeared in the papers, a better compliment than to get you elected a member of our Truth Society. And here is your diploma," he added, handing a sheet of paper to him. Charles glanced his eye over it; it was a paper, part engraving, part print, part manuscript. An emblem of Truth was in the centre, represented, not by a radiating sun or star, as might be expected, but as the moon under total eclipse, surrounded, as by cherub faces, by the heads of Socrates, Cicero, Julian, Abelard, Luther, Benjamin Franklin, and Lord Brougham. {404} Then followed some sentences to the effect that the London Branch Association of the British and Foreign Truth Society, having evidence of the zeal in the pursuit of Truth of Charles Reding, Esq., member of Oxford University, had unanimously elected him into their number, and had assigned him the dignified and responsible office of associate and corresponding member.

"I thank the Truth Society very much," said Charles, when he got to the end of the paper, "for this mark of their good will; yet I regret to have scruples about accepting it till some of the patrons are changed, whose heads are prefixed to the diploma. For instance, I do not like to be under the shadow of the Emperor Julian."

"You would respect his love of Truth, I presume," said Mr. Batts.

"Not much, I fear," said Charles, "seeing it did not hinder him from deliberately embracing error."

"No, not so," answered Mr. Batts; "he thought it Truth; and Julian, I conceive, cannot be said to have deserted the Truth, because, in fact, he always was in pursuit of it."

"I fear," said Reding, "there is a very serious difference between your principles and my own on this point."

"Ah, my dear sir, a little attention to our principles will remove it," said Mr. Batts: "let me beg your acceptance of this little pamphlet, in which you will find some fundamental truths stated, almost in the way of aphorisms. I wish to direct your attention to page 8, where they are drawn out." {405}

Charles turned to the page, and read as follows:—

"On the pursuit of Truth.

1. It is uncertain whether Truth exists.

2. It is certain that it cannot be found.

3. It is a folly to boast of possessing it.

4. Man's work and duty, as man, consist, not in possessing, but in seeking it.

5. His happiness and true dignity consist in the pursuit.

6. The pursuit of Truth is an end to be engaged in for its own sake.

7. As philosophy is the love, not the possession of wisdom, so religion is the love, not the possession of Truth.

8. As Catholicism begins with faith, so Protestantism ends with inquiry.

9. As there is disinterestedness in seeking, so is there selfishness in claiming to possess.

10. The martyr of Truth is he who dies professing that it is a shadow.

11. A life-long martyrdom is this, to be ever changing.

12. The fear of error is the bane of inquiry."

Charles did not get further than these, but others followed of a similar character. He returned the pamphlet to Mr. Batts. "I see enough," he said, "of the opinions of the Truth Society to admire their ingenuity and originality, but, excuse me, not their good sense. It is impossible I should subscribe to what is so plainly opposed to Christianity." {406}

Mr. Batts looked annoyed. "We have no wish to oppose Christianity," he said; "we only wish Christianity not to oppose us. It is very hard that we may not go our own way, when we are quite willing that others should go theirs. It seems imprudent, I conceive, in this age, to represent Christianity as hostile to the progress of the mind, and to turn into enemies of revelation those who do sincerely wish to 'live and let live'."

"But contradictions cannot be true," said Charles: "if Christianity says that Truth can be found, it must be an error to state that it cannot be found."

"I conceive it to be intolerant," persisted Mr. Batts: "you will grant, I suppose, that Christianity has nothing to do with astronomy or geology; why, then, should it be allowed to interfere with philosophy?"

It was useless proceeding in the discussion; Charles repressed the answer which rose on his tongue of the essential connexion of philosophy with religion; a silence ensued of several minutes, and Mr. Batts at length took the hint, for he rose with a disappointed air, and wished him good morning.

It mattered little now whether he was left to himself or not, except that conversation harassed and fretted him; for, as to turning his mind to the subjects which were to have been his occupation that morning, it was by this time far too much wearied and dissipated to undertake them. On Mr. Batts' departure, then, he did not make the attempt, but sat before the fire, dull and depressed, and in danger of relapsing into the troubled thoughts from which his railroad companion had extricated {407} him. When, then, at the end of half-an-hour, a new knock was heard at the door, he admitted the postulant with a calm indifference, as if fortune had now done her worst, and he had nothing to fear. A middle-aged man made his appearance, sleek and plump, who seemed to be in good circumstances and to have profited by them. His glossy black dress, in contrast with the crimson colour of his face and throat, for he wore no collars, and his staid and pompous bearing, added to his rapid delivery when he spoke, gave him much the look of a farm-yard turkey-cock in the eyes of any one who was less disgusted with seeing new faces than Reding was at that moment. The new comer looked sharply at him as he entered. "Your most obedient," he said abruptly; "you seem in low spirits, my dear sir; but sit down, Mr. Reding, and give me the opportunity of offering to you a little good advice. You may guess what I am by my appearance: I speak for myself; I will say no more; I can be of use to you. Mr. Reding," he continued, pulling his chair towards him, and putting out his hand as if he was going to paw him, "have not you made a mistake in thinking it necessary to go to the Romish Church for a relief of your religious difficulties?"

"You have not yet heard from me, sir," answered Charles gravely, "that I have any difficulties at all. Excuse me if I am abrupt; I have had many persons calling on me with your errand. It is very kind of you, but I don't want advice; I was a fool to come here."

"Well, my dear Mr. Reding, but listen to me," {408} answered his persecutor, spreading out the fingers of his right hand, and opening his eyes wide: "I am right, I believe, in apprehending that your reason for leaving the Establishment is, that you cannot carry out the surplice in the pulpit and the candlesticks on the table. Now, don't you do more than you need. Pardon me, but you are like a person who should turn the Thames in upon his house, when he merely wanted his door-steps scrubbed. Why become a convert to Popery, when you can obtain your object in a cheaper and better way? Set up for yourself, my dear sir—set up for yourself; form a new denomination, sixpence will do it; and then you may have your surplice and candlesticks to your heart's content, without denying the gospel, or running into the horrible abominations of the Scarlet Woman." And he sat upright in his chair, with his hands flat on his extended knees watching with a self-satisfied air the effect of his words upon Reding.

"I have had enough of this," said poor Charles; "you, indeed, are but one of a number, sir, and would say you had nothing to do with the rest; but I cannot help regarding you as the fifth, or sixth, or seventh person—I can't count them—who has been with me this morning, giving me, though with the best intentions, advice which has not been asked for. I don't know you, sir; you have no introduction to me; you have not even told me your name. It is not usual to discourse on such personal matters with strangers. Let me, then, thank you first for your kindness in coming, and next for the additional kindness of going." And Charles rose up. {409}

His visitor did not seem inclined to move, or to notice what he had said. He stopped awhile, opened his handkerchief with much deliberation, and blew his nose; then he continued: "Kitchens is my name, sir, Dr. Kitchens; your state of mind, Mr. Reding, is not unknown to me; you are at present under the influence of the old Adam, and indeed in a melancholy way. I was not unprepared for it; and I have put into my pocket a little tract which I shall press upon you with all the Christian solicitude which brother can show towards brother. Here it is; I have the greatest confidence in it; perhaps you have heard the name; it is known as Kitchens's Spiritual Elixir. The Elixir has enlightened millions; and I will take on me to say, will convert you in twenty-four hours. Its operation is mild and pleasurable, and its effects are marvellous, prodigious, though it does not consist of more than eight duodecimo pages. Here's a list of testimonies to some of the most remarkable cases. I have known one hundred and two cases myself in which it effected a saving change in six hours; seventy-nine in which its operations took place in as few as three; and twenty-seven where conversion followed instantaneously after the perusal. At once, poor sinners, who five minutes before had been like the demoniac in the gospel, were seen sitting 'clothed, and in their right mind'. Thus I speak within the mark Mr. Reding, when I say I will warrant a change in you in twenty-four hours. I have never known but one instance in which it seemed to fail, and that was the case of a wretched old man who held it in his hand a whole day in dead silence, {410} without any apparent effect; but here exceptio probat regulam, for on further inquiry we found he could not read. So the tract was slowly administered to him by another person; and before it was finished, I protest to you, Mr. Reding, he fell into a deep and healthy slumber, perspired profusely, and woke up at the end of twelve hours a new creature, perfectly new, bran new, and fit for heaven—whither he went in the course of the week. We are now making farther experiments on its operation, and we find that even separate leaves of the tract have a proportionate effect. And, what is more to your own purpose, it is quite a specific in the case of Popery. It directly attacks the peccant matter, and all the trash about sacraments, saints, penance, purgatory, and good works is dislodged from the soul at once."

Charles remained silent and grave, as one who was likely suddenly to break out into some strong act, rather than condescend to any farther parleying.

Dr. Kitchens proceeded: "Have you attended any of the lectures delivered against the Mystic Babylon, or any of the public disputes which have been carried on in so many places? My dear friend, Mr. Macanoise, contested ten points with thirty Jesuits—a good half of the Jesuits in London—and beat them upon all. Or have you heard any of the luminaries of Exeter Hall? There is Mr. Gabb; he is a Boanerges, a perfect Niagara, for his torrent of words; such momentum in his delivery; it is as rapid as it's strong; it's enough to knock a man down. He can speak seven hours running without fatigue; and last year he went through {411} England, delivering through the length and breadth of the land, one, and one only, awful protest against the apocalyptic witch of Endor. He began at Devonport and ended at Berwick, and surpassed himself on every delivery. At Berwick, his last exhibition, the effect was perfectly tremendous; a friend of mine heard it; he assures me, incredible as it may appear, that it shattered some glass in a neighbouring house; and two priests of Baal, who were with their day-school within a quarter of a mile of Mr. Gabb, were so damaged by the mere echo, that one forthwith took to his bed, and the other has walked on crutches ever since." He stopped awhile; then he continued: "and what was it, do you think, Mr. Reding, which had this effect on them? Why, it was Mr. Gabb's notion about the sign of the beast in the Revelation: he proved, Mr. Reding—it was the most original hit in his speech—he proved that it was the sign of the cross, the material cross."

The time at length was come; Reding could not bear more; and, as it happened, his visitor's offence gave him the means, as well as a cause, for punishing him, "Oh," he said suddenly, "then I suppose, Dr. Kitchens, you can't tolerate the cross?"

"Oh no; tolerate it!" answered Dr. Kitchens; "it is Antichrist."

"You can't bear the sight of it, I suspect, Dr. Kitchens?"

"I can't endure it, sir; what true Protestant can?"

"Then look here," said Charles, taking a small crucifix out of his writing-desk; and he held it before Dr. Kitchens's face. {412}

Dr. Kitchens at once started on his feet, and retreated. "What's that?" he said, and his face flushed up and then turned pale; "what's that? it's the thing itself!" and he made a snatch at it. "Take it away, Mr. Reding; it's an idol; I cannot endure it; take away the thing!"

"I declare," said Reding to himself, "it really has power over him;" and he still confronted Dr. Kitchens with it, while he kept it out of Dr. Kitchens's reach.

"Take it away, Mr. Reding, I beseech you," cried Kitchens, still retreating, while Charles still pressed on him; "take it away, it's too much. Oh, oh! Spare me, spare me, Mr. Reding!—nehushtan—an idol!—oh, you young antichrist, you devil!—'tis He, 'tis He—torment!—spare me, Mr. Reding." And the miserable man began to dance about, still eyeing the sacred sign, and motioning it from him.

Charles now had victory in his hands: there was, indeed, some difficulty in steering Kitchens to the door from the place where he had been sitting, but, that once effected, he opened it with violence, and throwing himself on the staircase, he began to jump down two or three steps at a time, with such forgetfulness of everything but his own terror, that he came plump upon two persons who, in rivalry of each other, were in the act of rushing up: and, while he drove one against the rail, he fairly rolled the other to the bottom.

Chapter 3-9

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