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Father Payne by Arthur Christopher Benson

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By Arthur Christopher Benson



Often as I have thought of my old friend "Father Payne," as we
affectionately called him, I had somehow never intended to write about him,
or if I did, it was "like as a dream when one awaketh," a vision that
melted away at the touch of common life. Yet I always felt that his was one
of those rich personalities well worth depicting, if the attitude and
gesture with which he faced the world could be caught and fixed. The
difficulty was that he was a man of ideas rather than of performance,
suggestive rather than active: and the whole history of his experiment with
life was evasive, and even to ordinary views fantastic.

Besides, my own life has been a busy one, full of hard ordinary work: it
was not until the war gave me, like many craftsmen, a most reluctant and
unwelcome space of leisure, that I ever had the opportunity of considering
the possibility of writing this book. I am too old to be a combatant, and
too much of a specialist in literature to transmute my activities. I lately
found myself with my professional occupations suddenly suspended, and
moreover, like many men who have followed a wholly peaceful profession,
plunged in a dark bewilderment as to the onset of the forces governing the
social life of Europe. In the sad inactivity which followed, I set to work
to look through my old papers, for the sake of distraction and employment,
and found much material almost ready for use, careful notes of
conversations, personal reminiscences, jottings of characteristic touches,
which seemed as if they could be easily shaped. Moreover, the past suddenly
revived, and became eloquent and vivid. I found in the beautiful memories
of those glowing days that I spent with Father Payne--it was only three
years--some consolation and encouragement in my distress.

This little volume is the result. I am well aware that the busy years which
have intervened have taken the edge off some of my recollections, while the
lapse of time has possibly touched others with a sunset glow. That can
hardly be avoided, and I am not sure that I wish to avoid it.

I am not here concerned with either criticising or endorsing Father Payne's
views. I see both inconsistencies and fallacies in them. I even detect
prejudices and misinterpretations of which I was not conscious at the time.
I have no wish to idealise my subject unduly, but it is clear to me, and I
hope I have made it clear to others, that Father Payne was a man who had a
very definite theory of life and faith, and who at all events lived
sincerely and even passionately in the light of his beliefs. Moreover, when
he came to put them to the supreme test, the test of death, they did not
desert or betray him: he passed on his way rejoicing.

He used, I remember, to warn us against attempting too close an analysis of
character. He used to say that the consciousness of a man, the intuitive
instinct which impelled him, his _attack_ upon experience, was a thing
almost independent both of his circumstances and of his reason. He used to
take his parable from the weaving of a tapestry, and say that a box full of
thread and a loom made up a very small part of the process. It was the
inventive instinct of the craftsman, the faculty of designing, that was

He himself was a man of large designs, but he lacked perhaps the practical
gift of embodiment. I looked upon him as a man of high poetical powers,
with a great range of hopes and visions, but without the technical
accomplishment which lends these their final coherence. He was fully aware
of this himself, but he neither regretted it nor disguised it. The truth
was that his interest in existence was so intense, that he lacked the power
of self-limitation needed for an artistic success. What, however, he gave
to all who came in touch with him, was a strong sense of the richness and
greatness of life and all its issues. He taught us to approach it with no
preconceived theories, no fears, no preferences. He had a great mistrust of
conventional interpretation and traditional explanations. At the same time
he abhorred controversy and wrangling. He had no wish to expunge the ideals
of others, so long as they were sincerely formed rather than meekly
received. Though I have come myself to somewhat different conclusions, he
at least taught me to draw my own inferences from my own experiences,
without either deferring to or despising the conclusions of others.

The charm of his personality lay in his independence, his sympathy, his
eager freshness of view, his purity of motive, his perfect simplicity; and
it is all this which I have attempted to depict, rather than to trace his
theories, or to present a philosophy which was always concrete rather than
abstract, and passionate rather than deliberate. To use a homely proverb,
Father Payne was a man who filled his chair!

Of one thing I feel sure, and that is that wherever Father Payne is, and
whatever he may be doing--for I have as absolute a conviction of the
continued existence of his fine spirit as I have of the present existence
of my own--he will value my attempt to depict him as he was. I remember his
telling me a story of Dr. Johnson, how in the course of his last illness,
when he could not open his letters, he asked Boswell to read them for him.
Boswell opened a letter from some person in the North of England, of a
complimentary kind, and thinking it would fatigue Dr. Johnson to have it
read aloud, merely observed that it was highly in his praise. Dr. Johnson
at once desired it to be read to him, and said with great earnestness,
"_The applause of a single human being is of great consequence._"
Father Payne added that it was one of Johnson's finest sayings, and had no
touch of vanity or self-satisfaction in it, but the vital stuff of
humanity. That I believe to be profoundly true: and that is the spirit in
which I have set all this down.

_September_ 30, 1915.






It was a good many years ago, soon after I left Oxford, when I was
twenty-three years old, that all this happened. I had taken a degree in
Classics, and I had not given much thought to my future profession. There
was no very obvious opening for me, no family business, no influence in any
particular direction. My father had been in the Army, but was long dead. My
mother and only sister lived quietly in the country. I had no prosaic and
practical uncles to push me into any particular line; while on coming of
age I had inherited a little capital which brought me in some two hundred a
year, so that I could afford to wait and look round. My only real taste was
for literature. I wanted to write, but I had no very pressing aspirations
or inspirations. I may confess that I was indolent, fond of company, but
not afraid of comparative solitude, and I was moreover an entire
dilettante. I read a good many books, and tried feverishly to write in the
style of the authors who most attracted me, I settled down at home, more or
less, in a country village where I knew everyone; I travelled a little; and
I paid occasional visits to London, where several of my undergraduate and
school friends lived, with a vague idea of getting to know literary people;
but they were not very easy to meet, and, when I did meet them, they did
not betray any very marked interest in my designs and visions.

I was dining one night at a restaurant with a College friend of mine, Jack
Vincent, whose tastes were much the same as my own, only more strenuous;
his father and mother lived in London, and when I went there I generally
stayed with them. They were well-to-do, good-natured people; but, beyond
occasionally reminding Jack that he ought to be thinking about a
profession, they left him very much to his own devices, and he had begun to
write a novel, and a play, and two or three other masterpieces.

That particular night his father and mother were dining out, so we
determined to go to a restaurant. And it was there that Vincent told me
about "Father" Payne, as he was called by his friends, though he was a
layman and an Anglican. He had heard all about him from an Oxford man,
Leonard Barthrop, some years older than ourselves, who was one of the
circle of men whom Father Payne had collected about him. Vincent was very
full of the subject. He said that Father Payne was an elderly man, who had
been for a good many years a rather unsuccessful teacher in London, and
that he had unexpectedly inherited a little country estate in
Northamptonshire. He had gradually gathered about him a small knot of men,
mainly interested in literature, who were lodged and boarded free, and were
a sort of informal community, bound by no very strict regulations, except
that they were pledged to produce a certain amount of work at stated
intervals for Father Payne's inspection. As long as they did this, they
were allowed to work very much as they liked, and Father Payne was always
ready to give criticism and advice. Father Payne reserved the right of
dismissing them if they were idle, quarrelsome, or troublesome in any way,
and exercised it decisively. But Barthrop had told him that it was a most
delightful life; that Father Payne was a very interesting, good-natured,
and amusing man; and that the whole thing was both pleasant and
stimulating. There were certain rules about work and hours, and members of
the circle were not allowed to absent themselves without leave, while
Father Payne sometimes sent them off for a time, if he thought they
required a change. "I gather," said Vincent, "that he is an absolute
autocrat, and that you have to do what he tells you; but that he doesn't
preach, and he doesn't fuss. Barthrop says he has never been so happy in
his life." He went on to say that there were at least two vacancies in the
circle--one of the number had lately married, and another had accepted a
journalistic post. "Now what do you say," said Vincent, "to us two trying
to go there for a bit? You can try it, I believe, without pledging
yourself, for two or three months; and then if Father Payne approves, and
you want to go on, you can regularly join."

I confess that it seemed to me a very attractive affair, and all that
Vincent told me of the place, and particularly of Father Payne, attracted
me. Vincent said that he had mentioned me to Barthrop, and that Barthrop
had said that I might have a chance of getting in. It appeared that we
should have to go down to the place to be interviewed.

We made up our minds to apply, and that night Vincent wrote to Barthrop.
The answer was favourable. Two days later Vincent received a note from
Father Payne, written in a big, finely-formed hand, to the effect that he
would be glad to see Vincent any night that he could come down, and that I
might also arrange an interview, if I wished, but that we were to come
separately. "Mind," said the letter, "I can make no promises and can give
no reasons; but I will not keep either of you waiting."

Vincent went first. He spent a night at Aveley Hall, as the place was
called. I continued my visit to his people, and awaited his return with
great interest.

He told me what had happened. He had been met at the station by an odd
little trap, had driven up to the house--a biggish place, close to a small
church, on the outskirts of a tiny village. It was dark when he arrived,
and he had found Father Payne at tea with four or five men, in a flagged
hall. There had been a good deal of talk and laughter. "He is a big man,
Father Payne, with a beard, dressed rather badly, like a country squire,
very good-natured and talkative. Everyone seemed to say pretty much what
they liked, but he kept them in order, too, I could see that!" Then he had
been carried off to a little study and questioned. "He simply turned me
inside out," said Vincent, "and I told him all my biography, and everything
I had ever done and thought of. He didn't seem to look at me much, but I
felt he was overhauling me somehow. Then I went and read in a sort of
library, and then we had dinner--just the same business. Then the men
mostly disappeared, and Barthrop carried me off for a talk, and told me a
lot about everything. Then I went to my room, a big, ugly, comfortable
bedroom; and in the morning there was breakfast, where people dropped in,
read papers or letters, did not talk, and went off when they had done. Then
I walked about in a nice, rather wild garden. There seemed a lot of fields
and trees beyond, all belonging to the house, but no park, and only a small
stable, with a kitchen-garden. There were very few servants that I saw--an
old butler and some elderly maids--and then I came away. Father Payne just
came out and shook hands, and said he would write to me. It seemed exactly
the sort of thing I should like. I only hope we shall both get in."

It certainly sounded attractive, and it was with great curiosity that I
went off on the following day, as appointed, for my own interview.



The train drew up at a little wayside station soon after four o'clock on a
November afternoon. It was a bare, but rather an attractive landscape. The
line ran along a wide, shallow valley, with a stream running at the bottom,
with many willows, and pools fringed with withered sedges. The fields were
mostly pastures, with here and there a fallow. There were a good many bits
of woodland all about, and a tall spire of pale stone, far to the south,
overtopped the roofs of a little town. I was met by an old groom or
coachman, with a little ancient open cart, and we drove sedately along
pleasant lanes, among woods, till we entered a tiny village, which he told
me was Aveley, consisting of three or four farmhouses, with barns and
ricks, and some rows of stone-built cottages. We turned out of the village
in the direction of a small and plain church of some antiquity, behind
which I saw a grove of trees and the chimneys of a house surmounted by a
small cupola. The house stood close by the church, having an open space of
grass in front, with an old sundial, and a low wall separating it from the
churchyard. We drove in at a big gate, standing open, with stone
gate-posts. The Hall was a long, stone-built Georgian house, perhaps a
hundred and fifty years old, with two shallow wings and a stone-tiled roof,
and was obviously of considerable size. Some withered creepers straggled
over it, and it was neatly kept, but with no sort of smartness. The trees
grew rather thickly to the east of the house, and I could see to the right
a stable-yard, and beyond that the trees of the garden. We drew up--it was
getting dark--and an old manservant with a paternal air came out, took
possession of my bag, and led me through a small vestibule into a long
hall, with a fire burning in a great open fireplace. There was a gallery at
one end, with a big organ in it. The hall was paved with black and white
stone, and there were some comfortable chairs, a cabinet or two, and some
dim paintings on the walls. Tea was spread at a small table by the fire,
and four or five men, two of them quite young, the others rather older,
were sitting about on chairs and sofas, or helping themselves to tea at the
table. On the hearth, with his back to the fire, stood a great, burly man
with a short, grizzled beard and tumbled gray hair, rather bald, dressed in
a rough suit of light-brown homespun, with huge shooting boots, whom I saw
at once to be my host. The talk stopped as I entered, and I was aware that
I was being scrutinised with some curiosity. Father Payne did not move, but
extended a hand, which I advanced and shook, and said: "Very glad to see
you, Mr. Duncan--you are just in time for tea." He mentioned the names of
the men present, who came and shook hands very cordially. Barthrop gave me
some tea, and I was inducted into a chair by the fire. I thought for a
moment that I was taking Father Payne's place, and feebly murmured
something about taking his chair. "They're all mine, thanks!" he said with
a smile, "but I claim no privileges." Someone gave a faint whistle at this,
and Father Payne, turning his eyes but not his head towards the young man
who had uttered the sound, said: "All right, Pollard, if you are going to
be mutinous, we shall have a little business to transact together, as Mr.
Squeers said." "Oh, I'm not mutinous, sir," said the young man--"I'm quite
submissive--I was just betrayed into it by amazement!" "You shouldn't get
into the habit of thinking aloud," said Father Payne; "at least not among
bachelors--when you are married you can do as you like!--I hope you are
polite?" he went on, looking round at me. "I think so," I said, feeling
rather shy, "That's right," he said. "It's the first and only form of
virtue! If you are only polite, there is nothing that you may not do. This
is a school of manners, you know!" One of the men, Rose by name, laughed--a
pleasant musical laugh. "I remember," he said, "that when I was a boy at
Eton, my excellent but very bluff and rough old tutor called upon us, and
was so much taken up with being hearty, that he knocked over the
coal-scuttle, and didn't let anyone get a word in; and when he went off in
a sort of whirlwind, my old aunt, who was an incisive lady, said in a
meditative tone: 'How strange it is that the only thing that the Eton
masters seem able to teach their boys is the only thing they don't
themselves possess!'"

Father Payne uttered a short, loud laugh at this, and said: "Is there any
chance of meeting your aunt?" "No, sir, she is long since dead!" "Blew off
too much steam, perhaps," said Father Payne. "That woman must have had the
steam up! I should have liked to have known her--a remarkable woman! Have
you any more stories of the same sort about her?"

"Not to-day," said Rose, smiling.

"Quite right," said Father Payne. "You keep them for an acceptable time.
Never tell strings of stories--and, by the way, my young friends, that's
the art of writing. Don't cram in good things--space them out, Barthrop!"

"I think I can spread the butter as thin as anyone," said Barthrop,

"So you can, so you can!" said Father Payne enthusiastically, "and very
thin slices too! I give you full credit for that!"

The men had begun to drift away, and I was presently left alone with Father
Payne. "Now you come along of me!" he said to me; and when I got up, he
took my arm in a pleasant fashion, led me to a big curtained archway at the
far end of the hall, under the gallery, and along a flagged passage to the
right. As we went he pointed to the doors--"Smoking-room--Library"--and at
the end of the passage he opened a door, and led me into a small panelled
room with a big window, closely curtained. It was a solid and stately
place, wholly bare of ornament. It had a writing-table, a bookcase, two
armchairs of leather, a fine fireplace with marble pillars, and an old
painting let into the panelling above it. There was a bright, unshaded lamp
on the table. "This is my room," he said, "and there's nothing in it that I
don't use, except those pillars; and when I haul on them, like Samson, the
house comes down. Now you sit down there, and we'll have a talk. Do you
mind the light? No? Well, that's all right, as I want to have a good look
at you, you know! You can get a smoke afterwards--this is business!"

He sate down in the chair opposite me, and stirred the fire. He had fine,
large, solid hands, the softness of which, like silk, had struck me when I
shook hands with him; and, though he was both elderly and bulky, he moved
with a certain grace and alertness. "Tell me your tale from the beginning,"
he said, "Don't leave out any details--I like details. Let's have your life
and death and Christian sufferings, as the tracts say."

He heard me with much patience, sometimes smiling, sometimes nodding, when
I had finished, he said: "Now I must ask you a few questions--you don't
mind if they are plain questions--rather unpleasant questions?" He bent his
brows upon me and smiled. "No," I said, "not at all." "Well, then," he
said, "where's the vocation in all this? This place, to be brief, is for
men who have a real vocation for writing, and yet never would otherwise
have the time or the leisure to train for it. You see, in England, people
think that you needn't train for writing--that you have just got to begin,
and there you are. Very few people have the money to wait a few years--they
have to write, not what they want to write, but what other people want to
read. And so it comes about that by the time that they have earned the
money and the leisure, the spring is gone, the freshness is gone, there's
no invention and no zest. Writing can't be done in a little corner of life.
You have to give up your life to it--and then that means giving up your
life to a great deal of what looks like pure laziness--loafing about,
looking about, travelling, talking, mooning; that is the only way to learn
proportion; and it is the only way, too, of learning what not to write
about--a great many things that are written about are not really material
for writing at all. And all this can't be done in a drivelling mood--you
must pick your way if you are going to write. That's a long preface; but I
mean this place to be a place to give men the right sort of start. I happen
to be able to teach people, more or less, how to write, if they have got
the stuff in them--and to be frank, I'm not sure that you have! You think
this would be a pleasant sort of experience--so it can be; but it isn't
done on slack and chattering lines. It is just meant to save people from
hanging about at the start, a thing which spoils a lot of good writers. But
it's deadly serious, and it isn't a dilettante life at all. Do you grasp
all that?"

"Yes," I said, "and I believe I can work! I know I have wasted my time, but
it was not because I wanted to waste time, but because the sort of things I
have always had to do--the classics--always seemed to me so absolutely
pointless. No one who taught me ever distinguished between what was good
and what was bad. Whatever it was--a Greek play, Homer, Livy, Tacitus--it
was always supposed to be the best thing of the kind. I was always sure
that much of it was rot, and some of it was excellent; but I didn't know
why, and no one ever told me why."

"You thought all that?" said he. "Well, that's more hopeful! Have you ever
done any essay work?"

"Yes," I said, "and that was the worst of all--no one ever showed me how to
do it in my own way, but always in some one else's way."

He sate a little in silence. Then he said: "But mind you, that's not all! I
don't think writing is the end of life. The real point is to feel the
things, to understand the business, to have ideas about life. I don't want
people to learn how to write interestingly about things in which they are
not interested--but to be interested first, and then to write if they can.
I like to turn out a good writer, who can say what he feels and believes.
But I'm just as pleased when a man tells me that writing is rubbish, and
that he is going away to do something real. The real--that's what I care
about! I don't want men to come and pick up grains of truth and reality,
and work them into their stuff. I have turned out a few men like that, and
those are my worst failures. You have got to care about ideas, if you come
here, and to get the ideas into shape. You have got to learn what is
beautiful and what is not, because the only business of a real writer is
with beauty--not a sickly exotic sort of beauty, but the beauty of health
and strength and generous feeling. I can't have any humbugs here, though I
have sent out some humbugs. It's a hard life this, and a tiring life;
though if you are the right sort of fellow, you will get plenty of fun out
of it. But we don't waste time here; and if a man wastes time, out he

"I believe I can work as hard as anyone," I said, "though I have shown no
signs of it--and anyhow, I should like to try. And I do really want to
learn how to distinguish between things, how to know what matters. No one
has ever shown me how to do that!"

"That's all right!" he said, "But are you sure you don't want simply to
make a bit of a name--to be known as a clever man? It's very convenient,
you know, in England, to have a label. Because I want you clearly to
understand that this place of mine has nothing whatever to do with that. I
take no stock in what is called success. This is a sort of monastery, you
know; and the worst of some monasteries is that they cultivate dreams.
That's a beautiful thing in its way, but it isn't what I aim at. I don't
want men to drug themselves with dreams. The great dreamers don't do that.
Shelley, for instance--his dreams were all made out of real feeling, real
beauty. He wanted to put things right in his own way. He was enraged with
life because he was fine, while Byron was enraged with life because he was
vulgar. Vulgarity--that's the one fatal complaint; it goes down deep to the
bottom of the mind. And I may as well say plainly that that is what I fight
against here."

"I don't honestly think I am vulgar," I said.

"Not on the surface, perhaps," he said, "but present-day education is a
snare. We are a vulgar nation, you know. That is what is really the matter
with us--our ambitions are vulgar, our pride is vulgar. We want to fit into
the world and get the most we can out of it; we don't, most of us, just
want to give it our best. That's what I mean by vulgarity, wanting to take
and not wanting to give."

He was silent for a minute, and then he said: "Do you believe in God?"

"I hardly know," I said. "Not very much, I am afraid, in the kind of God
that I have heard preached about."

"What do you mean?" he said.

"Well," I said, "it's rather a large question--but I used to think, both at
school and at Oxford, that many of the men who were rather disapproved of,
that did quite bad things, and tried experiments, and knocked up against
nastiness of various kinds, but who were brave in their way and kind, and
not mean or spiteful or fault-finding, were more the sort of people that
the force--or whatever it is, behind the world--was trying to produce than
many of the virtuous people. What was called virtue and piety had something
stifling and choking about it, I used to think. I had a tutor at school who
was a parson, and he was a good sort of man, too, in a way. But I used to
feel suddenly dreary with him, as if there were a whole lot of real things
and interesting things which he was afraid of. I couldn't say what I
thought to him--only what I felt he wanted me to think. That's a bad
answer," I went on, "but I haven't really considered it."

"No, it isn't a bad answer," he said, "It's all right! The moment you feel
stifled with anyone, whatever the subject is--art, books, religion,
life--there is something wrong. Do you say any prayers?"

"No," I said, "to be honest, I don't."

"You must take to it again," he said. "You can't get on without prayer. And
if you come here," he said, "you may expect to hear about God. I talk a
good deal about God. I don't believe in things being too sacred to talk
about--it's the bad things that ought not to be mentioned. I am interested
in God, more than I am interested in anything else. I can't make Him
out--and yet I believe that He needs me, in a way, as much as I need Him.
Does that sound profane to you?"

"No," I said, "it's new to me. No one ever spoke about God to me like that

"We have to suffer with Him!" he said in a curious tone, his face lighting
up. "That is the point of Christianity, that God suffers, because He wants
to remake the world, and cannot do it all at once. That is the secret of
all life and hope, that if we believe in God, we must suffer with Him. It's
a fight, a hard fight; and He needs us on His side: But I won't talk about
that now; yet if you don't want to believe in God, and to be friends with
Him, and to fight and suffer with Him, you needn't think of coming here.
That's behind all I do. And to come here is simply that you may find out
where He needs you. Why writing is important is, because the world needs
freer and plainer talk about God--about beauty and health and happiness and
energy, and all the things which He stands for. Half the evil comes from
silence, and the end of all my experiments is the word in the New
Testament, Ephphatha--Be opened! That is what I try for, to give men the
power of opening their hearts and minds to others, without fear and yet
without offence. I don't want men to attack things or to criticise things,
but just to speak plainly about what is beautiful and wholesome and true.
So you see this isn't a place for lazy and fanciful people--not a fortress
of quiet, and still less a place for asses to slake their thirst! We don't
set out to amuse ourselves, but to perceive things, and to say them if we
can. My men must be sound and serious, and they must be civil and amusing
too. They have got to learn how to get on with each other, and with me, and
with the village people--and with God! If you want just to dangle about,
this isn't the place for you; but if you want to work hard and be knocked
into shape, I'll consider it."

There was something tremendous about Father Payne! I looked at him with a
sense of terror. His face dissolved in a smile. "You needn't look at me
like that!" he said. "I only want you to know exactly what you are in for!"

"I would like to try," I said.

"Well, we'll see!" he said. "And now you must be off!" he added. "We shall
dine in an hour--you needn't dress. Here, you don't know which your room
is, I suppose?"

He rang the bell, and I went off with the old butler, who was amiable and
communicative. "So, you think of becoming one of the gentlemen, sir?" he
said. "If you'll have me," I replied. "Oh, that will be all right, sir," he
said. "I could see that the Father took to you at first sight!"

He showed me my room--a big bare place. It had a small bed and accessories,
but it was also fitted as a sitting-room, with a writing-table, an
armchair, and a bookcase full of books. The house was warmed, I saw, with
hot water to a comfortable temperature. "Would you like a fire?" he said. I
declined, and he went on: "Now if you lived here, sir, you would have to do
that yourself!" He gave a little laugh. "Anyone may have a fire, but they
have to lay it, and fetch the coal, and clean the grate. Very few of the
gentlemen do it. Anything else, sir? I have put out your things, and you
will find hot water laid on."

He left me, and I flung myself into the chair. I had a good deal to think



A very quiet evening followed. A bell rang out above the roof at 8.15. I
went down to the hall, where the men assembled. Father Payne came in. He
had changed his clothes, and was wearing a dark, loose-fitting suit, which
became him well--he always looked at home in his clothes. The others wore
similar suits or smoking jackets. Father Payne appeared abstracted, and
only gave me a nod. A gong sounded, and he marched straight out through a
door by the fireplace into the dining-room.

The dining-room was a rather grand place, panelled in dark wood, and with a
few portraits. At each end of the room was a section cut off from the
central portion by an oak column on each side. Three windows on one side
looked into the garden. It was lighted by candles only. We were seven in
all, and I sate by Father Payne. Dinner was very plain. There was soup, a
joint with vegetables, and a great apple-tart. The things were mostly
passed about from hand to hand, but the old butler kept a benignant eye
upon the proceedings, and saw that I was well supplied. There was a good
and simple claret in large flat-bottomed decanters, which most of the men
drank. There was a good deal of talk of a lively kind. Father Payne was
rather silent, though he struck in now and then, but his silence imposed no
constraint on the party. He was pressed to tell a story for my benefit,
which he did with much relish, but briefly. I was pleased at the simplicity
of it all. There was only one man who seemed a little out of tune--a
clerical-looking, handsome fellow of about thirty, called Lestrange, with
an air of some solemnity. He made remarks of rather an earnest type, and
was ironically assailed once or twice. Father Payne intervened once, and
said: "Lestrange is perfectly right, and you would think so too, if only he
could give what he said a more secular twist. 'Be soople in things
immaterial,' Lestrange, as the minister says in _Kidnapped_." "But who
is to judge if it _is_ immaterial?" said Lestrange rather
pertinaciously. "It mostly is," said Father Payne. "Anything is better than
being shocked! It's better to be ashamed afterwards of not speaking up than
to feel you have made a circle uncomfortable. You must not rebuke people
unless you really hate doing it. If you like doing it, you may be pretty
sure that it is vanity; a Christian ought not to feel out of place in a

The whole thing did not take more than three-quarters of an hour. Coffee
was brought in, very strong and good. Some of the party went off, and
Father Payne disappeared. I went to the smoking-room with two of the men,
and we talked a little. Finally I went away to my room, and tried to commit
my impressions of the whole thing to my diary before I went to bed. It
certainly seemed a happy life, and I was struck with the curious mixture of
freedom, frankness, and yet courtesy about the whole. There was no
roughness or wrangling or stupidity, nor had I any sense either of
exclusion, or of being elaborately included in the life of the circle. I
would call the atmosphere brotherly, if brotherliness did not often mean
the sort of frankness which is so unpleasant to strangers. There certainly
was an atmosphere about it, and I felt too that Father Payne, for all his
easiness, had somehow got the reins in his hands.

The next morning I went down to breakfast, which was, I found, like
breakfast at a club, as Vincent had said. It was a plain meal--cold bacon,
a vast dish of scrambled eggs kept hot by a spirit lamp and a hot-water
arrangement. You could make toast for yourself if you wished, and there was
a big fresh loaf, with excellent butter, marmalade, and jam--not an ascetic
breakfast at all. There were daily papers on the table, and no one talked.
I did not see Father Payne, who must have come in later.

After breakfast, Barthrop showed me the rooms of the house. The library was
fitted up with bookshelves and easy-chairs for reading, with a big round
oak table in the centre. The floor was of stained oak boards and covered
with rugs. There was also a capacious smoking-room, and I learned that
smoking was not allowed elsewhere. It was, in fact, a solid old family
mansion of some dignity. There were three or four oil paintings in all the
rooms, portraits and landscapes. The general tone of decoration was
dark--red wall-papers and fittings stained brown. It was all clean and
simple, and there was a total absence of ornament, I went and walked in the
garden, which was of the same very straightforward kind--plain grass,
shrubberies, winding paths, with comfortable wooden seats in sheltered
places; one or two big beds, evidently of old-fashioned perennials, and
some trellises for ramblers. The garden was adjoined by a sort of
wilderness, with big trees and ground-ivy, and open spaces in which
aconites and snowdrops were beginning to show themselves. Father Payne, I
gathered, was fond of the garden and often worked there; but there were no
curiosities--it was all very simple. Beyond that were pasture-fields, with
a good many clumps and hedgerow trees, running down to a stream, which had
been enlarged into a deep pool at one place, where there was a timbered
bathing-shed. The stream fed, through little sluices, a big, square pond,
full, I was told, in summer of bulrushes and water-lilies. I noticed a
couple of lawn-tennis courts, and there was a bowling-green by the house.
Then there was a large kitchen-garden, with standards and espaliers, and
box-edged beds. The stables, which were spacious, contained only a pony and
the little cart I had driven up in, and a few bicycles. I liked the solid
air of the big house, which had two wings at the back, corresponding to the
wings in front; the long row of stone pedimented windows, with heavy white
casements, was plain and stately, and there were some fine magnolias and
wisterias trained upon the walls. It all looked stately, and yet home-like;
there was nothing neglected about it, and yet it looked wholesomely left
alone; everything was neat, but nothing was smart.

I was strolling about, enjoying the gleams of bright sunshine and the cold
air, when I saw Father Payne coming down the garden towards me. He gave me
a pleasant nod: I said something about the beauty of the place; he smiled,
and said "Yes, it is the kind of thing I like--but I am so used to it that
I can hardly even see it! That's the worst of habit; but there is nothing
about the place to get on your nerves. It's a well-bred old house, I think,
and knows how to hold its tongue, without making you uncomfortable," Then
he went on presently: "You know how I came by it? It's an odd story. It had
been in my family, till my grandfather left it to his second wife, and cut
my father out. There was a son by the second wife, who was meant to have
it; but he died, and it went to a brother of the second wife, and his widow
left it back to me. It was an entire surprise, because I did not know her,
and the only time I had ever seen the house was once when I came down on
the sly, just to look at the old place, little thinking I should ever come
here. She had some superstition about it, I fancy! Anyhow, while I was
grubbing away in town, fifteen years ago, and hardly able to make two ends
meet, I suddenly found myself put in possession of it; and though I am
poor, as squires go, the farms and cottages bring me in quite enough to rub
along. At any rate it enabled me to try some experiments, and I have been
doing so ever since. Leisure and solitude! Those are the only two things
worth having that money can buy. Perhaps you don't think there's much
solitude about our life? But solitude only means the power to think your
own thoughts, without having other people's thoughts trailed across the
track. Loneliness is quite a different thing, and that's not wholesome."

He strolled on, looking about him. "Do you ever garden?" he said. "It's the
best fun in the world--making plants do as _you_ like, while all the
time they think they are doing as _they_ like. That's the secret of
it! You can't bully these wild things, but they are very obedient, as long
as they believe they are free. They are like children; they will take any
amount of trouble as long as you don't call it work."

Presently we heard the clatter of hoofs in the stable-yard. "That's for
you!" he said. "Will you go and see that they have brought your things
down? I'll meet you at the door." I went up and found my things had been
packed by the old butler. I gave him a little tip, and he said
confidentially: "I daresay we shall be seeing you back here, sir, one of
these days." "I hope so," I said, to which he replied with a mysterious
wink and nod.

Father Payne shook hands. "Well, good-bye!" he said. "It's good of you to
have come down, and I'm glad to have made acquaintance, whatever
happens--I'll drop you a line." I drove away, and he stood at the door
looking after me, till the little cart drove out of the gate.



I must confess that I was much excited about my visit; the whole thing
seemed to me to be almost too good to be true, and I hardly dared hope that
I should be allowed to return. I went back to town and rejoined Vincent,
and we talked much about the delights of Aveley.

The following morning we each received a letter in Father Payne's firm
hand. That to Vincent was very short. It ran as follows:

DEAR VINCENT,--_I shall be glad to take you in if you wish to
join us, for three months. At the end of that time, we shall both
be entirely free to choose. I hope you will be happy here. You
can come as soon as you like; and if Duncan, after reading my
letter, decides to come too, you had better arrange to arrive
together. It will save me the trouble of describing our way of
life to each separately. Please let me have a line, and I will
see that your room is ready for you.--Sincerely yours,_


"That's all right!" said Vincent, with an air of relief. "Now what does he
say to you?" My letter was a longer one. It ran:

MY DEAR YOUNG MAN,--_I am going to be very frank with you, and
to say that, though I liked you very much, I nearly decided that
I could not ask you to join us. I will tell you why. I am not
sure that you are not too easy-going and impulsive. We should all
find you agreeable, and I am sure you would find the whole thing
great fun at first; but I rather think you would get bored. It
does not seem to me as if you had ever had the smallest
discipline, and I doubt if you have ever disciplined yourself;
and discipline is a tiresome thing, unless you like it. I think
you are quick, receptive, and polite--all that is to the good.
But are you serious? I found in you a very quick perception, and
you held up a flattering mirror with great spontaneity to my mind
and heart--that was probably why I liked you so much. But I don't
want people here to reflect me or anyone else. The whole point of
my scheme is independence, with just enough discipline to keep
things together, like the hem on a handkerchief._

_But you may have a try, if you wish; and in any case, I think
you will have a pleasant three months here, and make us all sorry
to lose you if you do not return. I have told your friend Vincent
he can come, and I think he is more likely to stay than you are,
because he is more himself. I don't suppose that he took in the
whole place and the idea of it as quickly as you did. I expect
you could write a very interesting description of it, and I don't
expect he could._

_Still, I will say that I shall be truly sorry if, after this
letter, you decide not to come to us. I like your company; and I
shall not get tired of it. But to be more frank still, I think
you are one of those charming and sympathetic people who is tough
inside, with a toughness which is based on the determination to
find things amusing and interesting--and that is not the sort of
toughness I can do anything with. People like yourself are
incapable as a rule of suffering, whatever happens to them. It's
a very happy disposition, but it does not grow. You are sensitive
enough, but I don't want sensitiveness, I want men who are not
sensitive, and who yet can suffer at not getting nearer and more
quickly than they can to the purpose ahead of them, whatever that
may be. It is a stiff sort of thing that I want. I can help to
make a stiff nature pliable; I'm not very good at making a
pliable nature stiff. That's the truth._

_So I shall be delighted--more than you think--if you say
"Yes." but in a way more hopeful about you if you say "No."_

_Come with Vincent, if you come; and as soon as you like.--Ever
yours truly,_


"Does he want me to go, or does he not?" I said. "Is he letting me down
with a compliment?"

"Oh no," said Vincent, "it's all right. He only thinks that you are a
butterfly which will flutter by, and he would rather like you to do a
little fluttering down there."

"But I'm not going to go there," I said, "to wear a cap and bells for a
bit, and then to be spun when I have left my golden store, like the radiant
morn; he puts me on my mettle. I _will_ go, and he _shall_ keep
me! I don't want to fool about any more."

"All right!" said Vincent. "It's a bargain, then! Will you be ready to go
the day after to-morrow? There are some things I want to buy, now that I'm
going to school again. But I'm awfully relieved--it's just what I want. I
was getting into a mess with all my work, and becoming a muddled loafer."

"And I an elegant trifler, it appears," I said.



We went off together on the Saturday, and I think we were both decidedly
nervous. What were we in for? I had a feeling that I had plunged headlong
into rather a foolish adventure.

We did not talk much on the way down; it was all rather solemn. We were
going to put the bit in our mouths again, and Father Payne was an unknown
quantity. We both felt that there was something decidedly big and strong
there to be reckoned with.

We arrived, as before, at tea-time, and we both received a cordial
greeting. After tea Father Payne took us away, and told us the rules of the
house. They were simple enough; he described the day. Breakfast was from
8.30 to 9.15, and was a silent meal. "It's a bad thing to begin the day by
chattering and arguing," said Father Payne. Then we were supposed to work
in our own rooms or the library till one. We might stroll about, if we
wished, but there was to be no talking to anyone else, unless he himself
gave leave for any special reason. Luncheon was a cold meal, quite
informal, and was on the table for an hour. There was to be no talk then
either. From two to five we could do as we liked, and it was expected that
we should take at least an hour's exercise, and if possible two. Tea at
five, and work afterwards. At 8.15, dinner, and we could do as we wished
afterwards, but we were not to congregate in anyone's room, and it was
understood that no one was to go to another man's bedroom, which was also
his study, at any time, unless he was definitely invited, or just to ask a
question. The smoking-room was always free for general talk, but Father
Payne said that on the whole he discouraged any gatherings or cliques. The
point of the whole was solitary work, with enough company to keep things
fresh and comfortable.

He said that we were expected to valet ourselves entirely, and that if we
wanted a fire, we must lay it and clean it up afterwards. If we wanted to
get anything, or have anything done, we could ask him or the butler. "But I
rather expect everyone to look after himself," he said. We were not to
absent ourselves without his leave, and we were to go away if he told us to
do so. "Sometimes a man wants a little change and does not know it," he

Then he also said that he would ask us, from time to time, what we were
doing--hear it read, and criticise it; and that one of the most definite
conditions of our remaining was that he must be satisfied that we really
were at work. If we wanted any special books, he said, we might ask him,
and he could generally get them from the London Library; but that we should
find a good many books of reference and standard works in the library.

He told us, too, of certain conditions of which we had not heard--that we
were to be away, either at home, or travelling wherever he chose to send
us, for three months in the year, and that he supplied the funds if
necessary. Moreover, for one month in the summer he kept open house. Half
of us were to go away for the first fortnight in July, and the other half
were to stay and entertain his guests, or even our own, if we wished to
invite them; then the other half of the men returned, and had their guests
to entertain, while the first half went away; and that during that time
there was to be very little work done. We were not to be always writing,
but there was to be reading, about which he would advise. Once a week there
was a meeting, on Saturday evening, when one of the men had to read
something aloud, and be generally criticised. "You see the idea?" he said.
"It sounds complicated now, but it really is very simple. It is just to get
solid work done regularly, with a certain amount of supervision and
criticism, and, what is more important still, real intervals of travelling.
I shall send you to a particular place for a particular purpose, and you
will have to write about it on lines which I shall indicate. The danger of
this sort of life is that of getting stale. That's why I don't want you to
see too much of each other. And last of all," he said, rather gravely, "you
must do what I tell you to do. There must be no mistake about that--but
with all the apparent discipline of it, I believe you will find it worth

Then he saw us each separately. He inquired into our finances. Vincent had
a small allowance from his parents, about L50, which he was told to keep
for pocket-money, but Father Payne said he would pay his travelling
expenses. I gathered that he gave an allowance to men who had nothing of
their own. He told me that I should have to travel at my own expense, but
he was careful first to inquire whether my mother was in any way dependent
on me. Then he said to me with a smile: "I am glad you decided to come--I
thought my letter would have offended you. No? That's all right. Now, I
don't expect heroic exertions--just hard work. Mind," he said, "I will add
one thing to my letter, and that is that I think you _may_ make a
success of this--if you _do_ take to it, you will do well; but you
will have to be patient, and you may have a dreary time; but I want you to
tell me exactly at any time how you are feeling about it. You won't be
driven, and I think your danger is that you may try to make the pace too

He further asked me exactly what I was writing. It happened to be some
essays on literary subjects. He mentioned a few books, and told me it would
do very well to start with. He was very kind and fatherly in his manner,
and when I rose to go, he put his arm through mine and said: "Come, it will
be strange if we can't hit it off together. I like your presence and talk,
and am glad to think you are in the house. Don't be anxious! The difficulty
with you is that you will foresee all your troubles beforehand, and try to
bolt them in a lump, instead of swallowing them one by one as they come.
Live for the day!" There was something magnetic about him, for by these few
words he established a little special relation with me which was never

When he dismissed me, I went and changed my things, and then came down. I
found that it was the custom for the men to go down to the hall about
eight. Father Payne said that it was a great mistake to work to the last
minute, and then to rush in to dinner. He said it made people nervous and
dyspeptic. He generally strolled in himself a few minutes before, and sate
silent by the fire.

Just as it struck eight, and the hum of the clock in the hall died away, a
little tune in harmony, like a gavotte, was played by softly-tingling tiny
bells. I could not tell where the music came from; it seemed to me like the
Ariel music in _The Tempest_, between earth and heaven, or the
"chiming shower of rare device" in _The Beryl Stone_.

Father Payne smiled at the little gesture I involuntarily made. "You're
right!" he said, when it was over. "How _can_ people talk through
that? It's the clock in the gallery that does it--they say it belonged to
George III. I hope, if so, that it gave him a few happier moments! It is an
ingenious little thing, with silver bells and hammers; I'll show it you
some day. It rings every four hours."

"I think I had rather not see the machinery," I said. "I never heard
anything so delicious."

"You're right again," said Father Payne;

"'The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.'

Let it stay at that!"

I little thought how much I should grow to connect that fairy gavotte with
Aveley. It always seemed to me like a choir of spirits. I would awake
sometimes on summer nights and hear it chiming in the silent house, or at
noon it would come faintly through the passages. That, and the songs of the
birds in the shrubberies, always flash into my mind when I think of the
place; because it was essentially a silent house, more noiseless than any I
have ever lived in; and I love the thought of its silence; and of its
fragrance--for that was another note of the place. In the hall stood great
china jars with pierced covers, which were always full of pot-pourri; there
was another in the library, and another in Father Payne's study, and two
more in the passage above which looked out by the little gallery upon the
hall. Silence and fragrance always, in the background of all we did; and
outlining itself upon the stillness, the little melody, jetting out like a
fountain of silver sound.



That evening after dinner we two were left with Barthrop in the
smoking-room, and we talked freely about Father Payne. Barthrop said that
his past was a little mysterious. "He was at Marlborough, you know, and
Oxford; and after that, he lived in town, took pupils, and tried to
write--but he was not successful, and had much difficulty in getting
along." "What is his line exactly?" said Vincent. "That's just it," said
Barthrop, "he hasn't any line. He has a wide knowledge of things, and is
quicker at picking up the drift of a subject than anyone I know; and he has
a rare power of criticism. But he isn't anything in particular. He can't
write a bit, he is not a speaker, he isn't learned, he can teach able
people, but he couldn't teach stupid men--he hasn't enough patience. I
can't imagine any line of life for which he would be exactly fitted: and
yet he's the biggest person I have ever met; he carries us all along with
him, like a river. You can't resist him, you can't contradict him. That is
the one danger, that he exerts more influence than he knows, so that when
you are with him, it is hard to be quite yourself. But he puts the wind
into your sails; and, my word, he can take it out of your sails, if he
likes! I have only seen him really angry about twice, and then it was
really appalling. Once was when a man lied to him, and once was when a man
was impertinent to him. He simply blasted them with his displeasure--that
is the only word. He hates getting angry--I expect he had a bad temper
once--and he apologises afterwards; but it's no use--it's like a
thunderstorm apologising to a tree which has been struck. I don't think he
knows his strength. He believes himself to be sensitive and weak-willed--I
have heard him say so. The fact is that he dislikes doing an unpleasant
thing or speaking severely; and he will take a lot of trouble to avoid a
scene, or to keep an irritable man in a good temper. But if he lets himself
loose! I can't express to you the sort of terror I have in thinking of
those two occasions. He didn't say very much, but he looked as if he were
possessed by any number of devils."

"He was never married, I suppose?" I said.

"No," said Barthrop, "and yet he seems to make friends with women very
easily--in fact, they tend to fall in love with him, if I may say so. He
has got a beautiful manner with them, and he is simply devoted to children.
You will see that they really rather worship him in the village. He knows
everyone in the place, and never forgets a fact about them."

"What does he _do_ mostly?" I said.

"I really don't know," said Barthrop. "He is rather a solitary man. He very
often has one of us in for an hour in the evening or morning--but we don't
see much of him in the afternoon; he gardens or walks about. He has a quick
eye for things, birds and plants, and so on; and he can find more nests in
an hour than any man I ever saw. Sometimes he will go and shut himself up
in the church--he is rather fond of going to church; he always goes to the

"Does he expect us to go?" I said.

"No," said Barthrop. "He rather likes us to go, but he doesn't at all like
us going to please him. 'I want you to want to go,' I heard him say once,
'but I don't want you to go _because_ I want you.' And he has no
particular views, I think, about the whole thing--at least not for other

"Tell me some more about him," I said.

"What is there to say?" said Barthrop. "He is just there--the biggest fact
on the horizon. Oh yes, there is one thing; he is tremendously devoted to
music. We have some music in the evenings very often. You saw the organ in
the gallery--it is rather a fine one, and he generally has someone here who
can play. Lestrange is a first-rate musician. Father Payne can't play
himself, but he knows all about it, and composes sometimes. But I think he
looks on music as rather a dangerous indulgence, and does not allow himself
very much of it. You can see how it affects him. And you mustn't be taken
in by his manner. You might think him heavy and unperceptive, with that
quiet and rather secret eye of his; yet he notices everything, always, and
far quicker than anyone else. But it is hard to describe him, because he
can't do anything much, and you might think he was indolent; and yet he is
the biggest person I have ever seen, the one drawback being that he credits
other people with being big too."

"I notice that you call him 'Father Payne,'" said Vincent. "Does that mean
anything in particular?"

"No," said Barthrop, smiling. "It began as a sort of joke, I believe--but
it seemed to fit him; and it's rather convenient. We can't begin by calling
him 'Payne,' and 'Mr. Payne' is a little formal. Some of the men call him
'sir,' but I think he likes 'Father Payne' best, or simply 'Father,' You
will find it exactly expresses him."

"Yes," I said, "I am sure it does!"

I did not sleep much that night. The great change in my life had all taken
place with such rapidity and ease that I felt bewildered, and the thought
of the time ahead was full of a vague excitement. But most of all the
thought of Father Payne ran in my mind, I regarded him with a singular
mixture of interest, liking, admiration, and dread. Yet he had contrived to
kindle a curious flame in my mind. It was not that I fully understood what
he was working for, but I was conscious of a great desire to prove to him
that I could do something, exhibit some tenacity, approve myself to him. I
wanted to make him retract what he had said about me; and, further on, I
had a dim sense of an initiation into ideas, familiar enough, but which had
only been words to me hitherto--power, purpose, seriousness. They had been
ideas which before this had just vaguely troubled my peace, clouds hanging
in a bright sky. I had the sense that there were some duties which I ought
to perform, efforts to be made, ends to fulfil; but they had seemed to me
expressed in rather priggish phrases, words which oppressed me, and ruffled
the surface of my easy joy. Now they loomed up before me as big realities
which could not be escaped, hills to climb, with no pleasant path round
about their bases. I seemed in sight of some inspiring secret. I could not
tell what it was, but Father Payne knew it, might show it me?

Thus I drowsed and woke, a dozen times, till in the glimmer of the early
light I rose and drew back my curtains. The dawn was struggling up fitfully
in the east, among cloudy bars, tipping and edging them with smouldering
flashes of light, and there was a lustrous radiance in the air. Then, to my
surprise, looking down at the silent garden, pale with dew, I saw the great
figure of Father Payne, bare-headed, wrapt in a cloak, pacing solidly and,
I thought, happily among the shrubberies, stopping every now and then to
watch the fiery light and to breathe the invigorating air--and I felt then
that, whatever he might be doing, he at all events _was_ something, in
a sense which applied to but few people I knew. He was not hard,
unimaginative, fenced in by stupidity and self-righteousness from
unhappiness and doubt, as were some of the men accounted successful whom I
knew. No, it was something positive, some self-created light, some stirring
of hidden force, that emanated from him, such as I had never encountered



I can attempt no sort of chronicle of our days, which indeed were quiet and
simple enough. I have only preserved in my diary the record of a few scenes
and talks and incidents. I will, however, first indicate how our party, as
I knew it, was constituted, so that the record may be intelligible.

First of us came Leonard Barthrop, who was, partly by his seniority and
partly by his temperament, a sort of second-in-command in the house, much
consulted and trusted by Father Payne. He was a man of about thirty-five,
grave, humorous, pleasant. If one was in a minor difficulty, too trivial to
take to Father Payne, it was natural to consult Barthrop; and he sometimes,
too, would say a word of warning to a man, if a storm seemed to be brewing.
It must not be denied that men occasionally got on Father Payne's nerves,
quite unconsciously, through tactlessness or stupid mannerisms--and
Barthrop was able to smooth the situation out by a word in season. He had a
power of doing this without giving offence, from the obvious goodwill which
permeated all he did. Barthrop was not very sociable or talkative, and he
was occupied, I think, in some sort of historical research--I believe he
has since made his name as a judicious and interesting historian; but I
knew little of what he was doing, and indeed was hardly intimate with him,
though always at ease in his company. He was not a man with strong
preferences or prejudices, nor was he in any sense a brilliant or
suggestive writer, I think he had merged himself very much in the life of
our little society, and kept things together more than I was at first

Then came Kaye, one of the least conspicuous of the whole group, though he
has since become perhaps the best known, by his poems and his beautiful
critical studies in both art and literature. Kaye is known as one of those
rare figures in literature, a creative critic. His rich and elaborate
style, his exquisite sidelights, his poetical faculty of interpretation,
make his work famous, though hardly popular. But I found that he worked
very slowly and even painfully, deliberately secreting his honey, and
depositing it cell by cell. He had a peculiar intimacy with Father Payne,
who treated him with a marked respect. Kaye was by far the most absorbed of
the party, went and came like a great moth, was the first to disappear, and
generally the last to arrive. Neither did he make any attempt at
friendship. He was a handsome and graceful fellow, now about thirty, with a
worn sort of beauty in his striking features, curling hair, long languid
frame, and fine hands. His hands, I used to think, were the most eloquent
things about him, and he was ever making silent little gestures with them,
as though they were accompanying unuttered trains of thought; but he had,
too, a strained and impatient air, as if he found the pursuit of phrases a
wearing and hazardous occupation. I used to feel Kaye the most attractive
and impressive of our society; but he neither made nor noticed any signals
of goodwill, though always courteous and kindly.

Pollard was a totally different man: he was about twenty-eight, and he was
writing some work of fiction. He was a small, sturdy, rubicund creature,
with beady eyes and pink cheeks, cherubic in aspect, entirely good-natured
and lively, full of not very exalted humour, and with a tendency to wild
and even hysterical giggling. I used to think that Father Payne did not
like him very much; but he was a quick and regular worker, and it was
impossible to find fault with him. He was extremely sociable and
appreciative, and I used to find his company a relief from the strain which
at times made itself felt. Pollard had a way of getting involved in absurd
adventures, which he related with immense gusto; and he had a really
wonderful power of description--more so in conversation than in
writing--and of humorous exaggeration, which made him a delightful
companion. But he was never able to put the best of himself into his books,
which tended to be sentimental and even conventional.

Then there was Lestrange; and I think he was the least congenial of the
lot. He was a handsome, rather clerical-looking man of about twenty-eight,
who had been brought up to take orders, and had decided against doing so.
He was very much in earnest, in rather a tiresome way, and his phrases were
conventional and pietistic. I used to feel that he jarred a good deal on
Father Payne, but much was forgiven him because of his musical talents,
which were really remarkable. His organ-playing, with its verve, its
delicacy, and its quiet mastery, was delicious to hear, he was engaged in
writing music mainly, and had a piano all to himself in a little remote
room beyond the dining-room, which looked out to the stable-yard and had
formerly been an estate-office. We used to hear faint sounds wafted down
the garden when the wind was in the west. He was friendly, but he had the
absorption of the musician in his art, which is unlike all other artistic
absorptions, because it seems literally to check the growth of other
qualities and interests. In fact, in many ways Lestrange was like a pious
child. He was apt to be snubbed by Father Payne, but he was wholly
indifferent to all irony. I used to listen to him playing the organ in the
evenings, and a language of emotions and visions certainly streamed from
his fingers which he was never able to put into words. Father Payne treated
him as one might treat an inspired fool, with a mixture of respect and

Then there was Rose, a man of twenty-five, a curious mixture of knowledge,
cynicism, energy, and affectionateness. I found Rose a very congenial
companion, though I never felt sure what he thought, and never aired my
enthusiasms in his presence. He had great aplomb, and was troubled by no
shyness nor hesitation. There was a touch of frostiness at times between
him and Father Payne. Rose was paradoxical and whimsical, and was apt to
support fantastic positions with apparent earnestness. But he was an
extremely capable and sensible man, and had a knack of dropping his
contentiousness the moment it began to give offence. He was by far the most
mundane of us, and had some command of money. I used to fancy that Father
Payne was a little afraid of him, when he displayed his very considerable
knowledge of the world. His father was a wealthy man, a member of
Parliament, and Rose really knew social personages of the day. I doubt if
he was ever quite in sympathy with the idea of the place, but I used to
feel that his presence was a wholesome sort of corrective, like the vinegar
in the salad. I believe he was writing a play, but he has done nothing
since in literature, and was in many ways more like a visitor than an

Then came my friend Vincent, a solid, good-natured, hard-working man, with
a real enthusiasm for literature, not very critical or even imaginative,
but with a faculty for clear and careful writing. He was at work on a
realistic novel, which made some little reputation; but he has become
since, what I think he always was meant to be, an able journalist and an
excellent leader-writer on political and social topics. Vincent was the
most interested of all of us in current affairs, but at the same time had a
quiet sort of enthusiasm, and a power of idealising people, ardently but
unsentimentally, which made him the most loyal of friends.

The only other person of whom we saw anything was the Vicar of the
parish--a safe, decorous, useful man, a distant cousin of Father Payne's.
His wife was a good-humoured and conventional woman. Their two daughters
were pleasant, unaffected girls, just come to womanhood. Lestrange
afterwards married one of them.

We were not much troubled by sociabilities. The place was rather isolated,
and Father Payne had the reputation of being something of an eccentric.
Moreover, the big neighbouring domain, Whitbury Park, blocked all access to
north and west. The owner was an old and invalid peer, who lived a very
secluded life and entertained no one. To the south there was nothing for
miles but farms and hamlets, while the only near neighbour in the east was
a hunting squire, who thought Father Payne kept a sort of boarding-house,
and ignored him entirely. The result was that callers were absolutely
unknown, and the wildest form of dissipation was that Pollard and Rose
occasionally played lawn-tennis at neighbouring vicarages.

We were not often all there together, because Father Payne's scheme of
travel was strictly adhered to. He considered it a very integral part of
our life. I never quite knew what his plan was; but he would send a man
off, generally alone, with a solid sum for travelling expenses. Thus
Lestrange was sent for a month to Berlin when Joachim held court there, or
to Dresden and Munich. I remember Pollard and Vincent being packed off to
Switzerland together to climb mountains, with stern injunctions to be
sociable. Rose went to Spain, to Paris, to St. Petersburg. Kaye went more
than once to Italy; but we often went to different parts of England, and
then we were generally allowed to go together; but Father Payne's theory
was that we should travel alone, learn to pick up friends, and to fend for
ourselves. He had acquaintances in several parts of the Continent, and we
were generally provided with a letter of introduction to some one. We had a
fortnight in June and a fortnight at Christmas to go home--so that we were
always away for three months in the year, while Father Payne was apt to
send us off for a week at a time, if he thought we needed a change.
Barthrop, I think, made his own plans, and it was all reasonable enough, as
Father Payne would always listen to objections. Some of us paid for
ourselves on those tours, but he was always willing to supplement it

It used to be a puzzle to me how Father Payne had the command of so much
money; his estate was not large; but in the first place he spent very
little on himself, and our life was extremely simple. Moreover, I became
aware that some of his former pupils and friends used to send him money at
times for this express purpose.

The staff consisted of the old butler, whose wife was cook. There were
three other maid-servants; the gardener was also coachman. The house was
certainly clean and well-kept; we looked after ourselves to a great extent;
but there was never any apparent lack of money, though, on the other hand,
there was every sign of careful economy. Father Payne never talked about
money. "It's an interesting thing, money," I have heard him say, "and it's
curious to see how people handle it--but we must not do it too much honour,
and it isn't a thing that can be spoken of in general conversation."



I do not propose to make any history of events, or to say how, within a
very short time, I fell into the life of the place. I will only say what
were the features of the scheme, and how the rule, such as it was, worked

First of all, and above all, came the personality of Father Payne, which
permeated and sustained the whole affair. It was not that he made it his
business to drive us along. It was not a case of "the guiding hand in front
and the propelling foot behind." He seldom interfered, and sometimes for a
considerable space one would have no very direct contact with him. He was a
man who was always intent, but by no means always intent on shepherding. I
should find it hard to say how he spent his time. He was sometimes to all
appearances entirely indolent and good-natured, when he would stroll about,
talk to the people in the village, and look after the little farm which he
kept in his own hands under a bailiff. At another time he would be for long
together in an abstracted mood, silent, absent-minded, pursuing some train
of thought. At another time he would be very busy with what we were doing,
and hold long interviews with us, making us read our work to him and giving
us detailed criticisms. On these occasions he was extremely stimulating,
for the simple reason that he always seemed to grasp what it was that one
was aiming at, and his criticisms were all directed to the question of how
far the original conception was being worked out. He did not, as a rule,
point out a different conception, or indicate how the work could be done on
other lines. He always grasped the plan and intention, and really seemed to
be inside the mind of the contriver. He would say; "I think the theme is
weak here--and you can't make a weak place strong by filling it with
details, however good in themselves. That is like trying to mend the Slough
of Despond with cartloads of texts. The thing is not to fall in, or, if you
fall in, to get out." His three divisions of a subject were "what you say,
what you wanted to say, what you ought to have wanted to say." Sometimes he
would listen in silence, and then say: "I can't criticise that--it is all
off the lines. You had better destroy it and begin again," Or he would say:
"You had better revise that and polish it up. It won't be any good when it
is done--these patched-up things never are; but it will be good practice,"
He was encouraging, because he never overlooked the good points of any
piece of writing. He would say: "The detail is good, but it is all too big
for its place, quite out of scale; it is like a huge ear on a small head,"
Or he would say: "Those are all things worth saying and well said, but they
are much too diffuse." He used to tell me that I was apt to stop the
carriage when I was bound on a rapid transit, and go for a saunter among
fields. "I don't object to your sauntering, but you must _intend_ to
saunter--you must not be attracted by a pleasant footpath." Sometimes he
could be severe, "That's vulgar," he once said to me, "and you can't make
it attractive by throwing scent about," Or he would say: "That's a
platitude--which means that it may be worth thinking and feeling, but not
worth saying. You can depend upon your reader feeling it without your
help," Or he would say: "You don't understand that point. It is a case of
the blind leading the blind. Cut the whole passage, and think it out
again," Or he would say: "That is all too compressed. You began by walking,
and now you are jumping." Or he would say: "There is a note of personal
irritation about that; it sounds as if you had been reading an unpleasant
review. It is like the complaint of the nightingale leaning her breast
against a thorn in order to get the sensation of pain. You seem to be
wiping your eyes all through--you have not got far enough away from your
vexation. Your attempt to give it a humorous turn reminds me of Miss
Squeers' titter--you must never titter!" Once or twice in early times I
used to ask him how _he_ would do it. "Don't ask me!" he said. "I
haven't got to do it--that's your business; it's no use your doing it in
_my_ way; all I know is that you are not doing it in _your_ way."
He was very quick at noticing any mannerisms or favourite words. "All good
writers have mannerisms, of course," he would say, "but the moment that the
reader sees that it is a mannerism the charm is gone." His praise was
rarely given, and when it came it was generous and rich. "That is
excellent," I can hear him say, "You have filled your space exactly, and
filled it well. There is not a word to add or to take away." He was always
prepared to listen to argument or defence. "Very well--read it again."
Then, at the end, he would say: "Yes, there is something in that. You meant
to anticipate? I don't mind that! But you have anticipated too much, made
it too clear; it should just be a hint, no more, which will be explained
later. Don't blurt! You have taken the wind out of your sails by explaining
it too fully."

Sometimes he would leave us alone for two or three weeks together, and then
say frankly that one had been wasting time, or the reverse. "You must not
depend upon me too much; you must learn to walk alone."

Every week we had a meeting, at which some one read a fragment aloud. At
these meetings he criticised little himself, but devoted his attention to
our criticisms. He would not allow harshness or abruptness in what we said.
"We don't want your conclusions or your impressions--we want your reasons."
Or he would say: "That is a fair criticism, but unsympathetic. It is in the
spirit of a reviewer who wants to smash a man. We don't want Stephen to be
stoned here, we want him confuted." I remember once how he said with
indignation: "That is simply throwing a rotten egg! And its maturity shows
that it was kept for that purpose! You are not criticising, you are only
paying off an old score!"

But I think that the two ways in which he most impressed himself were by
his conversation, when we were all together, and by his _tete-a-tete_
talks, if one happened to be his companion. When we were all together he
was humorous, ironical, frank. He did not mind what was said to him, so
long as it was courteously phrased; but I have heard him say: "We must
remember we are fencing--we must not use bludgeons." Or: "You must not talk
as if you were scaring birds away--we are all equal here." He was very
unguarded himself in what he said, and always maintained that talkers ought
to contribute their own impressions freely and easily. He used to quote
with much approval Dr. Johnson's remark about his garrulous old
school-fellow, Edwards. Boswell said, when Edwards had gone, that he
thought him a weak man. "Why, yes, sir," said Johnson. "Here is a man who
has passed through life without experiences; yet I would rather have him
with me than a more sensible man who will not talk readily. This man is
always willing to say what he has to say." Father Payne used to add: "The
point is to talk; you must not consider your reputation; say whatever comes
into your head, and when you have learnt to talk, you can begin to select."
I have heard him say; "Go on, some one! It is everybody's business here to
avoid a pause. Don't be sticky! Pauses are for a _tete-a-tete_." Or,
again, I have heard him say: "You mustn't examine witnesses here! You
should never ask more than three questions running." He did not by any
means keep his own rules; but he would apologise sometimes for his
shortcomings. "I'm hopeless to-day. I can't attend, I can't think of
anything in particular. I'm diluted, I'm weltering--I'm coming down like a

The result of this certainly was that we most of us did learn to talk. He
liked to thrash a subject out, but he hated too protracted a discussion.
"Here, we've had enough of this. It's very important, but I'm getting
bored. I feel priggish. Help, help!"

On the other hand, he was even more delightful in a _tete-a-tete_. He
would say profound and tender things, let his emotions escape him. He had
with me, and I expect with others, a sort of indulgent and paternal way
with him. He never forgot a confidence, and he used to listen delightedly
to stories of one's home circle. "Tell me some stories about Aunt Jane," he
would say to me. "There is something impotently fiery about that good lady
that I like. Tell me again what she said when she found cousin Frank in a
smoking-cap reading Thomas-a-Kempis." He had a way of quoting one's own
stories which was subtly flattering, and he liked sidelights of a
good-natured kind on the character of other members. "Why won't he say such
things to me?" he used to say. "He thinks I should respect him less, when
really I should admire him more. He won't let me see when his box is empty!
I suspect him of reading Bartlett's _Familiar Quotations_ before he
goes a walk with me!" Or he would say: "In a general talk you must think
about your companions; in a _tete-a-tete_ you must only feel him."

But the most striking thing about Father Payne was this. Though we were all
very conscious of his influence, and indeed of his authority; though we
knew that he meant to have his own way, and was quite prepared to speak
frankly and act decisively, we were never conscious of being watched or
censured or interfered with. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it was a
pure pleasure to meet him and to be with him, and many a time have I seen
him, in a moment of leisure, strolling in the garden, and hurried out just
on the chance of getting a word or a smile, or, if he was in an expansive
mood, having my arm taken by him for a little turn. In the hundredth case,
it happened that one might have said or done something which one knew that
he would disapprove. But, as he never stored things up or kept you waiting,
you could be sure he would speak soon or not at all. Often, too, he would
just say: "I don't think that your remark to Kaye gave a fair impression of
yourself," or, "Why waste your powder as you did to-night?" I was only once
or twice directly rebuked by him, and that was for a prolonged neglect.
"You don't _care_," he once said to me emphatically. "I can't do
anything for you if you don't care!" But he was the most entirely placable
of men. A word of regret or apology, and he would say: "Don't give it
another thought, my boy," or, "That's all right, then."

The real secret of his influence was that he took not a critical or even a
dispassionate view of each of us, but an enthusiastic view. He took no
pleasure in our shortcomings; they were rather of the nature of an active
personal disappointment. The result was simply that you were natural with
him, but natural with the added sense that he liked you and thought well of
you, and expected friendship and even brilliance from you. You felt that he
knew you well, and recognised your faults and weaknesses, but that he knew
your best side even better, and enjoyed the presence of it. I never knew
anyone who was so appreciative, and though I said foolish things to him
sometimes, I felt that he was glad that I should be my undisguised self. It
was thus delicately flattering to be with him, and it gave confidence and
self-respect. That was the basis of our whole life, the goodwill and
affection of Father Payne, and the desire to please him.



Father Payne was a big solid man, as I have said, but he contrived to give
the impression of being even bigger than he was. It was like the Irish
estate, of which its owner said that it had more land to the acre than any
place he knew. This was the result, I suppose, of what Barthrop once dryly
called the "effortless expansion" of Father Payne's personality. I suppose
he was about six-foot-two in height, and he must have weighed fifteen stone
or even more. He was not stout, but all his limbs were solid, so that he
filled his clothes. His hands were big, his feet were big. He wore a rather
full beard: he was slightly bald when I knew him, but his hair grew rather
long and curly. He always wore old clothes--but you were never conscious of
what he wore: he never looked, as some people do, like a suit of clothes
with a person inside them. Thinking it over, it seems to me that the reason
why you noticed his clothes so little, when you were with him, was because
you were always observing his face, or his hands, which were extremely
characteristic of him, or his motions, which had a lounging sort of grace
about them. Heavy men are apt on occasions to look lumbering, but Father
Payne never looked that. His whole body was under his full control. When he
walked, he swung easily along; when he moved, he moved impetuously and
eagerly. But his face was the most remarkable thing about him. It had no
great distinction of feature, and it was sanguine, often sunburnt, in hue.
But, solid as it was, it was all alive. His big dark eyes were brimful of
amusement and kindliness, and it was like coming into a warm room on a cold
day to have his friendly glance directed upon you. As he talked, his
eyebrows moved swiftly, and he had a look, with his eyes half-closed and
his brows drawn up, as he waited for an answer, of what the old books call
"quizzical"--a sort of half-caressing irony, which was very attractive. He
had an impatient little frown which passed over his face, like a ruffle of
wind, if things went too slowly or heavily for his taste; and he had, too,
on occasions a deep, abstracted look, as if he were following a thought
far. There was also another look, well known to his companions, when he
turned his eyes upwards with a sort of resignation, generally accompanied
by a deprecating gesture of the hand. Altogether it was a most expressive
face, because, except in his abstracted mood, he always seemed to be
entirely _there_, not concealing or repressing anything, but bending
his whole mind upon what was being said. Moreover, if you said anything
personal or intimate to him, a word of gratitude or pleasure, he had a
quick, beautiful, affectionate look, so rewarding, so embracing that I
often tried to evoke it--though an attempt to evoke it deliberately often
produced no more than a half-smile, accompanied by a little wink, as if he
saw through the attempt.

His great soft white hands, always spotlessly clean--he was the
cleanest-looking man I ever saw--were really rather extraordinary. They
looked at first sight clumsy, and even limp; but he was unusually deft and
adroit with his fingers, and his touch on plants, in gardening, his tying
of strings--he liked doing up parcels--was very quick and delicate. He was
fond of all sorts of little puzzles, toys of wood and metal, which had to
be fitted together; and the puzzles took shape or fell to pieces under his
fingers like magic. They were extremely sensitive to pain, his hands, and a
little pinch or abrasion would cause him marked discomfort. His handwriting
was rapid and fine, and he occasionally would draw a tiny sketch to
illustrate something, which showed much artistic skill. He often deplored
his ignorance of handicraft, which, he said would have been a great relief
to him.

His voice, again, was remarkable. It was not in ordinary talk either deep
or profound, though it could and did become both on occasions, especially
when he made a quotation, which he did with some solemnity. I used at first
to think that there was a touch of rhetorical affectation about his
quotations. They were made in a high musical tone, and as often as not
ended with the tears coming into his eyes. He spoke to me once about this.
He said that it was a mistake to think he was _deeply_ affected by a
quotation. "In fact," he said, "I am not easily affected by passionate or
tragic emotion--what does affect me is a peculiar touch of beauty, but it
is a luxurious and superficial thing. It would entirely prevent me," he
added, "from reading many poems or prose passages aloud which I greatly
admire. I simply could not command myself! In fact," he went on, smiling,
"I very often can only get to the end of a quotation by fixing my mind on
something else. I add up the digits giving the number of the page, or I
count the plates at the dinner-table. It's very absurd--but it takes me in
just the same way when I am alone. I could not read the last chapter of the
Book of Revelation aloud to myself, or the chapter on 'The Wilderness' in
Isaiah, without shedding tears. But it doesn't mean anything; it is just
the _hysterica passio_, you know!"

His voice, when he first joined in a talk, was often low and even
hesitating; but when he became interested and absorbed, it gathered volume
and emphasis. Barthrop once said to me that Father Payne was the only
person he knew who always talked in italics. But he very seldom harangued,
though it is difficult to make that clear in recording his talks, because
he often spoke continuously. Yet it was never a soliloquy: he always
included the listeners. He used to look round at them, explore their faces,
catch an eye and smile, indicate the particular person addressed by a
darted-out finger; and he had many little free gestures with his hands as
he talked. He would trace little hieroglyphics with his finger, as if he
were writing a word, sweep an argument aside, bring his hands together as
though he were shaping something. This was a little confusing at first, and
used to divert my attention, because of the great mobility of his hands;
but after a little it seemed to me to bring out and illustrate his points
in a remarkably salient way.

His habits were curious and a little mysterious. They were by no means
regular. Sometimes for days together we hardly saw him. He often rose early
and walked in the garden. If he found a book which interested him, he would
read it with absorbed attention, quite unconscious of the flight of time.
"I do love getting really _buried_ in a book," he would say; "it's the
best of tests." Sometimes he wrote, sometimes he composed music, sometimes
he would have his table covered with bits of paper full of unintelligible
designs and patterns. He did not mind being questioned, but he would not
satisfy one's curiosity. "It's only some nonsense of mine," he would say.
He did not write many letters, and they were generally short. At times he
would be very busy on his farm, at times occupied in the village, at times
he took long walks alone; very occasionally he went away for a day or two.
He was both uncommunicative and communicative. He would often talk with the
utmost frankness and abandon about his private affairs; but, on the other
hand, I always had the sense of much that was hidden in his life. And I
have no doubt that he spent much time in prayer and meditation. He seldom
spoke of this, but it played a large part in his life. He gave the
impression of great ease, cheerfulness, and tranquillity, attained by some
deliberate resolve, because he was both restless and sensitive, took
sorrows and troubles hardly, and was deeply shocked and distressed by sad
news of any kind. I have heard him say that he often had great difficulty
in forcing himself to open a letter which he thought likely to be
distressing or unpleasant. He was naturally, I imagine, of an almost
neurotic tendency; but he did not seem so much to combat this by occupation
and determination as to have arrived at some mechanical way of dealing with
it. I remember that he said to me once: "If you have a bad business on
hand, an unhappy or wounding affair, it is best to receive it fully and
quietly. Let it do its worst, realise it, take it in--don't resist it,
don't try to distract your mind: see the full misery of it, don't attempt
to minimise it. If you do that, you will suddenly find something within you
come to your rescue and say, 'Well, I can bear that!' and then it is all
right. But if you try to dodge it, it's my experience that there comes a
kind of back-wash which hurts very much indeed. Let the stream go over you,
and then emerge. To fight against it simply prolongs the agony." He
certainly recovered himself quicker than anyone I have ever known: indeed I
think his recuperation was the best sign of his enormous vitality. "I'm
sensitive," he said to me once, "but I'm tough--I have a fearful power of
forgetting--it's much better than forgiving." But the thing which remains
most strongly in my mind about him is the way in which he pervaded the
whole place. It was fancy, perhaps, but I used to think I knew whether he
was in the house or not. Certainly, if I wanted to speak to him, I used to
go off to his study on occasions, quite sure that I should find him; while
on other occasions--and I more than once put this to the test--I have
thought to myself, "It's no use going--the Father is out." His presence at
any sort of gathering was entirely unmistakable. It was not that you felt
hampered or controlled: it was more like the flowing of some clear stream.
When he was away, the thing seemed tame and spiritless; when he was there,
it was all full of life. But his presence was not, at least to me, at all
wearisome or straining. I have known men of great vitality who were
undeniably fatiguing, because they overcame one like a whirlwind. But with
Father Payne it always seemed as though he put wind into one's sails, but
left one to steer one's own course. He did not thwart or deflect, or even
direct: he simply multiplied one's own energy. I never had the sensation
with him of suppressing any thought in my mind, or of saying to myself,
"The Father won't care about that." He always did care, and I used to feel
that he was glad to be inquired of, glad to have his own thoughts diverted,
glad to be of use. He never nagged; or found petty fault, or "chivied" you,
as the boys say. If you asked him a question, or asked him to stroll or
walk, you always felt that he was delighted, that it was the one thing he
enjoyed. He liked to have childish secrets. He and I had several little
_caches_ in the holes of trees, or the chinks of buildings, where we
concealed small coins or curious stones on our walks, and at a later date
revisited them. We were frankly silly about certain things. He and I had
some imaginary personages--Dr. Waddilove, supposed to be a rich beneficed
clergyman of Tory views; Mr. McTurk, a matter-of-fact Scotsman; Henry
Bland, a retired schoolmaster with copious stores of information; and
others--and we used often to discourse in character. But he always knew
when to stop. He would say to me suddenly: "Dr. Waddilove said to me
yesterday that he never argued with atheists or radicals, because they
always came round in the end." Or he would say, in Henry Bland's flute-like
tones: "Your mention of Robert Browning induces me to relate an anecdote,
which I think may prove not wholly uninteresting to you." At times we used
to tell long stories on our walks, stopping short in the middle of a
sentence, when the other had instantly to continue the narrative. I do not
mean that the wit was very choice or the humour at all remarkable--it would
not bear being written down--but it amused us both. "Come, what shall we do
to-day?" I can hear him say. "Dr. Waddilove and Mr. Bland might have a walk
and discuss the signs of the times?" And then the ridiculous dialogue would

That was the delightful thing about him, that he was always ready to fall
in with a mood, always light of touch and gay. He could be tender and
sympathetic, as well as incisive and sensible if it was needed; but he was
never either contradictory or severe or improving. He would sometimes pull
himself up and say: "Here, we must be business-like," but he was never
reproachful or grieved or shocked by what we said to him. He could be
decisive, stern, abrupt, if it was really needed. But his most pungent
reproofs were inflicted by a blank silence, which was one of the most
appalling things to encounter. He generally began to speak again a few
moments later, on a totally different subject, while any such sign of
displeasure was extremely rare. He never under any circumstances reminded
anyone of his generosity, or the trouble he had taken, or the favours he
had conferred, while he would often remind one of some trifling kindness
done to him. "I often remember how good you were about those accounts, old
boy! I should never have got through without you!"

His demeanour was generally that of an indulgent uncle, with that
particular touch of nearness which in England is apt to exist only among
relations. He would consult us about his own private worries with entire
frankness, and this more than anything made us ready to confide in him. He
used to hand us cheques or money if required, with a little wink. "That's
your screw!" he used to say; and he liked any thanks that seemed natural.

"Natural,"--that is the word that comes before me all through. I can
remember no one so unembarrassed, so easy, so transparent. His thought
flowed into his talk; and his silences were not reticences, but the busy
silence of the child who has "a plan." He gave himself away without economy
and without disguise, and he accepted gratefully and simply whatever you
cared to give him of thought or love. I think oftenest of how I sometimes
went to see him in the evenings: if he was busy, as he often was, he used
just to murmur half to himself, "Well, old man?" indicate a chair, put his
finger on his lips, and go on with his work or his book; but at intervals
he would just glance at me with a little smile, and I knew that he was glad
to have me at hand in that simple companionship when there is no need of
speech or explanation. And then the book or paper would be dropped, and he
would say: "Well, out with it." If one said, "Nothing--only company," he
would give one of his best and sweetest smiles.



But whatever may have been Father Payne's effect upon us individually or
collectively, or however the result may have been achieved, there was no
question of one thing, and that was the ardent and beautiful happiness of
the place. Joy deliberately schemed for and planned is apt to evaporate.
But we were not hunting for happiness as men dig for gold. We were looking
for something quite different. We were all doing work for which we cared,
with kind and yet incisive criticism to help us; and then the simplicity
and regularity of the life, the total absence of all indulgence, the
exercise, the companionship, the discipline, all generated a kind of high
spirits that I have known in no other place and at no other time. I used to
awake in the morning fresh and alert, free from all anxiety, all sense of
tiresome engagements, all possibility of boredom. All staleness, weariness,
all complications and conventional duties, all jealousies and envyings,
were absent. We were not competing with each other, we were not bent on
asserting ourselves, we had just each our own bit of work to do; moreover
our spaces of travel had an invigorating effect, and sent us back to Aveley
with the zest of returning to a beloved home. Of course there were little
bickerings at times, little complexities of friendship; but these never
came to anything in Father Payne's kindly present. Sometimes a man would
get fretful or worried over his work; if so, he was generally despatched on
a brief holiday, with an injunction to do no work at all; and I am sure
that the prospect of even temporary banishment was the strongest of all
motives for the suppression of strife. I remember spring mornings, when the
birds began to sing in the shrubberies, and the beds were full of rising
flower-blades, when one's whole mind and heart used to expand in an ecstasy
of hope and delight; I remember long rambles or bicycle rides far into the
quiet pastoral country, in the summer heat, alone or with a single
companion, when life seemed almost too delicious to continue; then there
would be the return, and a plunge into the bathing-pool, and another quiet
hour or two at the work in hand, and the delight of feeling that one was
gaining skill and ease of expression; or again there would be the quick
tramp in winter along muddy roads, with the ragged clouds hurrying across
the sky, with the prospect ahead of a fire-lit evening of study and talk;
and best of all a walk and a conversation with Father Payne himself, when
all that he said seemed to interpret life afresh and to put it in a new and
exciting aspect. I never met anyone with such a power of linking the loose
ends of life together, and of giving one so joyful a sense of connection
and continuance. How it was done I cannot guess; but whereas other minds
could cast light upon problems, Father Payne somehow made light shine
through them, and gave them a soft translucence. But while he managed to
give one a great love of life itself, it never rested there; he made me
feel engaged in some sort of eternal business, and though he used no
conventional expressions, I had in his presence a sense of vast horizons
and shining tracks passing into an infinite distance full of glory and
sweetness, and of death itself as a mystery of surprise and wonder. He
taught me to look for beauty and harmony, not to waste time in mean
controversy or in futile regret, but to be always moving forwards, and
welcoming every sign of confidence and goodwill. He had a way, too, of
making one realise the dignity and necessity of work, without cherishing
any self-absorbed illusions about its impressiveness or its importance. His
creed was the recognition of all beauty and vividness as an unquestionable
sign of the presence of God, the Power that made for order and health and
strength and peace; and the deep necessity of growing to understand one
another with unsuspicious trustfulness and sympathy--the Fatherhood of God,
and the Brotherhood of Man, these were the doctrines by which he lived.

It used to be an extraordinary pleasure to me to accompany him about the
village; he knew every one, and could talk with a simple directness and a
quiet humour that was inimitable. I never saw so naturally pastoral a man.
He carried good-temper about with him, and yet he could rebuke with a
sharpness which surprised me, if there was need. He was curiously tolerant,
I used to think, of sensual sins, but in the presence of cruelty or
meanness or deliberate deceit he used to explode into the most violent
language. I remember a scene which it is almost a terror to me now to
recollect, when I was walking with him, and we met a tipsy farmer of a
neighbouring village flogging his horse along a lane. He ran up beside the
cart, he stopped the horse, he roared at the farmer, "Get out of your cart,
you d--d brute, and lead it home." The farmer descended in a state of
stupefaction. Father Payne snatched the whip out of his hand, broke it,
threw it over the hedge, threatened him with all the terrors of the law,
and reduced him to a state of abject submission. Presently he recovered
somewhat, and in drunken wrath began to abuse Father Payne. "Very well,"
said Father Payne, "you can take your choice: either you lead the horse
home quietly, and I'll see it done; or else I come with you to the village,
and tell the people what I think of you in the open street. And if you put
up your fist like that again, I'll run you home myself and hand you over to
the policeman. I'll be d--d if I won't do it now. Here, Duncan," he said to
me, "you go and fetch the policeman, and we'll have a little procession
back." The ruffian thought better of it, and led the horse away muttering,
while we walked behind until we were near the farm, "Now get in, and behave
yourself," said Father Payne. "And if you choose to come over to-morrow and
beg my pardon, you may; and if you don't, I'll have you up before the
magistrates on Saturday next."

I had never seen such wrath; but the tempest subsided instantly, and he
walked back with me in high good-humour. The next day the man came over,
and Father Payne said to me in the evening: "We had quite an affecting
scene. I gave him a bit of my mind, and he thanked me for speaking
straight. He's a low brute, but I don't think he'll do the same sort of
thing in a hurry. I'll give him six weeks to get over his fright, and then
I'll do a little patrolling!"

His gentleness, on the other hand, with women and children was beautiful to
see. It was as natural for Father Payne to hurry to a scene of disaster or
grief as it was for others to wish to stay away. He used to speak to a
sufferer or a mourner with great directness. "Tell me all about it," he
would say, and he would listen with little nods and gestures, raising his
eyebrows or even shutting his eyes, saying very little, except a word or
two of sympathy at the end. He knew all the children, but he never petted
them or made favourites, but treated them with a serious kind of gravity
which he assured us they infinitely preferred. He used to have a Christmas
entertainment for them at the Hall, as well as a summer feast. He
encouraged the boys and young men to botanise and observe nature in all
forms, and though he would never allow nests to be taken, or even eggs if
he could help it, he would give little prizes for the noting of any rare
bird or butterfly. "If you want men to live in the country, they must love
the country," he used to say. He kept a village club going, but he never
went there. "It's embarrassing," he used to say. "They don't want me
strolling in any more than I want them strolling in. Philanthropists have
no sense of privacy." He did not call at the villagers' houses, unless
there was some special event, and his talks were confined to chance
meetings. Neither was there any sense of duty about it. "No one is taken in
by formal visiting," he said. "You must just do it if you like it, or else
stay away. 'To keep yourself to yourself' is the highest praise these
people can give. No one likes a fuss!"

The same sort of principles regulated our own intercourse. "We are not
monks," he used to say; "we are Carthusians, hermits, living together for
comfort or convenience." The solitude and privacy of everyone was
respected. We used to do our talking when we took exercise; but there was
very little sitting and gossiping together _tete-a-tete._ "I don't
want everyone to try to be intimate with everyone else," he used to say.
"The point is just to get on amicably together; we won't have any cliques
or coteries." He himself never came to any of our rooms, but sent a message
if he wanted to see us. One small thing he strongly objected to, the
shouting up from the garden to anyone's window: "Most offensive!" He
disliked all loud shouting and calling or singing aloud. "You mustn't use
the world as a private sitting-room." And the one thing which used to fret
him was a voice stridently raised. "Don't rouse the echoes!" he would say.
"You have no more right to make a row than you have to use a strong scent
or to blow a post-horn--that's not liberty!" The result of this was that
the house was a singularly quiet one, and this sense of silence and subdued
sound lives in my memory as one of its most refreshing characteristics. "A
row is only pleasant if it is deliberate and organised," he used to say.
"Native woodnotes wild are all very well, but they are not civilisation. To
talk audibly and quietly is the best proof of virtue and honour!"



I am going to try to give a few impressions of talks with Father
Payne--both public and private talks. It is, however, difficult to do this
without giving, perhaps, a wrong impression. I used to get into the habit
of jotting down the things he had said, and I improved by practice. But he
was a rapid talker and somewhat discursive, and he was often deflected from
his main subject by a question or a discussion. Yet I do not want it to be
thought that he was fond of monologue and soliloquy. He was not, I should
say, a very talkative man; days would sometimes pass without his doing more
than just taking a hand in conversation. He liked to follow the flow of a
talk, and to contribute a remark now and then; sometimes he was markedly
silent; but in no case was he ever oppressive. Occasionally, and more often
in _tete-a-tete,_ he went ahead and talked copiously, but this was
rather the exception than the rule. I have not thought it worth while to
try to give the effect of our own talk. We were young, excitable, and
argumentative, and, though it was at the time often delightful and
stimulating, it was also often very crude and immature. Father Payne was
good at helping a talker out, and would often do justice to a
clumsily-expressed remark which he thought was interesting. But he was by
far the most interesting member of the circle; he spoke easily and
flowingly when he was moved, and there always seemed to me a sense of form
about his talk which was absent from ours. But under no circumstance did he
ever become tedious--indeed he was extremely sensitive to the smallest
signs of impatience. We often tried, so to speak, to draw him out; but if
he had the smallest suspicion that he was being drawn, he became instantly

There is more coherence about some of the talks I have recorded than was
actually the case. He would diverge to tell a story, or he would call one's
attention to some sight or sound.

Moreover his face, his movements, his gestures, all added much to his talk.
He had a way of wrinkling up his brows, of shaking his head, of looking
round with an awestruck expression, his eyes wide open, his mouth pursed
up, especially when he had reached some triumphantly absurd conclusion. He
had two little quick gestures of the hands as he spoke, opening his
fingers, waving a point aside, emphasizing an argument by a quick downward
motion of his forefinger. He had, too, a quick, loud, ebullient laugh,
sometimes shrill, sometimes deep; and he abandoned himself to laughter at
an absurd story or jest as completely as anyone I have ever seen. Rose was
an excellent mimic, and Father Payne used to fall into agonising paroxysms
of laughter at many of his representations. But he always said that
laughter was with him a social mood, and that he had never any inclination
to laugh when he was alone.

So the record of his talks must be taken not as typical of his everyday
mood, but as instances of the kind of things he said when he was moved to
speak at large; and even so they give, I am aware, too condensed an
impression. He never talked as if he were playing on a party or a companion
with a hose-pipe. There was never anyone who was more easily silenced or
diverted. But to anyone who knew him they will give, I believe, a true
impression of his method of talk; and perhaps they may give to those who
never saw him a faint reflection of his lively and animated mind, the
energy with which he addressed himself to small problems, and the firm
belief which he always maintained, that any evidence of life, however
elementary, was more encouraging and inspiring than the most elaborate
logic or the profoundest intellectual grasp of abstract subjects.



I had been to church one summer Sunday morning--a very simple affair it
was, with nothing sung but a couple of hymns; but the Vicar read
beautifully, neither emphatically nor lifelessly, with a little thrill in
his voice at times that I liked to hear. It did not compel you to listen so
much as invite you to join. Lestrange played the organ most divinely; he
generally extemporised before the service, and played a simple piece at the
end; but he never strained the resources of the little organ, and it was
all simple and formal music, principally Bach or Handel.

Father Payne himself was a regular attendant at church, and Sunday was a
decidedly leisurely day. He advised us to put aside our writing work, to
write letters, read, make personal jottings, talk, though there was no
inquisition into such things.

Father Payne was a somewhat irregular responder, but it was a pleasure to
sit near him, because his deep, rapid voice gave a new quality to the
words. He seemed happy in church, and prayed with great absorption, though
I noticed that his Bible was often open before him all through the service.
The Vicar's sermons were good of their kind, suggestive rather than
provocative, about very simple matters of conduct rather than belief. I
have heard Father Payne speak of them with admiration as never being
discursive, and I gathered that the Vicar was a great admirer of Newman's

We came away together, Father Payne and I, and we strolled a little in the
garden. I felt emboldened to ask him the plain question why he went to
church. "Oh, for a lot of reasons," he said, "none of them very conclusive!
I like to meet my friends in the first place; and then a liturgy has a
charm for me. It has a beauty of its own, and I like ceremony. It is not
that I think it sacred--only beautiful. But I quite admit the weakness of
it, which is simply that it does not appeal to everyone, and I don't think
that our Anglican service is an ideal service. It is too refined and
formal; and many people would feel it was more religious if it were more
extempore--prayer and plain advice."

I told him something of my old childish experience, saying that I used to
regard church as a sort of calling-over, and that God would be vexed if one
did not appear.

He laughed at this. "Yes, I don't think we can insist on it as being a
levee," he said, "where one is expected to come and make one's bow and pay
formal compliments. That idea is an old anthropomorphic one, of course. It
is superstitious--it is almost debasing to think of God demanding praise as
a duty incumbent on us. 'To thee all angels cry aloud'--I confess I don't
like the idea of heaven as a place of cheerful noise--that isn't

"And also I think that the attention demanded in our service is a
mistake--it's a mixture of two ideas; the liturgical ceremony which touches
the eye and the emotion, rather than the reason; and the sermon and the
prayer in which the reason is supposed to be concerned. I think the
Catholic idea is a better one, a solemnity performed, in which you don't
take part, but receive impressions. There's no greater strain on the mind
than forcing it to follow a rapid and exalted train of intellectual and
literary thought and expression. I confess I don't attempt that, it seems
to me just a joyful and neighbourly business, where one puts the mind in a
certain expectant mood, and is lucky if one carries a single thrill or
aspiration away."

"What do you _do_, then?" I said.

"Well, I meditate," said Father Payne. "I believe in meditation very much,
and in solitude it is very hard work. But the silent company of friends,
and the old arches and woodwork, some simple music, a ceremony, and a
little plan of thought going on--that seems to me a fruitful atmosphere.
Some verse, some phrase, which I have heard a hundred times before,
suddenly seems written in letters of gold. I follow it a little way into
the dark, I turn it over, I wonder about it, I enjoy its beauty. I don't
say that my thoughts are generally very startling or poignant or profound;
but I feel the sense of the Fatherly, tolerant, indulgent presence of God,
and a brotherly affection for my fellow-men. It's a great thing to be in
the same place with a number of people, all silent, and on the whole
thinking quiet, happy, and contented thoughts. It all brings me into line
with my village friends, it gives me a social mood, and I feel for once
that we all want the same things from life--and that for once instead of
having to work and push for them, we are fed and comforted. 'Open thy mouth
wide, and I will fill it'--that's a wholesome, childlike verse, you know.
The whole thing seems to me a simple device for producing a placid and
expectant mood--I don't know anything else that produces it so well."

"You mean it is something mystical--almost hypnotic?" I said.

"Perhaps I should if I knew what those big words meant," said Father Payne,
smiling. "No; church seems to me a thing that has really grown up out of
human nature, not a thing imposed upon it. I don't like what may be called
ecclesiasticism, partly because it emphasizes the intellectual side of
belief, partly because it tries to cast a slur on the people who don't like
ceremonial, and whom it does not suit--and most of all because
ecclesiasticism aims at making you believe that other people can transact
spiritual business on your account. In these democratic days, you can't
have spiritual authority--you have got to find what people need, and help
them to find it for themselves. The plain truth is that we don't want
dogma. Of course it isn't to be despised, because it once meant something,
even if it does not now. Dogmas are not unintelligible intellectual
propositions imposed on the world. They are explanations, interpretations,
attempts to link facts together. They have the sacredness of ideas which
people lived by, and for which they were prepared to die. But many of them
are scientific in form only, and the substance has gone out of them. We

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