Trials of a Country Parson
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In a volume which I published three years ago1 I attempted to give a faithful picture of the habits and ways of thinking, the superstitions, prejudices and grounds for discontent, the grievances and the trials, of the country folk among whom my lot was cast and among whom it was my duty and my privilege to live as a country clergyman. I was surprised, and not a little pained, to hear from many who read my book that the impression produced upon them was exactly the reverse of that which I had desired to convey. On returning to a country village after long residence in a large town, I found things greatly changed, of course; but I found that, though the country folk had not shared in the general progress which had been going on in the condition of the urban population, they still retained some of their sturdy virtues, still had some love for their homes, still clung to some of their old prejudices which reflected their attachment to their birthplace, and that if they were inclined to surrender themselves to the leadership of blatant demagogues, and to dwell upon some real or imagined wrongs coarsely exaggerated by itinerant agitators with their living to get by speechifying, it was not because there was no cause for discontent. The rustics were right when they followed their instincts and these told them that their lot might be easily—so very easily—made much happier than it is, if philanthropists would only give themselves a fair chance, set themselves patiently to study facts before committing themselves to crude theories, try to make themselves really conversant with the conditions which they vaguely desire to ameliorate, go to work in the right way and learn to take things by the right handles.
The circumstances under which I commenced residence in my country parish were, unhappily, not conducive to my forming a favourable judgment of my people. I was at starting brought face to face with the worst side of their characters. They were and had for long been in bad hands; they had surrendered themselves to the guidance of those who had gone very far towards demoralizing them. I could not be blind to the faults—the vices if you will—which were only too apparent. I could not but grieve at the altered tone which was observable in their language and their manners, since the days when I had been a country curate twenty years before. But while I lamented the noticeable deterioration and the fact that the rustics were less cordial, less courteous, less generous, less loving, and, therefore, less happy than they had been, I gradually got to see that the surface may be ruffled and yet the inner nature beneath that surface may have some depths unaffected by the turmoil. The charity which hopeth all things suggested that it was the time to work and wait. It was not long before I learnt to feel something more than mere interest in my people. I learnt to love them. I learnt—
To see a good in evil, and a hope
In ill success; to sympathize, be proud
Of their half-reasons, faint aspirings, dim
Struggles for truth, their poorest fallacies,
Their prejudice, and fears, and cares, and doubts,
Which all touch upon nobleness, despite
Their error, all tend upwardly though weak,
Like plants in mines which never see the sun,
But dream of him, and guess where he may be,
And do their best to climb and get at him.