The Youth of Parnassus by Logan Pearsall Smith
He came straight to Oxford from his American home, Parnassus City, a
town in the Western State of Indiana.
The first time Foley saw him was one wet October evening, when,
splashing across the quadrangle towards his rooms, he noticed a large
umbrella moving through the dripping twilight—an umbrella which, from
its undecided motion, must belong, he had told himself, to some tourist,
who, in spite of the rain and darkness, was finishing a day of
sight-seeing at St. Mary's. But when the umbrella collapsed in front of
his own staircase, and Foley saw the spectacles and pale face of a young
man who turned to enter there, he decided that it must be an agent, come
to collect money for missions or something of the kind. And as he
followed upstairs, in the wet footprints of the feet he could still hear
mounting above him, he asked himself with vague annoyance what right
they had—people like that—to push themselves into the rooms of Oxford
The melancholy footsteps went on till they reached the top; nor did
Foley hear them again descend. Soon after he was told that an American
had come into College, and was living above him; and when he went to
call, he recognized, in the person who awkwardly rose to receive him,
the young man he had taken for a mission agent in the rain that evening.
A thin, small young man, in a long, black broadcloth coat of provincial
cut, he seemed at first sight nothing but the traditional Western
American Foley had read of in books, or seen in the theatre sometimes—a
student who looked curiously out of place in that old panelled room.
The young Englishman talked to him as best he could, asking the
questions always asked of a new-comer; questions which this one answered
with the usual shyness, but in a very unusual voice and accent.
He had just come from America; he had left there on the sixth. He had
come to study under Dr. Joseph at the new Methodist College. Dr. Joseph
had arranged for him to come to St. Mary's; their own College wasn't
built yet. Foley asked if he thought he would like Oxford. "Yes, sir,"
the other replied, drawing a large handkerchief from his coat-tails, "I
guess I will; though," he added cautiously after a moment, "it does
seem kind of old and mouldy."
Foley thought he had done his duty in calling, and meant for the future
to see as little as possible of his new neighbour. And yet there had
been something pleasant and sensitive in his face, he remembered
afterwards; and at times he was haunted by the thought of this stranger
sitting as he had found him, alone and lonely in the room upstairs, with
two or three books in the empty shelves, a few photographs of home that
made the mantelpiece and bare walls look all the more homeless and
unfriendly. Now and then he would hear footsteps above moving vaguely
about, or he would meet the American on the stairs, or see him walking
out alone, and at last, out of kindness, he went again to call.
Before long he began to take a certain liking to Sutton, and would
often go up in the evenings with a cigarette to his rooms. To the young
Englishman the American was certainly a curious and amusing study. How
curious were the views and impressions of Oxford, that, breaking through
his shy reserve, he would once in a while express, in his prim
middle-aged way! He was a good deal shocked by the wine-drinking,
card-playing, and Sabbath-breaking that seemed so prevalent there; what
religion there was, (well, he didn't guess there was much,) he thought
mechanical and dead. Of course there was a great deal of culture in
Oxford; but in other things, like telephones and electric lights, why
England was behind the Mississippi Valley!
Foley began to have ideas of his own about this Mississippi Valley. He
had already read of its rivers and railways and mushroom towns, and he
remembered some of the proud things that Sutton had said at different
times of Parnassus City and its importance—it was almost the only
subject on which the reticent young man ever seemed willing to talk—the
thought-out comparisons he would draw between that place and Oxford, in
his attempts to explain to himself what he saw, and account for it all,
according to his principles.
One evening, in a burst of unusual talkativeness, he described how
Parnassus City had been laid out twenty years before, on what had been
till then an unploughed prairie; but now there were thousands of
inhabitants, rows of business buildings, and elegant residences in the
outskirts. There were electric trolleys too in the streets; and the
whole town was lighted by natural gas. Not only had the place grown fast
in trade and population, but there had been, he explained, a pretty
rapid growth in culture. Oh, they didn't intend to let the moss grow on
them out in Indiana! Schools and churches were built—the most elegant
was the First Methodist, the Reverend Dr. Turnpenny's. It was Dr.
Turnpenny, he added, who started the Forward Movement among the Indiana
Methodists which made such a stir. Then, after the churches, they had
built a lecture hall and library, and, at last, the Parnassus College.
Foley asking more about this college, Sutton explained that though it
had been built a few years before as a college for Methodist theology
and liberal learning, it was already larger than the neighbouring
institute at Corinth Creek, and only second in those parts to the
University of Miomi. It wasn't of course like the universities in the
Eastern States, but still they were proud of it there.
He had pinned up on the old panelling of his wall a photograph of this
Parnassus College: a rather gaunt frame building, standing in a ploughed
field among a few new-planted trees. About the steps were grouped a
number of young men and women, many of them wearing spectacles, and all
with earnest faces and provincial dress. "That's my class," Sutton
explained, pointing at his own figure in the group. "It's the biggest
class we've had so far, thirteen gentlemen and seven ladies."
Foley studied the photograph of the college, and the pictures on the
mantelpiece—several college friends, with lank serious faces; an
intellectual young lady, her hand resting on a copy of the Bible; and an
old, mild, white bearded minister—Dr. Turnpenny, no doubt. There was a
picture too of a wide city street. Then it really existed, this remote
place, and people lived there! he thought, amused at the curious chance
which had brought Sutton, the promise and pride, perhaps, of his native
town, and set him down in so different a world.
But at last Foley turned from the yellow lamplight, the photographs, and
the voice of the American sawing in his ear. Going to the window he
opened the lattice and leaned out into the night. Cool, fresh, and dark
was the air that breathed on his face, while before him, blue and vague
under the white moon, there grew on his sight the towers, the dome-like
trees, and shining roofs of Oxford; dim, romantic, and steeped in
silence, save for the even tinkle of a distant bell. With sudden
unaffected sentiment, he felt how much he cared for Oxford and all that
Oxford stood for.
"Do come here," he called out with a friendly impulse, turning his head
into the yellow light of the room, "I don't think I ever saw such a
The American came and leaned beside him at the open window. "Yes, it is
nice," he said at length, and Foley was surprised by a fugitive sound of
real feeling and appreciation in his voice.
Gradually he came to take a more real interest in his neighbour. The
books that Sutton read, Sutton's love of poetry—surprised him; little
things he would say now and then seemed to show indications of sensitive
fancies and shy feelings hardly in accordance with his dry exterior.
What a thing it would be for him, Foley thought, if the poor young
man's taste could be really cultivated; if he could only be set free
from his narrowing ideas and made to look at life for himself, instead
of seeing it always through the grey fog of Puritan prejudice!
Sutton took everything that Foley said with delightful seriousness; the
well-worn arguments against Democracy and Republicanism were new to him,
and seemed to puzzle him—he would come days afterwards with carefully
thought-out answers to them. Or he would give his friend tracts to read,
as if he was worried by Foley's ritualistic tastes, and hoped to convert
him to Methodism; and once he persuaded him to go and hear Dr. Joseph
preach. Foley was really impressed by the good sense and vigour of
Sutton's master, but to Sutton himself he criticized what he thought a
want of beauty in the service.
And it was only once that Foley felt even for a moment the least
uncomfortable about the things he said to his friend—one evening when
he happened to run upstairs with some specious argument about the
Apostolic Succession, (for when an idea occurred to him he liked to make
use of it at once,) and going into the American's room, he found him on
his knees in prayer.
In that old place—for St. Mary's was not one of the more liberal
Colleges, but a sleepy, ancient, aristocratic society, very conservative
of its own beliefs and manners and prejudices—Eliaphet Sutton lived on
at first, unknown to almost everybody, and only noticed for the oddness
of his looks, as he went in and out to his lectures or solitary walks.
But after a while Foley's interest in him, and his own shy charm
of manner, gained him a more friendly welcome in the College, and
little by little he began to modify, it was remarked, the quaint
unconventionalities of his speech and ways.
A curious life it was, this Oxford life into which the inexperienced
American had chanced to drift! A community of young men, generously bred
and taught, living together so intimately in that mediaeval place, with
its own old usages and traditions and ways of thinking; shut out, as by
a high wall, from the world outside; aloof from the vulgar needs of
life; concerned, many of them, only with its theoretic problems,
interested more, perhaps, in the ancient Greeks than in contemporary
affairs—and, indeed, not unlike the Greeks in their care for the
clearness and beauty of the mind, the athletic strength of the
body—surely, Foley thought, the young Methodist could not have found so
delightful a place in all the world beside.
How much he was really influenced by it Foley could not tell; certainly
as the months went by he seemed to be more aware of the beauty of
Oxford; he would stop sometimes of his own accord to look through a blue
gateway or down a sunlit street, and once Foley saw him standing, a
quaint figure, under the University Church, and gazing up at the
spire—at the religious statues there, which seemed to be voyaging
through the windy sky and among its great white clouds. He started to
join him, but Sutton, seeing he was noticed, moved hastily away.
Then Foley remembered an evening when, coming out into the quadrangle,
he saw a figure he recognized as Sutton's standing at a barred gate
opening on the street. In front of the American, through that one small
opening in the great dark walls, was the gas-lit yellow of the street,
the noise of the passing crowd and traffic—for it was the evening of a
market day—but at his back the deep shadow and silence of the old
"It's rather absurd to be locked up in this way," Foley said, joining
him; but Sutton replied after a moment, "Why, I was just thinking I
rather liked it! Of course it is absurd, but still—" He stopped, as he
so often stopped, in the middle of his sentence.
Other times there were when Sutton seemed curiously narrow and stubborn;
times when some of his dissenting acquaintances had just been to see
him—the elderly undergraduates, with bald heads and big moustaches,
whom Foley took to be pupils of Dr. Joseph's when he met them mounting
the stairs. One of these dissenting friends of the American's, a
friendly, awkward young man, named Abel, who was assistant tutor to Dr.
Joseph, and had come with him to Oxford when the college moved there
from Birmingham, seemed to have a special supervision over the
American. Abel had no very high idea of Oxford and Oxford people, and
once, when they met in Sutton's rooms, he and Foley argued a little
about the University.
Anyhow he envied Sutton, Abel said at last, turning, as he rose to go,
to the silent American; it wasn't everybody who had the luck to live in
such a place. But Sutton suddenly coloured, and answered, "You can't
blame me, Abel, Dr. Turnpenny wanted me...."
"I'm not blaming you, my friend, it's only envy," Abel replied
good-humouredly. He still lingered a moment, looking at the books, and
cross-questioning Sutton about his work, and how he spent his time.
Foley, who liked anything new, was interested by this intelligent,
tactless man, and wondered why Sutton should be so obviously glad when
at last the young dissenter went his way.
The next day Foley found his friend in a mood of deep depression. He
would not go out anywhere, he said; he must spend the afternoon—indeed,
he meant to spend all his afternoons now—on his work; he had been
neglecting it too long. And though this desperate resolve was often
broken, yet from this time on he seemed subject now and then to moods of
troubled conscience—moods in which he would shut himself up, sometimes
for days, working feverishly alone, or only coming to his friend late at
night to talk in an uneasy, interrupted way about the sinfulness of the
world, and its pleasures, and how wrong it was to enjoy yourself. At
these notions Foley would laugh, or argue seriously against them. That
Sutton could have any real reason for feeling as he did, Foley never
suspected, but thought it simply the old moroseness which haunted him,
the unreasoned hatred of the Puritans for gaiety and life. And Sutton
had very little to say in answer to his friend. Yes, he was getting on
with his work well enough, he admitted, and there was nothing really to
keep him from going out, except—except—somehow he felt it was wrong.
But the wrong thing, Foley declared, was to stay in-doors all those
beautiful summer days; and then more seriously he added, that he was
sure what Sutton needed was to see more of the world and life. Living in
his lonely retired way, what could he know of other people and the
things they cared for, and how could he ever hope to have any influence
on them? And, once convinced that it was his duty, Sutton became
curiously eager to shut up his books and go.
Indeed, for the most part, the poor young man was not hard to influence,
Foley found; any strong assertion attracted him, and he was often only
too willing to resign to someone else the responsibility of deciding
what he ought to do. But then again he would grow suddenly so stubborn
and prejudiced; and at all times he was so reserved about himself and
his own feelings, that the young Englishman, in spite of his theories,
never felt he really understood him. Perhaps, he sometimes fancied,
Sutton had no very real ideas or impressions of his own; perhaps he was
not influenced by Oxford in the least, and was not aware of any real
difference between the ancient town, with its traditions and memories,
and the new-built Parnassus City.
But when Foley had left Oxford and gone abroad that summer, the long
letters that came to him now and then, written in Sutton's fine
clerklike hand, surprised and touched him a little. It was odd, he
thought, that a person who had talked with so much reserve, should write
him such charming and intimate letters, and he told himself he had
always believed there were real feelings and tastes behind Sutton's mask
of awkward silence.
The first of the letters was written in the vacation just after Foley
had gone abroad. It was Sutton's first summer in Europe; he was staying
on at Oxford, having friends nowhere else, and not being able, of
course, to go back to America. But from the way he wrote, America was
plainly a good deal in his thoughts, and often in those long still days
he wished himself back there, haunted as he was by the idea that he
might be wasting his time, that what he was learning in Oxford might not
be of any use to him out in Indiana after all. But then he really knew,
he wrote, that he was doing the best thing in staying on. The church out
there, and indeed the whole country, was growing so rapidly, that there
would be need in the ministry for young men who were well trained, and
familiar with the thought and culture of the day. He had come to see
that Foley was right in saying it was your duty to get familiar with
modern ideas, and read modern books; he was getting on with the list of
books Foley had made for him. Of course you ought to understand, or at
least try to understand, your opponent's views. If you were afraid of
this, it showed, as Dr. Turnpenny always said, that you could not be
very sure of yourself. Indeed, when Dr. Turnpenny had advised him to
come to Oxford, he had felt it would prove to the world that, at any
rate the Indiana Methodists were quite assured of their position.
In the next letter there was a mention of the American tourists who were
coming through the summer in such numbers to Oxford. Sutton used to
watch them when they walked into the quiet College garden, where he sat
alone, wishing he knew them and could talk to them about America. Their
voices and ways made them seem like old friends to him there in that
strange country. Once two ladies had asked him the way to the chapel,
and he had been delighted to show them the sights of the College. They
were from Buffalo, New York; he must be sure to call on them, they said,
if he ever came to Buffalo. They told him how much they would like to
stay on in Oxford—but they had to go back to America in a month. Sutton
envied them their quick return; but after all, he added, when the time
came, probably he might be a little sorry to leave Oxford....
Then in the autumn, Sutton wrote about the coming together of the
College, the beginning of busy life after the long quiet of the vacation
days. For the first time he had gone to service in the College chapel.
He did not like the way of worship, finding it formal and meaningless;
but gradually, as the twilight faded away, and the great painted windows
filled with darkness—growing black in the candle-lit walls about
them—another impression came to him, looking at all those faces in the
dim light, and listening to their voices—an impression of the unity and
living spirit of the College, as being a small, ancient commonwealth,
with a history and traditions of its own. There they all were, just
themselves, shut in from the world outside, gathered together, as the
College had gathered together in the same place for five or six hundred
years. Though he was only there as a spectator, who had chanced to
wander in from the outside, yet he realized how great an influence such
a place, with all its old ways and customs, might have on the young
Englishmen who came there. Indeed, if the influence had not been so
obviously narrow and deadening he himself might have been a little
affected by it....
"Yes, you were right," he said in another letter, "when you told me that
the antiquity of England belongs to us Americans as much as to you....
Sometimes I fancy I had an ancestor here once; I am sure he was a
Puritan, and disapproved of the ecclesiasticism and worldliness of the
place. And yet, poor man, he could not help loving Oxford too. A
retired, melancholy person, he liked it best in the days like these when
the buildings and yellow and greenish trees are half veiled in the
autumn mist. But at last he went over with the Puritans to New England,
and was much better and more active there, and free from all the dreamy
influences that held him in Oxford. And it will be much better for me
too, when I go back next year."
But he had almost decided to go back at once, he wrote in the next
letter. He saw now, and indeed all along he had felt deep down in his
soul, that he was doing wrong in staying there; that there was nothing
really in Oxford to help him. If Foley only knew all the circumstances
he would understand. And, in any case, it was not wholesome to be always
living in the past.
And in Oxford you were in the past; the dead were about you
everywhere; you dwelt in the buildings they had built, you read their
books, you thought their thoughts, and the weight of their dreary
traditions crushed down on you, forcing your life into the shape of
theirs. Surely there was something evil and haunted about the place! And
during all those dripping autumn days, Sutton's one thought had been a
longing to be back again under the keen skies of his prairie-home; life
was new and hopeful there, unshadowed by the gloom of antiquity and
But soon after Sutton wrote that he had had a talk with Dr. Joseph. "He
advises me by all means to stay here. He says that all I am getting at
Oxford will certainly be very useful to me when I go back. I never had
an idea how strong our position is; I wish you might have a talk with
him sometime, when you return. He explains that religion is progressive;
that there is no real antagonism between the new and the old; the one
has grown out of the other by a natural evolution. Indeed he laughed at
the idea of being afraid of the Past; one ought to enjoy it, not fear
it, he said. Then when I asked him if there wasn't a danger in the new
criticism, and too much reasoning about things, he said that there never
could be any real danger in following one's best reason, and that we
need not be the least afraid of what it will lead us to."
Other letters came to Foley now and then. Sutton spoke of his work and
occupations, the taciturn young man taking a certain pleasure, as it
seemed, in writing down the ideas and impressions that he found it hard
to express in any other way.
But Foley at this time was travelling in the East; he could only read
the American's letters with haste and small attention. Some, however, he
put aside to keep, and now and then would write back in a disconnected
way, for he felt a certain friendliness for this assiduous
correspondent. As time went on, however, the letters grew more
infrequent, and at last the correspondence died. Foley, with his new
interests, had almost forgotten Sutton, or would only think of him
vaguely as a preacher somewhere in America, whither doubtless he had
returned some time ago.
After Foley had spent a year or two almost entirely abroad, he returned
to England, began working hard at his profession, and it was some time
before he found the leisure to go back to Oxford. At last he went one
mid-summer alone, for an idle visit. It was the vacation; the old
College was almost deserted, and sometimes in the evening he would go
into the garden there, and, sitting under one of the great trees, would
read, or idly watch the fading of the twilight. And now memories of the
old days, and sentiments towards a place which he had once loved with a
certain enthusiasm—though half forgetting it afterwards, amid his other
occupations—came back to him with unexpected vividness. How much more
delightful it made life, he told himself one evening, as he sat there,
half lost in sentimental musing, how much more delightful it made life
to have been at Oxford, to have learned to love the place as one did
learn to love it—to have it always as a charming memory! It was so
perfect, that evening, with the sunset still lingering faint and red
behind the blue trees and towers, up there above the dusky garden
stretches. And that figure of a cloistered student which Foley could
vaguely distinguish on the twilight path; it was no real person, surely,
but a part of the picture, a figure painted into the grey landscape to
give the final touch of tranquil life! But as the figure drew nearer and
became more real, Foley began to wonder, who could it be who seemed so
familiar to him?
"Why, Sutton!" he called out, as he joined him, surprised at finding the
American still at Oxford, "You still here?"
Sutton started, and then greeting Foley in his old reserved way, they
paced together slowly on the garden path. After Foley had talked a
little about his travels and work, he turned to his companion and said
in a friendly way, "But tell me about yourself, Eliaphet, it's three
years since I have seen you; what have you been doing, and when are you
really going back to America?"
Sutton replied with all his old vagueness and reticence that he had
stayed; he had found it necessary; he had not decided yet about going
"Probably you will be sorry to leave Oxford when the time comes?" Foley
suggested, but the American did not answer.
Eliaphet was a good deal changed, Foley thought when they parted; he
seemed so much thinner and more melancholy looking, and his voice was
almost like that of another person. What a difference a few years made!
Several times in the following days Foley met his friend again—indeed,
they two just then seemed almost alone together in Oxford—and more than
once, in the long summer afternoons, they walked together in a desultory
way among the vacant streets and empty Colleges. Sutton was even more
reserved than of old, but there was a charm in his silent company and in
his affectionate, scrupulous knowledge of the place. Each of the
churches, dim College chapels, and libraries was dear and familiar to
him now; he had found remnants of Norman architecture, and little early
Gothic windows in obscure old places which Foley, who had thought he
knew Oxford so well, was forced to admit he had never visited. And even
for the despised classicism, Sutton seemed to have a certain fondness,
for everything that bore the stately quaint mark of the Stuart
times—Laud's quadrangle at St. John's, and its Italian-looking busts
and arches; the chapel at Trinity; the little Ashmolean museum, and the
prim old Botanic garden, with its battered statue of Charles I. over the
gate, the half neglected formality of its urns and fountain, its walls
and walks within.
Then the old names of places seemed all to have a meaning for him. He
could trace the remains of the Religious Houses, the Friars Minor, the
Friar Preachers, the Carmelites, after which some of the more ancient
streets are called; showing Foley the gateways or ruined arches, bits
of College buildings which now alone remain of their former stately
precincts. And on their walks together Sutton often chose by preference
the little back streets, or those ancient footpaths that wind through
the old heart of the city, through the mediaeval town whose gables and
walls and gardens still sleep in the sun, almost untouched, behind the
modern fronts and the traffic of many of the busy streets.
To Foley in his sentimental mood just then, the quiet of Oxford was very
pleasant, after the noise of the London season; and there seemed to be
something almost poetic in the life of this solitary student. How wise
he was after all, Foley thought, to stay there among the old colleges
and churches, where the ambitions and obligations of the world could
scarcely trouble him; nor the noise of its busy life break in on his
tranquil moods, or disturb the old memories he loved. And yet a vague
suspicion crossing his mind, once or twice, made him ask himself, was
Sutton really so happy after all?
One morning this vacation quiet of the College was rather noisily broken
by the arrival of a number of undergraduates, who had returned to
prepare for an examination, bringing with them the noise and influences
of the outside world. Now the American was no longer to be met with in
the garden or quadrangle, whither he had been wont to come almost every
day, as if fond of the place and not averse from Foley's company.
Wondering that he did not see him any more, Foley one evening asked the
undergraduates if they knew Sutton or had ever heard anything about
By sight and reputation they knew him very well,—a solitary person, who
led in Oxford a most melancholy life, without friends or apparent
occupation; staying there, it was reported, because of something in his
past which kept him from going back to America.
Foley knew how distorted gossip of this kind would grow in coming
through the minds of undergraduates; and yet there was enough in what
they told, to make him uneasy about his friend. Sutton had given up
studying theology, had tried history, making however a complete failure
in the schools; he was said to have adopted strange religious ideas and
had been heard, it was rumoured, groaning and scourging himself at
night. There was a report too that some Americans had come to Oxford,
and, after visiting him, had gone to the Warden and accused Sutton of
keeping some money which was not his own.
As soon as he could, Foley went off to find his friend, getting the
address from the College books. At last in a dark alley he discovered
the house. Mr. Sutton had gone away from Oxford the day before, the
landlady told him, and had not said when he would be back. Perhaps the
gentleman would like to leave his card? The room was at the top; he must
be mindful of the stairs. Climbing up with care, Foley opened the door
and lighted a match in the darkness; the poverty and destitution of the
little room growing vivid for a moment, and then fading again into
blackness, affected him somewhat sadly. Just two chairs, a table, a
bed, and a few signs of human habitation,—several books, a coat hanging
on the wall, and three photographs over the fireplace, the familiar one
of Dr. Turnpenny, the dreamy face of Philip Gerard, and a picture that
Foley was touched to recognize as his own. All the pictures of Parnassus
City, his class mates, the young lady, the street, and college, had
disappeared, and a few old religious prints were in their place.
Feeling as if he had intruded where he had no right, Foley turned away;
lingering on the stairs, however, for he was loth to leave the house
till he had learned something more definite about his friend. Then in
the hall below he met the landlady, and began to talk to her about the
American. Mr. Sutton was such a kind gentleman, she said, and always
very quiet; but lately he had been, she thought, very lonesome and
melancholy, and he didn't seem to have any friends in Oxford now. And
though he had paid her regular, she couldn't complain of that, yet she
was afraid the poor gentleman had very little money. Indeed, he had
seemed to be in some trouble, and now he had gone away mysterious-like.
The voice of this woman, plainly so poor herself, her anxiety on
Sutton's account, remained in Foley's mind in a haunting way. And yet,
what could have happened, he asked himself, unable in common sense to
imagine any definite trouble, and nevertheless disturbed by a sense of
mystery, as if he had suddenly found himself face to face with something
more real and sad than most of the sentiments and troubles of his own
Certainly the American had greatly changed—the narrow, rustic young man
who had come there first, and the pale scholar Foley had met years
afterwards, in the twilight of the garden—there was difference enough
between the two! he thought, putting them side by side in memory. But
what this change was Sutton had not told; probably never would tell, for
in his reserve and reticence he was just the same.
And yet in his letters he had written with much less reserve, Foley
remembered. He began to wonder whether, if he should read the letters
again, with more attention, he might not find in them some hint of
Sutton's trouble. Friendless as the American seemed to be in Oxford, a
little advice and sympathy from some one who understood his
circumstances, might make perhaps all the difference to him.
When Foley got back to his own rooms, he began looking through the
portfolio of papers that he had brought with him from Germany. Yes,
there they were, the envelopes addressed in Sutton's neat fine writing.
Arranging them in order of their dates, he began to go through them.
Letters written during two or three years of his friend's life, in half
an hour he could read them all.
First came the letters Foley remembered: Sutton's first Long Vacation;
his home-sickness in Oxford; his thoughts of Parnassus; the American
tourists he would watch and speak with sometimes. Then in the autumn his
impression of the chapel, his growing fondness for Oxford, followed by
the sudden determination to go home, from which Dr. Joseph had dissuaded
him, telling him that there was nothing he need be afraid of in Oxford,
or in the Past.
Then came the letters which had come to Foley in the East, and been
hardly regarded by him in the hurry of travel. Letters which read
pleasantly for the most part, as he went through them now, with their
echoes of charming Oxford life—charming for a time, though troubled
afterwards. With Dr. Joseph's theology to rely on, and Dr. Joseph's
approval of his life, Sutton's uneasy conscience had been at rest for a
while, and he had let himself enjoy life without questioning—just the
simple human joy of the world and youth, with the weather growing
warmer, and the Spring blossoming in the gardens of that beautiful old
city, where he was quite at home now.
"I have so enjoyed the Spring," he wrote "your tardy, veering English
Spring, with its gusts of snow and black weather, and yet enough warm
days to woo from the earth the English flowers that till last year I
only knew of in books. But I greet them as old friends now, the
primroses, and cowslips, and daffodils.... May is here, the air is
full of the greenness of leaves and the songs of birds, the lank rose
trees are budding on the Gothic walls, and when I breathe the fragrant
air and look about me I rub my eyes, and wonder whether May was ever so
beautiful at home. Some beautiful days, of course, I can remember
vividly; but I lived then for the most part, I think, among pale
thoughts and theories, growing old before I was young, and looking so
rarely out—indeed, thinking somehow that it was almost wrong to look
out on the beauty and colour of the world...."
He had written a good deal about Oxford; and really it wasn't true, what
Foley had told him once, that he didn't deserve to live in so beautiful
a place; he did care, and was learning more and more to look at things
and enjoy them. On May morning he had gone to Magdalen to hear them
salute the rising sun from the tower. "I wish I could describe it all,"
he wrote, "the streets, as I went out, cold and vacant in the early
dawn, the pale flames in the street lamps, and the silence of those rows
of sleeping houses, only broken, as I passed under garden walls, by the
acute music of the birds awake already in the trees. Birds, millions of
them! I never heard such a clamour. At the College gate there was a
group of shivering people; and soon they let us in, to climb the steep
tower stairs, with its narrow windows here and there in the darkness,
with views like little old pictures of grey castles and green country.
On the windy platform at the top we found almost all the College
gathered, the President, and Fellows, and undergraduates, with the
group of white choristers. Gradually, as we waited, the formless sky all
round and above us grew white and blue; the sky-line reddened; and then,
bringing a sudden hush in the crowded talk, a sudden baring of all our
heads, the May sun began to blaze in the East; and as it rose into the
sky the boys, facing the light, chanted loud, with their shrill young
voices, the old Latin hymn. Well, you can hardly imagine what a solemn
moment it was, with the slow hymn, the stately yellow sun rising over
all that great view of green country. Turning toward Oxford we saw black
figures like dots on the sun-flushed towers and roofs of the other
Colleges. Our tower, and, indeed, the whole sky, seemed to rock with the
pealing bells; and the undergraduates, engaging in a wild scuffle, tore
off each other's caps and gowns, throwing them out into the air, to fall
with giddy swirls on the roofs, or into the street below. It seemed
almost an outburst of Pagan turbulence, after the Pagan sun-worship, up
there on that windy tower-top over the sleeping town! I wrote describing
it to Dr. Turnpenny; I only hope he won't be shocked!"
In Sir Philip Gerard, whom Foley had known slightly as a youth, of poor
and ancient Catholic family, Sutton, it appeared, had found a congenial
companion; and he described how they would often spend their afternoons
together on the river; rowing up the windings of the Cherwell, past
little woods and garden walks, or between the sliding horizons of meadow
banks, where the tangled edge of grass and flowers fringed the near sky.
"I lie on luxurious cushions in the bow, and Gerard pushes me along,
through sleepy sunshine and shadow, and under the unwilling branches of
trees; and then, anchoring in some secluded place, we read together some
poet or old book, while the endless afternoon glides by, and boats float
down the shady river."
"This sounds dreadfully lazy, I'm afraid! But I am taking a rest; I have
been feeling rather tired, and Dr. Joseph says I had better do nothing
but enjoy myself for a week or two now...."
"... I discovered the other day the old market. I wonder if you know
it? It is a delightful place! People from the villages about Oxford have
stalls there, and you see the ruddy, old-fashioned cottagers' wives,
seated each one behind a fresh bank of vegetables and flowers she
herself has grown at home in her quaint garden. Sweet, old-fashioned
flowers, flags and peonies and roses, made up into tight bouquets and
set out for sale in trim rows, not unlike, I fancy, the trim rows in
which they grew in their formal cottage flower beds...." Letters came
to him from home, he said, telling of all that was going on in Parnassus
City: the Bryant Literary Society they had started, the church bazaar
for the missionary work, the Monday evening prayer meetings at the
College; and he often felt that he ought to be back there, that he was
dreaming away his time. Yes, it was like a dream in Oxford; but such an
He wrote, in another letter, of the Oxford bells. More and more he was
conscious of them, sounding always in the near or distant sky; and if
ever he woke up in the night, restless with his dreams, he had only to
wait a little and they would ring out—first the silver voices of the
Colleges, and then the slow booming tones of the great church, so near
at hand. And he found a comfort, he said, in the nearness of the
churches, and their wakefulness through the night.
Although of course he did not approve, he said, of a religion of
external forms, yet he confessed that he had come to take a certain
interest in noticing how, almost every time he went out, he discovered
some new symbol of the old Catholic religion—old stone crosses, statues
gazing out from the towers, images of the Virgin, hands raised in
prayer, the adoration of kings and queens in the painted windows; and
even in the gardens stone fragments, covered with ivy, of old
saints—everywhere tokens of ancient faith, and intimations of another
world, shining and immanent, about this world of sense. It was curious,
but he had never noticed these things when he had first come to Oxford!
Indeed, he grew to love all the antiquity of the place; was no longer
oppressed or frightened by it; and for the old portraits in the hall and
library, the tombstones in the cloisters, with their quaint epitaphs and
names, he felt a certain fondness, he said, looking on the dead now, not
as enemies, frowning on his creed and life, but as friends rather, and
The lives of many of those old scholars and worthies had become familiar
to him, since he had read Anthony à Wood's Athenae Oxonienses, and he
had gone sometimes with his friend on antiquarian walks about Oxford,
and the colleges Wood described. Or Gerard would lend him a horse, and
they would ride out to visit the historic places and villages that lie
in the old country about—Woodstock, Cumnor, Abingdon—the names were
familiar to him of long date; had he not first read of some of them, and
the scenes they were famous for, in Jones' Excelsior Reader, out in
Indiana as a boy?
He spoke of the village churches, that seemed so beautiful on those June
afternoons, as they stood among their old trees and flowers, with the
white clouds in the sky above, a shiver of wind in the long grass over
the graves. And then, through the scent of roses about the open door,
the dim interior, with its white Norman arches, and light falling from
painted windows on the crusaders' tombs—on all the many monuments of
the dead. The dead! Sutton wrote that he had always known of the times
gone by, and the faith of the Middle Ages, but only in an unreal way,
through books. And it made such a difference—to him at least—if he saw
the proof of a thing, actually existing with the daylight on it!
"Once, Gerard says, these churches were filled in the morning and
evening light with labouring people kneeling in silent prayer. But that,
of course, was in the Dark Ages. Gerard thinks that the world has done
nothing but go back since the Middle Ages; certainly he does hate
everything that is modern. How he will detest Parnassus City, if he
comes to see me there, as he says he will. It has been bad for him, I am
sure, living out of the world, as he has lived, among old memories and
dreams of his own. He is a Catholic, you know, but he respects my
religion; he knows, of course, what my views are, and we never talk
about theology. There is a friend of his I meet sometimes a priest, and
I suppose a Jesuit. But he seems really quite a cultivated person."
Foley took up another letter: They had ridden out, Sutton wrote, to an
old country house and park, where Charles I. had stayed once, while
Parliament was being held in Oxford. The house, all save one wing, now a
farm-house, had been torn down; but on the hill overlooking the lake, in
the midst of the green shade of beeches, the chapel was still standing,
abandoned now, and almost untouched, save by decay and time, since the
polite court of the Stuarts had said their worldly devotions there. What
rich brocades, what hushed gallantries and frivolous prayers had once
rustled and whispered under the graceful high arches of those pews! But
birds had their nests there now, he said, while through the decaying
roof the rain dripped down on the frail woodwork, the classic columns
and fading colours of this deserted place of elegant worship and old
The American Puritan confessed to a certain tenderness for the generous
lost cause, for the fine futile courage of the gay Cavaliers and lovely
forgotten ladies. And as they rode homeward through the twilight, his
companion sang snatches of some old Cavalier songs—tunes with a certain
pathos and grace in their gallant wistful music.
Then there was a long letter, dating from the autumn after this
delightful summer, in which he wrote again about Anthony à Wood, the old
Oxford antiquary. He had been reading Wood's diaries, finding in them,
he said, in spite of their old-fashioned pedantry and long genealogies,
a vivid picture of the University and Wood's life in it, two hundred
years ago. A calm life, Sutton described it, in curious contrast to the
times in which Wood lived, when the academic quiet was so often
disturbed by armies, and royal visits, and great events; and the noise
of tumults in the Oxford streets, and troops marching by, reaching the
old antiquary's ears, would draw him from the chronicles of the past, to
look with blinking eyes from his library window on the turmoil and
disquiet of contemporary history. For his life was spent in his own
study, or in "Bodlie's Library," or among the dusty archives of the
Colleges, reading and transcribing the monastic registers, the old
manuscripts and histories. Sutton quoted from his diary a sentence in
which he speaks of the exceeding pleasure he took in "poring on such
"Heraldry, musick, and painting did so much crowd upon him, that he
could not avoid them, and could never give a reason why he should
delight in those studies more than in others, so prevalent was nature."
"My pen cannot enough describe," he writes in his enthusiasm, when he
first read Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire, "how A. Wood's
tender affections and insatiable desire of knowledge were ravish'd and
melted down by the reading of that book. What by music and rare books
that he found in the public library, his life at this time and after was
a perfect Elysium."
"Wood often went for long, solitary walks, collecting arms and
monumental inscriptions from the churches, and visiting all the ruined
religious Houses and old halls in the country about Oxford. He describes
in his diary how, as he returned towards Oxford in the evening, 'after
he had taken his rambles about the country to collect monuments,' he
would hear the bells of Merton, his own College, ringing clearly in the
"Wood had small love for the Puritans," Sutton wrote, "who in his
lifetime were so long in power; and in his record of contemporary
events, sudden deaths, and alleged appearances of the devil, he more
than once mentions their destruction of antiquities, their contempt for
the Fathers and Schoolmen, and hatred of all authority, and 'everything
that smelt of an Academy, never rejoicing more than when he could
trample on the gowne, and bring humane learning and arts into
"Then came the Restoration, and almost the last event that Wood records
is the revival of Catholicism under James II. Wood himself was suspected
of being a Papist; his writings had made him enemies, and before he died
he was expelled from the University, and his book burned by order of the
"And yet, on the whole, his life was a happy one," Sutton said, writing,
it was plain, with a certain envy for the tranquil occupations and
lettered tastes of the old Oxford antiquary.
The next two letters that Foley found (and they were the last) were
dated in the Long Vacation, nearly a year later. Either Sutton had not
written again for some time, or Foley had lost the letters. It was the
American's third summer in England; as before, he had stayed in Oxford.
He described the quiet afternoons he spent in the College garden; how he
seemed to be alone with Oxford and the past, and how even the city
noises, which came in over the walls—the rattle of carts, the shrill,
faint voices of newsboys, crying the world's events—only added a deeper
hush to the stillness and solitude within, the sunlight on the grass,
the shadows of the trees.
He remembered how homesick he had been the first summer he had spent in
Oxford, and how he had longed to go back. But now that his work was
almost finished, and he was soon to go to America, he could not help
admitting that he shrank a little from it—felt a certain reluctance,
after all. He would watch, as he had watched before, the tourists who
now and then came into the quiet garden. Then he had enjoyed seeing
them, and wished he could talk to them; but now!...
And one day some people whom he had known in Indiana came in. He spoke
to them, showed them about, and tried to be friendly, and yet they
seemed so far away somehow! He hated himself for it, and tried to
believe that it was all the fault of Oxford and its fastidious
standards; he had let himself be too much influenced, but when he got
back to Parnassus again, he hoped he should see things as he used to see
them, and feel the same towards the Slocums and all his old friends.
But in the last letter, "It will never be the same now," Sutton had
written; "I have come too far and stayed too long. At first I was always
thinking of Parnassus City; I would dream of it at night, and wake in
the morning to wonder at the strangeness of my dim little windows and
the voices of the rooks outside. But then it began to fade, and
gradually everything changed. And yet, poor fool that I was, all the
time I tried to think that I was preparing myself to go back. Of course
I shall go back; if I can't be a Minister, I can still teach in their
university, perhaps—I must do something to help them, it would be
treachery if I did not. But my heart will be far away from it all, I
know. I try to think of the excellent people there, and how fatally kind
they have been to me; but when I shut my eyes, I can see nothing but the
ugly church, the wooden 'university,' and a great sun-baked street, with
sparse houses and dusty trees straggling off on the prairie. How can I
ever live there now? And yet, if I had never come away, I might have
been happy. Why did they send me to Oxford, I wonder. Yet was it not my
fate? It seems to me that I must have come here sometime!"
With this the letters ended. From the undergraduates Foley had heard how
Sutton tried to study history, but failed rather badly in it. What had
happened afterwards he had not heard, save by vague report. He only knew
that Sutton was still in Oxford.
But no wonder he had stayed there, Foley thought, remembering the
passion for the place that breathed in Sutton's letters, his growing
preoccupation with, and interest in, everything that was ecclesiastical
and ancient. Indeed, the beauty and antiquity of Oxford, the libraries
and cloisters and old places he haunted, now seemed to have grown into
an almost necessary part of the American's environment, the needful
background of his life. As if, like old Anthony à Wood, one could not
imagine him living anywhere except in Oxford, walking through its almost
doorless streets, or on the lawns of its College gardens, and ordering
his studies and ways by the sound of its bells. Why then should he not
stay there; was it anything more than a false conscience that had made
him feel he ought to go back to America?
The next morning, as if in answer to this question, Foley received an
unexpected visit from Abel, Dr. Joseph's assistant. He had come, he
said, to find out where Sutton was; they were a good deal worried about
him; they must be allowed to see him again before he took any step.
Foley was greatly surprised at the way Abel spoke; he knew nothing of
the American's whereabouts, he said; they had told him at his lodgings
the night before that he was away from Oxford.
"Yes, I know, I saw your card there. But I supposed you would know where
he has gone, or would be willing to tell me how I could find out. We
have heard again from America, and really, for your own sakes you must
allow us to see him once."
With still greater astonishment Foley protested that he knew nothing; he
had feared Sutton might be in trouble, but having just returned, after
two years abroad, he had no idea of what the trouble was. His assurances
were so evidently sincere, that Abel, who had looked at him suspiciously
at first, now shut the door and came forward into the room. The trouble
was that Sutton had absolutely refused to go back to America. They might
have known it would happen, he added; and, in answer to a question of
Foley's, he gave his version of all that had occurred.
Sutton had come to Oxford with a letter from Dr. Turnpenny, his pastor
and guardian, requesting Dr. Joseph to see that he should live under
some kind of care and protection. Dr. Joseph, as their own buildings
were not yet finished, had arranged with the Warden of St. Mary's that
the young man should enter that College and live there, while he
carried on his theological work with his own tutors.
It was a mistake; Abel had thought it a mistake all along. With another
man it might not have mattered; but Sutton, thrown into the society of
rich young men, who had no sympathy with his ideas, and who ridiculed
his ways, had not been able to withstand their influence. And just when
he was on the point of ordination, he had thrown it all over; said he no
longer believed in Methodism, or wished to be a minister. He had stayed
for another year in Oxford, studying, or pretending to study, history;
but he could not have worked very seriously; the examiners said, indeed,
that his papers were full of the most absurd ideas. And now he refused
to go back to America at all. Abel didn't know who it was who had tried
to pervert him; it was reported to be the Jesuits—and there was a man
called Gerard, Sir Philip Gerard—; but at any rate they ought to know
what trouble they had made.
Foley said he was certain there had been no deliberate attempt to
pervert Sutton. If any of his friends had tried to influence him, it was
probably because they believed in culture, and thought it would help him
in his work.
"Help him to be a minister out in Indiana! How could the ideas of a
narrow university set and its expensive tastes help a man for that?"
"But everyone surely was the better for being cultivated!" Foley
Even to this Abel could not agree entirely; he admitted that of course
culture had its charm and value; only in cases it might be dangerous, he
thought. But how could that be? Foley asked, and for a moment, in their
discussion of the larger question, they almost forgot Sutton. Abel
thought that an undue cultivation of taste, of the sense of beauty,
without an equal training of the reason, would make you into a narrow
and fastidious person, judging things by the eyes and ears, and caring
only for what was well-expressed and beautiful. And surely for the most
part, he said, (and he seemed anxious to be fair and moderate,) for the
most part it was the ideals of the past, the out-worn, romantic, and
old-fashioned things, that had had time to be well-expressed, while the
modern—"But all this has very little to do with Sutton!" he said,
"Oh, I don't know, isn't he the kind of person you mean—a sensitive
"Eliaphet Sutton! he never wrote poetry, did he?"
"No, I don't mean exactly that. Only it seems to me natural enough that
a man of his temperament, coming to Oxford from an ugly new town,
should not want to go back."
"Temperament!" Abel exclaimed, as if the word annoyed him. Then more
quietly he added that he did not think anything could excuse Sutton for
behaving in the way he had behaved. Why he himself had come to Oxford
from a new town that was probably as ugly as Parnassus City. They were
angry enough in Parnassus, you couldn't talk of temperaments out there!
It had really broken Dr. Turnpenny's heart. "If you could only see his
letters! No, after spending all the old man's money—"
"His money?" Foley asked.
"Yes, didn't you know? He was sent over on a subscription got up by the
Methodist church there, and Dr. Turnpenny, who had adopted him and
brought him up, gave all his savings. He was to go back of course, and
help support Dr. Turnpenny. He was engaged to a girl out there too. And
now he says he won't go back. But really he must, it doesn't matter what
he says. It's the only honest and decent thing for him to do."
"Indeed he must go back," exclaimed Foley. "I hadn't the least idea!—"
Foley went to Sutton's rooms again, but for several days he could hear
nothing of him. One evening, however, when he was sitting in the garden,
happening to look up, he saw the melancholy figure of the American
coming down the garden path. Now that he actually saw Sutton, and was
vividly aware of the atmosphere of reserve and solitude that enveloped
him, Foley shrank from saying the things that he felt he ought to say.
And yet someone must speak to him; someone must tell him his duty, and
make him go back to the good simple people who had cared for him,
supported him, and who relied on him so much!
He had been away, Sutton said, as the two young men walked slowly down
the garden path. It was very still there in the twilight; and they were
alone, shut in as it seemed, and very remote from the world outside.
"Have you decided yet when you are going home?" Foley asked.
"Yes; home to America."
"I don't know," Sutton replied. After a moment he added, in the same
quiet voice, "perhaps I shall never go back."
"Then you have found some occupation in England?"
Sutton shook his head.
But didn't he think he ought to go back then, Foley asked. One had
duties—and, trying to speak more lightly, he added, "You must have
learned a great deal, Eliaphet, after studying all these years. Oughtn't
you to go back and teach them out there?"
"I have nothing to teach them—nothing they would be willing to learn."
"Oh, but surely, if you tried you could find something! It seems to me
you ought to try."
"Oh, I have tried!" he said, his cheeks flushing with painful emotion;
"but now they don't want me to come back any more—they never want to
see me again! I used to pray I might never change;—and when you would
argue with me,—but now I see it was all wrong, and all my liberal
"I hope," Foley interrupted, for this had been on his conscience ever
since his talk with Abel, "I hope your change, whatever it is, has
nothing to do with anything I ever said; you must have misunderstood
me," and he went on to explain that he had never been really
reactionary. He had always believed in compromise, and a conservative,
"Do you know, Eliaphet," he went on, "I think you have made a mistake in
staying here so long in this old place. It isn't wholesome to live so
far from real life; you ought to get away, you ought to go home."
But Sutton had only listened to two or three of his friend's words.
"No," he cried eagerly, "no, we can make no compromise. We must give up
the human reason, we must go back to the Past, we must submit. Oh,
Foley," he cried, and there was a strange appeal in his voice, "we have
been friends, but now we may never see each other again,—let me warn
you, you must decide whether you will be on the right or the wrong
side—oh, if you only knew at what peril you refuse to listen!"
For a moment Foley was almost frightened. Then, reminding himself of
reason and reality, he said, "But, Eliaphet, are you quite sure that you
yourself are doing what is right in staying here? When so much depends
on you out there—Dr. Turnpenny and all. And they have sacrificed so
much too. Have you thought—"
"As if I was not always thinking of it!" Sutton cried; "but I could not
go back to them a Roman Catholic; they would rather I was dead. And
Foley, when you judge me, remember that I have had to make sacrifices
too—I have given up everything, everything! What can I do?"
A Roman Catholic! Of course he could not go back. Foley was dismayed.
Why had he not foreseen it?
For a moment they stood in silence. Then Sutton turned away.
"You don't understand," he said, in a voice that his friend always
remembered afterwards; "No one understands," and he went down the path
alone and out of Foley's sight.
When Foley went the next day to Sutton's lodgings, he was told that
Sutton had already left Oxford; had gone away early that morning. Where
he had gone, however, no one seemed to know. Certainly Foley never found
out; he never saw Sutton again, nor, in spite of all his inquiries, did
he ever hear anything but the most vague and uncertain news about him.
Abel said he had never gone back to Parnassus City. And then, years
after, it was reported that an Oxford man, when visiting some old shrine
in Italy, had recognized, or thought he recognized, Sutton in the monk
who showed him about the church.
Foley never got rid of a certain feeling of remorse, a sense that at the
beginning he had too lightly interfered in the life of the young
But then he would tell himself, that it was probably after all nothing
less than Oxford itself, with its old ways and memories, that had
gradually changed and influenced the American. Influenced him not for
good, surely! he thought. And indeed, remembering Sutton's slow
estrangement from his early ideas and friends, his poor attempts to
remain faithful, the trouble and mystery in which he had disappeared at
last, Foley would ask himself, (and he took a strange sort of pleasure
in the question,) whether there were not something really dangerous in
the venerable and Gothic beauty of Oxford, a chill in the old shadows,
an iron sound in the bells.