CH. III. -- Gil Blas becomes the Archbishop's favourite, and the channel of all his favours.
I HAD been after dinner to get together my baggage, and take my horse from the inn where I had put up, and afterwards returned to supper at the archbishop's palace, where a neatly furnished room was got ready for me, and such a bed as was more likely to pamper than to mortify the flesh. The day following, his grace sent for me quite as soon as I was ready to go to him. It was to give me a homily to transcribe. He made a point of having it copied with all possible accuracy. It was done to please him; for I omitted neither accent, nor comma, nor the minutest tittle of all he had marked down. His satisfaction at observing this was heightened by its being unexpected. Eternal Father! exclaimed he in a holy rapture, when he had glanced his eye over all the folios of my copy, was ever anything seen so correct? You are too good a transcriber not to have some little smattering of the grammarian. Now tell me with the freedom of a friend: in writing it over, have you been struck with nothing that grated upon your feelings? Some little careless idiom, or some word used in an improper sense? Oh! may it please your grace, answered I with a modest air, it is not for me, with my confined education and coarse taste, to aim at making critical remarks. And though ever so well qualified, I am satisfied that your grace's works would come out pure from the essay. The successor of the apostles smiled at my answer. He made no observation on it; but it was easy to see, through all his piety, that he was an arrant author at the bottom: there is some thing in that dye, that not heaven itself can wash out.
I seemed to have purchased the fee-simple of his good graces by my flattery. Day after day did I get a step further in his esteem; and Don Ferdinand, who came to see him very often, told me my footing was so firm, that there could not be a doubt but my fortune was made. Of this my master himself gave me a proof some little time afterwards: and the occasion was as follows: -- One evening in his closet be rehearsed before me, with appropriate emphasis and action, a homily which he was to deliver the next day in the cathedral. He did not content himself with asking me what I thought of it in the gross, but insisted on my telling him what passages struck me most. I had the good fortune to pick out those which were nearest to his own taste, his favourite common-places. Thus, as luck would have it, I passed in his estimation for a man who had a quick and natural relish of the real and less obvious beauties in a work. This, indeed, exclaimed he, is what you may call having discernment and feeling in perfection! Well, well, my friend! it cannot be said of you,
Baeotum in crasso jurares aëre natum.
In a word, he was so highly pleased with me, as to add in a tone of extraordinary emotion -- Never mind, Gil Blas! henceforward take no care about hereafter; I shall make it my business to place you among the favoured children of my bounty. You have my best wishes; and to prove to you that you have them, I shall take you into my inmost confidence.
These words were no sooner out of his mouth, than I fell at his grace's feet, quite overwhelmed with gratitude. I embraced his elliptical legs with almost pagan idolatry, and considered myself as a man on the high road to a very handsome fortune. Yes, my child, resumed the archbishop, whose speech had been cut short by the rapidity of my prostration, I mean to make you the receiver-general of all my inmost ruminations. Hearken attentively to what I am going to say. I have a great pleasure in preaching. The Lord sheds a blessing on my homilies; they sink deep into the hearts of sinners; set up a glass in which vice sees its own image, and bring back many from the paths of error into the high road of repentance. What a heavenly sight, when a miser, scared at the hideous picture drawn by my eloquence of his avarice, opens his coffers to the poor and needy, and dispenses the accumulated store with a liberal hand! The voluptuary, too, is snatched from the pleasures of the table; ambition flies at my command to the wholesome discipline of the monastic cell; while female frailty, tottering on the brink of ruin, with one ear open to the siren voice of the seducer, and the other to my saintly correctives, is restored to domestic happiness and the approving smile of heaven, by the timely warnings of the pulpit. These miraculous conversions, which happen almost every Sunday, ought of themselves to goad me on in the career of saving souls. Nevertheless, to conceal no part of my weakness from my monitor, there is another reward on which my heart is intent, a reward which the seraphic scrupulousness of my virtue to little purpose condemns as too carnal; a literary reputation for a sublime and elegant style. The honour of being handed down to posterity as a perfect pulpit orator has its irresistible attractions. My compositions are generally thought to be equally powerful and persuasive; but I could wish of all things to steer clear of the rock on which good authors split, who are too long before the public, and to retire from professional life with my reputation in undiminished lustre.
To this end, my dear Gil Blas, continued the prelate, there is one thing requisite from your zeal and friendship. Whenever it shall strike you that my pen begins to contract, as it were, the ossification of old age, whenever you see my genius in its climacteric, do not fail to give me a hint. There is no trusting to one's self in such a case; pride and conceit were the original sin of man. The probe of criticism must he intrusted to an impartial stander-by, of fine talents and unshaken probity. Both those requisites centre in you: you are my choice, and I give myself up to your direction. Heaven be praised, my lord, said I, there is no need to trouble yourself with any such thoughts yet. Besides, an understanding of your grace's mould and calibre will last out double the time of a common genius; or to speak with more certainty and truth, it will never be the worse for wear, if you live to the age of Methusalem. I consider you as a second Cardinal Ximenes, whose powers, superior to decay, instead of flagging with years, seemed to derive new vigour from their approximation with the heavenly regions. No flattery, my friend! interrupted he. I know myself to be in danger of failing all at once. At my age one begins to be sensible of infirmities, and those of the body communicate with the mind. I repeat it to you, Gil Blas, as soon as you shall be of opinion that my head is not so clear as usual, give me warning of it instantly. Do not be afraid of offending by frankness and sincerity, to put me in mind of my own frailty will be the strongest proof of your affection for me. Besides, your very interest is concerned in it, for if it should, by any spite of chance towards you, come to my ears that the people say in town, "His grace's sermons produce no longer their accustomed impression, it is time for him to abandon his pulpit to younger candidates," I do assure you most seriously and solemnly, you will not only lose my friendship, but the provision for life that I have promised you. Such will be the result of your silly tampering with truth.
Here my patron left off to wait for my answer, which was an echo of his speech, and a promise of obeying him in all things. From that moment there were no secrets from me; I became the prime favourite. All the household, except Melchior de la Ronda, looked at me with an eye of envy. It was curious to observe the manner in which the whole establishment, from the highest to the lowest, thought it necessary to demean themselves towards his grace's confidential secretary; there was no meanness to which they would not stoop to curry favour with me; I could scarcely believe they were Spaniards. I left no stone unturned to be of service to them, without being taken in by their interested assiduities. My lord archbishop, at my entreaty, took them by the hand. He got a company for one, and fitted him out so as to make a handsome figure in the army. Another he sent to Mexico, with a considerable appointment which he procured him; and I obtained a good slice of his bounty for my friend Melchior. It was evident from these facts, that if the prelate was not particularly active in good works, at least he rarely gave a churlish refusal, when any one had the courage to importune him for his benevolence.
But what I did for a priest seems to deserve being noticed more at large. One day a certain licentiate, by name Lewis Garcias, a well-looking man still in the prime of life, was presented to me by our steward, who said -- Signor Gil Blas, in this honest ecclesiastic you behold one of my best friends. He was formerly chaplain to a nunnery. Scandal has taken a few liberties with his chastity. Malicious stories have been trumped up to hurt him in my lord archbishop's opinion, who has suspended him, and unfortunately is so strongly prejudiced by his enemies, as to be deaf to any petition in his favour. In vain have we interested the first people in Grenada to get him re-established; our master will not hear of it.
These first people in Grenada, said I, have gone the wrong way to work. It would have been much better if no interest at all had been made for the reverend licentiate. People have only done him a mischief by endeavouring to serve him. I know my lord archbishop thoroughly: entreaties and importunate recommendations do but aggravate the ill condition of a clergyman who lies under his displeasure: it is but a very short time ago since I heard him mutter the following sentiment to himself The more persons a priest, who has been guilty of any misconduct, engages to speak to me in his behalf, the more widely is the scandal of the church disseminated, and the more severe is my treatment of the offender. That is very unlucky, replied the steward; and my friend would be put to his last shifts if he did not write a good hand. But, happily, he has the pen of a ready scribe, and keeps his head above water by the exercise of that talent. I was curious to see whether this boasted hand writing was so much better than my own. The licentiate, who had a specimen in his pocket, shewed me a sheet which I admired very much: it had all the regularity of a writing-master's copy. In looking over this model of penman ship, an idea occurred to me. I begged Garcia to leave this paper in my hands, saying, that I might be able to do something with it which should turn out to his advantage; that I could not explain myself at that moment, but would tell him more the next day. The licentiate, to whom the steward had evidently talked big about my capacity to serve him, withdrew in as good spirits as if he had already been restored to his functions.
I was in earnest in my endeavour that he should be so, and lost no time in setting to work. Happening to be alone with the archbishop, I produced the specimen. My patron was delighted with it. Seizing on this favourable opportunity, May it please your grace, said I, since you are determined not to put your homilies to the press, I should very much like them at last to be transcribed in this masterly manner.
I am very well satisfied with your performance, answered the prelate, but yet I own that it would be a pleasant thing enough to have a copy of my works in that hand. Your grace, replied I, has only to signify your wishes. The man who copies so well is a licentiate of my acquaintance. It will give him so much the more pleasure to gratify you, as it may be the means of interesting your goodness to extricate him from the melancholy situation to which he has the misfortune at present to be reduced.
The prelate could not do otherwise than inquire the name of this licentiate. I told him it was Lewis Garcias. He is in despair at having drawn down your censure upon him. That Garcias, interrupted he, if I am not mistaken, was chaplain in a convent of nuns, and has been brought into the ecclesiastical court as a delinquent. I recollect some very heavy charges which have been sent me against him. His morals are not the most exemplary. May it please your grace, interrupted I in my turn, it is not for me to justify him in all points; but I know that he has enemies. He maintains that the authors of the informations you have received are more bent on doing him an ill office than on vindicating the purity of religion. That very possibly may be the case, replied the archbishop; there are a great many firebrands in the world. Besides, though we should take it for granted that his conduct has not always been above suspicion, he may have repented of his sins; in short, the mercies of heaven are infinite, however heinous our transgressions. Bring that licentiate before me, I take off his suspension.
Thus it is that men of the most austere character descend from their altitudes, when interest or a favourite whim reduces them to the level of the frail. The archbishop granted, without a struggle, to the empty vanity of having his works well copied, what he had refused to the most respectable applications. I carried the news with all possible expedition to the steward, who communicated it to his friend Garcias. That licentiate, on the following day, came to return me thanks commensurate with the favour obtained. I presented him to my master, who contented himself with giving him a slight reprimand, and put the homilies into his hand, to copy them out fair. Garcias performed the task so satisfactorily, that he was reinstated in the cure of souls, and was afterwards preferred to the living of Gabia, a large market town in the neighbourhood of Grenada.