Poor Miss Finch
He sets us All Right
I HAVE thus far quite inadvertently omitted to mention one of the prominent virtues of
Reverend Finch. He was an accomplished master of that particular form of human
persecution which is called reading aloud; and he inflicted his accomplishment on his
family circle at every available opportunity. Of what we suffered on these occasions, I
shall say nothing. Let it be enough to mention that the rector thoroughly enjoyed the
pleasure of hearing his own magnificent voice.
There was no escaping Mr. Finch when the rage for "reading" seized on him. Now on one
pretense, and now on another, he descended on us unfortunate women, book in hand;
seated us at one end of the room; placed himself at the other; opened his dreadful mouth;
and fired words at us, like shots at a target, by the hour together. Sometimes he gave us
poetical readings from Shakespeare or Milton; and sometimes Parliamentary speeches by
Burke or Sheridan. Read what he might, he made such a noise and such a fuss over it; he
put his own individuality so prominently in the foremost place, and he kept the poets or
the orators whom he was supposed to be interpreting so far in the back ground, that they
lost every trace of character of their own, and became one and all perfectly intolerable
reflections of Mr. Finch. I date my first unhappy doubts of the supreme excellence of
Shakespeare's poetry from the rector's readings; and I attribute to the same exasperating
cause my implacable hostility (on every question of the time) to the policy of Mr. Burke.
On the evening when Nugent Dubourg was expected at Browndown--and when we
particularly wanted to be left alone to dress ourselves, and to gossip by anticipation about
the expected visitor--Mr. Finch was seized with one of his periodical rages for firing off
words at his family, after tea. He selected Hamlet as the medium for exhibiting his voice,
on this occasion; and he declared, as the principal motive for taking his elocutionary
exercise, that the object he especially had in view was the benefit of poor Me!
"My good creature, I accidentally heard you reading to Lucilla, the other day. It was very
nice, as far as it went--very nice indeed. But you will allow me--as a person, Madame
Pratolungo, possessing considerable practice in the art of reading aloud--to observe that
you might be benefited by a hint or two. I will give you a few ideas. (Mrs. Finch! I
propose giving Madame Pratolungo a few ideas.) Pay particular attention, if you please,
to the Pauses, and to the management of the Voice at the end of the lines. Lucilla, my
child, you are interested in this. The perfecting of Madame Pratolungo is a matter of
considerable importance to you. Don't go away."
Lucilla and I happened, on that evening, to be guests at the rectory table. It was one of the
regular occasions on which we left our own side of the house, and joined the family at
(what Mr. Finch called) "the pastor's evening meal." He had got his wife; he had got his
eldest daughter; he had got your humble servant. A horrid smile of enjoyment overspread
the reverend gentleman's face, as he surveyed us from the opposite end of the room, and
opened his vocal fire on his audience of three.
"Hamlet: Act the First; Scene the First. Elsinore. A Platform before the Castle. Francisco
on his post" (Mr. Finch). "Enter to him Bernardo" (Mr. Finch). "Who's there?" "Nay,
answer me: stand, and unfold yourself." (Mrs. Finch unfolds herself--she suckles the
baby, and tries to look as if she was having an intellectual treat.) "Francisco and Bernardo
converse in bass--Boom-boom-boom. Enter Horatio and Marcellus" (Mr. Finch and Mr.
Finch.) "Stand! Who's there?" "Friends to this ground." "And liegemen to the Dane."
(Madame Pratolungo begins to feel the elocutionary exposition of Shakespeare, where