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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMrs. Leicester's School - Chapter 9. Susan Yates
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Mrs. Leicester's School - Chapter 9. Susan Yates Post by :qwerty Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Lamb Date :May 2012 Read :1036

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Mrs. Leicester's School - Chapter 9. Susan Yates


(_By Charles Lamb_)

I was born and brought up, in a house in which my parents had all their lives resided, which stood in the midst of that lonely tract of land called the Lincolnshire fens. Few families besides our own lived near the spot, both because it was reckoned an unwholesome air, and because its distance from any town or market made it an inconvenient situation. My father was in no very affluent circumstances, and it was a sad necessity which he was put to, of having to go many miles to fetch any thing he wanted from the nearest village, which was full seven miles distant, through a sad miry way that at all times made it heavy walking, and after rain was almost impassable. But he had no horse or carriage of his own.

The church which belonged to the parish in which our house was situated, stood in this village; and its distance being, as I said before, seven miles from our house, made it quite an impossible thing for my mother or me to think of going to it. Sometimes indeed, on a fine dry Sunday, my father would rise early, and take a walk to the village, just to see how _goodness thrived_, as he used to say, but he would generally return tired, and the worse for his walk. It is scarcely possible to explain to any one who has not lived in the fens, what difficult and dangerous walking it is. A mile is as good as four, I have heard my father say, in those parts. My mother, who in the early part of her life had lived in a more civilised spot, and had been used to constant churchgoing, would often lament her situation. It was from her I early imbibed a great curiosity and anxiety to see that thing, which I had heard her call a church, and so often lament that she could never go to. I had seen houses of various structures, and had seen in pictures the shapes of ships and boats, and palaces and temples, but never rightly any thing that could be called a church, or that could satisfy me about its form. Sometimes I thought it must be like our house, and sometimes I fancied it must be more like the house of our neighbour, Mr. Sutton, which was bigger and handsomer than ours. Sometimes I thought it was a great hollow cave, such as I have heard my father say the first inhabitants of the earth dwelt in. Then I thought it was like a waggon, or a cart, and that it must be something moveable. The shape of it ran in my mind strangely, and one day I ventured to ask my mother, what was that foolish thing that she was always longing to go to, and which she called a church. Was it any thing to eat or drink, or was it only like a great huge play-thing, to be seen and stared at?--I was not quite five years of age when I made this inquiry.

This question, so oddly put, made my mother smile; but in a little time she put on a more grave look, and informed me, that a church was nothing that I had supposed it, but it was a great building, far greater than any house which I had seen, where men, and women, and children, came together, twice a day, on Sundays, to hear the Bible read, and make good resolutions for the week to come. She told me, that the fine music which we sometimes heard in the air, came from the bells of St. Mary's church, and that we never heard it but when the wind was in a particular point. This raised my wonder more than all the rest; for I had somehow conceived that the noise which I heard, was occasioned by birds up in the air, or that it was made by the angels, whom (so ignorant I was till that time) I had always considered to be a sort of birds: for before this time I was totally ignorant of any thing like religion, it being a principle of my father, that young heads should not be told too many things at once, for fear they should get confused ideas, and no clear notions of any thing. We had always indeed so far observed Sundays, that no work was done upon that day, and upon that day I wore my best muslin frock, and was not allowed to sing, or to be noisy; but I never understood why that day should differ from any other. We had no public meetings:--indeed the few straggling houses which were near us, would have furnished but a slender congregation; and the loneliness of the place we lived in, instead of making us more sociable, and drawing us closer together, as my mother used to say it ought to have done, seemed to have the effect of making us more distant and averse to society than other people. One or two good neighbours indeed we had, but not in numbers to give me an idea of church attendance.

But now my mother thought it high time to give me some clearer instruction in the main points of religion, and my father came readily into her plan. I was now permitted to sit up half an hour later on a Sunday evening, that I might hear a portion of Scripture read, which had always been their custom, though by reason of my tender age, and my father's opinion on the impropriety of children being taught too young, I had never till now been an auditor. I was taught my prayers, and those things which you, ladies, I doubt not, had the benefit of being instructed in at a much earlier age.

The clearer my notions on these points became, they only made me more passionately long for the privilege of joining in that social service, from which it seemed that we alone, of all the inhabitants of the land, were debarred; and when the wind was in that point which favoured the sound of the distant bells of St. Mary's to be heard over the great moor which skirted our house, I have stood out in the air to catch the sounds which I almost devoured; and the tears have come in my eyes, when sometimes they seemed to speak to me almost in articulate sounds, to _come to church_, and because of the great moor which was between me and them I could not come; and the too tender apprehensions of these things have filled me with a religious melancholy. With thoughts like these I entered into my seventh year.

And now the time was come, when the great moor was no longer to separate me from the object of my wishes and of my curiosity. My father having some money left him by the will of a deceased relation, we ventured to set up a sort of a carriage--no very superb one, I assure you, ladies; but in that part of the world it was looked upon with some envy by our poorer neighbours. The first party of pleasure which my father proposed to take in it, was to the village where I had so often wished to go, and my mother and I were to accompany him; for it was very fit, my father observed, that little Susan should go to church, and learn how to behave herself, for we might some time or other have occasion to live in London, and not always be confined to that out of the way spot.

It was on a Sunday morning that we set out, my little heart beating with almost breathless expectation. The day was fine, and the roads as good as they ever are in those parts. I was so happy and so proud. I was lost in dreams of what I was going to see. At length the tall steeple of St. Mary's church came in view. It was pointed out to me by my father, as the place from which that music had come which I have heard over the moor, and had fancied to be angels singing. I was wound up to the highest pitch of delight at having visibly presented to me the spot from which had proceeded that unknown friendly music; and when it began to peal, just as we approached the village, it seemed to speak. _Susan is come_, as plainly as it used to invite me _to come_, when I heard it over the moor. I pass over our alighting at the house of a relation, and all that passed till I went with my father and mother to church.

St. Mary's church is a great church for such a small village as it stands in. My father said it was a cathedral, and that it had once belonged to a monastery, but the monks were all gone. Over the door there was stone work, representing saints and bishops, and here and there, along the sides of the church, there were figures of men's heads, made in a strange grotesque way: I have since seen the same sort of figures in the round tower of the Temple church in London. My father said they were very improper ornaments for such a place, and so I now think them; but it seems the people who built these great churches in old times, gave themselves more liberties than they do now; and I remember that when I first saw them, and before my father had made this observation, though they were so ugly and out of shape, and some of them seemed to be grinning and distorting their features with pain or with laughter, yet being placed upon a church, to which I had come with such serious thoughts, I could not help thinking they had some serious meaning; and I looked at them with wonder, but without any temptation to laugh. I somehow fancied they were the representation of wicked people set up as a warning.

When we got into the church, the service was not begun, and my father kindly took me round, to shew me the monuments and every thing else remarkable. I remember seeing one of a venerable figure, which my father said had been a judge. The figure was kneeling, as if it was alive, before a sort of desk, with a book, I suppose the Bible, lying on it. I somehow fancied the figure had a sort of life in it, it seemed so natural, or that the dead judge that it was done for, said his prayers at it still. This was a silly notion, but I was very young, and had passed my little life in a remote place, where I had never seen any thing nor knew any thing; and the awe which I felt at first being in a church, took from me all power but that of wondering. I did not reason about any thing, I was too young. Now I understand why monuments are put up for the dead, and why the figures which are upon them, are described as doing the actions which they did in their life-times, and that they are a sort of pictures set up for our instruction. But all was new and surprising to me on that day; the long windows with little panes, the pillars, the pews made of oak, the little hassocks for the people to kneel on, the form of the pulpit with the sounding-board over it, gracefully carved in flower work. To you, who have lived all your lives in populous places, and have been taken to church from the earliest time you can remember, my admiration of these things must appear strangely ignorant. But I was a lonely young creature, that had been brought up in remote places, where there was neither church nor churchgoing inhabitants. I have since lived in great towns, and seen the ways of churches and of worship, and I am old enough now to distinguish between what is essential in religion, and what is merely formal or ornamental.

When my father had done pointing out to me the things most worthy of notice about the church, the service was almost ready to begin; the parishioners had most of them entered, and taken their seats; and we were shewn into a pew where my mother was already seated. Soon after the clergyman entered, and the organ began to play what is called the voluntary. I had never seen so many people assembled before. At first I thought that all eyes were upon me, and that because I was a stranger. I was terribly ashamed and confused at first; but my mother helped me to find out the places in the Prayer-book, and being busy about that, took off some of my painful apprehensions. I was no stranger to the order of the service, having often read in a Prayer-book at home; but my thoughts being confused, it puzzled me a little to find out the responses and other things, which I thought I knew so well; but I went through it tolerably well. One thing which has often troubled me since, is, that I am afraid I was too full of myself, and of thinking how happy I was, and what a privilege it was for one that was so young, to join in the service with so many grown people, so that I did not attend enough to the instruction which I might have received. I remember, I foolishly applied every thing that was said to myself, so as it could mean nobody but myself, I was so full of my own thoughts. All that assembly of people, seemed to me as if they were come together only to shew me the way of a church. Not but I received some very affecting impressions from some things which I heard that day; but the standing up and the sitting down of the people; the organ; the singing;--the way of all these things took up more of my attention than was proper; or I thought it did. I believe I behaved better and was more serious when I went a second time, and a third time; for now we went as a regular thing every Sunday, and continued to do so, till, by a still further change for the better in my father's circumstances, we removed to London. Oh! it was a happy day for me my first going to St. Mary's church: before that day I used to feel like a little outcast in the wilderness, like one that did not belong to the world of Christian people. I have never felt like a little outcast since. But I never can hear the sweet noise of bells, that I don't think of the angels singing, and what poor but pretty thoughts I had of angels in my uninstructed solitude.

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