There are those who will consider such language as this especially ill-timed just now, in the face of Strikes and Trades' Union outrages. They point to these things as proofs of the unfitness of workmen for the suffrage; they point especially to the late abominable murder at Sheffield, and ask, not without reason, would you give political power to men who would do that?
Now that the Sheffield murder was in any wise planned or commanded by the Trades' Unions in general, I do not believe; nor, I think, does any one else who knows aught of the British workman. If it was not, as some of the Sheffield men say, a private act of revenge, it was the act of only one or two Trades' Unions of that town, which are known; and their conduct has been already reprobated and denounced by the other Trades' Unions of England, But there is no denying that the case as against the Trades' Unions is a heavy one. It is notorious that they have in past years planned and commanded illegal acts of violence. It is patent that they are too apt, from a false sense of class-honour, to connive at such now, instead of being, as they ought to be, the first to denounce them. The workmen will not see, that by combining in societies for certain purposes, they make those societies responsible for the good and lawful behaviour of all their members, in all acts tending to further those purposes, and are bound to say to every man joining a Trades' Union: "You shall do nothing to carry out the objects which we have in view, save what is allowed by British Law." They will not see that they are outraging the first principles of justice and freedom, by dictating to any man what wages he should receive, what master he shall work for, or any other condition which interferes with his rights as a free agent.
But, in the face of these facts (and very painful and disappointing they are to me), I will ask the upper classes: Do you believe that the average of Trades' Union members are capable of such villanies as that at Sheffield? Do you believe that the average of them are given to violence or illegal acts at all, even though they may connive at such acts in their foolish and hasty fellows, by a false class-honour, not quite unknown, I should say, in certain learned and gallant professions? Do you fancy that there are not in these Trades' Unions, tens of thousands of loyal, respectable, rational, patient men, as worthy of the suffrage as any average borough voter? If you do so, you really know nothing about the British workman. At least, you are confounding the workman of 1861 with the workman of 1831, and fancying that he alone, of all classes, has gained nothing by the increased education, civilization, and political experience of thirty busy and prosperous years. You are unjust to the workman; and more, you are unjust to your own class. For thirty years past, gentlemen and ladies of all shades of opinion have been labouring for and among the working classes, as no aristocracy on earth ever laboured before; and do you suppose that all that labour has been in vain? That it has bred in the working classes no increased reverence for law, no increased content with existing institutions, no increased confidence in the classes socially above them? If so, you must have as poor an opinion of the capabilities of the upper classes, as you have of those of the lower.
So far from the misdoings of Trades' Unions being an argument against the extension of the suffrage, they are, in my opinion, an argument for it. I know that I am in a minority just now. I know that the common whisper is now, not especially of those who look for a Conservative reaction, that these Trades' Unions must be put down by strong measures: and I confess that I hear such language with terror. Punish, by all means, most severely, all individual offences against individual freedom, or personal safety; but do not interfere, surely, with the Trades' Unions themselves. Do not try to bar these men of their right as free Englishmen to combine, if they choose, for what they consider their own benefit. Look upon these struggles between employers and employed as fair battles, in which, by virtue of the irreversible laws of political economy, the party who is in the right is almost certain to win; and interfere in no wise, save to see fair play, and lawful means used on both sides alike. If you do more; if you interfere in any wise with the Trades' Unions themselves, you will fail, and fail doubly. You will not prevent the existence of combinations: you will only make them secret, dark, revolutionary: you will demoralize the working man thereby as surely as the merchant is demoralized by being converted into a smuggler; you will heap up indignation, spite, and wrath against the day of wrath; and finally, to complete your own failure, you will drive the working man to demand an extension of the suffrage, in tones which will very certainly get a hearing. He cares, or seems to care, little about the suffrage now, just because he thinks that he can best serve his own interests by working these Trades' Unions. Take from him that means of redress (real or mistaken, no matter); and he will seek redress in a way in which you wish him still less to seek it; by demanding a vote and obtaining one.
That consummation, undesirable as it may seem to many, would perhaps be the best for the peace of the trades. These Trades' Unions, still tainted with some of the violence, secrecy, false political economy which they inherit from the evil times of 1830-40, last on simply, I believe, because the workman feels that they are his only organ, that he has no other means of making his wants and his opinions known to the British Government. Had he a vote, he believes (and I believe with him) he could send at least a few men to Parliament who would state his case fairly in the House of Commons, and would not only render a reason for him, but hear reason against him, if need were. He would be content with free discussion if he could get that. It is the feeling that he cannot get it that drives him often into crooked and dark ways. If any answer, that the representatives, whom he would choose would be merely noisy demagogues, I believe them to be mistaken. No one can have watched the Preston strike, however much he may have disapproved, as I did, of the strike itself, without seeing from the temper, the self-restraint, the reasonableness, the chivalrous honour of the men, that they were as likely to choose a worthy member for the House of Commons as any town constituency in England; no one can have watched the leaders of the working men for the last ten years without finding among them men capable of commanding the attention and respect of the House of Commons, not merely by their eloquence, surprising as that is, but by their good sense, good feeling, and good breeding.
Some training at first, some rubbing off of angles, they might require: though two at least I know, who would require no such training, and who would be ornaments to any House of Commons; the most inexperienced of the rest would not give the House one-tenth the trouble which is given by a certain clique among the representatives of the sister Isle; and would, moreover, learn his lesson in a week, instead of never learning it at all, like some we know too well. Yet Catholic emancipation has pacified Ireland, though it has brought into the House an inferior stamp of members: and much more surely would an extension of the suffrage pacify the trades, while it would bring into the House a far superior stamp of member to those who compose the clique of which I have spoken.
But why, I hear some one say impatiently, talk about this subject of all others at this moment, when nobody, not even the working classes, cares about a Reform Bill?
Because I am speaking to young men, who have not yet entered public life; and because I wish them to understand, that just because the question of parliamentary reform is in abeyance now, it will not be in abeyance ten years or twenty years hence. The question will be revived, ere they are in the maturity of their manhood; and they had best face that certain prospect, and learn to judge wisely and accurately on the subject, before they are called on, as they will be, to act upon it. If it be true that the present generation has done all that it can do, or intends to do, towards the suffrage (and I have that confidence in our present rulers, that I would submit without murmuring to their decision on the point), it is all the more incumbent on the rising generation to learn how to do (as assuredly they will have to do) the work which their fathers have left undone. The question may remain long in abeyance, under the influence of material prosperity such as the present; or under the excitement of a war, as in Pitt's time; but let a period of distress or disaster come, and it will be re-opened as of yore. The progress towards institutions more and more popular may be slow, but it is sure. Whenever any class has conceived the hope of being fairly represented, it is certain to fulfil its own hopes, unless it employs, or provokes, violence impossible in England. The thing will be. Let the young men of Britain take care that it is done rightly when it is done.
And how ought it to be done? That will depend upon any circumstances now future and uncertain. It will depend upon the pace at which sound education spreads among the working classes. It will depend, too, very much—I fear only too much—upon the attitude of the upper classes to the lower, in this very question of Trades' Unions and of Strikes. It will depend upon their attitude toward the unrepresented classes during the next few years, upon this very question of extended suffrage. And, therefore, I should advise, I had almost said entreat, any young men over whom I have any influence, to read and think freely and accurately upon the subject; taking, if I may propose to them a text-book, Mr. Mill's admirable treatise on "Representative Government." As for any theory of my own, if I had one I should not put it forward. How it will not be done, I can see clearly enough. It will not be done well by the old charter. It will not be done well by merely lowering the money qualification of electors. But it may be done well by other methods beside; and I can trust the freedom and soundness of the English mind to discover the best method of all, when it is needed.
Let therefore this "Conservative Reaction" which I suspect is going on in the minds of many young men at Cambridge, consider what it has to conserve. It is not asked to conserve the Throne. That, thank God, can take good care of itself. Let it conserve the House of Lords; and that will be conserved, just in proportion as the upper classes shall copy the virtues of Royalty; both of him who is taken from us, and of her who is left. Let the upper classes learn from them, that the just and wise method of strengthening their political power, is to labour after that social power, which comes only by virtue and usefulness. Let them make themselves, as the present Sovereign has made herself, morally necessary to the people; and then there is no fear of their being found politically unnecessary. No other course is before them, if they wish to make their "Conservative Reaction" a permanent, even an endurable fact. If any young gentlemen fancy (and some do) that they can strengthen their class by making any secret alliance with the Throne against the masses, then they will discover rapidly that the sovereigns of the House of Brunswick are grown far too wise, and far too noble-hearted, to fall once more into that trap. If any of them (and some do) fancy that they can better their position by sneering, whether in public or in their club, at a Reformed House of Commons and a Free Press, they will only accelerate the results which they most dread, by forcing the ultra-liberal party of the House, and, what is even worse, the most intellectual and respectable portion of the Press, to appeal to the people against them; and if again they are tempted (as too many of them are) to give up public life as becoming too vulgar for them, and prefer ease and pleasure to the hard work and plain-speaking of the House of Commons; then they will simply pay the same penalty for laziness and fastidiousness which has been paid by the Spanish aristocracy; and will discover that if they think their intellect unnecessary to the nation, the nation will rapidly become of the same opinion, and go its own way without them.
But if they are willing to make themselves, as they easily can, the best educated, the most trustworthy, the most virtuous, the most truly liberal-minded class of the commonweal; if they will set themselves to study the duties of rank and property, as of a profession to which they are called by God, and the requirements of which they must fulfil; if they will acquire, as they can easily, a sound knowledge both of political economy, and of the social questions of the day; if they will be foremost with their personal influence in all good works; if they will set themselves to compete on equal terms with the classes below them, and, as they may, outrival them: then they will find that those classes will receive them not altogether on equal terms; that they will accede to them a superiority, undefined perhaps, but real and practical enough to conserve their class and their rank, in every article for which a just and prudent man would wish.
But if any young gentlemen look forward (as I fear a few do still) to a Conservative Reaction of any other kind than this; to even the least return to the Tory maxims and methods of George the Fourth's time; to even the least stoppage of what the world calls progress—which I should define as the putting in practice the results of inductive science; then do they, like king Picrochole in Rabelais, look for a kingdom which shall be restored to them at the coming of the Cocqcigrues. The Cocqcigrues are never coming; and none know that better than the present able and moderate leaders of the Conservative party; none will be more anxious to teach that fact to their young adherents, and to make them swim with the great stream, lest it toss them contemptuously ashore upon its banks, and go on its way unheeding.
Return to the system of 1800—1830, is, I thank God, impossible. Even though men's hearts should fail them, they must onward, they know not whither: though God does know. The bigot, who believes in a system, and not in the living God; the sentimentalist, who shrinks from facts because they are painful to his taste; the sluggard, who hates a change because it disturbs his ease; the simply stupid person, who cannot use his eyes and ears; all these may cry feebly to the world to do what it has never done since its creation—stand still awhile, that they may get their breaths. But the brave and honest gentleman—who believes that God is not the tempter and deceiver, but the father and the educator of man—he will not shrink, even though the pace may be at moments rapid, the path be at moments hid by mist; for he will believe that freedom and knowledge, as well as virtue, are the daughters of the Most High; and he will follow them and call on the rest to follow them, whithersoever they may lead; and will take heart for himself and for his class, by the example of that great Prince who is of late gone home. For if, like that most royal soul, he and his shall follow with single eye and steadfast heart, freedom, knowledge, and virtue; then will he and his be safe, as Royalty is safe in England now; because both God and man have need thereof.
Written in 1854.
ADDRESSED TO THE WORKING MEN OF GREAT BRITAIN.
My Friends,—Since I wrote this book five years ago, I have seen a good deal of your class, and of their prospects. Much that I have seen has given me great hope; much has disappointed me; nothing has caused me to alter the opinions here laid down.
Much has given me hope; especially in the North of England. I believe that there, at least, exists a mass of prudence, self-control, genial and sturdy manhood, which will be England's reserve-force for generations yet to come. The last five years, moreover, have certainly been years of progress for the good cause. The great drag upon it—namely, demagogism—has crumbled to pieces of its own accord; and seems now only to exhibit itself in anilities like those of the speakers who inform a mob of boys and thieves that wheat has lately been thrown into the Thames to keep up prices, or advise them to establish, by means hitherto undiscovered, national granaries, only possible under the despotism of a Pharaoh. Since the 10th of April, 1848 (one of the most lucky days which the English workman ever saw), the trade of the mob-orator has dwindled down to such last shifts as these, to which the working man sensibly seems merely to answer, as he goes quietly about his business, "Why will you still keep talking, Signor Benedick? Nobody marks you."
But the 10th of April, 1848, has been a beneficial crisis, not merely in the temper of the working men, so called, but in the minds of those who are denominated by them "the aristocracy." There is no doubt that the classes possessing property have been facing, since 1848, all social questions with an average of honesty, earnestness, and good feeling which has no parallel since the days of the Tudors, and that hundreds and thousands of "gentlemen and ladies" in Great Britain now are saying, "Show what we ought to do to be just to the workman, and we will do it, whatsoever it costs." They may not be always correct (though they generally are so) in their conceptions of what ought to be done; but their purpose is good and righteous; and those who hold it are daily increasing in number. The love of justice and mercy toward the handicraftsman is spreading rapidly as it never did before in any nation upon earth; and if any man still represents the holders of property, as a class, as the enemies of those whom they employ, desiring their slavery and their ignorance, I believe that he is a liar and a child of the devil, and that he is at his father's old work, slandering and dividing between man and man. These words may be severe: but they are deliberate; and working men are, I hope, sufficiently accustomed to hear me call a spade a spade, when I am pleading for them, to allow me to do the same when I am pleading to them.
Of the disappointing experiences which I have had I shall say nothing, save in as far as I can, by alluding to them, point out to the working man the causes which still keep him weak: but I am bound to say that those disappointments have strengthened my conviction that this book, in the main, speaks the truth.
I do not allude, of course, to the thoughts, and feelings of the hero. They are compounded of right and wrong, and such as I judged (and working men whom I am proud to number among my friends have assured me that I judged rightly) that a working man of genius would feel during the course of his self-education. These thoughts and feelings (often inconsistent and contradictory to each other), stupid or careless, or ill-willed persons, have represented as my own opinions, having, as it seems to me, turned the book upside down before they began to read it. I am bound to pay the working men, and their organs in the press, the compliment of saying that no such misrepresentations proceeded from them. However deeply some of them may have disagreed with me, all of them, as far as I have been able to judge, had sense to see what I meant; and so, also, have the organs of the High-Church party, to whom, differing from them on many points, I am equally bound to offer my thanks for their fairness. But, indeed, the way in which this book, in spite of its crudities, has been received by persons of all ranks and opinions, who instead of making me an offender for a word, have taken the book heartily and honestly, in the spirit and not in the letter, has made me most hopeful for the British mind, and given me a strong belief that, in spite of all foppery, luxury, covetousness, and unbelief, the English heart is still strong and genial, able and willing to do and suffer great things, as soon as the rational way of doing and suffering them becomes plain. Had I written this book merely to please my own fancy, this would be a paltry criterion, at once illogical and boastful; but I wrote it, God knows, in the fear of God, that I might speak what seems to me the truth of God. I trusted in Him to justify me, in spite of my own youth, inexperience, hastiness, clumsiness; and He has done it; and, I trust, will do it to the end.
And now, what shall I say to you, my friends, about the future? Your destiny is still in your own hands. For the last seven years you have let it slip through your fingers. If you are better off than you were in 1848, you owe it principally to those laws of political economy (as they are called), which I call the brute natural accidents of supply and demand, or to the exertions which have been made by upright men of the very classes whom demagogues taught you to consider as your natural enemies. Pardon me if I seem severe; but, as old Aristotle has it, "Both parties being my friends, it is a sacred duty to honour truth first." And is this not the truth? How little have the working men done to carry out that idea of association in which, in 1848-9, they were all willing to confess their salvation lay. Had the money which was wasted in the hapless Preston strike been wisely spent in relieving the labour market by emigration, or in making wages more valuable by enabling the workman to buy from co-operative stores and mills his necessaries at little above cost price, how much sorrow and heart-burning might have been saved to the iron-trades. Had the real English endurance and courage which was wasted in that strike been employed in the cause of association, the men might have been, ere now, far happier than they are ever likely to be, without the least injury to the masters. What, again, has been done toward developing the organization of the Trades' Unions into its true form, Association for distribution, from its old, useless, and savage form of Association for the purpose of resistance to masters—a war which is at first sight hopeless, even were it just, because the opposite party holds in his hand the supplies of his foe as well as his own, and therefore can starve him out at his leisure? What has been done, again, toward remedying the evils of the slop system, which this book especially exposed? The true method for the working men, if they wished to save their brothers and their brothers' wives and daughters from degradation, was to withdraw their custom from the slopsellers, and to deal, even at a temporary increase of price, with associate workmen. Have they done so? They can answer for themselves. In London (as in the country towns), the paltry temptation of buying in the cheapest market has still been too strong for the labouring man. In Scotland and in the North of England, thank God, the case has been very different; and to the North I must look still, as I did when I wrote Alton Locke, for the strong men in whose hands lies the destiny of the English handicraftsman.
God grant that the workmen of the South of England may bestir themselves ere it be too late, and discover that the only defence against want is self-restraint; the only defence against slavery, obedience to rule; and that, instead of giving themselves up, bound hand and foot, by their own fancy for a "freedom" which is but selfish and conceited license, to the brute accidents of the competitive system, they may begin to organize among themselves associations for buying and selling the necessaries of life, which may enable them to weather the dark season of high prices and stagnation, which is certain sooner or later, to follow in the footsteps of war.
On politics I have little to say. My belief remains unchanged that true Christianity, and true monarchy also, are not only compatible with, but require as their necessary complement, true freedom for every man of every class; and that the Charter, now defunct, was just as wise and as righteous a "Reform Bill" as any which England had yet had, or was likely to have. But I frankly say that my experience of the last five years gives me little hope of any great development of the true democratic principle in Britain, because it gives me little sign that the many are fit for it. Remember always that Democracy means a government not merely by numbers of isolated individuals, but by a Demos—by men accustomed to live in Demoi, or corporate bodies, and accustomed, therefore, to the self-control, obedience to law, and self-sacrificing public spirit, without which a corporate body cannot exist: but that a "democracy" of mere numbers is no democracy, but a mere brute "arithmocracy," which is certain to degenerate into an "ochlocracy," or government by the mob, in which the numbers have no real share: an oligarchy of the fiercest, the noisiest, the rashest, and the most shameless, which is surely swallowed up either by a despotism, as in France, or as in Athens, by utter national ruin, and helpless slavery to a foreign invader. Let the workmen of Britain train themselves in the corporate spirit, and in the obedience and self-control which it brings, as they easily can in associations, and bear in mind always that only he who can obey is fit to rule; and then, when they are fit for it, the Charter may come, or things, I trust, far better than the Charter; and till they have done so, let them thank the just and merciful Heavens for keeping out of their hands any power, and for keeping off their shoulders any responsibility, which they would not be able to use aright. I thank God heartily, this day, that I have no share in the government of Great Britain; and I advise my working friends to do the same, and to believe that, when they are fit to take their share therein, all the powers of earth cannot keep them from taking it; and that, till then, happy is the man who does the duty which lies nearest him, who educates his family, raises his class, performs his daily work as to God and to his country, not merely to his employer and himself; for it is only he that is faithful over a few things who will be made, or will be happy in being made, ruler over many things.
TAILOR AND POET.
A POET'S CHILDHOOD.
I am a Cockney among Cockneys. Italy and the Tropics, the Highlands and Devonshire, I know only in dreams. Even the Surrey Hills, of whose loveliness I have heard so much, are to me a distant fairy-land, whose gleaming ridges I am worthy only to behold afar. With the exception of two journeys, never to be forgotten, my knowledge of England is bounded by the horizon which encircles Richmond Hill.
My earliest recollections are of a suburban street; of its jumble of little shops and little terraces, each exhibiting some fresh variety of capricious ugliness; the little scraps of garden before the doors, with their dusty, stunted lilacs and balsam poplars, were my only forests; my only wild animals, the dingy, merry sparrows, who quarrelled fearlessly on my window-sill, ignorant of trap or gun. From my earliest childhood, through long nights of sleepless pain, as the midnight brightened into dawn, and the glaring lamps grew pale, I used to listen, with pleasant awe, to the ceaseless roll of the market-waggons, bringing up to the great city the treasures of the gay green country, the land of fruits and flowers, for which I have yearned all my life in vain. They seemed to my boyish fancy mysterious messengers from another world: the silent, lonely night, in which they were the only moving things, added to the wonder. I used to get out of bed to gaze at them, and envy the coarse men and sluttish women who attended them, their labour among verdant plants and rich brown mould, on breezy slopes, under God's own clear sky. I fancied that they learnt what I knew I should have learnt there; I knew not then that "the eye only sees that which it brings with it the power of seeing." When will their eyes be opened? When will priests go forth into the highways and the hedges, and preach to the ploughman and the gipsy the blessed news, that there too, in every thicket and fallow-field, is the house of God,—there, too, the gate of Heaven?
I do not complain that I am a Cockney. That, too, is God's gift. He made me one, that I might learn to feel for poor wretches who sit stifled in reeking garrets and workrooms, drinking in disease with every breath,—bound in their prison-house of brick and iron, with their own funeral pall hanging over them, in that canopy of fog and poisonous smoke, from their cradle to their grave. I have drunk of the cup of which they drink. And so I have learnt—if, indeed, I have learnt—to be a poet—a poet of the people. That honour, surely, was worth buying with asthma, and rickets, and consumption, and weakness, and—worst of all to me—with ugliness. It was God's purpose about me; and, therefore, all circumstances combined to imprison me in London. I used once, when I worshipped circumstance, to fancy it my curse, Fate's injustice to me, which kept me from developing my genius, asserting my rank among poets. I longed to escape to glorious Italy, or some other southern climate, where natural beauty would have become the very element which I breathed; and yet, what would have come of that? Should I not, as nobler spirits than I have done, have idled away my life in Elysian dreams, singing out like a bird into the air, inarticulately, purposeless, for mere joy and fulness of heart; and taking no share in the terrible questionings, the terrible strugglings of this great, awful, blessed time—feeling no more the pulse of the great heart of England stirring me? I used, as I said, to call it the curse of circumstance that I was a sickly, decrepit Cockney. My mother used to tell me that it was the cross which God had given me to bear. I know now that she was right there. She used to say that my disease was God's will. I do not think, though, that she spoke right there also. I think that it was the will of the world and of the devil, of man's avarice and laziness and ignorance. And so would my readers, perhaps, had they seen the shop in the city where I was born and nursed, with its little garrets reeking with human breath, its kitchens and areas with noisome sewers. A sanitary reformer would not be long in guessing the cause of my unhealthiness. He would not rebuke me—nor would she, sweet soul! now that she is at rest and bliss—for my wild longings to escape, for my envying the very flies and sparrows their wings that I might flee miles away into the country, and breathe the air of heaven once, and die. I have had my wish. I have made two journeys far away into the country, and they have been enough for me.
My mother was a widow. My father, whom I cannot recollect, was a small retail tradesman in the city. He was unfortunate; and when he died, my mother came down, and lived penuriously enough, I knew not how till I grew older, down in that same suburban street. She had been brought up an Independent. After my father's death she became a Baptist, from conscientious scruples. She considered the Baptists, as I do, as the only sect who thoroughly embody the Calvinistic doctrines. She held it, as I do, an absurd and impious thing for those who believe mankind to be children of the devil till they have been consciously "converted," to baptise unconscious infants and give them the sign of God's mercy on the mere chance of that mercy being intended for them. When God had proved by converting them, that they were not reprobate and doomed to hell by His absolute and eternal will, then, and not till then, dare man baptise them into His name. She dared not palm a presumptuous fiction on herself, and call it "charity." So, though we had both been christened during my father's lifetime, she purposed to have us rebaptised, if ever that happened—which, in her sense of the word, never happened, I am afraid, to me.
She gloried in her dissent; for she was sprung from old Puritan blood, which had flowed again and again beneath the knife of Star-Chamber butchers, and on the battle-fields of Naseby and Sedgemoor. And on winter evenings she used to sit with her Bible on her knee, while I and my little sister Susan stood beside her and listened to the stories of Gideon and Barak, and Samson and Jephthah, till her eye kindled up, and her thoughts passed forth from that old Hebrew time home into those English times which she fancied, and not untruly, like them. And we used to shudder, and yet listen with a strange fascination, as she told us how her ancestor called his seven sons off their small Cambridge farm, and horsed and armed them himself to follow behind Cromwell, and smite kings and prelates with "the sword of the Lord and of Gideon." Whether she were right or wrong, what is it to me? What is it now to her, thank God? But those stories, and the strict, stern Puritan education, learnt from the Independents and not the Baptists, which accompanied them, had their effect on me, for good and ill.
My mother moved by rule and method; by God's law, as she considered, and that only. She seldom smiled. Her word was absolute. She never commanded twice, without punishing. And yet there were abysses of unspoken tenderness in her, as well as clear, sound, womanly sense and insight. But she thought herself as much bound to keep down all tenderness as if she had been some ascetic of the middle ages—so do extremes meet! It was "carnal," she considered. She had as yet no right to have any "spiritual affection" for us. We were still "children of wrath and of the devil,"—not yet "convinced of sin," "converted, born again." She had no more spiritual bond with us, she thought, than she had with a heathen or a Papist. She dared not even pray for our conversion, earnestly as she prayed on every other subject. For though the majority of her sect would have done so, her clear logical sense would yield to no such tender inconsistency. Had it not been decided from all eternity? We were elect, or we were reprobate. Could her prayers alter that? If He had chosen us, He would call us in His own good time: and, if not,—. Only again and again, as I afterwards discovered from a journal of hers, she used to beseech God with agonized tears to set her mind at rest by revealing to her His will towards us. For that comfort she could at least rationally pray. But she received no answer. Poor, beloved mother! If thou couldst not read the answer, written in every flower and every sunbeam, written in the very fact of our existence here at all, what answer would have sufficed thee.
And yet, with all this, she kept the strictest watch over our morality. Fear, of course, was the only motive she employed; for how could our still carnal understandings be affected with love to God? And love to herself was too paltry and temporary to be urged by one who knew that her life was uncertain, and who was always trying to go down to the deepest eternal ground and reason of everything, and take her stand upon that. So our god, or gods rather, till we were twelve years old, were hell, the rod, the ten commandments, and public opinion. Yet under them, not they, but something deeper far, both in her and us, preserved us pure. Call it natural character, conformation of the spirit,—conformation of the brain, if you like, if you are a scientific man and a phrenologist. I never yet could dissect and map out my own being, or my neighbour's, as you analysts do. To me, I myself, ay, and each person round me, seem one inexplicable whole; to take away a single faculty whereof, is to destroy the harmony, the meaning, the life of all the rest. That there is a duality in us—a lifelong battle between flesh and spirit—we all, alas! know well enough; but which is flesh and which is spirit, what philosophers in these days can tell us? Still less bad we two found out any such duality or discord in ourselves; for we were gentle and obedient children. The pleasures of the world did not tempt us. We did not know of their existence; and no foundlings educated in a nunnery ever grew up in a more virginal and spotless innocence—if ignorance be such—than did Susan and I.
The narrowness of my sphere of observation only concentrated the faculty into greater strength. The few natural objects which I met—and they, of course, constituted my whole outer world (for art and poetry were tabooed both by my rank and my mother's sectarianism, and the study of human beings only develops itself as the boy grows into the man)—these few natural objects, I say, I studied with intense keenness. I knew every leaf and flower in the little front garden; every cabbage and rhubarb plant in Battersea fields was wonderful and beautiful to me. Clouds and water I learned to delight in, from my occasional lingerings on Battersea bridge, and yearning westward looks toward the sun setting above rich meadows and wooded gardens, to me a forbidden El Dorado.
I brought home wild-flowers and chance beetles and butterflies, and pored over them, not in the spirit of a naturalist, but of a poet. They were to me God's angels shining in coats of mail and fairy masquerading dresses. I envied them their beauty, their freedom. At last I made up my mind, in the simple tenderness of a child's conscience, that it was wrong to rob them of the liberty for which I pined,—to take them away from the beautiful broad country whither I longed to follow them; and I used to keep them a day or two, and then, regretfully, carry them back, and set them loose on the first opportunity, with many compunctions of heart, when, as generally happened, they had been starved to death in the mean time.
They were my only recreations after the hours of the small day-school at the neighbouring chapel, where I learnt to read, write, and sum; except, now and then, a London walk, with my mother holding my hand tight the whole way. She would have hoodwinked me, stopped my ears with cotton, and led me in a string,—kind, careful soul!—if it had been reasonably safe on a crowded pavement, so fearful was she lest I should be polluted by some chance sight or sound of the Babylon which she feared and hated—almost as much as she did the Bishops.
The only books which I knew were the Pilgrim's Progress and the Bible. The former was my Shakespeare, my Dante, my Vedas, by which I explained every fact and phenomenon of life. London was the City of Destruction, from which I was to flee; I was Christian; the Wicket of the Way of Life I had strangely identified with the turnpike at Battersea-bridge end; and the rising ground of Mortlake and Wimbledon was the Land of Beulah—the Enchanted Mountains of the Shepherds. If I could once get there I was saved: a carnal view, perhaps, and a childish one; but there was a dim meaning and human reality in it nevertheless.
As for the Bible, I knew nothing of it really, beyond the Old Testament. Indeed, the life of Christ had little chance of becoming interesting to me. My mother had given me formally to understand that it spoke of matters too deep for me; that "till converted, the natural man could not understand the things of God": and I obtained little more explanation of it from the two unintelligible, dreary sermons to which I listened every dreary Sunday, in terror lest a chance shuffle of my feet, or a hint of drowsiness,—natural result of the stifling gallery and glaring windows and gas lights,—should bring down a lecture and a punishment when I returned home. Oh, those "sabbaths!"—days, not of rest, but utter weariness, when the beetles and the flowers were put by, and there was nothing to fill up the long vacuity but books of which I could not understand a word: when play, laughter, or even a stare out of window at the sinful, merry, sabbath-breaking promenaders, were all forbidden, as if the commandment had run, "In it thou shalt take no manner of amusement, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter." By what strange ascetic perversion has that got to mean "keeping holy the sabbath-day"?
Yet there was an hour's relief in the evening, when either my mother told us Old Testament stories, or some preacher or two came in to supper after meeting; and I used to sit in the corner and listen to their talk; not that I understood a word, but the mere struggle to understand—the mere watching my mother's earnest face—my pride in the reverent flattery with which the worthy men addressed her as "a mother in Israel," were enough to fill up the blank for me till bed-time.
Of "vital Christianity" I heard much; but, with all my efforts, could find out nothing. Indeed, it did not seem interesting enough to tempt me to find out much. It seemed a set of doctrines, believing in which was to have a magical effect on people, by saving them from the everlasting torture due to sins and temptations which I had never felt. Now and then, believing, in obedience to my mother's assurances, and the solemn prayers of the ministers about me, that I was a child of hell, and a lost and miserable sinner, I used to have accesses of terror, and fancy that I should surely wake next morning in everlasting flames. Once I put my finger a moment into the fire, as certain Papists, and Protestants too, have done, not only to themselves, but to their disciples, to see if it would be so very dreadfully painful; with what conclusions the reader may judge.... Still, I could not keep up the excitement. Why should I? The fear of pain is not the fear of sin, that I know of; and, indeed, the thing was unreal altogether in my case, and my heart, my common sense, rebelled against it again and again; till at last I got a terrible whipping for taking my little sister's part, and saying that if she was to die,—so gentle, and obedient, and affectionate as she was,—God would be very unjust in sending her to hell-fire, and that I was quite certain He would do no such thing—unless He were the Devil: an opinion which I have since seen no reason to change. The confusion between the King of Hell and the King of Heaven has cleared up, thank God, since then!
So I was whipped and put to bed—the whipping altering my secret heart just about as much as the dread of hell-fire did.
I speak as a Christian man—an orthodox Churchman (if you require that shibboleth). Was I so very wrong? What was there in the idea of religion which was represented to me at home to captivate me? What was the use of a child's hearing of "God's great love manifested in the scheme of redemption," when he heard, in the same breath, that the effects of that redemption were practically confined only to one human being out of a thousand, and that the other nine hundred and ninety-nine were lost and damned from their birth-hour to all eternity—not only by the absolute will and reprobation of God (though that infernal blasphemy I heard often enough), but also, putting that out of the question, by the mere fact of being born of Adam's race? And this to a generation to whom God's love shines out in every tree and flower and hedge-side bird; to whom the daily discoveries of science are revealing that love in every microscopic animalcule which peoples the stagnant pool! This to working men, whose craving is only for some idea which shall give equal hopes, claims, and deliverances, to all mankind alike! This to working men, who, in the smiles of their innocent children, see the heaven which they have lost—the messages of baby-cherubs, made in God's own image! This to me, to whom every butterfly, every look at my little sister, contradicted the lie! You may say that such thoughts were too deep for a child; that I am ascribing to my boyhood the scepticism of my manhood; but it is not so; and what went on in my mind goes on in the minds of thousands. It is the cause of the contempt into which not merely sectarian Protestantism, but Christianity altogether, has fallen in the minds of the thinking workmen. Clergymen, who anathematize us for wandering into Unitarianism—you, you have driven us thither. You must find some explanation of the facts of Christianity more in accordance with the truths which we do know, and will live and die for, or you can never hope to make us Christians; or, if we do return to the true fold, it will be as I returned, after long, miserable years of darkling error, to a higher truth than most of you have yet learned to preach.
But those old Jewish heroes did fill my whole heart and soul. I learnt from them lessons which I never wish to unlearn. Whatever else I saw about them, this I saw,—that they were patriots, deliverers from that tyranny and injustice from which the child's heart,—"child of the devil" though you may call him,—instinctively, and, as I believe, by a divine inspiration, revolts. Moses leading his people out of Egypt; Gideon, Barak, and Samson, slaying their oppressors; David, hiding in the mountains from the tyrant, with his little band of those who had fled from the oppressions of an aristocracy of Nabals; Jehu, executing God's vengeance on the kings—they were my heroes, my models; they mixed themselves up with the dim legends about the Reformation martyrs, Cromwell and Hampden, Sidney and Monmouth, which I had heard at my mother's knee. Not that the perennial oppression of the masses, in all ages and countries, had yet risen on me as an awful, torturing, fixed idea. I fancied, poor fool! that tyranny was the exception, and not the rule. But it was the mere sense of abstract pity and justice which was delighted in me. I thought that these were old fairy tales, such as never need be realized again. I learnt otherwise in after years.
I have often wondered since, why all cannot read the same lesson as I did in those old Hebrew Scriptures—that they, of all books in the world, have been wrested into proofs of the divine right of kings, the eternal necessity of slavery! But the eye only sees what it brings with it the power of seeing. The upper classes, from their first day at school, to their last day at college, read of nothing but the glories of Salamis and Marathon, of freedom and of the old republics. And what comes of it? No more than their tutors know will come of it, when they thrust into the boys' hands books which give the lie in every page to their own political superstitions.
But when I was just turned of thirteen, an altogether new fairy-land was opened to me by some missionary tracts and journals, which were lent to my mother by the ministers. Pacific coral islands and volcanoes, cocoa-nut groves and bananas, graceful savages with paint and feathers—what an El Dorado! How I devoured them and dreamt of them, and went there in fancy, and preached small sermons as I lay in my bed at night to Tahitians and New Zealanders, though I confess my spiritual eyes were, just as my physical eyes would have been, far more busy with the scenery than with the souls of my audience. However, that was the place for me, I saw clearly. And one day, I recollect it well, in the little dingy, foul, reeking, twelve foot square back-yard, where huge smoky party-walls shut out every breath of air and almost all the light of heaven, I had climbed up between the water-butt and the angle of the wall for the purpose of fishing out of the dirty fluid which lay there, crusted with soot and alive with insects, to be renewed only three times in the seven days, some of the great larvae and kicking monsters which made up a large item in my list of wonders: all of a sudden the horror of the place came over me; those grim prison-walls above, with their canopy of lurid smoke; the dreary, sloppy, broken pavement; the horrible stench of the stagnant cesspools; the utter want of form, colour, life, in the whole place, crushed me down, without my being able to analyse my feelings as I can now; and then came over me that dream of Pacific Islands, and the free, open sea; and I slid down from my perch, and bursting into tears threw myself upon my knees in the court, and prayed aloud to God to let me be a missionary.
Half fearfully I let out my wishes to my mother when she came home. She gave me no answer; but, as I found out afterwards,—too late, alas! for her, if not for me,—she, like Mary, had "laid up all these things, and treasured them in her heart."
You may guess, then, my delight when, a few days afterwards, I heard that a real live missionary was coming to take tea with us. A man who had actually been in New Zealand!—the thought was rapture. I painted him to myself over and over again; and when, after the first burst of fancy, I recollected that he might possibly not have adopted the native costume of that island, or, if he had, that perhaps it would look too strange for him to wear it about London, I settled within myself that he was to be a tall, venerable-looking man, like the portraits of old Puritan divines which adorned our day-room; and as I had heard that "he was powerful in prayer," I adorned his right hand with that mystic weapon "all-prayer," with which Christian, when all other means have failed, finally vanquishes the fiend—which instrument, in my mind, was somewhat after the model of an infernal sort of bill or halbert—all hooks, edges, spikes, and crescents—which I had passed, shuddering, once, in the hand of an old suit of armour in Wardour Street.
He came—and with him the two ministers who often drank tea with my mother; both of whom, as they played some small part in the drama of my after-life, I may as well describe here. The elder was a little, sleek, silver-haired old man, with a blank, weak face, just like a white rabbit. He loved me, and I loved him too, for there were always lollipops in his pocket for me and Susan. Had his head been equal to his heart!—but what has been was to be—and the dissenting clergy, with a few noble exceptions among the Independents, are not the strong men of the day—none know that better than the workmen. The old man's name was Bowyer. The other, Mr. Wigginton, was a younger man; tall, grim, dark, bilious, with a narrow forehead, retreating suddenly from his eyebrows up to a conical peak of black hair over his ears. He preached "higher doctrine," i.e., more fatalist and antinomian than his gentler colleague,—and, having also a stentorian voice, was much the greater favourite at the chapel. I hated him—and if any man ever deserved hatred, he did.
Well, they came. My heart was in my mouth as I opened the door to them, and sank back again to the very lowest depths of my inner man when my eyes fell on the face and figure of the missionary—a squat, red-faced, pig-eyed, low-browed man, with great soft lips that opened back to his very ears: sensuality, conceit, and cunning marked on every feature—an innate vulgarity, from which the artisan and the child recoil with an instinct as true, perhaps truer, than that of the courtier, showing itself in every tone and motion—I shrank into a corner, so crestfallen that I could not even exert myself to hand round the bread and butter, for which I got duly scolded afterwards. Oh! that man!—how he bawled and contradicted, and laid down the law, and spoke to my mother in a fondling, patronizing way, which made me, I knew not why, boil over with jealousy and indignation. How he filled his teacup half full of the white sugar to buy which my mother had curtailed her yesterday's dinner—how he drained the few remaining drops of the threepennyworth of cream, with which Susan was stealing off to keep it as an unexpected treat for my mother at breakfast the next morning—how he talked of the natives, not as St. Paul might of his converts, but as a planter might of his slaves; overlaying all his unintentional confessions of his own greed and prosperity, with cant, flimsy enough for even a boy to see through, while his eyes were not blinded with the superstition that a man must be pious who sufficiently interlards his speech with a jumble of old English picked out of our translation of the New Testament. Such was the man I saw. I don't deny that all are not like him. I believe there are noble men of all denominations, doing their best according to their light, all over the world; but such was the one I saw—and the men who were sent home to plead the missionary cause, whatever the men may be like who stay behind and work, are, from my small experience, too often such. It appears to me to be the rule that many of those who go abroad as missionaries, go simply because they are men of such inferior powers and attainments that if they stayed in England they would starve.
Three parts of his conversation, after all, was made up of abuse of the missionaries of the Church of England, not for doing nothing, but for being so much more successful than his own sect; accusing them, in the same breath, of being just of the inferior type of which he was himself, and also of being mere University fine gentlemen. Really, I do not wonder, upon his own showing, at the savages preferring them to him; and I was pleased to hear the old white-headed minister gently interpose at the end of one of his tirades—"We must not be jealous, my brother, if the Establishment has discovered what we, I hope, shall find out some day, that it is not wise to draft our missionaries from the offscouring of the ministry, and serve God with that which costs us nothing except the expense of providing for them beyond seas."
There was somewhat of a roguish twinkle in the old man's eye as he said it, which emboldened me to whisper a question to him.
"Why is it, Sir, that in olden times the heathens used to crucify the missionaries and burn them, and now they give them beautiful farms, and build them houses, and carry them about on their backs?"
The old man seemed a little puzzled, and so did the company, to whom he smilingly retailed my question.
As nobody seemed inclined to offer a solution, I ventured one myself.
"Perhaps the heathens are grown better than they used to be?"
"The heart of man," answered the tall, dark minister, "is, and ever was, equally at enmity with God."
"Then, perhaps," I ventured again, "what the missionaries preach now is not quite the same as what the missionaries used to preach in St. Paul's time, and so the heathens are not so angry at it?"
My mother looked thunder at me, and so did all except my white-headed friend, who said, gently enough,
"It may be that the child's words come from God."
Whether they did or not, the child took very good care to speak no more words till he was alone with his mother; and then finished off that disastrous evening by a punishment for the indecency of saying, before his little sister, that he thought it "a great pity the missionaries taught black people to wear ugly coats and trousers; they must have looked so much handsomer running about with nothing on but feathers and strings of shells."
So the missionary dream died out of me, by a foolish and illogical antipathy enough; though, after all, it was a child of my imagination only, not of my heart; and the fancy, having bred it, was able to kill it also. And David became my ideal. To be a shepherd-boy, and sit among beautiful mountains, and sing hymns of my own making, and kill lions and bears, with now and then the chance of a stray giant—what a glorious life! And if David slew giants with a sling and a stone, why should not I?—at all events, one ought to know how; so I made a sling out of an old garter and some string, and began to practise in the little back-yard. But my first shot broke a neighbour's window, value sevenpence, and the next flew back in my face, and cut my head open; so I was sent supperless to bed for a week, till the sevenpence had been duly saved out of my hungry stomach—and, on the whole, I found the hymn-writing side of David's character the more feasible; so I tried, and with much brains-beating, committed the following lines to a scrap of dirty paper. And it was strangely significant, that in this, my first attempt, there was an instinctive denial of the very doctrine of "particular redemption," which I had been hearing all my life, and an instinctive yearning after the very Being in whom I had been told I had "no part nor lot" till I was "converted." Here they are. I am not ashamed to call them—doggerel though they be—an inspiration from Him of whom they speak. If not from Him, good readers, from whom?
Jesus, He loves one and all; Jesus, He loves children small; Their souls are sitting round His feet, On high, before His mercy-seat.
When on earth He walked in shame, Children small unto Him came; At His feet they knelt and prayed, On their heads His hands He laid.
Came a spirit on them then, Greater than of mighty men; A spirit gentle, meek, and mild, A spirit good for king and child.
Oh! that spirit give to me, Jesus, Lord, where'er I be! So—
But I did not finish them, not seeing very clearly what to do with that spirit when I obtained it; for, indeed, it seemed a much finer thing to fight material Apollyons with material swords of iron, like my friend Christian, or to go bear and lion hunting with David, than to convert heathens by meekness—at least, if true meekness was at all like that of the missionary whom I had lately seen.
I showed the verses in secret to my little sister. My mother heard us singing them together, and extorted, grimly enough, a confession of the authorship. I expected to be punished for them (I was accustomed weekly to be punished for all sorts of deeds and words, of the harmfulness of which I had not a notion). It was, therefore, an agreeable surprise when the old minister, the next Sunday evening, patted my head, and praised me for them.
"A hopeful sign of young grace, brother," said he to the dark tall man. "May we behold here an infant Timothy!"
"Bad doctrine, brother, in that first line—bad doctrine, which I am sure he did not learn from our excellent sister here. Remember, my boy, henceforth, that Jesus does not love one and all—not that I am angry with you. The carnal mind cannot be expected to understand divine things, any more than the beasts that perish. Nevertheless, the blessed message of the Gospel stands true, that Christ loves none but His Bride, the Church. His merits, my poor child, extend to none but the elect. Ah! my dear sister Locke, how delightful to think of the narrow way of discriminating grace! How it enhances the believer's view of his own exceeding privileges, to remember that there be few that be saved!"
I said nothing. I thought myself only too lucky to escape so well from the danger of having done anything out of my own head. But somehow Susan and I never altered it when we sang it to ourselves.
* * * * *
I thought it necessary, for the sake of those who might read my story, to string together these few scattered recollections of my boyhood,—to give, as it were, some sample of the cotyledon leaves of my young life-plant, and of the soil in which it took root, ere it was transplanted—but I will not forestall my sorrows. After all, they have been but types of the woes of thousands who "die and give no sign." Those to whom the struggles of every, even the meanest, human being are scenes of an awful drama, every incident of which is to be noted with reverent interest, will not find them void of meaning; while the life which opens in my next chapter is, perhaps, full enough of mere dramatic interest (and whose life is not, were it but truly written?) to amuse merely as a novel. Ay, grim and real is the action and suffering which begins with my next page,—as you yourself would have found, high-born reader (if such chance to light upon this story), had you found yourself at fifteen, after a youth of convent-like seclusion, settled, apparently for life—in a tailor's workshop.
Ay—laugh!—we tailors can quote poetry as well as make your court-dresses:
You sit in a cloud and sing, like pictured angels, And say the world runs smooth—while right below Welters the black fermenting heap of griefs Whereon your state is built....
THE TAILOR'S WORKROOM.
Have you done laughing! Then I will tell you how the thing came to pass.
My father had a brother, who had steadily risen in life, in proportion as my father fell. They had both begun life in a grocer's shop. My father saved enough to marry, when of middle age, a woman of his own years, and set up a little shop, where there were far too many such already, in the hope—to him, as to the rest of the world, quite just and innocent—of drawing away as much as possible of his neighbours' custom. He failed, died—as so many small tradesmen do—of bad debts and a broken heart, and left us beggars. His brother, more prudent, had, in the meantime, risen to be foreman; then he married, on the strength of his handsome person, his master's blooming widow; and rose and rose, year by year, till, at the time of which I speak, he was owner of a first-rate grocery establishment in the City, and a pleasant villa near Herne Hill, and had a son, a year or two older than myself, at King's College, preparing for Cambridge and the Church—that being now-a-days the approved method of converting a tradesman's son into a gentleman,—whereof let artisans, and gentlemen also, take note.
My aristocratic readers—if I ever get any, which I pray God I may—may be surprised at so great an inequality of fortune between two cousins; but the thing is common in our class. In the higher ranks, a difference in income implies none in education or manners, and the poor "gentleman" is a fit companion for dukes and princes—thanks to the old usages of Norman chivalry, which after all were a democratic protest against the sovereignty, if not of rank, at least of money. The knight, however penniless, was the prince's equal, even his superior, from whose hands he must receive knighthood; and the "squire of low degree," who honourably earned his spurs, rose also into that guild, whose qualifications, however barbaric, were still higher ones than any which the pocket gives. But in the commercial classes money most truly and fearfully "makes the man." A difference in income, as you go lower, makes more and more difference in the supply of the common necessaries of life; and worse—in education and manners, in all which polishes the man, till you may see often, as in my case, one cousin a Cambridge undergraduate, and the other a tailor's journeyman.
My uncle one day came down to visit us, resplendent in a black velvet waistcoat, thick gold chain, and acres of shirt-front; and I and Susan were turned to feed on our own curiosity and awe in the back-yard, while he and my mother were closeted together for an hour or so in the living-room. When he was gone, my mother called me in; and with eyes which would have been tearful had she allowed herself such a weakness before us, told me very solemnly and slowly, as if to impress upon me the awfulness of the matter, that I was to be sent to a tailor's workrooms the next day.
And an awful step it was in her eyes, as she laid her hands on my head and murmured to herself, "Behold, I send you forth as a lamb in the midst of wolves. Be ye, therefore, wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." And then, rising hastily to conceal her own emotion, fled upstairs, where we could hear her throw herself on her knees by the bedside, and sob piteously.
That evening was spent dolefully enough, in a sermon of warnings against all manner of sins and temptations, the very names of which I had never heard, but to which, as she informed me, I was by my fallen nature altogether prone: and right enough was she in so saying, though as often happens, the temptations from which I was in real danger were just the ones of which she had no notion—fighting more or less extinct Satans, as Mr. Carlyle says, and quite unconscious of the real, modern, man-devouring Satan close at her elbow.
To me, in spite of all the terror which she tried to awaken in me, the change was not unwelcome; at all events, it promised me food for my eyes and my ears,—some escape from the narrow cage in which, though I hardly dare confess it to myself, I was beginning to pine. Little I dreamt to what a darker cage I was to be translated! Not that I accuse my uncle of neglect or cruelty, though the thing was altogether of his commanding. He was as generous to us as society required him to be. We were entirely dependent on him, as my mother told me then for the first time, for support. And had he not a right to dispose of my person, having bought it by an allowance to my mother of five-and-twenty pounds a year? I did not forget that fact; the thought of my dependence on him rankled in me, till it almost bred hatred in me to a man who had certainly never done or meant anything to me but in kindness. For what could he make me but a tailor—or a shoemaker? A pale, consumptive, rickety, weakly boy, all forehead and no muscle—have not clothes and shoes been from time immemorial the appointed work of such? The fact that that weakly frame is generally compensated by a proportionally increased activity of brain, is too unimportant to enter into the calculations of the great King Laissez-faire. Well, my dear Society, it is you that suffer for the mistake, after all, more than we. If you do tether your cleverest artisans on tailors' shopboards and cobblers' benches, and they—as sedentary folk will—fall a thinking, and come to strange conclusions thereby, they really ought to be much more thankful to you than you are to them. If Thomas Cooper had passed his first five-and-twenty years at the plough tail instead of the shoemaker's awl, many words would have been left unsaid which, once spoken, working men are not likely to forget.
With a beating heart I shambled along by my mother's side next day to Mr. Smith's shop, in a street off Piccadilly; and stood by her side, just within the door, waiting till some one would condescend to speak to us, and wondering when the time would come when I, like the gentleman who skipped up and down the shop, should shine glorious in patent-leather boots, and a blue satin tie sprigged with gold.
Two personages, both equally magnificent, stood talking with their backs to us; and my mother, in doubt, like myself, as to which of them was the tailor, at last summoned up courage to address the wrong one, by asking if he were Mr. Smith.
The person addressed answered by a most polite smile and bow, and assured her that he had not that honour; while the other he-he'ed, evidently a little flattered by the mistake, and then uttered in a tremendous voice these words:
"I have nothing for you, my good woman—go. Mr. Elliot! how did you come to allow these people to get into the establishment?"
"My name is Locke, sir, and I was to bring my son here this morning."
"Oh—ah!—Mr. Elliot, see to these persons. As I was saying, my lard, the crimson velvet suit, about thirty-five guineas. By-the-by, that coat ours? I thought so—idea grand and light—masses well broken—very fine chiaroscuro about the whole—an aristocratic wrinkle just above the hips—which I flatter myself no one but myself and my friend Mr. Cooke really do understand. The vapid smoothness of the door dummy, my lard, should be confined to the regions of the Strand. Mr. Elliot, where are you? Just be so good as to show his lardship that lovely new thing in drab and blue fonce. Ah! your lardship can't wait.—Now, my good woman, is this the young man?"
"Yes," said my mother: "and—and—God deal so with you, sir, as you deal with the widow and the orphan."
"Oh—ah—that will depend very much, I should say, on how the widow and the orphan deal with me. Mr. Elliot, take this person into the office and transact the little formalities with her, Jones, take the young man up-stairs to the work-room."
I stumbled after Mr. Jones up a dark, narrow, iron staircase till we emerged through a trap-door into a garret at the top of the house. I recoiled with disgust at the scene before me; and here I was to work—perhaps through life! A low lean-to room, stifling me with the combined odours of human breath and perspiration, stale beer, the sweet sickly smell of gin, and the sour and hardly less disgusting one of new cloth. On the floor, thick with dust and dirt, scraps of stuff and ends of thread, sat some dozen haggard, untidy, shoeless men, with a mingled look of care and recklessness that made me shudder. The windows were tight closed to keep out the cold winter air; and the condensed breath ran in streams down the panes, chequering the dreary outlook of chimney-tops and smoke. The conductor handed me over to one of the men.
"Here, Crossthwaite, take this younker and make a tailor of him. Keep him next you, and prick him up with your needle if he shirks."
He disappeared down the trap-door, and mechanically, as if in a dream, I sat down by the man and listened to his instructions, kindly enough bestowed. But I did not remain in peace two minutes. A burst of chatter rose as the foreman vanished, and a tall, bloated, sharp-nosed young man next me bawled in my ear,—
"I say, young'un, fork out the tin and pay your footing at Conscrumption Hospital."
"What do you mean?"
"Aint he just green?—Down with the stumpy—a tizzy for a pot of half-and-half."
"I never drink beer."
"Then never do," whispered the man at my side; "as sure as hell's hell, it's your only chance."
There was a fierce, deep earnestness in the tone which made me look up at the speaker, but the other instantly chimed in—
"Oh, yer don't, don't yer, my young Father Mathy? then yer'll soon learn it here if yer want to keep yer victuals down."
"And I have promised to take my wages home to my mother."
"Oh criminy! hark to that, my coves! here's a chap as is going to take the blunt home to his mammy."
"T'aint much of it the old'un'll see," said another. "Ven yer pockets it at the Cock and Bottle, my kiddy, yer won't find much of it left o' Sunday mornings."
"Don't his mother know he's out?" asked another, "and won't she know it—
"Ven he's sitting in his glory Half-price at the Victory.
"Oh! no, ve never mentions her—her name is never heard. Certainly not, by no means. Why should it?"
"Well, if yer won't stand a pot," quoth the tall man, "I will, that's all, and blow temperance. 'A short life and a merry one,' says the tailor—
"The ministers talk a great deal about port, And they makes Cape wine very dear, But blow their hi's if ever they tries To deprive a poor cove of his beer.
"Here, Sam, run to the Cock and Bottle for a pot of half-and-half to my score."
A thin, pale lad jumped up and vanished, while my tormentor turned to me:
"I say, young'un, do you know why we're nearer heaven here than our neighbours?"
"I shouldn't have thought so," answered I with a naivete which raised a laugh, and dashed the tall man for a moment.
"Yer don't? then I'll tell yer. A cause we're a top of the house in the first place, and next place yer'll die here six months sooner nor if yer worked in the room below. Aint that logic and science, Orator?" appealing to Crossthwaite.
"Why?" asked I.
"A cause you get all the other floors' stinks up here as well as your own. Concentrated essence of man's flesh, is this here as you're a breathing. Cellar workroom we calls Rheumatic Ward, because of the damp. Ground-floor's Fever Ward—them as don't get typhus gets dysentery, and them as don't get dysentery gets typhus—your nose'd tell yer why if you opened the back windy. First floor's Ashmy Ward—don't you hear 'um now through the cracks in the boards, a puffing away like a nest of young locomotives? And this here most august and upper-crust cockloft is the Conscrumptive Hospital. First you begins to cough, then you proceeds to expectorate—spittoons, as you see, perwided free gracious for nothing—fined a kivarten if you spits on the floor—
"Then your cheeks they grows red, and your nose it grows thin, And your bones they stick out, till they comes through your skin:
"and then, when you've sufficiently covered the poor dear shivering bare backs of the hairystocracy—
"Die, die, die, Away you fly, Your soul is in the sky!
"as the hinspired Shakspeare wittily remarks."
And the ribald lay down on his back, stretched himself out, and pretended to die in a fit of coughing, which last was, alas! no counterfeit, while poor I, shocked and bewildered, let my tears fall fast upon my knees.
"Fine him a pot!" roared one, "for talking about kicking the bucket. He's a nice young man to keep a cove's spirits up, and talk about 'a short life and a merry one.' Here comes the heavy. Hand it here to take the taste of that fellow's talk out of my mouth."
"Well, my young'un," recommenced my tormentor, "and how do you like your company?"
"Leave the boy alone," growled Crossthwaite; "don't you see he's crying?"
"Is that anything good to eat? Give me some on it if it is—it'll save me washing my face." And he took hold of my hair and pulled my head back.
"I'll tell you what, Jemmy Downes," said Crossthwaite, in a voice which made him draw back, "if you don't drop that, I'll give you such a taste of my tongue as shall turn you blue."
"You'd better try it on then. Do—only just now—if you please."
"Be quiet, you fool!" said another. "You're a pretty fellow to chaff the orator. He'll slang you up the chimney afore you can get your shoes on."
"Fine him a kivarten for quarrelling," cried another; and the bully subsided into a minute's silence, after a sotto voce—"Blow temperance, and blow all Chartists, say I!" and then delivered himself of his feelings in a doggerel song:
"Some folks leads coves a dance, With their pledge of temperance, And their plans for donkey sociation; And their pockets full they crams By their patriotic flams, And then swears 'tis for the good of the nation.
"But I don't care two inions For political opinions, While I can stand my heavy and my quartern; For to drown dull care within, In baccy, beer, and gin, Is the prime of a working-tailor's fortin!
"There's common sense for yer now; hand the pot here."
I recollect nothing more of that day, except that I bent myself to my work with assiduity enough to earn praises from Crossthwaite. It was to be done, and I did it. The only virtue I ever possessed (if virtue it be) is the power of absorbing my whole heart and mind in the pursuit of the moment, however dull or trivial, if there be good reason why it should be pursued at all.
I owe, too, an apology to my readers for introducing all this ribaldry. God knows, it is as little to my taste as it can be to theirs, but the thing exists; and those who live, if not by, yet still besides such a state of things, ought to know what the men are like to whose labour, ay, lifeblood, they own their luxuries. They are "their brothers' keepers," let them deny it as they will. Thank God, many are finding that out; and the morals of the working tailors, as well as of other classes of artisans, are rapidly improving: a change which has been brought about partly by the wisdom and kindness of a few master tailors, who have built workshops fit for human beings, and have resolutely stood out against the iniquitous and destructive alterations in the system of employment. Among them I may, and will, whether they like it or not, make honourable mention of Mr. Willis, of St. James's Street, and Mr. Stultz, of Bond Street.
But nine-tenths of the improvement has been owing, not to the masters, but to the men themselves; and who among them, my aristocratic readers, do you think, have been the great preachers and practisers of temperance, thrift, charity, self-respect, and education. Who?—shriek not in your Belgravian saloons—the Chartists; the communist Chartists: upon whom you and your venal press heap every kind of cowardly execration and ribald slander. You have found out many things since Peterloo; add that fact to the number.
It may seem strange that I did not tell my mother into what a pandemonium I had fallen, and got her to deliver me; but a delicacy, which was not all evil, kept me back; I shrank from seeming to dislike to earn my daily bread, and still more from seeming to object to what she had appointed for me. Her will had been always law; it seemed a deadly sin to dispute it. I took for granted, too, that she knew what the place was like, and that, therefore, it must be right for me. And when I came home at night, and got back to my beloved missionary stories, I gathered materials enough to occupy my thoughts during the next day's work, and make me blind and deaf to all the evil around me. My mother, poor dear creature, would have denounced my day-dreams sternly enough, had she known of their existence; but were they not holy angels from heaven? guardians sent by that Father, whom I had been taught not to believe in, to shield my senses from pollution?
I was ashamed, too, to mention to my mother the wickedness which I saw and heard. With the delicacy of an innocent boy, I almost imputed the very witnessing of it as a sin to myself; and soon I began to be ashamed of more than the mere sitting by and hearing. I found myself gradually learning slang-insolence, laughing at coarse jokes, taking part in angry conversations; my moral tone was gradually becoming lower; but yet the habit of prayer remained, and every night at my bedside, when I prayed to "be converted and made a child of God," I prayed that the same mercy might be extended to my fellow-workmen, "if they belonged to the number of the elect." Those prayers may have been answered in a wider and deeper sense than I then thought of.
But, altogether, I felt myself in a most distracted, rudderless state. My mother's advice I felt daily less and less inclined to ask. A gulf was opening between us; we were moving in two different worlds, and she saw it, and imputed it to me as a sin; and was the more cold to me by day, and prayed for me (as I knew afterwards) the more passionately while I slept. But help or teacher I had none. I knew not that I had a Father in heaven. How could He be my Father till I was converted? I was a child of the Devil, they told me; and now and then I felt inclined to take them at their word, and behave like one. No sympathizing face looked on me out of the wide heaven—off the wide earth, none. I was all boiling with new hopes, new temptations, new passions, new sorrows, and "I looked to the right hand and to the left, and no man cared for my soul."
I had felt myself from the first strangely drawn towards Crossthwaite, carefully as he seemed to avoid me, except to give me business directions in the workroom. He alone had shown me any kindness; and he, too, alone was untainted with the sin around him. Silent, moody, and preoccupied, he was yet the king of the room. His opinion was always asked, and listened to. His eye always cowed the ribald and the blasphemer; his songs, when he rarely broke out into merriment, were always rapturously applauded. Men hated, and yet respected him. I shrank from him at first, when I heard him called a Chartist; for my dim notions of that class were, that they were a very wicked set of people, who wanted to kill all the soldiers and policemen and respectable people, and rob all the shops of their contents. But, Chartist or none, Crossthwaite fascinated me. I often found myself neglecting my work to study his face. I liked him, too, because he was as I was—small, pale, and weakly. He might have been five-and-twenty; but his looks, like those of too many a working man, were rather those of a man of forty. Wild grey eyes gleamed out from under huge knitted brows, and a perpendicular wall of brain, too large for his puny body. He was not only, I soon discovered, a water-drinker, but a strict "vegetarian" also; to which, perhaps, he owed a great deal of the almost preternatural clearness, volubility, and sensitiveness of his mind. But whether from his ascetic habits, or the un-healthiness of his trade, the marks of ill-health were upon him; and his sallow cheek, and ever-working lip, proclaimed too surely—
The fiery soul which, working out its way, Fretted the pigmy body to decay; And o'er informed the tenement of clay.
I longed to open my heart to him. Instinctively I felt that he was a kindred spirit. Often, turning round suddenly in the workroom, I caught him watching me with an expression which seemed to say, "Poor boy, and art thou too one of us? Hast thou too to fight with poverty and guidelessness, and the cravings of an unsatisfied intellect, as I have done!" But when I tried to speak to him earnestly, his manner was peremptory and repellent. It was well for me that so it was—well for me, I see now, that it was not from him my mind received the first lessons in self-development. For guides did come to me in good time, though not such, perhaps, as either my mother or my readers would have chosen for me.
My great desire now was to get knowledge. By getting that I fancied, as most self-educated men are apt to do, 1 should surely get wisdom. Books, I thought, would tell me all I needed. But where to get the books? And which? I had exhausted our small stock at home; I was sick and tired, without knowing why, of their narrow conventional view of everything. After all, I had been reading them all along, not for their doctrines but for their facts, and knew not where to find more, except in forbidden paths. I dare not ask my mother for books, for I dare not confess to her that religious ones were just what I did not want; and all history, poetry, science, I had been accustomed to hear spoken of as "carnal learning, human philosophy," more or less diabolic and ruinous to the soul. So, as usually happens in this life—"By the law was the knowledge of sin"—and unnatural restrictions on the development of the human spirit only associated with guilt of conscience, what ought to have been an innocent and necessary blessing.