Framley Parsonage

In times of crisis, man desperately seeks everywhere for help or remedy. Rarely does he turn upwards to the spiritual source of power that can cure all ills. Nor does he genuinely look within himself to discover the real source of the crisis and the power that lies within his own being to remedy it. Both history and literature confirm that one need not be deeply religious to invoke a miraculous power of salvation in one’s life. Truthfulness and sincerity have the power to call down that power, even in the lives of those who do not know of or believe in the Spirit’s existence. This principle is powerfully illustrated by a central incident in Anthony Trollope’s most popular novel, Framley Parsonage.

Mark Robarts was an English clergyman living a comfortable and prosperous life on a £900 income with his affectionate wife Fanny and two small children. They resided at Framley Parsonage under the patronage of the elderly Lady Lufton and her son Lord Lufton, who was a longtime close friend of Mr. Robarts. Having attained financial security, a loving family and social respectability at an early age, Robarts aspired to climb higher and was lured by the glittering status of the English aristocracy. Though personally charming and well-educated, Mark had led a sheltered life and was ignorant of the ways of the world. As a result, he was easily duped by an aristocratic MP from the area, Nathaniel Sowerby, who introduced him into the highest echelons of English aristocracy. Sowerby persuaded Robarts to counter-guarantee a promissory note executed by Sowerby for £400 on the assurance that he would never be called upon to pay anything against the note.

In reality, Sowerby had fallen irretrievably into debt due to his expenditures on electioneering and gambling. He had only just been managing to maintain his social position and family estate by borrowing money from every friend and acquaintance until a pack of moneylenders came chasing at his heels demanding repayment. Robarts was only the most recent in a long string of his victims, which had earlier included Lord Lufton himself. In spite of receiving prior warning about Sowerby’s reputation, the flattery of being introduced into high society was too great a temptation for Robarts to resist and he fell prey to Sowerby’s false assurances regarding the promissory note.

In return for this gesture, Sowerby used his political influence to help Robarts obtain a second clerical position as prebendary in a nearby town, which added £600 to his annual income. Although Robarts’ financial position was considerably enhanced, almost immediately he began to regret having accepted the favor. Sowerby confessed to Robarts, his inability to redeem the initial promissory note and told the vicar that he would be held legally libel for the principal and interest. In order to put off the creditors until Sowerby could raise the money to pay the debt, he asked Robarts to renew the note for £500. Faced with no apparent alternative, Robarts naively consented. In fact, the second note was an addition to rather than a replacement for the initial note. By signing it, Robarts increased his liability as guarantor to an amount equal to his entire annual income.

Soon afterwards, he learned that Sowerby was completely insolvent. The magnitude of Robart’s foolish gullibility dawned on him. Not only had he unnecessarily jeopardized his family’s financial security. He had done so without consulting or informing his loyal and affectionate wife, thereby threatening to undermine an otherwise perfectly blissful marriage. Furthermore, in seeking the company of Sowerby and his friends, Robart had offended the political and religious sensibilities of his patroness, Lady Lufton, thereby alienating himself from his principal source of support. Adding to all these woes, as a public clerical figure, gossip and rumors regarding improper or injudicious financial transactions would severely damage Robarts’ reputation and standing as a member of the church.

One day Sowerby asked for a meeting with Robarts and confessed the true extent of the problem they both had to confront. Sowerby faced imminent bankruptcy. Conscious of the harm he had done to Robarts, Sowerby came to plead with Robarts to save himself from the creditors by borrowing money from his bankers and committing to repay the entire amount over a few years. Sowerby’s proposal was honestly made and sensible, but Robarts would have nothing to do with it. As unwisely as he had previously accepted Sowerby’s advice and co-signed the notes, he now vigorously rejected even the suggestion that he should sign another financial obligation to anyone, even when the sole purpose was to save himself and his own family from public humiliation and confiscation of his personal property. Robarts remained stubbornly adamant. Though bitter at Sowerby for having hoodwinked him with false promises, he did not even try to cast the full blame on the bankrupt MP. He frankly and openly acknowledged his own ignorance, foolishness, vanity and repeated errors, and insisted that he would not sign another note, even to save himself.

Robarts was not without resources to save him from the moneylenders. Lord Lufton remained a close friend who had fallen in love with Mark’s youngest sister Lucy and wished to marry her. However, Mark knew that Lady Lufton strongly objected to that marriage and he felt it would be unfair to jeopardized Lucy’s prospects by seeking help from his friend. For the same reason, he refused to consider applying to Lady Lufton herself, who as a warm-hearted patroness would certainly heed his request, even if he lost her respect and undermined Lucy’s marriage prospects in the process. As he refused to apply to his bankers, Robarts also refused to pass on the burden to others who would willingly or reluctantly accept it. The honor of an English gentleman made him abhor dependence on others to shoulder his own responsibilities.

Instead, he returned to Framley to stoically meet his creditors and his fate. His first task was to inform his faithful wife of his catastrophic folly and the public humiliation and severe financial straits to which the entire family would now be subjected. Very rarely in life or literature do we meet a female character like Fanny Robarts. Though a strong English woman and formed individual in her own right, in one respect Fanny resembled far more closely the fading ideal of Indian womanhood. For she considered it her highest duty and greatest privilege to stand by her husband through any ordeal, no matter how severe the trials or how much it may be of his own making. Rather than sit quietly judging him while he confessed his sins to her, she rushed over to stand by his side and demanded the right to share fully the burden that had fallen on his shoulders. Though it did not change the material consequences of his position one iota, Mark immediately felt the burden lifted from his soul by the sympathetic support of a loyal and affectionate wife.

Patiently waiting for calamity to strike, Robarts was surprised when his own banker, Mr. Forrest, called on him to offer him unsolicited advice. Forrest had heard rumors that legal action was planned against his client and rushed to offer Robarts a means to escape public prosecution and humiliation. All Robarts had to do was apply to Forrest for a two year loan counter signed by his friend Lord Lufton. He could then pay off the moneylenders now and repay the bank loan out of his future earnings. But Robarts stuck to his resolve. He would not ask Lufton or anyone else to bear responsibility for his own folly and he himself would not sign another note! Forrest went away bewildered by Robarts’ determination. Finally, the fateful day of reckoning arrived. The bailiffs came to Framley Parsonage with an order to confiscate furniture and belongings equal to the amount due on Sowerby’s notes. Fanny longed for permission to apply to Lady Lufton for assistance, but her husband would not consider it. Robarts stood bravely watching the ordeal without a word of protest. Fanny clung to his side offering consolation and support. Quite unexpectedly, Lord Lufton returned from a holiday in Norway and inquired with the bailiffs why they had come. On hearing their explanation, he immediately pledged to provide the amount due by his friend Robarts and sent them away. He then approached Robarts and told him that he had assumed the debt temporarily so that Mark could repay it to him whenever he found it convenient. Mark had not asked for the loan and could not now refuse it, since Lufton had already pledged himself to the bailiffs.

Mark Robarts was a clergyman, but he never thought of resorting to prayer to save himself from his predicament. Yet out of nowhere, Lord Lufton arrived to save the day and acted without even consulting Robarts or taking his permission. What made life act in this remarkable manner? Rather than blame others or seek relief at the hands of others, Robarts frankly recognized that he was himself the source of the problem and resigned himself to accept full responsibility for his actions. This combination of sincerity and responsibility were sufficient to evoke a powerful positive response from life. In addition, Robarts acted in this manner without even a trace of hope or expectation that help would come from others unasked. Had he secretly wished for or expected what he outwardly refused to request, that expectation would have postponed or prevented help from reaching him. Absence of expectation reinforced the purity of his resolve.

Had these been his only strengths, he would certainly have been saved from the situation, but most probably only after the bailiffs had carted away his belongings and broadcast his humiliation to the public. But his inner resolve was complemented by the pure devotion of an affectionate wife, whose intense goodwill and willingness for sacrifice—without a word of recrimination against her husband—provided powerful support from life.

Although Robarts had been foolish and even vain, he had never been false or mean in his intentions. Thus, even the evil that had come to him through Sowerby was a mitigated evil. Sowerby had been false and deceitful in order to save himself, not with the objective of harming Robarts. Mark was merely a victim of Sowerby’s unscrupulous efforts to save himself. Sowerby had played upon Robarts ignorance, naivety and vain aspiration to rise higher in society. Since there was nothing of ill-will or malice in Robarts’ character, the wrong that came to him came in the form of another man who acted vainly and foolishly to save his own place in society. Robarts was vulnerable because he shared that trait of vanity with Sowerby. Thus, at the final reckoning of accounts, Sowerby felt a genuine desire to save Robarts from the moneylenders. He could not do it himself, so he sincerely advised Robarts how to do it. Robarts rejected his advice, but Sowerby’s good intention still found a means of acting through Lufton’s intervention and Sowerby was spared the added regret of having dragged down another man along with himself.

Mark and Fanny were saved from infamy and elevated by life at the very next moment when Lufton announced his determination to marry Mark’s sister Lucy. In a trice, the creditors were banished and the Robarts rose through a marriage alliance with the most distinguished family in the county.

Life constantly presents us with opportunities for further progress and opportunities to lose what we have thus far acquired. Out of ignorance, stubbornness, momentary lapse or downright folly, we often choose the wrong path and call down havoc on our own lives. Mark Robarts’ story brings home the truth that regardless of our actions, the power always lies within us to reverse and redeem the situation. Sincere acknowledgement of our own past errors and genuine willingness to accept full responsibility for the consequences of our actions are the keys to unravel any problem life presents to us.

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