Barchester Towers HTML version

20. Mr Arabin
The Reverend Francis Arabin, fellow of Lazarus, late professor of poetry at Oxford, and
present vicar of St Ewold, in the diocese of Barchester, must now be introduced
personally to the reader. And as he will fill a conspicuous place in this volume, it is
desirable that he should be made to stand before the reader's eye by the aid of such
portraiture as the author is able to produce.
It is to be regretted that no mental method of daguerreotype or photography has yet
been discovered, by which the characters of men can be reduced to writing and put into
grammatical language with an unerring precision of truthful description. How often does
the novelist feel, ay, and the historian also and the biographer, that he has conceived
within his mind and accurately depicted on the tablet of his brain the full character and
personage of a man, and that nevertheless, when he flies to pen and ink to perpetuate
the portrait, his words forsake, elude, disappoint, and play the deuce with him, till at the
end of a dozen pages the man described has no more resemblance to the man
conceived than the sign board at the corner of the street has to the Duke of Cambridge?
And yet such mechanical descriptive skill would hardly give more satisfaction to the
reader than the skill of the photographer does to the anxious mother desirous to
possess an absolute duplicate of her beloved child. The likeness is indeed true; but it is
a dull, dead, unfeeling, inauspicious likeness. The face is indeed there, and those
looking at it will know at once whose image it is; but the owner of the face will not be
proud of the resemblance.
There is no royal road to learning; no short cut to the acquirement of any art. Let
photographers and daguerreotypers do what they will, and improve as they may with
further skill on that which skill has already done, they will never achieve a portrait of the
human face as we may under the burdens which we so often feel too heavy for our
shoulders; we must either bear them up like men, or own ourselves too weak for the
work we have undertaken. There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily.
Labor omnia vincit improbus. Such should be the chosen motto of every labourer, and it
may be that labour, if adequately enduring, may suffice at last to produce even some
not untrue resemblance of the Rev. Francis Arabin.
Of his doings in the world, and of the sort of fame which he has achieved, enough has
already been said. It has also been said that he is forty years of age, and still unmarried.
He was the younger son of a country gentleman of small fortune in the north of England.
At an early age he went to Winchester, and was intended by his father for New College;
but though studious as a boy, he was not studious within the prescribed limits; and at
the age of eighteen he left school with a character for talent, but without a scholarship.
All that he had obtained, over and above the advantage of his character, was a gold
medal for English verse, and hence was derived a strong presumption on the part of his