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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Father Prout
By Francis Sylvester Mahony (Father Prout) (1804–1866)
 
From the ‘Reliques’

I AM a younger son. I belong to an ancient but poor and dilapidated house, of which the patrimonial estate was barely enough for my elder; hence, as my share resembled what is scientifically called an evanescent quantity, I was directed to apply to that noble refuge of unprovided genius—the bar! To the bar, with a heavy heart and aching head, I devoted year after year; and was about to become a tolerable proficient in the black letter, when an epistle from Ireland reached me in Furnival’s Inn, and altered my prospects materially. This dispatch was from an old Catholic aunt whom I had in that country, and whose house I had been sent to when a child, on the speculation that this visit to my venerable relative, who to her other good qualities added that of being a resolute spinster, might determine her, as she was both rich and capricious, to make me her inheritor. The letter urged my immediate presence in the dying chamber of the Lady Cresswell; and as no time was to be lost, I contrived to reach in two days the lonely and desolate mansion on Watergrasshill, in the vicinity of Cork. As I entered the apartment, by the scanty light of the lamp that glimmered dimly I recognized with some difficulty the emaciated form of my gaunt and withered kinswoman, over whose features, originally thin and wan, the pallid hue of approaching death cast additional ghastliness. By the bedside stood the rueful and unearthly form of Father Prout; and while the sort of chiaroscuro in which his figure appeared, half shrouded, half revealed, served to impress me with a proper awe for his solemn functions, the scene itself, and the probable consequences to me of this last interview with my aunt, affected me exceedingly. I involuntarily knelt; and while I felt my hands grasped by the long, cold, and bony fingers of the dying, my whole frame thrilled; and her words, the last she spoke in this world, fell on my ears with all the effect of a potent witchery, never to be forgotten! “Frank,” said the Lady Cresswell, “my lands and perishable riches I have bequeathed to you, though you hold not the creed of which this is a minister, and I die a worthless but steadfast votary: only promise me and this holy man that, in memory of one to whom your welfare is dear, you will keep the fast of Lent while you live; and as I cannot control your inward belief, be at least in this respect a Roman Catholic: I ask no more.” How could I have refused so simple an injunction? and what junior member of the bar would not hold a good rental by so easy a tenure? In brief, I was pledged in that solemn hour to Father Prout, and to my kind and simple-hearted aunt, whose grave is in Rathcooney and whose soul is in heaven.  1
  During my short stay at Watergrasshill (a wild and romantic district, of which every brake and fell, every bog and quagmire, is well known to Crofton Croker—for it is the very Arcadia of his fictions), I formed an intimacy with this Father Andrew Prout, the pastor of the upland, and a man celebrated in the south of Ireland. He was one of that race of priests now unfortunately extinct, or very nearly so, like the old breed of wolf-dogs, in the island: I allude to those of his order who were educated abroad, before the French Revolution, and had imbibed, from associating with the polished and high-born clergy of the old Gallican church, a loftier range of thought and a superior delicacy of sentiment. Hence, in his evidence before the House of Lords, “the glorious Dan” has not concealed the grudge he feels towards those clergymen, educated on the Continent, who having witnessed the doings of the sans-culottes in France, have no fancy to a rehearsal of the same in Ireland. Of this class was Prout, P. P. of Watergrasshill: but his real value was very faintly appreciated by his rude flock; he was not understood by his contemporaries; his thoughts were not their thoughts, neither could he commune with kindred souls on that wild mountain. Of his genealogy nothing was ever known with certainty; but in this he resembled Melchizedek. Like Eugene Aram, he had excited the most intense interest in the highest quarters, still did he studiously court retirement. He was thought by some to be deep in alchemy, like Friar Bacon; but the gaugers never even suspected him of distilling “potheen.” He was known to have brought from France a spirit of the most chivalrous gallantry; still, like Fénelon retired from the court of Louis XIV., he shunned the attractions of the sex, for the sake of his pastoral charge: but in the rigor of his abstinence and the frugality of his diet he resembled no one, and none kept Lent so strictly.  2
  Of his gallantry one anecdote will be sufficient. The fashionable Mrs. Pepper, with two female companions, traveling through the county of Cork, stopped for Divine service at the chapel of Watergrasshill (which is on the high-road on the Dublin line), and entered its rude gate while Prout was addressing his congregation. His quick eye soon detected his fair visitants standing behind the motley crowd, by whom they were totally unnoticed, so intent were all on the discourse; when, interrupting the thread of his homily to procure suitable accommodation for the strangers, “Boys!” cried the old man, “why don’t ye give three chairs for the ladies?” “Three cheers for the ladies!” re-echoed at once the parish clerk. It was what might be termed a clerical, but certainly a very natural, error: and so acceptable a proposal was suitably responded to by the frieze-coated multitude, whose triple shout shook the very cobwebs on the roof of the chapel!—after which slight incident, service was quietly resumed.  3
  He was extremely fond of angling; a recreation which, while it ministered to his necessary relaxation from the toils of the mission, enabled him to observe cheaply the fish diet imperative on fast days. For this, he had established his residence at the mountain-source of a considerable brook, which, after winding through the parish, joins the Blackwater at Fermoy; and on its banks would he be found, armed with his rod and wrapt in his strange cassock, fit to personate the river-god or presiding genius of the stream.  4
  His modest parlor would not ill become the hut of one of the fishermen of Galilee. A huge net in festoons curtained his casement; a salmon-spear, sundry rods, and fishing-tackle hung round the walls and over his bookcase, which latter was to him the perennial spring of refined enjoyment. Still, he would sigh for the vast libraries of France, and her well-appointed scientific halls, where he had spent his youth in converse with the first literary characters and most learned divines: and once he directed my attention to what appeared to be a row of folio volumes at the bottom of his collection, but which I found on trial to be so many large flat stone-flags, with parchment backs, bearing the appropriate title of CORNELII A LAPIDE Opera quæ extant omnia; by which semblance of that old Jesuit’s commentaries he consoled himself for the absence of the original.  5
  His classic acquirements were considerable, as will appear by his Essay on Lent; and while they made him a most instructive companion, his unobtrusive merit left the most favorable impression. The general character of a Churchman is singularly improved by the tributary accomplishments of the scholar, and literature is like a pure grain of Araby’s incense in the golden censer of religion. His taste for the fine arts was more genuine than might be conjectured from the scanty specimens that adorned his apartment, though perfectly in keeping with his favorite sport: for there hung over the mantelpiece a print of Raphael’s cartoon, the ‘Miraculous Draught’; here ‘Tobit Rescued by an Angel from the Fish,’ and there ‘St. Anthony Preaching to the Fishes.’  6
 
 
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