And still more did I envy them when I found that many of them combined, as my cousin did, this physical exercise with really hard mental work, and found the one help the other. It was bitter to me—whether it ought to have been so or not—to hear of prizemen, wranglers, fellows of colleges, as first rate oars, boxers, foot-ball players; and my eyes once fairly filled with tears, when, after the departure of a little fellow no bigger or heavier than myself, but with the eye and the gait of a game-cock, I was informed that he was "bow-oar in the University eight, and as sure to be senior classic next year as he has a head on his shoulders." And I thought of my nights of study in the lean-to garret, and of the tailor's workshop, and of Sandy's den, and said to myself bitter words, which I shall not set down. Let gentlemen readers imagine them for themselves; and judge rationally and charitably of an unhealthy working-man like me, if his tongue be betrayed, at moments, to envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness.
However, one happiness I had—books. I read in my cousin's room from morning till night. He gave me my meals hospitably enough: but disappeared every day about four to "hall"; after which he did not reappear till eight, the interval being taken up, he said, in "wines" and an hour of billiards. Then he sat down to work, and read steadily and well till twelve, while I, nothing loth, did the same; and so passed, rapidly enough, my week at Cambridge.
A CATHEDRAL TOWN.
At length, the wished-for day had arrived; and, with my cousin, I was whirling along, full of hope and desire, towards the cathedral town of D * * * *—through a flat fen country, which though I had often heard it described as ugly, struck my imagination much. The vast height and width of the sky-arch, as seen from those flats as from an ocean—the grey haze shrouding the horizon of our narrow land-view, and closing us in, till we seemed to be floating through infinite space, on a little platform of earth; the rich poplar-fringed farms, with their herds of dappled oxen—the luxuriant crops of oats and beans—the tender green of the tall-rape, a plant till then unknown to me—the long, straight, silver dykes, with their gaudy carpets of strange floating water-plants, and their black banks, studded with the remains of buried forests—the innumerable draining-mills, with their creaking sails and groaning wheels—the endless rows of pollard willows, through which the breeze moaned and rung, as through the strings of some vast AEolian harp; the little island knolls in that vast sea of fen, each with its long village street, and delicately taper spire; all this seemed to me to contain an element of new and peculiar beauty.
"Why!" exclaims the reading public, if perchance it ever sees this tale of mine, in its usual prurient longing after anything like personal gossip, or scandalous anecdote—"why, there is no cathedral town which begins with a D! Through the fen, too! He must mean either Ely, Lincoln, or Peterborough; that's certain." Then, at one of those places, they find there is dean—not of the name of Winnstay, true—"but his name begins with a W; and he has a pretty daughter—no, a niece; well, that's very near it;—it must be him. No; at another place—there is not a dean, true—but a canon, or an archdeacon-something of that kind; and he has a pretty daughter, really; and his name begins—not with W, but with Y; well, that's the last letter of Winnstay, if it is not the first: that must be the poor man! What a shame to have exposed his family secrets in that way!" And then a whole circle of myths grow up round the man's story. It is credibly ascertained that I am the man who broke into his house last year, after having made love to his housemaid, and stole his writing-desk and plate—else, why should a burglar steal family-letters, if he had not some interest in them?... And before the matter dies away, some worthy old gentleman, who has not spoken to a working man since he left his living, thirty years ago, and hates a radical as he does the Pope, receives two or three anonymous letters, condoling with him on the cruel betrayal of his confidence—base ingratitude for undeserved condescension, &c., &c.; and, perhaps, with an enclosure of good advice for his lovely daughter.
But wherever D * * * * is, we arrived there; and with a beating heart, I—and I now suspect my cousin also—walked up the sunny slopes, where the old convent had stood, now covered with walled gardens and noble timber-trees, and crowned by the richly fretted towers of the cathedral, which we had seen, for the last twenty miles, growing gradually larger and more distinct across the level flat. "Ely?" "No; Lincoln!" "Oh! but really, it's just as much like Peterborough!" Never mind, my dear reader; the essence of the fact, as I think, lies not quite so much in the name of the place, as in what was done there—to which I, with all the little respect which I can muster, entreat your attention.
It is not from false shame at my necessary ignorance, but from a fear lest I should bore my readers with what seems to them trivial, that I refrain from dilating on many a thing which struck me as curious in this my first visit to the house of an English gentleman. I must say, however, though I suppose that it will be numbered, at least, among trite remarks, if not among trivial ones, that the wealth around me certainly struck me, as it has others, as not very much in keeping with the office of one who professed to be a minister of the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth. But I salved over that feeling, being desirous to see everything in the brightest light, with the recollection that the dean had a private fortune of his own; though it did seem at moments, that if a man has solemnly sworn to devote himself, body and soul, to the cause of the spiritual welfare of the nation, that vow might be not unfairly construed to include his money as well as his talents, time, and health: unless, perhaps, money is considered by spiritual persons as so worthless a thing, that it is not fit to be given to God—a notion which might seem to explain how a really pious and universally respected archbishop, living within a quarter of a mile of one of the worst infernos of destitution, disease, filth, and profligacy—can yet find it in his heart to save L120,000 out of church revenues, and leave it to his family; though it will not explain how Irish bishops can reconcile it to their consciences to leave behind them, one and all, large fortunes—for I suppose from fifty to a hundred thousand pounds is something—saved from fees and tithes, taken from the pockets of a Roman Catholic population, whom they have been put there to convert to Protestantism for the last three hundred years—with what success, all the world knows. Of course, it is a most impertinent, and almost a blasphemous thing, for a working man to dare to mention such subjects. Is it not "speaking evil of dignities"? Strange, by-the-by, that merely to mention facts, without note or comment, should be always called "speaking evil"! Does not that argue ill for the facts themselves? Working men think so; but what matter what "the swinish multitude" think?
When I speak of wealth, I do not mean that the dean's household would have been considered by his own class at all too luxurious. He would have been said, I suppose, to live in a "quiet, comfortable, gentlemanlike way"—"everything very plain and very good." It included a butler—a quiet, good-natured old man—who ushered us into our bedrooms; a footman, who opened the door—a sort of animal for which I have an extreme aversion—young, silly, conceited, over-fed, florid—who looked just the man to sell his soul for a livery, twice as much food as he needed, and the opportunity of unlimited flirtations with the maids; and a coachman, very like other coachmen, whom I saw taking a pair of handsome carriage-horses out to exercise, as we opened the gate.
The old man, silently and as a matter of course, unpacked for me my little portmanteau (lent me by my cousin), and placed my things neatly in various drawers—went down, brought up a jug of hot water, put it on the washing-table—told me that dinner was at six—that the half-hour bell rang at half-past five—and that, if I wanted anything, the footman would answer the bell (bells seeming a prominent idea in his theory of the universe)—and so left me, wondering at the strange fact that free men, with free wills, do sell themselves, by the hundred thousand, to perform menial offices for other men, not for love, but for money; becoming, to define them strictly, bell-answering animals; and are honest, happy, contented, in such a life. A man-servant, a soldier, and a Jesuit, are to me the three great wonders of humanity—three forms of moral suicide, for which I never had the slightest gleam of sympathy, or even comprehension.
* * * * *
At last we went down to dinner, after my personal adornments had been carefully superintended by my cousin, who gave me, over and above, various warnings and exhortations as to my behaviour; which, of course, took due effect, in making me as nervous, constrained, and affected, as possible. When I appeared in the drawing-room, I was kindly welcomed by the dean, the two ladies, and Lord Lynedale.
But, as I stood fidgeting and blushing, sticking my arms and legs, and head into all sorts of quaint positions—trying one attitude, and thinking it looked awkward, and so exchanged it for another, more awkward still—my eye fell suddenly on a slip of paper, which had conveyed itself, I never knew how, upon the pages of the Illustrated Book of Ballads, which I was turning over:—
"Be natural, and you will be gentlemanlike. If you wish others to forget your rank, do not forget it yourself. If you wish others to remember you with pleasure, forget yourself; and be just what God has made you."
I could not help fancying that the lesson, whether intentionally or not, was meant for me; and a passing impulse made me take up the slip, fold it together, and put it into my bosom. Perhaps it was Lillian's handwriting! I looked round at the ladies; but their faces were each buried behind a book.
We went in to dinner; and, to my delight, I sat next to my goddess, while opposite me was my cousin. Luckily, I had got some directions from him as to what to say and do, when my wonders, the servants, thrust eatables and drinkables over nay shoulders.
Lillian and my cousin chatted away about church-architecture, and the restorations which were going on at the cathedral; while I, for the first half of dinner, feasted my eyes with the sight of a beauty, in which I seemed to discover every moment some new excellence. Every time I looked up at her, my eyes dazzled, my face burnt, my heart sank, and soft thrills ran through every nerve. And yet, Heaven knows, my emotions were as pure as those of an infant. It was beauty, longed for, and found at last, which I adored as a thing not to be possessed, but worshipped. The desire, even the thought, of calling her my own, never crossed my mind. I felt that I could gladly die, if by death I could purchase the permission to watch her. I understood, then, and for ever after, the pure devotion of the old knights and troubadours of chivalry. I seemed to myself to be their brother—one of the holy guild of poet-lovers. I was a new Petrarch, basking in the light-rays of a new Laura. I gazed, and gazed, and found new life in gazing, and was content.
But my simple bliss was perfected, when she suddenly turned to me, and began asking me questions on the very points on which I was best able to answer. She talked about poetry, Tennyson and Wordsworth; asked me if I understood Browning's Sordello; and then comforted me, after my stammering confession that I did not, by telling me she was delighted to hear that; for she did not understand it either, and it was so pleasant to have a companion in ignorance. Then she asked me, if I was much struck with the buildings in Cambridge?—had they inspired me with any verses yet?—I was bound to write something about them—and so on; making the most commonplace remarks look brilliant, from the ease and liveliness with which they were spoken, and the tact with which they were made pleasant to the listener: while I wondered at myself, for enjoying from her lips the flippant, sparkling tattle, which had hitherto made young women to me objects of unspeakable dread, to be escaped by crossing the street, hiding behind doors, and rushing blindly into back-yards and coal-holes.
The ladies left the room; and I, with Lillian's face glowing bright in my imagination, as the crimson orb remains on the retina of the closed eye, after looking intently at the sun, sat listening to a pleasant discussion between the dean and the nobleman, about some country in the East, which they had both visited, and greedily devouring all the new facts which, they incidentally brought forth out of the treasures of their highly cultivated minds.
I was agreeably surprised (don't laugh, reader) to find that I was allowed to drink water; and that the other men drank not more than a glass or two of wine, after the ladies had retired. I had, somehow, got both lords and deans associated in my mind with infinite swillings of port wine, and bacchanalian orgies, and sat down at first, in much fear and trembling, lest I should be compelled to join, under penalties of salt-and-water; but I had made up my mind, stoutly, to bear anything rather than get drunk; and so I had all the merit of a temperance-martyr, without any of its disagreeables.
"Well" said I to myself, smiling in spirit, "what would my Chartist friends say if they saw me here? Not even Crossthwaite himself could find a flaw in the appreciation of merit for its own sake, the courtesy and condescension—ah! but he would complain of it, simply for being condescension." But, after all, what else could it be? Were not these men more experienced, more learned, older than myself? They were my superiors; it was in vain for me to attempt to hide it from myself. But the wonder was, that they themselves were the ones to appear utterly unconscious of it. They treated me as an equal; they welcomed me—the young viscount and the learned dean—on the broad ground of a common humanity; as I believe hundreds more of their class would do, if we did not ourselves take a pride in estranging them from us—telling them that fraternization between our classes is impossible, and then cursing them for not fraternizing with us. But of that, more hereafter.
At all events, now my bliss was perfect. No! I was wrong—a higher enjoyment than all awaited me, when, going into the drawing-room, I found Lillian singing at the piano. I had no idea that music was capable of expressing and conveying emotions so intense and ennobling. My experience was confined to street music, and to the bawling at the chapel. And, as yet, Mr. Hullah had not risen into a power more enviable than that of kings, and given to every workman a free entrance into the magic world of harmony and melody, where he may prove his brotherhood with Mozart and Weber, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. Great unconscious demagogue!—leader of the people, and labourer in the cause of divine equality!—thy reward is with the Father of the people!
The luscious softness of the Italian airs overcame me with a delicious enervation. Every note, every interval, each shade of expression spoke to me—I knew not what: and yet they spoke to my heart of hearts. A spirit out of the infinite heaven seemed calling to my spirit, which longed to answer—and was dumb—and could only vent itself in tears, which welled unconsciously forth, and eased my heart from the painful tension of excitement.
* * * * * Her voice is hovering o'er my soul—it lingers, O'ershadowing it with soft and thrilling wings; The blood and life within those snowy fingers Teach witchcraft to the instrumental strings. My brain is wild, my breath comes quick. The blood is listening in my frame; And thronging shadows, fast and thick, Fall on my overflowing eyes. My heart is quivering like a flame; As morning-dew that in the sunbeam dies, I am dissolved in these consuming ecstacies. * * * * *
The dark lady, Miss Staunton, as I ought to call her, saw my emotion, and, as I thought unkindly, checked the cause of it at once.
"Pray do not give us any more of those die-away Italian airs, Lillian. Sing something manful, German or English, or anything you like, except those sentimental wailings."
Lillian stopped, took another book, and commenced, after a short prelude, one of my own songs. Surprise and pleasure overpowered me more utterly than the soft southern melodies had done. I was on the point of springing up and leaving the room, when my raptures were checked by our host, who turned round, and stopped short in an oration on the geology of Upper Egypt.
"What's that about brotherhood and freedom, Lillian? We don't want anything of that kind here."
"It's only a popular London song, papa," answered she, with an arch smile.
"Or likely to become so," added Miss Staunton, in her marked dogmatic tone.
"I am very sorry for London, then." And he returned to the deserts.
THE MAN OF SCIENCE.
After breakfast the next morning, Lillian retired, saying laughingly, that she must go and see after her clothing club and her dear old women at the almshouse, which, of course, made me look on her as more an angel than ever. And while George was left with Lord Lynedale, I was summoned to a private conference with the dean, in his study.
I found him in a room lined with cabinets of curiosities, and hung all over with strange horns, bones, and slabs of fossils. But I was not allowed much time to look about me; for he commenced at once on the subject of my studies, by asking me whether I was willing to prepare myself for the university, by entering on the study of mathematics?
I felt so intense a repugnance to them, that at the risk of offending him—perhaps, for what I knew, fatally—I dared to demur. He smiled—
"I am convinced, young man, that even if you intended to follow poetry as a profession—and a very poor one you will find it—yet you will never attain to any excellence therein, without far stricter mental discipline than any to which you have been accustomed. That is why I abominate our modern poets. They talk about the glory of the poetic vocation, as if they intended to be kings and world-makers, and all the while they indulge themselves in the most loose and desultory habits of thought. Sir, if they really believed their own grandiloquent assumptions, they would feel that the responsibility of their mental training was greater, not less, than any one's else. Like the Quakers, they fancy that they honour inspiration by supposing it to be only extraordinary and paroxysmic: the true poet, like the rational Christian, believing that inspiration is continual and orderly, that it reveals harmonious laws, not merely excites sudden emotions. You understand me?"
I did, tolerably; and subsequent conversations with him fixed the thoughts sufficiently in my mind, to make me pretty sure that I am giving a faithful verbal transcript of them.
"You must study some science. Have you read any logic?"
I mentioned Watts' "Logic," and Locke "On the Use of the Understanding"—two books well known to reading artizans.
"Ah," he said, "such books are very well, but they are merely popular. 'Aristotle,' 'Bitter on Induction,' and Kant's 'Prolegomena' and 'Logic'—when you had read them some seven or eight times over, you might consider yourself as knowing somewhat about the matter."
"I have read a little about induction in Whately."
"Ah, very good book, but popular. Did you find that your method of thought received any benefit from it?"
"The truth is—I do not know whether I can quite express myself clearly—but logic, like mathematics, seems to tell me too little about things. It does not enlarge my knowledge of man or nature; and those are what I thirst for. And you must remember—I hope I am not wrong in saying it—that the case of a man of your class, who has the power of travelling, of reading what he will, and seeing what he will, is very different from that of an artisan, whose chances of observation are so sadly limited. You must forgive us, if we are unwilling to spend our time over books which tell us nothing about the great universe outside the shop-windows."
He smiled compassionately. "Very true, my boy, There are two branches of study, then, before you, and by either of them a competent subsistence is possible, with good interest. Philology is one. But before you could arrive at those depths in it which connect with ethnology, history, and geography, you would require a lifetime of study. There remains yet another. I see you stealing glances at those natural curiosities. In the study of them, you would find, as I believe, more and more daily, a mental discipline superior even to that which language or mathematics give. If I had been blest with a son—but that is neither here nor there—it was my intention to have educated him almost entirely as a naturalist. I think I should like to try the experiment on a young man like yourself."
Sandy Mackaye's definition of legislation for the masses, "Fiat experimentum in corpore vili," rose up in my thoughts, and, half unconsciously, passed my lips. The good old man only smiled.
"That is not my reason, Mr. Locke. I should choose, by preference, a man of your class for experiments, not because the nature is coarser, or less precious in the scale of creation, but because I have a notion, for which, like many others, I have been very much laughed at, that you are less sophisticated, more simple and fresh from nature's laboratory, than the young persons of the upper classes, who begin from the nursery to be more or less trimmed up, and painted over by the artificial state of society—a very excellent state, mind, Mr. Locke. Civilization is, next to Christianity of course, the highest blessing; but not so good a state for trying anthropological experiments on."
I assured him of my great desire to be the subject of such an experiment; and was encouraged by his smile to tell him something about my intense love for natural objects, the mysterious pleasure which I had taken, from my boyhood, in trying to classify them, and my visits to the British Museum, for the purpose of getting at some general knowledge of the natural groups.
"Excellent," he said, "young man; the very best sign I have yet seen in you. And what have you read on these subjects?"
I mentioned several books: Bingley, Bewick, "Humboldt's Travels," "The Voyage of the Beagle," various scattered articles in the Penny and Saturday Magazines, &c., &c.
"Ah!" he said, "popular—you will find, if you will allow me to give you my experience—"
I assured him that I was only too much honoured—and I truly felt so. I knew myself to be in the presence of my rightful superior—my master on that very point of education which I idolized. Every sentence which he spoke gave me fresh light on some matter or other; and I felt a worship for him, totally irrespective of any vulgar and slavish respect for his rank or wealth. The working man has no want for real reverence. Mr. Carlyle's being a "gentlemen" has not injured his influence with the people. On the contrary, it is the artisan's intense longing to find his real lords and guides, which makes him despise and execrate his sham ones. Whereof let society take note.
"Then," continued he, "your plan is to take up some one section of the subject, and thoroughly exhaust that. Universal laws manifest themselves only by particular instances. They say, man is the microcosm, Mr. Locke; but the man of science finds every worm and beetle a microcosm in its way. It exemplifies, directly or indirectly, every physical law in the universe, though it may not be two lines long. It is not only a part, but a mirror, of the great whole. It has a definite relation to the whole world, and the whole world has a relation to it. Really, by-the-by, I cannot give you a better instance of what I mean, than in my little diatribe on the Geryon Trifurcifer, a small reptile which I found, some years ago, inhabiting the mud of the salt lakes of Balkhan, which fills up a long-desired link between the Chelonia and the Perenni branchiate Batrachians, and, as I think, though Professor Brown differs from me, connects both with the Herbivorous Cetacea,—Professor Brown is an exceedingly talented man, but a little too cautious in accepting any one's theories but his own.
"There it is," he said, as he drew out of a drawer a little pamphlet of some thirty pages—"an old man's darling. I consider that book the outcome of thirteen years' labour."
"It must be very deep," I replied, "to have been worth such long-continued study."
"Oh! science is her own reward. There is hardly a great physical law which I have not brought to bear on the subject of that one small animal; and above all—what is in itself worth a life's labour—I have, I believe, discovered two entirely new laws of my own, though one of them, by-the-by, has been broached by Professor Brown since, in his lectures. He might have mentioned my name in connection with the subject, for I certainly imparted my ideas to him, two years at least before the delivery of those lectures of his. Professor Brown is a very great man, certainly, and a very good man, but not quite so original as is generally supposed. Still, a scientific man must expect his little disappointments and injustices. If you were behind the scenes in the scientific world, I can assure you, you would find as much party-spirit, and unfairness, and jealousy, and emulation there, as anywhere else. Human nature, human nature, everywhere!"
I said nothing, but thought the more; and took the book, promising to study it carefully.
"There is Cuvier's 'Animal Kingdom,' and a dictionary of scientific terms to help you; and mind, it must be got up thoroughly, for I purpose to set you an examination or two in it, a few days hence. Then I shall find out whether you know what is worth all the information in the world."
"What is that, sir?"
"The art of getting information artem discendi, Mr. Locke, wherewith the world is badly provided just now, as it is overstocked with the artem legendi—the knack of running the eye over books, and fancying that it understands them, because it can talk about them. You cannot play that trick with my Geryon Trifurcifer, I assure you; he is as dry and tough as his name. But, believe me, he is worth mastering, not because he is mine, but simply because he is tough."
I promised all diligence.
"Very good. And be sure, if you intend to be a poet for these days (and I really think you have some faculty for it), you must become a scientific man. Science has made vast strides, and introduced entirely new modes of looking at nature, and poets must live up to the age. I never read a word of Goethe's verse, but I am convinced that he must be the great poet of the day, just because he is the only one who has taken the trouble to go into the details of practical science. And, in the mean time, I will give you a lesson myself. I see you are longing to know the contents of these cabinets. You shall assist me by writing out the names of this lot of shells, just come from Australia, which I am now going to arrange."
I set to work at once, under his directions; and passed that morning, and the two or three following, delightfully. But I question whether the good dean would have been well satisfied, had he known, how all his scientific teaching confirmed my democratic opinions. The mere fact, that I could understand these things when they were set before me, as well as any one else, was to me a simple demonstration of the equality in worth, and therefore in privilege, of all classes. It may be answered, that I had no right to argue from myself to the mob; and that other working geniuses have no right to demand universal enfranchisement for their whole class, just because they, the exceptions, are fit for it. But surely it is hard to call such an error, if it be one, "the insolent assumption of democratic conceit," &c., &c. Does it not look more like the humility of men who are unwilling to assert for themselves peculiar excellence, peculiar privileges; who, like the apostles of old, want no glory, save that which they can share with the outcast and the slave? Let society among other matters, take note of that.
I was thus brought in contact, for the first time in my life, with two exquisite specimens of cultivated womanhood; and they naturally, as the reader may well suppose, almost entirely engrossed my thoughts and interest.
Lillian, for so I must call her, became daily more and more agreeable; and tried, as I fancied, to draw me out, and show me off to the best advantage; whether from the desire of pleasing herself, or pleasing me, I know not, and do not wish to know—but the consequences to my boyish vanity were such as are more easy to imagine, than pleasant to describe. Miss Staunton, on the other hand, became, I thought, more and more unpleasant; not that she ever, for a moment, outstepped the bounds of the most perfect courtesy; but her manner, which was soft to no one except to Lord Lynedale, was, when she spoke to me, especially dictatorial and abrupt. She seemed to make a point of carping at chance words of mine, and of setting me, down suddenly, by breaking in with some severe, pithy observation, on conversations to which she had been listening unobserved. She seemed, too, to view with dislike anything like cordiality between me and Lillian—a dislike, which I was actually at moments vain enough (such a creature is man!) to attribute to—jealousy!!! till I began to suspect and hate her, as a proud, harsh, and exclusive aristocrat. And my suspicion and hatred received their confirmation, when, one morning, after an evening even more charming than usual, Lillian came down, reserved, peevish, all but sulky, and showed that that bright heaven of sunny features had room in it for a cloud, and that an ugly one. But I, poor fool, only pitied her, made up my mind that some one had ill-used her; and looked on her as a martyr—perhaps to that harsh cousin of hers.
That day was taken up with writing out answers to the dean's searching questions on his pamphlet, in which, I believe, I acquitted myself tolerably; and he seemed far more satisfied with my commentary than I was with his text. He seemed to ignore utterly anything like religion, or even the very notion of God, in his chains of argument. Nature was spoken of as the wilier and producer of all the marvels which he describes; and every word in the book, to my astonishment, might have been written just as easily by an Atheist as by a dignitary of the Church of England.
I could not help, that evening, hinting this defect, as delicately as I could, to my good host, and was somewhat surprised to find that he did not consider it a defect at all.
"I am in no wise anxious to weaken the antithesis between natural and revealed religion. Science may help the former, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the latter. She stands on her own ground, has her own laws, and is her own reward. Christianity is a matter of faith and of the teaching of the Church. It must not go out of its way for science, and science must not go out of her way for it; and where they seem to differ, it is our duty to believe that they are reconcilable by fuller knowledge, but not to clip truth in order to make it match with doctrine."
"Mr. Carlyle," said Miss Staunton, in her abrupt way, "can see that the God of Nature is the God of man."
"Nobody denies that, my dear."
"Except in every word and action; else why do they not write about Nature as if it was the expression of a living, loving spirit, not merely a dead machine?"
"It may be very easy, my dear, for a Deist like Mr. Carlyle to see his God in Nature; but if he would accept the truths of Christianity, he would find that there were deeper mysteries in them than trees and animals can explain."
"Pardon me, sir," I said, "but I think that a very large portion of thoughtful working men agree with you, though, in their case, that opinion has only increased their difficulties about Christianity. They complain that they cannot identify the God of the Bible with the God of the world around them; and one of their great complaints against Christianity is, that it demands assent to mysteries which are independent of, and even contradictory to, the laws of Nature."
The old man was silent.
"Mr. Carlyle is no Deist," said Miss Staunton; "and I am sure, that unless the truths of Christianity contrive soon to get themselves justified by the laws of science, the higher orders will believe in them as little as Mr. Locke informs us that the working classes do."
"You prophesy confidently, my darling."
"Oh, Eleanor is in one of her prophetic moods to-night," said Lillian, slyly. "She has been foretelling me I know not what misery and misfortune, just because I choose to amuse myself in my own way."
And she gave another sly pouting look at Eleanor, and then called me to look over some engravings, chatting over them so charmingly!—and stealing, every now and then, a pretty, saucy look at her cousin, which seemed to say, "I shall do what I like, in spite of your predictions."
This confirmed my suspicions that Eleanor had been trying to separate us; and the suspicion received a further corroboration, indirect, and perhaps very unfair, from the lecture which I got from my cousin after I went up-stairs.
He had been flattering me very much lately about "the impression" I was making on the family, and tormenting me by compliments on the clever way in which I "played my cards"; and when I denied indignantly any such intention, patting me on the back, and laughing me down in a knowing way, as much as to say that he was not to be taken in by my professions of simplicity. He seemed to judge every one by himself, and to have no notion of any middle characters between the mere green-horn and the deliberate schemer. But to-night, after commencing with the usual compliments, he went on:
"Now, first let me give you one hint, and be thankful for it. Mind your game with that Eleanor—Miss Staunton. She is a regular tyrant, I happen to know: a strong-minded woman, with a vengeance. She manages every one here; and unless you are in her good books, don't expect to keep your footing in this house, my boy. So just mind and pay her a little more attention and Miss Lillian a little less. After all, it is worth the trouble. She is uncommonly well read; and says confounded clever things, too, when she wakes up out of the sulks; and you may pick up a wrinkle or two from her, worth pocketing. You mind what she says to you. You know she is going to be married to Lord Lynedale."
I nodded assent.
"Well, then, if you want to hook him, you must secure her first."
"I want to hook no one, George; I have told you that a thousand times."
"Oh, no! certainly not—by no means! Why should you?" said the artful dodger. And he swung, laughing, out of the room, leaving in my mind a strange suspicion, of which I was ashamed, though I could not shake it off, that he had remarked Eleanor's wish to cool my admiration for Lillian, and was willing, for some purpose of his own, to further that wish. The truth is, I had very little respect for him, or trust in him: and I was learning to look, habitually, for some selfish motive in all he said or did. Perhaps, if I had acted more boldly upon what I did see, I should not have been here now.
SERMONS IN STONES.
The next afternoon was the last but one of my stay at D * * *. We were to dine late, after sunset, and, before dinner, we went into the cathedral. The choir had just finished practising. Certain exceedingly ill-looking men, whose faces bespoke principally sensuality and self-conceit, and whose function was that of praising God, on the sole qualification of good bass and tenor voices, were coming chattering through the choir gates; and behind them a group of small boys were suddenly transforming themselves from angels into sinners, by tearing off their white surplices, and pinching and poking each other noisily as they passed us, with as little reverence as Voltaire himself could have desired.
I had often been in the cathedral before—indeed, we attended the service daily, and I had been appalled, rather than astonished, by what I saw and heard: the unintelligible service—the irreverent gabble of the choristers and readers—the scanty congregation—the meagre portion of the vast building which seemed to be turned to any use: but never more than that evening, did I feel the desolateness, the doleful inutility, of that vast desert nave, with its aisles and transepts—built for some purpose or other now extinct. The whole place seemed to crush and sadden me; and I could not re-echo Lillian's remark:
"How those pillars, rising story above story, and those lines of pointed arches, all lead the eye heavenward! It is a beautiful notion, that about pointed architecture being symbolic of Christianity."
"I ought to be very much ashamed of my stupidity," I answered; "but I cannot feel that, though I believe I ought to do so. That vast groined roof, with its enormous weight of hanging stone, seems to crush one—to bar out the free sky above. Those pointed windows, too—how gloriously the western sun is streaming through them! but their rich hues only dim and deface his light. I can feel what you say, when I look at the cathedral on the outside; there, indeed, every line sweeps the eye upward—carries it from one pinnacle to another, each with less and less standing-ground, till at the summit the building gradually vanishes in a point, and leaves the spirit to wing its way, unsupported and alone, into the ether.
"Perhaps," I added, half bitterly, "these cathedrals may be true symbols of the superstition which created them—on the outside, offering to enfranchise the soul and raise it up to heaven; but when the dupes had entered, giving them only a dark prison, and a crushing bondage, which neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear."
"You may sneer at them, if you will, Mr. Locke," said Eleanor, in her severe, abrupt way. "The working classes would have been badly off without them. They were, in their day, the only democratic institution in the world; and the only socialist one too. The only chance a poor man had of rising by his worth, was by coming to the monastery. And bitterly the working classes felt the want of them, when they fell. Your own Cobbett can tell you that."
"Ah," said Lillian, "how different it must have been four hundred years ago!—how solemn and picturesque those old monks must have looked, gliding about the aisles!—and how magnificent the choir must have been, before all the glass and carving, and that beautiful shrine of St. * * * *, blazing with gold and jewels, were all plundered and defaced by those horrid Puritans!"
"Say, reformer-squires," answered Eleanor; "for it was they who did the thing; only it was found convenient, at the Restoration, to lay on the people of the seventeenth century the iniquities which the country-gentlemen committed in the sixteenth."
"Surely," I added, emboldened by her words, "if the monasteries were what their admirers say, some method of restoring the good of the old system, without its evil, ought to be found; and would be found, if it were not—" I paused, recollecting whose guest I was.
"If it were not, I suppose," said Eleanor, "for those lazy, overfed, bigoted hypocrites, the clergy. That, I presume, is the description of them to which you have been most accustomed. Now, let me ask you one question. Do you mean to condemn, just now, the Church as it was, or the Church as it is, or the Church as it ought to be? Radicals have a habit of confusing those three questions, as they have of confusing other things when it suits them."
"Really," I said—for my blood was rising—"I do think that, with the confessed enormous wealth of the clergy, the cathedral establishments especially, they might do more for the people."
"Listen to me a little, Mr. Locke. The laity now-a-days take a pride in speaking evil of the clergy, never seeing that if they are bad, the laity have made them so. Why, what do you impute to them? Their worldliness, their being like the world, like the laity round them—like you, in short? Improve yourselves, and by so doing, if there is this sad tendency in the clergy to imitate you, you will mend them; if you do not find that after all, it is they who will have to mend you. 'As with the people, so with the priest,' is the everlasting law. When, fifty years ago, all classes were drunkards, from the statesman to the peasant, the clergy were drunken also, but not half so bad as the laity. Now the laity are eaten up with covetousness and ambition; and the clergy are covetous and ambitious, but not half so bad as the laity. The laity, and you working men especially, are the dupes of frothy, insincere, official rant, as Mr. Carlyle would call it, in Parliament, on the hustings, at every debating society and Chartist meeting; and, therefore, the clergyman's sermons are apt to be just what people like elsewhere, and what, therefore, they suppose people will like there."
"If, then," I answered, "in spite of your opinions, you confess the clergy to be so bad, why are you so angry with men of our opinions, if we do plot sometimes a little against the Church?"
"I do not think you know what my opinions are, Mr. Locke. Did you not hear me just now praising the monasteries, because they were socialist and democratic? But why is the badness of the clergy any reason for pulling down the Church? That is another of the confused irrationalities into which you all allow yourselves to fall. What do you mean by crying shame on a man for being a bad clergyman, if a good clergyman is not a good thing? If the very idea of a clergyman, was abominable, as your Church-destroyers ought to say, you ought to praise a man for being a bad one, and not acting out this same abominable idea of priesthood. Your very outcry against the sins of the clergy, shows that, even in your minds, a dim notion lies somewhere that a clergyman's vocation is, in itself, a divine, a holy, a beneficent one."
"I never looked at it in that light, certainly," said I, somewhat staggered.
"Very likely not. One word more, for I may not have another opportunity of speaking to you as I would on these matters. You working men complain of the clergy for being bigoted and obscurantist, and hating the cause of the people. Does not nine-tenths of the blame of that lie at your door? I took up, the other day, at hazard, one of your favourite liberty-preaching newspapers; and I saw books advertised in it, whose names no modest woman should ever behold; doctrines and practices advocated in it from which all the honesty, the decency, the common human feeling which is left in the English mind, ought to revolt, and does revolt. You cannot deny it. Your class has told the world that the cause of liberty, equality, and fraternity, the cause which the working masses claim as theirs, identifies itself with blasphemy and indecency, with the tyrannous persecutions of trades-unions, with robbery, assassinations, vitriol-bottles, and midnight incendiarism. And then you curse the clergy for taking you at your word! Whatsoever they do, you attack them. If they believe you, and stand up for common, morality, and for the truths which they know are all-important to poor as well as rich, you call them bigots and persecutors; while if they neglect, in any way, the very Christianity for believing which you insult them, you turn round and call them hypocrites. Mark my words, Mr. Locke, till you gain the respect and confidence of the clergy, you will never rise. The day will come when you will find that the clergy are the only class who can help you. Ah, you may shake your head. I warn you of it. They were the only bulwark of the poor against the mediaeval tyranny of Rank; you will find them the only bulwark against the modern tyranny of Mammon."
I was on the point of entreating her to explain herself further, but at that critical moment Lillian interposed.
"Now, stay your prophetic glances into the future; here come Lynedale and papa." And in a moment, Eleanor's whole manner and countenance altered—the petulant, wild unrest, the harsh, dictatorial tone vanished; and she turned to meet her lover, with a look of tender, satisfied devotion, which transfigured her whole face. It was most strange, the power he had over her. His presence, even at a distance, seemed to fill her whole being with rich quiet life. She watched him with folded hands, like a mystic worshipper, waiting for the afflatus of the spirit; and, suspicious and angry as I felt towards her, I could not help being drawn to her by this revelation of depths of strong healthy feeling, of which her usual manner gave so little sign.
This conversation thoroughly puzzled me; it showed me that there might be two sides to the question of the people's cause, as well as to that of others. It shook a little my faith in the infallibility of my own class, to hear such severe animadversions on them, from a person who professed herself as much a disciple of Carlyle as any working man; and who evidently had no lack either of intellect to comprehend or boldness to speak out his doctrines; who could praise the old monasteries for being democratic and socialist, and spoke far more severely of the clergy than I could have done—because she did not deal merely in trite words of abuse, but showed a real analytic insight into the causes of their short-coming.
* * * * *
That same evening the conversation happened to turn on dress, of which Miss Staunton spoke scornfully and disparagingly, as mere useless vanity and frippery—an empty substitute for real beauty of person as well as the higher beauty of mind. And I, emboldened by the courtesy with which I was always called on to take my share in everything that was said or done, ventured to object, humbly enough, to her notions.
"But is not beauty," I said, "in itself a good and blessed thing, softening, refining, rejoicing the eyes of all who behold?" (And my eyes, as I spoke, involuntary rested on Lillian's face—who saw it, and blushed.) "Surely nothing which helps beauty is to be despised. And, without the charm of dress, beauty, even that of expression, does not really do itself justice. How many lovely and lovable faces there are, for instance, among the working classes, which, if they had but the advantages which ladies possess, might create delight, respect, chivalrous worship in the beholder—but are now never appreciated, because they have not the same fair means of displaying themselves which even the savage girl of the South Sea Islands possesses!"
Lillian said it was so very true—she had really never thought of it before—and somehow I gained courage to go on.
"Besides, dress is a sort of sacrament, if I may use the word—a sure sign of the wearer's character; according as any one is orderly, or modest, or tasteful, or joyous, or brilliant"—and I glanced again at Lillian—"those excellences, or the want of them, are sure to show themselves, in the colours they choose, and the cut of their garments. In the workroom, I and a friend of mine used often to amuse ourselves over the clothes we were making, by speculating from them on the sort of people the wearers were to be; and I fancy we were not often wrong."
My cousin looked daggers at me, and for a moment I fancied I had committed a dreadful mistake in mentioning my tailor-life. So I had in his eyes, but not in those of the really well-bred persons round me.
"Oh, how very amusing it must have been! I think I shall turn milliner, Eleanor, for the fun of divining every one's little failings from their caps and gowns!"
"Go on, Mr. Locke," said the dean, who had seemed buried in the "Transactions of the Royal Society." "The fact is novel, and I am more obliged to any one who gives me that, than if he gave me a bank-note. The money gets spent and done with; but I cannot spend the fact: it remains for life as permanent capital, returning interest and compound interest ad infinitum. By-the-by, tell me about those same workshops. I have heard more about them than I like to believe true."
And I did tell him all about them; and spoke, my blood rising as I went on, long and earnestly, perhaps eloquently. Now and then I got abashed, and tried to stop; and then the dean informed me that I was speaking well and sensibly, while Lillian entreated me to go on. She had never conceived such things possible—it was as interesting as a novel, &c., &c.; and Miss Staunton sat with compressed lips and frowning brow, apparently thinking of nothing but her book, till I felt quite angry at her apathy—for such it seemed to me to be.
And now the last day of our stay at D * * * had arrived, and I had as yet heard nothing of the prospects of my book; though, indeed, the company in which I had found myself had driven literary ambition, for the time being, out of my head, and bewitched me to float down the stream of daily circumstance, satisfied to snatch the enjoyment of each present moment. That morning, however, after I had fulfilled my daily task of arranging and naming objects of natural history, the dean settled himself back in his arm-chair, and bidding me sit down, evidently meditated a business conversation.
He had heard from his publisher, and read his letter to me. "The poems were on the whole much liked. The most satisfactory method of publishing for all parties, would be by procuring so many subscribers, each agreeing to take so many copies. In consideration of the dean's known literary judgment and great influence, the publisher would, as a private favour, not object to take the risk of any further expenses."
So far everything sounded charming. The method was not a very independent one, but it was the only one; and I should actually have the delight of having published a volume. But, alas! "he thought that the sale of the book might be greatly facilitated, if certain passages of a strong political tendency were omitted. He did not wish personally to object to them as statements of facts, or to the pictorial vigour with which they were expressed; but he thought that they were somewhat too strong for the present state of the public taste; and though he should be the last to allow any private considerations to influence his weak patronage of rising talent, yet, considering his present connexion, he should hardly wish to take on himself the responsibility of publishing such passages, unless with great modifications."
"You see," said the good old man, "the opinion of respectable practical men, who know the world, exactly coincides with mine. I did not like to tell you that I could not help in the publication of your MSS. in their present state; but I am sure, from the modesty and gentleness which I have remarked in you, your readiness to listen to reason, and your pleasing freedom from all violence or coarseness in expressing your opinions, that you will not object to so exceedingly reasonable a request, which, after all, is only for your good. Ah! young man," he went on, in a more feeling tone than I had yet heard from him, "if you were once embroiled in that political world, of which you know so little, you would soon be crying like David, 'Oh that I had wings like a dove, then would I flee away and be at rest!' Do you fancy that you can alter a fallen world? What it is, it always has been, and will be to the end. Every age has its political and social nostrums, my dear young man, and fancies them infallible; and the next generation arises to curse them as failures in practice, and superstitious in theory, and try some new nostrum of its own."
"Ah! you may sigh. But we have each of us to be disenchanted of our dream. There was a time once when I talked republicanism as loudly as raw youth ever did—when I had an excuse for it, too; for when I was a boy, I saw the French Revolution; and it was no wonder if young, enthusiastic brains were excited by all sorts of wild hopes—'perfectibility of the species,' 'rights of man,' 'universal liberty, equality, and brotherhood.'—My dear sir, there is nothing new under the sun; all that is stale and trite to a septuagenarian, who has seen where it all ends. I speak to you freely, because I am deeply interested in you. I feel that this is the important question of your life, and that you have talents, the possession of which is a heavy responsibility. Eschew politics, once and for all, as I have done. I might have been, I may tell you, a bishop at this moment, if I had condescended to meddle again in those party questions of which my youthful experience sickened me. But I knew that I should only weaken my own influence, as that most noble and excellent man, Dr. Arnold, did, by interfering in politics. The poet, like the clergyman and the philosopher, has nothing to do with politics. Let them choose the better part, and it shall not be taken from them. The world may rave," he continued, waxing eloquent as he approached his favourite subject—"the world may rave, but in the study there is quiet. The world may change, Mr. Locke, and will; but 'the earth abideth for ever.' Solomon had seen somewhat of politics, and social improvement, and so on; and behold, then, as now, 'all was vanity and vexation of spirit. That which is crooked cannot be made straight, and that which is wanting cannot be numbered. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? The thing which hath been, it is that which shall be, and there is no new thing under the sun. One generation passeth away, and another cometh; but the earth abideth for ever.' No wonder that the wisest of men took refuge from such experience, as I have tried to do, in talking of all herbs, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that groweth on the wall!
"Ah! Mr. Locke," he went on, in a soft melancholy, half-abstracted tone—"ah! Mr. Locke, I have felt deeply, and you will feel some day, the truth of Jarno's saying in 'Wilhelm Meister,' when he was wandering alone in the Alps, with his geological hammer, 'These rocks, at least, tell me no lies, as men do.' Ay, there is no lie in Nature, no discord in the revelations of science, in the laws of the universe. Infinite, pure, unfallen, earth-supporting Titans, fresh as on the morning of creation, those great laws endure; your only true democrats, too—for nothing is too great or too small for them to take note of. No tiniest gnat, or speck of dust, but they feed it, guide it, and preserve it,—Hail and snow, wind and vapour, fulfilling their Maker's word; and like him, too, hiding themselves from the wise and prudent, and revealing themselves unto babes. Yes, Mr. Locke; it is the childlike, simple, patient, reverent heart, which science at once demands and cultivates. To prejudice or haste, to self-conceit or ambition, she proudly shuts her treasuries—to open them to men of humble heart, whom this world thinks simple dreamers—her Newtons, and Owens, and Faradays. Why should you not become such a man as they? You have the talents—you have the love for nature, you seem to have the gentle and patient spirit, which, indeed, will grow up more and more in you, if you become a real student of science. Or, if you must be a poet, why not sing of nature, and leave those to sing political squabbles, who have no eye for the beauty of her repose? How few great poets have been politicians!"
I gently suggested Milton.
"Ay! he became a great poet only when he had deserted politics, because they had deserted him. In blindness and poverty, in the utter failure of all his national theories, he wrote the works which have made him immortal. Was Shakespeare a politician? or any one of the great poets who have arisen during the last thirty years? Have they not all seemed to consider it a sacred duty to keep themselves, as far as they could, out of party strife?"
I quoted Southey, Shelley, and Burns, as instances to the contrary; but his induction was completed already, to his own satisfaction.
"Poor dear Southey was a great verse-maker, rather than a great poet; and I always consider that his party-prejudices and party-writing narrowed and harshened a mind which ought to have been flowing forth freely and lovingly towards all forms of life. And as for Shelley and Burns, their politics dictated to them at once the worst portions of their poetry and of their practice. Shelley, what little I have read of him, only seems himself when he forgets radicalism for nature; and you would not set Burns' life or death, either, as a model for imitation in any class. Now, do you know, I must ask you to leave me a little. I am somewhat fatigued with this long discussion" (in which, certainly, I had borne no great share); "and I am sure, that after all I have said, you will see the propriety of acceding to the publisher's advice. Go and think over it, and let me have your answer by post time."
I did go and think over it—too long for my good. If I had acted on the first impulse, I should have refused, and been safe. These passages were the very pith and marrow of the poems. They were the very words which I had felt it my duty, my glory, to utter. I, who had been a working man, who had experienced all their sorrows and temptations—I, seemed called by every circumstance of my life to preach their cause, to expose their wrongs—I to squash my convictions, to stultify my book for the sake of popularity, money, patronage! And yet—all that involved seeing more of Lillian. They were only too powerful inducements in themselves, alas! but I believe I could have resisted them tolerably, if they had not been backed by love. And so a struggle arose, which the rich reader may think a very fantastic one, though the poor man will understand it, and surely pardon it also—seeing that he himself is Man. Could I not, just once in a way, serve God and Mammon at once?—or rather, not Mammon, but Venus: a worship which looked to me, and really was in my case, purer than all the Mariolatry in Popedom. After all, the fall might not be so great as it seemed—perhaps I was not infallible on these same points. (It is wonderful how humble and self-denying one becomes when one is afraid of doing one's duty.) Perhaps the dean might be right. He had been a republican himself once, certainly. The facts, indeed, which I had stated, there could be no doubt of; but I might have viewed them through a prejudiced and angry medium. I might have been not quite logical in my deductions from them—I might.... In short, between "perhapses" and "mights" I fell—a very deep, real, damnable fall; and consented to emasculate my poems, and become a flunkey and a dastard.
I mentioned my consent that evening to the party; the dean purred content thereat. Eleanor, to my astonishment, just said, sternly and abruptly,
"Weak!" and then turned away, while Lillian began:
"Oh! what a pity! And really they were some of the prettiest verses of all! But of course my father must know best; you are quite right to be guided by him, and do whatever is proper and prudent. After all, papa, I have got the naughtiest of them all, you know, safe. Eleanor set it to music, and wrote it out in her book, and I thought it was so charming that I copied it."
What Lillian said about herself I drank in as greedily as usual; what she said about Eleanor fell on a heedless ear, and vanished, not to reappear in my recollection till—But I must not anticipate.
So it was all settled pleasantly; and I sat up that evening writing a bit of verse for Lillian, about the Old Cathedral, and "Heaven-aspiring towers," and "Aisles of cloistered shade," and all that sort of thing; which I did not believe or care for; but I thought it would please her, and so it did; and I got golden smiles and compliments for my first, though not my last, insincere poem. I was going fast down hill, in my hurry to rise. However, as I said, it was all pleasant enough. I was to return to town, and there await the dean's orders; and, most luckily, I had received that morning from Sandy Mackaye a characteristic letter:
"Gowk, Telemachus, hearken! Item 1. Ye're fou wi' the Circean cup, aneath the shade o' shovel hats and steeple houses.
"Item 2. I, cuif-Mentor that I am, wearing out a gude pair o' gude Scots brogues that my sister's husband's third cousin sent me a towmond gane fra Aberdeen, rinning ower the town to a' journals, respectable and ither, anent the sellin o' your 'Autobiography of an Engine-Boiler in the Vauxhall Road,' the whilk I ha' disposit o' at the last, to O'Flynn's Weekly Warwhoop; and gin ye ha' ony mair sic trash in your head, you may get your meal whiles out o' the same kist; unless, as I sair misdoubt, ye're praying already, like Eli's bairns, 'to be put into ane o' the priest's offices, that ye may eat a piece o' bread.'
"Yell be coming the-morrow? I'm lane without ye; though I look for ye surely to come ben wi' a gowd shoulder-note, and a red nose."
This letter, though it hit me hard, and made me, I confess, a little angry at the moment with my truest friend, still offered me a means of subsistence, and enabled me to decline safely the pecuniary aid which I dreaded the dean's offering me. And yet I felt dispirited and ill at ease. My conscience would not let me enjoy the success I felt I had attained. But next morning I saw Lillian; and I forgot books, people's cause, conscience, and everything.
* * * * *
I went home by coach—a luxury on which my cousin insisted—as he did on lending me the fare; so that in all I owed him somewhat more than eleven pounds. But I was too happy to care for a fresh debt, and home I went, considering my fortune made.
My heart fell, as I stepped into the dingy little old shop! Was it the meanness of the place after the comfort and elegance of my late abode? Was it disappointment at not finding Mackaye at home? Or was it that black-edged letter which lay waiting for me on the table? I was afraid to open it; I knew not why. I turned it over and over several times, trying to guess whose the handwriting on the cover might be; the postmark was two days old; and at last I broke the seal.
"Sir,—This is to inform you that your mother, Mrs. Locke, died this morning, a sensible sinner, not without assurance of her election: and that her funeral is fixed for Wednesday, the 29th instant.
"The humble servant of the Lord's people,
SHORT AND SAD.
I shall pass over the agonies of the next few days. There is self-exenteration enough and to spare in my story, without dilating on them. They are too sacred to publish, and too painful, alas! even to recall. I write my story, too, as a working man. Of those emotions which are common to humanity, I shall say but little—except when it is necessary to prove that the working man has feelings like the rest of his kind, But those feelings may, in this case, be supplied by the reader's own imagination. Let him represent them to himself as bitter, as remorseful as he will, he will not equal the reality. True, she had cast me off; but had I not rejoiced in that rejection which should have been my shame? True, I had fed on the hope of some day winning reconciliation, by winning fame; but before the fame had arrived, the reconciliation had become impossible. I had shrunk from going back to her, as I ought to have done, in filial humility, and, therefore, I was not allowed to go back to her in the pride of success. Heaven knows, I had not forgotten her. Night and day I had thought of her with prayers and blessings; but I had made a merit of my own love to her—my forgiveness of her, as I dared to call it. I had pampered my conceit with a notion that I was a martyr in the cause of genius and enlightenment. How hollow, windy, heartless, all that looked now. There! I will say no more. Heaven preserve any who read these pages from such days and nights as I dragged on till that funeral, and for weeks after it was over, when I had sat once more in the little old chapel, with all the memories of my childhood crowding up, and tantalizing me with the vision of their simple peace—never, never, to return! I heard my mother's dying pangs, her prayers, her doubts, her agonies, for my reprobate soul, dissected for the public good by my old enemy, Mr. Wigginton, who dragged in among his fulsome eulogies of my mother's "signs of grace," rejoicings that there were "babes span-long in hell." I saw my sister Susan, now a tall handsome woman, but become all rigid, sour, with coarse grim lips, and that crushed, self-conscious, reserved, almost dishonest look about the eyes, common to fanatics of every creed. I heard her cold farewell, as she put into my hands certain notes and diaries of my mother's, which she had bequeathed to me on her death-bed. I heard myself proclaimed inheritor of some small matters of furniture, which had belonged to her; told Susan carelessly to keep them for herself; and went forth, fancying that the curse of Cain was on my brow.
I took home the diary; but several days elapsed before I had courage to open it. Let the words I read there be as secret as the misery which dictated them. I had broken my mother's heart!—no! I had not!—The infernal superstition which taught her to fancy that Heaven's love was narrower than her own—that God could hate his creature, not for its sins, but for the very nature which he had given it—that, that had killed her.
And I remarked too, with a gleam of hope, that in several places where sunshine seemed ready to break through the black cloud of fanatic gloom—where she seemed inclined not merely to melt towards me (for there was, in every page, an under-current of love deeper than death, and stronger than the grave), but also to dare to trust God on my behalf—whole lines carefully erased page after page torn out, evidently long after the MSS. were written. I believe, to this day, that either my poor sister or her father-confessor was the perpetrator of that act. The fraus pia is not yet extinct; and it is as inconvenient now as it was in popish times, to tell the whole truth about saints, when they dare to say or do things which will not quite fit into the formulae of their sect.
But what was to become of Susan? Though my uncle continued to her the allowance which he had made to my mother, yet I was her natural protector—and she was my only tie upon earth. Was I to lose her, too? Might we not, after all, be happy together, in some little hole in Chelsea, like Elia and his Bridget? That question was solved for me. She declined my offers; saying, that she could not live with any one whose religious opinions differed from her own, and that she had already engaged a room at the house of a Christian friend; and was shortly to be united to that dear man of God, Mr. Wigginton, who was to be removed to the work of the Lord in Manchester.
I knew the scoundrel, but it would have been impossible for me to undeceive her. Perhaps he was only a scoundrel—perhaps he would not ill-treat her. And yet—my own little Susan! my play-fellow! my only tie on earth!—to lose her—and not only her, but her respect, her love!—And my spirit, deep enough already, sank deeper still into sadness; and I felt myself alone on earth, and clung to Mackaye as to a father—and a father indeed that old man was to me.
PEGASUS IN HARNESS.
But, in sorrow or in joy, I had to earn my bread; and so, too, had Crossthwaite, poor fellow! How he contrived to feed himself and his little Katie for the next few years is more than I can tell; at all events he worked hard enough. He scribbled, agitated, ran from London to Manchester, and Manchester to Bradford, spouting, lecturing—sowing the east wind, I am afraid, and little more. Whose fault was it? What could such a man do, with that fervid tongue, and heart, and brain of his, in such a station as his, such a time as this? Society had helped to make him an agitator. Society has had, more or less, to take the consequences of her own handiwork. For Crossthwaite did not speak without hearers. He could make the fierce, shrewd, artisan nature flash out into fire—not always celestial, nor always, either, infernal. So he agitated and lived—how, I know not. That he did do so, is evident from the fact that he and Katie are at this moment playing chess in the cabin, before my eyes, and making love, all the while, as if they had not been married a week.... Ah, well!
I, however, had to do more than get my bread; I had to pay off these fearful eleven pounds odd, which, now that all the excitement of my stay at D * * * had been so sadly quenched, lay like lead upon my memory. My list of subscribers filled slowly, and I had no power of increasing it by any canvassings of my own. My uncle, indeed, had promised to take two copies, and my cousin one; not wishing, of course, to be so uncommercial as to run any risk, before they had seen whether my poems would succeed. But, with those exceptions, the dean had it all his own way; and he could not be expected to forego his own literary labours for my sake; so, through all that glaring summer, and sad foggy autumn, and nipping winter, I had to get my bread as I best could—by my pen. Mackaye grumbled at my writing so much, and so fast, and sneered about the furor scribendi. But it was hardly fair upon me. "My mouth craved it of me," as Solomon says. I had really no other means of livelihood. Even if I could have gotten employment as a tailor, in the honourable trade, I loathed the business utterly—perhaps, alas! to confess the truth, I was beginning to despise it. I could bear to think of myself as a poor genius, in connection with my new wealthy and high-bred patrons; for there was precedent for the thing. Penniless bards and squires of low degree, low-born artists, ennobled by their pictures—there was something grand in the notion of mind triumphant over the inequalities of rank, and associating with the great and wealthy as their spiritual equal, on the mere footing of its own innate nobility; no matter to what den it might return, to convert it into a temple of the Muses, by the glorious creations of its fancy, &c., &c. But to go back daily from the drawing-room and the publisher's to the goose and the shopboard, was too much for my weakness, even if it had been physically possible, as, thank Heaven, it was not.
So I became a hack-writer, and sorrowfully, but deliberately, "put my Pegasus into heavy harness," as my betters had done before me. It was miserable work, there is no denying it—only not worse than tailoring. To try and serve God and Mammon too; to make miserable compromises daily between the two great incompatibilities, what was true, and what would pay; to speak my mind, in fear and trembling, by hints, and halves, and quarters; to be daily hauling poor Truth just up to the top of the well, and then, frightened at my own success, let her plump down again to the bottom; to sit there trying to teach others, while my mind was in a whirl of doubt; to feed others' intellects while my own were hungering; to grind on in the Philistine's mill, or occasionally make sport for them, like some weary-hearted clown grinning in a pantomime in a "light article," as blind as Samson, but not, alas! as strong, for indeed my Delilah of the West-end had clipped my locks, and there seemed little chance of their growing again. That face and that drawing-room flitted before me from morning till eve, and enervated and distracted my already over-wearied brain.
I had no time, besides, to concentrate my thoughts sufficiently for poetry; no time to wait for inspiration. From the moment I had swallowed my breakfast, I had to sit scribbling off my thoughts anyhow in prose; and soon my own scanty stock was exhausted, and I was forced to beg, borrow, and steal notions and facts wherever I could get them. Oh! the misery of having to read not what I longed to know, but what I thought would pay! to skip page after page of interesting matter, just to pick out a single thought or sentence which could be stitched into my patchwork! and then the still greater misery of seeing the article which I had sent to press a tolerably healthy and lusty bantling, appear in print next week after suffering the inquisition tortures of the editorial censorship, all maimed, and squinting, and one-sided, with the colour rubbed off its poor cheeks, and generally a villanous hang-dog look of ferocity, so different from its birth-smile that I often did not know my own child again!—and then, when I dared to remonstrate, however feebly, to be told, by way of comfort, that the public taste must be consulted! It gave me a hopeful notion of the said taste, certainly; and often and often I groaned in spirit over the temper of my own class, which not only submitted to, but demanded such one-sided bigotry, prurience, and ferocity, from those who set up as its guides and teachers.
Mr. O'Flynn, editor of the Weekly Warwhoop, whose white slave I now found myself, was, I am afraid, a pretty faithful specimen of that class, as it existed before the bitter lesson of the 10th of April brought the Chartist working men and the Chartist press to their senses. Thereon sprang up a new race of papers, whose moral tone, whatever may be thought of their political or doctrinal opinions, was certainly not inferior to that of the Whig and Tory press. The Commonwealth, the Standard of Freedom, the Plain Speaker, were reprobates, if to be a Chartist is to be a reprobate: but none except the most one-sided bigots could deny them the praise of a stern morality and a lofty earnestness, a hatred of evil and a craving after good, which would often put to shame many a paper among the oracles of Belgravia and Exeter Hall. But those were the days of lubricity and O'Flynn. Not that the man was an unredeemed scoundrel. He was no more profligate, either in his literary or his private morals, than many a man who earns his hundreds, sometimes his thousands, a year, by prophesying smooth things to Mammon, crying in daily leaders "Peace! peace!" when there is no peace, and daubing the rotten walls of careless luxury and self-satisfied covetousness with the untempered mortar of party statistics and garbled foreign news—till "the storm shall fall, and the breaking thereof cometh suddenly in an instant." Let those of the respectable press who are without sin, cast the first stone at the unrespectable. Many of the latter class, who have been branded as traitors and villains, were single-minded, earnest, valiant men; and, as for even O'Flynn, and those worse than him, what was really the matter with them was, that they were too honest—they spoke out too much of their whole minds. Bewildered, like Lear, amid the social storm, they had determined, like him, to become "unsophisticated," "to owe the worm no silk, the cat no perfume"—seeing, indeed, that if they had, they could not have paid for them; so they tore off, of their own will, the peacock's feathers of gentility, the sheep's clothing of moderation, even the fig-leaves of decent reticence, and became just what they really were—just what hundreds more would become, who now sit in the high places of the earth, if it paid them as well to be unrespectable as it does to be respectable; if the selfishness and covetousness, bigotry and ferocity, which are in them, and more or less in every man, had happened to enlist them against existing evils, instead of for them. O'Flynn would have been gladly as respectable as they; but, in the first place, he must have starved; and in the second place, he must have lied; for he believed in his own radicalism with his whole soul. There was a ribald sincerity, a frantic courage in the man. He always spoke the truth when it suited him, and very often when it did not. He did see, which is more than all do, that oppression is oppression, and humbug, humbug. He had faced the gallows before now without flinching. He had spouted rebellion in the Birmingham Bullring, and elsewhere, and taken the consequences like a man; while his colleagues left their dupes to the tender mercies of broadswords and bayonets, and decamped in the disguise of sailors, old women, and dissenting preachers. He had sat three months in Lancaster Castle, the Bastille of England, one day perhaps to fall like that Parisian one, for a libel which he never wrote, because he would not betray his cowardly contributor. He had twice pleaded his own cause, without help of attorney, and showed himself as practised in every law-quibble and practical cheat as if he had been a regularly ordained priest of the blue-bag; and each time, when hunted at last into a corner, had turned valiantly to bay, with wild witty Irish eloquence, "worthy," as the press say of poor misguided Mitchell, "of a better cause." Altogether, a much-enduring Ulysses, unscrupulous, tough-hided, ready to do and suffer anything fair or foul, for what he honestly believed—if a confused, virulent positiveness be worthy of the name "belief"—to be the true and righteous cause.
Those who class all mankind compendiously and comfortably under the two exhaustive species of saints and villains, may consider such a description garbled and impossible. I have seen few men, but never yet met I among those few either perfect saint or perfect villain. I draw men as I have found them—inconsistent, piece-meal, better than their own actions, worse than their own opinions, and poor O'Flynn among the rest. Not that there were no questionable spots in the sun of his fair fame. It was whispered that he had in old times done dirty work for Dublin Castle bureaucrats—nay, that he had even, in a very hard season, written court poetry for the Morning Post; but all these little peccadilloes he carefully veiled in that kindly mist which hung over his youthful years. He had been a medical student, and got plucked, his foes declared, in his examination. He had set up a savings-bank, which broke. He had come over from Ireland, to agitate for "repale" and "rint," and, like a wise man as he was, had never gone back again. He had set up three or four papers in his time, and entered into partnership with every leading democrat in turn; but his papers failed, and he quarrelled with his partners, being addicted to profane swearing and personalities. And now, at last, after Ulyssean wanderings, he had found rest in the office of the Weekly Warwhoop, if rest it could be called, that perennial hurricane of plotting, railing, sneering, and bombast, in which he lived, never writing a line, on principle, till he had worked himself up into a passion.
I will dwell no more on so distasteful a subject. Such leaders, let us hope, belong only to the past—to the youthful self-will and licentiousness of democracy; and as for reviling O'Flynn, or any other of his class, no man has less right than myself, I fear, to cast stones at such as they. I fell as low as almost any, beneath the besetting sins of my class; and shall I take merit to myself, because God has shown me, a little earlier perhaps than to them, somewhat more of the true duties and destinies of The Many? Oh, that they could see the depths of my affection to them! Oh, that they could see the shame and self-abasement with which, in rebuking their sins, I confess my own! If they are apt to be flippant and bitter, so was I. If they lust to destroy, without knowing what to build up instead, so did I. If they make an almighty idol of that Electoral Reform, which ought to be, and can be, only a preliminary means, and expect final deliverance from "their twenty-thousandth part of a talker in the national palaver," so did I. Unhealthy and noisome as was the literary atmosphere in which I now found myself, it was one to my taste. The very contrast between the peaceful, intellectual luxury which I had just witnessed, and the misery of my class and myself, quickened my delight in it. In bitterness, in sheer envy, I threw my whole soul into it, and spoke evil, and rejoiced in evil. It was so easy to find fault! It pampered my own self-conceit, my own discontent, while it saved me the trouble of inventing remedies. Yes; it was indeed easy to find fault. "The world was all before me, where to choose." In such a disorganized, anomalous, grumbling, party-embittered element as this English society, and its twin pauperism and luxury, I had but to look straight before me to see my prey.
And thus I became daily more and more cynical, fierce, reckless. My mouth was filled with cursing—and too often justly. And all the while, like tens of thousands of my class, I had no man to teach me. Sheep scattered on the hills, we were, that had no shepherd. What wonder if our bones lay bleaching among rocks and quagmires, and wolves devoured the heritage of God?
Mackaye had nothing positive, after all, to advise or propound. His wisdom was one of apophthegms and maxims, utterly impracticable, too often merely negative, as was his creed, which, though he refused to be classed with any sect, was really a somewhat undefined Unitarianism—or rather Islamism. He could say, with the old Moslem, "God is great—who hath resisted his will?" And he believed what he said, and lived manful and pure, reverent and self-denying, by that belief, as the first Moslem did. But that was not enough.
"Not enough? Merely negative?"
No—that was positive enough, and mighty; but I repeat it, it was not enough. He felt it so himself; for he grew daily more and more cynical, more and more hopeless about the prospects of his class and of all humanity. Why not? Poor suffering wretches! what is it to them to know that "God is great," unless you can prove to them God is also merciful? Did he indeed care for men at all?—was what I longed to know; was all this misery and misrule around us his will—his stern and necessary law—his lazy connivance? And were we to free ourselves from it by any frantic means that came to hand? or had he ever interfered himself? Was there a chance, a hope, of his interfering now, in our own time, to take the matter into his own hand, and come out of his place to judge the earth in righteousness? That was what we wanted to know; and poor Mackaye could give no comfort there. "God was great—the wicked would be turned into hell." Ay—the few wilful, triumphant wicked; but the millions of suffering, starving wicked, the victims of society and circumstance—what hope for them? "God was great." And for the clergy, our professed and salaried teachers, all I can say is—and there are tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of workmen who can re-echo my words—with the exception of the dean and my cousin, and one who shall be mentioned hereafter, a clergyman never spoke to me in my life.
Why should he? Was I not a Chartist and an Infidel? The truth is, the clergy are afraid of us. To read the Dispatch, is to be excommunicated. Young men's classes? Honour to them, however few they are—however hampered by the restrictions of religious bigotry and political cowardice. But the working men, whether rightly or wrongly, do not trust them; they do not trust the clergy who set them on foot; they do not expect to be taught at them the things they long to know—to be taught the whole truth in them about history, politics, science, the Bible. They suspect them to be mere tubs to the whale—mere substitutes for education, slowly and late adopted, in order to stop the mouths of the importunate. They may misjudge the clergy; but whose fault is it if they do? Clergymen of England!—look at the history of your Establishment for the last fifty years, and say, what wonder is it if the artisan mistrust you? Every spiritual reform, since the time of John Wesley, has had to establish itself in the teeth of insult, calumny, and persecution. Every ecclesiastical reform comes not from within, but from without your body. Mr. Horsman, struggling against every kind of temporizing and trickery, has to do the work which bishops, by virtue of their seat in the House of Lords, ought to have been doing years ago. Everywhere we see the clergy, with a few persecuted exceptions (like Dr. Arnold), proclaiming themselves the advocates of Toryism, the dogged opponents of our political liberty, living either by the accursed system of pew-rents, or else by one which depends on the high price of corn; chosen exclusively from the classes who crush us down; prohibiting all free discussion on religious points; commanding us to swallow down, with faith as passive and implicit as that of a Papist, the very creeds from which their own bad example, and their scandalous neglect, have, in the last three generations, alienated us; never mixing with the thoughtful working men, except in the prison, the hospital, or in extreme old age; betraying, in every tract, in every sermon, an ignorance of the doubts, the feelings, the very language of the masses, which would be ludicrous, were it not accursed before God and man. And then will you show us a few tardy improvements here and there, and ask us, indignantly, why we distrust you? Oh! gentlemen, if you cannot see for yourselves the causes of our distrust, it is past our power to show you. We must leave it to God.
* * * * *
But to return to my own story. I had, as I said before, to live by my pen; and in that painful, confused, maimed way, I contrived to scramble on the long winter through, writing regularly for the Weekly Warwhoop, and sometimes getting an occasional scrap into some other cheap periodical, often on the very verge of starvation, and glad of a handful of meal from Sandy's widow's barrel. If I had had more than my share of feasting in the summer, I made the balance even, during those frosty months, by many a bitter fast.
And here let me ask you, gentle reader, who are just now considering me ungentle, virulent, and noisy, did you ever, for one day in your whole life, literally, involuntarily, and in spite of all your endeavours, longings, and hungerings, not get enough to eat? If you ever have, it must have taught you several things.
But all this while, it must not be supposed that I had forgotten my promise to good Farmer Porter, to look for his missing son. And, indeed, Crossthwaite and I were already engaged in a similar search for a friend of his—the young tailor, who, as I told Porter, had been lost for several months. He was the brother of Crossthwaite's wife, a passionate, kind-hearted Irishman, Mike Kelly by name, reckless and scatter-brained enough to get himself into every possible scrape, and weak enough of will never to get himself out of one. For these two, Crossthwaite and I had searched from one sweater's den to another, and searched in vain. And though the present interest and exertion kept us both from brooding over our own difficulties, yet in the long run it tended only to embitter and infuriate our minds. The frightful scenes of hopeless misery which we witnessed—the ever widening pit of pauperism and slavery, gaping for fresh victims day by day, as they dropped out of the fast lessening "honourable trade," into the ever-increasing miseries of sweating, piece-work, and starvation prices; the horrible certainty that the same process which was devouring our trade was slowly, but surely, eating up every other also; the knowledge that there was no remedy, no salvation for us in man, that political economists had declared such to be the law and constitution of society, and that our rulers had believed that message, and were determined to act upon it;—if all these things did not go far towards maddening us, we must have been made of sterner stuff than any one who reads this book.
At last, about the middle of January, just as we had given up the search as hopeless, and poor Katie's eyes were getting red and swelled with daily weeping, a fresh spur was given to our exertions, by the sudden appearance of no less a person than the farmer himself. What ensued upon his coming must be kept for another chapter.
THE SWEATER'S DEN.
I was greedily devouring Lane's "Arabian Nights," which had made their first appearance in the shop that day.
Mackaye sat in his usual place, smoking a clean pipe, and assisting his meditations by certain mysterious chironomic signs; while opposite to him was Farmer Porter—a stone or two thinner than when I had seen him last, but one stone is not much missed out of seventeen. His forehead looked smaller, and his jaws larger than ever, and his red face was sad, and furrowed with care.
Evidently, too, he was ill at ease about other matters besides his son. He was looking out of the corners of his eyes, first at the skinless cast on the chimney-piece, then at the crucified books hanging over his head, as if he considered them not altogether safe companions, and rather expected something "uncanny" to lay hold of him from behind—a process which involved the most horrible contortions of visage, as he carefully abstained from stirring a muscle of his neck or body, but sat bolt upright, his elbows pinned to his sides, and his knees as close together as his stomach would permit, like a huge corpulent Egyptian Memnon—the most ludicrous contrast to the little old man opposite, twisted up together in his Joseph's coat, like some wizard magician in the stories which I was reading. A curious pair of "poles" the two made; the mesothet whereof, by no means a "punctum indifferens," but a true connecting spiritual idea, stood on the table—in the whisky-bottle.
Farmer Porter was evidently big with some great thought, and had all a true poet's bashfulness about publishing the fruit of his creative genius. He looked round again at the skinless man, the caricatures, the books; and, as his eye wandered from pile to pile, and shelf to shelf, his face brightened, and he seemed to gain courage.
Solemnly he put his hat on his knees, and began solemnly brushing it with his cuff. Then he saw me watching him, and stopped. Then he put his pipe solemnly on the hob, and cleared his throat for action, while I buried my face in the book.