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Philosopher Dick

"11th September

"11th September.

"To-day is Sunday—a day of rest and holiness, but to me like any other day. In my remote seclusion there is nothing to betoken the lapse of time; days and weeks pass away in one unchanging monotony.

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How different to the Sundays I have known elsewhere!

"Here no morning bells waft their glad voices over the green meadows; no sauntering throng of country folk, in their holiday clothes, are seen wending their way by the sweet-scented hedges to the isolated village church.

"Here no cheerful circle is gathered for the evening by the crackling fire or round the brightly-lit and well-appointed table, where little people disport themselves with merry tattle, admonished to decorous silence in vain, and their elders look placidly on and converse in groups on congenial subjects. Here no communion of thought and pleasant relaxation; here no happy looks, no singing of psalms, no voice of prayer.

"A bleak and chilly south-wester sweeps down from the lofty ranges over barren flats. The huge mountains stand out against a leaden sky; their tops are glittering with snow, and gloomy forests hang about their feet. Open, wild, and desolate is the aspect of the country round about, and clad in sombre hues; and when I return in the cold and darksome evenings to my solitary cabin, and sit in utter loneliness by the smouldering fire, is it strange that my thoughts should wander back to other scenes—to the page 211recollection of many a quiet Sunday as I have known it in the old country? Sunday has been to me a day of infinite variety. I have known it in very different conditions, and under varying climes.

"I have fretted over the weariness of the day in smoky London, when staying with prim old relations, to whom life was 'a vale of tears,' and the seventh day set apart for a special downpour.

"They were kindly people, but rigid and dull. Prejudice and intolerance obscured their vision; they could no longer see the blessed light of day except through these discoloured glasses.

"Poor old Aunt Sophia! She loved me, I suppose, in her precise, sober, and sensible way, as was becoming in an aunt of the old English religious pattern.

"When I was a very small boy she used to fondle me a little, especially after my darling mother's death, and to the last—I will give her full credit for it—she prayed for me assiduously.

"She used also to read aloud to me, from very old-fashioned juvenile books, in which naughty boys always came to a grievous end and were being soundly flogged in the meantime. Much literary space was devoted to the whipping business. I was not deeply impressed by the moral of the tale, or by page 212the fictitious birching of the tail, and the old lady was much vexed at this indifference—the first indications, I fear, of a hardened heart.

"Later on, my refusal one Sabbath evening to attend divine service for the third time, after having undergone family prayers twice, a collect lesson, and Sunday-school the same day, caused quite a consternation in that pious household. It was referred for consideration to the family council, and I wonder to this day how it was that I escaped the orthodox punishment. As it was, my godless bringing up was bemoaned in tears. My good aunt put it all down to the evils of a foreign education; to the want of the Bible and of wholesome discipline. What could be expected from outlandish schools, where infidel teaching prevailed, cricket was unknown, and flogging was not allowed? It jarred against all her notions of propriety that any English boy should have been so neglected.

"As I advanced in age I fell back in divinity. At eighteen I did not know my shorter catechism, and I stubbornly refused to be confirmed, which was a terrible blow to her, for she had stood my godmother and was (nominally) answerable for my sins. By so doing I not only lost in grace—I lost her good graces. Truly, she wept when I left the shores of old England, page 213and she wrote that she remembered me always in her prayers; but alas! she remembered me not in her will.

"Sunday always reminds me of my old aunt, for we spent so many of them together. It was never a lively day, but those I spent at her pretty country place in Devonshire are indelibly impressed on my memory. They were always associated in my mind with long walks (to save working the horses), interminable prayers, and cold joints for dinner. But the pleasant reminiscences which fill in the mental picture refer to the sunny landscape, the painted fields, the group of villagers, the procession of white-aproned school-girls, who curtseyed as we passed grandly by. And in the bright afternoons, my run with the head gamekeeper—with whom I was an especial pet—while the old lady was resting her poor stiff bones from the fatigue of much kneeling. Then in the soft dusk of evening the swell of the little organ in the front hall, which my cousin Maddy could play so sweetly, would hold me entranced, and seem to revibrate even now through the long lapse of years. When night came, and the lamps were lit and the family met together in the large drawing-room, I would lie coiled up on the gaudy tiger-skin rug, and bask in the glow of the log fire, and listen with childish attention to the hum of many voices.

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"I was not irreligious in those days—I try to believe that I am not altogether irreligious now—and I remember that in church I used to pray most fervently for a minute or two at a stretch; but that short effort exhausted my powers of endurance, and my thoughts would then take to wool-gathering, and my absent mind would revert to its earthly surroundings. I noticed, with much greater interest than I ought to have done, the bald heads of many of the congregation—they formed conspicuous marks for my roving eye to rest upon. The ladies' bonnets—I never looked any lower—were also severely scrutinised; but what chiefly riveted my attention during divine service were the grimaces and fidgetings of the little choir-boys, and the sly pokes they gave one another between the singing acts.

"I never could quite understand the Church service, and as a little boy I used to ask the why and where-fore of those numerous repetitions. I was told that originally—in the very old times—there had been three services, and that these three had been lumped together into one, and thereby afforded a triple dose. I could have understood that much, if there had been only one concentrated service—but three! It seemed to me out of all reason. Then I often wondered how my poor Aunt Sophia could remain on her knees—I page 215used only to make-believe to Kneel—through the endless litany, and wag her head piteously over the responses, and keep repeating with (to me) painful iteration that she was 'a miserable sinner.' I didn't believe a word of it. I felt sure that she was nothing of the sort. Not miserable, for she was rich and kept a carriage, and gave her orders every morning to the cook for all sorts of good things; nor a sinner either, for she was always so particular and so proper, and was for ever talking about 'chastisement' either in this world or the next.

"My ideas about religion—as far back as I can remember having an idea—always dwelt upon what was loving and comforting. After I had repeated my set prayers by rote, I used to indulge in a little orison on my own account—something out of my own head—a childish confession of ignorance and levity—a touching appeal for love and pity.

"My 'religious sense' has ever been a yearning after the spiritual—a cry of the heart! I cannot formulate it; I cannot express it, for it is beyond the range of words. Faith I could possess; a stereotyped belief never!

"I have said that Sunday has been to me a day of infinite variety. I have known it on the Continent, at sea, in outlandish parts—everywhere but in this page 216remote solitude, where it does not exist. The Sunday of the gay French capital I remember well, although I was but a little boy then. How bracing and invigorating was the very atmosphere of that charming abode. The dazzling light, the bustling and laughing throng, the lively rattle of Les Champs Elysées; who could forget it?

"I was always partial to the mercurial Frenchman, and a disciple of his gay philosophy of life, which consists in making it enjoyable both to ourselves and to others. How simple in theory; how difficult in practice. How woefully I have failed in the attempt!

"Le Dimanche in Paris was a pretty sight — it was more than that—a joyous spectacle. The gaiety of individuals would inspire the many, and the gaiety of the many would react on individuals, until all was gay. There was a simmering of merriment that was constantly boiling over in boisterous exhilaration. Charming, but not in keeping with our ideas of what Sunday ought to be. The genius of that blessed day should be cheerfulness; as far removed on the one side from dissipation and noisy levity as from enforced dulness and morose austerity on the other.

"Then there was the German Sonntag, its listless mornings, devoted to a monotonous divine service, page 217that never seemed to me to reach the heart of the population. With us the female element predominates largely in church, but Germans are a practical people, that have to adapt themselves to requirements, and they find that the males can best be spared from other duties on these holy occasions.

"So Herr Professor attends the church, in which he has not the faintest belief, while Frau Professorin stays at home to cook the family dinner. A sensible arrangement, especially as concerns the dinner.

"As some compensation for the dull mornings, the afternoons were given up to dancing and beer drinking—amusements that were not to my taste. So I never liked the German Sunday; it was neither one thing nor the other."