Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 139.pdf/832

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



which in a sense they are; in the same sense, namely, in which all men and women who have a deep conviction that God speaks through their consciences, are ambassadors also. But they are so, as it were, professionally. If they do not declare God's purposes to men, they are worse than nothing. And for a time the consciousness of such a position naturally elates young men who are not aware of their own manifold inefficiencies. The ambassador always fancies that there is some gratifying reason why he, and not another, should fill that office. Soon, perhaps, he finds out that there is a reason, and a good one, but not a gratifying one at all, — it may be that his character may have needed the special protection of the clerical position to keep it clear of gross moral defaults, — that his talent lies rather in the power to deal with words and thoughts than with things; that he has more power of transmitting than originating; that he delivers messages better than he fights battles. But for a time the sense of elation at being an ambassador of God's at all, turns the head of young men.

Nevertheless, we do not believe that there is a profession in the world so humiliating, in the best, but also the most painful sense of the word, as the clergyman's; and this is, we think, its real effect in the long run. This "superb self-conceit" of the younger clergymen and ministers of religion soon works off. Even the genuine priest, who believes with all his heart that his agency is employed by God to absolve from sin, to create anew in every mass the body and blood of an incarnate God, to offer up the divine sacrifice for the dying and the dead, — even he soon learns how little there is in his work in which he has the least right to indulge satisfaction, how much of failure clings to him at every step, how infinitely poor are his achievements. Talk to any of the best of the Irish priesthood, and though you will find a habit of mind almost necessarily authoritative, and even imperious, — necessarily we mean considering the position forced upon them in their little community, — you will hardly ever find any self-conceit, usually a profound humility, bred of deep and frequent failure. And still more is this the case with those ministers of religion who attach no overweening importance to their own agency as priests or ministers, who regard themselves rather as laymen selected for a particular duty, than as a spiritual caste at all. The self-conceit of the younger clergy is very natural, and as we believe, very superficial. It passes away usually before middle age, in all but the weakest-minded; it is transformed into the very opposite quality, — deep self-distrust, — before old age is upon them. Clerical self-conceit is a harmless sort of folly, at worst; and is so far from being essentially incompatible with true humility, that very often we think it is the earliest phase of what afterwards becomes humility, just as a woman who is a little vain about the accident of beauty will often, as her character deepens, and she sees how little it is worth, become all the humbler for her former vanity. For self-conceit is a very different thing from pride; it is a certain self-occupation with superficial advantages of person or position, and not a deep passion for self, such as makes the sense of indebtedness to others seem an almost intolerable burden.

From The Fortnightly Review.



And why say ye that I must leave
This pleasure-garden, where the sun
Is baffled by the boughs that weave
Their shade o'er my pavilion?
The trees I planted with my hands,
This house I built among the sands,
Within a lofty wall which rounds
This green oasis, kept with care;
With room for my horses, hawks, and hounds —
And the cool arcade for my ladies fair.


How often, while the landscape flames
With heat, within the marble court
I lie and laugh to see my dames
About the shimmering fountain sport;
Or after the long scorching days,
When the hot wind hushes, and falling stays
The clouds of dust, and stars are bright,
I've spread my carpets in the grove,
And talked and loitered the livelong night
With some foreign leman light o' love.


My wives — I married, as was fit,
Some thirteen of the purest blood —
And two or three have germs of wit,
And almost all are chaste and good;
But all their womanhood has been
Hencooped behind a marble screen;
They count their pearls and doze—while she,
The courtezan, had travelled far,
Her songs were fresh, her talk was free
Of the Delhi court, or the Kabul war.