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At the age of fifty, the Reverend Septimus Harding is appointed precentor of Barchester Cathedral, a position that carries with it the wardenship of Hiram’s Hospital. For more than four hundred years, this institution has provided a home for twelve men in their old age; because the institution’s income has grown to a considerable size, both the warden and the steward receive substantial yearly salaries. With his income of eight hundred pounds a year, Mr. Harding is able to provide comfortably for his younger daughter, Eleanor. His older daughter, Susan, is married to Dr. Grantly, the archdeacon of the cathedral.

John Bold, a young physician with a small practice, turns his energies to reform. On investigation, he discovers that the will of John Hiram, the donor of the hospital, made no stipulation that would result in such a discrepancy as exists between the incomes of the warden and the steward and the incomes of the twelve residents. Bold decides that it is his duty to bring the discrepancy to light. He engages the interest of a newspaperman friend, Tom Towers, and the services of a solicitor named Finney, who explains the situation to the residents and encourages them to think in terms of an annual income of as much as one hundred pounds a year. Most of them sign a petition addressed to the bishop, asking that justice be done.

When The Jupiter, the newspaper for which Towers works, begins to publish editorials about the greediness of the Church and unscrupulous clergymen, Mr. Harding is distressed. It has never entered his head that he is living on an income not his by rights, and he begins to talk of resigning. Eleanor agrees that if her father is unhappy at Hiram’s Hospital, they would be better off at Crabtree Parva, a small parish that belongs to Mr. Harding and that pays an annual income of fifty pounds.

Dr. Grantly, a worldly man, will not hear of Mr. Harding’s resignation. He insists that the warden has an obligation to the Church and to his fellow members of the clergy that requires a firm stand against the laity and the press. Besides, as he points out, the living Mr. Harding would receive at Crabtree Parva would not enable Eleanor to make a suitable marriage.

Dr. Grantly comes to the hospital and addresses the residents. He tells them that John Hiram had intended simply to provide comfortable quarters for old single men who have no other homes. Dr. Grantly’s speech has little effect on anyone except John Bunce and two of his cronies. John Bunce, who is especially close to Mr. Harding, serves as the old men’s subwarden. The others feel they have a right to a hundred pounds a year.

When Eleanor sees how unhappy the whole affair has made her father, she begs him to resign. She also goes to John Bold and begs him to give up the suit. After promising to do anything he can for her, Bold declares his love. Eleanor, who had not meant to let matters go so far, confesses that she loves him in return.

Bold goes to see Dr. Grantly and tells him that, for reasons best known to himself, he is withdrawing the charges he had made. Dr. Grantly replies that he does not think the defendants wish to have the suit withdrawn. He has been advised that Mr. Harding and the steward are, in effect, servants, and therefore are not responsible and cannot be defendants in a suit.

Mr. Harding decides to go to London for a conference with Sir Abraham Haphazard,...

(This entire section contains 1056 words.)

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the counsel for the defense. Eleanor has come home expecting to tell her father all that Bold has told her, but she cannot bring herself to discuss her own affairs before those of the wardenship are settled. Mr. Harding has decided that he has no right to the income from Hiram’s Hospital.

Bold also is going to London. When he arrives there, he meets with Tom Towers and asks him not to print any more editorials about the Barchester situation. Towers says that he cannot be responsible for the attitude of The Jupiter. Bold then goes to the offices of his lawyer and tells him to drop the suit. The lawyer sends word to Sir Abraham.

Mr. Harding arrives in London and is given an appointment with Sir Abraham the next night at ten o’clock. He has explained his intention in a note to Dr. Grantly and now is afraid that Dr. Grantly will arrive in London before he has a chance to carry out his plan. He leaves his hotel at ten in the morning and spends most of the day in Westminster Abbey in order to avoid Dr. Grantly. That night, he tells Sir Abraham that he must in all conscience resign his post as warden. When he returns to his hotel, he finds Dr. and Mrs. Grantly waiting for him, but their arguments cannot sway the warden. Back in Barchester, he writes a formal letter of resignation to the bishop and sends a copy to Dr. Grantly.

The bishop offers Mr. Harding a position as chaplain in his household, but he declines the offer. Then it is suggested that a trade be effected between Mr. Harding and Mr. Quiverful of Puddingdale. Mr. Quiverful, who has twelve children, would be glad to double his annual income and would be impervious to any attacks from the press. Nevertheless, this arrangement also meets with opposition, for Puddingdale is too far from Barchester for Mr. Harding to attend to his duties as precentor at the cathedral.

As the time for Mr. Harding’s departure from Hiram’s Hospital draws near, he calls in all the residents and has a last talk with them. They are disturbed—even those who petitioned the bishop—for they know that they are being deprived of a friendly and sympathetic warden.

Mr. Harding takes lodgings and is given a tiny parish at the entrance to the cathedral close. His daughter Eleanor marries John Bold. Mr. Harding’s income continues to be ample for his needs. He dines frequently with the bishop and keeps his violoncello at Eleanor’s house, where he often goes to make music. In short, Mr. Harding is not an unhappy man.