Friday, November 25, 2011

The Vicar

Nearly every time I go exploring in the vast, uncharted realms of Arthur Quiller-Couch's anthologies, I find some heretofore overlooked gem.  This summer as I was working my way through his Oxford Book of Victorian Verse, I ran across this wonderful poem by Winthrop Mackworth Praed (1802-1839).  

I don't think it is too much to say that these thirteen stanzas capture almost perfectly my own vision of what a parish pastor's life and ministry ought to be. There is so much to learn from here.  I absolutely love it:

Some years ago, ere time and taste
  Had turn’d our parish topsy-turvy,
When Darnel Park was Darnel Waste,
  And roads as little known as scurvy,
The man who lost his way between
  St. Mary’s Hill and Sandy Thicket
Was always shown across the green,
  And guided to the parson’s wicket.

Back flew the bolt of lissom lath;
  Fair Margaret, in her tidy kirtle,
Led the lorn traveller up the path
  Through clean-clipp’d rows of box and myrtle;
And Don and Sancho, Tramp and Tray,
  Upon the parlor steps collected,
Wagg’d all their tails, and seem’d to say,
  “Our master knows you; you ’re expected.”

Up rose the reverend Doctor Brown,
  Up rose the doctor’s “winsome marrow;”
The lady laid her knitting down,
  Her husband clasp’d his ponderous Barrow.
Whate’er the stranger’s caste or creed,
  Pundit or papist, saint or sinner,
He found a stable for his steed,
  And welcome for himself, and dinner.

If, when he reach’d his journey’s end,
  And warm’d himself in court or college,
He had not gain’d an honest friend,
  And twenty curious scraps of knowledge;
If he departed as he came,
  With no new light on love or liquor,—
Good sooth, the traveller was to blame,
  And not the vicarage, nor the vicar.

His talk was like a stream which runs
  With rapid change from rocks to roses;
It slipp’d from politics to puns;
  It pass’d from Mahomet to Moses;
Beginning with the laws which keep
  The planets in their radiant courses,
And ending with some precept deep
  For dressing eels or shoeing horses.

He was a shrewd and sound divine,
  Of loud dissent the mortal terror;
And when, by dint of page and line,
  He ’stablish’d truth or startled error,
The Baptist found him far too deep,
  The Deist sigh’d with saving sorrow,
And the lean Levite went to sleep
  And dream’d of tasting pork to-morrow.

His sermon never said or show’d
  That earth is foul, that heaven is gracious,
Without refreshment on the road
  From Jerome, or from Athanasius;
And sure a righteous zeal inspir’d
  The hand and head that penn’d and plann’d them,
For all who understood admir’d,
  And some who did not understand them.

He wrote too, in a quiet way,
  Small treatises, and smaller verses,
And sage remarks on chalk and clay,
  And hints to noble lords and nurses;
True histories of last year’s ghost;
  Lines to a ringlet or a turban;
And trifles to the Morning Post,
  And nothings for Sylvanus Urban.

He did not think all mischief fair,
  Although he had a knack of joking;
He did not make himself a bear,
  Although he had a taste for smoking;
And when religious sects ran mad,
  He held, in spite of all his learning,
That if a man’s belief is bad,
  It will not be improv’d by burning.

And he was king, and lov’d to sit
  In the low hut or garnish’d cottage,
And praise the farmer’s homely wit,
  And share the widow’s homelier pottage.
At his approach complaint grew mild,
  And when his hand unbarr’d the shutter
The clammy lips of fever smil’d
  The welcome which they could not utter.

He always had a tale for me
  Of Julius Cæsar or of Venus;
From him I learn’d the rule of three,
  Cat’s-cradle, leap-frog, and Quæ genus.
I used to singe his powder’d wig,
  To steal the staff he put such trust in,
And make the puppy dance a jig
  When he began to quote Augustine.

Alack, the change! In vain I look
  For haunts in which my boyhood trifled;
The level lawn, the trickling brook,
  The trees I climb’d, the beds I rifled.
The church is larger than before,
  You reach it by a carriage entry:
It holds three hundred people more,
  And pews are fitted for the gentry.

Sit in the vicar’s seat: you ’ll hear
  The doctrine of a gentle Johnian,
Whose hand is white, whose voice is clear,
  Whose tone is very Ciceronian.
Where is the old man laid? Look down,
  And construe on the slab before you:
“Hic jacet Gulielmus Brown,
  Vir nullâ non donandus lauro.”


Trisha said...

My oldest son is just now discovering Quiller-Couch's essays. I didn't realize he also edited anthologies. Thank you for sharing this!

Ron aka TheOldGeezer said...

Interesting :-)