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, eretime and taste
Hadturn’d our parish topsy-turvy,
WhenDarnel Park was Darnel Waste,
Androads as little known as scurvy,
Theman who lost his way between
St.Mary’s Hill and Sandy Thicket
Wasalways shown across the green,
Andguided to the parson’s wicket.
Backflew the bolt of lissom lath;
FairMargaret, in her tidy kirtle,
Ledthe lorn traveller up the path
Throughclean-clipp’d rows of box and myrtle;
AndDon and Sancho, Tramp and Tray,
Uponthe parlor steps collected,
Wagg’dall their tails, and seem’d to say,
“Ourmaster knows you; you ’re expected.”
Uprose the reverend Doctor Brown,
Uprose the doctor’s “winsome marrow;”
Thelady laid her knitting down,
Herhusband clasp’d his ponderous Barrow.
Whate’erthe stranger’s caste or creed,
Punditor papist, saint or sinner,
Hefound a stable for his steed,
Andwelcome for himself, and dinner.
If,when he reach’d his journey’s end,
Andwarm’d himself in court or college,
He hadnot gain’d an honest friend,
Andtwenty curious scraps of knowledge;
If hedeparted as he came,
Withno new light on love or liquor,—
Good sooth, the traveller was to blame,
Andnot the vicarage, nor the vicar.
Histalk was like a stream which runs
Withrapid change from rocks to roses;
Itslipp’d from politics to puns;
Itpass’d from Mahomet to Moses;
Beginningwith the laws which keep
Theplanets in their radiant courses,
Andending with some precept deep
Fordressing eels or shoeing horses.
He wasa shrewd and sound divine,
Ofloud dissent the mortal terror;
Andwhen, by dint of page and line,
He’stablish’d truth or startled error,
TheBaptist found him far too deep,
TheDeist sigh’d with saving sorrow,
Andthe lean Levite went to sleep
Anddream’d of tasting pork to-morrow.
Hissermon never said or show’d
Thatearth is foul, that heaven is gracious,
Withoutrefreshment on the road
FromJerome, or from Athanasius;
Andsure a righteous zeal inspir’d
Thehand and head that penn’d and plann’d them,
For all who understood admir’d,
And some who did not understand them.
Hewrote too, in a quiet way,
Smalltreatises, and smaller verses,
Andsage remarks on chalk and clay,
Andhints to noble lords and nurses;
Truehistories of last year’s ghost;
Linesto a ringlet or a turban;
Andtrifles to the Morning Post,
Andnothings for Sylvanus Urban.
He didnot think all mischief fair,
Althoughhe had a knack of joking;
He didnot make himself a bear,
Althoughhe had a taste for smoking;
Andwhen religious sects ran mad,
Heheld, in spite of all his learning,
Thatif a man’s belief is bad,
Itwill not be improv’d by burning.
And hewas king, and lov’d to sit
Inthe low hut or garnish’d cottage,
Andpraise the farmer’s homely wit,
Andshare the widow’s homelier pottage.
At hisapproach complaint grew mild,
Andwhen his hand unbarr’d the shutter
Theclammy lips of fever smil’d
Thewelcome which they could not utter.
Healways had a tale for me
OfJulius Cæsar or of Venus;
Fromhim I learn’d the rule of three,
Cat’s-cradle,leap-frog, and Quæ genus.
I usedto singe his powder’d wig,
To steal the staff he put such trust in,
Andmake the puppy dance a jig
Whenhe began to quote Augustine.
Alack,the change! In vain I look
Forhaunts in which my boyhood trifled;
Thelevel lawn, the trickling brook,
Thetrees I climb’d, the beds I rifled.
Thechurch is larger than before,
Youreach it by a carriage entry:
Itholds three hundred people more,
Andpews are fitted for the gentry.
Sit inthe vicar’s seat: you ’ll hear
Thedoctrine of a gentle Johnian,
Whosehand is white, whose voice is clear,
Whosetone is very Ciceronian.
Whereis the old man laid? Look down,
Andconstrue on the slab before you:
“Hicjacet Gulielmus Brown,
Vir nullâ non donandus lauro.”