The Eighth Circle of Hell
IT WAS A TIME of trysts. These were 'fairy days' for Nettie, when midshipman Sharpe 'was Mercury to me and Hal', carrying notes and arranging rendezvous. The ship's arrival in Sydney on 9 March 1848 had given them another seven weeks' grace.
Hal caught up with the gossip. He heard about the three clergymen who had deserted to Rome, leaving Nettie's church unattended. Distant Sydney was shadowing Oxford, as the Tractarians moved to more ritualistic Catholic practice. 'How very dreadful', she exclaimed, sharing his dislike of anything 'Romish'. 'I cannot imagine any sensible person turning Catholic, it is repugnant to common sense'.
Huxley could never escape the whirl of religion. 'What wonderful and beautiful sights have already met your view', his mother exclaimed, 'there is something so fresh and refreshing in your letters, so unlike the worldliness and care of everyday life'. She hoped that his chance 'to contemplate the wonders of Nature' away from the Church-haters and Chartists would fortify him, hoped:
that whilst your mind is young & free to judge of the God of Nature by his Works and Providences, you may also find an inward witness to strengthen those same convictions e're you return to the Land of your Birth, and mix again, as you 'must do,' with the Scoffer and the Unbeliever. I say 'must do,' because they seem to me to stalk about more arrogantly than ever. May God bless you my dear Tom, for he alone can keep you from such Adversaries. 1 *