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30/08/2016

and perhaps he was

POTSHAM then was very much what it is now. It is doubtful if fifty houses were built in it in as many years. It had then a repairing dock which provided work for the poor. It has now a jam factory. Then its postmistress, with the aid of a kettle, opened all letters that looked interesting. Only the other day a new resident discovered that his private affairs were common property, and the postmistress was deposed. Then, as now, the church, standing high above the river, was the centre of the somnolent life of the place, and Francis Folyat lived upon an eminence. He liked it.

The little society of the place warmed to the curate when it was found that he was welcomed in the houses of one or two of the county families. When it was discovered that Viscount Bampfield was his first cousin once removed, and that Baron Folyat was half a degree nearer in kinship, he became a romantic figure. When a small girl read in her history book that Henry Folyat was associated with Guy Fawkes, she ran with her thumb between the leaves and showed the passage to her governess, who showed it to her mother, who gave a dinner-party to announce the discovery. Thenceforth the curate was bathed in a golden light.

He became the object of the most flattering attentions. Every woman in the town showed herself a mother to him, and Miss Martha Brett won from him the confession that his full name was Francis ffolyat Christopher ffolyat-Folyat. She hugged this information to her bosom, and [Pg 10]gloated over the thought that it was hers and hers alone. She devoured romances, though, being not yet seventeen, she was supposed to confine her attentions to “The Fairchild Family” and Miss Maria Edgeworth. In all innocence Francis lent her the poems of a young man named Shelley who was still regarded as a blasphemous and immoral writer. She could not read them, but did not tell him so, though she distressed him by inviting him to read Mrs. Inchbald aloud to her in the gazebo at the end of the garden, above the wall that was washed by the river when the tide was up and slimed with mud when it was out.

The curate’s mind was at that time divided into two compartments, one for literature and the other for religion. He saw no necessity for reconciling the two things and made no attempt to do so. He regarded religion as his work, and literature as an escape from it. Life was extremely pleasant: lazy day succeeded lazy day. The obedient flock was rounded into the church on Sunday and quite often on weekdays, for there was no other place in which two or three could gather together. The only tiny clouds in a fair blue sky were drink and dissent, and in the lower classes an occasional outburst of immorality. Dissent was ignored; drink was attacked by prayer; and immorality was defeated by a hurried marriage where possible, and when that was out of the question it was scarified by threats—sure promises even—of eternal punishment. It was all a matter of routine, and so extremely pleasant that Francis soon ceased to regret that he had stifled ambition with a black coat. His vicar was a man who had taken a small active part in the Tractarian movement, without in the least understanding its spiritual significance. He had been attracted by the notion that the Church existed in spite of Henry VIII, and not because of him, and when his leaders told him to adopt the ideas of the Real Presence in the Sacrament and the sacrificial priesthood of the clergy, he did so without making any attempt to bring them into agreement with the facts of his life or the practice of his profession. He instituted ritual in his services, thus making [Pg 11]them more entertaining to his flock, and, as he had never looked for any rejuvenation of the spiritual life of his parish, he was not disappointed by the result. He thought he was a good man: everybody said he was a good man, and perhaps he was.

Francis swallowed both his ideas and his goodness without difficulty, examined the ritual of the services with interest and some enthusiasm, corrected it in one or two points, and as he took nearly all the work of the parish off the vicar’s shoulders, there could not possibly be any friction between them. The vicar congratulated himself on having found a jewel of curates, and his wife began to dream dreams of vast preferment obtained through the Folyat influence—a rural deanery, a stall, a bishopric, and—why not?—Canterbury or York.

Francis, on the other hand, gave no thought to the future and drifted drowsily, most keenly enjoying himself in the summer days when he could take a boat, a book, an old long-shoreman and fishing tackle, and go down to the sand-banks at the mouth of the estuary and bathe and fish and lie in the sun with his clay pipe between his teeth, and his golden beard glistening and his blue eyes shining as he thought that the world was very good and the sea almost the best of good things in it. It was not his way to compare his lot with others, and it had never occurred to him, except in his official capacity, to criticise life. In that capacity he criticised not so much life as a traditional concept of it.