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
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
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
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,
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. 
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
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.
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."  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
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
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  (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
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.  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.
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.  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. 
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 
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
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
And crowded farms and lessening
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,
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
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
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  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.
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.