Chapter 59

BEFORE GOING DOWN INTO THE KITCHEN to convert the tinker Ernest ran hurriedly over his analysis of Paley's Evidences, and put into his pocket a copy of Archbishop Whately's Historic Doubts. Then he descended the dark, rotten old stairs and knocked at the tinker's door. Mr Shaw was very civil; he said he was rather throng just now, but if Ernest did not mind the sound of hammering he should be very glad of a talk with him. Our hero, assenting to this, ere long led the conversation to Whately's Historic Doubts - a work which, as the reader may know, pretends to show that there never was any such person as Napoleon Buonaparte, and thus satirizes the arguments of those who have attacked the Christian miracles.

Mr Shaw said he knew Historic Doubts very well.

`And what do you think of it?' said Ernest, who regarded the pamphlet as a masterpiece of wit and cogency.

`If you really want to know,' said Mr Shaw, with a sly twinkle, `I think that he who was so willing and able to prove that what was was not, would be equally able and willing to make a case for thinking that what was not was, if it suited his purpose.' Ernest was very much taken aback. How was it that all the clever people of Cambridge had never put him up to this simple rejoinder? The answer is easy: they did not develop it for the same reason that a hen has never developed webbed feet - that is to say, because they did not want to do so; but this was before the days of Evolution, and Ernest could not as yet know anything of the great principle that underlies it.

`You see,' continued Mr Shaw, `these writers all get their living by writing in a certain way, and the more they write in that way, the more they are likely to get on. You should not call them dishonest for this any more than a judge should call a barrister dishonest for earning his living by defending one in whose innocence he does not seriously believe; but you should hear the barrister on the other side before you decide upon the case.'

This was another facer. Ernest could only stammer that he had endeavoured to examine these questions as carefully as he could.

`You think you have,' said Mr Shaw; `you Oxford and Cambridge gentlemen think you have examined everything. I have examined very little myself except the bottoms of old kettles and saucepans, but if you will answer me a few questions, I will tell you whether or no you have examined much more than I have.'

Ernest expressed his readiness to be questioned.

`Then,' said the tinker, `give me the story of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as told in St John's gospel.'

I am sorry to say that Ernest mixed up the four accounts in a deplorable manner; he even made the angel come down and roll away the stone and sit upon it. He was covered with confusion when the tinker first told him without the book of some of his many inaccuracies, and then verified his criticisms by referring to the New Testament itself.

`Now,' said Mr Shaw good naturedly, `I am an old man and you are a young one, so perhaps you'll not mind my giving you a piece of advice. I like you, for I believe you mean well, but you've been real bad brought up, and I don't think you have ever had so much as a chance yet. You know nothing of our side of the question, and I have just shown you that you do not know much more of your own, but I think you will make a kind of Carlyle sort of a man some day. Now go upstairs and read the accounts of the Resurrection correctly without mixing them up, and have a clear idea of what it is that each writer tells us, then if you feel inclined to pay me another visit I shall be glad to see you, for I shall know you have made a good beginning and mean business. Till then, Sir, I must wish you a very good morning.'

Ernest retreated abashed. An hour sufficed him to perform the task enjoined upon him by Mr Shaw; and at the end of that hour the `No, no, no,' which still sounded in his ears as he heard it from Towneley, came ringing up more loudly still from the very pages of the Bible itself, and in respect of the most important

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