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Mark Rutherford's Deliverance
by Mark Rutherford
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Transcribed from the 1913 Hodder and Stoughton edition by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk



MARK RUTHERFORD'S DELIVERANCE



CHAPTER I—NEWSPAPERS



When I had established myself in my new lodgings in Camden Town, I found I had ten pounds in my pocket, and again there was no outlook. I examined carefully every possibility. At last I remembered that a relative of mine, who held some office in the House of Commons, added to his income by writing descriptive accounts of the debates, throwing in by way of supplement any stray scraps of gossip which he was enabled to collect. The rules of the House as to the admission of strangers were not so strict then as they are now, and he assured me that if I could but secure a commission from a newspaper, he could pass me into one of the galleries, and, when there was nothing to be heard worth describing, I could remain in the lobby, where I should by degrees find many opportunities of picking up intelligence which would pay. So far, so good; but how to obtain the commission? I managed to get hold of a list of all the country papers, and I wrote to nearly every one, offering my services. I am afraid that I somewhat exaggerated them, for I had two answers, and, after a little correspondence, two engagements. This was an unexpected stroke of luck; but alas! both journals circulated in the same district. I never could get together more stuff than would fill about a column and a half, and consequently I was obliged, with infinite pains, to vary, so that it could not be recognised, the form of what, at bottom, was essentially the same matter. This was work which would have been disagreeable enough, if I had not now ceased in a great measure to demand what was agreeable. In years past I coveted a life, not of mere sensual enjoyment—for that I never cared—but a life which should be filled with activities of the noblest kind, and it was intolerable to me to reflect that all my waking hours were in the main passed in merest drudgery, and that only for a few moments at the beginning or end of the day could it be said that the higher sympathies were really operative. Existence to me was nothing but these few moments, and consequently flitted like a shadow. I was now, however, the better of what was half disease and half something healthy and good. In the first place, I had discovered that my appetite was far larger than my powers. Consumed by a longing for continuous intercourse with the best, I had no ability whatever to maintain it, and I had accepted as a fact, however mysterious it might be, that the human mind is created with the impulses of a seraph and the strength of a man. Furthermore, what was I that I should demand exceptional treatment? Thousands of men and women superior to myself, are condemned, if that is the proper word to use, to almost total absence from themselves. The roar of the world for them is never lulled to rest, nor can silence ever be secured in which the voice of the Divine can be heard.

My letters were written twice a week, and as each contained a column and a half, I had six columns weekly to manufacture. These I was in the habit of writing in the morning, my evenings being spent at the House. At first I was rather interested, but after a while the occupation became tedious beyond measure, and for this reason. In a discussion of any importance about fifty members perhaps would take part, and had made up their minds beforehand to speak. There could not possibly be more than three or four reasons for or against the motion, and as the knowledge that what the intending orator had to urge had been urged a dozen times before on that very night never deterred him from urging it again, the same arguments, diluted, muddled, and mispresented, recurred with the most wearisome iteration.

The public outside knew nothing or very little of the real House of Commons, and the manner in which time was squandered there, for the reports were all of them much abbreviated. In fact, I doubt whether anybody but the Speaker, and one or two other persons in the same position as myself, really felt with proper intensity what the waste was, and how profound was the vanity of members and the itch for expression; for even the reporters were relieved at stated intervals, and the impression on their minds was not continuous. Another evil result of these attendances at the House was a kind of political scepticism. Over and over again I have seen a Government arraigned for its conduct of foreign affairs. The evidence lay in masses of correspondence which it would have required some days to master, and the verdict, after knowing the facts, ought to have depended upon the application of principles, each of which admitted a contrary principle for which much might be pleaded. There were not fifty members in the House with the leisure or the ability to understand what it was which had actually happened, and if they had understood it, they would not have had the wit to see what was the rule which ought to have decided the case. Yet, whether they understood or not, they were obliged to vote, and what was worse, the constituencies also had to vote, and so the gravest matters were settled in utter ignorance. This has often been adduced as an argument against an extended suffrage, but, if it is an argument against anything, it is an argument against intrusting the aristocracy and even the House itself with the destinies of the nation; for no dock labourer could possibly be more entirely empty of all reasons for action than the noble lords, squires, lawyers, and railway directors whom I have seen troop to the division bell. There is something deeper than this scepticism, but the scepticism is the easiest and the most obvious conclusion to an open mind dealing so closely and practically with politics as it was my lot to do at this time of my life. Men must be governed, and when it comes to the question, by whom? I, for one, would far sooner in the long run trust the people at large than I would the few, who in everything which relates to Government are as little instructed as the many and more difficult to move. The very fickleness of the multitude, the theme of such constant declamation, is so far good that it proves a susceptibility to impressions to which men hedged round by impregnable conventionalities cannot yield. {1}

When I was living in the country, the pure sky and the landscape formed a large portion of my existence, so large that much of myself depended on it, and I wondered how men could be worth anything if they could never see the face of nature. For this belief my early training on the "Lyrical Ballads" is answerable. When I came to London the same creed survived, and I was for ever thirsting for intercourse with my ancient friend. Hope, faith, and God seemed impossible amidst the smoke of the streets. It was now very difficult for me, except at rare opportunities, to leave London, and it was necessary for me, therefore, to understand that all that was essential for me was obtainable there, even though I should never see anything more than was to be seen in journeying through the High Street, Camden Town, Tottenham Court Road, the Seven Dials, and Whitehall. I should have been guilty of a simple surrender to despair if I had not forced myself to make this discovery. I cannot help saying, with all my love for the literature of my own day, that it has an evil side to it which none know except the millions of sensitive persons who are condemned to exist in great towns. It might be imagined from much of this literature that true humanity and a belief in God are the offspring of the hills or the ocean; and by implication, if not expressly, the vast multitudes who hardly ever see the hills or the ocean must be without a religion. The long poems which turn altogether upon scenery, perhaps in foreign lands, and the passionate devotion to it which they breathe, may perhaps do good in keeping alive in the hearts of men a determination to preserve air, earth, and water from pollution; but speaking from experience as a Londoner, I can testify that they are most depressing, and I would counsel everybody whose position is what mine was to avoid these books and to associate with those which will help him in his own circumstances.

Half of my occupation soon came to an end. One of my editors sent me a petulant note telling me that all I wrote he could easily find out himself, and that he required something more "graphic and personal." I could do no better, or rather I ought to say, no worse than I had been doing. These letters were a great trouble to me. I was always conscious of writing so much of which I was not certain, and so much which was indifferent to me. The unfairness of parties haunted me. But I continued to write, because I saw no other way of getting a living, and surely it is a baser dishonesty to depend upon the charity of friends because some pleasant, clean, ideal employment has not presented itself, than to soil one's hands with a little of the inevitable mud. I don't think I ever felt anything more keenly than I did a sneer from an acquaintance of mine who was in the habit of borrowing money from me. He was a painter, whose pictures were never sold because he never worked hard enough to know how to draw, and it came to my ears indirectly that he had said that "he would rather live the life of a medieval ascetic than condescend to the degradation of scribbling a dozen columns weekly of utter trash on subjects with which he had no concern." At that very moment he owed me five pounds. God knows that I admitted my dozen columns to be utter trash, but it ought to have been forgiven by those who saw that I was struggling to save myself from the streets and to keep a roof over my head. Degraded, however, as I might be, I could not get down to the "graphic and personal," for it meant nothing less than the absolutely false. I therefore contrived to exist on the one letter, which, excepting the mechanical labour of writing a second, took up as much of my time as if I had to write two.

Never, but once or twice at the most, did my labours meet with the slightest recognition beyond payment. Once I remember that I accused a member of a discreditable manoeuvre to consume the time of the House, and as he represented a borough in my district, he wrote to the editor denying the charge. The editor without any inquiry—and I believe I was mistaken—instantly congratulated me on having "scored." At another time, when Parliament was not sitting, I ventured, by way of filling up my allotted space, to say a word on behalf of a now utterly forgotten novel. I had a letter from the authoress thanking me, but alas! the illusion vanished. I was tempted by this one novel to look into others which I found she had written, and I discovered that they were altogether silly. The attraction of the one of which I thought so highly, was due not to any real merit which it possessed, but to something I had put into it. It was dead, but it had served as a wall to re-echo my own voice. Excepting these two occasions, I don't think that one solitary human being ever applauded or condemned one solitary word of which I was the author. All my friends knew where my contributions were to be found, but I never heard that they looked at them. They were never worth reading, and yet such complete silence was rather lonely. The tradesman who makes a good coat enjoys the satisfaction of having fitted and pleased his customer, and a bricklayer, if he be diligent, is rewarded by knowing that his master understands his value, but I never knew what it was to receive a single response. I wrote for an abstraction; and spoke to empty space. I cannot help claiming some pity and even respect for the class to which I belonged. I have heard them called all kinds of hard names, hacks, drudges, and something even more contemptible, but the injustice done to them is monstrous. Their wage is hardly earned; it is peculiarly precarious, depending altogether upon their health, and no matter how ill they may be they must maintain the liveliness of manner which is necessary to procure acceptance. I fell in with one poor fellow whose line was something like my own. I became acquainted with him through sitting side by side with him at the House. He lived in lodgings in Goodge Street, and occasionally I walked with him as far as the corner of Tottenham Court Road, where I caught the last omnibus northward. He wrote like me a "descriptive article" for the country, but he also wrote every now and then—a dignity to which I never attained—a "special" for London. His "descriptive articles" were more political than mine, and he was obliged to be violently Tory. His creed, however, was such a pure piece of professionalism, that though I was Radical, and was expected to be so, we never jarred, and often, as we wandered homewards, we exchanged notes, and were mutually useful, his observations appearing in my paper, and mine in his, with proper modifications. How he used to roar in the Gazette against the opposite party, and yet I never heard anything from him myself but what was diffident and tender. He had acquired, as an instrument necessary to him, an extraordinarily extravagant style, and he laid about him with a bludgeon, which inevitably descended on the heads of all prominent persons if they happened not to be Conservative, no matter what their virtues might be. One peculiarity, however, I noted in him. Although he ought every now and then, when the subject was uppermost, to have flamed out in the Gazette on behalf of the Church, I never saw a word from him on that subject. He drew the line at religion. He did not mind acting his part in things secular, for his performances were, I am sure, mostly histrionic, but there he stopped. The unreality of his character was a husk surrounding him, but it did not touch the core. It was as if he had said to himself, "Political controversy is nothing to me, and, what is more, is so uncertain that it matters little whether I say yes or no, nor indeed does it matter if I say yes AND no, and I must keep my wife and children from the workhouse; but when it comes to the relationship of man to God, it is a different matter." His altogether outside vehemence and hypocrisy did in fact react upon him, and so far from affecting harmfully what lay deeper, produced a more complete sincerity and transparency extending even to the finest verbal distinctions. Over and over again have I heard him preach to his wife, almost with pathos, the duty of perfect exactitude in speech in describing the commonest occurrences. "Now, my dear, IS that so?" was a perpetual remonstrance with him; and he always insisted upon it that there is no training more necessary for children than that of teaching them not merely to speak the truth in the ordinary, vulgar sense of the term, but to speak it in a much higher sense, by rigidly compelling, point by point, a correspondence of the words with the fact external or internal. He never would tolerate in his own children a mere hackneyed, borrowed expression, but demanded exact portraiture; and nothing vexed him more than to hear one of them spoil and make worthless what he or she had seen, by reporting it in some stale phrase which had been used by everybody. This refusal to take the trouble to watch the presentment to the mind of anything which had been placed before it, and to reproduce it in its own lines and colours was, as he said, nothing but falsehood, and he maintained that the principal reason why people are so uninteresting is not that they have nothing to say. It is rather that they will not face the labour of saying in their own tongue what they have to say, but cover it up and conceal it in commonplace, so that we get, not what they themselves behold and what they think, but a hieroglyphic or symbol invented as the representative of a certain class of objects or emotions, and as inefficient to represent a particular object or emotion as x or y to set forth the relation of Hamlet to Ophelia. He would even exercise his children in this art of the higher truthfulness, and would purposely make them give him an account of something which he had seen and they had seen, checking them the moment he saw a lapse from originality. Such was the Tory correspondent of the Gazette.

I ought to say, by way of apology for him, that in his day it signified little or nothing whether Tory or Whig was in power. Politics had not become what they will one day become, a matter of life or death, dividing men with really private love and hate. What a mockery controversy was in the House! How often I have seen members, who were furious at one another across the floor, quietly shaking hands outside, and inviting one another to dinner! I have heard them say that we ought to congratulate ourselves that parliamentary differences do not in this country breed personal animosities. To me this seemed anything but a subject of congratulation. Men who are totally at variance ought not to be friends, and if Radical and Tory are not totally, but merely superficially at variance, so much the worse for their Radicalism and Toryism.

It is possible, and even probable, that the public fury and the subsequent amity were equally absurd. Most of us have no real loves and no real hatreds. Blessed is love, less blessed is hatred, but thrice accursed is that indifference which is neither one nor the other, the muddy mess which men call friendship.

M'Kay—for that was his name—lived, as I have said, in Goodge Street, where he had unfurnished apartments. I often spent part of the Sunday with him, and I may forestall obvious criticism by saying that I do not pretend for a moment to defend myself from inconsistency in denouncing members of Parliament for their duplicity, M'Kay and myself being also guilty of something very much like it. But there was this difference between us and our parliamentary friends, that we always divested ourselves of all hypocrisy when we were alone. We then dropped the stage costume which members continued to wear in the streets and at the dinner- table, and in which some of them even slept and said their prayers.

London Sundays to persons who are not attached to any religious community, and have no money to spend, are rather dreary. We tried several ways of getting through the morning. If we heard that there was a preacher with a reputation, we went to hear him. As a rule, however, we got no good in that way. Once we came to a chapel where there was a minister supposed to be one of the greatest orators of the day. We had much difficulty in finding standing room. Just as we entered we heard him say, "My friends, I appeal to those of you who are parents. You know that if you say to a child 'go,' he goeth, and if you say 'come,' he cometh. So the Lord"—But at this point M'Kay, who had children, nudged me to come out; and out we went. Why does this little scene remain with me? I can hardly say, but here it stands. It is remembered, not so much by reason of the preacher as by reason of the apparent acquiescence and admiration of the audience, who seemed to be perfectly willing to take over an experience from their pastor—if indeed it was really an experience— which was not their own. Our usual haunts on Sunday were naturally the parks and Kensington Gardens; but artificial limited enclosures are apt to become wearisome after a time, and we longed for a little more freedom if a little less trim. So we would stroll towards Hampstead or Highgate, the only drawback to these regions being the squalid, ragged, half town, half suburb, through which it was necessary to pass. The skirts of London when the air is filled with north-easterly soot, grit, and filth, are cheerless, and the least cheerful part of the scene is the inability of the vast wandering masses of people to find any way of amusing themselves. At the corner of one of the fields in Kentish Town, just about to be devoured, stood a public-house, and opposite the door was generally encamped a man who sold nothing but Brazil nuts. Swarms of people lazily wandered past him, most of them waiting for the public-house to open. Brazil nuts on a cold black Sunday morning are not exhilarating, but the costermonger found many customers who bought his nuts, and ate them, merely because they had nothing better to do. We went two or three times to a freethinking hall, where we were entertained with demonstrations of the immorality of the patriarchs and Jewish heroes, and arguments to prove that the personal existence of the devil was a myth, the audience breaking out into uproarious laughter at comical delineations of Noah and Jonah. One morning we found the place completely packed. A "celebrated Christian," as he was described to us, having heard of the hall, had volunteered to engage in debate on the claims of the Old Testament to Divine authority. He turned out to be a preacher whom we knew quite well. He was introduced by his freethinking antagonist, who claimed for him a respectful hearing. The preacher said that before beginning he should like to "engage in prayer." Accordingly he came to the front of the platform, lifted up his eyes, told God why he was there, and besought Him to bless the discussion in the conversion "of these poor wandering souls, who have said in their hearts that there is no God, to a saving faith in Him and in the blood of Christ." I expected that some resentment would be displayed when the wandering souls found themselves treated like errant sheep, but to my surprise they listened with perfect silence; and when he had said "Amen," there were great clappings of hands, and cries of "Bravo." They evidently considered the prayer merely as an elocutionary show-piece. The preacher was much disconcerted, but he recovered himself, and began his sermon, for it was nothing more. He enlarged on the fact that men of the highest eminence had believed in the Old Testament. Locke and Newton had believed in it, and did it not prove arrogance in us to doubt when the "gigantic intellect which had swept the skies, and had announced the law which bound the universe together was satisfied?" The witness of the Old Testament to the New was another argument, but his main reliance was upon the prophecies. From Adam to Isaiah there was a continuous prefigurement of Christ. Christ was the point to which everything tended; and "now, my friends," he said, "I cannot sit down without imploring you to turn your eyes on Him who never yet repelled the sinner, to wash in that eternal Fountain ever open for the remission of sins, and to flee from the wrath to come. I believe the sacred symbol of the cross has not yet lost its efficacy. For eighteen hundred years, whenever it has been exhibited to the sons of men, it has been potent to reclaim and save them. 'I, if I be lifted up,' cried the Great Sufferer, 'will draw all men unto Me,' and He has drawn not merely the poor and ignorant but the philosopher and the sage. Oh, my brethren, think what will happen if you reject Him. I forbear to paint your doom. And think again, on the other hand, of the bliss which awaits you if you receive Him, of the eternal companionship with the Most High and with the spirits of just men made perfect." His hearers again applauded vigorously, and none less so than their appointed leader, who was to follow on the other side. He was a little man with small eyes; his shaven face was dark with a black beard lurking under the skin, and his nose was slightly turned up. He was evidently a trained debater who had practised under railway arches, discussion "forums," and in the classes promoted by his sect. He began by saying that he could not compliment his friend who had just sat down on the inducements which he had offered them to become Christians. The New Cut was not a nice place on a wet day, but he had rather sit at a stall there all day long with his feet on a basket than lie in the bosom of some of the just men made perfect portrayed in the Bible. Nor, being married, should he feel particularly at ease if he had to leave his wife with David. David certainly ought to have got beyond all that kind of thing, considering it must be over 3000 years since he first saw Bathsheba; but we are told that the saints are for ever young in heaven, and this treacherous villain, who would have been tried by a jury of twelve men and hung outside Newgate if he had lived in the nineteenth century, might be dangerous now. He was an amorous old gentleman up to the very last. (Roars of laughter.) Nor did the speaker feel particularly anxious to be shut up with all the bishops, who of course are amongst the elect, and on their departure from this vale of tears tempered by ten thousand a year, are duly supplied with wings. Much more followed in the same strain upon the immorality of the Bible heroes, their cruelty, and the cruelty of the God who sanctioned it. Then followed a clever exposition of the inconsistencies of the Old Testament history, the impossibility of any reference to Jesus therein, and a really earnest protest against the quibbling by which those who believed in the Bible as a revelation sought to reconcile it with science. "Finally," said the speaker, "I am sure we all of us will pass a vote of thanks to our reverend friend for coming to see us, and we cordially invite him to come again. If I might be allowed to offer a suggestion, it would be that he should make himself acquainted with our case before he pays us another visit, and not suppose that we are to be persuaded with the rhetoric which may do very well for the young women of his congregation, but won't go down here." This was fair and just, for the eminent Christian was nothing but an ordinary minister, who, when he was prepared for his profession, had never been allowed to see what are the historical difficulties of Christianity, lest he should be overcome by them. On the other hand, his sceptical opponents were almost devoid of the faculty for appreciating the great remains of antiquity, and would probably have considered the machinery of the Prometheus Bound or of the Iliad a sufficient reason for a sneer. That they should spend their time in picking the Bible to pieces when there was so much positive work for them to do, seemed to me as melancholy as if they had spent themselves upon theology. To waste a Sunday morning in ridiculing such stories as that of Jonah was surely as imbecile as to waste it in proving their verbal veracity.



CHAPTER II—M'KAY



It was foggy and overcast as we walked home to Goodge Street. The churches and chapels were emptying themselves, but the great mass of the population had been "nowhere." I had dinner with M'Kay, and as the day wore on the fog thickened. London on a dark Sunday afternoon, more especially about Goodge Street, is depressing. The inhabitants drag themselves hither and thither in languor and uncertainty. Small mobs loiter at the doors of the gin palaces. Costermongers wander aimlessly, calling "walnuts" with a cry so melancholy that it sounds as the wail of the hopelessly lost may be imagined to sound when their anguish has been deadened by the monotony of a million years.

About two or three o'clock decent working men in their best clothes emerge from the houses in such streets as Nassau Street. It is part of their duty to go out after dinner on Sunday with the wife and children. The husband pushes the perambulator out of the dingy passage, and gazes doubtfully this way and that way, not knowing whither to go, and evidently longing for the Monday, when his work, however disagreeable it may be, will be his plain duty. The wife follows carrying a child, and a boy and girl in unaccustomed apparel walk by her side. They come out into Mortimer Street. There are no shops open; the sky over their heads is mud, the earth is mud under their feet, the muddy houses stretch in long rows, black, gaunt, uniform. The little party reach Hyde Park, also wrapped in impenetrable mud-grey. The man's face brightens for a moment as he says, "It is time to go back," and so they return, without the interchange of a word, unless perhaps they happen to see an omnibus horse fall down on the greasy stones. What is there worth thought or speech on such an expedition? Nothing! The tradesman who kept the oil and colour establishment opposite to us was not to be tempted outside. It was a little more comfortable than Nassau Street, and, moreover, he was religious and did not encourage Sabbath-breaking. He and his family always moved after their mid-day Sabbath repast from the little back room behind the shop up to what they called the drawing-room overhead. It was impossible to avoid seeing them every time we went to the window. The father of the family, after his heavy meal, invariably sat in the easy-chair with a handkerchief over his eyes and slept. The children were always at the windows, pretending to read books, but in reality watching the people below. At about four o'clock their papa generally awoke, and demanded a succession of hymn tunes played on the piano. When the weather permitted, the lower sash was opened a little, and the neighbours were indulged with the performance of "Vital Spark," the father "coming in" now and then with a bass note or two at the end where he was tolerably certain of the harmony. At five o'clock a prophecy of the incoming tea brought us some relief from the contemplation of the landscape or brick-scape. I say "some relief," for meals at M'Kay's were a little disagreeable. His wife was an honest, good little woman, but so much attached to him and so dependent on him that she was his mere echo. She had no opinions which were not his, and whenever he said anything which went beyond the ordinary affairs of the house, she listened with curious effort, and generally responded by a weakened repetition of M'Kay's own observations. He perpetually, therefore, had before him an enfeebled reflection of himself, and this much irritated him, notwithstanding his love for her; for who could help loving a woman who, without the least hesitation, would have opened her veins at his command, and have given up every drop of blood in her body for him? Over and over again I have heard him offer some criticism on a person or event, and the customary chime of approval would ensue, provoking him to such a degree that he would instantly contradict himself with much bitterness, leaving poor Mrs. M'Kay in much perplexity. Such a shot as this generally reduced her to timid silence. As a rule, he always discouraged any topic at his house which was likely to serve as an occasion for showing his wife's dependence on him. He designedly talked about her household affairs, asked her whether she had mended his clothes and ordered the coals. She knew that these things were not what was upon his mind, and she answered him in despairing tones, which showed how much she felt the obtrusive condescension to her level. I greatly pitied her, and sometimes, in fact, my emotion at the sight of her struggles with her limitations almost overcame me and I was obliged to get up and go. She was childishly affectionate. If M'Kay came in and happened to go up to her and kiss her, her face brightened into the sweetest and happiest smile. I recollect once after he had been unusually annoyed with her he repented just as he was leaving home, and put his lips to her head, holding it in both his hands. I saw her gently take the hand from her forehead and press it to her mouth, the tears falling down her cheek meanwhile. Nothing would ever tempt her to admit anything against her husband. M'Kay was violent and unjust at times. His occupation he hated, and his restless repugnance to it frequently discharged itself indifferently upon everything which came in his way. His children often thought him almost barbarous, but in truth he did not actually see them when he was in one of these moods. What was really present with him, excluding everything else, was the sting of something more than usually repulsive of which they knew nothing. Mrs. M'Kay's answer to her children's remonstrances when they were alone with her always was, "He is so worried," and she invariably dwelt upon their faults which had given him the opportunity for his wrath.

I think M'Kay's treatment of her wholly wrong. I think that he ought not to have imposed himself upon her so imperiously. I think he ought to have striven to ascertain what lay concealed in that modest heart, to have encouraged its expression and development, to have debased himself before her that she might receive courage to rise, and he would have found that she had something which he had not; not HIS something perhaps, but something which would have made his life happier. As it was, he stood upon his own ground above her. If she could reach him, well and good, if not, the helping hand was not proffered, and she fell back, hopeless. Later on he discovered his mistake. She became ill very gradually, and M'Kay began to see in the distance a prospect of losing her. A frightful pit came in view. He became aware that he could not do without her. He imagined what his home would have been with other women whom he knew, and he confessed that with them he would have been less contented. He acknowledged that he had been guilty of a kind of criminal epicurism; that he rejected in foolish, fatal, nay, even wicked indifference, the bread of life upon which he might have lived and thriven. His whole effort now was to suppress himself in his wife. He read to her, a thing he never did before, and when she misunderstood, he patiently explained; he took her into his counsels and asked her opinion; he abandoned his own opinion for hers, and in the presence of her children he always deferred to her, and delighted to acknowledge that she knew more than he did, that she was right and he was wrong. She was now confined to her house, and the end was near, but this was the most blessed time of her married life. She grew under the soft rain of his loving care, and opened out, not, indeed, into an oriental flower, rich in profound mystery of scent and colour, but into a blossom of the chalk-down. Altogether concealed and closed she would have remained if it had not been for this beneficent and heavenly gift poured upon her. He had just time enough to see what she really was, and then she died. There are some natures that cannot unfold under pressure or in the presence of unregarding power. Hers was one. They require a clear space round them, the removal of everything which may overmaster them, and constant delicate attention. They require too a recognition of the fact, which M'Kay for a long time did not recognise, that it is folly to force them and to demand of them that they shall be what they cannot be. I stood by the grave this morning of my poor, pale, clinging little friend now for some years at peace, and I thought that the tragedy of Promethean torture or Christ-like crucifixion may indeed be tremendous, but there is a tragedy too in the existence of a soul like hers, conscious of its feebleness and ever striving to overpass it, ever aware that it is an obstacle to the return of the affection of the man whom she loves.

Meals, as I have said, were disagreeable at M'Kay's, and when we wanted to talk we went out of doors. The evening after our visit to the debating hall we moved towards Portland Place, and walked up and down there for an hour or more. M'Kay had a passionate desire to reform the world. The spectacle of the misery of London, and of the distracted swaying hither and thither of the multitudes who inhabit it, tormented him incessantly. He always chafed at it, and he never seemed sure that he had a right to the enjoyment of the simplest pleasures so long as London was before him. What a farce, he would cry, is all this poetry, philosophy, art, and culture, when millions of wretched mortals are doomed to the eternal darkness and crime of the city! Here are the educated classes occupying themselves with exquisite emotions, with speculations upon the Infinite, with addresses to flowers, with the worship of waterfalls and flying clouds, and with the incessant portraiture of a thousand moods and variations of love, while their neighbours lie grovelling in the mire, and never know anything more of life or its duties than is afforded them by a police report in a bit of newspaper picked out of the kennel. We went one evening to hear a great violin-player, who played such music, and so exquisitely, that the limits of life were removed. But we had to walk up the Haymarket home, between eleven and twelve o'clock, and the violin-playing became the merest trifling. M'Kay had been brought up upon the Bible. He had before him, not only there, but in the history of all great religious movements, a record of the improvement of the human race, or of large portions of it, not merely by gradual civilisation, but by inspiration spreading itself suddenly. He could not get it out of his head that something of this kind is possible again in our time. He longed to try for himself in his own poor way in one of the slums about Drury Lane. I sympathised with him, but I asked him what he had to say. I remember telling him that I had been into St. Paul's Cathedral, and that I pictured to myself the cathedral full, and myself in the pulpit. I was excited while imagining the opportunity offered me of delivering some message to three or four thousand persons in such a building, but in a minute or two I discovered that my sermon would be very nearly as follows: "Dear friends, I know no more than you know; we had better go home." I admitted to him that if he could believe in hell-fire, or if he could proclaim the Second Advent, as Paul did to the Thessalonians, and get people to believe, he might change their manners, but otherwise he could do nothing but resort to a much slower process. With the departure of a belief in the supernatural departs once and for ever the chance of regenerating the race except by the school and by science. {2} However, M'Kay thought he would try. His earnestness was rather a hindrance than a help to him, for it prevented his putting certain important questions to himself, or at any rate it prevented his waiting for distinct answers. He recurred to the apostles and Bunyan, and was convinced that it was possible even now to touch depraved men and women with an idea which should recast their lives. So it is that the main obstacle to our success is a success which has preceded us. We instinctively follow the antecedent form, and consequently we either pass by, or deny altogether, the life of our own time, because its expression has changed. We never do practically believe that the Messiah is not incarnated twice in the same flesh. He came as Jesus, and we look for Him as Jesus now, overlooking the manifestation of to-day, and dying, perhaps, without recognising it.

M'Kay had found a room near Parker Street, Drury Lane, in which he proposed to begin, and that night, as we trod the pavement of Portland Place, he propounded his plans to me, I listening without much confidence, but loth nevertheless to take the office of Time upon myself, and to disprove what experience would disprove more effectually. His object was nothing less than gradually to attract Drury Lane to come and be saved.

The first Sunday I went with him to the room. As we walked over the Drury Lane gratings of the cellars a most foul stench came up, and one in particular I remember to this day. A man half dressed pushed open a broken window beneath us, just as we passed by, and there issued such a blast of corruption, made up of gases bred by filth, air breathed and rebreathed a hundred times, charged with odours of unnameable personal uncleanness and disease, that I staggered to the gutter with a qualm which I could scarcely conquer. At the doors of the houses stood grimy women with their arms folded and their hair disordered. Grimier boys and girls had tied a rope to broken railings, and were swinging on it. The common door to a score of lodgings stood ever open, and the children swarmed up and down the stairs carrying with them patches of mud every time they came in from the street. The wholesome practice which amongst the decent poor marks off at least one day in the week as a day on which there is to be a change; when there is to be some attempt to procure order and cleanliness; a day to be preceded by soap and water, by shaving, and by as many clean clothes as can be procured, was unknown here. There was no break in the uniformity of squalor; nor was it even possible for any single family to emerge amidst such altogether suppressive surroundings. All self-respect, all effort to do anything more than to satisfy somehow the grossest wants, had departed. The shops were open; most of them exhibiting a most miscellaneous collection of goods, such as bacon cut in slices, fire-wood, a few loaves of bread, and sweetmeats in dirty bottles. Fowls, strange to say, black as the flagstones, walked in and out of these shops, or descended into the dark areas. The undertaker had not put up his shutters. He had drawn down a yellow blind, on which was painted a picture of a suburban cemetery. Two funerals, the loftiest effort of his craft, were depicted approaching the gates. When the gas was alight behind the blind, an effect was produced which was doubtless much admired. He also displayed in his window a model coffin, a work of art. It was about a foot long, varnished, studded with little brass nails, and on the lid was fastened a rustic cross stretching from end to end. The desire to decorate existence in some way or other with more or less care is nearly universal. The most sensual and the meanest almost always manifest an indisposition to be content with mere material satisfaction. I have known selfish, gluttonous, drunken men spend their leisure moments in trimming a bed of scarlet geraniums, and the vulgarest and most commonplace of mortals considers it a necessity to put a picture in the room or an ornament on the mantelpiece. The instinct, even in its lowest forms, is divine. It is the commentary on the text that man shall not live by bread alone. It is evidence of an acknowledged compulsion—of which art is the highest manifestation—to ESCAPE. In the alleys behind Drury Lane this instinct, the very salt of life, was dead, crushed out utterly, a symptom which seemed to me ominous, and even awful to the last degree. The only house in which it survived was in that of the undertaker, who displayed the willows, the black horses, and the coffin. These may have been nothing more than an advertisement, but from the care with which the cross was elaborated, and the neatness with which it was made to resemble a natural piece of wood, I am inclined to believe that the man felt some pleasure in his work for its own sake, and that he was not utterly submerged. The cross in such dens as these, or, worse than dens, in such sewers! If it be anything, it is a symbol of victory, of power to triumph over resistance, and even death. Here was nothing but sullen subjugation, the most grovelling slavery, mitigated only by a tendency to mutiny. Here was a strength of circumstance to quell and dominate which neither Jesus nor Paul could have overcome—worse a thousandfold than Scribes or Pharisees, or any form of persecution. The preaching of Jesus would have been powerless here; in fact, no known stimulus, nothing ever held up before men to stir the soul to activity, can do anything in the back streets of great cities so long as they are the cesspools which they are now.

We came to the room. About a score of M'Kay's own friends were there, and perhaps half-a-dozen outsiders, attracted by the notice which had been pasted on a board at the entrance. M'Kay announced his errand. The ignorance and misery of London he said were intolerable to him. He could not take any pleasure in life when he thought upon them. What could he do? that was the question. He was not a man of wealth. He could not buy up these hovels. He could not force an entrance into them and persuade their inhabitants to improve themselves. He had no talents wherewith to found a great organisation or create public opinion. He had determined, after much thought, to do what he was now doing. It was very little, but it was all he could undertake. He proposed to keep this room open as a place to which those who wished might resort at different times, and find some quietude, instruction, and what fortifying thoughts he could collect to enable men to endure their almost unendurable sufferings. He did not intend to teach theology. Anything which would be serviceable he would set forth, but in the main he intended to rely on holding up the examples of those who were greater than ourselves and were our redeemers. He meant to teach Christ in the proper sense of the word. Christ now is admired probably more than He had ever been. Everybody agrees to admire Him, but where are the people who really do what He did? There is no religion now-a-days. Religion is a mere literature. Cultivated persons sit in their studies and write overflowingly about Jesus, or meet at parties and talk about Him; but He is not of much use to me unless I say to myself, HOW IS IT WITH THEE? unless I myself become what He was. This was the meaning of Jesus to the Apostle Paul. Jesus was in him; he had put on Jesus; that is to say, Jesus lived in him like a second soul, taking the place of his own soul and directing him accordingly. That was religion, and it is absurd to say that the English nation at this moment, or any section of it, is religious. Its educated classes are inhabited by a hundred minds. We are in a state of anarchy, each of us with a different aim and shaping himself according to a different type; while the uneducated classes are entirely given over to the "natural man." He was firmly persuaded that we need religion, poor and rich alike. We need some controlling influence to bind together our scattered energies. We do not know what we are doing. We read one book one day and another book another day, but it is idle wandering to right and left; it is not advancing on a straight road. It is not possible to bind ourselves down to a certain defined course, but still it is an enormous, an incalculable advantage for us to have some irreversible standard set up in us by which everything we meet is to be judged. That is the meaning of the prophecy—whether it will ever be fulfilled God only knows—that Christ shall judge the world. All religions have been this. They have said that in the midst of the infinitely possible—infinitely possible evil and infinitely possible good too—we become distracted. A thousand forces good and bad act upon us. It is necessary, if we are to be men, if we are to be saved, that we should be rescued from this tumult, and that our feet should be planted upon a path. His object, therefore, would be to preach Christ, as before said, and to introduce into human life His unifying influence. He would try and get them to see things with the eyes of Christ, to love with His love, to judge with His judgment. He believed Christ was fitted to occupy this place. He deliberately chose Christ as worthy to be our central, shaping force. He would try by degrees to prove this; to prove that Christ's way of dealing with life is the best way, and so to create a genuinely Christian spirit, which, when any choice of conduct is presented to us, will prompt us to ask first of all, HOW WOULD CHRIST HAVE IT? or, when men and things pass before us, will decide through him what we have to say about them. M'Kay added that he hoped his efforts would not be confined to talking. He trusted to be able, by means of this little meeting, gradually to gain admittance for himself and his friends into the houses of the poor and do some practical good. At present he had no organisation and no plans. He did not believe in organisation and plans preceding a clear conception of what was to be accomplished. Such, as nearly as I can now recollect, is an outline of his discourse. It was thoroughly characteristic of him. He always talked in this fashion. He was for ever insisting on the aimlessness of modern life, on the powerlessness of its vague activities to mould men into anything good, to restrain them from evil or moderate their passions, and he was possessed by a vision of a new Christianity which was to take the place of the old and dead theologies. I have reported him in my own language. He strove as much as he could to make his meaning plain to everybody. Just before he finished, three or four out of the half-a- dozen outsiders who were present whistled with all their might and ran down the stairs shouting to one another. As we went out they had collected about the door, and amused themselves by pushing one another against us, and kicking an old kettle behind us and amongst us all the way up the street, so that we were covered with splashes. Mrs. M'Kay went with us, and when we reached home, she tried to say something about what she had heard. The cloud came over her husband's face at once; he remained silent for a minute, and getting up and going to the window, observed that it ought to be cleaned, and that he could hardly see the opposite house. The poor woman looked distressed, and I was just about to come to her rescue by continuing what she had been saying, when she rose, not in anger, but in trouble, and went upstairs.



CHAPTER III—MISS LEROY



During the great French war there were many French prisoners in my native town. They led a strange isolated life, for they knew nothing of our language, nor, in those days, did three people in the town understand theirs. The common soldiers amused themselves by making little trifles and selling them. I have now before me a box of coloured straw with the date 1799 on the bottom, which was bought by my grandfather. One of these prisoners was an officer named Leroy. Why he did not go back to France I never heard, but I know that before I was born he was living near our house on a small income; that he tried to teach French, and that he had as his companion a handsome daughter who grew up speaking English. What she was like when she was young I cannot say, but I have had her described to me over and over again. She had rather darkish brown hair, and she was tall and straight as an arrow. This she was, by the way, even into old age. She surprised, shocked, and attracted all the sober persons in our circle. Her ways were not their ways. She would walk out by herself on a starry night without a single companion, and cause thereby infinite talk, which would have converged to a single focus if it had not happened that she was also in the habit of walking out at four o'clock on a summer's morning, and that in the church porch of a little village not far from us, which was her favourite resting- place, a copy of the De Imitatione Christi was found which belonged to her. So the talk was scattered again and its convergence prevented. She used to say doubtful things about love. One of them struck my mother with horror. Miss Leroy told a male person once, and told him to his face, that if she loved him and he loved her, and they agreed to sign one another's foreheads with a cross as a ceremony, it would be as good to her as marriage. This may seem a trifle, but nobody now can imagine what was thought of it at the time it was spoken. My mother repeated it every now and then for fifty years. It may be conjectured how easily any other girls of our acquaintance would have been classified, and justly classified, if they had uttered such barefaced Continental immorality. Miss Leroy's neighbours were remarkably apt at classifying their fellow-creatures. They had a few, a very few holes, into which they dropped their neighbours, and they must go into one or the other. Nothing was more distressing than a specimen which, notwithstanding all the violence which might be used to it, would not fit into a hole, but remained an exception. Some lout, I believe, reckoning on the legitimacy of his generalisation, and having heard of this and other observations accredited to Miss Leroy, ventured to be slightly rude to her. What she said to him was never known, but he was always shy afterwards of mentioning her name, and when he did he was wont to declare that she was "a rum un." She was not particular, I have heard, about personal tidiness, and this I can well believe, for she was certainly not distinguished when I knew her for this virtue. She cared nothing for the linen-closet, the spotless bed-hangings, and the bright poker, which were the true household gods of the respectable women of those days. She would have been instantly set down as "slut," and as having "nasty dirty forrin ways," if a peculiar habit of hers had not unfortunately presented itself, most irritating to her critics, so anxious promptly to gratify their philosophic tendency towards scientific grouping. Mrs. Mobbs, who lived next door to her, averred that she always slept with the window open. Mrs. Mobbs, like everybody else, never opened her window except to "air the room." Mrs. Mobbs' best bedroom was carpeted all over, and contained a great four-post bedstead, hung round with heavy hangings, and protected at the top from draughts by a kind of firmament of white dimity. Mrs. Mobbs stuffed a sack of straw up the chimney of the fireplace, to prevent the fall of the "sutt," as she called it. Mrs. Mobbs, if she had a visitor, gave her a hot supper, and expected her immediately afterwards to go upstairs, draw the window curtains, get into this bed, draw the bed curtains also, and wake up the next morning "bilious." This was the proper thing to do. Miss Leroy's sitting- room was decidedly disorderly; the chairs were dusty; "yer might write yer name on the table," Mrs. Mobbs declared; but, nevertheless, the casement was never closed night nor day; and, moreover, Miss Leroy was believed by the strongest circumstantial evidence to wash herself all over every morning, a habit which Mrs. Mobbs thought "weakening," and somehow connected with ethical impropriety. When Miss Leroy was married, and first as an elderly woman became known to me, she was very inconsequential in her opinions, or at least appeared so to our eyes. She must have been much more so when she was younger. In our town we were all formed upon recognised patterns, and those who possessed any one mark of the pattern, had all. The wine-merchant, for example, who went to church, eminently respectable, Tory, by no means associating with the tradesfolk who displayed their goods in the windows, knowing no "experience," and who had never felt the outpouring of the Spirit, was a specimen of a class like him. Another class was represented by the dissenting ironmonger, deacon, presiding at prayer-meetings, strict Sabbatarian, and believer in eternal punishments; while a third was set forth by "Guffy," whose real name was unknown, who got drunk, unloaded barges, assisted at the municipal elections, and was never once seen inside a place of worship. These patterns had existed amongst us from the dimmest antiquity, and were accepted as part of the eternal order of things; so much so, that the deacon, although he professed to be sure that nobody who had not been converted would escape the fire—and the wine-merchant certainly had not been converted—was very far from admitting to himself that the wine-merchant ought to be converted, or that it would be proper to try and convert him. I doubt, indeed, whether our congregation would have been happy, or would have thought any the better of him, if he had left the church. Such an event, however, could no more come within the reach of our vision than a reversal of the current of our river. It would have broken up our foundations and party-walls, and would have been considered as ominous, and anything but a subject for thankfulness. But Miss Leroy was not the wine-merchant, nor the ironmonger, nor Guffy, and even now I cannot trace the hidden centre of union from which sprang so much that was apparently irreconcilable. She was a person whom nobody could have created in writing a novel, because she was so inconsistent. As I have said before, she studied Thomas a Kempis, and her little French Bible was brown with constant use. But then she read much fiction in which there were scenes which would have made our hair stand on end. The only thing she constantly abhorred in books was what was dull and opaque. Yet, as we shall see presently, her dislike to dulness, once at least in her life, notably failed her. She was not Catholic, and professed herself Protestant, but such a Protestantism! She had no sceptical doubts. She believed implicitly that the Bible was the Word of God, and that everything in it was true, but her interpretation of it was of the strangest kind. Almost all our great doctrines seemed shrunk to nothing in her eyes, while others, which were nothing to us, were all-important to her. The atonement, for instance, I never heard her mention, but Unitarianism was hateful to her, and Jesus was her God in every sense of the word. On the other hand, she was partly Pagan, for she knew very little of that consideration for the feeble, and even for the foolish, which is the glory of Christianity. She was rude to foolish people, and she instinctively kept out of the way of all disease and weakness, so that in this respect she was far below the commonplace tradesman's wife, who visited the sick, sat up with them, and, in fact, never seemed so completely in her element as when she could be with anybody who was ill in bed.

Miss Leroy's father was republican, and so was my grandfather. My grandfather and old Leroy were the only people in our town who refused to illuminate when a victory was gained over the French. Leroy's windows were spared on the ground that he was not a Briton, but the mob endeavoured to show my grandfather the folly of his belief in democracy by smashing every pane of glass in front of his house with stones. This drew him and Leroy together, and the result was, that although Leroy himself never set foot inside any chapel or church, Miss Leroy was often induced to attend our meeting-house in company with a maiden aunt of mine, who rather "took to her." Now comes the for ever mysterious passage in history. There was amongst the attendants at that meeting-house a young man who was apprentice to a miller. He was a big, soft, quiet, plump-faced, awkward youth, very good, but nothing more. He wore on Sunday a complete suit of light pepper-and-salt clothes, and continued to wear pepper-and-salt on Sunday all his life. He taught in the Sunday-school, and afterwards, as he got older, he was encouraged to open his lips at a prayer-meeting, and to "take the service" in the village chapels on Sunday evening. He was the most singularly placid, even-tempered person I ever knew. I first became acquainted with him when I was a child and he was past middle life. What he was then, I am told, he always was; and I certainly never heard one single violent word escape his lips. His habits, even when young, had a tendency to harden. He went to sleep after his mid-day dinner with the greatest regularity, and he never could keep awake if he sat by a fire after dark. I have seen him, when kneeling at family worship and praying with his family, lose himself for an instant and nod his head, to the confusion of all who were around him. He is dead now, but he lived to a good old age, which crept upon him gradually with no pain, and he passed away from this world to the next in a peaceful doze. He never read anything, for the simple reason that whenever he was not at work or at chapel he slumbered. To the utter amazement of everybody, it was announced one fine day that Miss Leroy and he— George Butts—were to be married. They were about the last people in the world, who, it was thought, could be brought together. My mother was stunned, and never completely recovered. I have seen her, forty years after George Butts' wedding-day, lift up her hands, and have heard her call out with emotion, as fresh as if the event were of yesterday, "What made that girl have George I can NOT think—but there!" What she meant by the last two words we could not comprehend. Many of her acquaintances interpreted them to mean that she knew more than she dared communicate, but I think they were mistaken. I am quite certain if she had known anything she must have told it, and, in the next place, the phrase "but there" was not uncommon amongst women in our town, and was supposed to mark the consciousness of a prudently restrained ability to give an explanation of mysterious phenomena in human relationships. For my own part, I am just as much in the dark as my mother. My father, who was a shrewd man, was always puzzled, and could not read the riddle. He used to say that he never thought George could have "made up" to any young woman, and it was quite clear that Miss Leroy did not either then or afterwards display any violent affection for him. I have heard her criticise and patronise him as a "good soul," but incapable, as indeed he was, of all sympathy with her. After marriage she went her way and he his. She got up early, as she was wont to do, and took her Bible into the fields while he was snoring. She would then very likely suffer from a terrible headache during the rest of the day, and lie down for hours, letting the house manage itself as best it could. What made her selection of George more obscure was that she was much admired by many young fellows, some of whom were certainly more akin to her than he was; and I have heard from one or two reports of encouraging words, and even something more than words, which she had vouchsafed to them. A solution is impossible. The affinities, repulsions, reasons in a nature like that of Miss Leroy's are so secret and so subtle, working towards such incalculable and not-to-be-predicted results, that to attempt to make a major and minor premiss and an inevitable conclusion out of them would be useless. One thing was clear, that by marrying George she gained great freedom. If she had married anybody closer to her, she might have jarred with him; there might have been collision and wreck as complete as if they had been entirely opposed; for she was not the kind of person to accommodate herself to others even in the matter of small differences. But George's road through space lay entirely apart from hers, and there was not the slightest chance of interference. She was under the protection of a husband; she could do things that, as an unmarried woman, especially in a foreign land, she could not do, and the compensatory sacrifice to her was small. This is really the only attempt at elucidation I can give. She went regularly all her life to chapel with George, but even when he became deacon, and "supplied" the villages round, she never would join the church as a member. She never agreed with the minister, and he never could make anything out of her. They did not quarrel, but she thought nothing of his sermons, and he was perplexed and uncomfortable in the presence of a nondescript who did not respond to any dogmatic statement of the articles of religion, and who yet could not be put aside as "one of those in the gallery"—that is to say, as one of the ordinary unconverted, for she used to quote hymns with amazing fervour, and she quoted them to him with a freedom and a certain superiority which he might have expected from an aged brother minister, but certainly not from one of his own congregation. He was a preacher of the Gospel, it was true; and it was his duty, a duty on which he insisted, to be "instant in season and out of season" in saying spiritual things to his flock; but then they were things proper, decent, conventional, uttered with gravity at suitable times- -such as were customary amongst all the ministers of the denomination. It was not pleasant to be outbid in his own department, especially by one who was not a communicant, and to be obliged, when he went on a pastoral visit to a house in which Mrs. Butts happened to be, to sit still and hear her, regardless of the minister's presence, conclude a short mystical monologue with Cowper's verse -

"Exults our rising soul, Disburdened of her load, And swells unutterably full Of glory and of God."

This was NOT pleasant to our minister, nor was it pleasant to the minister's wife. But George Butts held a responsible position in our community, and the minister's wife held also a responsible position, so that she taxed all her ingenuity to let her friends understand at tea-parties what she thought of Mrs. Butts without saying anything which could be the ground of formal remonstrance. Thus did Mrs. Butts live among us, as an Arabian bird with its peculiar habits, cries, and plumage might live in one of our barn-yards with the ordinary barn-door fowls.

I was never happier when I was a boy than when I was with Mrs. Butts at the mill, which George had inherited. There was a grand freedom in her house. The front door leading into the garden was always open. There was no precise separation between the house and the mill. The business and the dwelling-place were mixed up together, and covered with flour. Mr. Butts was in the habit of walking out of his mill into the living-room every now and then, and never dreamed when one o'clock came that it was necessary for him to change his floury coat before he had his dinner. His cap he also often retained, and in any weather, not extraordinarily cold, he sat in his shirtsleeves. The garden was large and half-wild. A man from the mill, if work was slack, gave a day to it now and then, but it was not trimmed and raked and combed like the other gardens in the town. It was full of gooseberry trees, and I was permitted to eat the gooseberries without stint. The mill-life, too, was inexpressibly attractive—the dark chamber with the great, green, dripping wheel in it, so awfully mysterious as the central life of the whole structure; the machinery connected with the wheel—I knew not how; the hole where the roach lay by the side of the mill-tail in the eddy; the haunts of the water-rats which we used to hunt with Spot, the black and tan terrier, and the still more exciting sport with the ferrets— all this drew me down the lane perpetually. I liked, and even loved Mrs. Butts, too, for her own sake. Her kindness to me was unlimited, and she was never overcome with the fear of "spoiling me," which seemed the constant dread of most of my hostesses. I never lost my love for her. It grew as I grew, despite my mother's scarcely suppressed hostility to her, and when I heard she was ill, and was likely to die, I went to be with her. She was eighty years old then. I sat by her bedside with her hand in mine. I was there when she passed away, and—but I have no mind and no power to say any more, for all the memories of her affection and of the sunny days by the water come over me and prevent the calmness necessary for a chronicle. She with all her faults and eccentricities will always have in my heart a little chapel with an ever-burning light. She was one of the very very few whom I have ever seen who knew how to love a child.

Mrs. Butts and George had one son who was named Clement. He was exactly my own age, and naturally we were constant companions. We went to the same school. He never distinguished himself at his books, but he was chief among us. He had a versatile talent for almost every accomplishment in which we delighted, but he was not supreme in any one of them. There were better cricketers, better football players, better hands at setting a night-line, better swimmers than Clem, but he could do something, and do it well, in all these departments. He generally took up a thing with much eagerness for a time, and then let it drop. He was foremost in introducing new games and new fashions, which he permitted to flourish for a time, and then superseded. As he grew up he displayed a taste for drawing and music. He was soon able to copy little paintings of flowers, or even little country scenes, and to play a piece of no very great difficulty with tolerable effect. But as he never was taught by a master, and never practised elementary exercises and studies, he was deficient in accuracy. When the question came what was to be done with him after he left school, his father naturally wished him to go into the mill. Clem, however, set his face steadily against this project, and his mother, who was a believer in his genius, supported him. He actually wanted to go to the University, a thing unheard of in those days amongst our people; but this was not possible, and after dangling about for some time at home, he obtained the post of usher in a school, an occupation which he considered more congenial and intellectual than that of grinding flour. Strange to say, although he knew less than any of his colleagues, he succeeded better than any of them. He managed to impress a sense of his own importance upon everybody, including the headmaster. He slid into a position of superiority. above three or four colleagues who would have shamed him at an examination, and who uttered many a curse because they saw themselves surpassed and put in the shade by a stranger, who, they were confident, could hardly construct a hexameter. He never quarrelled with them nor did he grossly patronise them, but he always let them know that he considered himself above them. His reading was desultory; in fact, everything he did was desultory. He was not selfish in the ordinary sense of the word. Rather was he distinguished by a large and liberal open- handedness; but he was liberal also to himself to a remarkable degree, dressing himself expensively, and spending a good deal of money in luxuries. He was specially fond of insisting on his half French origin, made a great deal of his mother, was silent as to his father, and always signed himself C. Leroy Butts, although I don't believe the second Christian name was given him in baptism. Notwithstanding his generosity he was egotistical and hollow at heart. He knew nothing of friendship in the best sense of the word, but had a multitude of acquaintances, whom he invariably sought amongst those who were better off than himself. He was popular with them, for no man knew better than he how to get up an entertainment, or to make a success of an evening party. He had not been at his school for two years before he conceived the notion of setting up for himself. He had not a penny, but he borrowed easily what was wanted from somebody he knew, and in a twelvemonth more he had a dozen pupils. He took care to get the ablest subordinates he could find, and he succeeded in passing a boy for an open scholarship at Oxford, against two competitors prepared by the very man whom he had formerly served. After this he prospered greatly, and would have prospered still more, if his love of show and extravagance had not increased with his income. His talents were sometimes taxed when people who came to place their sons with him supposed ignorantly that his origin and attainments were what might be expected from his position; and poor Chalmers, a Glasgow M.A., who still taught, for 80 pounds a year, the third class in the establishment in which Butts began life, had some bitter stories on that subject. Chalmers was a perfect scholar, but he was not agreeable. He had black finger-nails, and wore dirty collars. Having a lively remembrance of his friend's "general acquaintance" with Latin prosody, Chalmers' opinion of Providence was much modified when he discovered what Providence was doing for Butts. Clem took to the Church when he started for himself. It would have been madness in him to remain a Dissenter. But in private, if it suited his purpose, he could always be airily sceptical, and he had a superficial acquaintance, second-hand, with a multitude of books, many of them of an infidel turn. I once rebuked him for his hypocrisy, and his defence was that religious disputes were indifferent to him, and that at any rate a man associates with gentlemen if he is a churchman. Cultivation and manners he thought to be of more importance than Calvinism. I believe that he partly meant what he said. He went to church because the school would have failed if he had gone to chapel; but he was sufficiently keen-sighted and clever to be beyond the petty quarrels of the sects, and a song well sung was of much greater moment to him than an essay on paedo- baptism. It was all very well of Chalmers to revile him for his shallowness. He was shallow, and yet he possessed in some mysterious way a talent which I greatly coveted, and which in this world is inestimably precious—the talent of making people give way before him—a capacity of self-impression. Chalmers could never have commanded anybody. He had no power whatever, even when he was right, to put his will against the wills of others, but yielded first this way and then the other. Clem, on the contrary, without any difficulty or any effort, could conquer all opposition, and smilingly force everybody to do his bidding.

Clem had a peculiar theory with regard to his own rights and those of the class to which he considered that he belonged. He always held implicitly and sometimes explicitly that gifted people live under a kind of dispensation of grace; the law existing solely for dull souls. What in a clown is a crime punishable by the laws of the land might in a man of genius be a necessary development, or at any rate an excusable offence. He had nothing to say for the servant-girl who had sinned with the shopman, but if artist or poet were to carry off another man's wife, it might not be wrong.

He believed, and acted upon the belief, that the inferior ought to render perpetual incense to the superior, and that the superior should receive it as a matter of course. When his father was ill he never waited on him or sat up a single night with him. If duty was disagreeable to him Clem paid homage to it afar off, but pleaded exemption. He admitted that waiting on the sick is obligatory on people who are fitted for it, and is very charming. Nothing was more beautiful to him than tender, filial care spending itself for a beloved object. But it was not his vocation. His nerves were more finely ordered than those of mankind generally, and the sight of disease and suffering distressed him too much. Everything was surrendered to him in the houses of his friends. If any inconvenience was to be endured, he was the first person to be protected from it, and he accepted the greatest sacrifices, with a graceful acknowledgment, it is true, but with no repulse. To what better purpose could the best wine be put than in cherishing his imagination. It was simple waste to allow it to be poured out upon the earth, and to give it to a fool was no better. After he succeeded so well in the world, Clem, to a great extent, deserted me, although I was his oldest friend and the friend of his childhood. I heard that he visited a good many rich persons, that he made much of them, and they made much of him. He kept up a kind of acquaintance with me, not by writing to me, but by the very cheap mode of sending me a newspaper now and then with a marked paragraph in it announcing the exploits of his school at a cricket-match, or occasionally with a report of a lecture which he had delivered. He was a decent orator, and from motives of business if from no other, he not unfrequently spoke in public. One or two of these lectures wounded me a good deal. There was one in particular on As You Like It, in which he held up to admiration the fidelity which is so remarkable in Shakespeare, and lamented that in these days it was so rare to find anything of the kind, he thought that we were becoming more indifferent to one another. He maintained, however, that man should be everything to man, and he then enlarged on the duty of really cultivating affection, of its superiority to books, and on the pleasure and profit of self-denial. I do not mean to accuse Clem of downright hypocrisy. I have known many persons come up from the country and go into raptures over a playhouse sun and moon who have never bestowed a glance or a thought on the real sun and moon to be seen from their own doors; and we are all aware it by no means follows because we are moved to our very depths by the spectacle of unrecognised, uncomplaining endurance in a novel, that therefore we can step over the road to waste an hour or a sixpence upon the unrecognised, uncomplaining endurance of the poor lone woman left a widow in the little villa there. I was annoyed with myself because Clem's abandonment of me so much affected me. I wished I could cut the rope and carelessly cast him adrift as he had cast me adrift, but I could not. I never could make out and cannot make out what was the secret of his influence over me; why I was unable to say, "If you do not care for me I do not care for you." I longed sometimes for complete rupture, so that we might know exactly where we were, but it never came. Gradually our intercourse grew thinner and thinner, until at last I heard that he had been spending a fortnight with some semi-aristocratic acquaintance within five miles of me, and during the whole of that time he never came near me. I met him in a railway station soon afterwards, when he came up to me effusive and apparently affectionate. "It was a real grief to me, my dear fellow," he said, "that I could not call on you last month, but the truth was I was so driven: they would make me go here and go there, and I kept putting off my visit to you till it was too late." Fortunately my train was just starting, or I don't know what might have happened. I said not a word; shook hands with him; got into the carriage; he waved his hat to me, and I pretended not to see him, but I did see him, and saw him turn round immediately to some well- dressed officer-like gentleman with whom he walked laughing down the platform. The rest of that day was black to me. I cared for nothing. I passed away from the thought of Clem, and dwelt upon the conviction which had long possessed me that I was INSIGNIFICANT, that there was NOTHING MUCH IN ME, and it was this which destroyed my peace. We may reconcile ourselves to poverty and suffering, but few of us can endure the conviction that there is NOTHING IN US, and that consequently we cannot expect anybody to gravitate towards us with any forceful impulse. It is a bitter experience. And yet there is consolation. The universe is infinite. In the presence of its celestial magnitudes who is there who is really great or small, and what is the difference between you and me, my work and yours? I sought refuge in the idea of GOD, the God of a starry night with its incomprehensible distances; and I was at peace, content to be the meanest worm of all the millions that crawl on the earth.



CHAPTER IV—A NECESSARY DEVELOPMENT



The few friends who have read the first part of my autobiography may perhaps remember that in my younger days I had engaged myself to a girl named Ellen, from whom afterwards I parted. After some two or three years she was left an orphan, and came into the possession of a small property, over which unfortunately she had complete power. She was attractive and well-educated, and I heard long after I had broken with her, and had ceased to have intercourse with Butts, that the two were married. He of course, living so near her, had known her well, and he found her money useful. How they agreed I knew not save by report, but I was told that after the first child was born, the only child they ever had, Butts grew indifferent to her, and that she, to use my friend's expression, "went off," by which I suppose he meant that she faded. There happened in those days to live near Butts a small squire, married, but with no family. He was a lethargic creature, about five-and-thirty years old, farming eight hundred acres of his own land. He did not, however, belong to the farming class. He had been to Harrow, was on the magistrates' bench, and associated with the small aristocracy of the country round. He was like every other squire whom I remember in my native county, and I can remember scores of them. He read no books and tolerated the usual conventional breaches of the moral law, but was an intense worshipper of respectability, and hated a scandal. On one point he differed from his neighbours. He was a Whig and they were all Tories. I have said he read no books, and this, on the whole, is true, but nevertheless he did know something about the history of the early part of the century, and he was rather fond at political gatherings of making some allusion to Mr. Fox. His father had sat in the House of Commons when Fox was there, and had sternly opposed the French war. I don't suppose that anybody not actually IN IT—no Londoner certainly—can understand the rigidity of the bonds which restricted county society when I was young, and for aught I know may restrict it now. There was with us one huge and dark exception to the general uniformity. The earl had broken loose, had ruined his estate, had defied decorum and openly lived with strange women at home and in Paris, but this black background did but set off the otherwise universal adhesion to the Church and to authorised manners, an adhesion tempered and rendered tolerable by port wine. It must not, however, be supposed that human nature was different from the human nature of to-day or a thousand years ago. There were then, even as there were a thousand years ago, and are to-day, small, secret doors, connected with mysterious staircases, by which access was gained to freedom; and men and women, inmates of castles with walls a yard thick, and impenetrable portcullises, sought those doors and descended those stairs night and day. But nobody knew, or if we did know, the silence was profound. The broad-shouldered, yellow- haired Whig squire, had a wife who was the opposite of him. She came from a distant part of the country, and had been educated in France. She was small, with black hair, and yet with blue eyes. She spoke French perfectly, was devoted to music, read French books, and, although she was a constant attendant at church, and gave no opportunity whatever for the slightest suspicion, the matrons of the circle in which she moved were never quite happy about her. This was due partly to her knowledge of French, and partly to her having no children. Anything more about her I do not know. She was beyond us, and although I have seen her often enough I never spoke to her. Butts, however, managed to become a visitor at the squire's house. Fancy MY going to the squire's! But Butts did, was accepted there, and even dined there with a parson, and two or three half-pay officers. The squire never called on Butts. That was an understood thing, nor did Mrs. Butts accompany her husband. That also was an understood thing. It was strange that Butts could tolerate and even court such a relationship. Most men would scorn with the scorn of a personal insult an invitation to a house from which their wives were expressly excluded. The squire's lady and Clem became great friends. She discovered that his mother was a Frenchwoman, and this was a bond between them. She discovered also that Clem was artistic, that he was devotedly fond of music, that he could draw a little, paint a little, and she believed in the divine right of talent wherever it might be found to assert a claim of equality with those who were better born. The women in the country-side were shy of her; for the men she could not possibly care, and no doubt she must at times have got rather weary of her heavy husband with his one outlook towards the universal in the person of George James Fox, and the Whig policy of 1802. I am under some disadvantage in telling this part of my story, because I was far away from home, and only knew afterwards at second hand what the course of events had been; but I learned them from one who was intimately concerned, and I do not think I can be mistaken on any essential point. I imagine that by this time Mrs. Butts must have become changed into what she was in later years. She had grown older since she and I had parted; she had seen trouble; her child had been born, and although she was not exactly estranged from Clem, for neither he nor she would have admitted any coolness, she had learned that she was nothing specially to him. I have often noticed what an imperceptible touch, what a slight shifting in the balance of opposing forces, will alter the character. I have observed a woman, for example, essentially the same at twenty and thirty—who is there who is not always essentially the same?—and yet, what was a defect at twenty, has become transformed and transfigured into a benignant virtue at thirty; translating the whole nature from the human to the divine. Some slight depression has been wrought here, and some slight lift has been given there, and beauty and order have miraculously emerged from what was chaotic. The same thing may continually be noticed in the hereditary transmission of qualities. The redeeming virtue of the father palpably present in the son becomes his curse, through a faint diminution of the strength of the check which caused that virtue to be the father's salvation. The propensity, too, which is a man's evil genius, and leads him to madness and utter ruin, gives vivid reality to all his words and thoughts, and becomes all his strength, if by divine assistance it can just be subdued and prevented from rising in victorious insurrection. But this is a digression, useful, however, in its way, because it will explain Mrs. Butts when we come a little nearer to her in the future.

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