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- Thomas Wingfold, Curate - 30/90 -
If I should say: Now I will think a thought, Lo! I must wait, unknowing, What thought in me is growing, Until the thing to birth is brought; Nor know I then what next will come From out the gulf of silence dumb. I am the door the thing did find To pass into the general mind; I cannot say I think-- I only stand upon the thought-well's brink; From darkness to the sun the water bubbles up-- I lift it in my cup. Thou only thinkest--I am thought; Me and my thought thou thinkest. Nought Am I but as a fountain spout From which thy water welleth out. Thou art the only One, the All in all. --Yet when my soul on thee doth call And thou dost answer out of everywhere, I in thy allness have my perfect share.
While he read Rachel crept to his knee, knelt down, and laid her head upon it.
If we are but the creatures of a day, yet surely were the shadow-joys of this miserable pair not merely nobler in their essence, but finer to the soul's palate than the shadow-joys of young Hercules Bascombe--Helen and horses and all! Poor Helen I cannot use for comparison, for she had no joy, save indeed the very divine, though at present unblossoming one of sisterly love. Still, and notwithstanding, if the facts of life are those of George Bascombe's endorsing--AND HE CAN PROVE IT--let us by all means learn and accept them, be they the worst possible. Meantime there are truths that ought to be facts, and until he has proved that there is no God, some of us will go feeling after him if haply we may find him, and in him the truths we long to find true. Some of us perhaps think we have seen him from afar, but we only know the better that in the mood wherein such as Bascombe are, they will never find him--which would no doubt be to them a comfort were it not for a laughter. And if he be such as their idea of what we think him, they ARE better without him. If, on the contrary, he be what some of us really think him, their not seeking him will not perhaps prevent him from finding them.
From likeness of nature, community of feeling, constant intercourse, and perfect confidence, Rachel understood her uncle's verses with sufficient ease to enjoy them at once in part, and, for the rest, to go on thinking in the direction in which they would carry her; but Wingfold, in whom honesty of disposition had blossomed at last into honesty of action, after fitting pause, during which no word was spoken, said:--
"Mr. Polwarth, where verse is concerned, I am simply stupid: when read I cannot follow it. I did not understand the half of that poem. I never have been a student of English verse, and indeed that part of my nature which has to do with poetry, has been a good deal neglected. Will you let me take those verses home with me?"
"I cannot do that, for they are not legible; but I will copy them out for you."
"Will you give me them to-morrow? Shall you be at church?"
"That shall be just as you please: would you rather have me there or not?"
"A thousand times rather," answered the curate. "To have one man there who knows what I mean better than I can say it, is to have a double soul and double courage.--But I came to-night mainly to tell you that I have been much puzzled this last week to know how I ought to regard the Bible--I mean as to its inspiration. What am I to say about it?"
"Those are two distinct things. Why think of saying about it, before you have anything to say? For yourself, however, let me ask if you have not already found in the book the highest means of spiritual education and development you have yet met with? If so, may not that suffice for the present? It is the man Christ Jesus we have to know, and the Bible we have to use to that end--not for theory or dogma.--I will tell you a strange dream I had once, not long ago."
Rachel's face brightened. She rose, got a little stool, and setting it down close by the chair on which her uncle was perched, seated herself at his feet, with her eyes on the ground, to listen.
"About two years ago," said Polwarth, "a friend sent me Tauchnitz's edition of the English New Testament, which has the different readings of the three oldest known manuscripts translated at the foot of the page. The edition was prepared chiefly for the sake of showing the results of the collation of the Sinaitic manuscript, the oldest of all, so named because it was found--a few years ago, by Tischendorf--in a monastery on Mount Sinai--nowhere else than there! I received it with such exultation as brought on an attack of asthma, and I could scarce open it for a week, but lay with it under my pillow. When I did come to look at it, my main wonder was to find the differences from the common version so few and small. Still there were some such as gave rise to a feeling far above mere interest--one in particular, the absence of a word that had troubled me, not seeming like a word of our Lord, or consonant with his teaching. I am unaware whether the passage has ever given rise to controversy."
"May I ask what word it was?" interrupted Wingfold, eagerly.
"I will not say," returned Polwarth. "Not having troubled you, you would probably only wonder why it should have troubled me. For my purpose in mentioning the matter, it is enough to say that I had turned with eagerness to the passage wherein it occurs, as given in two of the gospels in our version. Judge my delight in discovering that in the one gospel the whole passage was omitted by the two oldest manuscripts, and in the other just the one word that had troubled me, by the same two. I would not have you suppose me foolish enough to imagine that the oldest manuscript must be the most correct; but you will at once understand the sense of room and air which the discovery gave me notwithstanding, and I mention it because it goes both to account for the dream that followed and to enforce its truth. Pray do not however imagine me a believer in dreams more than in any other source of mental impressions. If a dream reveal a principle, that principle is a revelation, and the dream is neither more NOR LESS valuable than a waking thought that does the same. The truth conveyed is the revelation. I do not deny that facts have been learned in dreams, but I would never call the communication of a mere fact a revelation. Truth alone, beheld as such by the soul, is worthy of the name. Facts, however, may themselves be the instruments of such revelation.
"The dream I am now going to tell you was clearly enough led up to by my waking thoughts. For I had been saying to myself ere I fell asleep: 'On the very Mount Sinai, that once burned with heavenly fire, and resounded with the thunder of a visible Presence, now old and cold, and swathed in the mists of legend and doubt, was discovered the most reverend, because most ancient record of the new dispensation which dethroned that mountain, and silenced the thunders of the pedagogue law! Is it not possible that yet, in some ancient convent, insignificant to the eye of the traveller as modern Nazareth would be but for its ancient story, some one of the original gospel-manuscripts may lie, truthful and unblotted from the hand of the very evangelist?--Oh lovely parchment!' I thought--'if eye of man might but see thee! if lips of man might kiss thee!' and my heart swelled like the heart of a lover at the thought of such a boon.--Now, as you know, I live in a sort of live coffin here," continued the little man, striking his pigeon-breast, "with a barrel-organ of discords in it, constantly out of order in one way or another; and hence it comes that my sleep is so imperfect, and my dreams run more than is usual, as I believe, on in the direction of my last waking thoughts. Well, that night, I dreamed thus: I was in a desert. It was neither day nor night to me. I saw neither sun, moon, nor stars. A heavy, yet half-luminous cloud hung over the visible earth. My heart was beating fast and high, for I was journeying towards a certain Armenian convent, where I had good ground for hoping I should find the original manuscript of the fourth gospel, the very handwriting of the apostle John. That the old man did not write it himself, I never thought of that in my dream.
"After I had walked on for a long, anything but weary time, I saw the level horizon line before me broken by a rock, as it seemed, rising from the plain of the desert. I knew it was the monastery. It was many miles away, and as I journeyed on it grew and grew, until it swelled huge as a hill against the sky. At length I came up to the door, iron-clamped, deep-set in a low thick wall. It stood wide open. I entered, crossed a court, reached the door of the monastery itself, and again entered. Every door to which I came stood open, but priest nor guide came to meet me, and I saw no man, and at length looked for none, but used my best judgment to get deeper and deeper into the building, for I scarce doubted that in its inmost penetralia I should find the treasure I sought. At last I stood before a door hung with a curtain of rich workmanship, torn in the middle from top to bottom. Through the rent I passed into a stone cell. In the cell stood a table. On the table was a closed book. Oh how my heart beat! Never but then have I known the feeling of utter preciousness in a thing possessed. What doubts and fears would not this one lovely, oh unutterably beloved volume, lay at rest for ever! How my eyes would dwell upon every stroke of every letter the hand of the dearest disciple had formed! Nearly eighteen hundred years--and there it lay!--and there WAS a man who DID hear the Master say the words, and did set them down! I stood motionless, and my soul seemed to wind itself among the leaves, while my body stood like a pillar of salt, lost in its own gaze. At last, with sudden daring, I made a step towards the table, and, bending with awe, stretched out my hand to lay it upon the book. But ere my hand reached it, another hand, from the opposite side of the table, appeared upon it--an old, blue-veined, but powerful hand. I looked up. There stood the beloved disciple! His countenance was as a mirror which shone back the face of the Master. Slowly he lifted the book, and turned away. Then first I saw behind him as it were an altar whereon a fire of wood was burning, and a pang of dismay shot to my heart, for I knew what he was about to do. He laid the book on the burning wood, and regarded it with a smile as it shrunk and shrivelled and smouldered to ashes. Then he turned to me and said, while a perfect heaven of peace shone in his eyes: 'Son of man, the Word of God liveth and abideth for ever, not in the volume of the book, but in the heart of the man that in love obeyeth him. And therewith I awoke weeping, but with the lesson of my dream."
A deep silence fell on the little company. Then said Wingfold,
"I trust I have the lesson too."
He rose, shook hands with them, and, without another word, went
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