MEMOIRS OF SIR WEMYSS REID 1842-1885
MEMOIRS OF SIR WEMYSS REID 1842-1885
EDITED, WITH AN INTRODUCTION, BY STUART J. REID
TO Lady Reid, THE DEVOTED WIFE OF MY BROTHER, THESE PAGES ARE INSCRIBED.
The sense of personal loss occasioned by my brother's death is still so keen and vivid that if I am to write at all about him—and my duty in that respect is clear—it must be out of the fulness of my heart. My earliest recollections of him begin when I was a child and he was a bright, self-reliant lad in the home at Newcastle, the characteristics of which are with artless realism described in the opening pages of this book. It is the simple truth to say that we grew up in an atmosphere of love and duty. Our father was a man of studious habit, passing rich in the possession of a library of dry works on theology which his children never read, and among which they searched in vain for the fairy books and stories, or even the poetry, dear to the youthful heart. He was a faithful, rather than a gifted preacher, and I have always thought that his power—it was real and far-reaching—lay in his modest, unselfish life, and in that unfailing sympathy which kept him on a perpetual round of visits to the sick and sorrowful, year in, year out. He had a quiet sense of humour, and was never so happy as when he could steal a day off from the insistent claims of pastoral work for a ramble in the country with his boys.
Always a public-spirited man, and keenly interested in political affairs, he talked to us freely about the events of the time, and made us feel that the little affairs of our own home and immediate environment could never be seen in their true perspective until they were set against the larger life of the town, and, in a sense, of the nation. When any great event occurred he used to tell us all about it; when any great man died, if we did not know the significance of his life and the loss it meant to the country, it was not his fault. He was a quiet, rather reserved man, terribly in earnest, we thought, and with a touch of sternness about him which vanished in later life. He mellowed with the passing years, and long before old age crept quietly upon him the prevailing note of his character was charity. He had been in early life associated to some extent with the Press, and later had written one or two books, so that ink was in my brother's blood.
Our mother was almost his opposite in character. She was quick, almost imperious in temper, vivacious and witty of speech, full of sense and sensibility, in revolt—I see it now—against the narrow conditions of her lot, and yet bravely determined to do her best, not merely for her husband and children, but for the rather austere little community in which she was always a central figure. There was a charm about her to which all sorts and sizes of people surrendered at discretion, and she loved books more modern and more mundane than the dingy volumes on my father's shelves. She had received, what was more rare then than now, a liberal education, and, besides modern languages, had at least a moderate acquaintance with the classics. She held herself gallantly in the dim, half-educated society of her husband's chapel, but reserved her friendships—sometimes with a touch of wilfulness—for those who represented whatever there was of sweetness and light in the wider society of the town. In one respect she was absolutely in harmony with my father, and that was in her sympathy with the poor and in quiet, unparaded determination to hold out a helping hand to all that sought it. She had imagination, and she sent it on errands of good-will. I think my brother inherited from her his alertness of mind and not a little of his quickness of apprehension.
I can remember him coming back from Bruce's school all aglow with his prizes, and I can recall, as if it were but yesterday, his audacious speeches, and the new books with which, as soon as he earned a shilling, he began to leaven the dull old library, much to the delectation of the other children. I can recall a rough cartoon in one of the local journals which was greeted with huge merriment in the family circle, because it represented Tom as "Ye Press of Newcastle"—a mere boy in a short jacket perched on a stool, scribbling for dear life at the foot of a platform on which some local orator was denouncing the tyranny of the existing Government. He must then have been about seventeen, certainly not more, and he was even at that time somewhat of a youthful prodigy. Then he developed a passion for the collection of autographs, and used to write the most alluring letters to celebrities, and astound my modest father by the replies—they were invariably written as to a man of mature life and public importance—which he had elicited from eminent people in politics and the world of letters. He, a mere youth, invited a well-known Arctic explorer to Newcastle to lecture on his perils in the frozen North, and my father bought him his first hat to go to the railway station to meet the gallant sailor, who brought his pathetic relics of Franklin to our house, where he stayed as guest. The great man's chagrin when he found that a lad scarcely out of short jackets had invited him to Newcastle vanished in the genial firelight, and in the subsequent reception of the good townsfolk. Then my brother conceived the ambitious scheme of the West End Literary Institute, and by dint of energetic and persistent begging carried the project out, and with a high hand.
Suddenly, when he was still a young reporter, a great calamity befell the locality. The Hartley Colliery catastrophe plunged all Tyneside in gloom. He was the youngest reporter on the local Press, but his account of the long-drawn agony of that terrible time, when two hundred brave fellows lost their lives, was the most graphic. It brought him local renown. It was published as a shilling pamphlet, after it had done duty in the Newcastle Journal, and to his credit he gave, though as poor as a church mouse, the whole of the proceeds—a sum of L40, I think—to the Relief Fund. It was a characteristic act which was not belied by the subsequent generosity of his life. All too soon—for he brought as a young reporter a breezy, new atmosphere into the family circle—he went to Preston, on the principle of promotion by merit. Then Leeds claimed him, and next he settled in London, in the short-lived happiness of his early married life, returning to Yorkshire—this time as chief of the paper he had served so well. During his career as editor of the Leeds Mercury I saw comparatively little of him. We were both busy, though in different ways; but we kept up, then and always, a brisk correspondence, and his letters, all of them brimful of public interest and family affection, are before me now. The world is a different place to me now, but "memory is a fountain of perpetual youth" and nothing can rob me of its sweetness.
There is scarcely an incident recorded in these pages which he did not tell me at the time in familiar talk. There is much, also, that he has not set down here, all of it honourable to himself, which I could recount about those early days in Newcastle, and to a certain extent also in Leeds, where I was again and again his guest; but, as he has chosen to be silent, it is not for me to speak. Oddly enough, I never in my life heard him deliver a political speech, nor do I think he excelled in that direction. But he was admirable as a lecturer on literary subjects, and I have seen him again and again hold a large audience spellbound when his subject was Charlotte or Emily Bronte, Mrs. Carlyle, the Inner Working of an English Newspaper, the Character of General Gordon, or some other theme which appealed to him. He spoke rapidly and clearly, and between the years 1882 and 1886 gave his services without stint in this direction to the people of Leeds, Bradford, and other of the Yorkshire towns. The manuscripts of these lectures are before me as I write; they are all in his own hand, and they must have taken from an hour to an hour and a half in delivery. Yet one of the most important of them—it runs to between sixty and seventy closely written manuscript pages, and bears no marks of haste—was, as a note in his own hand at the outset shows, begun one day and finished the next—a proof, if any were needed, of his rapidity in work. He made many enthusiastic friends amongst the shrewd working people of the North by these deliverances.
The last twenty years of my brother's life are outside the present narrative. Two of them were spent in Leeds in ever-widening newspaper work, and the remaining eighteen in London, under circumstances he has himself described in another volume, which, for political reasons, is for the present withheld. It will appear eventually, and personally I feel no doubt whatever that it will take its place, quite apart from its self-revelation, as one of the most important and authentic records, in the political sense, of the later decades of Queen Victoria's reign. My brother's knowledge of the secret history of the Liberal party in the memorable days when Mr. Gladstone was fighting his historic battle for Home Rule, and during the subsequent Premiership of Lord Rosebery, was exceptional. He was the trusted friend of both statesmen, and probably no other journalist was so absolutely in the confidence of the leaders of the Liberal party—a circumstance which was due quite as much to his character as to his capacity. It is not my intention to anticipate the story, as he himself tells it, either of the "Hawarden Kite" or the Home Rule split, much less to disclose his opinions—they are emphatic and deliberate—of the men who made mischief at that crisis. I leave also untouched the plain, unvarnished account he gives, on unimpeachable authority, of a subsequent and not less discreditable phase in the annals of the Liberal party. There are reasons, obvious to everyone who gives the matter a moment's thought, that render it inadvisable in the interests of the political cause with which my brother all his life was identified, and for which he suffered more than is commonly known, to yield to the very natural temptation to throw reticence to the winds.
To one point only will I permit myself to make brief but significant allusion, for I cannot allow this book to go forth to the world with the knowledge that the publication of the companion volume is—through force of circumstances—for the present postponed, without at least a passing reference to what in the authoritative biography of Mr. Gladstone is called the "barren controversy" which arose in 1892, as to whether the present Duke of Devonshire, in 1880, tried to form a Government. That controversy was assuredly "barren" to my brother in everything but the testimony of a good conscience. He was assailed by almost the whole Press of the country for the part which he played in it, and not least mercilessly by journalists of his own party. As he said to me himself at the time, "If I had been Mr. Parnell, fresh from the revelations of the Divorce Court, I could not have been treated with greater contumely." If there was one thing on the possession of which he prided himself in life more than another, it was loyalty, and seldom was political loyalty subjected to a more cruel strain. He held his peace with all the materials for his own vindication in his hand, rather than embarrass Mr. Gladstone at a great political crisis.
The letters on which he based his statements are in existence. I wished to print them, without note or comment of mine, in an Appendix to the present volume, but permission has been withheld. They cannot remain for ever in ambush, and when they are published, with my brother's full and magnanimous comments, it will be apparent to all the world how greatly he was misjudged. It is enough for the present to say that Mr. Gladstone himself admitted in a note under his own hand that the interpretation which my brother put upon the facts submitted to him absolutely and entirely justified the course which he took in that controversy. Mr. Gladstone, as Mr. Morley somewhat drily states in his biography, "reckoned on a proper stoicism in the victims of public necessity," and I suppose my brother was regarded as thin-skinned, but a man may be forgiven a measure of sensitiveness when his honour is impeached.
He always used to speak with gratitude of the action of Lord Russell of Killowen at that period. He heard the gossip of the clubs, and was not content, like the majority of men, either to believe it or to dismiss the matter with a shrug of the shoulders. He sought my brother out at his own house, heard the whole story from his own lips—through an informal but stringent process of cross-examination—drew his own conclusions, and did more than anyone else to turn the tide of misrepresentation. Lord Russell never rested until Wemyss Reid was elected an honorary member of the Eighty Club, a distinction shared by only two or three persons, and one which did not a little to bring about, in the Liberal party at least, a quick reversal of public opinion. The chivalrous action of Lord Russell was all the more creditable as the two men at the time were only slightly acquainted. Other honours came to my brother within the next two years. The University of St. Andrews in 1893 conferred upon him the degree of LL.D., and in the following year he was knighted "for services to Letters and Politics."
It is a pleasure to hark back to the literary interests which grew around the later years of my brother in London. He went thither in 1887 to take control of the business of Messrs. Cassell & Company—a position of wide influence and hard work which he retained to the last day of his life. He used to tell me that he detested the City and the irksomeness of keeping office hours, but he stuck manfully to his post, and his presence at the desk there lent a lustre even to the traditions of a great publishing house. I betray no confidences when I say that at first he found his new duties somewhat uncongenial. He had won his spurs as a journalist, he was fond of the cut and thrust of party politics, he missed the rush of public life, and he felt that perhaps he had been ill-advised in quitting the editorial saddle. But this feeling of depression quickly wore off when he set himself, with characteristic energy, to master the details of his new work, though to the last he often cast longing glances backwards to the years in which he inspired the policy of a great daily newspaper. Before he left Leeds—and here I may say that he did not leave without substantial proof of the esteem in which he was held—he accepted two literary commissions, either of which would have satisfied most men and absorbed all their energies for a term of years.
One was the preparation of an authoritative biography of Mr. Forster, the other a similar work—less political and more literary—on the first Lord Houghton. He was, of course, in a position to speak from close personal knowledge of both men, and in each case all their private letters and papers were placed at his discretion. He found relief from the prosaic details of a business career in these congenial tasks, if such a term is applicable to what in reality were labours of love. Both were big books, and the marvel is how, with all that he had in hand at the time, he contrived to write them. But the passion for work was the zest of his life, and it was never turned to more admirable account than in these labours. "The Life of the Right Hon. W. E. Forster" was published in 1888, and "The Life, Letters, and Friendships of Lord Houghton" in 1890, and both met with a reception which it is hardly within my province to describe. It is enough to say that they widened his reputation, added materially to his influence, and, best of all, brought him many new and powerful friends.
Almost before he had finished writing the second of these books, at the instance of Mr. Bryce (with whom his relations were always most close and cordial) and other well-known men in the Liberal party, he, in conjunction with Sir John Brunner, founded the Speaker, a weekly journal which was started on similar lines to the Spectator, but devoted to the advocacy of the Home Rule cause, and broadly of the policy of Mr. Gladstone. The first number was published on January 4th, 1890, and from that time until October, 1899, he alone was responsible for its editorial control. He gathered around him a brilliant staff of contributors; he used laughingly to say that he was over-weighted by them, and, if I may venture a criticism, he gave them too free a hand. Contemporary politics were discussed amongst others by Mr. Morley, Mr. Bryce, Mr. J. A. Spender, and Mr. Herbert Paul. Literary criticism, economic questions, and other phases of public affairs, were handled by Sir Alfred Lyall, Mr. Birrell, Mr. Frederic Harrison, Mr. James Payn, Mr. Henry James, Mr. J.M. Barrie, Mr. Quiller-Couch, Mr. Sidney Webb, Mr. L. F. Austin, Mr. A. B. Walkley, and a score of young writers; whilst men like the late Lord Acton and Principal Fairbairn, and occasionally Mr. Gladstone himself, lent further distinction to its pages. No one worked harder in those days for the Speaker than my brother's ever loyal assistant in its direction, Mr. Barry O'Brien, whose intimate knowledge of the trend in Irish politics was invaluable. I shall not anticipate by any comments of my own the vivid and always genial pen-and-ink pictures which are given of the chief members of the Speaker staff in that part of the Memoirs which yet remains unprinted.
I prefer to fall back in this connection on a little bit of reminiscence, printed in one of the daily papers on the morrow of my brother's death. It was written by Mr. L. F. Austin, who alas! has so quickly followed him to the grave. "Some months ago, feeling himself under sentence of death, Sir Wemyss Reid applied his leisure to the task of completing his Memoirs. 'Here is a chapter that may interest you,' he said to me one day, producing a roll of manuscript. It did interest me very much, and when it comes to be published it will be read with no little emotion by the men who formed the regular staff of the Speaker under Sir Wemyss Reid's editorship. He deals with us all in turn in a spirit of the kindliest remembrance and simple goodwill; and as I read those pages, I felt they were his farewell to some of the men who have good reason to think of him as the staunchest of friends." I was in very close association with my brother during the whole of the ten years in which he retained control of the Speaker, and took my full share of the work. They were for him years of strenuous and unremitting toil, but he used to say that there were few greater rewards for a man of his temperament than to be in the thick of the political movement, and to be in the front rank of the fighters. He adopted as his motto in life "Onwards"—the watchword of his old school at Newcastle, emblazoned on the back of the prizes which he took in far-off days; and from first to last he lived up to it. Brusque he sometimes was, decisive always; perhaps he was too easily ruffled in little affairs, but he was magnanimous to the point of self-sacrifice in great. After quitting, under circumstances entirely honourable to himself, the editorial chair of the Speaker, my brother, who for years previously had been an occasional contributor to the pages of the Nineteenth Century, contributed regularly to that review a political survey of the month. Some of his best work was put into these articles, and the last of them was written under great physical stress, and appeared almost simultaneously with the announcement of his death. It was the last task to which he put his hand, and the wish of his life was granted: he died in harness.
It is not too much to say that neither his interest nor his influence in political affairs suffered the least abatement in the six closing years of his life, which bridged the distance between his relinquishment of the Speaker and the hour when he finally laid down his pen. The withheld portion of this Autobiography makes that abundantly clear, for, as in a mirror, it reflects the secret history of the Liberal party. His relations with Lord Rosebery, both during and after that statesman's brilliant but difficult Administration, were singularly intimate and cordial—a circumstance which invests with peculiar interest the final chapters which he wrote. They throw a dry light on the political intrigues which occurred after Mr. Gladstone's retirement; they reveal the difficulties—both open and unsuspected—which beset his successor. Lord Rosebery has written me a letter, and I have his permission to quote from it:—"I can only dwell on the sterling notes of courage and friendship. As to the first, he had taken part in many controversies, which it is now unnecessary to revive, and borne himself gallantly in them. But before his life ended he was to display a rarer quality. In September, 1903, he wrote to me that he could only count on a few weeks longer of life—that he was condemned by all doctors.... He partially recovered from that attack, though from that day he was doomed to speedy death. I saw him in February for the last time, not long before the end. He told me, as he always did, that he did not feel amiss, but that his doctors all unanimously condemned him to a short shrift; that his friend Sir Frederick Treves was putting him under a new treatment, from which he hoped to derive some benefit; but that, whatever happened, he should go on writing as if nothing were wrong until the end came. That did not long tarry. In the evening of Thursday, February 23rd, he was taken ill, and before ten o'clock on Sunday morning he was dead. During the seventeen months which elapsed from the time of the doom pronounced by his physicians until its fulfilment, Wemyss Reid so demeaned himself that none could have penetrated his secret. He was as gay and high in spirit, as strenuous in work, as thoughtful for others, as ever; so that those who knew the fatal truth could not bring themselves to believe it. He was at work for the Nineteenth Century the day before he was taken with his final attack. But he himself, cheerful and smiling, never lost the certainty that death hung over him by a thread.
"So much for his courage; and now for the other note that I would touch—his friendship. His ideal of friendship was singularly lofty and generous. He was the devoted and chivalrous champion of those he loved; he took up their cause as his own, and much more than his own; he was the friend of their friends and the enemy of their enemies. No man ever set a higher value on this high connection, which, after all, whether brought about by kinship, or sympathy, or association, or gratitude, or stress, is under Heaven the surest solace of our poor humanity; and so it coloured and guided the life of Wemyss Reid. His chief works were all monuments to that faith; it inspired him in tasks which he knew would be irksome and which could scarcely be successful, or which, at least, could ill satisfy his own standard. This is a severe test for a man of letters, but he met it without fail.... All this seems lame and tame enough when I read it over. But it was true and vivid when Wemyss Reid was living, and giving to his friends the high example of a brave and unselfish life. Among them, his memory will be a precious fact, and an inheritance long after any obituary notice is forgotten. It will live as long as they live; he would scarcely have cared to be remembered by others." Lord Rosebery's kindness to my brother—it was constant, delicate, and unwavering—can never be forgotten by any of his relatives. He was the first visitor to the house of mourning on Sunday, February 26th; he came in haste, with the hope that he might still be in time to see my brother alive.
Here, perhaps, is the place to mention some other of his friends: I mean, of course, those with whom he was most intimate in his closing years. It may be I have forgotten some; if so, I need scarcely add that it is without intention. But I do not like to end without at least recalling his close relations with Lord Burghclere, Mr. Bryce, Sir Henry Fowler, Mr. Edmund Robertson, Sir Henry Roscoe, Sir Norman Lockyer, Sir Frederick Treves, Sir John Brunner, Principal Fairbairn, Dr. Guinness Rogers, the Rev. R. H. Hadden, Mr. W. H. Macnamara, Mr. Douglas Walker, Mr. J. C. Parkinson, Mr. G. A. Barkley, Mr. Charles Mathews, Mr. J. A. Duncan, Mr. Edwin Bale, Mr. Barry O'Brien, Mr. Herbert Paul, Mr. J. A. Spender, and last, but certainly not least, Mr. Malcolm Morris, who was with him at the end. James Payn, William Black, Sir John Robinson represent the losses of the last few years of his life; all of them were men with whom—literature and politics apart—he had much in common.
It is impossible to cite the Press comments on the morrow of my brother's death, but room at least must be found for one of them—the generous tribute of his friend Mr. J. A. Spender in the Westminster Gazette:—
"I well remember how bravely and serenely he bore his death-sentence and how modestly he communicated it to his friends, as if an apology were needed for speaking of anything so personal. And then he picked himself up and started again, determined that his work should go forward and his interests lose none of their edge, though his days were short. He was the last man in the world to think of such a thing; and yet to many of us he seemed the perfect example of how a man should bear himself in such a strait. I have heard young men speak of him as old-fashioned, and, judged by some modern standards, his virtues were indeed those of the antique world. He loved his profession for its own sake, believed in its influence and dignity, hated sensationalism—whether in politics or in newspapers—would rather that any rival should gain any advantage over him than that he should divulge a secret or betray the confidence of a friend. And so he came to be the confidant and adviser of many eminent men who were attached to him for his sterling qualities of head and heart, for his knowledge, his integrity, his admirable common-sense. Of all his qualities none was more attractive than the staunchness of his friendship. To those whom he really liked, old or young, eminent or obscure, Wemyss Reid was always the same, a champion who would brook no slight, and whose help was readiest when times were worst. A literary man, he was quite without literary jealousy, and never so happy as when giving a hand-up to a new writer or a young journalist. All of us who knew him are in his debt—neque ego desinam debere."
I will permit myself to make one other quotation, and only one. In September, 1903, we lost our only sister. We three brothers had been at her funeral in Scotland; it was the last time we were all together. I lunched a day or two later with him at the Reform Club, and though, like myself, he was naturally depressed, he spoke cheerfully, and there was nothing to hint that he was more than tired. Three days later, September 19th, he wrote me a long letter, which began with the words, "Heaven knows, I do not want to add to your anxieties at the present moment, but I think I ought to tell you what has happened to me." He then went on to say that his friend Mr. Malcolm Morris had met him at the Club on the same day that I was there, and, startled by his appearance, had asked him a number of questions. Mr. Morris had been abroad and had not seen him for some time, but he insisted on an immediate visit to a specialist, and this was arranged for the following Saturday, the day on which he wrote the letter from which I am citing. He was told at that interview that his condition was most serious, even critical—in fact, that he had not long to live. So he wrote, "I have clearly to put my house in order, and to wait as calmly as possible for what may happen. The thing has come upon me very suddenly in the end, but I have had forebodings for some time past. You remember what I said to you on my way to Kilmarnock last week? I want nobody to worry about me personally. If my work is to come to an end soon, it will at least have been a full day's work. I know I can count on your brotherly love and sympathy."
Lady Reid and his children were at the moment from home. I went to him at once; he was sitting alone in his house, and he received me with a smile. He talked calmly and without a shadow of fear, and with no hint of repining. He had gathered from the specialist that he had only a few weeks at the most to live, and he told me that as he rode away in a hansom from the house where he had received what he called his sentence of death, he looked at the people in the street like a man in a dream, and with a curious feeling of detachment from the affairs of the world. But he rallied, and went about his work as usual, was as keenly interested as ever in the politics of the hour, and gave to those who knew how much he suffered an example of submission and fortitude which is not common.
Naturally I saw much of him in his closing days, and in talk with me he nearly always turned to the old sacred memories which we had in common. When I was a mere youth and he at the beginning of his career as a journalist, I remember his telling me never to forget that blood was thicker than water. His letters to me during thirty years, and many practical deeds as well, if I were to publish the one or to state the other, would prove how constantly he himself bore that in mind. Others can speak of his gift as a raconteur, his superb power of work, his moral courage, his quick capacity in the handling of public questions; all this I know, and I know besides, better perhaps than anyone else who is likely to speak, his intense family affection, his real though unparaded loyalty to conviction, and the magic of a kindliness which was never so apparent as when the way was rough and the heart was sore.
All the letters which arrived after his death—and they came in battalions—were quick with the sense of personal loss. They came from all sorts of people—from school-fellows in the distant Newcastle days, and obscure folk who had their own story to tell of his kindness, to statesmen of Cabinet rank, and men whose names are famous in almost every walk of life. Personally, I think I was most touched by the remark of a poor waiter, "a lame dog" whom, it seems, he had helped over a difficult stile in life, and who declared that he was "one in a thousand." Assuredly, as far as courage and sympathy are concerned, those simple words were true.
STUART J. REID.
Blackwell Cliff, East Grinstead. October 12th, 1905.
One who tries to tell the story of his life and of his personal experiences, public and private, undertakes a task of rare difficulty. Now that I have completed the work that I set myself to perform some years ago, I recognise more fully than I did at the outset the greatness of this difficulty, and I am only too conscious that, at the best, I have succeeded but partially in overcoming it. The egotism which is inseparable from a narrative written, as this necessarily is, in the first person, is perhaps the most obvious of all the defects which it must present to the reader. Quite frankly I may say that, on reading these pages, I am filled with something like confusion by the extent to which I have been forced to bring my own personality, my own sayings and doings, even into those chapters which deal with public affairs. I can only plead in extenuation of my offence that I do not see how it could have been avoided in that which is neither more nor less than an Autobiography. I may add that I have tried always to speak the truth, and have never consciously magnified my own part in the transactions upon which I have touched.
The closing chapters of the story have been written under what seemed to be the shadow of approaching death. Indeed, at one time I had no hope that I could live to complete my task. No man who writes thus, on the verge of another world, would willingly swerve by so much as a hair's-breadth from what he believes to be the truth. But human nature and human limitations remain the same from the beginning to the end of life, and I am fully conscious of the fact that the soundness of my judgments upon affairs and my fellow-men is not less open to impeachment to-day than when I was moving in the main current of human activity. If in anything that I have written I have wronged any of my fellow-creatures it has been absolutely without intention on my part, and I can only hope that they will vindicate themselves, after the publication of these pages, as quickly and completely as possible.
I have had no exciting story to tell, and no personal triumphs to chronicle. My simple desire has been to write of the persons and events of my own time in the light in which they appeared to my own eyes, and by doing so to give possibly some information regarding them which may be new to many of my readers. I have been always much more of a spectator than of an actor in the arena; but it has been my lot to be very near, for many years, to those who were actively engaged in that "high chess game whereof the pawns are men"; and we have authority for the belief that the onlooker sees more than the actual player of the drama he describes.
I must add that nowhere, except in a few cases in which I make special mention of the fact, have I trusted to mere hearsay evidence. I have confined myself to that which I know to be the truth, either from my personal observation or from documents of unimpeachable authority. My opinions may be of very little value, but my facts are, I believe, incontrovertible.
26, Bramham Gardens, South Kensington, January 1st, 1905.
CHAPTER I. EARLY DAYS. Birth and Parentage—Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the 'Forties—A Visit to St. Andrews—The Scottish Sabbath—First Acquaintance with a Printing Office—Tyneside in the Mid-Century—In Peril of Housebreakers—At Dr. Collingwood Bruce's School—A Plague of Flies—Cholera—Fire.
CHAPTER II. PROBATION. Aspirations After a Journalistic Life—A Clerk's Stool in the W.B. Lead Office—Literary Ambitions—An Accepted Contribution—The Northern Daily Express and its Editor—Founding a Literary Institute—Letters from Charles Kingsley and Archbishop Longley—Joseph Cowen and his Revolutionary Friends—Orsini—Thackeray's Lectures and Dickens's Readings.
CHAPTER III. MY LIFE-WORK BEGUN. On the Staff of the Newcastle Journal—In a Dilemma—Lord John Russell and Mr. Gladstone at Newcastle-upon-Tyne—Mr. Gladstone's Triumphal Progress—A Memorable Colliery Disaster: A Pit-Sinker's Heroism—Adventure at a Dickens Reading.
CHAPTER IV. FROM REPORTER TO EDITOR. First Visit to London—The Capital in 1862—Acquaintance with Sothern—Bursting of the Bradfield Reservoir—Attendance at Public Executions and at Floggings—Assuming the Editorship of the Preston Guardian—Political and Literary Influences—Great Speeches by Gladstone and Bright—Bright's Contempt for Palmerston—Robertson Gladstone Defends his Brother—Death of Abraham Lincoln—Meeting with his Granddaughter.
CHAPTER V. WORK ON THE LEEDS MERCURY My New Duties—Betrothal—The Writing of Leading Articles—The Founder of the Leeds Mercury—Edward Baines the Second—Thomas Blackburn Baines—Patriotic Nonconformists—Another Colliery Disaster: A Story of Heroism—An Abortive Fenian Raid at Chester—Reminiscences of the Prince of Wales's Visits to Yorkshire—Mr. Bright and the Reform Demonstrations of 1866—The Closing Speech at St. James's Hall—The Tribune of the People Vindicates the Queen.
CHAPTER VI. LIFE IN LONDON. Appointed London Correspondent of the Leeds Mercury—My Marriage—Securing Admission to the Reporters' Gallery—Relations between Reporters and Members—Inadequate Accommodation for the Press—Reminiscences of the Clerkenwell Explosion—The Last Public Execution—The Arundel Club—James Macdonell—Robert Donald—James Payn—Mrs. Riddell and the St. James's Magazine—My First Novel—How Sala Cut Short an Anecdote—Disraeli as Leader of the House in 1868—A Personal Encounter with him at Aylesbury—Mr. Gladstone's First Ministry—Bright and Forster—W.E. Baxter—Irish Church Disestablishment Debate in the House of Lords—Mr. Mudford—Bereavement.
CHAPTER VII. EDITOR OF THE LEEDS MERCURY. Forming Good Resolutions—Provincial Journalism in the 'Seventies— Recollections of the Franco-German War—The Loss of the Captain and its Consequences to me—Settling Down at Leeds—Acquaintance with Monckton Milnes—Visits to Fryston—Lord Houghton's Chivalry—His Talk—His Skill in Judging Men—Stories about George Venables—Lord Houghton's Regard for Religious Observances.
CHAPTER VIII. MY FIRST CONTINENTAL TOUR. A Generous Scot—Paris after the Commune—An Uncomfortable Journey Home—Illness of the Prince of Wales—Revived Popularity of the Throne—Death and Funeral of Napoleon III.—Burial of the Prince Imperial—Forster's Educational Policy—Bruce's Licensing Bill—My Second Marriage.
CHAPTER IX. A NEW ERA IN PROVINCIAL JOURNALISM. Bringing the Leeds Mercury into Line with the London Dailies—Friendship with William Black—The Dissolution of 1874—The Election at Leeds—Mr. Chamberlain's Candidature for Sheffield—Mr. Gladstone's Resignation—Election of his Successor—Birth of the Caucus—The System Described—Its Adoption at Leeds—Its Effect upon the Fortunes of the Liberal Party—The Bulgarian Atrocities Agitation.
CHAPTER X. CONTRIBUTIONS TO BRONTE LITERATURE. Visit to Haworth—Feeling Against the Brontes in Yorkshire—Miss Nussey and her Discontent with Mrs. Gaskell's "Life"—Publication of "Charlotte Bronte: a Monograph"—Mr. Swinburne's Appreciation—An Abortive Visit to the Poet—Lecture on Emily Bronte and "Wuthering Heights"—Miss Nussey's Visit to Haworth after Charlotte's Marriage.
CHAPTER XI. VISITS TO THE CONTINENT. Politics in Paris in 1877—An Oration by Gambetta—the Balloting—The Republic Saved—Gambetta's Funeral—A Member of the Reform Club—The Century Club—A Draught of Turpentine and Soda—The "Press Gang" at the Reform—James Payn and William Black—George Augustus Sala and Sir John Robinson—Disraeli's Triumph in 1878—A European Tour.
CHAPTER XII. A CHAPTER OF MISFORTUNES. Death of my Sister's Husband and of my Brother James—An Accident on Marston Moor—Sir George Wombwell's Story of the Charge of the Light Brigade—His Adventure on the Ouse—Editing a Daily Newspaper from a Sick Bed—Reflections on Death—Death of my Mother—Serious Illness of my Only Daughter.
CHAPTER XIII. THE GENERAL ELECTION OF 1880. Mr. Gladstone's Position in 1879—His Decision to Contest Midlothian—How he came to be Adopted by the Leeds Liberals—The Conversation Club—A Visit from John Morley—The Dissolution of 1880—Lecture on Mr. Gladstone—His Triumphant Return for Leeds—His Election for Midlothian—Mr. Herbert Gladstone Adopted as his Successor at Leeds—Mr. Gladstone's Visit to Leeds in 1881—A Fiasco Narrowly Avoided—A Wonderful Mass Meeting—Mr. Gladstone's Collapse and Recovery—My Introduction to Him—An Excursion to Tunis—"The Land of the Bey"—Mr. A.M. Broadley's Prophecies—Howard Payne's Grave—A Series of Coincidences.
CHAPTER XIV. CONCERNING W.E. FORSTER AND OTHERS. The Beginning of Mr. Stead's Journalistic Career—His Methods—Birth of the New Journalism—Madame Novikoff and Mr. Stead—Mr. Stead's Attacks upon Joseph Cowen—How he dealt with a Remonstrance—W. E. Forster—Mr. Chamberlain's Antagonism—The Leeds Mercury's Defence of Forster—How he was Jockeyed out of the Cabinet—Forster's Resignation—News of the Phoenix Park Murders—Forster's Reflections—Mr. Gladstone's Pity for Social Outcasts—Mr. Chamberlain's Brothers Blackballed at the Reform—Failure of an Attempt to Crush the Leeds Mercury—Forster's Gratitude.
CHAPTER XV. THE FIRST LIBERAL IMPERIALIST. Forster a Pioneer of Liberal Imperialism—His Political Courage—His Unfortunate Manner—His Home Life—Intrigues in the Cabinet—The Plots against Forster's Life—Reaction in his Favour—Forster and Lord Hartington—The Former's Grief for Gordon—Forster and Lord Rosebery—Mr. Stead and the Pall Mall Gazette—His Responsibility for the Gordon Imbroglio.
CHAPTER XVI. NOVELS AND NOVELISTS. "The Lumley Entail"—"Gladys Fane"—My Experience in Novel-Writing—About Sad Endings—Imaginary Characters and Characters Drawn from Life—Visits from William Black and Bret Harte—Black as an After-Dinner Speaker—How Bret Harte saw Haworth Parsonage, and was Roughly Entreated by a Yorkshire Admirer—A Candid Opinion on the Bronte Monograph.
CHAPTER XVII. TO THE DEFEAT OF THE GOVERNMENT (1885). More Antagonism towards Forster—A Household Suffrage Demonstration at Leeds—A Meeting at the Carlton Club and a Coincidence—Forster and "the most Powerful Man in England"—Single-Member Constituencies and the Cumulative Vote—Dynamite Outrages—Police Protection for Statesmen—I Receive Threatening Letters and Get a Fright—Death of Lord Houghton—Lord Derby and how he was Misunderstood—An Unconventional Dinner at Lord Houghton's—A Visit to Tangier—In Peril of the Sea—Gibraltar "a Magnificent Imposture"—Captain W. and the M.P.—To the North Cape—Cheering a Funeral Party—News of Mr. Gladstone's Overthrow—Home Again.
MEMOIRS OF SIR WEMYSS REID.
* * * * *
Birth and Parentage—Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the 'Forties—A Visit to St. Andrews—The Scottish Sabbath—First Acquaintance with a Printing Office—Tyneside in the Mid-Century—In Peril of Housebreakers—At Dr. Collingwood Bruce's School—A Plague of Flies—Cholera—Fire.
It was in the old town, now the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne that I first saw the light—March 29, 1842. My father, the Rev. Alexander Reid, was trained first at the University of St. Andrews, under Dr. Chalmers, and afterwards at Highbury College, London, under Dr. Pye-Smith, for the Congregational ministry. On leaving College he settled in 1830 at Newcastle, and there remained for half a century a faithful and honoured preacher, retiring in 1880 amid the esteem of the whole community on Tyneside. He died in 1887 under the roof of my younger brother Stuart, at Wilmslow, Cheshire, a year which was memorable to me in other than a sorrowful sense, since it was then that I settled in London. It was said of my father at the time of his death, in one of the Newcastle papers, that for a man to be in difficulty or sorrow was a passport to his help and sympathy. My mother was the daughter of Thomas Wemyss, of Darlington, a well known Biblical scholar and critic, a kinsman of the poet Campbell, and a direct descendant of the Stewarts of Ascog, Bute, a family which traced its descent in unbroken succession—with the bar sinister at the start—from Robert II. of Scotland.
Of the six children who grew up in the austerely simple but happy surroundings of my father's home, the eldest, Mary, was the daughter of my father by a previous marriage; she married the Rev. William Bathgate, D.D., of Kilmarnock, and died as recently as 1903, to my great sorrow. My elder brother James, with whom I was most closely associated in boyhood and youth, was always more or less of an invalid, and died at Leeds in 1880—the year in which our mother also passed away. I came next in the family, and my younger brothers are Alexander, now manager of the Dublin and Wexford Railway, and Stuart, who, like myself, has followed journalism and literature. It only remains for me to mention the youngest member of the family, John Paul, a bright and affectionate little fellow of thirteen, whose loss in 1868 threw a shadow over the home which only the passage of long years softened.
Newcastle, in those days, was scarcely a third of its present size, and the river Tyne, which is now a mere ditch, hemmed in on either side by great manufactories, shipbuilding yards, and wharves, from its mouth to a point above Newcastle, was then a fair and noble river, which watered green meadows and swept past scenes of rural beauty. The house in which I was born stood in Elswick Row, and in the year of my birth—1842—that terrace of modest houses formed the boundary-line of the town on the west. Beyond it was nothing but fields and open country. There was no High Level Bridge in those days, spanning the river and forming a link in the great iron highway between the English and Scotch capitals; nor had so much as the first stone of the famous Elswick Ordnance and Engineering Works been laid. The future Lord Armstrong, whom I met at dinner not long ago, looking hardly older than when I first saw him, was then a solicitor, whose office stood in Westgate Street, and whose dreams could scarcely have foreshadowed his ultimate destiny. Richard Granger was just completing that great reconstruction of the centre of the town which gave Newcastle so noble and unprovincial an appearance; but the fine streets he had constructed—finer than any others to be found in England at that period—were still untenanted, and it was melancholy in walking along Clayton Street to see nine houses out of ten mere empty shells without doors or windows.
My earliest recollections start out of the void with great distinctness on one particular day. It was my third birthday, and I can still recall vividly the two boys—myself and my brother James—who were playing together in the garden in front of the pleasant house we then occupied in Summerhill Terrace, when I was called into the drawing-room to receive my birthday gifts.
It is not, however, with the memories of a child that I wish to entertain my readers, except in so far as they may have some intrinsic interest of their own. Dimly I can recall the year of storm and stress on the Continent, when thrones were toppling and the tide of revolution threatened a general catastrophe; vaguely, too, I remember the firing of the guns from the old castle, which announced the death of Queen Adelaide in 1849; but it was not until 1850 that my real life may be said to have begun. In the spring of that year I went on a long visit to my paternal grandfather at St. Andrews, where his family had been settled for many generations. In the station of Berwick-upon-Tweed the luggage of passengers was examined in order to see that whiskey was not being smuggled across the Border, and I was filled with childish wonder as I watched the process.
St. Andrews, as it was in 1850, bore little resemblance to the well-known pleasure resort of to-day. So far as I can remember, there was not a modern building in the city, and as a picture of an old-world Scottish town it was without a flaw. No club-house faced the sea, nor were there the fashionable residences which adorn the modern St. Andrews. The grass grew and the oats ripened where now stretch the long terraces devoted to summer lodgings for the visitors. North Street and South Street were the two city thoroughfares, if thoroughfares they could be called, seeing that even in them the green weeds grew freely. Antiquity and repose characterised the place as a whole, though in the winter months the stir of young life filled the little city, troops of red-cloaked students passing to and fro between the grey, weather-beaten halls of the University and their lodgings. At the end of South Street stood the ruins of the cathedral with the fine tower, in which the beams of some great vessel of the Spanish Armada, wrecked on the neighbouring Bell Rock, were carefully preserved, and the graceful arches of the sacred building, for the destruction of which John Knox was responsible. Many generations of my forefathers slept side by side in one particular portion of the cathedral grounds, and here my grandfather used to bring me to play among the tombs and to spell out the names of kinsmen who had died a century or more before my own earthly pilgrimage began. The whole place, with its noble ruins of castle and cathedral, its grey and empty streets, its venerable halls, its green links and fine coast-line, made a profound impression upon my imagination as a child. To this day I can recall not only the scene itself, but the sounds, the colours, the briny odours, the very atmosphere of the place.
Golf was then, as now, the one great amusement of the citizens, though there was this difference between the past and the present. In those days the game was almost unknown to the rest of the world, and to all intents and purposes St. Andrews had a monopoly of it. [Footnote: Blackheath, of course, had then, as now, its ancient golf club.] We all talked golf, even if we did not all play it. The shop-boys rose betimes of a summer's morning to enjoy a round on the links before breakfast, and learned professors and staid ministers gave their afternoons to the same absorbing pursuit. Child though I was, even I had my clubs, and played in my own fashion at the game.
My grandfather, who had retired from his business as a manufacturer of flax some years before, had a number of poor relations and dependents whom he frequently visited, taking me with him as a companion. Many of these were weavers, and in those days the weaver carried on his craft at home. I can see distinctly the little stone cottages in the narrow wynds off South Street, which I was wont to visit; I can recall the whirr and rattle of the loom "ben the house," and picture to myself the grave elderly man who on my entrance would rise from the rickety machine in front of which he was seated, and, after refreshing himself with a pinch of snuff, adjust his horn-rimmed spectacles and stare, with a seriousness which to me was somewhat disquieting, at the little English boy who had found his way into his presence. Kind they were without exception, these simple homely folk; but their gravity was hardly to be measured. Stern Calvinists to a man and a woman, the world was clearly to them no playground, no place for the frivolous pursuit of pleasure; and even the innocent sports of a child seemed to jar on their sense of the fitness of things.
It was on Sunday, however, that the full severity of the Scotch Puritanism of that day made itself felt in my inmost soul. Oh, the dreary monotony of those Sabbaths at St. Andrews! The long, long service and yet longer sermon in the forenoon, the funereal procession of the congregation to their homes, the hasty meal, consisting chiefly of tea and cold, hard-boiled eggs, which took the place of dinner, and the return within a few minutes to the kirk, where the vitiated atmosphere left by the morning congregation had not yet passed away. Even when the second service had come to a close, the solemnities of the day were not ended, for the Sunday School met in the late afternoon, and remained in session for a couple of hours. But it was not the public services, terrible though these were, that formed the most depressing feature of Sunday in St. Andrews; it was the rigid discipline which pervaded her home-life. My grandfather, I believe, was looked upon as being somewhat lax in his religious views, and he was undoubtedly more liberal—perhaps one might say more advanced—than many of his neighbours. Yet even he had to render homage to the universal law. So when Sunday came round the blinds were closely drawn, lest the rays of the sun should dissipate the gloom befitting the solemn day, whilst no voice in the household was raised above a sepulchral whisper. Lucky for me was it that I was sent to bed early, and that thus the horrors of the Sabbath were in my case abbreviated. The older members of the family sat in a silent semicircle round the smouldering fire, each holding, and some possibly reading, a book, the suitableness of which for use at such a time was beyond question. The Bible, the metrical version of the Psalms, and one or two volumes of discourses by divines of undoubted orthodoxy, formed the only literature recognised on these occasions. For myself, I had brought with me from home a copy of the delightful, though now forgotten, book called "Evenings at Home." and my Sabbatical sufferings were intensified by the sight of this volume on a high bookshelf, where it remained beyond my reach from Saturday night till Monday morning.
My life among these grave, elderly men and women would probably have been a sad one but for one fact. Adjoining my grandfather's residence was a small printing office, which he had established some years before for the benefit of a widowed daughter-in-law. A door opened from the house into the printing office, and through it I would steal whenever I got the chance. It was not only that the journeyman printer (there were journeymen in those days) was the kindest of men, whose memory I cherish with affection to this hour, and who never failed to welcome me with a smile and a pleasant word when I invaded his domain. The place had a charm of its own for me, mysterious, inexplicable, but absolutely enthralling. The cases of type, the presses, the ink-rollers, the damp proof-sheets—chiefly of bills announcing public meetings or the "roup" of some bankrupt farmer's stock—filled me with wonder and delight. Child as I was, I saw in these humble implements of the petty tradesman the means by which one mind can place itself in contact with many.
It is not to be supposed that I had even the dimmest perception of anything beyond the most obvious features of the printer's business, but the seed was sown then which was to fructify throughout my whole remaining life, and from the day when I first felt the fascination of that humble printer's workshop, I never ceased to regard myself as in a special degree a child of the printing-press. How delightful were the hours which I and David, the journeyman aforesaid, spent together when business was slack—and it was often slack! Then it was that together we would compose the most wonderful announcements of the great enterprises to which I was to commit myself in after life. Now it was the prospectus of a "genteel academy" of which I was to be the principal, and again it was the announcement of the opening of a vast emporium for the sale of goods of every description under my direction, that we thus composed and printed. These advertisements were invariably printed on gilt-edged paper in the bluest of ink, and, when I subsequently returned home, excited prodigious envy in my elder brother, who had never been privileged to "see himself in print."
My stay at St. Andrews ended at last in a somewhat melancholy fashion. As the place seemed to agree with me, it was settled that I should remain for a year at least; and in order that the time might not be wasted I was sent to school, the school being the well-known Madras College. Here both boys and girls were taught together. Of the present state of that famous institution I know nothing, nor do I wish to utter a word of disparagement of those who were responsible for its management fifty years ago; but to me, a timid boy who, in spite of his Northumbrian burr, was turned to ridicule as a Cockney by the Fifeshire lads and lasses, it wore the aspect of a veritable place of torment. That classic instrument of discipline, the tawse, was in use at every hour of the day, girls as well as boys receiving barbarous punishment under the eyes of their class-mates. Perhaps the cruelty was not so great as it seemed to me, but at all events it was enough, so far as I was concerned. My dread of the terrible lash grew into a brooding horror, which poisoned my days and destroyed my nights; and before I had been a month at the school I was seized with an attack upon the brain which nearly proved fatal.
Let me mention here, by way of testifying to the orthodoxy of the religious training given to my young soul, that on the first night on which I became delirious I was pursued by a phantom, plainly visible to my overwrought imagination, which wore the exact guise of the Evil One. Horns, hoofs, tail, and trident, were all clearly seen, and I sprang wildly from side to side of my bed trying to evade the fiend's attempt to capture me, until at last I took refuge, trembling and almost fainting, in my grandfather's arms. My youth and my good constitution carried me safely through an illness of no ordinary severity, and one day, as I lay in bed in the first stage of convalescence, I had the joy of hearing my mother's voice, and of knowing that she was with me once more. A few days later I returned with her to Newcastle, and thus ended the attempt to make a Scotsman of me.
My visit to the North, however, had the effect of stimulating my intelligence, and giving me a real interest in things around me. Travel had, in short, done its usual work of instructing and vivifying the mind. Henceforward I had a standard of comparison to apply to home scenes and experiences which I had not previously possessed. One favourite resort of ours at home was a grove of trees situate midway between the outskirts of the town and the village of Benwell. To us children, and to certain other young folk who were our playmates, it was known as Diana's Grove, though whether the name came from some fancy of our own or some bygone tradition, I was never able to ascertain. On the maps of those days it bore quite another designation. It was a delightful spot, and when, accompanied by our nursemaid, my brothers and I set off to spend a long summer morning there, we seemed to have reached the height of bliss. The grove was separated from Elswick Lane by sloping fields, where wheat and barley grew luxuriantly, and the narrow path by which we ran, shouting with joy, through these fields to our haven among the trees led past a little fountain at which we always stopped to drink. The grove itself was a small wood of oak and fir trees, covering a piece of rising ground from which the most delightful views of the beautiful Tyne Valley and the country lying south of the river were to be obtained. How often as a child, when tired with my boyish games, I have sat with my brother beneath one of the trees of the grove, and looked with eyes of wonder on the scene before me! The noble river seemed to flow almost at our feet, and the only signs of life upon its surface were the great keels passing slowly up and down. Beyond it were the green meadows of Dunstan, whilst, rising behind them, was the fine amphitheatre crowned by the pretty village of Wickham and the woods of Ravensworth and Gibside. Young as I was, I could quote poetry; and I remember how, as I looked upon this scene, there invariably occurred to me the lines—
"Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood Stand dressed in living green; So to the Jews old Canaan stood While Jordan rolled between."
Away yonder, across the brimming river, was the Canaan of my imagination—the mysterious, unknown land into which my little feet were so eager to wander, reckless of what might happen there. Why do I dwell upon this simple scene? I do so because, alas, it is now a scene of the past. Where my young comrades and I made merry fifty years ago in the shade of the oak trees, or beside the well in the meadow, there is now a vast cemetery, and some of those who played with me there now sleep peacefully almost in the shadow of the Diana's Grove we loved so well. And the prospect from the grove—where is it now? Along the north bank of the Tyne, at that very spot, stretch the immense works of Lord Armstrong, whilst the houses of his workmen, in thickly-planted streets, cover the fair meadows of my youth, and the dense cloud of smoke for ever rising from forge and furnace blots out the prospect of the southern shore.
Hardly less melancholy is the change which has overtaken the favourite seaside resorts of my childhood. Tynemouth was the earliest watering-place of which I knew anything. In those days the pleasant village, not yet defiled by the soot of Shields, consisted of three streets, called respectively Front Street, Middle Street, and Back Street. There was no great pier casting its mighty arm into the sea across the mouth of the river, and the favourite resort of visitors, the place where we children played and bathed, and our elders lounged and read or flirted, according to their tastes, was the quaint little haven now given up to the pier works. How high the breakers were that rolled into that haven as I stood, a wondering child, and watched them from the shore! I have tossed on many seas since then, and have stood on many a storm-swept headland; but nowhere have I seen waves so high—so irresistible in their majesty, as those waves at Tynemouth seemed to my innocent eyes to be.
Far greater than the change at Tynemouth is that which has taken place at Whitley, another of our favourite summer resorts, on the delightful Northumbrian coast. What Whitley is now I do not know; but when I last saw it, more than a dozen years ago, it had become a rambling, ugly, ill-built town, chiefly given over to lodging-house keepers, though redeemed by its fine stretch of hard sand. Very different was the Whitley with which I first made acquaintance in 1849. There was no lodging-house in the place; nothing but a sequestered village, which could not boast of church or chapel, and which had only one small shop. My parents used to hire a charming little cottage belonging to the village blacksmith. Its front opened upon the village street, and behind was a garden, full of the simple cottage flowers which are so strangely unfamiliar to those doomed to dwell in towns. A summer-house, clothed in honeysuckle, was one of the features of the garden, and the delicious scent seemed to me in those happy days, when I first reached the cottage on one of our summer holidays, to be as it were the fragrance of heaven itself. Nobody else seemed to visit Whitley in those first years of our sojourn there; so that we had the noble stretch of sands and the long line of cliffs almost to ourselves during the long summer's day, and my father, lying on the yielding turf above the sands, could study his sermon for the coming Sunday at peace, unmolested and almost unseen by any man. There must still, I suppose, be spots somewhere on the long coastline of this island where one might find combined the peace, the seclusion, and the beauty of that bit of Northumberland as I knew it fifty years ago; and yet, whatever my understanding may say, my heart tells me that I shall never again see anything like the Whitley of my youth. [Footnote: Since these pages were penned, the memory of the blacksmith's cottage at Whitley has been vividly brought back to me under rather singular circumstances. In the spring of 1895 I was dining in Downing Street with Lord Rosebery, then Prime Minister. Next to me at dinner was seated Sir James Joicey, the millionaire colliery owner and Member of Parliament. Sir James is, like myself, a Northumbrian, and our conversation naturally turned upon our native county. I spoke of the blacksmith's cottage, and the bower of honeysuckle at Whitley, with the enthusiasm which old memories evoked. To my surprise, there was an answering gleam of pleasure and tenderness on my friend's face. "You lived in the blacksmith's cottage?" said he. "Why, so did we when I was a boy!" We found, on comparing dates, that the Joiceys had followed my own parents as tenants of the tiny house when the latter gave it up. To both of us it seemed a far cry from the honest blacksmith's modest cottage to Mr. Pitt's dining-room in Downing Street.]
It was in the autumn of 1850 that a rather curious adventure befell me, which might well have cut short my career, and prevented these pages from ever seeing the light. We were about to remove from Summerhill Terrace to a house not far distant which had just been bought by my father, and, as it happened, one dull afternoon I was left alone at home, my mother and the servants being all engaged at the new house. I was left with strict injunctions to "put the chain on the front door," and to bolt the kitchen door, which was on a lower level than the other. The first order I obeyed, but the second, under the temptation of an entrancing story in Tait's Edinburgh Magazine which absorbed my thoughts, I entirely forgot. I was devouring this story, as only children do devour stories, when I heard the front door opened. I was sitting in the parlour, at the back of the house, so that I could not see anyone enter the garden. Running to the door, under the belief that my mother had returned, I found myself confronted by two men. They were—or pretended to be—pedlars; and one of them carried a case filled with sham jewellery. Their great desire seemed to be to get me to unchain the door. I was simple enough to tell them that I was alone in the house, but my simplicity did not carry me so far as a compliance with their urgent request. After arguing with me for several minutes, and even endeavouring to bribe me with a trumpery jewel, the men withdrew, muttering. I watched them for a moment, and took note of the keen, earnest gaze they bent upon the house before leaving the garden. But the voice of the charmer in Tait was calling too loudly to allow me to dwell upon anything else, and I was quickly back again in the parlour and deep in mystery.
It might have been twenty minutes later that there fell upon my startled ear a sound which under the circumstances was distinctly sinister—that of a man's foot on the sanded floor of the kitchen passage below. A timid child at all times, there is no need to say that when I crept to the head of the stairs, and, after listening there breathlessly for a few seconds, ascertained beyond doubt that more than one man was moving about in the rooms below me, I was filled with almost a paralysing sense of terror. Here at last the "robbers" of whom I and my brother had so often talked in frightened whispers in our beds, were come in good earnest. What was to be done? And then there flashed upon me, like an inspiration, the recollection of a plan which we had talked over together when discussing the best means of driving the robbers from our house, should they ever enter it. We had both agreed, then, that if we could but induce any ordinary thief to believe that a certain big relative of ours, whose colossal proportions we had often admired, was on the premises, there would be no need to do anything else to make the intruder flee affrighted. My mind was made up. Creeping softly back into the parlour, I seized the tongs. These I hurled suddenly down the kitchen stairs, and when the terrible din thus raised had died out, I cried in my childish treble, "Uncle John! Uncle John! Come downstairs! There are thieves in the house!" There was a cry of rage or alarm from the kitchen, a hurried scuffling of feet on the floor, and then through a window I saw my two friends the pedlars flying through the yard, and pausing not to look behind. I ought, of course, to have forthwith gone downstairs and done my duty by that back door, which I had so shamefully neglected earlier in the day; but I am ashamed to say that my momentary access of courage had entirely died away by this time, and that for no imaginable sum of money would I have dared to descend those stairs, and pass through the dark passage leading to the back door. The thieves were in due time captured and transported for another offence; but my parents refused to prosecute them in order that I might escape the ordeal of a public examination. They were desperate ruffians, and the police declared their belief that if they had known I was alone in the house they would have murdered me.
I now come to my schooldays in the distant years 1852-4. My father, as I have already said, was a minister of religion for fifty years at Newcastle. He was one of the gentlest and noblest of men, one whom I have never ceased to revere as the very pattern and exemplar of a Christian gentleman. But those who follow such a calling cannot expect to gain riches as their reward, and my father was a poor man. Despite his poverty, he was resolved that his sons should have the best education that he could procure for them. That meant that they must be sent to the best school in the town—Percy Street Academy. So when my elder brother in 1848 was of school age, he took him to Mr., not then Dr., Bruce, to enter him as a pupil. I have no doubt that he went with some trepidation, knowing full well that the school fees would be a heavy tax upon his small income. I was sitting with my mother in the drawing-room of Summerhill Terrace when my father returned, and I saw that there was an unwonted brightness on his gentle face. He told my mother how Mr. Bruce, after examining my brother, had pronounced him to be fully qualified to enter the school; and then my father asked about the fees. The answer he received was, "My dear Mr. Reid, I never take a fee from a minister of religion." And so it came to pass that not only my brother James but myself and my two younger brothers were educated at Percy Street without any fee being paid on our behalf. No one will wonder that I cherish Dr. Bruce's memory with unstinted gratitude and reverence.
Schooldays, despite the popular theory, are, as a matter of fact, generally as uninteresting to the schoolboy as their story is to the public, and I shall not detain the reader with much about this period of my life. Dr. Collingwood Bruce, the father, by the way, of Mr. Justice Bruce, was then and long afterwards the most famous school master in the North of England, and under him I received that small fraction of my education which a man usually obtains during pupilage. Percy Street Academy, Newcastle, has long since disappeared, after having counted no inconsiderable proportion of the best-known residents among its pupils. It occupied a series of rambling buildings with an imposing house at the end of the row, in which lived "The Doctor," the assistant masters, and the boarders. But though the school is gone, my old schoolmaster died but recently, enjoying to the last the respect of his fellow citizens and the repose of a happy old age. He is known to fame as the author of the leading work on the Roman Wall, and as an antiquary of high repute. I have a grateful recollection of many of his acts during my school career; and, looking back, there are none I now esteem more highly than the attempts he constantly made to interest his pupils in the general affairs of the world outside the school-gates.
How well, for example, do I remember the school being summoned one morning in November, 1854, to the large writing room! Here the Doctor was standing at his desk awaiting us, armed with a copy of the Times. It had just arrived, and it contained W. H. Russell's brilliant account of the battle of Inkermann. In a few well-chosen words, the Doctor—who was an excellent public speaker—explained that he had called us from our tasks in order that we might listen to the story of a great deed done for England of which every Englishman ought to be proud; and then he read the whole story of the battle as it is told in Russell's graphic narrative, whilst we boys cheered each deed of English valour and groaned at the Russians as lustily as though we had been ourselves spectators of the fight. It was a wise act on the part of Dr. Bruce, and many others besides myself must have been grateful to him for having thus made us participators in the emotion which in those stirring times thrilled the nation.
It was before the Crimean War, however, that we in Newcastle passed through an experience the like of which I shall hardly encounter again. Newcastle was then notorious for its bad sanitation. A great part of the town consisted of houses of extreme antiquity, crowded together in narrow alleys in the neighbourhood of the river. These alleys, I may note in passing, were known as "chares"—a designation which used habitually to puzzle the Judges of Assize when they had to inquire into the circumstances of one of the not infrequent riots which in those days chequered the harmony of life on the banks of the Tyne. It was towards the end of July, 1853, that the rumour spread, reaching even a schoolboy like myself, that the cholera was approaching. A few weeks later it was with us in all its grim reality. Its actual appearance in the town was preceded by an extraordinary phenomenon which may, or may not, have been connected with the epidemic. One hot morning in August, when I left home for school, I was struck by the curious appearance of the atmosphere. No sooner had I stepped out of doors than I found that the strange dimness which pervaded everything was due to swarms of minute flies, which literally darkened the skies and settled in innumerable hosts upon every object animate and inanimate. It was impossible to breathe without inhaling these loathsome insects whenever the mouth was opened, and in order to protect ourselves my brother and I fastened our pocket handkerchiefs over our faces and walked to school in this fashion. We found that most other persons had adopted the same device. The plague lasted in Egyptian intensity for the whole of that day. The next day it had to a certain extent subsided, and on the third the dead flies might have been seen literally in heaps, each one of which must have contained countless thousands, in the corners of halls and passages. Everybody connected this most disagreeable phenomenon with the approach of the pestilence, and, whether they did so rightly or wrongly, the cholera only too certainly followed upon its heels.
Its first appearance raised feelings of terror in many hearts. I confess for myself that when I heard that three persons had died of cholera in the town on the previous day I fell into a small panic; but it was then that my mother, always a deeply religious woman, seeing how things were going with us, called her children together, and in the happiest manner succeeded in converting our dread of an unknown and mysterious evil into a perfect and childlike trust in the protection of a Heavenly Father. What she said I cannot now recall; I only know that from that moment, whilst many of our companions in school and at play went about with pallid faces and unstrung nerves, all our fears seemed as if by magic to have vanished. But the reality of the plague was terrible indeed, and the month of September, 1853, is never likely to be forgotten by anyone who then lived at Newcastle. It was not merely that the mortality was enormous, the deaths on some days being above a hundred, but that the circumstances attending the plague were of a gruesome and harrowing character. Not a few of the scenes in the streets recalled the story of the Great Plague of London. We had the same incidents of the dead lying unburied because there were none left to carry them to the grave. We had the piles of coffins waiting for interment in the churchyard. We had sad stories of men seen wheeling the corpse of wife or child in a barrow to the place of burial. In the evenings workmen carried burning disinfectants through the streets, the blue flames and sickening stench of which heightened the horrors of our situation. And perhaps most awful of all was the suddenness with which the disease slew. One evening in that terrible month my brothers and I were playing in the garden of our next-door neighbour with his children; by-and-by he himself came out to smoke his evening pipe, and as usual he had a kindly word for each one of us. We left him, when we went to bed, sauntering in the placid eventide among the flowers he was wont carefully to tend. When I got downstairs next morning a rough country servant, who was then in our employment, bluntly told me that "that laddie B——" (naming our neighbour) had died of the cholera during the night.
It is easy to conceive the effect which an incident like this necessarily had upon the mind of a child; and there were many such incidents. I verily believe that if we had not been clad by our mother's care and wisdom in that armour of trusting faith, we should have suffered irremediable injury. As it was, it became apparent that we must be removed from the plague-stricken town. But whither could we go? No visitor from Newcastle or any other riverside town could find admittance into any of the lodging-houses on the coast. Happily a port of refuge was open to us in the little blacksmith's cottage at Whitley, and thither, to our great relief, we were transported about the time when the virulence of the epidemic began to abate. My father had himself suffered from an attack of the disease, probably incurred whilst visiting, with quiet but unstinted devotion, the sick, and I also had had a very slight touch of it. The fine air of Whitley and the sunny hours spent on the lonely sands did wonders for us all; and when we returned home it was to find Newcastle restored to its ordinary life, with only the empty places in many households to remind us of the ordeal through which the town had passed.
I have spoken of the resemblance between this outbreak of cholera and the Great Plague of London. Curiously enough, the likeness between the experiences of the northern town in the nineteenth century and the capital in the seventeenth was to be made yet closer. It was just a year after the epidemic had passed away that we were visited by another calamity, infinitely less appalling, and yet at the time of its occurrence far more startling. Sound asleep in the middle of a dark October night, I began to dream, and, naturally enough at the time, my dreams were of the war which had then begun. A Russian fleet escaping from the Baltic had sailed up the Tyne and was bombarding Newcastle. So ran my vision, and its effect was heightened by the firing of the guns I heard in my sleep.
Suddenly my dream and everything else vanished from my mind, driven out by a shock the like of which I had never experienced before. I was sitting up in bed, trembling violently, and wondering what awful thing it was that had broken in upon my slumbers. It was a sound—but such a sound! Nothing approaching to it had ever fallen on my ears before; and even when wide awake I still heard its echoes vibrating around me. My brother James, strange to say, had slept peacefully through the roar of an explosion the noise of which was heard at Sunderland, fourteen miles away. In response to my cries he awoke, and at my urgent request went to the window, which I was myself at the moment too much unnerved to approach. Directly he drew aside the curtain the room was filled with a glare that rendered every object as plainly visible as in broad daylight. We believed that a large building used as a tannery immediately behind our house must be on fire, but the building stood, and we saw that the glare which lighted up the whole heavens was far away. It was shortly after three o'clock on the morning of October 6th, 1854. Presently our natural agitation was increased by a violent knocking on the front door of the house at that untimely hour. It was the old man who "kept" my father's chapel at Tuthill Stairs, and he brought with him a doleful story. Evidently hysterical from the shock he had received, he told my father, amid his sobs, that half of Newcastle and Gateshead had been blown down by a frightful explosion in one of the Gateshead bonded warehouses; that the dead and dying were lying about in hundreds, and that, to crown everything, Tuthill Stairs Chapel had been destroyed.
It was indeed a tale of woe; and though my father promptly discounted it, it was impossible to doubt, with the evidence of that flaming sky before our eyes, that something very terrible had happened. Whether old Dixon expected my father to act as an amateur fireman, or whether he hoped for services of a more spiritual kind, I do not know; but he resolutely refused to return to the scene of the disaster unless my father accompanied him. So by-and-by my brother and I found ourselves accompanying my father and the chapel-keeper on their way to the fire.
A strange spectacle it was which was presented to us. Thousands of persons were hurrying down towards the river side; and upon their faces shone the reflection of the glowing sky. By-and-by, as we came within range of the effects of the explosion, we found broken windows and shattered doorways on every side. It was not, however, until we reached the High Level Bridge, and from the giddy height of the roadway looked down upon the river and the two towns, that we realised the full extent of the disaster which had happened so suddenly. To our right, as we stood on the bridge, raged a fire of immense extent. The flames were roaring upwards from one of the great bonded warehouses of Gateshead, and threatening at every moment to attack the old parish church, which stood like a rock strangely illumined in the glare; to our left, in the crowded streets and alleys of the lower part of Newcastle, I counted no fewer than seven fires burning fiercely in different places, whilst on the river there were three ships in flames. It was wonderful to look up and see burning sparks and fragments hurtling through air, resembling nothing so much (I thought at the time) as a snowstorm every flake of which was a point of fire; it was wonderful, too, to see the shipping in the river, the broad stream itself, and the long lines of houses on either side glowing in the dancing flames. We could hear the rush of the fire heavenwards; we could see the mere handfuls of men—soldiers, police, and what not—who were vainly striving to cope with the terrible enemy they had so suddenly been called upon to face; and even as we looked we saw fresh fires break out, and above the roar of the mighty furnace on the Gateshead side—with the glowing crater which marked the site of the great explosion—could hear at intervals the cries of the workers. Looking back, I think that was upon the whole the most sublimely impressive sight I ever beheld. The two burning towns; the river between them glittering as though its waters had been turned to gold; the dense silent crowds around me—these made up a picture the memory of which can never fade.
Though old Dixon's "hundreds of dead and dying" was the wildest of exaggerations, there had been a most lamentable loss of life as a consequence of the explosion. What had happened was this: about midnight a fire had broken out in a vinegar manufactory in the densely-crowded district of Gateshead lying between the parish church and the river. This fire, baffling the efforts of the fire brigade, spread quickly, until it reached some large bonded warehouses adjoining the vinegar manufactory. By this time it had acquired such proportions that it had been found necessary to summon the military from the Newcastle Barracks to assist in the effort to extinguish it, whilst vast crowds of people assembled, not only in the neighbourhood of the fire itself, but on the bridges and Newcastle quay, from which an excellent view was to be obtained. The fire at last reached a warehouse owned by a gentleman named Bertram, and here it assumed a new character. The exact contents of the warehouse remain undiscovered to this day. At the time it was freely asserted that Mr. Bertram had, in direct breach of the law, warehoused a large quantity of gunpowder; but scientific witnesses who were subsequently examined showed that it was possible that certain chemicals stored in the warehouse, when suddenly combined, as by the falling of the floors, would be quite as explosive as gunpowder itself.
Be this as it may, after one or two slight explosions—those which in my dream were transformed into the cannonade of a Russian force—the whole warehouse with all its contents was suddenly blown into the air by the force of an explosion seldom equalled in its terrible violence. That explosion not only carried the burning materials across the river to Newcastle, where they quickly produced another conflagration as serious in its character as that which was raging in Gateshead, but inflicted terrible injury both to life and property. The persons in the neighbourhood of the burning building, including soldiers, firemen, police, and Mr. Bertram, the owner of the warehouse, were instantly killed; and in many cases not a trace of their remains could afterwards be found. On the bridges and on Newcastle quay the great crowds of onlookers were thrown to the ground by the shock, and several were killed outright; whilst, far and wide, buildings were partially unroofed, windows broken, and a great and populous district reduced to the state in which one might have expected to see it after a bombardment. The exact number of those killed was never ascertained, but I believe that between thirty and forty persons lost their lives.
As I came away with my father and brother from the scene of the fire, my young nerves received the shock which invariably follows the first sight of death. In the Sandhill—the scene of Lord Eldon's elopement with the beautiful Bessie Surtees—a man was lying on the pavement who had been killed by the force of the explosion. As I passed, they were lifting the body into a cart, and the sight of the head, hanging helplessly like that of a dead bird, was one I never forgot. All that day the fires burned fiercely, and it was not until the third day that they were really subdued. Indeed, on the Gateshead side the ruined warehouses smoked and smouldered for more than a week. In all, the value of the property destroyed was something like a million sterling.
Never shall I forget my morning at school on the day on which the fire first broke out. Boylike, it was the wonder rather than the horror of the thing which was uppermost in my mind, and I and my schoolfellows, before the morning bell sounded, eagerly related to each other all that we had seen; those who, like myself, had been early on the ground having much to tell to eager listeners. It was only when we had trooped excitedly into our class-rooms, and found ourselves face to face with our masters, that we began to realise the actual solemnity of a catastrophe the like of which had never before befallen an English provincial town. In the Latin room, where I was due at the opening of the school, I was unfeignedly surprised to see Mr. Garven, our old classical tutor, sitting in tears at his desk, and I can still hear the broken whispers in which he attempted to speak to us of the terrible event.
It came home, I ought to say, very closely to "Bruce's school." More than one of those killed had been pupils, and the son of Mr. Bertram, upon whom already an excited public opinion was seeking to fasten the responsibility for the explosion, was one of our schoolfellows, and had but the day before joined us in our lessons. Suddenly as, in a half-hearted way, we began our usual tasks, Dr. Bruce entered, pale and agitated. "Boys," he said, "a dreadful thing has happened to our good old town. God knows how far the mischief may extend, and what ruin may be wrought; but we know already that more than one old pupil here have lost their lives, and that some of you boys have lost those near and dear to you. There can be no school to-day. It would not be decent——" And then the Doctor's voice fairly gave way, and we found ourselves dismissed to an unexpected—and, for once, an undesired—holiday. These things sink deep into the youthful imagination, and the memory of them can never be lost. As I look back upon the years I spent at school, that dark October morning stands out with a prominence that causes every other day of my school life to sink into insignificance.
Aspirations After a Journalistic Life—A Clerk's Stool in the W.B. Lead Office—Literary Ambitions—An Accepted Contribution—The Northern Daily Express and its Editor—Founding a Literary Institute—Letters from Charles Kingsley and Archbishop Longley—Joseph Cowen and his Revolutionary Friends—Orsini—Thackeray's Lectures and Dickens's Readings.
One day, in the summer of 1856, I was walking along Princes Street, Edinburgh, looking with wonder and delight upon the beautiful panorama that was spread before my eyes. I was little for my age, and the gentleman who was my companion, and who was pointing out to me the many famous buildings and monuments that form the glory of the modern Athens, was leading me by the hand.
Probably he thought me still younger than I was, and treated me as a mere child. I had come to Edinburgh on a brief holiday, and was staying at the house of one of my father's friends. By-and-by, having duly fulfilled his duty as showman, my companion, in a kindly, patronising way, sought to draw me out. "And what do you mean to be, my boy, when you grow up?" he asked. My answer was instantaneous and assured. "I mean to be a newspaper editor, sir." My friend flung my hand from him and burst into a roar of laughter, which surprised me even more than it did the passers-by. "A newspaper editor!" he cried, still convulsed by what appeared to me a most unseemly, if not offensive, merriment. "Good heavens! And what in the world has put such a thing as that into the child's head?" My wounded dignity came to my aid. Was I not fourteen? and had I not already left school and begun to earn my own living? "I made up my mind a long time ago," I said in the accents of injured innocence. "When I am a man I mean to be that, and nothing else." I had a sad time of it for the rest of the day, for this worthy gentleman appreciated what he regarded as the joke so keenly that whenever he met a friend he stopped him, and said, "Let me introduce to you a live editor—that is to be some day." He enjoyed the situation more than I did.