The effect produced by the delivery of these discourses from the pulpit, was sufficiently satisfactory to the preacher: but, it is rather remarkable, that it, indirectly, involved me in a situation of embarrassment, equally novel and perplexing.
I had observed among my auditors, a gentleman of striking, but not prepossessing appearance. From his garb, I supposed him to be a clergyman. His large black eye was intelligent, but fierce; and not rendered less so, by the broad brow of the same hue, which surmounted it. His strongly-marked features indicated capacity of wind, and force of understanding; but there existed no trait among them, that could allure to confidence, or excite esteem. I ought to have been warned by his physiognomy; and certainly, "si mens non laeva fuisset," should never have admitted the horse within the walls.
I found him one Sunday morning in my vestry; and had the honour of being introduced to him, by — himself. "He was a doctor in divinity. He had presided over a large and most respectable academy, in Devonshire. He had been the chaplain of a first-rate man of war: and had shared in the conflict and glory of Trafalgar. He had come to Bath and settled in my parish, for the sake of an invalided member of his family; and was very desirous to lighten the labours of the parochial minister, as well as to exercise the functions of his own sacred profession. He had been deeply interested in the series of sermons which I was then delivering to my congregation; and felt that he ought to express his obligations, and make his return, by offering to take any part of my duty, which I might be pleased to entrust to him." The appearance of kindness (not to advert to the influence of compliment,) has always disarmed me of my judgment. I expressed myself to be obliged: accepted his offer; and requested him to fill my pulpit on the ensuing Sunday morning. The congregation were charmed. The Doctor's voice was magnificent: his delivery energetic: his sermon admirable. He continued to assist me in my parochial duties. I found him to be a man of considerable scholarship, and great general information; and, understanding that he wished to increase his income by private tuition, I aided him with my advice and recommendation, in taking a house, and arranging his establishment; and procured for him his first pupil, the son of one of my particular acquaintance. The Doctor's fame as a reader and preacher echoed through Bath; and my estimable friend, the late archdeacon and rector of Bath, Dr. Phillott , requested me to introduce him to this clerical prodigy. I did so; the archdeacon was as much struck as myself with the Rev. stranger; who repeatedly displayed his oratorical powers, from the pulpit of the abbey-church.
The course of things continued to flow on thus smoothly and satisfactorily for some time; when, one morning, I was surprised by a visit from the archdeacon, in a state of agitation, very unlike his usual serene and cheerful temperament. He had heard that our powerful ally was an impostor; that he had never taken orders; and that, though part of his autobiography was founded in fact: yet, it had been loaded with so many additions, and might be charged with so many omissions, as rendered it any thing rather than authentic history. He concluded by requesting me to sift the affair to the bottom. My measures were quick: I instantly sent for the gentleman in question; detailed to him the particulars which I had heard; and requested that he would enable me to refute the calumnies against him, that were floating, at that moment, through Bath, by giving me a sight of those papers which would prove him to be, verily and indeed, the character he had professed himself to be. He affected indignant surprise: but would go immediately to his house; bring his papers; and show me documents sufficient to shame his enemies, and confirm the good opinion of his friends. In a quarter of an hour he was with me again, and the credentials in his hands. I untied, and perused them — "Why, Sir," said I, "here are nothing more than papers for deacon's orders! where are those which relate. to your priest's ordination and doctor's degree?" "Sir, the maid has been rummaging in the drawer, and displaced them." "Cannot you produce them to me, Sir." (coolly) — "No, Sir:" (with flames flashing from his eye,) "if I could have found, I should have brought them." — "Then, Sir, I am sorry to say, you have not afforded me the means of vindicating your character." His natural ferocity broke out: he would be suspected by no man: he had served His Majesty, and knew how to defend his own reputation." But I was not to be bullied; and, bowing him civilly out of the room, communicated the result of my enquiry to the Archdeacon: and advised the father of the pupil, incontinently to remove his child to his own home. In a few weeks, the doughty Doctor had broken up his establishment; sold his goods and chattels; and quitted Bath.
About two years subsequently to these events, two gentlemen from Wootton-Underedge, in Gloucestershire, called upon me. They had heard (they told me,) of the circumstances which I have just related: and had every reason to believe, that the person principally concerned in them, was, at that moment, playing the same game, under a borrowed name, in their parish, (of which he had been curate, for some months past,) as he had been engaged in at Bath. That he had absolutely fascinated the congregation by his powers in the desk and pulpit; and been admitted into an intimacy with the most respectable families in the neighbourhood; but, that suspicions were afloat with regard to his respectability; and that they had come to Bath, for the means either of disproving or confirming them. Did I know the person of the gentleman spoken of?" — "Perfectly." — "Could I identify him, if I saw him?" — "Unquestionably." — "Had he a peculiar manner of pronouncing the seventh word in the Lord's prayer; hollowed, instead of hallowed?" — "Exactly so." — "Would I accompany them, that night, to Wootton-Underedge (about 30 miles); attend the church the next morning; and ascertain, whether the curate were the same person who had rendered himself so notorious at Bath?" — "With the utmost readiness." — In ten minutes we were in a post-chaise; and before nine, at our place of destination. — But, "ibi omnis effusus labor!" The bird was flown. Vigilant as a hawk, he had discovered the expedition of the two gentlemen; suspected its purpose; and, packing up his bag and baggage, had left Wootton-Underedge that morning, for ever and aye.
The recollection of this bold clerical adventurer was fading from my mind, when, an article which appeared in the public papers in 1818, to the following effect, brought him, and his divers pranks, again before me: — that LAWRENCE O'HALLORAN (the Proteus in question) had been convicted at the Old Bailey, and sentenced to seven years' transportation, for forging a frank to a letter, by which the revenue was defrauded of 10d. Thus terminated the career of Dr. O'HALLORAN'S pulpit eloquence!*
* On his trial he persisted in pleading guilty, because, he said, the only person who could establish his innocence, was dead. The forgery had been committed in the preceding year, and, he observed, that the charge would not have been brought against him, but for a subsequent quarrel with his rector, the person who received the letter. He was the tutor of several celebrated men; among whom was the late Sir R. Gifford. — Gent. Mag. lxxxviii. II. 462. Halloran was chaplain of the Britannia, at the Battle of Trafalgar. He told me, that the commander of that ship requested him to repeat the word of command through a speaking trumpet during the engagement, an office for which Halloran was well qualified, from the extraordinary strength and clearness of his voice. His hand-writing was the most beautiful I ever beheld.