"As you probably passed through Dorchester this afternoon," said he, "you might have heard me preach also, had you come into the church there, for that is my curacy, from which I am just come, and am now returning to Oxford." "So you are a clergyman;" said I, quite overjoyed that, in a dark night, I had met a companion on the road, who was of the same profession as myself. "And I, also," said I, "am a preacher of the gospel, though not of this country." And now I thought it right to give him to understand, that it was not, as I had before intimated, out of absolute poverty, but with a view of becoming better acquainted with men and manners, that I thus travelled on foot. He was as much pleased with this agreeable meeting as myself, and before we took a step farther, we cordially shook hands.
He now began to address me in Latin, and on my answering him in that language, which I attempted to pronounce according to the English manner of speaking it, he applauded me not a little for my correct pronunciation. He then told me, that some years ago, in the night also, and nearly at the same spot where he found me, he had met another German, who likewise spoke to him in Latin; but this unknown countryman of mine had pronounced it so very badly, that he said it was absolutely unintelligible.
The conversation now turned on various theological matters; and among others on the novel notions of a Dr. Priestly, whom he roundly blamed. I was not at all disposed to dispute that point with him, and so, professing with great sincerity, a high esteem for the Church of England, and great respect and regard for its clergy, I seemed to gain his good opinion.
Beguiling the tediousness of the road by such discourse, we were now got, almost without knowing it, quite to Oxford.
He told me I should now see one of the finest and most beautiful cities, not only in England, but in all Europe. All he lamented, was, that on account of the darkness of the night, I should not immediately see it.
This really was the case: "And now," said he, as we entered the town, "I introduce you into Oxford by one of the finest, the longest, and most beautiful streets, not only in this city, but in England, and I may safely add in all Europe."
The beauty and the magnificence of the street I could not distinguish; but of its length I was perfectly sensible by my fatigue; for we still went on, and still through the longest, the finest, and most beautiful street in Europe, which seemed to have no end; nor had I any assurance that I should be able to find a bed for myself in all this famous street. At length my companion stopped to take leave of me, and said he should now go to his college.
"And I," said I, "will seat myself for the night on this stone bench and await the morning, as it will be in vain for me, I imagine, to look for shelter in a house at this time of night."
"Seat yourself on a stone!" said my companion, and shook his head. "No, no! come along with me to a neighbouring ale-house, where it is possible they mayn't be gone to bed, and we may yet find company." We went on a few houses further, and then knocked at a door. It was then nearly twelve. They readily let us in; but how great was my astonishment, when, on being shown into a room on the left, I saw a great number of clergymen, all with their gowns and bands on, sitting round a large table, each with his pot of beer before him. My travelling companion introduced me to them, as a German clergyman, whom he could not sufficiently praise for my correct pronunciation of the Latin, my orthodoxy, and my good walking.
I now saw myself in a moment, as it were, all at once transported into the midst of a company, all apparently very respectable men, but all strangers to me. And it appeared to me extraordinary that I should, thus at midnight, be in Oxford, in a large company of Oxonian clergy, without well knowing how I had got there. Meanwhile, however, I took all the pains in my power to recommend myself to my company, and in the course of conversation, I gave them as good an account as I could of our German universities, neither denying nor concealing that, now and then, we had riots and disturbances. "Oh, we are very unruly here, too," said one of the clergymen as he took a hearty draught out of his pot of beer, and knocked on the table with his hand. The conversation now became louder, more general, and a little confused; they enquired after Mr. Bruns, at present professor at Helmstadt, and who was known by many of them.
Among these gentlemen there was one of the name of Clerk, who seemed ambitious to pass for a great wit, which he attempted by starting sundry objections to the Bible. I should have liked him better if he had confined himself to punning and playing on his own name, by telling us again and again, that he should still be at least a Clerk, even though he should never become a clergyman. Upon the whole, however, he was, in his way, a man of some humour, and an agreeable companion.
Among other objections to the Scriptures, he started this one to my travelling companion, whose name I now learnt was Maud, that it was said in the Bible that God was a wine-bibber. On this Mr. Maud fell into a violent passion, and maintained that it was utterly impossible that any such passage should be found in the Bible. Another divine, a Mr. Caern referred us to his absent brother, who had already been forty years in the church, and must certainly know something of such a passage if it were in the Bible, but he would venture to lay any wager his brother knew nothing of it.
"Waiter! fetch a Bible!" called out Mr. Clerk, and a great family Bible was immediately brought in, and opened on the table among all the beer jugs.