Shirley HTML version

1. Levitical
Of late years an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the north of
England: they lie very thick on the hills; every parish has one or more of them;
they are young enough to be very active, and ought to be doing a great deal of
good. But not of late years are we about to speak; we are going back to the
beginning of this century: late years - present years are dusty, sunburnt, hot, arid;
we will evade the noon, forget it in siesta, pass the midday in slumber, and
dream of dawn.
If you think, from this prelude, that anything like a romance is preparing for you,
reader, you never were more mistaken. Do you anticipate sentiment, and poetry,
and reverie? Do you expect passion, and stimulus, and melodrama? Calm your
expectations; reduce them to a lowly standard. Something real, cool and solid
lies before you; something unromantic as Monday morning, when all who have
work wake with the consciousness that they must rise and betake themselves
thereto. It is not positively affirmed that you shall not have a taste of the exciting,
perhaps towards the middle and close of the meal, but it is resolved that the first
dish set upon the table shall be one that a Catholic - ay, even an Anglo-Catholic -
might eat on Good Friday in Passion Week: it shall be cold lentils and vinegar
without oil; it shall be unleavened bread with bitter herbs, and no roast lamb.
Of late years, I say, an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the north of
England, but in eighteen-hundred-eleven-twelve that affluent rain had not
descended. Curates were scarce then: there was no Pastoral Aid - no Additional
Curates' Society to stretch a helping hand to worn-out old rectors and
incumbents, and give them the wherewithal to pay a vigorous young colleague
from Oxford or Cambridge. The present successors of the apostles, disciples of
Dr. Pusey and tools of the Propaganda, were at that time being hatched under
cradle-blankets, or undergoing regeneration by nursery-baptism in wash-hand
basins. You could not have guessed by looking at any one of them that the
Italian-ironed double frills of its net-cap surrounded the brows of a preordained,
specially-sanctified successor of St. Paul, St. Peter, or St. John; nor could you
have foreseen in the folds of its long nightgown the white surplice in which it was
hereafter cruelly to exercise the souls of its parishioners, and strangely to
nonplus its old-fashioned vicar by flourishing aloft in a pulpit the shirt-like raiment
which had never before waved higher than the reading-desk.
Yet even in those days of scarcity there were curates: the precious plant was
rare, but it might be found. A certain favoured district in the West Riding of
Yorkshire could boast three rods of Aaron blossoming within a circuit of twenty
miles. You shall see them, reader. Step into this neat garden-house on the skirts
of Whinbury, walk forward into the little parlour. There they are at dinner. Allow
me to introduce them to you: Mr. Donne, curate of Whinbury; Mr. Malone, curate
of Briarfield; Mr. Sweeting, curate of Nunnely. These are Mr. Donne's lodgings,
being the habitation of one John Gale, a small clothier. Mr. Donne has kindly
invited his brethren to regale with him. You and I will join the party, see what is to