Adam Bede HTML version

17.In Which the Story Pauses a Little
"THIS Rector of Broxton is little better than a pagan!" I hear one of my readers
exclaim. "How much more edifying it would have been if you had made him give
Arthur some truly spiritual advice! You might have put into his mouth the most
beautiful things--quite as good as reading a sermon."
Certainly I could, if I held it the highest vocation of the novelist to represent things
as they never have been and never will be. Then, of course, I might refashion life
and character entirely after my own liking; I might select the most
unexceptionable type of clergyman and put my own admirable opinions into his
mouth on all occasions. But it happens, on the contrary, that my strongest effort
is to avoid any such arbitrary picture, and to give a faithful account of men and
things as they have mirrored themselves in my mind. The mirror is doubtless
defective, the outlines will sometimes be disturbed, the reflection faint or
confused; but I feel as much bound to tell you as precisely as I can what that
reflection is, as if I were in the witness-box, narrating my experience on oath.
Sixty years ago--it is a long time, so no wonder things have changed--all
clergymen were not zealous; indeed, there is reason to believe that the number
of zealous clergymen was small, and it is probable that if one among the small
minority had owned the livings of Broxton and Hayslope in the year 1799, you
would have liked him no better than you like Mr. Irwine. Ten to one, you would
have thought him a tasteless, indiscreet, methodistical man. It is so very rarely
that facts hit that nice medium required by our own enlightened opinions and
refined taste! Perhaps you will say, "Do improve the facts a little, then; make
them more accordant with those correct views which it is our privilege to
possess. The world is not just what we like; do touch it up with a tasteful pencil,
and make believe it is not quite such a mixed entangled affair. Let all people who
hold unexceptionable opinions act unexceptionably. Let your most faulty
characters always be on the wrong side, and your virtuous ones on the right.
Then we shall see at a glance whom we are to condemn and whom we are to
approve. Then we shall be able to admire, without the slightest disturbance of our
prepossessions: we shall hate and despise with that true ruminant relish which
belongs to undoubting confidence."
But, my good friend, what will you do then with your fellow- parishioner who
opposes your husband in the vestry? With your newly appointed vicar, whose
style of preaching you find painfully below that of his regretted predecessor? With
the honest servant who worries your soul with her one failing? With your
neighbour, Mrs. Green, who was really kind to you in your last illness, but has
said several ill-natured things about you since your convalescence? Nay, with
your excellent husband himself, who has other irritating habits besides that of not
wiping his shoes? These fellow-mortals, every one, must be accepted as they