LITTLE JOURNEYS TO THE HOMES OF THE GREAT, VOLUME 9
Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Reformers
JOHN WESLEY HENRY GEORGE GARIBALDI RICHARD COBDEN THOMAS PAINE JOHN KNOX JOHN BRIGHT BRADLAUGH THEODORE PARKER OLIVER CROMWELL ANNE HUTCHINSON JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU
My horse was very lame, and my head did ache exceedingly. Now what occurred I here avow is truth—let each man account for it as he will. Suddenly I thought, "Can not God heal man or beast as He will?" Immediately my weariness and headache ceased; and my horse was no longer lame. —Wesley's Journal
Once in a speech on "The Increase of Population," Edmund Burke intimated his sympathy with Malthus, and among other interesting data made note that Susanna Wesley was the twenty-fourth child of her parents. Burke, however, neglected to state how many sisters and brothers Susanna had who were younger than herself, and also what would have been the result on church history had the parents of Susanna named their twenty-third child Omega.
John Wesley was the fifteenth child in a family of nineteen. And yet the mother did her own work, thus eliminating the servant-girl problem, and found time to preach better sermons to larger congregations than did her husband. Four of Susanna's children became famous—John, Charles, Samuel and Martha.
John rebuked and challenged the smug, self-satisfied and formal religion of the time; had every church-door locked against him; sympathized with the American Colonies in their struggle for freedom; and founded a denomination which today is second in wealth and numbers to one alone.
John Wesley left no children after the flesh, but his influence has colored the entire fabric of Christianity. There is no denomination but that has been benefited and bettered by his beautiful spirit.
Charles Wesley was the greatest producer of hymns the world has ever seen, having written over six thousand songs, and rewritten most of the Bible in lyric form. He was "the brother of John Wesley," and delighted all his life in being so called. No one ever called John Wesley the brother of Charles. John had a will like a rope of silk—it slackened, but never broke. He was resourceful, purposeful, courageous, direct, healthy, handsome, wise, witty, happy; and he rode on horseback, blazing the way for many from darkness into light. Charles followed.
Three of the children of Charles Wesley became great musicians, and one of them was the best organist of his time in England.
The third noted brother in this remarkable family was Samuel, who was thirteen years older than John, and exercised his prerogative to pooh- pooh him all his life. Samuel was an educated High Churchman, a Latin scholar, and a poet of quality. Samuel always had his dignity with him. He wrote and published essays, epics, and histories of nobodies; but of all his writings, the only thing from his pen that is now read and enjoyed is a letter of remonstrance to his mother because he hears that she has joined "Jack's congregation of Methodists, and is a renegade from the true religion." Needless to say the "true religion" to Samuel was the religion in which he believed—all others were false. Samuel being an educated Churchman did not know that all religions are true to the people who believe in them.
The fourth Wesley of note was Martha, who looked so much like her brother John that occasionally, in merry mood, she dressed herself in his cassock and surplice, and suddenly appearing before the family deceived them all until she spoke. Martha was the only girl in the brood who was heir to her mother's mind. Had she lived in this age she would have made for herself a career. A contemporary says, "She could preach like a man," a remark, I suppose, meant to be complimentary. In one respect she excelled any of the Wesleys—she had a sense of humor that never forsook her. John usually was able to laugh; Charles smiled at rare intervals; and Samuel never. As it was, Martha married and was swallowed by the conventions, for the times subdue us, and society takes individuality captive and binds it hand and foot with green withes.
But the times did not subdue John Wesley: he was the original circuit- rider, and his steed was a Pegasus that took the fences of orthodoxy at a bound, often to the great consternation and grief of theological squatters. He was regarded as peculiar, eccentric, strange, extravagant, just as any man ever has been and would be today who attempted to pattern his life after that of the Christ. Perhaps it is needless to say that the followers of John Wesley do not much resemble him, indeed not more so than they resemble Jesus of Nazareth.
John Wesley and Jesus had very much in common. But should a man of the John Wesley pattern appear, say, in one of the fashionable Methodist churches of Chicago, the organist would drown him out on request of the pastor; and the janitor, with three fingers under his elbow, would lead him to the door while the congregation sang "Pull for the Shore."
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Julia Wedgwood, daughter of Josiah and Sarah Wedgwood, and sister to the mother of Darwin, wrote a life of John Wesley. In this book Miss Wedgwood says, "The followers of a leader are always totally different from the leader." The difference between a leader and a follower is this: a leader leads and a follower follows. The shepherd is a man, but sheep are sheep. As a rule followers follow as far as the path is good, but at the first bog they balk. Betrayers, doubters and those who deny with an oath are always recruited from the ranks of the followers. In a sermon John Wesley once said: "To adopt and live a life of simplicity and service for mankind is difficult; but to follow the love of luxury, making a clutch for place, pelf and power, labeling Paganism Christianity, and imagining you are a follower of Christ, this is easy. Yet all through life we see that the reward is paid for the difficult task. And now I summon you to a life of difficulty, not merely for the sake of the reward, but because the life of service is the righteous life—the right life—the life that leads to increased life and increased light."
A most remarkable woman was Susanna Wesley. The way she wound her mind into the minds of her sons, John and Charles, was as beautiful as it was extraordinary. Very few parents ever really get acquainted with their offspring. Parents who fail to keep their promises with their children, and who prevaricate to them, have children that are secretive and sly. But often no one person is to blame, for children do not necessarily have any spiritual or mental relationship to their parents: their minds are not attuned to the same key—they are not on the same wire.
Indeed, even with the great Susanna Wesley, there was a close and confiding intimacy with only two of her brood. John Wesley has written, "I can not remember ever having kept back a doubt from my mother—she was the one heart to whom I went in absolute confidence, from my babyhood until the day of her death."
The Epworth Parsonage, where John Wesley was born, was both a house and a school. Probably the mother centered her life on John and Charles because they responded to her love in a way the others did not. In the year Seventeen Hundred Nine, the parsonage burned, with a very close call for little John, who was asleep in one of the upper chambers. The home being destroyed, the family was farmed out among the neighbors until the house could be rebuilt. John was sent to the home of a neighboring clergyman, ten miles away. After a week we find him writing to his mother asking her if she has lost a little boy, because if so he is the boy—a most gentle way of reminding her that she had not written to him. At this time he was but six years old, yet we see his ability to write a letter. This peculiar letter is the earliest in a long correspondence between mother and son. Mrs. Wesley preserved these letters, just as the mother of Whitman treasured the letters of Walt with a solicitude that seems tinged with the romantic. Much of the correspondence between John Wesley and his mother has been published, and in it we see the intimate touch of absolute mental undress where heart speaks to heart in abandon and self-forgetfulness. The person who reaches this stage in correspondence has passed beyond the commonplace. This formulation of thought for another is the one exercise that gives mental evolution or education.
John Wesley was sent to Charterhouse School when he was eleven years old, and he remained there for six years, when he went to Oxford. After his twelfth year he was denied the personal companionship of his mother, but every day he wrote to her—sometimes just a line or two, and then at the end of the week the letter was forwarded.
In his later years Wesley did not think that either the "Charity School" or Oxford, where he went on a scholarship, had benefited him except by way of antithesis: but the correspondence with his mother was the one sweet influence of his life that could not be omitted. Their separation only increased the bond. We grow by giving; we make things our own by reciting them; thought comes through action and reaction; and happy is the man who has a sympathetic soul to whom he can outpour his own. When Charles Kingsley was asked to name the secret of his insight and power, he paused, and then answered, "I had a friend!"
John Wesley had a friend; incidentally, that friend was his mother. She died when he was thirty-nine years of age, after he had learned to wing his way on steady pinions. And in the flight she was not left behind.
We are familiar with the lives of many great men, but where among them all can you name a genius whose mother's mind matched his, even in his maturity?
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The primitive Christian is a reactionary product of his time. Humanity continuing in one direction acquires success, and finally through an overweening pride in its own powers, relaxation enters, and self- indulgence takes the place of effort. No religion is pure except in its inception and in its state of persecution.
A religion grown great and rich and powerful becomes sloth and swag, its piety being performed perfunk; and then ceases to be a religion at all. It is merely an institution.
Religions multiply by the budding process. Every new denomination is an offshoot from a parent stem. "A new religion" is a contradiction in terms—there is only one religion in the world. A brand-new religion would wither and die as soon as the sun came out.
New denominations begin with a protest against the lapses and grossness of the established one, and the baby religion feeds and lives on the other until it has grown strong enough to break off and live a life of its own. Buds are being broken off all the time, but only a few live; the rest die because they lack vitality. That is why all things die—I trust no one will dispute the fact.
Christian Science, for instance, appropriated two great things from the parent stock: the word "Christian," and the Oxford binding, which made "Science and Health" look just like the Bible. One could carry it on the street as he went to church without fear of accusation that he was on the way to the circulating-library. It fulfilled the psychological requirements.
John Wesley retained the word "Episcopal" for the new denomination, and he also retained the gown and tippet. And it was near a hundred years before the denomination had grown to a point where it could afford to omit the gown—and possibly its omission was an error then.
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Of university education at this time let Miss Wedgwood speak:
We can hardly wonder that the time spent at Oxford was, to a man like Gibbon, "the most idle and unprofitable period of his life," to use his own words. Even under the very different system which prevailed in the early portion of the present century, one of the most fertile thinkers of our day has been heard to speak of his university career as the only completely idle interval of his life. How often it may have proved not a mere episode, but the foundation of a life of idleness, no human being can tell. Nor was the evil merely negative. While the student lounged away his time in the coffeehouse and the tavern, whilst the dice-box supplied him with a serious pursuit, and the bottle a relaxation, he was called upon at every successive step to his degree to take a solemn oath of observance to the academical statutes which his behavior infringed in every particular. While the public professors received a thousand pounds a year for giving no lectures, the candidates for degrees were obliged to ask and pay for a dispensation for not having attended the lectures that never were given.
The system in every public declaration solemnly recognized and accepted was in every private action utterly defied. Whatever the Oxford graduate omitted to learn, he would not fail to acquire a ready facility in subscribing, with solemn attestations, professions which he violated without hesitation or regret. The Thirty-nine Articles were signed on matriculation, without any attempt to understand them. "Our venerable mother," says the great historian from whom we have already quoted, "had contrived to unite the opposite extremes of bigotry and indifference"; and these blended influences, which led Gibbon first to Rome, and then to skepticism, proved no doubt to the average mind a mere narcotic to all spiritual life. Gibbon is not the only great writer who has recorded his testimony against Hanoverian Oxford. Adam Smith in that work which has been called, with pardonable exaggeration, "the most important book that ever was written," the "Wealth of Nations," has, in the following remarks on universities, evidently incorporated his anything but loving recollections of the seven years which he spent at Baliol College. "In the University of Oxford the greater part of the professors have for these many years given up even the pretense of teaching. The discipline is in general contrived not for the benefit of students, but for the interest, or, more properly speaking, for the ease of the masters. In England the public schools are less corrupted than the universities; the youth there are, or at least may be, taught Greek and Latin, which is everything the masters pretend to teach. In the university the youth neither are, nor can be, taught the sciences which it is the business of those incorporated bodies to teach." It is the last statement to which attention is here directed. It is not that the university drew up a bad program, nor even that this scheme was badly carried out. That might be the case also; but the radical vice of the system was not that it was essentially incomplete in theory or faulty in practise, but that it was false. Its worst result was not poor scholars, but insincere and venal men.
I believe Europe can not produce parallels to Oxford and Cambridge in opulence, buildings, libraries, professorships, scholarships, and all the external dignity and mechanical apparatus of learning. If there is an inferiority, it is in the persons, not in the places or their constitution. And here I can not help confessing that a desire to please the great, and bring them to the universities, causes a compliance with fashionable manners, a relaxation of discipline, and a connivance at ignorance and folly, which errors he confesses occasioned the English universities to be in less repute than they were formerly. The fashion of sending young men thither was even in some degree abated among that class who at the present day would be the most reluctant to omit it—the nobility. The useless and frivolous exercises required for the attainment of academic honors, and the relaxation of discipline, had by this time created a widespread and deeply felt contempt for the whole system of which they formed a part; and the indulgent but candid observer, who tries to dilute his censure with the truism that he could not have been placed anywhere in this sublunary world without discovering many evils, informs us that in his seven years' residence at the university he saw immorality, habitual drunkenness, idleness, ignorance and vanity openly and boastfully obtruding themselves on public view, and triumphing without control over the timidity of modest merit.
It is under such conditions that the strong man of right intent rebukes the sloth and hypocrisy of his time. Very seldom, if ever, does he faintly guess the result of his protest. Jesus rebuked the iniquities and follies of Jerusalem, pleading for simple honesty, directness of speech and love of neighbors. In wrath the Pharisees made the usual double charge against Him—heresy and treason—and He was crucified.
Heresy and treason are invoked together; one is an offense against the Church, the other against the State. "The man is a traitor to God and a traitor to his country," that settles it—off with his head! The offenses of Socrates, Jesus, Savonarola, Huss, Wyclif, Tyndale, Luther and John Wesley were all identical. Reformers are always guilty— guilty of telling unpleasant truths. The difference in treatment of the man is merely the result of a difference in time and local environment. Oxford was professedly a religious institution; it was a part of the State. John Wesley, the undergraduate, perceived it was in great degree a place of idleness and dissipation. John wrote to his mother describing the conditions. She wrote back, pleading that he keep his life free from the follies that surrounded him, and band those who felt as he did into a company, and meet together for prayer and meditation in order that they might mutually sustain one another.
Susanna Wesley was the true founder of Methodism, a fact stated by John Wesley many a time.
As early as Seventeen Hundred Nine, she wrote to her son Samuel, who was then at Oxford, and who was never converted from Oxford influences: "My son, you must remember that life is our divine gift— it is the talent given us by Our Father in Heaven. I request that you throw the business of your life into a certain method, and thus save the friction of making each day anew. Arise early, go to bed at a certain hour, eat at stated times, pray, read and study by a method, and so get the most out of the moments as they swiftly pass, never to return. Allow yourself so much time for sleep, so much for private devotion, so much for recreation. Above all, my son, act on principle, and do not live like the rest of mankind, who float through the world like straws upon a river."
In hundreds of her letters to John and Charles at Oxford, their mother repeats this advice in varying phrase: "We are creatures of habit; we must cultivate good habits, for they soon master us, and we must be controlled by that which is good. Life is very precious—we must give it back to God some day, so let us get the most from it. Let us methodize the hours, so we may best improve them."
John Wesley was a leader by nature, and before he was twenty he had gathered about him at Oxford a little group of young men, poor in purse, but intent in purpose, who held themselves aloof from the foibles and follies of the place, and planned their lives after that of the Christ. In ridicule they were called Methodists. The name stuck.
In this Year of Grace, Nineteen Hundred Seven, there are more than thirty million Methodists, and about seven million in America, The denomination owns property to the value of more than three hundred million dollars in the United States, and has more than one hundred thousand paid preachers.
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After Wesley's graduation he was importuned by the authorities to remain and act as tutor and teacher at Christchurch College. He was a diligent student, and his example was needed to hold in check the hilarious propensities of the sons of the nobility.
In due time John was ordained to preach, and often he would read prayers at neighboring chapels. His brother Charles was his devoted echo and shadow. Then there was an enthusiastic youth by the name of George Whitefield, and a sober, serious young man, James Hervey, who stood by the Oxford Methodists and endured without resentment the sarcastic smiles of the many.
These young men organized committees to visit the sick; to search out poor and despondent students and give them aid and encouragement; to visit the jails and workhouses. The intent was to pattern their lives after that of the Apostles. They were all very poor, but their wants were few, and when John Wesley's income was thirty pounds a year he gave two pounds for charity. When it was sixty pounds a year he gave away thirty pounds; and here seems a good place to say that, although he made more than a hundred thousand pounds during his life from his books, he died penniless, just as he had wished and intended.
Thus matters stood in the year Seventeen Hundred Thirty-five, when James Oglethorpe was attracted to that Oxford group of ascetic enthusiasts. The life of Oglethorpe reads like a novel by James Fenimore Cooper. He was of aristocratic birth, born of an Irish mother, with a small bar sinister on his scutcheon that pushed him out and set him apart. He was a graduate of Oxford, and it was on a visit to his Alma Mater that he heard some sarcastic remarks flung off about the Wesleys that seemed to commend them. People hotly denounced usually have a deal of good in them. Oglethorpe was an officer in the army, a philanthropist, a patron of art, and a soldier of fortune. He had been a Member of Parliament, and at this particular time was Colonial Governor of Georgia, home on a visit.
He had investigated Newgate and other prisons and had brought charges against the keepers and succeeded in bringing their inhumanities before the public. Hogarth has a picture of Oglethorpe visiting a prison, with the poor wretches flocking around him telling their woes. In a good many instances prisoners were given their liberty on the promise of Oglethorpe that he would take them to his colony. The heart of Oglethorpe was with the troubled and distressed; and while his philanthropy was more on the order of that of Jack Cade than it was Christian, yet he at once saw the excellence in the Wesleys, and strong man that he was, wished to make their virtue his own. He proposed that the Wesleys should go back with him to America and evolve an ideal commonwealth.
Oglethorpe had with him several Indians that he had brought over from America. They were proud, silent, and had the reserve of their kind. Moreover, they were six feet high, and when presented at court wore no clothes to speak of.
King George the Second, when these sons of the forest were presented to him, appeared like a pigmy. Oglethorpe knew how to march his forces on an angle. London society went mad trying to get a glimpse of his savages. He declared that the North American Indians were the finest specimens—intellectually, physically and morally—of any people the world had ever seen. They needed but one thing to make them perfect— Christianity.
The Wesleys, discouraged by the small impress they had made on Oxford, listened to Oglethorpe's arguments and accepted his terms. Charles was engaged as Secretary to the Governor, and John Wesley was to go as a missionary.
And so they sailed away to America. On board ship they methodized the day—had prayers, sang hymns and studied, read, exhorted and wrote as if it were their last day on earth. This method excited the mirth of several scions of nobility who were on board, and Oglethorpe opened out on the scoffers thus: "Here, you damned pirates, you do not know these people. They forget more in an hour than you ever knew. You take them for tithe-pig parsons, when they are gentlemen of learning, and, like myself, graduates of Oxford. I am one of them, I would have you know. I am a religious man and a Methodist, too, and I'll knock hell out of anybody who, after this, smiles at either my friends or my religion!"
Long years after, Wesley told this story to illustrate the fact that a man might give an intellectual assent to a religion and yet not have much of it in his heart. Oglethorpe looked upon Methodism as a good thing—cheaper than a police system—and sure to bring good results. If John Wesley and George Whitefield could convert his colony and all the Indians round about, his work of governing would be much reduced. Oglethorpe was a very practical man.
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John Wesley did not convert the Indians, because he could not find them, they being away on wars with the other tribes. Besides that, he could not speak their language and was wholly unused to their ways. The Indian does not unbosom himself to those who do not know him, and the few Indians Wesley saw were stubbornly set in the idea that they had quite as good a religion as his. And Wesley was persuaded that probably they had.
In the city of Savannah, there were just five hundred eighteen people when John Wesley was there. About half of these were degenerate sons of aristocrats, ex-convicts, soldiers of fortune, and religious enthusiasts—the rest were plain, every-day folk.
Pioneer people are too intent on maintaining life to go into the abstrusities of either ethics or theology. Wesley soon saw that his powers demanded a wider field. The experience, though, had done him much good, especially in two ways. He had gotten a glimpse of chattel slavery and made a remark about it that is forever fixed in literature, "Human slavery is the sum of all villainies." Then he had met on shipboard a party of Moravians, and was so impressed by them that he straightway began to study German. In six weeks' time he could carry on an acceptable conversation in that language. At the end of the two years which he spent in Georgia, through attending the services of the Moravians, he could read, write and preach in the German language.
The Moravians seemed to him the only genuine Christians he had ever seen, and their example of simple faith, industry, directness of speech, and purity of life made such an impress upon him that thereafter Methodism and Moravianism were closely akin.
At Savannah there were some people too poor to afford shoes, and when these people appeared at church in bare feet they were smiled at by the alleged nobility. Seeing this, on the following Sunday, John Wesley appeared barefoot in the pulpit, and this was his habit as long as he was in Georgia. This gave much offense to the aristocrats; and Wesley also made himself obnoxious by preaching salvation to the slaves. Indeed, this was the main cause of his misunderstanding with the Governor. Oglethorpe considered any discussion or criticism of slavery "an interference with property-rights."
And so Wesley sailed back to England, sobered by a sense of failure, but encouraged by the example of the Moravians, who accepted whatever Providence sent, and counted it gain.
The overseers of Oxford, like Oglethorpe, had no special personal sympathy with the peculiar ideas of Wesley; but as a matter of policy they recognized that his influence in the great educational center was needed for moral ballast. And so his services were secured as Greek Professor and occasional preacher.
Concerning the moral status of Oxford at this time, Miss Wedgwood further says:
The condition of Oxford at the time of the rise of Methodism has been too little noted among those who have studied the great Evangelical Revival. Contemplating this important movement in its latter stage, they have forgotten that it took its rise in the attempt made by an Oxford tutor to bring back to the national institution for education something of that method which was at this time so disgracefully neglected. To surround a young man with illustrations of one kind of error is the inevitable preparation for making him a vehement partisan of its opposite, and in education the influence on which we can reckon most certainly is that of reaction. The hard external code and needless restrictions of Methodism should be regarded with reference to what Wesley saw in the years he spent in that abode of talent undirected and folly unrestrained.
It was to the Oxford here described—the Oxford where Gibbon and Adam Smith wasted the best years of their lives, and many of their unremembered contemporaries followed in their steps with issues not less disastrous to themselves, however unimportant to others—to the Oxford where young men swore to observe laws which they never read, and renewed a solemn promise when they had discovered the impossibility of keeping it—that Wesley, about a score of years after his entrance to the University, poured forth from the pulpit of Saint Mary's such burning words as must have reached many a conscience in the congregation.
"Let me ask you," he said in his university sermon for Seventeen Hundred Forty-four, "in tender love and in the spirit of meekness, is this a Christian city? Are we, considered as a community of men, so filled with the Holy Ghost as to enjoy in our hearts, and show forth in our lives, the genuine fruits of that Spirit? I entreat you to observe that here are no peculiar notions now under consideration: that the question is not concerning doubtful opinions, but concerning the undoubted fundamental branches (if there be any such) of our common Christianity. And for the decision thereof I appeal unto your own consciences. In the presence of the great God, before whom both you and I shall shortly appear, I pray you that are in authority over us, whom I reverence for the sake of your office, to consider (and that not after the manner of dissemblers with God), are you living portraitures of Him whom ye are appointed to represent among men? Do you put forth all your strength in the vast work you have undertaken? Let it not be said that I speak here as if all under your care were intended to be clergymen. Not so: I speak only as if they were intended to be Christians. But what example is set us by those who enjoy the beneficence of our forefathers, by Fellows, Students, Scholars, and more especially those who are of some rank and eminence? Do ye, who are of some rank and eminence—do ye, brethren, abound in the fruits of the Spirit, in holiness of mind, in self-denial and mortification, in seriousness and composure of spirit, in patience, meekness, sobriety, temperance; and in unwearied, restless endeavors to do good to all men? Is this the general character of Fellows of Colleges? I fear it is not. Rather, have not pride and haughtiness, impatience and peevishness, sloth and indolence, gluttony and sensuality been objected to us, perhaps not always by our enemies, nor wholly without ground? Many of us are more immediately consecrated to God, called to minister in holy things. Are we then patterns to the rest in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity? Did we indeed enter on this office with a single eye to serve God, trusting that we were inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon us this ministration, for the promoting of His glory, and the edifying of His people? Where are the seals of our apostleship? Who that were dead in trespasses and sins have been quickened by our word? Have we a burning zeal to save souls from death? Are we dead to the world and the things of the world? When we are smitten on one cheek, do we not resent it, or do we turn the other also, not resisting evil, but overcoming evil with good? Have we a bitter zeal, inciting us to strive sharply and passionately with those that are out of the way? Or is our zeal the flame of love, so as to direct all our words with sweetness, lowliness and meekness of wisdom?
"Once more: what shall we say of the youth of this place? Have you either the form or the power of Christian godliness? Are you diligent in your business, pursuing your studies with all your strength? Do you redeem the time, crowding as much work into every day as it can contain? Rather, are ye not conscious that you waste day after day either in reading that which has no tendency to Christianity, or in gaming, or in—you know not what? Are you better managers of your fortune than of your time? Do you take care to owe no man anything? Do you know how to possess your bodies in sanctification and honor? Are no drunkenness and uncleanness found among you? Yea, are there not many of you who glory in your shame? Are there not a multitude of you that are forsworn? I fear, a swiftly increasing multitude. Be not surprised, brethren—before God and this congregation I own myself to have been of the number solemnly swearing to observe all those customs which I then knew nothing of, and all those statutes which I did not so much as read over, either then, or for a long time afterwards. What is perjury, if this is not? But if it be, oh, what a weight of sin— yea, sin of no common dye—lieth upon us! And doth not the Most High regard it?
"May it not be a consequence of this that so many of you are a generation of triflers with God, with one another, and your own souls? Who of you is, in any degree, acquainted with the work of the Spirit, His supernatural work in the souls of men? Can you bear, unless now and then in a church, any talk of the Holy Ghost? Would you not take it for granted, if any one began such a conversation, that it was hypocrisy or enthusiasm? In the name of the Lord God Almighty I ask, What religion are ye of?"
We may hope that, even in that cold and worldly age, there was more than one in Saint Mary's church whose conscience was awakened so to re-echo that question that he joined with his whole soul in the prayer with which the sermon concluded: "Lord, save or we perish! Take us out of the mire that we sink not. Unto Thee all things are possible. According to the greatness of Thy power, preserve Thou them that are appointed to die!"
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The fervor of Wesley's zeal gave offense to the prim and precise parsons who recited their prayers with the aid of a T-square.
To them religion was a matter of form, but to Wesley it was an experience of the heart. From the Moravians he had acquired the habit of interjecting prayers into his sermons—from speaking to the people, he would suddenly change, raise his eyes aloft, and speak directly to Deity. This to many devout Churchmen was blasphemous. Of course the trouble was that it was simply new—we always resent an innovation. "Did you ever see anything like that?" And the fact that we have not is proof that it is absurd, preposterous, bad.
Wesley went one day to hold evening prayers at a village church near Oxford. His fame had preceded him: the worthy warden securely locked the doors and deposited the key in the capacious depths of his breeches-pocket and went a-fishing. Several old women were waiting to attend the service, and rather than send them away, Wesley, standing on the church-steps, read prayers and spoke. It was rather an unusual scene, and the unusual attracts. Loafers from the tavern across the way came over, children gathered in little groups, people who had never entered a place of worship stopped and listened. Some laughed, others looked serious, and most of them remained to the close of the meeting.
Thus does everything work together for good for everybody. The warden and his astute vestrymen thought to block the work of Wesley, and Wesley did the only thing he could: spoke outside of the church, and thus did he speak to the hearts of people who had never been inside the church and who would not go inside the building. Street preaching was not the invention of John Wesley, but up to his time no clergyman in the Church of England had attempted so undignified a thing.
Wesley was doing what his mother had done the very year he was born. She had preached to the people of the village of Epworth in the churchyard, because, forsooth, the chancel was a sacred place and would suffer if any one but a man, duly anointed, spoke there. The woman had a message and did the only thing she could: spoke outside, and spoke to two hundred fifty people, while the regular attendance to hear her husband was twenty-five.
And so John Wesley had made a discovery, and that was that to reach the submerged three-quarters, you must make your appeal to them on the street, in the marketplaces—from church-steps. His experience on shipboard and in America had done him good. They had taught him that form and ritual, set time and place, were things not necessary-that whenever two or three were gathered together in His name, He was in their midst.
And it was in preaching to the outcasts that Wesley found himself, and was "converted." He says, "My work in America failed because I had not then given my heart to my Savior."
Now he got the "power," and whether this word means to his followers what it meant to him is a question we need not analyze. Power comes by abandonment: the orator who flings convention to the winds and gives himself to the theme finds power.
The opposition and the ridicule were all very necessary factors in allowing Wesley to find his true self.
He wrote to his mother telling what he was doing, and she wrote back giving him her blessing, writing words of encouragement. "Son John must speak the words of love on any and every occasion when the spirit moves," she said.
John Wesley was attracting too much attention to himself at Oxford: there came words of warning from those in authority. To these admonitions he replied that he was a duly ordained clergyman of the Church of England, and there was nothing in the canons that forbade his holding services when and where he desired. And then he adds: "To show simple men and women the way of life, and tell them of Him who died that we might live, surely can not be regarded as an offense. I must continue in my course." That settled it—Oxford the cultured was not for him. He was a preacher without a pulpit—a teacher without a school.
He saddled his horse and with all his earthly possessions in his saddlebags traveled toward London—following that storied road which almost every great and powerful man of England had traversed. He was penniless, but he owned his horse. He was a horse-lover: he delighted in the companionship of a horse, and where the way was rough he would walk and lead the patient animal. It comes to us with a slight shock that the Reverend John Wesley anticipated Colonel Budd Doble by saying, "God's best gift to man—a horse!"
So John Wesley rode, not knowing where he was going or why—only that Oxford no longer needed him. When he started he was depressed, but after passing the confines of the town, and once out upon the highway with the green fields on either side, he lifted up his voice and sang one of his brother's hymns. Exile from Oxford meant liberty.
Arriving at a village he would stand on the church-steps, on a street- corner, often from a tavern-veranda, and speak. In his saddlebags he carried his black robe and white tippet. He could put these on over his travel-stained clothes and look presentable. His hair was worn long and parted in the middle; his face was cleanly shaved, and revealed comely features of remarkable strength.
The man was a commanding figure. People felt the honesty of his presence. The crowd might cat-call, and jeer, but those who stood near offered no violence. Indeed, more than once the roughs protected him. He preached of righteousness and judgment to come. He pleaded for a better life—here and now. And so he traveled, preaching three or four times a day, and riding from twenty to fifty miles. At London he preached on the "heaths," and thousands upon thousands who never entered a church heard him. That phrase, "They came to scoff and remained to pray," is his.
Wesley's oratory was not what is known to us as "the Methodist style." He was quiet, moderate, conversational, but so earnest that his words carried conviction. The man was honest—he wanted nothing—he gave himself.
Such a man today, preaching in the same way, would command marked attention and achieve success. The impassioned preaching of Whitefield was what gave the "Methodist color." Charles Wesley was much like Whitefield, and was regarded as a greater preacher than his brother because he indulged in more gymnastics—but John was far the greater man. And so the Great Awakening began; other preachers followed the example of the Wesleys, and were preaching in the fields and by the roadside and were organizing "Methodist Societies." But John Wesley was their leader and exemplar.
Neither of the Wesleys nor did Whitefield have any idea at this time of organizing a separate denomination or of running opposition to the Established Church.
They belonged to the Church, and these "Societies" were merely for keeping alive the spiritual flame which had been kindled.
The distinguishing feature of John Wesley's work seemed to be the "class" which he organized wherever possible. This was a schoolteacher's idea. There was a leader appointed, and this class of not more than ten persons was to meet at least once a week for prayer and praise and to study the Scriptures. Each person present was to take part—to stand on his feet and say something.
In this Wesley was certainly practical: "All must take part, for by so doing the individual grows to feel he is a necessary part of the whole. Even the humblest must read or pray or sing, or give testimony to the goodness of God."
And so we get the circuit-rider and see the evolution of the itinerancy. And then comes the "local preacher," who was simply a "class leader" who had gotten "the power."
Wesley saw with a clear and steady vision that the paid preacher, the priest with the "living" was an anomaly. To make a business of religion was to miss its essence, just as to make a business of love evolves a degenerate. Our religion should be a part of our daily lives. The circuit-rider was an apostle: he had no home, drew no salary, owned no property; but gave his life without stint to the cause of humanity. It was Wesley's habit to enter a house—any house— and say, "Peace be unto this house." He would hold then and there a short religious service. People were always honored by his presence: even the great and purse-proud, as well as the lowly, welcomed him. All he wanted was accommodations for himself and his horse, and these were freely given. He looked after the care of his horse himself, and always the last thing at night he would see that his horse was properly fed and bedded.
One horse he rode for ten years; and when it grew old and lame, his grief at having to leave it behind found vent in a flood of tears as he stood with his arms about its neck. Was ever mortal horse so honored? To have carried an honest man a hundred thousand miles, and been an important factor in the Great Awakening! Is there a Horse Heaven? In the State of Washington they say, "Yes." Perhaps they are right. Often before break of day, before the family was astir, Wesley would be on his way.
* * * * *
As an argument against absolute innocency in matters of love, the unfortunate marriage of Wesley, at the discreet age of forty-eight, has been expressed at length by Bernard Shaw. If Wesley had roamed the world seeking for a vixen for a wife, he could not have chosen better. Mrs. Vazeille was a widow of about Wesley's age—rich, comely, well upholstered. In London he had accepted her offers of hospitality, and for ten years had occasionally stopped at her house, so haste can not be offered as an excuse. The fatal rock was propinquity, and this was evidently not on the good man's chart; neither did he realize the ease and joy with which certain bereaved ladies can operate their lacrimal glands. On the way down "The Foundry" steps at night, Wesley slipped and sprained his ankle. He hobbled to the near-by residence of Mrs. Vazeille. On sight of him, the lady burst into tears, and then for the next week proceeded to nurse him.
He was due on the circuit and anxious to get away; he could not ride on horseback, and therefore if he went at all, he must go in a carriage. Mrs. Vazeille had a carriage, but she could not go with him, of course, unless they were married.
So they were married, and were miserable ever afterward.
Mrs. Wesley was glib, shallow, fussy, and never knew that her husband belonged to the world, and to her only incidentally. She took sole charge of him and his affairs; ordered people away who wanted to see him if she did not like their looks; opened his mail; rifled his pockets; insisted that he should not go to the homes of poor people; timed his hours of work; and religiously read his private journal and demanded that it should be explained. This woman should have married a man who kept no journal, and one for whom no one cared. As it was, no doubt she suffered up to her capacity, which perhaps was not great, for God puts a quick limit on the sensibilities of the stupid.
She even pulled him about by the hair before they had been married a year; and made faces at him as he preached, saying sotto voce, "I've heard that so often that I'm sick of it." In company, she would sometimes explain to the assembled guests what a great and splendid man her first husband was.
But worst of all, she took Wesley's faithful saddle-horse "Timothy," and hitched him alongside of a horse of her own to a chaise, with a postboy in a red suit on his back, tooting a horn.
Poor Wesley groaned, and inwardly said, "It is a trial sent by God—I must bear it all."
Finally the woman renounced him and left for Scotland. He then stole his own horse from her stable, and rode away as in the good old days. But alas! in a month she was on his trail. She caught up with him at Birmingham and fell on his neck, after the service, explaining that she was Mrs. John Wesley. The poor man could neither deny it nor run away, without making a scene, and so she accompanied him to his lodgings.
Her protests of reformation vanished in a week, and the marks of her nails were again on his fine face. This program was kept up for thirty-one years, with all the variations possible to a jealous woman, who had an income sufficient to allow her to indulge her vagaries and still move in good society. On October Fourteenth, Seventeen Hundred Eighty-one, Wesley wrote in his Journal, "I am told my wife died Monday and was buried on this evening."
Wesley once wrote to Asbury, "She has cut short my life full twenty years." If this were true, one can see how Wesley would otherwise have made the century run. However, Wesley was right: it was not all bad; the Law of Compensation never sleeps, and as a result of his unfortunate marriage, Wesley knew things which men happily married never know.
John Wesley did not blame anybody for anything. Once when he saw a drunken man reeling through the street, he turned to a friend and said, "But for the grace of God, there goes John Wesley!" All his biographies agree that after his fiftieth year his power as a preacher increased constantly until he was seventy-five. He grew more gentle, more tender, and there was about him an aura of love and veneration, so that even his enemies removed their hats and stood silent in his presence. And we might here paraphrase his own words and truly say of him, as he said of Josiah Wedgwood, "He loved flowers and horses and children—and his soul was near to God!"
The actual reason for breaking away or "coming out" is a personal antipathy for the leader. Like children playing a game, theologians reach a point where they say, "I'll not play in your back yard." And not liking a man, we dislike his music, his art, his creed. So they divide on free grace, foreordination, baptism, regeneration, freedom of the will, endless punishment, endless consequences, conversion, transubstantiation, sanctification, infant baptism, or any one of a dozen reasons which do not represent truth, but are all merely a point of view, and can honestly be believed before breakfast and rejected afterward.
However, the protest of Wesley had a basic reason, for at his time the State Religion was a galvanized and gilded thing, possessing everything but the breath of life.
* * * * *
And so John Wesley went riding the circuit from Land's End to John O'Groat's, from Cork to Londonderry, eight thousand miles, and eight hundred sermons every year. In London he spoke to the limit of his voice—ten thousand people. Yet when chance sent him but fifty auditors he spoke with just as much feeling. His sermons were full of wit, often homely but never coarse. He knew how to interest tired men; how to keep the children awake. He interspersed anecdote with injunction, and precept with homely happenings. He yearned to better this life, and to evolve souls that were worth saving.
Wesley grew with the years, and fully realized that preaching is for the preacher. "Always in my saddlebags beside my Bible and hymnal I carried one good book." He knew history, science as far as it had been carried, and all philosophy was to him familiar. The itineracy he believed was a necessity for the preacher as well as for the people. A preacher should not remain so long in a place as to become cheap or commonplace. New faces keep one alive and alert. And the circuit-rider can give the same address over and over and perfect it by repetition until it is most effective.
The circuit-rider, the local preacher or class-leader, the classes, the "love-feast," or general meeting—these were quite enough in the way of religious machinery.
Finally, however, Wesley became convinced that in large cities an indoor meeting-place was necessary in order to keep the people banded together. Often the weather was bad, and then it was too much to expect women and children to stand in the rain and cold to hear the circuit-rider.
So London supplied an abandoned warehouse called "The Foundry," and here the Wesleys met in a vast body for a service of song and praise. Methodism is largely a matter of temperament—it fits the needs of a certain type. The growing mind is not content to have everything done for it. The Catholics and Episcopalians were doing too much for their people, and not letting the people do enough for themselves. The Methodist class-meeting allowed the lowliest member to lift up his voice and make his own appeal to the Throne of Grace. Prayer is for the person who prays, and only very dull people doubt its efficacy. The God in your own heart always harkens to your prayer, and if it is reasonable and right, always answers it.
"Methodism raised the standard of intellect in England to a degree no man can compute," says Lecky the freethinking historian. Drunkenness, gambling, dog-fighting, bear-baiting in whole communities were replaced by the singing of hymns, prayers and "testimonies," in which every one had a part. Wesley loved flowers and often carried garden- seeds to give away, and then on his next trip would remember to ask about results. He encouraged his people to be tidy in their dress and housekeeping, and gentle in their manners.
Thousands learned to read that they might read the Bible; thousands sang who had never tried to sing before; and although the singing may have been of a very crude quality and the public speaking below par, yet it was human expression and therefore education, evolution, growth. That Wesley thought Methodism a finality need not be allowed to score against him. His faith and zeal had to be more or less blind, otherwise he would not have been John Wesley; philosophers with the brain of Newton, Spencer, Hegel, Schopenhauer, could never have done the work of Wesley. Had Wesley known more, he would have done less. He was a God-intoxicated man—his heart was aflame with divine love.
He carried the standard far to the front, and planted the flowing pennant on rocky ramparts where all the world could see. To carry the flag further was the work of others yet to come.
It was only in the year Seventeen Hundred Eighty-four, when Wesley was eighty-one years old, that he formally broke loose from the mother- church and Methodism was given a charter from the State. At this time John Wesley announced himself as a "Scriptural Episcopus," or a bishop by divine right, greatly to the consternation of his brother Charles. But the morning stars still sang together, even after he had ordained his comrade, Asbury, "Bishop of America" and conferred the title of bishop on a dozen others. It was always, however, carefully explained that they were merely Methodist-Episcopal bishops and not Episcopal bishops. A year before his death Wesley issued an order that no Methodist services should be held at the hours of the regular church service, and that no Methodist bishop should wear a peculiar robe, have either a fixed salary, residence or estate, nor should he on any account allow any one to address him as "My Lord."
It was a very happy life he led—so full of work that there was no time for complaint. The constant horseback riding kept his system in perfect health. At eighty-five he said: "I never have had more than a half-hour's depression in my life. My controlling mood has been one of happiness, thankfulness and joy." Wesley endeavored not to make direct war upon the Established Church—he hoped it would reform itself. He did not know that men with fixed and fat incomes seldom die and never resign; and his innocence in thinking he could continue on his course of organizing "Methodist Societies," and still keep his place within the Church, reveals his lack of logic. Moreover, he never had enough imagination to see that the Methodist Church would itself become great and strong and powerful and rich, and be an institution very much like the one from which in his eighty-first year he at last broke away. Charles Wesley and Whitefield died members of the Church of England, and were buried in consecrated ground; but John Wesley passed peacefully out in his eighty-eighth year, requesting that his body be buried in City Road Chapel, in the plot of ground that he by his life, love and work had consecrated. And it was so done.
The more you study this question, the more you will see that the true law of social life is the law of love, and law of liberty, the law of each for all and all for each; that the golden rule of morals is also the golden rule of the science of wealth; that the highest expressions of religious truth include the widest generalizations of political economy. —Henry George
Henry George died in Eighteen Hundred Ninety-seven. Nearly twenty years have passed since men heard his voice, looked on his strong, lithe, active form, saw the gleam of his honest eyes, and felt the presence of a man—a man who wanted nothing and gave everything—a man who gave himself. Twenty years!
And in those years the world has experienced, and is now passing through, a peaceful revolution such as men have never before seen. Those years have given us a new science of religion; a new education; a new penology; a new healing art; a new method in commerce.
The wisdom of honesty as a business asset is nowhere questioned, and the clergy has ceased to call upon men to prepare for death. We are preparing to live, and the way we are preparing to live is by living.
The remedy Henry George prescribed for economic ills was as simple as it was new, and new things and simple things are ever looked on as objectionable. The universality of conservatism proves that it must have its use and purpose in the eternal order. It keeps us from going too fast; it prevents us from bringing about changes for which mankind is not prepared. Nature's methods are evolutionary, not revolutionary.
Slaves can not be made free by edict. Moses led his people out of only one kind of captivity, and in the wilderness they wandered in bondage still. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation did not free the colored race, because it is the law of God that he who would be free must free himself. A servile people are slaves by habit, and habit is the only fetter. Freedom, like happiness, is a condition of mind. A whining, complaining, pinching, pilfering class that listens for the whistle, watches the clock, that works only when under the menacing eye of the boss, and stands in eternal fear of the blue envelope here, and perdition hereafter, can never be made free by legislative enactment. Freedom can not be granted, any more than education can be imparted: both must be achieved, or we yammer forever without the pale. A simple, strong and honest people is free. People enslaved by superstition and ruled by the dead have work at filing fetters ahead of them, which only they themselves can do. Henry George did not realize this, and his strength lay in the fact that he did not. He did not know when men get the crook out of their backs, the hinges out of their knees, and the cringe out of their souls, that then they are free. Slaves place in the hands of tyrants all the power that tyrants possess. Fortunate it was for Henry George, and for the world, that he did not know that any man who labors to help the workingman will be mobbed by the proletariat for his pains a little later on. Monarchies maybe ungrateful, but their attitude is a sweet perfume compared to the ingratitude of the laborer. He can be helped only by stealth, and his freedom must come from within. The moral weakness of man is the one thing that makes tyranny possible.
Tyranny is a condition in the heart of serfs. Tyrants tyrannize only over people of a certain cast of mind. Tyrants are men who have stolen power—convicts who have wrested guns from their guards. Watch them, and in a little while they will again shift places. Henry George was a very great man: great in his economic, prophetic insight; great in his faith, his hope, his love. He gave his message to the world, and passed on, scourged, depressed, undone, because the world did not accept the truths he voiced. Yet all for which he strived and struggled will yet come true—his prayer will be answered. And the political parties and the men who in his life opposed him are now adopting his opinions, quoting his reasons, and in time will bring about the changes he advocated. Of all modern prophets and reformers, Henry George is the only one whose arguments are absolutely unanswerable and whose forecast was sure.
* * * * *
Henry George was that rare, peculiar and strange thing—an honest man. Whether he had genius or not we can not say, since genius has never been defined twice alike, nor put in the alembic and resolved into its constituent parts. All accounts go to show that from very childhood Henry George was singularly direct and true. His ancestry was Welsh, Scotch and English in about equal proportions, and the traits of the middle class were his, even to a theological sturdiness that robbed his mind of most of its humor. Reformers must needs be color-blind, otherwise they would never get their work done—they see red or purple and nothing else. Born in Philadelphia in Eighteen Hundred Thirty- nine, on Tenth Street, below Pine, in a house still standing, and which should be marked with a bronze plate, but is not, Henry George took on a good many of the moral traits of his Quaker neighbors. His father was a clerk in the Custom-House, having graduated from a position as sea-captain on account of an excess of caution and a taste for penmanship. Later the good man went into the publishing business, backed by the Episcopal Church, and issued Sunday-School leaflets, sermons and prayer-books. In fact, he became the official printer of the denomination. With him was a man named Appleton, who finally went over to New York and started in on his own account, founding the firm of D. Appleton and Company, which forty years thereafter was to publish to the world a book called, "Progress and Poverty."
The worthy father of Henry George was a good Churchman, but not a businessman. He bought the things he ought not, and left unsold the things he should have worked off. He didn't know the value of time. Other people did things while he was getting ready to commence to begin.
And so the whirligig of time sent him back to his desk at the Custom- House, on a salary so modest that it meant poverty, and progress crab- fashion.
The children old enough to work got jobs, and Henry of the red hair and freckles found a place as printer's devil at two dollars a week. College was out of the question, and Girard Institute was regarded as infidelic. However, episcopacy did not have quite so strong a hold on this household as it once had. The Georges believed in freedom and took William Lloyd Garrison's paper, "The Liberator," and the mother read it aloud by the light of a penny dip. Next came "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and when, in Eighteen Hundred Fifty-six, the Republican Party was born, the George family, father, mother and children, all had pronounced views on the subject of human rights—very different views from those held by the royal Georges of England. When Henry George was sixteen, the restlessness of coming manhood found expression, and he shipped before the mast and sailed away to the Antipodes. The boy had the small, compact form, the physical activity and the daring which make a first-class sailor, but happily his brain was too full of ideas to transform him into a dog of the sea.
A trip to Australia, with salt pork all the time, sea-biscuit every day, lobscouse on Sundays, plum-duff once a month, and a total absence of mental stimulus, cured him of the idea that freedom was to be found on the bounding wave and the rolling deep.
At seventeen he was back at the case, setting type and getting a man's pay because he was able to "rastle the dic.," which means that he was on familiar terms with the dictionary and could correct proof.
Education is a matter of desire, and the printer's case with bad copy to revise is better than "English Twenty-two" at Harvard. Henry George moused nights at the Quaker Apprentices' Library, and he also read Franklin's "Autobiography"; his mind was full of Poor Richard maxims, which he sprinkled through his diary; but best of all, with seven other printers he formed another "Junta," and they met twice a week to discuss "poetry, economics and Mormonism." It was very sophomoric, of course, but boys of eighteen who study anything and defend it in essays and orations are right out on the highway which leads to superiority. The trouble with the 'prentice is that he does not know how to spend his evenings; the love of leisure and the wish for a good time cause the moments to slip past him, out of his reach forever, out into the great ocean of time.
Life is a sequence—the logical, farseeing mind is a cumulative consequence. Men who are wise at forty were not idle at twenty. "Read anything half an hour a day, and in ten years you will be learned," says Emerson.
Henry George worked and read, and the "Junta" gave him the first taste of that intoxicating thing, thinking on one's feet. We grow by expression, and never really know a thing until we tell it to somebody else. Henry George was getting an education, getting it in the only way any one ever can, or has, or does—getting it by doing.
But the wanderlust was again at work; California was calling—the land of miracle—and printer's ink began to pall. Henry George was a sailor; every part of a sailing ship was to him familiar—from bilge- water to pennant, from bowsprit to sternpost. He could swab the mainmast, reef the topsail in a squall, preside in the cook's-galley, or if the mate were drunk and the captain ashore he could take charge of the ship, put for open sea and ride out the storm by scudding before the wind.
Ships in need of sailors were lying in the offing. When young Henry George took a walk it was always along the docks. He knew every ship there in the Delaware, and visited with the sailormen, who told of the happenings in far-off climes. News from California much interested him; California was another America, hopelessly separated from us by an impassable range of forbidding mountains, reinforced with desert plains, peopled only by hostile savages. But the sea was an open highway to this land of enchantment. California called! And finally Henry George overcame temptation by succumbing to it, and sailed away southward in the staunch little ship "Shubrick," bound for the modern Eldorado by way of Cape Horn. It was a six months' passage, with many stops and much trading, and time that seem lifted out of the calendar and thrown away. Henry George arrived in California penniless. But he had health and a willingness to work. He became a farmhand, a tramp pedler, a laborer shoveling gravel into a sluice-way and standing all day knee-deep in water. It was all good, for it taught the youth that life was life; and wherever you go you carry your mental and spiritual assets, as well as your cares, on the crupper. Then there came a job in the composing-room of a newspaper, and the life-work of Henry George was really begun, for his employers had discovered that he could "rastle the dic.," and if copy were scarce he could create it.
* * * * *
The gold-fever got into the blood of Henry George, and his savings became a shining mark for the mining-shark. A thousand men lose money at mining where one strikes pay-gravel. Henry George was one of the thousand.
He got good wages and boarded at the best hotel in San Francisco, the "What Cheer House." This storied hostelry was owned by a man named Woodward, who had a few ideas of his own. Woodward not only hated Rum, Romanism and Rebellion, but also women. Woodward was a confirmed bachelor, having been confirmed by a lady bachelor in some dark, mysterious way, years before. So no woman was allowed either to stop at the hotel or to work in it. The labor was done by Chinese, and Henry George wrote home to his sisters, describing the place as an immaculate conception.
Next to the fact that no women were allowed in the "What Cheer House," was the further more astounding proposition that the place was run on absolutely temperance principles, thus, for the time at least, silencing that hoary adage of the genus wiseacre that no hotel can succeed without a bar. Woodward became rich, and from the proceeds of his temperance hotel founded Woodward Gardens—a park beloved by all who know their San Francisco.
The third peculiar thing about this hotel was that it had a library of a thousand volumes.
It was the only public library in San Francisco at that time, and it was the books that led Henry George to spend twice as much for board as he otherwise would have done.
While Henry George was at the "What Cheer House," an English traveler added a volume to the little library, Buckle's "History of Civilization." Woodward tried to read the book, but failing to become interested in it, between serving the soup and the fish, handed it to a waiter saying, "Here, give it to that red-headed printer; he can get something out of it if anybody can." Henry George took the book to his room, and that night sat reading it until two o'clock in the morning. That statement of Buckle's, "Adam Smith's 'Wealth of Nations' has influenced civilization more profoundly than any other book ever written, save none," caught the young printer's attention.
The next day he looked in the library for the "Wealth of Nations," and sure enough, it was there! He began to read. He read and reread. And whether Buckle's statement is correct or not, this holds: Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" influenced Henry George more profoundly than any other book he had ever read.
Henry George was not yet immune from the gold-fever microbe, and several times was lured away into the mountains, "grubstaking" a man with hope plus and secrets as to gold-bearing quartz that would paralyze the world.
When twenty-one we find our young man one of six printers who bought out the "Evening Journal." Henry George was foreman of the composing- room, but took a hand anywhere and everywhere. A curious comment on the business acumen of the "Journal" men lies in their agreement that all should have an equal voice in the policy of the paper. Hence we infer that all were equally ignorant of the stern fact that in business nothing succeeds but one-man power. So the "Journal" went drifting on the rocks in financial foggy weather and the hungry waves devoured her.
When Fate desires a great success she sends her chosen one failure. Henry George at twenty-two was ragged, in debt—and also in love. The "What Cheer House" was all right for a man getting good wages, but when you go into business for yourself it is different, and George found board with a private family.
The lady in the case was Miss Fox, ward and niece of the landlord with whom the impecunious printer boarded.
Annie Fox and our printer read Dana's "Household Book of Poetry," with heads close together.
The inevitable happened—they decided to pool their poverty in the interests of progress. To ask the landlord for his blessing seemed out of the question, in view of the fact that the printer was two weeks behind in his board. The girl had the proverbial clothes on her back.
Matthew McClosky, the uncle, was a good deal of a man. He showed his shrewdness and appreciation of the present order by buying a large tract of land near the city, and grew rich on the unearned increment. Had his niece and the printer confided in him they might have shared in his prosperity, in which case "Progress and Poverty" would never have been written.
It was the memorable year of Eighteen Hundred Sixty-one. The heart of Henry George was with the Union—he had decided to enlist. He told the girl so behind the kitchen-door. Her answer was a flood of tears, and a call to arms. The result was that the next night the couple stole out, and made their way to a Methodist parsonage, where they were married.
Henry George was nominally a member of the Methodist Church, but the creed of Thomas Paine was more to his liking—"The world is my country; mankind are my friends; to do good is my religion." The young lady was a Catholic, and so the preacher compromised by reading the Episcopal service. The only witnesses were the minister's wife and Henry George's chum, Isaac Trump. "I didn't catch your friend's name," said the minister in filling out the marriage-certificate.
"I. Trump," was the reply.
"I observe you do," was the answer; "but oblige me with the gentleman's name."
There are three great epochs in life—birth, death, marriage. The first two named you can not avoid. Since life is a sequence, no one can say what would have happened had not this or that occurred. Mrs. George proved an honest, earnest, helpful wife. Her conservatism curbed the restless spirit of her husband and gave his mind time to ripen, for until his marriage the ideals of the French Revolution were strong in his heart. He saw the evils of life and was intent on changing them. The Catholic faith is an elastic one, both esoteric and exoteric, and those who are able can take the poetic view of dogma instead of the literal, if they prefer. Henry George and his wife took the spiritual or symbolic view, and moved steadily forward in the middle of the road. He was too gentle and considerate to quote Voltaire and Rousseau at inopportune times, and she sustained and encouraged his mental independence. All of which is here voiced with one foot on the soft pedal, and with no thought of putting forth an argument to the effect that young gentlemen with liberal views should marry ladies who belong to the Catholic persuasion.
The day after his marriage the bridegroom found work in a printery at twelve dollars a week, and thus was the pivotal point safely rounded.
* * * * *
Here was a man absolutely honest, with no bad habits, industrious and economical, but lacking in that peculiar something which spells success. The type is not rare. One trouble was that our Henry George stuck to no one place long enough to make himself a necessity. Men of half his ability made twice as much money.
The days went by, and Henry George wrote to Trump, "I am advance-agent for the stork." Now storks bring love and hope—and care, and anxious days and sleepless nights. Henry George's domestic affairs had steadied his bark, and while his relatives in Philadelphia thought he carried an excess of Romish ballast, it was all for the best. He read, studied, thought, and wanting little his mind did not list either to port or to starboard.
Henry George had graduated from the case into the editorial room. He worked on all the newspapers, by turn, in San Francisco and Sacramento, and had come to be regarded as one of the strongest editorial writers on the Coast. The business office was beyond his province, and as a newspaper was a business venture, and is run neither to educate the public nor for the proprietor's health, the manager did not look upon Henry George as exactly "safe." And hence the reason is plain why George was regarded as a sectional bookcase and not as a fixture.
At thirty he had evolved to a point where the New York "Tribune" asked him to write a signed editorial for them on the Chinese question. Then he wrote for the "Overland Monthly"; and when a great literary light came to San Francisco to appear on the lyceum stage, Henry George was asked to introduce him to the audience, especially if the man was believed to have heresy secreted on his person, in which case of course the local clergy took no risks of contamination, not being immune.
On the occasion of the death of a certain tramp printer, whose name is now lost to us in the hell-box of time, no clergyman being found to perform the service, Henry George officiated, and preached a sermon which rang through the city like a trumpet-call, extolling not what the man was, but what he might have been.
This custom of the laity taking charge of funerals still exists in the West, to a degree not known, say, in New England, where in certain localities people are not considered legally dead unless both an orthodox doctor and an orthodox preacher officiate.
The very poor, and the outcasts of society, in San Francisco began to look upon Henry George as the Bishop of Outsiders. Often he was called upon to go and visit the stricken, the sick and the dying. And there was a kind of poetic fitness in all this, for the man possessed that superior type of moral and intellectual fiber which makes a great physician or an excellent priest—he could "minister." And it was only division of labor that separated the offices of doctor and priest, and actually they are and should be one.
In Sacramento now lives a successful merchant, a Jew by birth, and a man of great grace of spirit, who has this superior, spiritual quality which makes his services sought after, and in response to demand he goes all over the State saying the last words over the dust of those who in their lives had lost faith in the established order, or had too much faith in God.
After his thirty-sixth year Henry George slipped by natural process into this semi-religious order—a priest after the order of Melchizedek. He was spokesman for those who had no social standing, a voice for the voiceless, a friend to the friendless, even those who were not friends to themselves.
But at thirty-seven he was up on the mountain-side where he saw to a distance that very few men could. He felt his own dignity and knew his worth. The president of the University of California, recognizing his ability as a thinker and speaker, asked him to give a course of lectures on economics.
He gave one—this was all they could digest.
California colleges have had a lot of trouble with economics—it has been a theme more fraught for them with danger than theology. How Californians make their money and how they spend it is a topic which in handling requires great subtlety of intellect, a fine delicacy of expression and much diplomacy, otherwise twenty-three petards!
Here is a passage from Henry George's lecture before the University of California:
For the study of political economy you need no special knowledge, no extensive library, no costly laboratory. You do not even need textbooks or teachers if you will but think for yourselves. All that you need is care in reducing complex phenomena to their elements, in distinguishing the essential from the accidental, and in applying the simple laws of human action with which you are familiar. Take nobody's opinion for granted; "try all things; hold fast to that which is good." In this way, the opinions of others will help you by their suggestions, elucidations and corrections; otherwise they will be to you as words to a parrot.
All this array of professors, all this paraphernalia of learning, can not educate a man. They can but help him educate himself. Here you may obtain the tools; but they will be useful to him only who can use them. A monkey with a microscope, a mule packing a library, are fit emblems of the men—and unfortunately, they are plenty—who pass through the whole educational machinery, and come out but learned fools, crammed with knowledge which they can not use—all the more pitiable, all the more contemptible, all the more in the way of real progress, because they pass, with themselves and others, as educated men.
California is a land of extremes—everything grows big and fast, especially ideas. No country ever saw such wealth and such poverty side by side. The mansions on Nob Hill were so grand that their magnificence discouraged the owners and abashed visitors; at receptions, a keg of beer on a sawbuck in the kitchen and champagne in a washtub, with ham sandwiches in a bushel basket, were all that could be assimilated. And yet past the high iron gates of these palaces prowled want—gaunt, hungry and menacing.
Land was never so cheap nor so dear as it has been in California. We gave a railroad-company twenty-five thousand acres of land for every mile of track it built, and for years a dollar an acre was the ruling price at which you could buy to your limit. And yet there were at the same time little half-acres for which men pushed a hundred thousand dollars in gold-dust over the counter and then crowed about their bargain.
Henry George studied economics at first hand. The dignified frappe which he received in way of honorarium for his university lecture had its advantages. People in San Francisco wanted to hear what the editor had to say as well as to read his utterances. He was invited to give the Fourth of July oration at the Grand Opera House—a very great compliment.
Henry George was a reformer, and reformers have but one theme, and that theme is Liberty. We grow by expression. There is no doubt that the university lecture and the Fourth of July oration added cubits to the stature of Henry George. In these two addresses we find the kernel of his philosophy—a kernel that was to germinate into a mighty tree which would extend its welcoming shade to travelers for many a decade yet to come.
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Like every other great book (or great man), "Progress and Poverty" was an accident—a providential accident. The book was ten years in the incubation. It began with a newspaper editorial in Eighteen Hundred Sixty-nine, and found form in a volume of five hundred pages in Eighteen Hundred Seventy-nine.
The editorial merely called attention to the fact that California, in spite of her vast wealth, was peopled, for the most part, with people desperately poor; and that ground in the vicinity of any city, town or place of enterprise was held at so exorbitant a figure that the poor were actually enslaved by the men who owned the land. That is to say, the men who owned the land controlled the people who had to live on it, for man is a land animal, and can not live apart from land, any more than fishes can live at a distance from water. And moreover we tax for the improvements on land, thus really placing a penalty on enterprise.
The article attracted attention, and opened the eyes of one man at least—and that was the man who wrote it. He had written better than he knew; and any writer who does not occasionally surprise himself does not write well.
Henry George had surprised himself, and he wrote another editorial to explain the first. These editorials extended themselves into a series, and hand-polished and sandpapered, were reprinted in pamphlet form in Eighteen Hundred Seventy-one, under the title of "Our Land Policy." The temerity which prompted the printing of this pamphlet was evolved through a letter from John Stuart Mill. Henry George knew he was right in his conclusions, but he felt that he needed the corroboration of a great mind that had grappled with abstruse problems; so he sent one of his editorials to Mill, the greatest living intellect of his time.
Mill showed his interest by replying in a long letter, wherein he addressed George as a man with a mind equal to his own, not as a sophomore trying his wings.
The letter from Mill was to him a white milepost. The corroboration gave him courage, confidence, poise.
The thousand copies of the pamphlet cost Henry George seventy-five dollars. The retail price was twenty-five cents each. Twenty-one copies were sold. The rest were given away to good people who promised to read them. Pamphlets are for the pamphleteer, but let the fact here be recorded that new ideas have always been issued at the author's expense—and also risk. Martin Luther, Dean Swift, John Milton, Paine, Voltaire, Sam Adams were all pamphleteers. The early Colonial "broadsides" were pamphlets issued by men with thoughts plus, and all of the men just named fired inky volleys which proved to be shots heard 'round the world.
As the years passed, Henry George was gathering gear; he was getting an education. Providence was preparing him for his work. All he expressed by tongue or pen had land, labor, production and distribution in mind. He was getting acquainted with every phase of the subject—anticipating the objections, meeting the objectors, opening up side-paths.
And so, in Eighteen Hundred Seventy-eight, when he sat down to write a magazine article on "Our Government Land Policy," the air was full of reasons. Soon the article stretched itself beyond magazine length, and in order to cover the theme he set down headings:
1 Wages 2 Capital 3 Division of Labor 4 Population 5 Subsistence 6 Rent 7 Interest 8 The Remedy for Unequal Distribution
He wrote all one night—wrote in a fever. The next day his pulse got back to normal, and on talking the matter over with his wife he decided to begin it all over and work his philosophy up into a book, writing as he could, only one or two hours a day.
He was absolutely without capital, dependent on his income from space- writing in the daily newspapers, but he began and the work grew.
It was all done on "stolen time," to use the phrase of Macaulay, and therefore vital, for things done because you have to do them—done to get rid of them—contain the red corpuscle.
On March Twenty-second, Eighteen Hundred Seventy-nine, the precious bundle of manuscript was shipped to D. Appleton and Company, New York, with instructions that if the work was not accepted, to hold subject to the author's order.
In six weeks came a letter from the Appletons, gracious, complimentary, "but"—in fact, no work on political economy had ever sold sufficiently either to make money for the author or to pay the bare cost of the book to the publisher.
Here was a dampener, and if Henry George had been a trifle more astute in the laws of literary supply and demand, he could and would have anticipated the result, even in spite of the natural prejudice which an author always feels for the offspring of his brain.
A letter was now sent Thomas George, the author's brother, in Philadelphia, requesting him to go over to New York and find a market for the wares.
Thomas had the work passed on by the Harpers, by Scribner, and all "much regretted."
The next thing was to interest Professor Swinton and several New York friends, and have them go in a body and storm the castle of Barabbas. The committee called on D. Appleton and Company, and again laid the case before them.
Finally the publishers agreed that if the author would advance money for the electrotype-plates, they would undertake the publication.
But alas, the author was in the proverbial author's condition. On the offer being laid before Henry George by mail, he replied that he could make the electrotype-plates himself. He was a typesetter and he had friends who would give him the use of their printing-outfits. The offer was satisfactory to the Appletons, provided Professor Swinton would agree to take on his own account a hundred copies of the work on suspicion.
The Professor agreed. And the manuscript was sent back to San Francisco, a trifle dog-eared and the worse for five months' wear.
The author began his typesetting with the same diligence that he had brought to bear in the writing. This was stolen time, too. He worked an hour in the morning and two hours at night. Other printers offered to help, and a genial, bum electrotyper, damnably cheerful, offered to come in and lend a hand, provided Henry George would agree to give a funeral oration over the derelict one's grave at the proper time. Henry George gleefully agreed.
So the work of making the electrotype-plates moved on apace. In the meantime some of Henry George's political friends had interviewed the Governor and Henry George was made inspector of gas-meters, at fifteen hundred dollars a year.
It was four months' work to make the plates, but early in the year Eighteen Hundred Eighty they were shipped to New York, a few proofs of the book being taken, stitched up and sent out for review.
So far as we know, there was no one in California able to read the book and intelligently review it. Leastwise they never did.
The Appletons, however, gradually awoke to the fact that they had a prize, and they made efforts to get the work into right reviewing hands. Better still, they began to inquire about what manner of man Henry George was.
Next they wrote to the author suggesting that, if he would come to New York and personally present his views, it would help in the sale of the books.
Fortunately Henry George was not hampered by the ownership of real estate, nor an excess of personal property, so he hastily packed up, transportation having been secured by John Russell Young, a capitalist who had faith in his genius from the first.
Henry George arrived in New York penniless, but Professor Swinton, E. L. Youmans (that excellent blind man of great insight), John Russell Young and the Appletons gave him a rich reception.
The tide had turned.
* * * * *
Henry George received all the recognition that any thinker and writer could desire, from August, Eighteen Hundred Eighty, to the day of his death, October Twenty-eighth, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-seven. Men might not agree with him in his conclusions, but few indeed dare meet him in a duel of argument, either by pen or upon the public platform.
He spoke in churches, halls and private parlors. His newspaper and magazine articles commanded a price. He met the greatest minds of America and of Europe on an equal footing.
In England his book was having a sale far beyond what it had met with at home.
And when he spoke in London and the chief cities of Great Britain, the halls were packed to suffocation. He appealed to the Messianic instinct of English workingmen, and they hailed him as the coming man —their deliverer. They stripped doors from their hinges and carried him aloft upon the improvised platform. They unhitched the horses from his carriage and drew him through the streets in triumphal state. This all meant little—it was only campaign exuberance—the glare and flare of smoky kerosene-torches, and the blare of brass.
Henry George was right in the same class with Spencer, Huxley, Tyndall and John Stuart Mills, none of whom, happily, was a college man, and therefore all were free from the handicap of dead learning and ossified opinion, and saw things as if they were new. Ignorance is a very necessary equipment in doing a great and sublime work that is to eclipse anything heretofore performed.
The mind of Henry George was a flower of slow growth. At thirty-seven he was just reaching mental manhood. According to all reasonable tables of expectancy, he should have rivaled Humboldt and been in his prime at eighty. His brain was the brain of Ricardo; but instead of sticking to his boos, he got caught in the swirl of politics, and was matched up with the cheap, the selfish, the grasping. The people who snatched Henry George out of his proper sphere as a thinker, writer and lecturer, and flung him into the turmoil of practical politics, were of exactly the class who would, if they could, have a little later ridden him on a rail.
It was all a little like that speech of a man in Indianapolis who nominated James Whitcomb Riley for the Presidency of the United States. The mob diluted the thought of Henry George and trod his proud and honest heart into the mire.
Had he been elected mayor of New York, he could have done little or nothing for reform, for a mayor has only the power delegated to him by the ward boss and the genus heeler. Beyond this he can merely apply the emergency-brake by the use of the veto.
Henry George was a racehorse hitched by spoilsmen to an overloaded jaunting-car with a drunken driver, bound for Donnybrook Fair.
And soon men said he was dead.
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The logic of Henry George's book and its literary style are so insistent that it has been studied closely by economists of note in every country on the globe. Its argument has never been answered, and those who have sought to combat it have rested their case on the assertion that Henry George was a theorist and a dreamer, and so far as practical affairs were concerned was a failure. With equal logic we might brand the Christian religion as a failure because its founder was not a personal success, either in his social status or as a political leader.