Memoirs of a Social Atom (01)

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INTRODUCTION


I CALL myself a Social Atom—a small speck on the surface of society.  The term indicates my insignificance.  I have mingled with no great people, been admitted to no great secrets, met with no great adventures, witnessed no great events, taken part in no great transactions.  In a word, I am just an ordinary person: no better, and I hope no worse, than the ordinary run of my neighbours.  Being thus so completely undistinguished in every way, why have I had the conceit or the impudence to intrude upon the attention of the public?  The intrusion, I shall expect to be told, might have been understood, or at all events forgiven, in a younger man; but in one who has reached, perhaps has passed, the years of discretion, the offence, if not absolutely without excuse, is hardly slight enough to escape the general censure.  But a word in explanation before sentence is pronounced.

    It has been said that every man has in him the making of at least one good novel.  The gentleman who first impressed this idea upon me was distinguished in science, but was yet desirous of trying the experiment of writing a novel himself.  As the proposition was not accepted, we have no means of knowing how far the theory in his case would have stood the test of experiment.  But if every man in certain given circumstances may be considered capable of writing (perhaps I ought to say of producing) one good novel, might we not assume with even greater reasonableness that every man of advanced age has seen and heard enough in the course of his career to enable him to write a book of recollections?  Anyway, I think it may fairly be held that no man can go through the world with his eyes open for seventy years without seeing much that would, if intelligently explained and discussed, interest (and maybe instruct) the general public.

    Holding this view, I hope to be pardoned for putting into some sort of literary form a few recollections of events and circumstances that have come under my own observation since 1832.  The events and circumstances here indicated are not of high importance, although, as many of them concern the common people and the hopes and aspirations of the common people, they ought not to be the less appreciated, nor perhaps the less attractive, on that account.  It is, after all, the common people who constitute society—society without the capital letter; for "the nation in all ages," as Mr. Bright once said, "live in cottages."

    Books of recollections constitute what may be called a favourite class of literature.  Though they cannot of course compete with novels, they stand as high in public favour, let us say, as poetry and the drama.  And it is a wholesome taste—the taste for reading the records of actual occurrences and adventures.  Actors, artists, authors, journalists, propagandists, politicians, and even statesmen, have from time to time told the world what they knew about themselves, what they thought of other people, what they remembered of the things that transpired in their day and generation.  All these productions are more or less interesting—some because the writer is himself an interesting personage, others because he deals with incidents of stirring or tragic character, others again because he has light and agreeable stories to tell and a light and agreeable way of telling them.

    I have read many such books, and have derived profit and pleasure from all.  Maybe I can make a not unreadable contribution to that branch of literature myself.  But I have already disclaimed any pretension to importance.  My recollections, for the most part, will relate to the commonplace experiences of a humble worker in a humble sphere of life.  I repeat, however, that they may not lack interest on that account.  I recollect that one of the most entertaining books I ever read was the "Autobiography of a Working Man."  It was published when I was still a youth.  The character of the book may be judged from the title.  It was simply the record of the trials and troubles, the joys and the sorrows, of a journeyman of the period.  But the story was told intelligently and without pretence, and so it received, I remember, a cordial welcome from both the press and the public.  A somewhat similar welcome—which, however, was perhaps less deserved in these cases—was extended to other works of the same complexion, the "Autobiography of a Beggar Boy" and the "Autobiography of One who has Whistled at the Plough."  The examples mentioned are at all events encouraging.

    Another consideration has had much weight in inspiring the present enterprise.  In the autumn of 1866, Mr. James Watson, an old Radical publisher who had been imprisoned in the days of the struggle for a free press, and who had been closely concerned in all the Radical movements of the previous forty years, was on a visit to Blaydon-on-Tyne.  I had known Mr. Watson some years before, knew something of his history and his struggles, knew also that few men of my acquaintance could furnish the world with so graphic a narrative of the agitations in which he had taken part.  The gentleman who entertained Mr. Watson at Blaydon, a still older friend than I was, urged him to write out his recollections.  I added my own entreaties.  Mr. Watson, who was then an old man, would promise nothing, and eventually did nothing.  So was lost a wealth of memorable reminiscences that can never now be chronicled.  Much the same thing happened later, when Mr. George Julian Harney was contributing articles to the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle.  He, too, was urged to write down his recollections—particularly his recollections of the Chartist agitation, in which he had played a leading and important part.  Mr. Harney promised to consider the proposal, and there the matter ended.  It occurred to me at these times that I ought not to exempt myself from the pressure of my own exhortations, more especially as I also had had some small connection with the movements in which Watson and Harney had played conspicuous rôles.  If I have taken my own medicine, it is at least good evidence that I had faith in its virtues.

    One cannot be unmindful of the fact, even before putting a single line on paper, that personal memoirs or recollections cannot be recorded without an appearance of egotism that may be distasteful, not to say disgusting, to other people.  The eternal "I" asserts itself in every chapter and in almost every sentence.  This is naturally an enormous disadvantage, since it excites a prejudice against the writer.  Yet there is no way out of the difficulty except by dealing with events in which one has personally acted as if one was merely a spectator of them.  Such a process is all the more unsatisfactory because it creates the impression that the narrative is rather a work of imagination than a register of actual occurrences.

    And then there is that other difficulty which confronts the faithful narrator—the difficulty of discriminating between what interests himself and what will interest the reader.  A trivial incident may appear of considerable importance to the person who witnessed it, but of no consequence whatever to the person who did not.  Matters that interest ourselves loom large in our own eyes, but contract to small dimensions in the eyes of others.  It is as if one looked at an object from the right end of a telescope, while another looked at the same object from the wrong end.  Besides, readers are of different tastes.  What will please one class will not attract even the languid attention of another class.  The best judges are often deceived in questions of popular likes and dislikes.  Neither authors nor playwrights, however many their triumphs, are uniformly successful in gauging them.  How, then, may a humbler scribe expect to fare?  Well, he can only exercise his own judgment to the best of his own ability.  The task is delicate, not to say perplexing.  Whether success or failure attend the effort, the effort itself may be worth undertaking.  The result is in other hands.

 

MEMOIRS OF A SOCIAL ATOM
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CHAPTER I

A FASHIONABLE TOWN


THE town of Cheltenham has many distinctions, among the rest that of being the first to welcome the present writer.  This interesting event occurred in the year of the great Reform Bill, and on the anniversary in that year of the birthday of General Washington.  If the event had never occurred, the present history would never have been written.  Maybe we have not much to be thankful for.  Anyway, this bit of fooling, exquisite or otherwise, will serve to introduce "the birthplace of Podgers."  Nothing further need be said on the subject, except that the statement can be verified, if anybody should want to verify it, by consulting the register of baptisms at the old Parish Church for February 11th, 1832.

    Now that I have got over the preliminary difficulty of a modest narrator—cantered over it, as the late Mr. W. E. Forster, the projector of the Education Bill of 1870, thought he had cantered over the religious difficulty—I may perhaps profitably proceed to give some account of an old-fashioned fashionable resort.  The account could be expanded into a volume; but as a policy of expansion in this case, whatever may be its effect on the future of the United States, would totally upset the author's scheme of proportion, the historical account at all events shall be restricted to a single chapter.

    Cheltenham, as has been said, is a town of many distinctions.  It owes its reputation—almost its very existence—to its mineral waters.  These waters drew to the little resort which nestled under the spurs of the Cotswold Range the rank and fashion of an earlier age.  Even Royalty, down in the doldrums, patronised it.  Wherefore Cheltenham gave itself airs.  Long before Scarborough was known as a rendezvous of health-seekers and holiday-makers, the town on the Chelt claimed the title of Queen of Watering Places.  It was a rival of Bath as far back as the reign of Beau Brummel.  There were Pump Rooms in many quarters—the Old Wells, the Montpellier, the Pittville, all surrounded with lovely walks and gardens—besides the Cambray Spa, which was little larger than a Paris kiosk.  Visitors of all sorts hobnobbed in the rotundas with lords and ladies of high degree.  It was in the Old Well Walk—a magnificent avenue of elms long since displaced by villa residences—that old Mr. Coutts, the banker, fell in love with a pretty actress, made her Mrs. Coutts, and left her a large fortune.  Harriet Mellon, the fortunate actress, was known afterwards as the Duchess of St. Albans.  Owing to its sheltered situation, its pleasant environs, its soft and agreeable climate, the town became the favourite residence of so many retired veterans from India that it acquired the sobriquet of "Asia Minor."

    It used to be said of a certain city in America that you couldn't fire a shot gun in any direction without hitting a colonel.  Much the same joke might be made about Cheltenham.  Half-pay officers abounded there.  The place, so to say, was redolent of Eastern battles.  Sir Harry Smith, the hero of Aliwal, was visiting it with his wife in 1847—the popular couple from whom are derived the names of three important towns in South Africa, Harrismith, Ladysmith, and Aliwal North.  Even among the boys the almost exclusive subject of conversation at the time was the presence of the distinguished warrior.  Fresh from his triumphs in the Punjaub, Sir Harry was presented with an address from the inhabitants by the Master of the Ceremonies—then the most important public functionary in the town, for his services were required to regulate and control the diversions of fashionable society.  The great general is recorded as having delivered in reply a "stirring address" to the crowd that had assembled in the garden of his hotel.  Cheltenham was associated, before and afterwards, with other famous Anglo-Indians.  Lord Ellenborough, once Viceroy of India, had his seat in the neighbourhood.  The two sons of the poet Burns, both military men, retired there to end their days in quietude and seclusion.  Sir Robert Sale, who was killed at the battle of Moodkee, had been a resident in the town; and Lady Sale, the story of whose captivity in Cabul is one of the romances of Indian history, was still residing there when the news of her husband's death was received.  And it was from the same place that Sir Charles James Napier, after the disastrous battle of Chillianwallah, was summoned to take command of the Indian army, the Duke of Wellington using on the occasion the memorable words—"If you don't go, I must."

    The waters were supposed to be the chief attraction of the town.  They were held in great esteem by the visitors; but by the poorer inhabitants they were not esteemed and hardly known at all.  Companions of my youth used now and then to make Sunday morning excursions to an old shanty on Bay's Hill, there to make wry faces over draughts from a neighbouring spring, regardless of the consequences to health or comfort.  But ailing people went to Cheltenham as they went to Bath, and as they still go to Harrogate and Llandrindod, to drink the waters.  Old George the Third set the fashion in the last century.  His Majesty, however, seems to have had faith in less orthodox agencies than mineral springs.  A family of farriers known as the Whitworth Doctors were flourishing in Lancashire at the time.  One of these, William Howitt tells us, was summoned to Cheltenham to attend the Princess Elizabeth, for whose complaint he prescribed pinches of his famous snuff!

    The curative qualities of the Cheltenham springs have not escaped satire, as witness the well-known epitaph:—


Here lie I and my three daughters,
Killed by drinking the Cheltenham waters.
If we had stuck to Epsom salts,
We'd not been lying in these here vaults.


The graveyard surrounding the old Parish Church is credited with containing a stone bearing the celebrated inscription.  But the stone and the inscription are alike apocryphal.  At all events I never saw it myself, nor, I think, has anybody else. [1]  There is, however, nothing in the absurdity of the epitaph to warrant the assumption that it would not have been sanctioned by the church authorities in less fastidious days than ours; for in the same graveyard may still be seen the tombstone of a pig-killer with this gruesome doggerel:—


Here lies John Higgs,
A famous man for killing pigs;
For killing pigs was his delight,
Both morning, afternoon, and night.
Both heat and cold he did endure,
Which no physician could e'er cure.
His knife is laid, his work is done;
I hope to heaven his soul is gone.


The town, however, had other attractions besides its waters.  A Chartist orator, addressing a handful of adherents under a fine old willow in the Promenade, described the place as a Town of Gardens.  The description was quite accurate.  Every house, however humble, had ample space in front or rear for the cultivation of flowers or vegetables.  Even the business quarters were not built up as they are elsewhere.  There were trees everywhere—in squares and crescents, in walks and drives, in streets and roads.  The Promenade, which starts from the very centre of the town, was a triple row of trees.  Boulevards!  When I first went to Paris, I found I had been familiar with boulevards from childhood—only they bore another name at home.  Tennyson must have had Cheltenham in his mind (for, as we shall see later, he was once a resident) when he wrote the lines:—


A goodly place,
A realm of pleasaunce, many a mound
And many a shadow chequer'd lawn
Full of the city's stilly sound.


The great actor, William Charles Macready, who ended his days in the town, wrote thus to his friend Lady Pollock :—"I presume you, who have seen the cities and manners of many men, have not omitted Cheltenham in your wide survey.  If so, you will not dissent from my opinion of its beauty.  I do not think there is a town in England or out of it laid out with so much taste, such a continual mixture of garden, villa, street, and avenue."  Macready speaks in the same letter of the hills that encompass it, "objects and interests of beauty observable from every point."  One of the most ineffaceable memories of my boyhood is a view of the town from Cleeve Cloud shortly after dawn on a morning in summer.  The white terraces and streets, embosomed in trees and shining like burnished silver in the brilliant sun, gave the place the appearance of an enchanted city.  No prospect in fairyland itself could have presented a fairer picture than Cheltenham did then.  And the same delightful vision is still at the command of all who take the trouble to ascend the heights to look for it.

    The surroundings of the town are even more lovely than the town itself.  Leckhampton Hill on the one side and the Cleeve Hills on the other, clothed with copse and verdure, except where broken into cliffs or scarred with quarries, are within an easy walk, while away in the distance may be seen the Malvern Range, with the silvery Severn creeping past Upton and Tewkesbury and Gloucester and many another old-fashioned settlement to the Bristol Channel.  Beyond Leckhampton Hill, or rather on the further side of it, was one of the reputed sources of the Thames.  It was called the Seven Springs; it was a favourite resort for excursionists from Cheltenham and Gloucester; and it was the Mecca of many a joyous and boyish pilgrimage of my own.  A more delightful spot could not have been found anywhere.  No description, however eloquent or graphic, could convey an adequate idea of its peaceful loveliness.  Seven springs, bubbling up by the roadside, sent their pure and sparkling waters meandering through the undergrowth of a glorious wood.  Near at hand was a charming dell or glen, called by the country folks Hartley Bottom, but christened in one of Charles Knight's publications the Velvet Valley.  Nothing sweeter or more exquisite have I ever seen.  The sward was softer even than velvet, while the trees and bushes which bordered its sloping banks made the whole place a dream of rural beauty.  Hartley Bottom was open to the public in those early days.  Anybody could wander through it on the way back over the hills to the town.  A few years later, when, grown to man's estate, I visited the locality again, I was vexed to observe that a huge barrier was set up against the entrance, that trespassers were threatened with the "utmost rigour of the law," and that a veritable earthly paradise was closed to all but the proprietor and his gamekeeper.  After the lapse of further years, I was still more vexed to learn that the landowner, annoyed at the popularity of his own lovely domain, had effectually destroyed the beauty of the Seven Springs themselves.  Between the springs and the woods through which their limpid waters flowed he had erected an ugly stone wall!  I have never visited the place since.  The contrast between what I remembered and what I should have seen would have made me sad or—mad.

    I have mentioned Leckhampton, and I have mentioned Macready.  A brother of the tragedian, Major Macready, lies buried in the village churchyard.  Attaching to the circumstance is a melancholy story.  The widow of the officer adorned the grave with the choicest flowers, and made for herself a bower among them.  There for years afterwards the poor lady used to spend long and frequent hours in fancied communings with the dead.  The kindly villagers, sympathising with her distress, thoughtfully abstained from disturbing her sorrowful meditations.  To this day the grave of Major Macready is an object of interest to visitors to the village of Leckhampton.


 
CHAPTER II

THE CLOSE SEASON


THE power of the Church was probably never more remarkably demonstrated anywhere than it was in Cheltenham during many years of the middle of the nineteenth century.  As a matter of fact, the history of the town for all that period was the history of a single clergyman.  The dominant authority in secular as well as religious affairs was a notable and imperious divine—the Rev. Francis Close, afterwards Dean of Carlisle.

    The reign of the Rev. Francis—what may be called the Close Season—extended from 1826, when he was appointed to the Incumbency of Cheltenham, to 1856, the year in which he accepted the Deanery of Carlisle.  During all these years, his presence so pervaded and his influence so dominated the town that little or nothing could be done there without his sanction.  My recollection of him is still vivid.  A singularly handsome man, he was adored by the ladies of the town, especially the fashionable ladies, matrons and maidens alike.  The adoration, as is usual in such cases, took the form of slippers.  It was stated at the time he transferred his labours to Carlisle that over 1,500 pairs of these articles, worked and embroidered by the hands of his fair adorers, were presented to Mr. Close in the course of his ministry at Cheltenham.  Some of the more enraptured or more facetious of his admirers spoke of his fresh and comely countenance as "the beauty of holiness." [2]  When he died in 1882, one of his contemporary biographers, writing of the earlier period of his life, described him as "the Pope of Cheltenham, with pontifical prerogatives from which the temporal had not been severed."

    The description was not inaccurate, nor much exaggerated.  The annual races or steeplechases on Cleeve Hill, far away from the town, were discontinued, and only fitfully resumed nearer at hand afterwards, owing to the incumbent's overpowering influence.  But the most remarkable example of his authority in secular affairs was the power he exercised in preventing the reconstruction of the theatre.  Cheltenham had held an honourable place in the history of the drama.  It was there that Mrs. Siddons appeared with a company of barn-stormers.  The home of the drama was at that time situated in an obscure court.  The tiring room was a hay-loft and the arena a stable.  A party of titled people, among them the Earl of Ailesbury, thinking to get some diversion from the performance of "Venice Preserved," paid the place a visit.  They went to laugh, but remained to cry.  So powerfully had Mrs. Siddons acted the part of Belvidera that the ladies of the party were unpresentable next morning, owing, as Lord Ailesbury informed her husband, to their having wept so excessively the previous night.  The report of the Ailesbury family induced Garrick to send an agent to Cheltenham with the offer of an engagement to the young actress.  Thus did Sarah Siddons begin her triumphant career on the greater stage.  The story is told at length in the poet Campbell's life of the illustrious mummer.  Years afterwards a handsome theatre was built in the town.  Lord Byron, at one time a resident, lent his aid in bringing down talent.  All the great exponents of tragedy and comedy—Kemble and Kean, Macready and Anderson, Liston and Munden, Bannister and Grimaldi, Miss Mellon and Mrs. Jordan—strutted and mimed before succeeding audiences of fashion.  But a great calamity befell the drama in 1839.  The Theatre Royal, shortly after James Anderson had fulfilled an engagement in it, was totally destroyed by fire.  I am not sure that the clergy of the period did not regard the occurrence as a manifestation of the anger of heaven.  It is certain that the incumbent preached against the stage, published the sermon that he preached, and otherwise brought such pressure to bear on the community that no regular theatre was established while he held dominion over the town.

    Many other evidences of narrow-mindedness were furnished by Mr. Close during the time that he was spiritual (and to a large extent temporal) master of the town.  Some of these evidences may be found in the varied volumes of sermons, as well as the printed lectures and addresses, that were so highly treasured by his followers.  When civil marriages were legalised in 1840, he stated from the pulpit that "he wished the canon law allowed him to refuse the sacrament to all persons married at the Registrar's Office."  When infant baptism or some such subject was a burning question in the Church, he was credited with the declaration of his belief in the hyper-Calvinistic assumption that "there are infants in hell a span long."  It was his custom for many years to preach a special sermon against the Roman Catholics on the recurrence of the 5th of November.  Catholics and Unitarians were alike outside his pale; for all denominations save these were invited by him and his friends to join them when a Scripture Readers' Society was formed in Cheltenham.  Mr. Close was perhaps a little superstitious too.  Writing in a private letter about his relations with the Bishop of Gloucester, he said:—"Old Monk and I were very good friends.  He never interfered with me in any one thing that I can remember.  We had some difficulty about a special fast-day on occasion of the cholera.  But he let me do what I pleased.  And we held it—a wonderful day—and the cholera never visited Cheltenham, although it was all round us within four miles.

    The worst instance of his bigotry was the part he was understood to have played in the prosecution of the now venerable George Jacob Holyoake.  Mr. Holyoake was one of Robert Owen's social missionaries.  In that capacity he came in 1842 to lecture to the Cheltenham folks [Ed. see Holyoake: 'Sixty Years of an Agitator's Life,' Chpt. XVIII].  I was a boy of ten at the time.  Hearing my elders talk of the new and strange doctrines that were being preached, I found myself in a meeting in the long room of the King's Head Inn—a room in the inn yard used for the annual dinners of Oddfellows and similar feasts and ceremonies.  The lecturer was a young man, tall and slim, with dark hair and a thin, falsetto voice.  I don't know whether my good friend will recognise the portrait; but it is my earliest recollection of him.  What he said I can't in the least remember.  Mr. Holyoake, paying a later visit to Cheltenham, lectured on "Home Colonization."  After the lecture, in reply to a question, he made some remarks on the subject of religion which, though they would excite little notice now, at that time and in that town naturally aroused hostile attention.  The Cheltenham Chronicle sounded the alarm.  It published a paragraph in which Mr. Holyoake was called a "poor misguided wretch," and the audience was roundly abused for "applauding the miscreant," the editor appending a note to the effect that three persons in the employ of the office were ready to give evidence in case the authorities should institute a prosecution for blasphemy.  One of these three persons was a man whom I came to know afterwards—a printer and local preacher of the name of Bartram, gifted with religious fervour, and not ungifted with a certain sort of eloquence.  It was he, I believe, who wrote or suggested the incriminating paragraph.  The authorities took the advice of the newspaper; Mr. Holyoake was prosecuted for blasphemy; and the result of the "last trial for Atheism," as he himself calls it, was six months' imprisonment in Gloucester Gaol.  The prime mover in the proceedings was generally believed to be the Rev. Francis Close, who was for this or other reasons dubbed by Charles Southwell the "March-hare of the Church."

    But Mr. Close, as was said at the time of his death, must be credited with eminent qualities to have founded so supreme and inquisitorial an empire over home and will as that which he established in Cheltenham.  There can be no doubt of his energy and ardour.  If ever there was a devoted Churchman, it was the incumbent of the parish of Cheltenham.  Foremost in all "good works," he was instrumental in the erection of no fewer than eight new churches, while many charitable and educational institutions enjoyed the benefit of his support, some of them even owing their initiation to his commanding zeal.  A commodious hospital was erected during his ministry.  So also were the Cheltenham College [3] (now hardly second to Eton or Harrow or Rugby), the Ladies' College (commenced in a private house when I was a boy), and the Normal Training College for Teachers, of which the Rev. C. H. Bromby, afterwards Bishop of Tasmania, was made the first headmaster.  Works of this kind ought properly to be placed to the credit of the distinguished Churchman.  Nor was he, notwithstanding his serious and severe reputation, destitute of humour; for I recollect when he paid one of his frequent visits to the printing office in which I was engaged, and in which his occasional sermons and lectures were printed, how heartily he laughed as he told the old story of the Jew clothes-man who, when asked why he called out "O' clo', o' clo," instead of "Old clothes, old clothes," replied that his interrogator would be glad to cut the cry short too if he had to shout it through the streets all day long.

    Among the new churches built in Mr. Close's time was Christ Church, on Bay's Hill, right away in the fields, with scarcely a house beyond it.  Near at hand were clay ponds made by the brick-makers, where the boys of the lower part of the town (myself included) for want of a better place used to bathe among newts and frogs and slime.  The first incumbent of Christ Church was an eloquent Irishman, who attracted crowded congregations to the new temple every Sunday—the Rev. Archibald Boyd.  In pursuance of a half-fulfilled resolution to hear all the parsons in the town, I sometimes joined the congregations myself.  Years afterwards, passing through Exeter, I attended service in the grand old cathedral.  The edifice was crowded—so crowded that in the seat I occupied I could hear, but not see, the preacher.  The sermon was a bitter denunciation of Mr. Bradlaugh, then engaged in his great struggle with the House of Commons.  Some of the old fables about him were retailed from the pulpit.  These being communicated to Mr. Bradlaugh, he contradicted them in his newspaper for the hundredth time.  The preacher was my old acquaintance of Christ Church, then Dean of Exeter.  Eloquence seems to be an endowment of the Boyd family, since among others who are distinguished for the gift is a nephew of the Dean of Exeter's, the Right Rev. William Boyd-Carpenter, Bishop of Ripon.

    The curate of Christ Church in my time became afterwards even more celebrated than Archibald Boyd.  This was the Rev. Frederick William Robertson—"Robertson of Brighton."  One used to hear much in those days among the townsfolk about Captain Robertson, the father of the young preacher; a little, but very little, about his son, the curate; but a great deal too much about a rather harum-scarum brother of the curate's.  It was only after he had obtained a living at Brighton that Robertson became famous.  But he had literary tastes and longings even in Cheltenham.  Tennyson was residing in the town at the time, and Robertson seems to have paid him a visit.  The poet was not a man, either then or afterwards, but especially then, to welcome casual acquaintances.  So, according to Mr. Knowles, fearing that his visitor was going to "pluck out the heart of his mystery," he talked to him about nothing but beer. [4]   If they ever met afterwards, when both had become famous, we may be sure that they would have talked about something else.  Robertson died young, but not before it had been demonstrated that he was one of the choicest products of the English Church.  Dean Stanley called him "the greatest preacher of the century."  When he died, he had published nothing but one sermon, two lectures, two addresses, and an analysis of "In Memoriam."  But he had not been long dead before there arose an imperious demand for all he had said or written.  No sermons have had so large a circulation as Robertson's; none have been so widely read, so warmly praised, so highly appreciated—not even Channing's, or Theodore Parker's, or Ralph Waldo Emerson's.  Mudie found them as popular as novels, Tauchnitz added them to his foreign series, and at least one volume has been translated into German and another into Scandinavian.  Within a brief period of the death of the author, says the Rev. Stopford Brooke in his biography of Robertson, fifteen editions of the first volume were published, thirteen of the second, and thirteen of the third.  Even in America nine editions had been issued at the same period.  Beyond question the fame of few preachers will live longer in literary history than that of the curate of Christ Church on Bay's Hill.


 
CHAPTER III

SOME CELEBRITIES AND OTHERS


ALFRED TENNYSON, the greatest poet of the century, was always a good deal of a recluse.  It was his habit to shun the "madding crowd."  Solitude and seclusion had more attraction for him than all the gaiety and glamour of what is called society.  [5]  This was certainly the case during the five years or so that he was often with his mother in Cheltenham.  The period was the late forties.  One used to hear of him as a sort of myth or shadow—the young poet whose books were in the booksellers' windows, and whose name was beginning to sound as familiar as that of Byron or Wordsworth.  Frederick Robertson speaks of meeting him at the house of a physician; Sydney Dobell had a long walk with him and Carlyle at Malvern; other residents remember how he played in a game of blind man's buff at a Christmas party in 1848. [6]  Beyond this little was known at the time, and not much more is known now, of the poet's life in Cheltenham.  It is said that he was fond of taking his walks in Jessop's Gardens.  Jessop [7] was a nurseryman, and his gardens covered a good many acres of ground.  The gardens were pleasant and picturesque, and the little River Chelt flowed through them.  But even in Tennyson's day they had begun to be despoiled; for the Great Western Railway set up a station therein.

    "In Memoriam," the loveliest tribute any poet ever paid to a friend's memory, must have been written in Cheltenham.  It was published in 1850, the last year of Tennyson's residence there.  One can summon to the vision the scenery of the Cotswolds—the "high, wild hills, and rough, uneven ways" of Shakspeare—as one reads these stanzas:—


Calm and deep peace on this high wold,
        And on these dews that drench the furze,
        And all the silver gossamers
That twinkle into green and gold:

Calm and still light on yon great plain
        That sweeps with all its autumn bowers,
        And crowded farms and lessening towers,
To mingle with the bounding main.


The poet describes how he climbed the eminence and found in the landscape beneath no feature that did not breathe some memory of his friend:—


Nor hoary knoll of ash and haw
        That hears the latest linnet trill,
        Nor quarry trench'd along the hill
And haunted by the wrangling daw.


The quarries "trench'd along the hill" were happy hunting-grounds of local geologists.  One of these—an eminent physician in the town, Thomas Wright, M.D.—had, in lectures at the Philosophical Institution and elsewhere, explained from the evidences he had gathered on Leckhampton Hill that the Severn Valley and even the Cotswolds themselves lay once in the bed of the ocean.  Adding now the fact that Cheltenham, with its two miles of High Street, is built upon sand deposited by the sea which in distant ages spread over vale and wold, we can understand the perfect beauty and accuracy of these lines:—


There rolls the deep where grew the tree.
        O earth! what changes hast thou seen?
        There, where the long street roars, hath been
The stillness of the central sea.


    The year in which "In Memoriam" was published was also the year in which another poem first claimed attention.  This other poem was "The Roman," originally purporting to be the work of one Sydney Yendys.  It was soon known to be the production of Sydney Dobell, the son of a Cheltenham wine merchant.  George Gilfillan, who assumed at the time a sort of protectorate over new poets, described it with equal extravagance and enthusiasm as a "conflagration of genius."  I and other young men in Cheltenham were all the more interested in "The Roman," because it had been inspired by the revolutionary ferment of the period, and had for its object the awakening of sympathy for the struggling patriots of Italy.

    The Dobells were well known—at least by sight and name.  I used to see some of them almost every day on the way to or from the counting-house and emporium of the firm.  As a family, they kept themselves almost entirely to themselves.  It may be said that they were more exclusive than Tennyson himself.  There were balls and parties in the town; but they attended none of them.  There were famous visitors to the town, as Sir Harry Smith or Sir Charles Napier; but they saw none of them.  There were great political contests in the town, as between the Berkeleys and the Agg-Gardners; but they stood entirely aloof from them.  The elder Dobell, married to a daughter of the founder of a church which claimed to be based on the primitive Christian model, was an old-fashioned merchant, much after the style one imagines Mr. Ruskin's father to have been.  Connected with the Dobell establishments there were no outward attractions, no glaring lights, no flaring interiors, no insinuating barmaids.  Even about the advertisements of the house there was an air of dignity and superiority which no other tradesman assumed.  It was always "Mr. Dobell" who had this or that vintage, or this or that brew, to offer to the nobility and gentry.  The religious tenets of the family seem to have been responsible for the peculiar mystery in which all the members of it enshrouded themselves.  When Sydney married and brought home his bride, society people made the usual society calls, but were politely informed that mixing with the world was contrary to the strict requirements of the faith in which he had been nurtured!

    The poet, the better to ensure the quietude and retirement his church enjoined and his own habits and studies dictated, pitched his tent in some of the isolated places of the neighbourhood.  One of these was the village of Hucclecote, situated on the old Roman Road three or four miles from Gloucester.  It was here that he commenced "The Roman."  But Hucclecote is the locale of an anecdote which is perhaps even better known in Gloucestershire than the poem.  Near at hand is Churchdown, shortened by common usage into Chosen.  Chosen Church stands on an isolated hill that commands so beautiful a prospect of field and wood, hamlet and town, for miles around, that it is a favourite resort of summer holiday-makers.  To account for the situation of the sacred edifice, which necessitates a toilsome climb for the worshippers, the usual legend of impish intervention was invented.  It was built in the vale, but was removed to the hill-top by the devil himself!  But to the story.  One Sunday the clergyman or clerk officiating in the parish of Hucclecote was making much of the appeal to the Lord—"And make Thy chosen people joyful."  The appeal on this occasion was uttered with so much emphasis that a villager in the congregation, unable to stand what he thought was the marked preference for the residents of another parish, cried out aloud, "What have the Hucclecut folks done, then?"

    Other members of the Dobell family have made their mark in literature.  One of these is Dr. Horace Dobell, the author of many treatises on medical subjects, particularly an elaborate exposition of the salubrious qualities of Bournemouth, where for many years he was one of the leading physicians.  If Dr. Horace was not a poet himself, his wife at any rate laid claim to the title; for she published one volume of poetical effusions and announced that seventeen more were to follow!

    As there were brave men before Agamemnon, so there were poets connected with Cheltenham before the Dobells. Thomas Haynes Bayly, the author of an endless number of songs that everybody knew and sung in the earlier years of the century, lived and died in the town.  Old people will have a lively recollection of the popularity of such sentimental ditties as these "She Wore a Wreath of Roses," "I'd be a Butterfly," and "Woodman, Spare that Tree."  The inscription on a mural tablet to Bayly's memory in one of the churches was written by Theodore Hook.  A later poet records in verse how he shed a tear over a brother poet's grave.  This later poet was L. M. Thornton, author of the once familiar song, "The Postman's Knock," which was set to music by W. T. Wrightson.  I knew poor Thornton passing well.  The American humourist's definition of a poet as "a man who wears long hair and can't eat his vittles" would have suited him exactly.  He hawked his own volumes, and, it was said, borrowed them and sold them again.  It was a sad blow to the poet when a prosperous tailor of my acquaintance declined to part with the book he had purchased except on condition that the purchase money was refunded.  Sad, too, was the poet's end, for he died in Bath workhouse after having been an inmate for many years.

    A lady of some distinction in letters played a rather prominent part in one of the elections for Cheltenham.  Daughter of the Earl of Lindsay, she married first Sir John Guest, the wealthy iron- master of Dowlais, who died in 1852.  While she was Lady Charlotte Guest, she published two works of a totally different character—one a translation from the French of a treatise on the use of hot air in the manufacture of iron, the other a translation of fairy tales from a Welsh manuscript in the library of Jesus College, Oxford.  Two years after she became a widow her portrait was painted by Mr. G. F. Watts.  Next year, though she was forty-five and the mother of ten children, she was wooed and won by a young clergyman of less than thirty, the Rev. Charles Schreiber, son of an army officer well known in fashionable circles.  Mr. Schreiber soon developed a desire to enter politics.  Lady Charlotte was a mighty help in his contests for Cheltenham, which constituency and Poole he successively represented in Parliament.  One of Lady Charlotte's daughters became the wife of Sir Austen Henry Layard, the explorer of Nineveh, and the British Ambassador at Constantinople during the troublous and critical period from 1877 to 1880.  Mr. Schreiber and Lady Charlotte had tastes in common.  Both were fond of collecting curious and out-of-the-way articles.  The English part of a choice collection of porcelain, enamels, and ceramics, was, on Mr. Schreiber's death, presented to the South Kensington Museum.  Another collection of the lady's—English fans of the eighteenth century—is now in the British Museum.  Lady Charlotte continued the pursuit of her varied hobbies till she was considerably past her eightieth year.  Nothing came amiss to this industrious antiquary.  Glass and needlework and playing cards were in her line.  She even collected and classified buttons!  But enamels and fans, playing cards and buttons, are a long way from the Cheltenham election of 1859, which was the only reason for introducing Lady Charlotte Schreiber to the reader of these memoirs.


 
CHAPTER IV

HEROINES OF HUMBLE LIFE


NOBODY will be in the least interested in the writer's ancestry.  Nor, to tell the truth, is he much interested himself—not because he couldn't rise to the occasion, but because there is nothing to be interested about.  As far as I can learn, the only member of the family that ever did anything remarkable was a nephew of my grandmother's!  It is true that one John Adams is reported in the Newgate Calendar to have been hanged for highway robbery; but I hardly think that he was any connection of ours—at all events I have never tried to establish the relationship.  It is true, also, that another John Adams was President of the United States—no connection of ours either, though of course it would have been easy enough for a professional genealogist to trace a distant alliance.  Pride of ancestry is not a failing or a fad of mine—for the reason, probably, that I can go back no further than two generations, and that only on one side.

    We were poor but honest folks of Gloucestershire.  It is necessary to make this statement, because otherwise, being poor, it might be inferred that we were not honest.  A similar reason no doubt prompts a similar statement in all cases where people of humble origin are concerned: for the world at large seems incapable of associating poverty with even the negative virtues.  We also, in the words of another old formula, did our duty in that state of life unto which it had pleased God to call us.  I cannot find, after diligent inquiry, that any of us have ever been known to the police, not to speak of His Majesty's judges.  Here at any rate we may claim some superiority over many aristocratic families.  For these and all other mercies, as pious Scotch people say, the Lord be thankit.

    My grandfather—he bore the name of William Wells—was a very old man when I was born.  The only thing I remember about him was his shrewdness in telling me not to do a thing when he wanted me to do it—to bring him his walking-stick, for instance.  My grandmother was a dear old dame, whose chief consolations in her last days were a pinch of snuff and half a glass of gin before bedtime.  At that period the snuff box was always in her hand, but the glass was never seen except late in the evening.  Anne Morris, to give her her maiden name, had a couple of personal peculiarities: she had only one leg, but, to make up for it, two eyes of different colours—one hazel, the other blue.  The leg which she had not had been lost in a Worcestershire nail factory, where she had been employed as a girl, and where the constant standing on a damp floor had induced a disease that necessitated amputation.  I well remember another feature too—the hard and unsightly corns on the old lady's knuckles, which were almost as large as the knuckles themselves.  When she was left with a family of five girls, she and they set up a laundry—not a laundry in the modern, but in the ancient acceptation of the term.  The corns were the result of the hard scrubbing and rubbing she used to bestow on the shirts and skirts of her patrons.  It came to pass in her closing days, when her daughters, having embarked on other enterprises, were able to relieve her of the drudgery of the washtub, that her hands became as white and soft as a baby's.  If my good old grand-dam had aught that could be described as a fault, it was that she too often saved her graceless grandson from the consequences of his escapades.

    Concerning this laundry business, allusion to it would not have been introduced if there hadn't been a lesson to be drawn.  It was an honest occupation—as honest, say, as stock jobbing.  There was nothing in the whole episode of which any mortal need be ashamed.  Yet dainty people would perhaps consider that it was a fact to be concealed.  Let us understand each other.  Work of any sort is honourable.  It is idleness, and especially that form of idleness which is called loafing, that is disgraceful.  Dickens never appeared to me so snobbish and contemptible as when he whined and whimpered about the degradation of having as a boy to earn a few shillings a week by pasting labels on blacking bottles.  The thing is, however, not only to work, but to work well—to put the best that is in us into everything we do.  Theodore Parker in one of his powerful sermons tells us that Michael sweeping round a lamp-post or Bridget sweeping out a kitchen, assuming that the work is honestly done, is as meritorious as Paul preaching on Mars' Hill.  "Work is worship."  Honesty in work as in all things else.  The same doctrine is taught by Emerson, Carlyle, Ruskin, and every great thinker who has expatiated on the subject.  "All service ranks the same with God," writes Browning, whose ancestor was a footman.  Well, the humble and industrious women who laboured amidst suds and steam carried into practice the precepts of the philosophers.  The washtub and the mangle were dignified by what they did with them.  As Cromwell's Ironsides put a conscience into marching and fighting, so did these poor women put a conscience into scrubbing and ironing.  None of the gentry for whom they worked ever had reason to complain that their cuffs and collars, their flounces and their furbelows, were not returned without a sign of previous wear.  Thus did widow and orphans earn the title to a place beside Paul on Mars' Hill.  Mr. Ruskin proudly described his father as "an entirely honest merchant."  I say as proudly of my grandmother that she was "an entirely honest washerwoman."

    Of Anne Wells's daughters two only married—the eldest and the youngest.  My mother was the eldest.  She married a plasterer—one John Adams.  My mother was a saint—not in piety, for she professed no particular faith, but in character and disposition.  No tenderer or sweeter woman ever lived.  I cherish her memory as that of one of the salt of the earth.  The affection she bestowed on her children is delightful to remember.  She worked for them, slaved for them, suffered for them.  If she had affections, she had also intellect.  Had she been born in less humble circumstances, with corresponding educational advantages, she would, as her letters testify, have been as accomplished as any lady in the land.  She had courage against the world, too, this heroine of the poor.  When, at a melancholy period of her career, she was driven to such straits that she had to persuade herself and her children that they were drinking coffee when the decoction was nothing but hot water poured on burnt crusts of bread, she never lost heart.  Nor did she lose heart when, failing with all her industry to keep the wolf from the fold, she set out with four young children on a three days' journey in a waggon for London to search the great wilderness for her husband.  A hard and laborious life in Cheltenham was followed by a hard and laborious life in London; but Sarah Adams bore both with the patience and resignation of a martyr, never whining or complaining, but always doing her best to turn an honest penny at the old calling.  It was an intense delight to me years after, when I paid my first visit to London at the time of the Great Exhibition—for I had been left behind with my grandmother and aunts in Cheltenham—it was an intense delight to me to hear strangers address my mother as "Miss," and mistake her and her son for sweethearts.

    John Adams, as will be inferred from what has already been said, was a bit of a wanderer.  Even after he was married, he wandered to such widely separated places as Droitwich, Leamington, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Gosport, and London, working at his trade the while.  My very earliest recollection is of being carried on his back along the banks of a river or canal somewhere in the neighbourhood of Bromsgrove.  As there were few railways in those days, wandering was a more tiresome business than it is now.  But John Adams was a good workman.  He used to point to a certain groined ceiling which he had completed in a private residence as the best bit of plastering in Cheltenham.  Pride in his work was his weak point—if pride of that sort can be considered a weak point.  It got him into many a squabble and scrape.  Being somewhat quarrelsome in his cups, he would challenge anybody in the same trade to surpass his performance with the trowel—a challenge that was issued in so boastful a way that it generally ended in a fierce dispute.  But my father, small as he was in stature, had the courage of his convictions: so it was that he found himself in more clashes and scraps than was pleasant for either himself or his family.  His pugnacity, however, was not, like that of many cowardly men, reserved for home consumption.  Except for the failings I have indicated, one of which at least leant to virtue's side, he was not a bad father or a bad husband.  In his later years he was a great sufferer.  And then it was that the heroism of my mother was shown again—such heroism as is, perhaps, shown only in the ranks of the poor and lowly.

    I have mentioned that my grandmother's nephew was the only member of our family that had achieved distinction.  His name was George Morris.  I used to hear of him as connected in some undefined way with an insurance society in London.  Little else was known, for never a letter came from him.  What did come for years and years, as regularly as the week came round, was a weekly newspaper addressed to my grandmother—first the Weekly Dispatch and then the Examiner.  The Dispatch was at that time the leading exponent of Radical ideas.  It was, I think, still owned by Alderman Harmer, still numbered Eliza Cook among its contributors, still contained the stirring political letters of Caustic and Publicola—the latter supposed to be the production of W. J. Fox, the "Norwich Weaver Boy," afterwards member for Oldham, and one of the most notable of the Anti-Corn Law orators.  The substitution of the Examiner for the Dispatch was not appreciated by the family; but we could not look a gift horse in the mouth, and, besides, we had no means of communicating with the giver.  The Examiner, however, was a famous literary paper—Leigh Hunt's Examiner—then edited by John Forster, the "Gentleman John" of Newcastle, the "harbitrary gent" of the London cabman, the friend and biographer of Charles Dickens.  Walter Savage Landor's "Imaginary Conversations" were then appearing in its columns, besides much else of a high literary value.  I revelled as a boy in the politics of the Dispatch—as a youth in the criticisms of the Examiner.  Many years later, when, at the end of a curious and disastrous experience with insurance societies, I took out a new policy in the National Provident Institution, I learnt that George Morris, the predecessor of Samuel Smiles [8] in the same office, had long been the secretary of that society.  My grandmother's nephew was so highly appreciated that the directors voted him a handsome pension on his retirement, and even granted an annuity to his widow.  George Morris's remote connection with our family does not deprive us of the right to claim that the insurance secretary was a credit to it.

    My aunts were all estimable people too.  Just, upright, honourable, considerate, thoughtful, industrious, they had all the best virtues.  I was scarcely more than an infant when I was fetched from Droitwich on a stage coach to live under their roof for upwards of twenty years.  The little imp who was thus introduced into the household was often a sad trouble to them, as may perhaps be shown later.  When laundry work declined, they established a small trading concern—cultivating musk plants, and selling them; buying butter and crockery and odds and ends of all sorts, and retailing them at honest prices.  The principles that had governed them at the washing tub governed them behind the counter.  So at last by industry and frugality they acquired enough for their modest wants in a cottage.  There they died one after the other at an advanced age, respected by all who knew them, and leaving behind a stainless and honoured name.  It should be said also that they had minds of their own and capacity to exercise them, as we shall see when I come to write of certain public movements of their time.  One of the sisters, who had gone forth into the world, while in service in Brighton, was a regular attendant at Trinity Chapel.  It was from her that I heard of the wonderful sermons of Frederick William Robertson, long before the fame of his eloquence and of the beauty of his discourses had spread over the land.  Proud indeed might any man feel of humble kindred such as mine.


 
CHAPTER V

THE OLD ORDER CHANGETH


IT is one of the commonplaces of conversation that the century which has lately closed has witnessed greater progress effected in all branches of human knowledge and activity, and indeed in all the affairs of human life, than all previous centuries put together.  The statement may be said to be quite true in some things, partly true in most things, but not true in all things.  We are wiser than the ancients, but not more virtuous.  We know more, but we do not think more.  Our dominion over the physical world is wider and more complete than ever before; but our dominion over the intellectual world is still as circumscribed as in the great days of Greece and Rome.  Poets like Homer and philosophers like Plato are at least the equal of any poets and philosophers of a later time.  But the progress we have in mind is the progress we see in the condition of society, the privileges enjoyed by the people, the application of science to industry, the discoveries and inventions in relief of labour.  So far as mere comfort goes there is absolutely no comparison between the state of the humbler classes now and that of the same classes in my young days.  I am speaking, of course, of the honest and industrious poor, not of the thriftless, the idle, or the evil-disposed.  Some few of the changes that I have myself seen will answer the purpose of comparison.

    Take, to begin with, the commonest of conveniences—matches.  These little articles are cheap enough now.  It was otherwise "when we were boys together."  Matches, as we know them, were then unknown.  If you wanted to strike a light, you had to make elaborate preparations to accomplish that end.  A flake of flint, a strip of steel, and a box of tinder were all necessary before the brimstone sticks of the period could be ignited.  Tinder was made by burning old rags, placing them half-consumed in a metal box, and pressing them tightly down with a metal lid.  Then, with the steel held in one hand and the flint in the other, sparks had to be struck from them in such a way that they would fall on the tinder and ignite it.  The application of a sulphur-tipped stick to the smouldering fire in the tinder-box produced the required flame.  The process is easy enough to describe, but was not so easy to put in operation.  It was often my duty in the old days, on early mornings, to strike a light with the aid of the clumsy implements just mentioned.  And a dismal duty it was, especially before daybreak in frosty weather; for one often skinned one's shins in groping for the materials, and then skinned one's knuckles in using them.  Moreover, if the tinder was either damp or exhausted by previous usage, it was impossible to get a light at all.  But a better time for poor folks came when John Walker, the Stockton chemist, invented his friction matches.  Great was the wonderment, I recollect, when they were introduced.  Of course, they were poor things compared with the articles which are now supplied at a marvellously cheap rate.  The earliest form of the lucifer match, as it was called, was a little strip of wood (dipped in a chemical substance) which (had to be drawn swiftly through a strip of doubled sandpaper.  Small as his invention was, John Walker was one of the greatest benefactors of his time.

    The light of other days was hardly more deserving of praise than the method of procuring it.  Tallow candles were the illuminants of the poor—rushlights, long sixes, short sixes, and so forth—sold in bundles at so many to the pound.  The wicks that were made of cotton required constant snuffing: hence snuffers and snuffer-trays, now as little known as tinder-boxes, were indispensable appurtenances to every polite household.  Wax candles, which did not require snuffing, were the luxuries of the gentry, who alone could afford them.  The light shed by the common illuminant was so feeble and dismal that it did scarcely more than make darkness visible.  It was almost as well that the general body of the people could not then read; for persistent efforts to turn the advantage to account after sunset would most certainly have ruined half the eyes of the country.  The candle factories—there was one in the very centre of our town—emitted, during certain parts of the process of manufacture, the most pungent and sickening stenches.  Gas was a great improvement on candles—not, however, in the odours which issued from the works in the early stages of the novelty.  When our streets were first lighted with gas, the lamp-lighters, like the new police, wore a special uniform.  With white jackets and glazed hats, each shouldering a ladder, they marched up the middle of the main street together before branching off to their respective districts.  The procession was not ineffective; but both it and the ladders have long since been discontinued as unnecessary.

    Perhaps it is in respect to modes and facilities of locomotion that poor and rich alike have been most benefited.  If the poor rode at all in pre-railway times, they had to ride in waggons, living and sleeping in them for days and nights even on comparatively short journeys.  I remember them well, those great lumbering waggons, as big as haystacks, covered with tarpaulin, the wheels broad enough in the tyre to span a ditch, the six or eight horses apparently strong enough to move a mountain.  Coaches were for those who could afford a more rapid transit.  Between 1824 and 1839, which has been called the heyday of coaching, the High Street of Cheltenham presented as cheerful and picturesque a sight as could be seen anywhere.  As many as thirty or forty coaches, chiefly four-in-hands, passed through it every day.  The dashing steeds, the fanfaronades on the horn, the scarlet coats of the coachman and the guard, all combined to make the spectacle impressive and exhilarating.  The ride, too, in warm, sunny weather, when the country looked its best, was intensely enjoyable.  Two such rides are not likely to be effaced from my memory—one to Malvern, the other over the Cotswolds to Oxford.  But in bad weather, at night, in storm, temperature below freezing-point, heaven help the unhappy passengers!  The circumstances of the "insides," packed like herrings in a barrel, breathing the same air from the time they started till the time they stopped to change horses, was bad enough.  Far worse, however, were the circumstances of the "outsides," perched on high without shelter of any sort, saturated by the rain or frozen by the cold.  No wonder men made their wills before going long journeys in early days, for the risks of the road must have been at least as imminent from storm and snow as from bold highwaymen.

    Railways superseded coaches, though it was not till the end of 1861 that the last of the highfliers between Cheltenham and Oxford—"Glover's Oxford Mail"-was driven off the road; but the new mode of locomotion did not all at once, as we shall see presently, greatly improve the conditions of travelling for the poor.  The West of England was much behind the North in adopting the new system.  And when it did, it made the mistake of laying down two gauges—the broad and the narrow.  The Battle of the Gauges, begun in the thirties, was not finally and absolutely closed till the nineties.  The Great Western line from Paddington to Plymouth was constructed on Brunel's plan; but the lines in all the rest of the kingdom were constructed on Stephenson's.  It was a pity that the rivalries of companies and engineers did not permit of the choice, at the beginning of the locomotive era, of a gauge that would probably have been better than either the broad or the narrow.  For many years a little stretch of line between Cheltenham and Gloucester was a sort of railway curiosity, for thereon trains belonging to both gauges were run till within very recent times.  But the broad gauge had ultimately to succumb to the narrow.  The revolution was effected at enormous cost to the Great Western Company.  It was announced in the month of May, 1892, that the last of the broad gauge had disappeared, and that consequently there was then for the first time uniformity throughout the whole of our railway system.

    When the Bristol and Birmingham Line (now part of the great Midland system) was opened in 1840, it was one day announced that a free trip to Bromsgrove would be offered to the inhabitants of Cheltenham.  Great was the excitement among old and young.  Along with a number of other lads I was anxious to share in the promised treat.  Accordingly we assembled at a level crossing near the town (the station was, and is yet, about two miles away, nobody at the time the line was made wishing it nearer) in the expectation that passengers would be taken up there.  Disappointment was general when the train was seen to steam past us.  But we were fortunate after all; for many of the excursionists were left behind at Bromsgrove, thence to make their way home as best they could.  The free trip was probably designed to remove the prejudices of the people.  These prejudices were so great, especially among elder folks, that my dear old grandmother could never be persuaded to enter a railway carriage, and the dislike to the innovation extended even to some of her children.  The distrust would perhaps have been justified if all passengers had been treated like a certain old lady in the North, who was pitched from the train in a collision, and who, when asked how she liked the new mode, replied that the riding was "no se bad," but that they had "a varry unsarimonious way o' pitting ye oot!"

    The evolution of the railway carriage is interesting.  The earliest of these conveyances was a mere truck, without seats and without cover.  If you wanted to sit down on the journey, you had to provide yourself with a box or a basket; if you wanted to look at the country, you had to stand on tiptoe; if you wanted protection from the rain, you had to carry an umbrella!  And this primitive accommodation was for years the only provision for the third-class traveller.  Even as late as 1855 I rode from Manchester to Stockport in a coverless carriage.  One of the first improvements on some of the lines was a kind of horse-box with seats and cover, but with shutters instead of windows.  Of course, there were no lamps in these so-called carriages.  Day and night at all seasons you had to sit in utter darkness if you did not care to run the risk of catching a chill.  My first and last journey in a horse-box arrangement was between London and Brighton in the year 1862.  Lords and ladies who wished to travel in comfort in the early days of the railway rode in their family coaches, which were fixed and wedged on the company's trucks.  Old folks who now travel in third-class carriages with all the speed and in nearly all the luxury of first-class passengers will readily admit that progress—real progress—has been nowhere more marked than on the railway.

    Real progress has been accomplished in many other directions also.  I am not wrong in saying, I believe, that people who have been born in the latter half of the nineteenth century can form but a poor idea of the discomforts of life that their elders had to endure before the discoveries of science and the inventions of ingenuity placed within the reach of the humblest part of the community the thousand and one advantages we now enjoy.


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FOOTNOTES.


1.     This was written before a correspondence on the subject took place in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle in 1902, Major A. C. Cunningham, writing from Cheltenham, therein stated that he had "read the epitaph many years ago in the old cemetery in the High Street, Cheltenham," and that his brother, "now the Vicar of Marnham, Notts," also read it, and remembered having done so.  Here was the first positive assertion I ever saw in print of anybody having seen the lines on a tombstone.  The "old cemetery in the High Street" was the new cemetery when I was a boy.  For twenty years I was as familiar with it as I was with any part of the town; yet I never saw or even heard of the epitaph till long afterwards.  Major Cunningham, in a later communication, submitted that the inscription had been erased, since it could not now be found.  So the matter stands pretty much where it stood before.  Early recollections are not always to be trusted, unless they are supported by documentary or other evidence.  For example, in regard to this very epitaph, I know a clergyman in the North of England who is, or rather was, as positive on the subject as Major Cunningham—only he had seen the doggerel, not in the cemetery, but in the parish churchyard!  And the witness in this case even recollected the location of the gravestone!

2.     The Archbishop of Armagh (Lord John George Beresford) was also called "the beauty of holiness."

3.     Mr. Douglas Sladen, writing in Harper's Magazine, records the fact that the names of the foremost representatives of the college in sports and athletics are inscribed on the walls of the gymnasium.  Thus we are reminded that the William Conyngham Plunket, who was a silver medallist in 1845, became Archbishop of Dublin, the Right Hon. Lord Plunket; that R. T. Reid, who figures as a scholar of the college, is now Sir R. T. Reid, K.C., member for the Dumfries Burghs; and that Mr. John Morley, member for Montrose, and Mr. R. E. Francillon, the novelist, have also left their names on the college walls.

4.     Hallam, Lord Tennyson, refers to this incident in the "Life of the Poet Laureate":—"My father would say: 'The first time I met Robertson I felt that he expected something notable from me, because I knew that he admired my poems, that he wished to pluck the heart from my mystery: so for the life of me from pure nervousness I could talk of nothing but beer."'

5.     It was in Cheltenham, I think, that an acquaintance would keep on assuring the poet that it was the greatest honour of his life to have met him.  Tennyson's answer was—Don't talk d——d nonsense.

6.     Tennyson writes from Cheltenham in 1845 to his friend Rawnsley;—"Here is a handsome town of thirty-five thousand inhabitants, a polka-parson-worshipping place, of which the Rev. Francis Close is Pope, besides pumps and pump-rooms, chalybeates, quadrilles, and one of the prettiest countries in Great Britain."

7.     G. L. Jessop, the famous cricketer, is, I believe, a grandson or great-grandson of the old nurseryman.

8.     Samuel Smiles, now more than ninety years old, is, of course, the author of "Self-Help" and many other well-known books.

 


 

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