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The most ridiculous mistakes will sometimes be made, and, if uttered during the public examination, will sorely test the gravity of the hearers. I could give many instances of such mistakes, but will content myself with two, one of which occurred to myself and the other to one of my friends.
Being engaged one day in examining a parish school, I asked the teacher what part of the Scriptures had been read during the week, and found that the history of Samuel had been the subject of instruction. The children were admirably versed in the history. Apparently they knew as much about it as I did-perhaps a little more, for they knew all the dates, a branch of knowledge which always has been beyond my grasp. I was scarcely through my novitiate in the ministry, and thought that all was right, until an unlucky—or perhaps luckyquestion disturbed the pleasing security. After hearing the dates of the various events given with wonderful accuracy, I happened to ask the girl at the head of the class how long ago it was since Samuel was alive. She could not tell, nor could any of them. Blank silence fell on all, and I was completely brought to a stand still. The children were cvidently as much puzzled as myself, and it suddenly struck me that though they had learned the dates so perfectly, they had not attached the least meaning to “B.C.” A few more questions made this point certain ; and wishing to give them some notion of the real meaning of dates, I asked by way of an absurdity, “Is Samuel alive now ?”
“Yes, sir ; yes, sir,” resounded on every side, and all the children looked quite pleased, being now on safe ground and away from abstractions. Still more taken aback, I asked how they knew he was alive, and they one and all declared that they had seen him last year. I asked what his appearance was, but got very contradictory answers, one thinking him tall, another short, but all agreeing that he wore a coat and a hat, and was a very nice gentleman.
It was a hopeless business, and I yielded the point.
However, the mystery was solved that afternoon. Waiting until the school had closed, I took the evening prayers, and then came upon the clue to this extraordinary maze. After asking a blessing upon the school, the parish, and the clergy, especial mention was made of “SAMUEL, our Bishop.” A light flashed across me, and on questioning the children afterwards, I found that they had actually identified the Samuel of the Bible with the respected prelate who now rules the diocese of Oxford. And the worst of it was, that it was most difficult to make them comprehend the true state of the case, without depriving them either of their reverence for the Bishop or their faith in the Bible.
As for the dates, which they all knew so perfectly, I found on further questioning, that they had not attached the least meaning to them, looking upon them in the light of lessons which had to be learned, but not having the smallest conception that they had any bearing upon facts. One child volunteered the information that they could be purchased three a penny at Mr. Rowley the grocer's.
Taught by this experience, I take care never to ask a question in church, unless I am quite sure that the answer will be correct. One of my friends, however, was not so cautious, and met with a signal public defeat in consequence of his neglect.
He was taking a few successive services for a friend in the country, and one Sunday was told that it was the catechizing day, and that the children were examined in the church.
Having ascertained the subject for the day, he began examining them on the history of Jacob. Unaccustomed to the practice, he soon became rather confused, and among other questions asked the children why the angels walked on the ladder instead of flying. Not that he had any particular idea of an answer, but he was so bewildered that he asked the question at random, merely for the sake of saying something. No one knew the reason, neither did he, and the matter became serious. Here was a question propounded openly before the congregation, the children could not answer it, he could not answer it, and yet every one was waiting for the answer. At last a bright looking little girl stretched out her fat arm, and said in her shrill, childish voice, “ Please, sir, I know." Greatly relieved to find that a response of some sort was forthcoming, he called upon the child to speak so that she might be heard, and got for answer, “Please, sir, they was moulting !" The fact was, that she was a very observant little girl, and having seen her own birds lose their feathers during the moult, very naturally thought that the disinclination to fly had proceeded from the same cause.
The true object of public catechizing is really the instruction of those who come to listen, and not of those who answer the questions. It is evident, therefore, that the congregation must be of a peculiar nature, and should consist of the young who are brought by their parents for the benefit of hearing the instruction, and of the uneducated who are glad to avail themselves of the opportunity of gaining knowledge without encountering the comparative humiliation of attending a school, and without being called upon for any payment
Appeals should therefore be made to both these classes, and parents especially should be urged to bring their children to the catechizing, and to question them upon it afterwards. It should be made in every respect a special service; the clergy and children should place themselves in some central part, and the congregation should be seated so as to hear all that is said, without any reference to the ordinary arrangement of the sittings. The catechizing should be shown to perform the duty for which it was intended, namely, as a simple and
BLACK PETER'S CONVERSION.
easy preliminary towards the ordinary confirmatory instruction, and it is surprising how much time and trouble will be saved at each snccessive confirmation by the right use of these catechetical lectures.
In conclusion, let me say that though public catechizing is most beneficial when rightly used, it is worse than useless if badly managed. It worries the children, gives them an utter and ineradicable distaste to the catechism, drives away the congregation, and is a never-ending vexation to the clergyman. Let it be thoroughly well conducted, or not attempted ; let it always be carried out with spirit, and not prolonged beyond fifteen or twenty minutes at a time; let a very small portion be treated at a time, but treated exhaustively; and then, but not until then, it will assume the place which it was evidently intended to hold, in the development of the Christian church by the instruction of its younger members.
BLACK PETER'S CONVERSION.
CHAPTER 1.--Lower FISHPOOL IN PERSPECTIVE.
As none of the fellows of St. —'s thought proper to accept the vacant living of St. Mark's, Lower Fishpool, it was offered to me, as a scholar of the college. It was not likely that a poor curate would be so hard to please as a college don, so I accepted the offer at once. Although my preferment made me richer by the difference between a yearly income of £80 and one of £350, I did not feel any vivid thrill of delight at the prospect of entering upon it. I knew, in fact, that Lower Fishpool was a little fishing village; I knew, also, that a little fishing village is not generally an elysium ; and, moreover, the name itself was strongly suggestive of dirt and red-herrings. However, I was pleased with my promotion, and felt hopeful of being able to do something among the fishermen and their families.
The time having arrived for my formal induction, I left London in the early morning, and, after a tedious journey of eleven hours, arrived at the little town of W- The remainder of my journey, seven miles, had to be accomplished by road. I found W- to be one of those little dismal towns which seem to belong to a past century. As I emerged from the solemn repose of the wooden station, a thin, drizzling rain was falling, and the gray evening was beginning to give place to night. Passing down the quiet street I made my way to the “ Family and Commercial Hotel.” The exterior of this edifice was somewhat imposing in appearance, while the interior was decidedly the contrary. Proceeding through a door out of the sanded passage I found myself in a large uncarpeted room, wainscoted to the height of five feet, the remainder being covered with a blue and white paper, torn off in several places. On the chimney-piece was a framed advertisement, turned wrong side up, and above hung a curiously proportioned representation of a greyhound in oil-colours. Round the room were wooden benches, and in the middle was a rickety mahogany table, on which appeared, in startling prominence, a solitary round stain, left by the rim of a glass, like the single footprint on the shore of Robinson Crusoe's island. In answer to an often-repeated summons of the bell, an individual presented himself, whose appearance accurately matched that of the “hotel.” He was in his shirt-sleeves, being otherwise clad in rusty black. For some time he contented himself with gazing at me with an air of languid surprise ; at length he nodded, and said it was a fine day.
“Yes,” I said, “only it rains. I want to go to Lower Fishpool, however; can you provide me with a conveyance of some kind ?”
The seedy-looking landlord, or waiter, or whatever he might be, scratched his head for a moment, and, then, without moving or looking round, bawled out, "Betsy!"
“Well !" shrieked a female voice overhead. " Where's Nancy?"
“Gone to take a load of coals to Mr. Small's, at the corner shop."
My rusty acquaintance, having explained that Nancy was the mare, left me with the assurance that he would be ready to drive me over in about half an hour.
I stood looking through the window and musing upon my prospects. The thin rain was still falling; opposite was a shoemaker's shop, illuminated by a single tallow candle ; occasional foot-passengers hurried past with dripping umbrellas; the scene was certainly not such as to induce a pleasant train of thoughts. “If this," I reflected, “ be the best attempt at superior civilization to be found within seven miles of Lower Fishpool, what must Lower Fishpool itself be like ?”
After a very long half-hour my lethargic friend, who turned out to be the host, by name Nathan Bradley, appeared opposite the window attired from head to foot in the stiffest of mackintoshes, and having on his head an article apparently made of sail-cloth and tar, technically known as a sou’-wester. When standing still he resembled a tarred post in an advanced stage of decay, rather than anything human. The vision, however, was satisfactory, inasmuch as it included a gig, drawn by a pony of inconceivable scragginess; the vehicle itself leaned forward on its springs as though bowed with old age; the whole turnout, gig and horse, looked as if it might at any moment fall to pieces, and tumble into a musty heap of dust and splinters.
In two minutes I had taken my seat, having thankfully accepted the loan of a tarpaulin cape, embellished at the back with the letters N. B., in white paint. Nathan, whip and reins in hand, stiffly ascended to his own perch, and Nancy shambled off at a much better pace than I had expected. Very soon we passed beyond the limits of the town, and the rattling street was succeeded by a road smooth and sloppy. A strong sea-breeze met us, and with each gust the driving rain came swish, swish into our faces. We were going up hill, and, as far as I could make out in the dim light, the highest visible point of road lay over a ridge where the outlines of two bare hills were seen to join. I put up my umbrella, and we jogged along the treeless road in silence. Presently the hill became steeper, and the pony walked. Up from the walls of rough uncemented stone which skirted the way, brown heather sloped steeply into the mist.
Nathan here made his first observation : “Better put that umbrella down, you'll be losin' it."
“No danger of that," I replied.
Looking from behind my shelter, I saw that we had come close to the top of the ascent, we were just on the point of rounding a bluff spur of one of the hills. Presently the noise of the wind hurrying through the gap caught my ear, it did not whistle, but had a muffled, pent-up sound. In another second its full force burst upon us ; the pony's progress was checked for an instant; my umbrella and hat left me without a moment's warning, and I was on the point of following them, but my companion saved me from a tumble by catching hold of my tarpaulin.
“You shouldn't ha' done that,” said Nathan, as he helped me to recover my balance.
I didn't do it," I replied, somewhat indignantly, “ it was the wind.”
“Well," he said, “it is no use looking after ’en, they're gone for good.”
“Does it generally blow like this?” I inquired, as we proceeded
on our way.
“No,” said Nathan, “it generally blows harder than this; there's but little wind to-night, considering how we was took at that gap; the wind gathers there and comes in squalls.”
The wind, nevertheless, was not so gentle but that it felt very uncomfortable as it rushed, wet and cold, through my uncovered hair. Presently, however, my driver produced a small sackcloth bag, containing a few oats, which he handed over to me to supply the place of a hat, having first transferred the oats to his pocket. I drew this well over my ears, and tied the strings under my
suppose you are the new parson ?” said my companion, after a long silence.