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   Chapter 3 —Solomon M’Slime, a Religious Attorney

Valentine M'Clutchy, The Irish Agent / The Works of William Carleton, Volume Two By William Carleton Characters: 17817

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

-Solomon M'Slime, a Religious Attorney-His Office-Family Devotions-Substitute for Breakfast-Misprision Blasphemy-Letter on Business.

Pass we now to another worthy character, who had locality upon the aforesaid property of Castle Cumber. Solomon M'Slime, the law agent, was a satisfactory proof of the ease with which religion and law may meet and aid each other in the heart and spirit of the same person. An attorney, no doubt, is at all times an amiable, honest, and feeling individual, simply upon professional principles; but when to all this is added the benignant influence of serious and decided piety, it would not be an easy task to find, among the several classes which compose society in general, anything so truly engaging, so morally taintless, so sweetly sanctimonious, so seductively comely, as is that pure and evengelical exhibition of human character, that is found to be developed in a religious attorney.

Solomon M'Slime was a man in whose heart the two principles kept their constant residence; indeed so beautifully were they blended, that his law might frequently be mistaken for religion, just as his religion, on the other hand, was often known to smack strongly of law. In this excellent man, these principles accommodated each with a benignant indulgence, that manifested the beauty of holiness in a high degree. If, for instance, law in its progress presented to him any obstacle of doubtful morality, religion came forward with a sweet but serious smile, and said to her companion, "My dear friend, or sister, in this case I permit you." And on the contrary, if religion felt over sensitive or scrupulous, law had fifty arguments of safety, and precedent, and high authority to justify her. But, indeed, we may observe, that in a religious attorney these illiberal scruples do not often occur. Mr. M'Slime knew the advantages of religion too well, to feel that contraction of the mind and principles, which in so many ordinary cases occasions religion and common morality to become almost identical. Religion was to him a friend-a patroness in whose graces he stood so high, that she permitted him to do many things which those who were more estranged from her durst not attempt. He enjoyed that state of blessed freedom which is accorded to so few, and, consequently, had his "permissions" and his "privileges" to go in the wicked wayfares of this trying world much greater lengths than those, who were less gifted and favored by the sweet and consoling principle which regulated and beautified his life.

Solomon was a small man, thin, sharp-featured, and solemn. He was deliberate in his manner and movements, and correct but slow of speech. Though solemn, however, he was not at all severe or querulous, as is too frequently the case with those who affect to be religious. Far from it. On the contrary, in him the gospel gifts appeared in a cheerful gravity of disposition, and a good-humored lubricity of temper, that could turn with equal flexibility and suavity to every incident of life, no matter how trying to the erring heart. All the hinges of his spirit seemed to have been graciously and abundantly oiled, and such was his serenity, that it was quite evident he had a light within him. It was truly a pleasure to speak to, or transact business with such a man; he seemed always so full of inward peace, and comfort, and happiness. Nay, upon some occasions, he could rise to a kind of sanctified facetiousness that was perfectly delightful, and in the very singleness of his heart, would, of an odd time, let out, easily and gently it is true, a small joke, that savored a good deal of secular humor.

Then he was so full of charity and affection for all that were frail and erring among our kind, that he never, or seldom, breathed a harsh word against the offender. Or if, in the fulness of his benevolence, he found it necessary to enumerate their faults, and place them, as it were, in a catalogue, it was done in a spirit of such love, mingled with sorrow, that those to whom he addressed himself, often thought it a pity that he himself did not honor religion, by becoming the offender, simply for the sake of afterwards becoming the patient.

In the religious world he was a very active and prominent man-punctual in his devotional exercises, and always on the lookout for some of those unfortunate brands with which society abounds, that he might, as he termed it, have the pleasure of plucking them out of the burning. He never went without a Bible and a variety of tracts in his pocket, and seldom was missed from the platform of a religious meeting. He received subscriptions for all public and private charities, and has repeatedly been known to offer and afford consolation to the widow and orphan, at a time when the pressure of business rendered the act truly one of Christian interest and affection.

The hour was not more than ten o'clock, a.m. when Darby entered his office, in which, by the way, lay three or four Bibles, in different places. In a recess on one side of the chimney-piece, stood a glass-covered bookcase, filled with the usual works on his profession, whilst hung upon the walls, and consequently nearer observation, were two or three pensile shelves, on which were to be found a small collection of religious volumes, tracts, and other productions, all bearing on the same subject. On the desk was a well-thumbed Bible to the right, which was that used at family prayer; and on the opposite side, a religious almanack and a copy of congregation hymns.

Darby, on reaching the hall door, knocked with considerable more decision than he had done at M'Clutchy's, but without appearing to have made himself heard; after waiting patiently for some time, however, he knocked again, and at length the door was opened by a very pretty servant girl, about seventeen, who, upon his inquiring if her master was at home, replied in a sighing voice, and with a demure face, "Oh, yes-at family prayer."

"When he's done," said Darby, "maybe you'd be kind enough to say that Darby O'Drive has a message for him."

The pretty servant did not nod-an act-which she considered as too flippant for the solemnity of devotion-but she gently bowed her head, and closed her eyes in assent-upon which was heard a somewhat cheerful groan, replete with true unction, inside the parlor, followed by a voice that said, "ah, Susannah!" pronounced in a tone of grave but placid remonstrance; Susannah immediately entered, and the voice, which was that of our attorney, proceeded-"Susannah take your place-long measure, eight lines, four eights, and two sixes." The psalm was then raised or pitched by Solomon himself, who was followed by six or eight others, each in a different key, but all with such reluctance to approach their leader, that from a principle of unworthiness, they allowed him, as the more pious, to get far in advance of them. In this manner they sang two verses, and it was remarkable, that although on coming to the conclusion, Solomon was far ahead, and the rest nowhere, yet, from the same principle of unworthiness, they left the finish, as they did the start, altogether to himself. The psalm was accordingly wound up by a kind of understanding or accompaniment between his mouth and nose, which seemed each moved by a zealous but godly struggle to excel the other, if not in melody at least in loudness. They then all knelt down, and Solomon launched, with a sonorous voice, into an extempore prayer, which was accompanied by a solemn commentary of groanings, sighings, moanings, and muffled ejaculations, that cannot otherwise be described except by saying that they resembled something between a screech and a scream. Their devotions being over, Darby, having delivered M'Clutchy's letter, was desired to take a seat in the office, until Mr. M'Slime should be at leisure to send a reply.

"Sit down, my good friend, Darby, sit down, and be at ease, at least in your body; I do not suffer any one who has an immortal soul to be saved to stand in my office-and as you have one to be saved, Darby, you must sit. The pride of this vain life is our besetting sin, and happy are they who are enabled to overcome it-may he be praised!-sit down."

"I'm thankful to you, sir," said Darby, "oh, thin, Mr. M'Slime, it would be well for the world if every attorney in it was like you, sir-there would be little honesty goin' asthray, sir, if there was."

"Sam Sharpe, my dear boy, if you have not that bill of costs finished-"

"No sir."

"A good boy, Sam-well, do not omit thirteen and four pence for two letters, which I ought to have sent-as a part of my moral, independently of my professional duty-to Widow Lenehan, having explained to her by word of mouth, that which I ought in conscience, to have written-but indeed my conscience often leads me to the-what should I say?-the merciful side in these matters.

No, Darby, my friend, you cannot see into my heart, or you would not say so-I am frail, Darby, and sinful-I am not up to the standard, my friend, neither have I acted up to my privileges-the freedom of the gospel! is a blessed thing, provided we abuse it not'-well, Sam, my good young friend-"

"That was entered before, sir, under the head of instructions."

"Very right-apparently very right, Sam, and reasonable for you to think so-but this was on a different occasion, although the same case."

"Oh, I beg pardon, sir, I did not know that."

"Sam, do not beg pardon-not of me-nor of any but One-go there, Sam, you require it; we all require it, at least I do abundantly. Darby, my friend, it is a principle with me never to lose an opportunity of throwing in a word in season-but as the affairs of this life must be attended to-only in a secondary degree, I admit-I will, therefore, place you at the only true fountain where you can be properly refreshed. Take this Bible, Darby, and it matters not where you open it, read and be filled."

Now, as Darby, in consequence of his early attendance upon M'Clutchy, had been obliged to leave home that morning without his breakfast, it must be admitted that he was not just then in the best possible disposition to draw much edification from it. After poring over it with a very sombre face for some time, he at length looked shrewdly at M'Slime closing one eye a little, as was his custom; "I beg pardon, sir," said he, "but if I'm not mistaken this book I believe is intended more for the sowl than the body."

"For the body! truly, Darby, that last is a carnal thought, and I am sorry to hear, it from your lips:-the Bible is a spiritual book, my friend, and spiritually must it be received."

"But, to a man like me, who hasn't had his breakfast to-day yet, how will it be sarviceable? will reading it keep off hunger or fill my stomach?"

"Ah! Darby, my friend, that is gross talk-such views of divine truth are really a perversion of the gifts of heaven. That book although it will not fill your stomach, as you grossly call it, actually will do it figuratively, which in point of fact is the same thing, or a greater-it will enable you to bear hunger as a dispensation, Darby, to which it is your duty as a Christian to submit. Nay, it will do more, my friend; it will exalt your faith to such a divine pitch, that if you read it with the proper spirit, you will pray that the dispensation thus laid on you may continue, in order that the inner man may be purged."

"Faith, and Mr. M'Slime, with great respect, if that is your doctrine it isn't your practice. The sorra word of prayer-God bless the prayers!-came out o' your lips today,' an til you laid in a good warm breakfast, and afther that, for fraid of disappointments, the very first thing you prayed for was your daily bread-didn't I hear you? But I'll tell you what, sir, ordher me my breakfast, and then I'll be spakin' to you. A hungry man-or a hungry woman, or her hungry childre' can't eat Bibles; although it is well known, God knows, that when hunger, and famine, and starvation are widin them and upon them, that the same Bible, but nothing else, is; handed to them by pious people in the shape of consolation and relief. Now I'm thinkin', Mr. M'Slime, that that is not the best way to make the Bible respected. Are you goin' to give me my breakfast, sir? upon my sowl, beggin' your pardon, if you do I'll bring the Bible home wid me, if that will satisfy you, for we haven't got e'er a one in our own little cabin."

"Sharpe, my good boy, I'll trouble you to take that Bible out of his hands. I am not in the slightest degree offended, Darby-you will yet, I trust, live to know better, may He grant it! I overlook the misprision of blasphemy on your part, for you didn't know what you said? but you will, you will.

"This is a short reply to Mr. M'Clutchy's note. I shall see him on my way to the sessions to-morrow, but I have told him so in it. And now, my friend, be assured I overlook the ungodly and carnal tenor of your conversation-we are all frail and prone to error; I, at least, am so-still we must part as Christians ought, Darby. You have asked me for a breakfast, but I overlook that also-I ought to overlook it as a Christian; for is not your immortal soul of infinitely greater value than your perishable body? Undoubtedly-and as a proof that I value it more, receive this-this, my brother sinner-oh! that I could say my brother Christian also-receive it, Darby, and in the proper spirit too; it is a tract written by the Rev. Vesuvius M'Slug, entitled 'Spiritual Food for Babes of Grace;' I have myself found it graciously consolatory and refreshing, and I hope that you also may, my friend."

"Begad, sir," said Darby, "it may be very good in its way, and I've no doubt but it's a very generous and Christian act in you to give it-espishilly since it cost you nothing-but for all that, upon my sowl, I'm strongly of opinion that to a hungry man it's a bad substitute for a breakfast."

"Ah! by the way, Darby," lending a deaf ear to this observation, "have you heard, within the last day or two, anything of Mr. M'Clutchy's father, Mr. Deaker-how he is?"

"Why, sir," replied Darby, "I'm tould he's breaking down fast, but the divil a one of him will give up the lady. Parsons, and ministers, and even priests, have all been at him; but it is useless: he curses and damns them right and left, and won't be attended by any one but her-hadn't you betther try him, Mr. M'Slime? May be you might succeed. Who knows but a little of the 'Spiritual Food for Babes of Grace' might sarve him as well as others. There's a case for you. Sure he acknowledges himself to be a member of the hell-fire club!"

"He's a reprobate, my friend-impenitent, hopeless. I have myself tried him, spoke with him, reasoned with him, but never was my humility, my patience, so strongly tried. His language I will not repeat-but canting knave, hypocrite, rascal attor-no, it is useless and unedifying to repeat it. Now go, my friend, and do not forget that precious tract which you have thrust so disrespectfully into your pocket."

Darby, after a shrewd wink at one of the apprentices, which was returned, passed out, and left Mr. M'Slime to the pursuit of his salvation.

In the mean time, as we authors have peculiar "privileges," as Mr. M'Slime would say, we think if only due to our readers to let them have a peep at M'Slime's note to our friend Valentine M'Clutchy.

"My dear friend-I felt as deep an interest in the purport of your note as you yourself possibly could. The parties alluded to I appreciate precisely as you do-M'Loughlin has in the most unchristian manner assailed my character as well as yours. So has his partner in the concern-I mean Harman. But then, my friend, are we not Christians, and shall we not return good for evil? Shall we not forgive them? Some whispers, hints, very gentle and delicate have reached my ears, which I do not wish to commit to paper;-but this I may say, until I see you to-morrow, that I think your intentions with respect to M'Loughlin and Harman are premature. There is a screw loose somewhere, so to speak, that is all-but I believe, I can say, that if your father, Deaker, will act to our purposes, all will be as we could wish. This is a delicate subject, my dear friend, but still I am of opinion that if you could, by any practicable means; soften the unfortunate female who possesses such an ascendancy over him, all will be right. I would, myself, undertake the perilous task for your sake-and perilous to ordinary men I admit it would be, for she is beyond question exceedingly comely. In me this would appear disinterested, whilst in you, suspicion would become strong. Cash is wanted in the quarter you know, and cash has been refused in another quarter, and when we meet I shall tell you more about this matter. In the mean time it is well that there is no legitimate issue-but should he will his property to this Delilah, or could she be removed?-I mean to a local distance. But I shall see you to-morrow (D.V.), when we can have freer conversation upon what may be done. With humble but sincere prayers for your best wishes and welfare, I am, my dear friend,

"Thine in the bonds of Christian love,

"Solomon M'Slime.

"P. S.-As it is a principle of mine to neglect no just opportunity of improving my deceitful heart, I bought from a travelling pedlar this morning, a book with the remarkable title of 'The Spiritual Attorney, or A Sure Guide to the Other World.' I have not yet had time to look at anything but the title page, and consequently am not able to inform you which of the worlds he alludes to, ha, ha! You see, my friend, I do not think there is evil in a joke that is harmless, or has a moral end in view, as every joke ought to have.

"Thine as before,

"Sol. M'Slime."

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