Welcome to PhiloLogic  
   home |  the ARTFL project |  download |  documentation |  sample databases |   
Aldrich, Thomas Bailey, 1836-1907 [1874], Prudence Palfrey: a novel. (James R. Osgood and Company, Boston) [word count] [eaf450T].
To look up a word in a dictionary, select the word with your mouse and press 'd' on your keyboard.

Previous section

Next section

XI. A New England Idol.

[figure description] Page 179.[end figure description]

On the following Sunday the Rev. James
Dillingham was formally installed pastor
of the Old Brick Church. The Rev. Josephus
Starleigh delivered the installation sermon (afterwards
printed in pamphlet form at the request
of the parish), and Mr. Thomas Jefferson
Greene, a young poet of local celebrity,
composed an original hymn for the occasion.

So the mantle of Parson Wibird Hawkins
fell upon the shoulders of the young minister,
and the solemn chant ascended, while the
great guns were booming down South.

Those were the days — what ages ago they
seem! — when the tap of the snare-drum and
the shrill treble of the fife startled New England
from her dream, and awoke the vengeful
echoes which had been slumbering in the
mountain fastnesses and among the happy valleys
for nearly half a century.

-- 180 --

[figure description] Page 180.[end figure description]

It had long ceased to be at Mr. Dillingham's
option to return to South Carolina, and he
must have congratulated himself on having
found so pleasant a haven as Rivermouth to
rest in until the simoon blew over. And certainly
Rivermouth congratulated itself on sheltering
so brilliant a young divine. I happened
to be there at that period, recovering from a
protracted illness, and I had the privilege of
witnessing a spectacle which is possible only
in genteel decayed old towns like that in which
the scene of my story lies. To see one or two
hundred young New England vestals burning
incense and strewing flowers before a slim
young gentleman in black is a spectacle worth
witnessing once in the course of one's life.

The young man who, putting behind him
the less spiritual rewards of other professions,
selects the ministry as the field of his labors—
drawn to his work by the consciousness
that it is there his duty points — is certain to
impress us with the purity of his purpose.
That he should exert a stronger influence over
our minds than a young lawyer does, or a
young merchant, or a young man in any

-- 181 --

[figure description] Page 181.[end figure description]

respectable walk of life, is easily understood.
But a young man, because he buttons the top
button of his coat and wears a white necktie,
is not necessarily a person of exalted purpose
or shining ability. Yet he is apt, without any
very searching examination, to be so regarded
in some of our provincial towns. I think the
straight-cut black coat must possess a subtile
magnetism in itself, something analogous to
the glamour there is in the uniform of a
young naval or army officer. How else shall
we explain the admiration which we have many
a time seen lavished on very inferior young

I am not speaking in this vein of the Rev.
James Dillingham. The secret of his popularity
was an open secret. It was his manly
bearing and handsome face and undeniable eloquence
that made him a favorite at once in
Rivermouth, and would have commended him
anywhere. If Mr. Dillingham turned the heads
of all the young women in the parish, he won
the hearts of nearly all the elderly people also.
I think he would have done this by his amiability
and talents, if he had not been rich or

-- 182 --

[figure description] Page 182.[end figure description]

young or handsome. If he had been married?
Well, I cannot say about that. A young unmarried
clergyman, especially if he is rich, is
likely to be well thought of in a sequestered
valley where there are a surplus of blooming
Rachels and a paucity of available Jacobs.

From my point of view, it was something of
an ordeal that Mr. Dillingham passed through
in those first three months. As much as I
admired his sermons, and they were above the
average both in style and texture, I admired
greatly more the modest good sense which enabled
him to keep his bark trim in those pleasant
but perilous waters. A vain man would
have been wrecked in a week. But the Rev.
Mr. Dillingham, as Mr. Ralph Dent had declared,
was without conceit of the small kind.
The attentions Mr. Dillingham received from
all quarters would have gone far to spoil eight
men in ten placed in his position. It is so
easy to add another story to the high opinion
which other people have of you.

There were evening parties made for Mr.
Dillingham at the Blydenburghs', the Goldstones',
and the Grimes's; there were picnics

-- 183 --

[figure description] Page 183.[end figure description]

up the river, and excursions down the harbor,
and innumerable teaings on shore. I do not
know if Mr. Dillingham had a very strong
sense of humor; but even if he were only
mildly humorous, he must have been amused
as well as embarrassed by the number of embroidered
slippers and ingenious pen-wipers and
study-caps and carved paper-cutters that fell to
his lot at the fair held about this time for the
benefit of the foreign missions. If he had
been a centipede he could not have worn out
the slippers under four years, wearing them
day and night; if he had been a hydra he
could not have made head against the study-caps
in a lifetime. Briareus would have lacked
hands to hold the paper-cutters. The slippers
overran Mr. Dillingham's bedroom like the
swarms of locusts that settled upon Egypt.
The pen-wipers made his study-table look like
a bed of variegated dahlias.

There were other expressions of regard, less
material and tangible than these, to be sure,
but which must have been infinitely harder to
dispose of. There were sudden droopings of
eyelashes, black or golden, when he spoke;

-- 184 --

[figure description] Page 184.[end figure description]

furtive glances of shyness or reverence; half-parted
lips, indicating that breathless interest
which is the very cream of compliment, and
flies to the head like wine.

Mr. Dillingham moved gracefully and serenely
among the shoals and quicksands; he
listened to the songs of the sirens, and passed
on. He did not, however, accept the flattery
as if it were only his due; he accepted it modestly,
and was simply natural, and candid, and
good-natured, like a man who finds himself
among friends. “I see how it is,” he once
remarked to Mr. Dent, “I am standing in the
sunshine created by my predecessor.” It was
no glory of his own; he was fortunate in falling
among a people who took kindly to their

If Mr. Dillingham had been blind, he might
have seen that he could have his choice of
Rivermouth's belles; and he was far from sightless.
He read women and men very well in
his quiet fashion. Clearly, he was in no haste
to be fettered. What a crowd of keen, fair
slave-merchants would have flocked down to
the market-place, if this slender, blond prince

-- 185 --

[figure description] Page 185.[end figure description]

from Southland had been chained by the ankle
to one of the stalls, to be knocked down by
Mr. Wiggins to the highest bidder!

Miss Veronica Blydenburgh, who passed her
winters in New York and Baltimore, and
had flirted in a high-spirited way with various
professions, became suddenly pensive. Hesba
Godfrey candidly owned that she had fallen in
love with Mr. Dillingham before he got half-way
up the pulpit stairs the first Sunday, but
that Fred Shelborne refused to release her, and
she supposed she should be obliged to marry
Fred,—just to keep him quiet. Young Mrs.
Newbury in her widows'-weeds, like a diamond
set in jet, seemed to grow lovelier day by day.
In my own mind I put the widow down as
dangerous. Not that I had any reason for so
doing. Mr. Dillingham smiled upon her with
precisely the same smile he gave to the Widow
Mugridge. There was not a shade of difference
perceptible between his manner to the
elder Miss Trippew, a remarkably plain lamb,
and his manner to Miss Veronica of the golden
fleece. I said it before, and I say again, I
admired the way he carried himself through
all this.

-- 186 --

[figure description] Page 186.[end figure description]

When Mr. Dillingham, the morning following
his initial sermon, signified to the deacons
his acceptance of the pastorate of the Old
Brick Church, a knotty question arose as to
the residence of the new minister. There was
no parsonage attached to the church; the cottage
which Parson Hawkins had occupied so
many years did not belong to the society; besides,
if there had been a parsonage, Mr. Dillingham
had no family, and the absurdity of
his going to housekeeping without a family
was obvious. The three or four private boarding-places
suggested to him failed to meet his
views. Deacon Twombly, who saw the advantage
of having a lucrative boarder, hinted at
his first-floor as furnishing desirable accommodation;
but the ewe-lamb was brought up as
an objection.

Mr. Dillingham, who was staying at the Bell
Tavern, the only hotel in town, — having declined
Mr. Dent's offer of hospitality, — cut
the Gordian knot by deciding to remain where
he was.

This gave a sensible shock to some of the
congregation, for it seemed scarcely proper for

-- 187 --

[figure description] Page 187.[end figure description]

the pastor of the Old Brick Church to live at
a hotel. Deacon Wendell adroitly intimated as
much to Mr. Dillingham, who replied that he
did not see why it was proper for him to remain
six days at the hotel, as he had done, if
it was improper for him to remain there six
months, or six years. Propriety was not a
question of time. The house was quiet, his
rooms commodious and comfortable, and he did
not see how he could do better. He invited
Deacon Wendell to dinner, and no further objections
were heard of.

In the first bloom of his popularity Mr. Dillingham
could have done pretty much as he
pleased, and he did.

Among other innovations, he brought sunshine
into the Old Brick Church. Parson
Hawkins had been a good man, a saint, indeed;
but his saintliness had been of the sombre
sort; listening to some of his doctrinal sermons,
one might have applied to him that epigram
of Landor's, —

“Fear God!” says Percival; and when you hear
Tones so lugubrious, you perforce must fear:
If in such awful accents he should say,
“Fear lovely Innocence!” you'd run away!

-- 188 --

[figure description] Page 188.[end figure description]

That early Puritan taint which sometimes
appeared in Parson Hawkins's theology, but
never in his daily life, was an alien thing to
Mr. Dillingham in or out of the pulpit. The
spirit of his teaching was eminently a cheerful

There was a new order of things in the North
Parish. The late parson had stood a great deal
of browbeating first and last. A conservative
man, leaning perhaps a little too heavily on
the pillars of the church, he had ever consulted
the inclination of the deacons. They had an
independent minister now; a parson who settled
questions for himself, and did not embarrass
his mind by loading it with outside opinions.
There was a spice of novelty in this
surprisingly agreeable to the palate of a community
long accustomed to domineer over its
pastor. How long will it last? I used to
wonder. I had seen so many idols set up reverently,
and bowled over ruthlessly, that I was
slightly sceptical as to the duration of Mr. Dillingham's
popularity. If the towns-people were
image-worshippers, they were iconoclasts also,
when the mood was on them. But Mr.

-- 189 --

[figure description] Page 189.[end figure description]

Dillingham's popularity did not wane during my
three months' stay in Rivermouth; it went on
steadily increasing. The war-fever was at its
height in those months; and the loyalty of Mr.
Dillingham, a Southerner, stood out in striking
contrast with the mild patriotism of several of
our native-born statesmen. When his first
quarter's salary fell due, Mr. Dillingham set
the seal to public favor by turning over the
amount to the fund for the Soldiers' Hospital.
Uncle Jedd himself, one of the last in the parish
that held out against the new minister, was
obliged to admit that this was very handsome
in the young man.

Mr. Dillingham had not been three weeks in
Rivermouth before he knew all the queer old
men and women in the place, and stood in
their good graces. Even the one habitual
drunkard, when he was not hiding the light of
his countenance at the Town-Farm, would touch
his battered hat convulsively, meeting the young
parson on the street.

Mr. Dillingham was gifted in a high degree
with the genius for knowing people, and displayed
consummate tact in his dealings with

-- 190 --

[figure description] Page 190.[end figure description]

the poor of the parish. When he made the
Widow Pepperell and the Clemmer boys his
pensioners, he did it so delicately that the obligation
seemed on his side. “The parson's
smile,” said Sandy Marden, “jest doubles what
he gives a feller.” Jeremiah Bowditch, the
unfortunate inebriate mentioned, — a shy, morbid
man, and as sensitive as an exposed
nerve, — was not afraid to apply to the parson
for a dollar, having discovered that the coin
would not be dropped upon him from such a
moral height as to knock the breath out of his
body and wound all his finer feelings.

“What I like in Dillingham,” said the Hon.
Sam Knubley, democratic member of the General
Court, “is that there is n't any `firstfamily'
nonsense about him. You can see
with half an eye that he belongs to the Southern
aristocracy, but he is n't eternally shinning
up his genealogical tree. There 's old Blydenburgh,
who is always perching himself on the
upper branches and hurling down the cocoanuts
of his ancestors at common folks.”

It is not to be supposed that the Hon. Sam
Knubley himself would have objected to a few

-- 191 --

[figure description] Page 191.[end figure description]

brilliant ancestors. To have the right to fall
in at the end of a long queue of men and
women distinguished in their day and generation,
is a privilege which none but a simpleton
would undervalue. It is a privilege, however,
which often has its drawbacks. Much is expected
of a man whose progenitors have been
central figures. To inherit the great name
without the great gifts is a piece of ironical
good fortune. When one's ancestors have been
everything, and one's self is nothing, it is perhaps
just as well not to demand from the
world the same degree of consideration that
was given voluntarily to one's predecessors. I
have encountered two or three young gentlemen
in the capital of the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts who seemed to have the idea
that they were killed at the battle of Bunker
Hill. It was possibly this sort of assumption
that displeased the Hon. Sam Knubley; if so,
the Hon. Sam Knubley was quite right in the

Mr. Dent witnessed with pride the success
of his young friend; and Prudence, who, by
the way, had naturally seen a great deal of

-- 192 --

[figure description] Page 192.[end figure description]

Mr. Dillingham meanwhile, began to take herself
to task for her cold demeanor towards

If the truth must be told, she had been far
from cordial to Mr. Dillingham. Now, it is as
mortifying to have one's lack of cordiality unnoticed
as it is to have one's warmth overlooked.
Mr. Dillingham had apparently not
observed that Miss Palfrey had treated him
with haughtiness. If she had been the Widow
Mugridge, he could not have smiled upon her
more benignly, or listened to her more attentively,
when she was pleased to address him.
The offence to her self-love was so subtile that
Prudence was never able to account for the
restless and half-provoked mood which, up to
this time, had always possessed her in his

“The fact is,” Prudence soliloquized one
evening when the young clergyman had taken
tea at Willowbrook, “I have an unamiable disposition;
Uncle Ralph has spoiled me by humoring
me. I must discipline myself, and I'll
begin by treating Mr. Dillingham with a little
politeness, if his royal highness will allow it.

-- 193 --

[figure description] Page 193.[end figure description]

I always feel as if he stepped down from a
throne to converse with me. In spite of his
smile and deference, when one is speaking,
there's something depressing and condescending
in his air. If King Cophetua was the
least like that, I wonder the beggar-maid had
anything to do with him.”

It was, by the way, Miss Veronica Blydenburgh
who had christened him King Cophetua.

-- 194 --

Previous section

Next section

Aldrich, Thomas Bailey, 1836-1907 [1874], Prudence Palfrey: a novel. (James R. Osgood and Company, Boston) [word count] [eaf450T].
Powered by PhiloLogic