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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 24. Richard And Wingfold
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There & Back - Chapter 24. Richard And Wingfold Post by :Pennejac Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2436

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There & Back - Chapter 24. Richard And Wingfold


Barbara had more than once or twice heard Mr. Wingfold preach, but had not once listened, or oven waked to the fact that she had not listened. Unaccustomed in childhood to any special regard of the Sunday, she had neither pleasant nor unpleasant associations with church-going; but she liked a good many things better, and as she always did as she liked except she saw reason to the contrary, she had hitherto gone to church rather seldom. She might perhaps have sooner learned to go regularly but for her mother's extraordinary behaviour there: certainly she could not sit in the same pew with her reading her novel. Since Mr. Wingfold had taken the part of the prophet Nathan, and rebuked her, she had indeed ceased to go to church, but Barbara, as I have said, was as yet only now and then drawn thitherward.

Mr. Wingfold was almost as different from the clergyman of Richard's idea, as was Richard's imagined God from any believable idea of God. The two men had never yet met, for what should bring a working-man and the clergyman of the next parish together? But one morning--he often went for a walk in the early morning--Richard saw before him, in the middle of a field-path, seated on a stile and stopping his way, the back of a man in a gray suit, evidently enjoying, like himself, the hour before sunrise. He knew somehow that he was not a working-man, but he did not suspect him one of the obnoxious class which lives by fooling itself and others. Wingfold heard Richard's step, looked round, knew him at once an artisan of some sort, and saw in him signs of purpose and character strong for his years.

"Jolly morning!" he said.

"It is indeed, sir!" answered Richard.

"I like a walk in the morning better than at any other time of the day!" said Wingfold.

"Well, sir, I do so too, though I can't tell why. I've often tried, but I haven't yet found out what makes the morning so different."

"Come!" thought the clergyman; "here's something I haven't met with too much of!"

Richard remarked to himself that, whoever the gentleman was, he was certainly not stuck-up. They might have parted late the night before, instead of meeting now for the first time!

"Are you a married man?" asked Wingfold.

"No, sir," answered Richard, surprised that a stranger should put the question.

"If you had been," Wingfold went on, "I should have been surer of your seeing what I mean when I say, that to be out before sunrise is like looking at your best friend asleep--that is, before her sun, her thought, namely, is up. Watching her face then, you see it come to life, grow radiant with sunrise."

"But," rejoined Richard, "I have seen a person asleep whose face made it quite evident that thought was awake! It was shining through!"

"Shining through, certainly," said Wingfold, "not up. I doubt indeed if during any sleep, thought is quite in abeyance."

"Not when we are dead asleep, sir?--so dead that when we wake we don't remember anything?"

"If thought in such a case must be _proved, it will have to go for non-existent. Yet, when you reflect that sometimes you discover that you must, a few minutes before, wide awake, have done something which you have no recollection of having done, and which, but for the fact remaining evident to your sight, you would not believe you had done, you must feel doubtful as to the loss of consciousness in sleep."

"Yes; that must give us pause!"

"Hamlet!" said the clergyman to himself. "That's good! You may have read from top to bottom of a page, perhaps," he went on, "without being able to recall a word: would you say no thought had passed through your mind in the process?--that the words had suggested nothing as you read them?"

"No, sir; I should be inclined to say that I forgot as fast as I read; that, as I read, I seemed to know the thing I read, but the process of forgetting kept pace for pace alongside the process of reading."

"I quite agree with you.--Now I wonder whether you will agree with me in what I am going to suggest next!"

"I can't tell that, sir," said Richard--somewhat unnecessarily; but Wingfold was pleased to find him cautious.

"I think," the parson continued, "that what I want in order to be able afterward to recollect a thing, is to be not merely conscious of the thing when it comes, but at the same moment conscious of myself. To remember, I must be self-conscious as well as thing-conscious."

"There I cannot quite follow you."

"When I learn the meaning of a word, I know the word; but when I say to myself, 'I know the word,' there comes a reflection of the word back from the mirror of my mind, making a second impression, and after that I am at least not so likely to forget it."

"I think I can follow you so far," said Richard.

"When, then," pursued the parson, "I think about the impression that the word makes upon me, how it is affecting me with the knowledge of itself, then I am what I should call self-conscious of the word--conscious not only that I know the word, but that I know the phenomena of knowing the word--conscious of what I am as regards my knowing of the word."

"I understand so far, sir--at least I think I do."

"Then you will allow that a word with its reflection and mental impact thus operated upon by the mind is not so likely to be forgotten as one understood only in the first immediate way?"

"Certainly, sir."

"Well, then--mind I am only suggesting; I am not proclaiming a fact, still less laying down a law; I am not half sure enough about it for that--so it is with our dreams. We see, or hear, and are conscious that we do, in our dreams; our consciousness shines through our sleeping features to the eyes that love us; but when we wake we have forgotten everything. There was thought there, but not thought that could be remembered. When, however, you have once said to yourself in a dream, 'I think I am dreaming;' you always, I venture to suspect, remember that experience when you wake from it!"

"I daresay you do, sir. But there are many dreams we never suspect to be dreams while we are dreaming them, which yet we remember all the same when we come awake!"

"Yes, surely; and many people have such memories as hold every word and every fact presented to them. But I was not meaning to discuss the phenomena of sleep; I only meant to support my simile that to see the world before the sun is up, is like looking on the sleeping face of a friend. There is thought in the sleeping face of your friend, and thought in the twilight face of nature; but the face awake with thought, is the world awake with sunlight."

"There I cannot go with you, sir," said Richard, who, for all the impression Barbara had made upon him, had not yet thought of the world as in any sense alive; it was to him but an aggregate of laws and results, the great dissecting-room of creation, the happy hunting ground of the goddess who calls herself Science, though she can claim to understand as yet no single fact.

"Why?" asked Wingfold.

"Because I cannot receive the simile at all. I cannot allow expression of thought where no thought is."

Here a certain look on the face of the young workman helped the parson toward understanding the position he meant to take, "Ah!" he answered, "I see I mistook you! I understand now! Sleep she or wake she, you will not allow thought on the face of Nature! Am I right?"

"That is what I would say, sir," answered Richard.

"We must look at that!" returned Wingfold. "That would be scanned!--You would conceive the world as a sort of machine that goes for certain purposes--like a clock, for instance, whose duty it is to tell the time of the day?--Do I represent you truly?"

"So far, sir. Only one machine may have many uses!"

"True! A clock may do more for us than tell the time! It may tell how fast it is going, and wake solemn thought. But if you came upon a machine that constantly waked in you--not thoughts only, but the most delicate and indescribable feelings--what would you say then? Would you allow thought there?"

"Surely not that the machine was thinking!"

"Certainly not. But would you allow thought concerned in it? Would you allow that thought must have preceded and occasioned its existence? Would you allow that thought therefore must yet be interested in its power to produce thought, and might, if it chose, minister to the continuance or enlargement of the power it had originated?"

"Perhaps I should be compelled to allow that much in regard to a clock even!--Are we coming to the Paley-argument, sir?" said Richard.

"I think not," answered Wingfold. "My argument seems to me one of my own. It is not drawn from design but from operation: where a thing wakes thought and feeling, I say, must not thought and feeling be somewhere concerned in its origin?"

"Might not the thought and feeling come by association, as in the case of the clock suggesting the flight of time?"

"I think our associations can hardly be so multiform, or so delicate, as to have a share in bringing to us half of the thoughts and feelings that nature wakes in us. If they have such a share, they must have reference either to a fore-existence, or to relations hidden in our being, over which we have no control; and equally in such case are the thoughts and feelings waked in us, not by us. I do not want to argue; I am only suggesting that, if the world moves thought and feeling in those that regard it, thought and feeling are somehow concerned in the world. Even to wake old feelings, there must be a likeness to them in what wakes them, else how could it wake them? In a word, feeling must have put itself into the shape that awakes feeling. Then there is feeling in the thing that bears that shape, although itself it does not feel. Therefore I think it may be said that there is more thought, or, rather, more expression of thought, in the face of the world when the sun is up, than when he is not--as there is more thought in a face awake than in a face asleep.--Ah, there is the sun! and there are things that ought never to be talked about in their presence! To talk of some things even behind their backs will keep them away!"

Richard neither understood his last words, nor knew that he did not understand them. But he did understand that it was better to watch the sunrise than to talk of it.

Up came the child of heaven, conquering in the truth, in the might of essential being. It was no argument, but the presence of God that silenced the racked heart of Job. The men stood lost in the swift changes of his attendant colours--from red to gold, from the human to the divine--as he ran to the horizon from beneath, and came up with a rush, eternally silent. With a moan of delight Richard turned to his gazing companion, when he beheld that on his face which made him turn from him again: he had seen what was not there for human eyes! The radiance of Wingfold's countenance, the human radiance that met the solar shine, surpassed even that which the moon and the sky and the sleeping earth brought out that night upon the face of Barbara! The one was the waking, the other but the sweetly dreaming world.

Richard refused to let any emotion, primary or reflex, influence his opinions; they must be determined by fact and severe logical outline. Whatever was not to him definite--that is, was not by him formally conceivable, must not be put in the category of things to be believed; but he had not a notion how many things he accepted unquestioning, which were yet of this order; and not being only a thing that thought, but a thing as well that was thought, he could not help being more influenced by such a sight than he would have chosen to be, and the fact that he was so influenced remained. Happily, the choice whether we shall be influenced is not given us; happily, too, the choice whether we shall obey an influence _is given us.

Without a word, Richard lifted his hat to the stranger, and walked on, leaving him where he stood, but taking with him a germ of new feeling, which would enlarge and divide and so multiply. When he got to the next stile, he looked back, and saw him seated as at first, but now reading.

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CHAPTER XXV. WING FOLD AND HIS WIFEThomas Wingfold closed his book, replaced it in his pocket, got down from the stile, turned his face toward home, crossed field after field, and arrived just in time to meet his wife as she came down the stair to breakfast. "Have you had a nice walk, Thomas?" she asked. "Indeed I have!" he answered. "Almost from the first I was right out in the open."--His wife knew what he meant.--"Before the sun came up", he went on, "I had to go in, and come out at another door; but I was soon very glad

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CHAPTER XXIII. A HUMAN GADFLYFrom so early an age had Richard been accustomed to despise a certain form he called God, which stood in the gallery of his imagination, carved at by the hands of successive generations of sculptors, some hard, some feeble, some clever, some stupid, all conventional and devoid of prophetic imagination, that his antagonism had long taken the shape of an angry hostility to the notion of any God whatever. Richard could see a thing to be false, that is, he could deny, but he was not yet capable either of discovering or receiving what was true, because