She ceased, and there was silence for a few moments, as if angels were waiting, hushed, to carry our repentance to the throne of Him we had forgotten.
Crossthwaite had kept his face fast buried in his hands; now he looked up with brimming eyes—
"I see it—I see it all now. Oh, my God! my God! what infidels we have been!"
MIRACLES AND SCIENCE.
Sunrise, they say, often at first draws up and deepens the very mists which it is about to scatter: and even so, as the excitement of my first conviction cooled, dark doubts arose to dim the new-born light of hope and trust within me. The question of miracles had been ever since I had read Strauss my greatest stumbling-block—perhaps not unwillingly, for my doubts pampered my sense of intellectual acuteness and scientific knowledge; and "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing." But now that they interfered with nobler, more important, more immediately practical ideas, I longed to have them removed—I longed even to swallow them down on trust—to take the miracles "into the bargain" as it were, for the sake of that mighty gospel of deliverance for the people which accompanied them. Mean subterfuge! which would not, could not, satisfy me. The thing was too precious, too all-important, to take one tittle of it on trust. I could not bear the consciousness of one hollow spot—the nether fires of doubt glaring through, even at one little crevice. I took my doubts to Lady Ellerton—Eleanor, as I must now call her, for she never allowed herself to be addressed by her title—and she referred me to her uncle—
"I could say somewhat on that point myself. But since your doubts are scientific ones, I had rather that you should discuss them with one whose knowledge of such subjects you, and all England with you, must revere."
"Ah, but—pardon me; he is a clergyman."
"And therefore bound to prove, whether he believes in his own proof or not. Unworthy suspicion!" she cried, with a touch of her old manner. "If you had known that man's literary history for the last thirty years, you would not suspect him, at least, of sacrificing truth and conscience to interest, or to fear of the world's insults."
I was rebuked; and not without hope and confidence, I broached the question to the good dean when he came in—as he happened to do that very day.
"I hardly like to state my difficulties," I began—"for I am afraid that I must hurt myself in your eyes by offending your—prejudices, if you will pardon so plain-spoken an expression."
"If," he replied, in his bland courtly way, "I am so unfortunate as to have any prejudices left, you cannot do me a greater kindness than by offending them—or by any other means, however severe—to make me conscious of the locality of such a secret canker."
"But I am afraid that your own teaching has created, or at least corroborated, these doubts of mine."
"You first taught me to revere science. You first taught me to admire and trust the immutable order, the perfect harmony of the laws of Nature."
"Ah! I comprehend now!" he answered, in a somewhat mournful tone—"How much we have to answer for! How often, in our carelessness, we offend those little ones, whose souls are precious in the sight of God! I have thought long and earnestly on the very subject which now distresses you; perhaps every doubt which has passed through your mind, has exercised my own; and, strange to say, you first set me on that new path of thought. A conversation which passed between us years ago at D * * * * on the antithesis of natural and revealed religion—perhaps you recollect it?"
Yes, I recollected it better than he fancied, and recollected too—I thrust the thought behind me—it was even yet intolerable.
"That conversation first awoke in me the sense of an hitherto unconscious inconsistency—a desire to reconcile two lines of thought—which I had hitherto considered as parallel, and impossible to unite. To you, and to my beloved niece here, I owe gratitude for that evening's talk; and you are freely welcome to all my conclusions, for you have been, indirectly, the originator of them all."
"Then, I must confess, that miracles seem to me impossible, just because they break the laws of Nature. Pardon me—but there seems something blasphemous in supposing that God can mar His own order: His power I do not call in question, but the very thought of His so doing is abhorrent to me."
"It is as abhorrent to me as it can be to you, to Goethe, or to Strauss; and yet I believe firmly in our Lord's miracles."
"How so, if they break the laws of Nature?"
"Who told you, my dear young friend, that to break the customs of Nature, is to break her laws? A phenomenon, an appearance, whether it be a miracle or a comet, need not contradict them because it is rare, because it is as yet not referable to them. Nature's deepest laws, her only true laws, are her invisible ones. All analyses (I think you know enough to understand my terms), whether of appearances, of causes, or of elements, only lead us down to fresh appearances—we cannot see a law, let the power of our lens be ever so immense. The true causes remain just as impalpable, as unfathomable as ever, eluding equally our microscope and our induction—ever tending towards some great primal law, as Mr. Grove has well shown lately in his most valuable pamphlet—some great primal law, I say, manifesting itself, according to circumstances, in countless diverse and unexpected forms—till all that the philosopher as well as the divine can say, is—the Spirit of Life, impalpable, transcendental, direct from God, is the only real cause. 'It bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth.' What, if miracles should be the orderly result of some such deep, most orderly, and yet most spiritual law?"
"I feel the force of your argument, but—"
"But you will confess, at least, that you, after the fashion of the crowd, have begun your argument by begging the very question in dispute, and may have, after all, created the very difficulty which torments you."
"I confess it; but I cannot see how the miracles of Jesus—of our Lord—have anything of order in them."
"Tell me, then—to try the Socratic method—is disease, or health, the order and law of Nature?"
"Health, surely; we all confess that by calling diseases disorders."
"Then, would one who healed diseases be a restorer, or a breaker of order?"
"A restorer, doubtless; but—"
"Like a patient scholar, and a scholarly patient, allow me to 'exhibit' my own medicines according to my own notion of the various crises of your distemper. I assure you I will not play you false, or entrap you by quips and special pleading. You are aware that our Lord's miracles were almost exclusively miracles of healing—restorations of that order of health which disease was breaking—that when the Scribes and Pharisees, superstitious and sense-bound, asked him for a sign from heaven, a contra-natural prodigy, he refused them as peremptorily as he did the fiend's 'Command these stones that they be made bread.' You will quote against me the water turned into wine, as an exception to this rule. St. Augustine answered that objection centuries ago, by the same argument as I am now using. Allow Jesus to have been the Lord of Creation, and what was he doing then, but what he does in the maturing of every grape—transformed from air and water even as that wine in Cana? Goethe, himself, unwittingly, has made Mephistopheles even say as much as that—
"Wine is sap, and grapes are wood, The wooden board yields wine as good."
"But the time?—so infinitely shorter than that which Nature usually occupies in the process?"
"Time and space are no Gods, as a wise German says; and as the electric telegraph ought already to have taught you. They are customs, but who has proved them to be laws of Nature? No; analyse these miracles one by one, fairly, carefully, scientifically, and you will find that if you want prodigies really blasphemous and absurd, infractions of the laws of Nature, amputated limbs growing again, and dead men walking away with their heads under their arms, you must go to the Popish legends, but not to the miracles of the Gospels. And now for your 'but'—"
"The raising of the dead to life? Surely death is the appointed end of every animal—ay, of every species, and of man among the rest."
"Who denies it? But is premature death?—the death of Jairus's daughter, of the widow's son at Nain, the death of Jesus himself, in the prime of youth and vigour—or rather that gradual decay of ripe old age, through which I now, thank God, so fast am travelling? What nobler restoration of order, what clearer vindication of the laws of Nature from the disorder of diseases, than to recall the dead to their natural and normal period of life?"
I was silent a few moments, having nothing to answer; then—
"After all, these may have been restorations of the law of Nature. But why was the law broken in order to restore it? The Tenth of April has taught me, at least, that disorder cannot cast disorder out."
"Again I ask, why do you assume the very point in question? Again I ask, who knows what really are the laws of Nature? You have heard Bacon's golden rule—'Nature is conquered by obeying her?'"
"Then who more likely, who more certain, to fulfil that law to hitherto unattained perfection, than He who came to obey, not outward nature merely, but, as Bacon meant, the inner ideas, the spirit of Nature, which is the will of God?—He who came to do utterly, not His own will, but the will of the Father who sent Him? Who is so presumptuous as to limit the future triumphs of science? Surely no one who has watched her giant strides during the last century. Shall Stephenson and Faraday, and the inventors of the calculating machine, and the electric telegraph, have fulfilled such wonders by their weak and partial obedience to the 'Will of God expressed in things'—and He who obeyed, even unto the death, have possessed no higher power than theirs?"
"Indeed," I said, "your words stagger me. But there is another old objection which they have reawakened in my mind. You will say I am shifting my ground sadly. But you must pardon me"
"Let us hear. They need not be irrelevant. The unconscious logic of association is often deeper and truer than any syllogism."
"These modern discoveries in medicine seem to show that Christ's miracles may be attributed to natural causes."
"And thereby justify them. For what else have I been arguing. The difficulty lies only in the rationalist's shallow and sensuous view of Nature, and in his ambiguous, slip-slop trick of using the word natural to mean, in one sentence, 'material,' and in the next, as I use it, only 'normal and orderly.' Every new wonder in medicine which this great age discovers—what does it prove, but that Christ need have broken no natural laws to do that of old, which can be done now without breaking them—if you will but believe that these gifts of healing are all inspired and revealed by Him who is the Great Physician, the Life, the Lord of that vital energy by whom all cures are wrought.
"The surgeons of St. George's make the boy walk who has been lame from his mother's womb. But have they given life to a single bone or muscle of his limbs? They have only put them into that position—those circumstances in which the God-given life in them can have its free and normal play, and produce the cure which they only assist. I claim that miracle of science, as I do all future ones, as the inspiration of Him who made the lame to walk in Judea, not by producing new organs, but by His creative will—quickening and liberating those which already existed.
"The mesmerist, again, says that he can cure a spirit of infirmity, an hysteric or paralytic patient, by shedding forth on them his own vital energy; and, therefore he will have it, that Christ's miracles were but mesmeric feats. I grant, for the sake of argument, that he possesses the power which he claims; though I may think his facts too new, too undigested, often too exaggerated, to claim my certain assent. But, I say, I take you on your own ground; and, indeed, if man be the image of God, his vital energy may, for aught I know, be able, like God's, to communicate some spark of life—But then, what must have been the vital energy of Him who was the life itself; who was filled without measure with the spirit, not only of humanity, but with that of God the Lord and Giver of life? Do but let the Bible tell its own story; grant, for the sake of argument, the truth of the dogmas which it asserts throughout, and it becomes a consistent whole. When a man begins, as Strauss does, by assuming the falsity of its conclusions, no wonder if he finds its premises a fragmentary chaos of contradictions."
"And what else?" asked Eleanor, passionately—"what else is the meaning of that highest human honour, the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, but a perennial token that the same life-giving spirit is the free right of all?"
And thereon followed happy, peaceful, hopeful words, which the reader, if he call himself a Christian, ought to be able to imagine for himself. I am afraid that writing from memory, I should do as little justice to them as I have to the dean's arguments in this chapter. Of the consequences which they produced in me, I will speak anon.
It was a month or more before I summoned courage to ask after my cousin.
Eleanor looked solemnly at me.
"Did you not know it? He is dead."
"Dead!" I was almost stunned by the announcement.
"Of typhus fever. He died three weeks ago; and not only he, but the servant who brushed his clothes, and the shopman, who had a few days before, brought him a new coat home."
"How did you learn all this?"
"From Mr. Crossthwaite. But the strangest part of the sad story is to come. Crossthwaite's suspicions were aroused by some incidental circumstance, and knowing of Downes's death, and the fact that you most probably caught your fever in that miserable being's house, he made such inquiries as satisfied him that it was no other than your cousin's coat—"
"Which covered the corpses in that fearful chamber?"
"It was indeed."
Just, awful God. And this was the consistent Nemesis of all poor George's thrift and cunning, of his determination to carry the buy-cheap-and-sell-dear commercialism, in which he had been brought up, into every act of life! Did I rejoice? No; all revenge, all spite had been scourged out of me. I mourned for him as for a brother, till the thought flashed across me—Lillian was free. Half unconscious, I stammered her name inquiringly.
"Judge for yourself," answered Eleanor, mildly, yet with a deep, severe meaning in her tone.
I was silent.
* * * * *
The tempest in my heart was ready to burst forth again; but she, my guardian angel, soothed it for me.
"She is much changed; sorrow and sickness—for she, too, has had the fever, and, alas! less resignation or peace within, than those who love her would have wished to see—have worn her down. Little remains now of that loveliness—"
"Which I idolized in my folly!"
"Thank God, thank God! that you see that at last: I knew it all along. I knew that there was nothing there for your heart to rest upon—nothing to satisfy your intellect—and, therefore, I tried to turn you from your dream. I did it harshly, angrily, too sharply, yet not explicitly enough. I ought to have made allowances for you. I should have known how enchanting, intoxicating, mere outward perfections must have been to one of your perceptions, shut out so long as you had been from the beautiful in art and nature. But I was cruel. Alas! I had not then learnt to sympathize; and I have often since felt with terror that I, too, may have many of your sins to answer for; that I, even I, helped to drive you on to bitterness and despair."
"Oh, do not say so! You have done to me, meant to me, nothing but good."
"Be not too sure of that. You little know me. You little know the pride which I have fostered—even the mean anger against you, for being the protege of any one but myself. That exclusiveness, and shyness, and proud reserve, is the bane of our English character—it has been the bane of mine—daily I strive to root it out. Come—I will do so now. You wonder why I am here. You shall hear somewhat of my story; and do not fancy that I am showing you a peculiar mark of honour or confidence. If the history of my life can be of use to the meanest, they are welcome to the secrets of my inmost heart.
"I was my parents' only child, an heiress, highly born, and highly educated. Every circumstance of humanity which could pamper pride was mine, and I battened on the poison. I painted, I sang, I wrote in prose and verse—they told me, not without success. Men said that I was beautiful—I knew that myself, and revelled and gloried in the thought. Accustomed to see myself the centre of all my parents' hopes and fears, to be surrounded by flatterers, to indulge in secret the still more fatal triumph of contempt for those I thought less gifted than myself, self became the centre of my thoughts. Pleasure was all I thought of. But not what the vulgar call pleasure. That I disdained, while, like you, I worshipped all that was pleasurable to the intellect and the taste. The beautiful was my God. I lived, in deliberate intoxication, on poetry, music, painting, and every anti-type of them which I could find in the world around. At last I met with—one whom you once saw. He first awoke in me the sense of the vast duties and responsibilities of my station—his example first taught me to care for the many rather than for the few. It was a blessed lesson: yet even that I turned to poison, by making self, still self, the object of my very benevolence. To be a philanthropist, a philosopher, a feudal queen, amid the blessings and the praise of dependent hundreds—that was my new ideal; for that I turned the whole force of my intellect to the study of history, of social and economic questions. From Bentham and Malthus to Fourier and Proudhon, I read them all. I made them all fit into that idol-temple of self which I was rearing, and fancied that I did my duty, by becoming one of the great ones of the earth. My ideal was not the crucified Nazarene, but some Hairoun Alraschid, in luxurious splendour, pampering his pride by bestowing as a favour those mercies which God commands as the right of all. I thought to serve God, forsooth, by serving Mammon and myself. Fool that I was! I could not see God's handwriting on the wall against me. 'How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven!'...
"You gave me, unintentionally, a warning hint. The capabilities which I saw in you made me suspect that those below might be more nearly my equals than I had yet fancied. Your vivid descriptions of the misery among whole classes of workmen—misery caused and ever increased by the very system of society itself—gave a momentary shock to my fairy palace. They drove me back upon the simple old question, which has been asked by every honest heart, age after age, 'What right have I to revel in luxury while thousands are starving? Why do I pride myself on doling out to them small fractions of that wealth, which, if sacrificed utterly and at once, might help to raise hundreds to a civilization as high as my own?' I could not face the thought; and angry with you for having awakened it, however unintentionally, I shrank back behind the pitiable, worn-out fallacy, that luxury was necessary to give employment. I knew that it was a fallacy; I knew that the labour spent in producing unnecessary things for one rich man may just as well have gone in producing necessaries for a hundred poor, or employ the architect and the painter for public bodies as well as private individuals. That even for the production of luxuries, the monopolizing demand of the rich was not required—that the appliances of real civilization, the landscapes, gardens, stately rooms, baths, books, pictures, works of art, collections of curiosities, which now went to pamper me alone—me, one single human soul—might be helping, in an associate society, to civilize a hundred families, now debarred from them by isolated poverty, without robbing me of an atom of the real enjoyment or benefit of them. I knew it, I say, to be a fallacy, and yet I hid behind it from the eye of God. Besides, 'it always had been so—the few rich, and the many poor. I was but one more among millions.'"
She paused a moment as if to gather strength, and then continued:
"The blow came. My idol—for he, too, was an idol—To please him I had begun—To please myself in pleasing him, I was trying to become great—and with him went from me that sphere of labour which was to witness the triumph of my pride. I saw the estate pass into other hands; a mighty change passed over me, as impossible, perhaps, as unfitting, for me to analyse. I was considered mad. Perhaps I was so: there is a divine insanity, a celestial folly, which conquers worlds. At least, when that period was past, I had done, and suffered so strangely, that nothing henceforth could seem strange to me. I had broken the yoke of custom and opinion. My only ground was now the bare realities of human life and duty. In poverty and loneliness I thought out the problems of society, and seemed to myself to have found the one solution—self-sacrifice. Following my first impulse, I had given largely to every charitable institution I could hear of—God forbid that I should regret those gifts—yet the money, I soon found, might have been better spent. One by one, every institution disappointed me; they seemed, after all, only means for keeping the poor in their degradation, by making it just not intolerable to them—means for enabling Mammon to draw fresh victims into his den, by taking off his hands those whom he had already worn out into uselessness. Then I tried association among my own sex—among the most miserable and degraded of them. I simply tried to put them into a position in which they might work for each other, and not for a single tyrant; in which that tyrant's profits might be divided among the slaves themselves. Experienced men warned me that I should fail; that such a plan would be destroyed by the innate selfishness and rivalry of human nature; that it demanded what was impossible to find, good faith, fraternal love, overruling moral influence. I answered, that I knew that already; that nothing but Christianity alone could supply that want, but that it could and should supply it; that I would teach them to live as sisters, by living with them as their sister myself. To become the teacher, the minister, the slave of those whom I was trying to rescue, was now my one idea; to lead them on, not by machinery, but by precept, by example, by the influence of every gift and talent which God had bestowed upon me; to devote to them my enthusiasm, my eloquence, my poetry, my art, my science; to tell them who had bestowed their gifts on me, and would bestow, to each according to her measure, the same on them; to make my workrooms, in one word, not a machinery, but a family. And I have succeeded—as others will succeed, long after my name, my small endeavours, are forgotten amid the great new world—new Church I should have said—of enfranchised and fraternal labour."
And this was the suspected aristocrat! Oh, my brothers, my brothers! little you know how many a noble soul, among those ranks which you consider only as your foes, is yearning to love, to help, to live and die for you, did they but know the way! Is it their fault if God has placed them where they are? Is it their fault, if they refuse to part with their wealth, before they are sure that such a sacrifice would really be a mercy to you? Show yourselves worthy of association. Show that you can do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God, as brothers before one Father, subjects of one crucified King—and see then whether the spirit of self-sacrifice is dead among the rich! See whether there are not left in England yet seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Mammon, who will not fear to "give their substance to the free," if they find that the Son has made you free—free from your own sins, as well as from the sins of others!
PRIESTS AND PEOPLE.
"But after all," I said one day, "the great practical objection still remains unanswered—the clergy? Are we to throw ourselves into their hands after all? Are we, who have been declaiming all our lives against priestcraft, voluntarily to forge again the chains of our slavery to a class whom we neither trust nor honour?"
She smiled. "If you will examine the Prayer-Book, you will not find, as far as I am aware, anything which binds a man to become the slave of the priesthood, voluntarily or otherwise. Whether the people become priest-ridden or not, hereafter, will depend, as it always has done, utterly on themselves. As long as the people act upon their spiritual liberty, and live with eyes undimmed by superstitious fear, fixed in loving boldness on their Father in heaven, and their King, the first-born among many brethren, the priesthood will remain, as God intended them, only the interpreters and witnesses of His will and His kingdom. But let them turn their eyes from Him to aught in earth or heaven beside, and there will be no lack of priestcraft, of veils to hide Him from them, tyrants to keep them from Him, idols to ape His likeness. A sinful people will be sure to be a priest-ridden people; in reality, though not in name; by journalists and demagogues, if not by class-leaders and popes: and of the two, I confess I should prefer a Hildebrand to an O'Flynn."
"But," I replied, "we do not love, we do not trust, we do not respect the clergy. Has their conduct to the masses for the last century deserved that we should do so? Will you ask us to obey the men whom we despise?"
"God forbid!" she answered. "But you must surely be aware of the miraculous, ever-increasing improvement in the clergy."
"In morals," I said, "and in industry, doubtless; but not upon those points which are to us just now dearer than their morals or their industry, because they involve the very existence of our own industry and our own morals—I mean, social and political subjects. On them the clergy seem to me as ignorant, as bigoted, as aristocratic as ever."
"But, suppose that there were a rapidly-increasing class among the clergy, who were willing to help you to the uttermost—and you must feel that their help would be worth having—towards the attainment of social reform, if you would waive for a time merely political reform?"
"What?" I said, "give up the very ideas for which we have struggled, and sinned, and all but died? and will struggle, and, if need be, die for still, or confess ourselves traitors to the common weal?"
"The Charter, like its supporters, must die to itself before it lives to God. Is it not even now farther off than ever?"
"It seems so indeed—but what do you mean?"
"You regarded the Charter as an absolute end. You made a selfish and a self-willed idol of it. And therefore God's blessing did not rest on it or you."
"We want it as a means as well as an end—as a means for the highest and widest social reform, as well as a right dependent on eternal justice."
"Let the working classes prove that, then," she replied, "in their actions now. If it be true, as I would fain believe it to be, let them show that they are willing to give up their will to God's will; to compass those social reforms by the means which God puts in their way, and wait for His own good time to give them, or not to give them, those means which they in their own minds prefer. This is what I meant by saying that Chartism must die to itself before it has a chance of living to God. You must feel, too, that Chartism has sinned—has defiled itself in the eyes of the wise, the good, the gentle. Your only way now to soften the prejudice against it is to show that you can live like men and brothers and Christians without it. You cannot wonder if the clergy shall object awhile to help you towards that Charter, which the majority of you demanded for the express purpose of destroying the creed which the clergy do believe, however badly they may have acted upon it."
"It is all true enough—bitterly true. But yet, why do we need the help of the clergy?"
"Because you need the help of the whole nation; because there are other classes to be considered beside yourselves; because the nation is neither the few nor the many, but the all; because it is only by the co-operation of all the members of a body, that any one member can fulfil its calling in health and freedom; because, as long as you stand aloof from the clergy, or from any other class, through pride, self-interest, or wilful ignorance, you are keeping up those very class distinctions of which you and I too complain, as 'hateful equally to God and to his enemies;' and, finally, because the clergy are the class which God has appointed to unite all others; which, in as far as it fulfils its calling, and is indeed a priesthood, is above and below all rank, and knows no man after the flesh, but only on the ground of his spiritual worth, and his birthright in that kingdom which is the heritage of all."
"Truly," I answered, "the idea is a noble one—But look at the reality! Has not priestly pandering to tyrants made the Church, in every age, a scoff and a byword among free men?"
"May it ever do so," she replied, "whenever such a sin exists! But yet, look at the other side of the picture. Did not the priesthood, in the first ages, glory not in the name, but, what is better, in the office, of democrats? Did not the Roman tyrants hunt them down as wild beasts, because they were democrats, proclaiming to the slave and to the barbarian a spiritual freedom and a heavenly citizenship, before which the Roman well knew his power must vanish into naught? Who, during the invasion of the barbarians, protected the poor against their conquerors? Who, in the middle age, stood between the baron and his serfs? Who, in their monasteries, realized spiritual democracy,—the nothingness of rank and wealth, the practical might of co-operation and self-sacrifice? Who delivered England from the Pope? Who spread throughout every cottage in the land the Bible and Protestantism, the book and the religion which declares that a man's soul is free in the sight of God? Who, at the martyr's stake in Oxford, 'lighted the candle in England that shall never be put out?' Who, by suffering, and not by rebellion, drove the last perjured Stuart from his throne, and united every sect and class in one of the noblest steps in England's progress? You will say these are the exceptions; I say nay; they are rather a few great and striking manifestations of an influence which has been, unseen though not unfelt, at work for ages, converting, consecrating, organizing, every fresh invention of mankind, and which is now on the eve of christianizing democracy, as it did Mediaeval Feudalism, Tudor Nationalism, Whig Constitutionalism; and which will succeed in christianizing it, and so alone making it rational, human, possible; because the priesthood alone, of all human institutions, testifies of Christ the King of men, the Lord of all things, the inspirer of all discoveries; who reigns, and will reign, till He has put all things under His feet, and the kingdoms of the world have become the kingdoms of God and of His Christ. Be sure, as it always has been, so will it be now. Without the priesthood there is no freedom for the people. Statesmen know it; and, therefore, those who would keep the people fettered, find it necessary to keep the priesthood fettered also. The people never can be themselves without co-operation with the priesthood; and the priesthood never can be themselves without co-operation with the people. They may help to make a sect-Church for the rich, as they have been doing, or a sect-Church for paupers (which is also the most subtle form of a sect-Church for the rich), as a party in England are trying now to do—as I once gladly would have done myself: but if they would be truly priests of God, and priests of the Universal Church, they must be priests of the people, priests of the masses, priests after the likeness of Him who died on the cross."
"And are there any men," I said, "who believe this? and, what is more, have courage to act upon it, now in the very hour of Mammon's triumph?"
"There are those who are willing, who are determined, whatever it may cost them, to fraternize with those whom they take shame to themselves for having neglected; to preach and to organize, in concert with them, a Holy War against the social abuses which are England's shame; and, first and foremost, against the fiend of competition. They do not want to be dictators to the working men. They know that they have a message to the artizan, but they know, too, that the artizan has a message to them; and they are not afraid to hear it. They do not wish to make him a puppet for any system of their own; they only are willing, if he will take the hand they offer him, to devote themselves, body and soul, to the great end of enabling the artizan to govern himself; to produce in the capacity of a free man, and not of a slave; to eat the food he earns, and wear the clothes he makes. Will your working brothers co-operate with these men? Are they, do you think, such bigots as to let political differences stand between them and those who fain would treat them as their brothers; or will they fight manfully side by side with them in the battle against Mammon, trusting to God, that if in anything they are otherwise minded, He will, in His own good time, reveal even that unto them? Do you think, to take one instance, the men of your own trade would heartily join a handful of these men in an experiment of associate labour, even though there should be a clergyman or two among them?"
"Join them?" I said. "Can you ask the question? I, for one, would devote myself, body and soul, to any enterprise so noble. Crossthwaite would ask for nothing higher, than to be a hewer of wood and a drawer of water to an establishment of associate workmen. But, alas! his fate is fixed for the New World; and mine, I verily believe, for sickness and the grave. And yet I will answer for it, that, in the hopes of helping such a project, he would give up Mackaye's bequest, for the mere sake of remaining in England; and for me, if I have but a month of life, it is at the service of such men as you describe."
"Oh!" she said, musingly, "if poor Mackaye had but had somewhat more faith in the future, that fatal condition would perhaps never have been attached to his bequest. And yet, perhaps, it is better as it is. Crossthwaite's mind may want quite, as much as yours does, a few years of a simpler and brighter atmosphere to soften and refresh it again. Besides, your health is too weak, your life, I know, too valuable to your class, for us to trust you on such a voyage alone. He must go with you."
"With me?" I said. "You must be misinformed; I have no thought of leaving England."
"You know the opinion of the physicians?"
"I know that my life is not likely to be a long one; that immediate removal to a southern, if possible to a tropical climate, is considered the only means of preserving it. For the former I care little; non est tanti vivere. And, indeed, the latter, even if it would succeed, is impossible. Crossthwaite will live and thrive by the labour of his hands; while, for such a helpless invalid as I to travel, would be to dissipate the little capital which Mackaye has left me.
"The day will come, when society will find it profitable, as well as just, to put the means of preserving life by travel within the reach of the poorest. But individuals must always begin by setting the examples, which the state too slowly, though surely (for the world is God's world after all), will learn to copy. All is arranged for you. Crossthwaite, you know, would have sailed ere now, had it not been for your fever. Next week you start with him for Texas, No; make no objections. All expenses are defrayed—no matter by whom."
"By you! By you! Who else?"
"Do you think that I monopolize the generosity of England? Do you think warm hearts beat only in the breasts of working men? But, if it were I, would not that be only another reason for submitting? You must go. You will have, for the next three years, such an allowance as will support you in comfort, whether you choose to remain stationary, or, as I hope, to travel southward into Mexico. Your passage-money is already paid."
Why should I attempt to describe my feelings? I gasped for breath, and looked stupidly at her for a minute or two.—The second darling hope of my life within my reach, just as the first had been snatched from me! At last I found words.
"No, no, noble lady! Do not tempt me! Who am I, the slave of impulse, useless, worn out in mind and body, that you should waste such generosity upon me? I do not refuse from the honest pride of independence; I have not man enough left in me even for that. But will you, of all people, ask me to desert the starving suffering thousands, to whom my heart, my honour are engaged; to give up the purpose of my life, and pamper my fancy in a luxurious paradise, while they are slaving here?"
"What? Cannot God find champions for them when you are gone? Has he not found them already? Believe me, that Tenth of April, which you fancied the death-day of liberty, has awakened a spirit in high as well as in low life, which children yet unborn will bless."
"Oh, do not mistake me! Have I not confessed my own weakness? But if I have one healthy nerve left in me, soul or body, it will retain its strength only as long as it thrills with devotion to the people's cause. If I live, I must live among them, for them. If I die, I must die at my post. I could not rest, except in labour. I dare not fly, like Jonah, from the call of God. In the deepest shade of the virgin forests, on the loneliest peak of the Cordilleras, He would find me out; and I should hear His still small voice reproving me, as it reproved the fugitive patriot-seer of old—What doest thou here, Elijah?"
I was excited, and spoke, I am afraid, after my custom, somewhat too magniloquently. But she answered only with a quiet smile:
"So you are a Chartist still?"
"If by a Chartist you mean one who fancies that a change in mere political circumstances will bring about a millennium, I am no longer one. That dream is gone—with others. But if to be a Chartist is to love my brothers with every faculty of my soul—to wish to live and die struggling for their rights, endeavouring to make them, not electors merely, but fit to be electors, senators, kings, and priests to God and to His Christ—if that be the Chartism of the future, then am I sevenfold a Chartist, and ready to confess it before men, though I were thrust forth from every door in England."
She was silent a moment.
"'The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner.' Surely the old English spirit has cast its madness, and begins to speak once more as it spoke in Naseby fights and Smithfield fires!"
"And yet you would quench it in me amid the enervating climate of the tropics."
"Need it be quenched there? Was it quenched in Drake, in Hawkins, in the conquerors of Hindostan? Weakness, like strength, is from within, of the spirit, and not of sunshine. I would send you thither, that you may gain new strength, new knowledge to carry out your dream and mine. Do not refuse me the honour of preserving you. Do not forbid me to employ my wealth in the only way which reconciles my conscience to the possession of it. I have saved many a woman already; and this one thing remained—the highest of all my hopes and longings—that God would allow me, ere I die, to save a man. I have longed to find some noble soul, as Carlyle says, fallen down by the wayside, and lift it up, and heal its wounds, and teach it the secret of its heavenly birthright, and consecrate it to its King in heaven. I have longed to find a man of the people, whom I could train to be the poet of the people."
"Me, at least, you have saved, have taught, have trained! Oh that your care had been bestowed on some more worthy object!"
"Let me, at least, then, perfect my own work. You do not—it is a sign of your humility that you do not—appreciate the value of this rest. You underrate at once your own powers, and the shock which they have received."
"If I must go, then, why so far? Why put you to so great expense? If you must be generous, send me to some place nearer home—to Italy, to the coast of Devon, or the Isle of Wight, where invalids like me are said to find all the advantages which are so often, perhaps too hastily, sought in foreign lands."
"No," she said, smiling; "you are my servant now, by the laws of chivalry, and you must fulfil my quest. I have long hoped for a tropic poet; one who should leave the routine imagery of European civilization, its meagre scenery, and physically decrepit races, for the grandeur, the luxuriance, the infinite and strongly-marked variety of tropic nature, the paradisiac beauty and simplicity of tropic humanity. I am tired of the old images; of the barren alternations between Italy and the Highlands. I had once dreamt of going to the tropics myself; but my work lay elsewhere. Go for me, and for the people. See if you cannot help to infuse some new blood into the aged veins of English literature; see if you cannot, by observing man in his mere simple and primeval state, bring home fresh conceptions of beauty, fresh spiritual and physical laws of his existence, that you may realize them here at home—(how, I see as yet but dimly; but He who teaches the facts will surely teach their application)—in the cottages, in the play-grounds, the reading-rooms, the churches of working men."
"But I know so little—I have seen so little!"
"That very fact, I flatter myself, gives you an especial vocation for my scheme. Your ignorance of cultivated English scenery, and of Italian art, will enable you to approach with a more reverend, simple, and unprejudiced eye the primeval forms of beauty—God's work, not man's. Sin you will see there, and anarchy, and tyranny, but I do not send you to look for society, but for nature. I do not send you to become a barbarian settler, but to bring home to the realms of civilization those ideas of physical perfection, which as yet, alas! barbarism, rather than civilization, has preserved. Do not despise your old love for the beautiful. Do not fancy that because you have let it become an idol and a tyrant, it was not therefore the gift of God. Cherish it, develop it to the last; steep your whole soul in beauty; watch it in its most vast and complex harmonies, and not less in its most faint and fragmentary traces. Only, hitherto you have blindly worshipped it; now you must learn to comprehend, to master, to embody it; to show it forth to men as the sacrament of Heaven, the finger-mark of God!"
Who could resist such pleading from those lips? I at least could not.
FREEDOM, EQUALITY, AND BROTHERHOOD.
Before the same Father, the same King, crucified for all alike, we had partaken of the same bread and wine, we had prayed for the same spirit. Side by side, around the chair on which I lay propped up with pillows, coughing my span of life away, had knelt the high-born countess, the cultivated philosopher, the repentant rebel, the wild Irish girl, her slavish and exclusive creed exchanged for one more free and all-embracing; and that no extremest type of human condition might be wanting, the reclaimed Magdalene was there—two pale worn girls from Eleanor's asylum, in whom I recognized the needlewomen to whom Mackaye had taken me, on a memorable night, seven years before. Thus—and how better?—had God rewarded their loving care of that poor dying fellow-slave.
Yes—we had knelt together: and I had felt that we were one—that there was a bond between us, real, eternal, independent of ourselves, knit not by man, but God; and the peace of God, which passes understanding, came over me like the clear sunshine after weary rain.
One by one they shook me by the hand, and quitted the room; and Eleanor and I were left alone.
"See!" she said, "Freedom, Equality, and Brotherhood are come; but not as you expected."
Blissful, repentant tears blinded my eyes, as I replied, not to her, but to Him who spoke by her—
"Lord! not as I will, but as thou wilt!"
"Yes," she continued, "Freedom, Equality, and Brotherhood are here. Realize them in thine own self, and so alone thou helpest to make them realities for all. Not from without, from Charters and Republics, but from within, from the Spirit working in each; not by wrath and haste, but by patience made perfect through suffering, canst thou proclaim their good news to the groaning masses, and deliver them, as thy Master did before thee, by the cross, and not the sword. Divine paradox!—Folly to the rich and mighty—the watchword of the weak, in whose weakness is God's strength made perfect. 'In your patience possess ye your souls, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.' Yes—He came then, and the Babel-tyranny of Rome fell, even as the more fearful, more subtle, and more diabolic tyranny of Mammon shall fall ere long—suicidal, even now crumbling by its innate decay. Yes—Babylon the Great—the commercial world of selfish competition, drunken with the blood of God's people, whose merchandise is the bodies and souls of men—her doom is gone forth. And then—then—when they, the tyrants of the earth, who lived delicately with her, rejoicing in her sins, the plutocrats and bureaucrats, the money-changers and devourers of labour, are crying to the rocks to hide them, and to the hills to cover them, from the wrath of Him that sitteth on the throne—then labour shall be free at last, and the poor shall eat and be satisfied, with things that eye hath not seen nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, but which God has prepared for those who love Him. Then the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea, and mankind at last shall own their King—Him. in whom they are all redeemed into the glorious liberty of the Sons of God, and He shall reign indeed on earth, and none but His saints shall rule beside Him. And then shall this sacrament be an everlasting sign to all the nations of the world, as it has been to you this day, of freedom, equality, brotherhood, of Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good-will toward men. Do you believe?"
Again I answered, not her, but Him who sent her—
"Lord, I believe! Help thou mine unbelief!"
"And now farewell. I shall not see you again before you start—and ere you return—My health has been fast declining lately."
I started—I had not dared to confess to myself how thin her features had become of late. I had tried not to hear the dry and hectic cough, or see the burning spot on either cheek—but it was too true; and with a broken voice I cried:
"Oh that I might die, and join you!"
"Not so—I trust that you have still a work to do. But if not, promise me that, whatever be the event of your voyage, you will publish, in good time, an honest history of your life; extenuating nothing, exaggerating nothing, ashamed to confess or too proclaim nothing. It may perhaps awaken some rich man to look down and take pity on the brains and hearts more noble than his own, which lie struggling in poverty and misguidance among these foul sties, which civilization rears—and calls them cities. Now, once again, farewell!"
She held out her hand—I would have fallen at her feet, but the thought of that common sacrament withheld me. I seized her hand, covered it with adoring kisses—Slowly she withdrew it, and glided from the room—
What need of more words? I obeyed her—sailed—and here I am.
* * * * *
Yes! I have seen the land! Like a purple fringe upon the golden sea, "while parting day dies like the dolphin," there it lay upon the fair horizon—the great young free new world! and every tree, and flower, and insect on it new!—a wonder and a joy—which I shall never see....
No,—I shall never reach the land. I felt it all along. Weaker and weaker, day by day, with bleeding lungs and failing limbs, I have travelled the ocean paths. The iron has entered too deeply into my soul....
Hark! Merry voices on deck are welcoming their future home. Laugh on, happy ones!—come out of Egypt and the house of bondage, and the waste and howling wilderness of slavery and competition, workhouses and prisons, into a good land and large, a land flowing with milk and honey, where you will sit every one under his own vine and his own fig-tree, and look into the faces of your rosy children—and see in them a blessing and not a curse! Oh, England! stern mother-land, when wilt thou renew thy youth?—Thou wilderness of man's making, not God's!... Is it not written, that the days shall come when the forest shall break forth into singing, and the wilderness shall blossom like the rose?
Hark! again, sweet and clear, across the still night sea, ring out the notes of Crossthwaite's bugle—the first luxury, poor fellow, he ever allowed himself; and yet not a selfish one, for music, like mercy, is twice blessed—
"It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."
There is the spirit-stirring marching air of the German workmen students
Thou, thou, thou, and thou, Sir Master, fare thee well.—
Perhaps a half reproachful hint to the poor old England he is leaving. What a glorious metre! warming one's whole heart into life and energy! If I could but write in such a metre one true people's song, that should embody all my sorrow, indignation, hope—fitting last words for a poet of the people—for they will be my last words—Well—thank God! at least I shall not be buried in a London churchyard! It may be a foolish fancy—but I have made them promise to lay me up among the virgin woods, where, if the soul ever visits the place of its body's rest, I may snatch glimpses of that natural beauty from which I was barred out in life, and watch the gorgeous flowers that bloom above my dust, and hear the forest birds sing around the Poet's grave.
Hark to the grand lilt of the "Good Time Coming!"—Song which has cheered ten thousand hearts; which has already taken root, that it may live and grow for ever—fitting melody to soothe my dying ears! Ah! how should there not be A Good Time Coming?—Hope, and trust, and infinite deliverance!—a time such as eye hath not seen nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive!—coming surely, soon or late, to those for whom a God did not disdain to die!
* * * * *
Our only remaining duty is to give an extract from a letter written by John Crossthwaite, and dated
"GALVESTON, TEXAS, October, 1848.
... "I am happy. Katie is happy, There is peace among us here, like 'the clear downshining after rain.' But I thirst and long already for the expiration of my seven years' exile, wholesome as I believe it to be. My only wish is to return and assist in the Emancipation of Labour, and give my small aid in that fraternal union of all classes which I hear is surely, though slowly, spreading in my mother-land.
"And now for my poor friend, whose papers, according to my promise to him, I transmit to you. On the very night on which he seems to have concluded them—an hour after we had made the land—we found him in his cabin, dead, his head resting on the table as peacefully as if he had slumbered. On a sheet of paper by him were written the following verses; the ink was not yet dry:
"'MY LAST WORDS.
"'Weep, weep, weep, and weep, For pauper, dolt, and slave; Hark! from wasted moor and fen, Feverous alley, workhouse den, Swells the wail of Englishmen: "Work! or the grave!"
"'Down, down, down, and down, With idler, knave, and tyrant; Why for sluggards stint and moil He that will not live by toil Has no right on English soil; God's word's our warrant!
"'Up, up, up, and up, Face your game, and play it! The night is past—behold the sun!— The cup is full, the web is spun, The Judge is set, the doom begun; Who shall stay it?'"