WESLEYAN METHODIST LIFE: STRUGGLE FOR HOLINESS:
I WENT to the Independent chapel, at the request of my friend Hough, so
soon as I was able to attend a place of worship—that is to say, about a
month before I opened
school. I was thoroughly intent on leading a religious life; but the
problem was not solved with me as to what constituted religion, or rather,
religious experience. I did not
continue for more than about three months to worship with the
Independents. The preaching—I forget the name of the preacher—was dry
and dull; and it wearied me. Nor was
there warmth enough in the worship of the Independents for a nature like
mine, while it was so full of the fire which it has taken time and
experience to cool.
While attending the Independent chapel on Sunday mornings and evenings I
went always to the parish church in the afternoons. The preaching of the
young curate, Charles
Hensley, gentle as it was, touched chords within me that the Independent
minister could not reach. The church service too, was associated with the
happy feelings of
memories that were wound about the heart; and so I left the chapel, and
began to attend the church thrice each Sunday. My friend Hough and the
rallied me on my "becoming an Episcopalian," as they phrased it. "Nay,
nay," said I, "you know I do not believe in Lord Bishops, or Right
Reverend Fathers in God; but I
want to find peace of mind, and I have not found it yet."
Nor did I find it in attendance on the parish church. I devoutly uttered
all the words of the services, and I listened to the sermons. I even
partook of the sacrament of the Lord's
Supper, because exhorted so to do. But the contest within was becoming
sorer and sorer. Now I was exposed to trials of temper among the children,
I was often troubled
with anger. My new commerce with the world—for I could no longer play the
recluse with the care of so many pupils on my hands—my new intercourse
and sinister people, inexperienced as I was, roused disgust and opposition
in me, and made me feel I had great pride and a strong will of my own to
contend with. Prayer
was often neglected, in the throng of occupation, and the heart became
less and less devotional. At the close of a long day, when I sank asleep,
it was often with a heavy
heart, and a sense of increasing sinfulness.
By the end of that year, 1828, I was really wretched on account of my low
spiritual state, when I had a few moments for reflection, and was not
the enthusiastic performance of my school duties. And, at last, I said to
myself, "I cannot live in this state. The vows I made to God in sickness
are yet unfulfilled.
I must either lead a devotedly religious life, or bear about with me a
sense of degradation and falseness. Those Methodists, I know from a child,
have always professed to
have the secret of true piety and true happiness. I will go, and join them; and
try if I can find the real cure for this heart-ache."
So, on New Year's Day, 1829, I first went to a Wesleyan Methodist Class
Meeting. The leader, Edward Shipham, was a man of no more than ordinary
powers of mind.
But I thought—to use a Lincolnshire expression—he was of the right
breed. I remembered the spiritual glance of his pious father's eyes, and
the dear old man's gentleness
and love, when I was a child in the Methodist Sunday-school; and, above
all, the words I so often heard among the poor, when some one was ill and
likely to die—"Go, and
fetch Mr. Shipham to pray!" I thought if the father had been in such
request as a man of prayer, his son should have learnt something about
spiritual religion. These thoughts
had determined me in selecting a class-leader.
Four months of deep penitence passed away, amidst warnings against
unbelief, and exhortations to faith, from the leader and the members of
society; and I readily listened
to advice, by whomsoever it was given. I chiefly sought in the writings of
Wesley himself—with which I had long been acquainted—an explication of the
true mode of seeking the pardon of sin. I was ever in dread of that
old spiritual bugbear of my boyhood— pardoning myself, instead of receiving the pardon of the Almighty. It
was the pardon of the Almighty—"the witness of the Spirit"—so often, so
invariably insisted upon in the
writings of Wesley, and in all the Methodist sermons of my time—that I
thirsted to receive.
But the more I observed the conduct of penitents who were said to "find
pardon," or "find peace," in the prayer-meetings, and the more I listened
to the language of preachers
and leaders who prayed with them, and guided them,—the clearer it became
to me that what I had been looking for was ignored.
"Do you feel you can rely on Christ ? Can you
confide in Him as your Saviour? Do you believe He really died for you?" Such were the questions put at
the penitent-form. And if the penitent said "Yes," "Then say, Lord I
am Thine!" continued the spiritual director; say, "Lord, Thou hast died
for me, and I believe Thou dost
And when the mourning one ventured to follow the leader resolutely, in
most instances joyous feeling sprang up, and the joyous feeling increased
if it were indulged in. But if
the mourner only timidly followed the exhorter to believe, his mourning
was not turned into joy; and he was told to keep on believing and joy
But no one who took the part of a spiritual director said, "Have you got
the witness of the Spirit?" I never heard such a question put to any
penitent who professed to "find
peace," in all my life; and I have been witness to scores of cases of
professed deliverance from the burden of condemnation for sin.
Having thus closely observed how that was ignored which I had been
expecting, I was the more inclined to listen to two or three of the oldest
and most intelligent members of
the Society, who said to me, "You are cheating yourself out of peace by
some mistake. What are you expecting? God's word teaches you to believe
on the Lord Jesus
Christ, and affirms you shall thus be saved. Do as you are directed, and
trust God to do His own part, in His own way. Don't bargain with God for
anything extraordinary to
follow. Do your own part. Believe with all your heart!"
Gradually, I found courage to take their advice. I relied—and was
resolved I would rely—on the fact that Christ was any Saviour. And I
resolved to rely
on it habitually. I would be troubled with none of those absurd "actings
of faith" I had learnt when a boy. And peace of mind followed the calm and
settled reliance that I
practised. I had no direct "witness of the Spirit" such as I had looked
for. I had expected a direct impression to be made on my mind by the Holy
Spirit—an impression to
distinguished from any act of my own mind. Nothing of the kind followed my
act of reliance on the atonement of Christ; and I refused to let myself be
account of that. I was resolved to hold by the fact that Christ had died
Very soon, some one put into my hand Sigston's "Life of William Bramwell." It proved to be a spark that, for a time, lit my whole soul into flame. I
had heard members of the
Society talk of holiness of heart, and of "the blessing of
sanctification," and of "a clean heart," and of "perfect love," or "the
second blessing," as some called it. I read again
such of Wesley's own sermons as touched on the nature of holiness. I found
that Wesley taught "sanctification," but could never learn that Wesley
professed to be sanctified. Fletcher's experience was fully described and
professed and taught as what all might experience. The experience of
Hester Ann Rogers—hers is a
well-known book to Wesleyans—also seemed very full and clear.
I had already been reasoning with myself—"What I want is to be holy. I
want to cease sinning. The pardon of sin is really of imperfect value, if
I continue to sin. I shall
need pardoning again. It is entire
devotedness to God that I need. I ought to be devoted to Him. It must be
right to be so devoted; and it must be wrong to live without rendering
obedience. Does He not ask me for it, in His word? Does He not say 'Be ye
holy'? If He
commands it, it must be possible to obey. God never mocks man. He would
not command it, if it were not possible. But I am mocking God, if I
profess to be His,
and yet have not given Him my whole heart."
I reasoned, further, that, as I had come out from the world, and joined
myself to God's people, I should be acting insincerely if I did not live
fully to God. My plans of
learning and study? Alas! they had all
been suspended. And I reasoned that I must not
resume them to kill my spirituality of mind. I must
have this holiness of heart. All other acquirements were despicable,
compared to it. I had been taken out by a local preacher to begin to
preach, and put on the plan as a
prayer-leader. And the earnestness of my prayers for holiness soon raised
a flame around me. Others began to pray for holiness. And then, in company
a few earnest young men, I began to meet once a week in the house of a
female class-leader who for many years had been noted for fervid devotion.
I read Bramwell on my knees by three in the morning. I was swallowed up
with the one thought of reaching "perfect love,"—of living without
sin—of feeling I was always and
fully in God's favour. I prayed for it—we all prayed for it—at the
weekly meeting we held in the house of the devoted woman
I spoke of. One night we had sung "Wrestling Jacob," the hymn which has
so often been styled the masterpiece in the Wesleyan Hymn Book,
"Come, O thou traveller unknown."
We had all sung the hymn with wrapt fervour, but I had sung one verse with
an earnestness of feeling, and an agony of resolve, that I think I never
sang another verse with in all my life—
"In vain Thou strugglest to get free—
I never will unloose my hold!
Art Thou the Man that died for me?
The secret of Thy love unfold!
Wrestling, I will not let Thee go,
Till I Thy Name, Thy Nature know."
We sang over and over again, on our knees, "Wrestling I will not let Thee
go!"—till at last I sprang upon my feet, crying, "I will believe! I do
believe!" and the very saying of the
words, with all the strength of resolve, seemed to lift me above the
earth. And I kept on believing, according to the lesson I had learned in
the Life of Bramwell. No thought of
consequences that might happen—no fear of the possibility of
failure—could prevent me from confessing and professing, with impressive
fervour, that God had sanctified my
soul. The example was wondrously
infectious. Hundreds in the town and circuit began to pray for holiness of
heart; and many professed also to obtain it.
How long I maintained the profession of it, I cannot say with exactness.
It was for but part of a year, perhaps not more than half a year. But I
remember well that I
was in a religious state that I have never reached since. For some months
I never struck a boy
in my school. I felt that I could not strike; and told
the children I should strike no more. And the children used to look at me
so wistfully, when I spoke to them tenderly and lovingly, if any had done
wrong! I instituted prayer
four times a day, with singing, in my school; and I have had many
testimonies, in afterlife, to the good impressions made on the minds of
some of the children.
If, throughout eternity in heaven, I be as happy as I often was for whole
days during that short period of my religious life, it will be heaven
indeed. Often, for several days
together, I felt close to the Almighty—felt I was His own, and His
entirely. I felt no wandering of the will—no inclination to yield to sin. And when temptation came, my whole
soul wrestled for victory, till the temptation fled.
This was exhausting to the body, as well as to the soul. The perpetual
tension of the string of the will seemed, at last, to be more than I could
sustain. One day, when I
was faint and weak in frame, I lost my temper under great provocation from
a disobedient boy in the school, and suddenly seized the cane and struck
him. The whole school
seemed horror-stricken. The poor children gazed, as if on a fallen angel,
such looks of commiseration on my poor self, as I cannot describe. I
wished I was in a corner to weep, for I was choking with tears, and felt
I tried to recover the lost holiness; and sometimes seemed to regain it,
or something like it, for a few days; but I was sure to fail again. And
similar to my experience was
that of scores of our members, in the town, and in the villages of the
circuit. And such is the experience in all circuits of the connexion. Often, what is called a "Revival"
begins with some one or more striving for holiness. The theme kindles
desire in others; and, soon, the theme becomes general, in the meetings of
the classes, and
the Public Bands, or weekly gatherings for telling of Christian
experience. Profession of holiness begins and extends, and sometimes fills
a circuit with glowing excitement
for many months.
But the decline invariably sets in; and little is said about the doctrine
of "sanctification" or "perfect love," it may be, for some years after,
save and except when some aged
and steady member of the society, or minister, rises to tell his grateful
story, perhaps in
a quarterly "Lovefeast." Thus, I often heard venerable Henry Anderson,
who was ordained by John Wesley, (and whose son and two grandsons are now
in the Wesleyan
Ministry,) declare his experience when he was eighty years old. "For more
than forty years," he used to aver,—and it was doubtless true, "I have
not known a feeling
contrary to love towards any
human being, nor have I ever lost the sense of God's favour!"
But the changes and fluctuations of experience in the circuits is the rule
rather than the exception. It was so in the lifetime of John Wesley. He
gives many striking relations
of it in his "Journal"—the book so well worth reading, and so valuable,
as one of the great keys to the knowledge of what was the religious state
of England, Scotland, Ireland,
Wales in Wesley's own time. He speaks, sometimes, of the flame of holiness
pervading his Societies for a year, and then almost dying out.
That a high degree of religious attainment might be the habitual condition
of Methodists, or any other associations for piety, no Christian believer
who diligently reads his New
Testament can doubt. Perhaps Christian ministers do not preach the
doctrine of holiness with sufficient vigour and frequency. I fear, the
worldly spirit of professors
of religion is the great hindrance to holiness. I mean, more especially,
their joining in the world's amusements, and following its
fashions. There may be many other reasons why a low standard of religious
experience prevails in some societies, and why zeal for holiness, which
often reaches intensity
during a revival, is so commonly reduced to languor, and even
indifference, after a time. I do not feel that I ought to enter on the
discussion of such a question here. I barely state the sorrowful
fact that great fluctuations in the state of their religious experience prevail in the Methodist societies, with all their manifold means
of promoting spiritual growth.
The revival in the Gainsborough circuit that I have spoken of was
prolonged by the ministry of John Smith in the adjoining circuit of
Lincoln; that ministry so fruitful in sound
conversions, and in the quickening of the spirits of those who already
professed religion. But from one fearful cause I shall be compelled to
relate, the religious feeling of the
Gainsborough circuit was well-nigh quenched in the hearts of hundreds;
and I became eager to get out of an atmosphere so chilling and mournful.
LOCAL PREACHER LIFE: SPIRITUAL FALL:
MY engagement in the office of local preacher was a
source of rich delight to me. When I first entered upon it, I was in
the full tide of devotional feeling, and used to exhort and teach without
any preparation of the thoughts I was to present to the people. This
passed off very well for a time; but when the fervour of devotion had
somewhat cooled within me, I felt my talk in the village pulpits become
vapid. It wearied both myself and the people. I had learned
that a few of the local preachers wrote notes of their sermons, before
they preached; but the older men did not. I found, however, that the
best preacher among them wrote his sermons out in full, and committed them
to memory. And I began to reason thus with myself,—"How can I, a
comparatively inexperienced person, instruct men of age, some of whom have
read their Bibles for threescore years, without I think, and think deeply,
on the themes I have to address to them? Am I really showing any
respect to their understandings by merely talking thus shallowly to them ?
Am I showing respect to Christ, and to Divine Truth, by treating religion
as if it were not deserving of serious thought; and as if any raw talker
could deal with it worthily?"
Reflection made me ashamed of my rashness, and I set about
the preparation of written sermons; and got the greater part of each
sermon well fixed in my mind before I ventured to deliver it. The
result was more cheering and gratifying than I can easily tell. I
had soon larger congregations than any other local preacher in the
circuit; and grew into request for anniversary sermons in the surrounding
circuits. I threw my whole heart and soul into my preaching; and the
effects were often of a rememberable kind. Shouts of praise from
believers often overpowered my voice; and I had to pause, and say, "Let us
sing a verse, and then go on again." And, not seldom, sobs and tears
foreshowed what kind of work there would be for the prayer-leaders when
the sermon was over. That many received good by my preaching, I have
not the least doubt; and some are living at the present moment, thank God!
who declare I was the instrument of their conversion.
I frequently held prolonged meetings in the Sunday evenings,
and had to walk home, in all sorts of weather, a distance of from three to
six or eight miles at a late hour. When I visited villages or towns
in the surrounding circuits, I was usually furnished with a horse; and had
to ride back to Gainsborough on the Monday morning to be in time for
opening my school at nine o'clock. The rides and journeyings in
themselves were often delightful; and I thoroughly enjoyed my outward work
as a preacher.
Nor could I continue to take a part in such work without
endeavouring to make it serve my own intellectual culture. The
writing out of sermons was a noble induction to the art of expressing
one's thought. I strove to make my sermons worth listening to.
I had become master of a vocabulary of no mean order, by committing Milton
and Shakspeare to memory and repeating them so often; and my reading of
the old English divines enabled me to acquit myself in the pulpit with
more than the ordinary ability of a Methodist local preacher. I
possess no copy of any of the sermons I preached in those years; but I
know they contained passages of euphony, of pathetic appeal, of
picturesque description, and power of argument and declamation, that I
should not be ashamed of if I saw them now in print.
Nor did I neglect attendance on any popular living example of
eloquence and of the power of preaching that came within my hearing.
The most memorable treat I ever had from the pulpit was in
once seeing and hearing Rowland Hill. He was over eighty when I
heard him, but still possessed the vigour of ten ordinary preachers.
He, of all the preachers I ever heard, occupies the pedestal of veneration
in the statue-gallery of my memory. Other popular ministers of the
time I also heard from the pulpit of the Independents in Gainsborough;
such as Dr. Raffles, who was then young, and in the full exercise of his
almost dramatic power in the pulpit; Dr. Bennett of London, "Silver-voiced
Bennett" as he was called, than whom I never heard a more instructive
preacher; Joseph Gilbert of Nottingham, and Winter Hamilton of Leeds, and
Smith of Rotherham, and Dr. Pye Smith, and Ellis the great missionary, and
Of all leading Methodist preachers, the wondrous voice and
noble form and noble eloquence of Robert Newton were most familiar to me;
for he was the favourite, because the most successful, anniversary
preacher ever invited to Gainsborough. We were favoured, less
frequently with the stately form and high intellectuality of Richard
Watson; but no one could ever forget him, who saw and heard him. The
poetic power of David McNicol, the spiritual power of Peter McOwan, the
manly preaching of Thomas Galland, the stern and relentless scourging of
sin by brave Daniel Isaac, the never-ending missionary tales of Joshua
Marsden, are all enduringly associated in my memory with that Gainsborough
Methodist pulpit. But if I had the power to summon one from the
dead, that I might hear him preach again in it—William Dawson of Barnbow
should be the man. For originality of conception, richness and
variety of imagery, clearness of Scriptural illustration, pathos, humour,
power of grappling with the conscience, and mastery in the art of winning
a man—William Dawson was the preacher of preachers, in my humble judgment.
If any young lady happens to be intent on the task of reading
this Memoir, I imagine she will say, "You seem, sir, to think you have a
right to talk about everybody and anything; but you have got into your
ninth chapter without making even the slightest allusion to a certain
And, no doubt, the greater number of readers expect a pretty
early allusion to the sex and the tender passion, in every biography and
autobiography. But I had nothing to communicate, all this time; and
therefore could not broach the thought.
And, I suspect, few readers will be surprised that I say so.
They will understand that I was too fully absorbed in fervours and
passions of one kind or other, to have many moments to think about the
tender passion. Indeed, I had never yet spoken a word to a woman, or
given her a glance of the eye, that could be called, in our old
Lincolnshire speech, "taking notice of her."
But I may now say that I saw the dear one who has now been
for thirty-seven years my companion in life, at Christmas of 1829, while
on a visit to Lincoln, and conversed with herself and her sister, in the
house of her brother. The family were all born Methodists, so to
speak, and I went to Lincoln on a Methodist visit, as I may say, for it
was to see and hear the revivalist John Smith. Yet although my heart
said, "This is the woman I should like for a wife," I spoke not one word
about it. And when I saw her brother, in the following year, he told
me she had lain months on a sick-bed, and was never expected to recover.
In the year following I heard that she was really recovering, and I went
over to Lincoln, and, on the 1st of July, 1831, offered my heart and hand,
and was accepted.
During that visit to Lincoln, at Christmas of 1829, I also
formed a friendship which, next to that of my wife, I deem the most
valuable of my whole life. Frederick James Jobson—who is now known
as the Rev. Dr. Jobson by the religious world, and as an ex-President of
the Wesleyan Methodist Conference—was then but eighteen years old, and had
only recently been converted, under the ministry of John Smith; and was
"on trial" as a local preacher. He was apprenticed, as an architect,
to Edward James Willson, the most learned antiquary in Lincoln, and the
best helper Britton could find in drawing up his account of the
antiquities of Lincoln Cathedral.
Jobson was full of passion for art, and of admiration for
poetry, and had already displayed considerable eloquence as a preacher.
His nature was all earnestness; and it was not wonderful that two such
earnest natures as his and mine should form a friendship from the moment
that we met. We often contrived to meet, even while I remained at
Gainsborough—sometimes on a Sunday, that we might preach in the same
village, and have time to converse on literary composition, and on our
work as preachers. My after-life has often separated me from my dear
friend's companionship; but never, in any change of my opinions, or
adverse turn of fortune, did he forsake me, or fail to help me in a
difficulty. And many a time I have had to rely on him, as my only
human help. Our friendship has now lasted, unbroken, for
two-and-forty years; and I thank God that ever I had such a true,
faithful, and unfailing friend as Frederick James Jobson.
But, to return to my new passion of love. Must I tell
it? It awoke my slumbering sense of poetry. I had never
attempted verse for, I think, six years. But I wrote verses
irresistibly, now; and enclosed them in my love-letters—of which, the
reader may take it for granted that I wrote a very great number.
Soon, I thought of writing something that might be published. And
when I had struck off a number of short pieces, in blank verse and rhyme,
the intended volume took a title that I had no thought of. I was
persuaded by my friend Charles Kelvey, whom I had brought over from
Independency to Methodism, to place first in the volume a copy of
verses that were only written in a whim, and never intended for
publication. "Place that first, and call the volume by that
name," he insisted, "and it will sell the book!"
Dear Charley! he wished it to be so; but he was mistaken.
Some of my subscribers never paid their subscriptions, and
the publication only increased the embarrassment I was experiencing from
the cause I shall mention anon. The unfortunate volume was entitled
"The Wesleyan Chiefs:" many of the pieces were worthless, and none more so
than the one that gave name to the unfortunate little book. But I
had one rich pleasure connected with my book, unfortunate as it was.
I was favoured with two interviews by James Montgomery of Sheffield—the
first literary man of my time that I had ever seen; and he kindly
undertook to read the proof-sheets while my volume was being printed.
He wrote words on one proof-sheet, at the bottom of the page that
contained one little piece of blank verse—they were lines "To Lincoln
Cathedral"—"These are very noble lines, and the versification is truly
worthy of them."
That consoled me a little for my want of success. And
my failure only made the resolve sink the deeper and become the firmer in
my mind, that I would, one day, write a poem that should not fail.
Our Gainsborough Circuit, under the two ministers who were
stationed in it when I joined the Methodist Society, had an increase of
between four and five hundred members in their last year. John
Chettle, the superintendent, (whose son, Henry Hulbert Chettle, is now an
honoured minister in the same religious body,) was unsurpassed as a
theologian by any Wesleyan minister I ever listened to. And his
appeals to the understanding, the conscience, and the heart, were often
irresistible. William Ash, his colleague, was a man of lowly
abilities as a preacher, but greatly beloved for his piety and pastoral
qualities; and he was of incalculable value in our prayer-meetings, during
the continuance of "the revival." The superintendent who succeeded
Mr. Chettle was a heavy man, troubled with liver disease, and died in the
circuit. He had, unfortunately, checked rather than encouraged our
fondness for devotional and protracted meetings. His colleague,
Jonathan J. Bates, was an excellent preacher; but neither did he readily
enter into the "revival" spirit. Yet we loved him; and the circuit
steadily prospered when he was left at its head, alone.
The coming of a new superintendent, whose name I shall not
record here, began to bring disaster on the circuit. He would not
work. The members fell off. The monies fell off. And it
was resolved, by a very large majority of the official members in the
circuit, not to invite him to remain after his first year. He was
crafty, as well as idle; and he tricked us. He told us he meant to
leave our circuit at the next Conference, and get a circuit in the South
of England. And he told us so, openly, in the regular quarterly
meeting. We were taken by surprise; but as we did not wish to make
any representation in his disfavour to the Conference, we resolved to let
him go away quietly.
When the Conference met, and issued the "rough stations," his
name was put down for a circuit in the South of England, as we had
expected it would be. But when the Conference broke up, he came back
upon us, as our superintendent for another year. We learned, by one
of the ministers (Mr. Harrison) who was appointed to Doncaster, that the
trick had been fixed upon from the first, and that this man had
voluntarily lied to us. We wrote, at once, to the President of
Conference for the year, 1833, Rev. Richard Treffry; and to the chairman
of our district, Rev. John Stephens of Hull. They answered us very
promptly and very kindly; but told us there was no remedy, as we had not
sent to Conference to say we desired his removal, and they could not
remove him: they had not the power to do it, by the laws and constitution
of Wesleyan Methodism—which was undoubtedly true.
He persecuted us because of these letters. He suspended
myself (who had written the letters, which were signed by forty official
persons) and another young local preacher (who had taken the letters round
the circuit for signature) from our offices as preachers, without either
charge or trial—by a few lines of writing. The society in town and
circuit was all discontent, and all discord. The chairman of the
district came to Gainsborough, and held a "special district meeting," with
the aim of setting all right again; and the two suspended local preachers
were restored to the "preachers' plan." But he who had been the
cause of the discord maintained the defiant and persecuting spirit still.
He prevented us from taking any part in the public prayer-meetings; and he
preached at us, in terms that made our skin creep! The misery of
remaining in Gainsborough was now so great that I set myself in pursuit of
a school in some other town, and prepared for removal.
It was time that I left Gainsborough. I had been
foolish enough to leave my school often an hour before the time of proper
conclusion in the evening, that I might walk to some part of the circuit,
sometimes in the snow, to supply deficiencies of the superintendent, who
shirked his work. My school fell off in consequence, and I began to
be in difficulties. I grew weary also of the drudgery of teaching,
now my first scholars were gone, and the parents of those that remained,
or the majority of them, were unwilling for me to follow my own plans in
the tuition of the children.
I sought a school in Sheffield and elsewhere; but there
seemed no opening, and I was becoming very restless and weary, when a
letter suddenly informed me of the death of a schoolmaster in Lincoln—a
relative of her to whom I had pledged heart and hand. So I left
Gainsborough, took the school at Lincoln, in November, 1833; and on the
16th day of February, 1834, we were married. After a time, my dear
mother gave up work, and came to live with us at Lincoln.
When we were married, my beloved wife and I resolved to lead
holy and devoted lives. But our resolve was frustrated. The
Gainsborough superintendent met the Lincoln superintendent in the house of
a Methodist class-leader at Scotton—where the two circuits join—and there
gave earnest charge to the Lincoln superintendent to get me out of the
Methodist Society as soon as possible. He was bent on stern revenge
for the part I had taken in exposing his falseness. I was informed
of it, fully, by the person in whose house this revengeful counsel was
given—a good devoted man, whose son (Rev. Edward Bramford) is now in the
The Lincoln superintendent had no craft or guile about him.
But he was a rude, rash man; and was easily impelled to act rashly.
He began to talk against me in Methodist houses, before he had spoken one
word to me! And soon he began to deal roughly with me, for an
omission to preach, when I was too ill to walk to the place. I had
also very unexpected unkindness and very unchristian dealing from a
leading member of the Society in Lincoln; and the Lincoln superintendent
took this person's side. That person has now gone to his account,
and I shall not say more about him.
The Lincoln superintendent continued his rough treatment of
me, and at last threatened to suspend me from my office as a local
preacher. "Nay," I said to him, "I was suspended once; but I will
not be hung a second time. Take my name out of the class book,—I am
no longer a member of your Society." "That will do!" said he, with a look
of satisfaction; "good morning!"
And so they had their will! But the Gainsborough
superintendent, who advised this rough man to get me out of the Society,
was ejected from the Society (or "left out of the Minutes of Conference")
a few years afterwards, himself. He also has gone to his account;
and so has the Lincoln superintendent. I trust I pray from the
heart, when I cry, "God forgive them all!" But my being thus driven
to cut myself off from Methodism was a source of the bitterest agony to my
dear wife, for years afterwards; I know it caused bitter grief to the dear
friend I have mentioned in this chapter—the best and truest friend, I
repeat, that I have ever had in the world; and it soured my own mind
against religious professors, and raised within me a wrong, rebellious
spirit. My mind grew angry whenever I thought of my ill-treatment;
and I soon left off my habit of attendance on public worship. I
feel, now, I was very guilty in this: guilty in forsaking God because man
had been unkind and unjust to me.
And now, at sixty-six, I see what I did not see, or reflect
upon when I was younger: that it is irrational to expect every man to be
perfect in a ministerial body composed of a thousand members. I have
no doubt, too, that I was often chargeable with a wrong spirit, and most
likely uttered tart and provoking observations during the altercations I
had with the Gainsborough and Lincoln superintendents. But it must
be remembered that I was very inexperienced—ten times more inexperienced
at eight-and-twenty, than thousands of lads often are at eighteen; while
these Christian ministers were mature men in years, and the Gainsborough
minister had not only been long in public life, but was one who had a
shrewd knowledge of the world. I cannot help thinking that if I had
had to deal with men who had more of "the milk of human kindness" in them,
the result and conclusion would have been less disastrous to myself.
I am not yet come to the later period of my life when I fell
into an awful alienation of the mind from the faith of Christ; but I
cannot help tracing that alienation to its root in these harsh dealings
from ministers and professors of religion. I have felt compelled to
state the truth, in order that all who read these pages to the end may
have some key to unlock what they might otherwise deem very mysterious
changes of character in me. And having said so much, I purpose now
to leave the entire subject, for the present, in this Memoir. When
the step of separating myself from Methodism was taken, the die was cast
anew for my Future—whatever it was to be—and I sought occupation for
thought that should not awake tormenting remembrances, and soon found it.
LINCOLN: MECHANICS' INSTITUTE: MUSIC:
I SOON found myself in a new world at Lincoln; and
now, first, may be said to have mingled with the real world, and to have
begun to understand that I really belonged to it. The Mechanics'
Institute was being formed in the ancient city just at the time that I
settled in it. I immediately became a member of the Institute, and
was elected on its first Committee: our President being Sir Edward Ffrench
Bromhead, and our Secretary the well-known political agent, William
Spencer Northhouse. The Institute was started with great enthusiasm.
Many young working men in the city had great expectations of learning; and
the list of members was very numerous.
The Committee assigned the Curatorship of the Institute to
Mr. John Boole, my wife's uncle, who had for many years followed the
business of a master shoemaker; but who had, by self-instruction, made
considerable progress in mathematics, and who was in high reputation in
the city as a man of great intelligence and general information. He
opened classes for students in geometry and in algebra; Dr. William
Cookson opened a botany class; Mr. W. A. Nicholson a class for drawing;
and I opened a class for Latin. A library was formed, lectures
commenced; and there were soon very busy doings at the Institute.
My connection with the Institute led to an acquaintanceship
with persons of influence to whom I might otherwise have remained unknown;
and was the source of some valuable and hearty friendships. But my
first most earnest business, when I settled at Lincoln, was to set about
the renewal of my studies. What though I was on the verge of
twenty-nine years of age? Surely, I thought, I had yet time to make
considerable acquirements. I forgot to say that I had been
compelled, while at Gainsborough, to attend a little to my Greek,—although
absorbed so much in preaching, and entangled with so many other cares,—in
order to keep up with, or rather in advance of, my two elder scholars.
When they had finished Cæsar,
and gone through a few books of the Eneid, their father wished them to
begin Greek. So I, very soon, had to put one into the Anabasis of
Xenophon, and the other into the Cyropædia.
In Lincoln, I now took up the Memorabilia of Xenophon, ran through the
Odes of Anacreon, and then commenced the Iliad. I worked hard at
Greek, and also at the Hebrew Genesis, for some time; not suffering my new
engagements at the Institute to rob me of the hours I knew I must employ
for my own mental advancement, now or never.
But there was no one to teach French in the Mechanics'
Institute; and the members of my Latin class, with others, were eager to
learn French. I told them I could read it, but could not pronounce
it. I very soon learned, however, that I could have a most competent
instructor, on terms that I could afford to pay; so I soon secured his
Signor D'Albrione, my new instructor, was a very
noble-looking Italian gentleman, a native of Turin, who had been a cavalry
officer in the armies of Napoleon, had endured the retreat from Moscow,
was at the defeat of Leipzig, and had seen other service under the first
Emperor of the French. He was now a refugee in England, on account
of his participation in the conspiracy of the Carbonari; and gained his
support by teaching languages. Under his instruction—while we read
together part of Voltaire's "Charles the Twelfth," and "Le Bourgeois
Gentilhomme" of Moliere—I caught such hold of good French pronunciation as
would have enabled me soon to converse very pleasantly in the language,
could I have found a companion.
As I thought I could easily learn Italian, I took lessons
from Signor D'Albrione also in the pronunciation of that
language—believing I should not be likely to have so good an opportunity
of learning it, perhaps, to the end of life, as I had now. So we
read together part of one of the comedies of Goldoni, and then a part of
the beautiful "Gerusalemme Liberata," of Tasso, in that most beautiful
I opened an elementary French Class in the Mechanics'
Institute very soon; but it was not until D'Albrione had left Lincoln, and
I could have no more instruction from him in French and Italian
pronunciation, that I determined to begin German, of which I was very
eager to know something. I was soon able to make my way in a volume
of tales by Herder, Lessing, and others. My school prospered, for I
took care to attend to its duties assiduously; and yet kept firm hold of
my studies, rising early in the morning, and, with my book in my hand, as
of old, walked from our little home in St. Mary's Street, along the Sincil
Dyke, and on to Canwick Common, whenever the weather permitted me to do
My attendance on a series of most excellent lectures on
Chemistry, by Mr. Murray—a well-known lecturer of the time—at the
Institute, opened my way, most unexpectedly, to a new kind of life.
I took it into my head to write a paragraph descriptive of the lectures,
and sent it to the Lincoln, Rutland, and Stamford Mercury, a weekly
newspaper of great business character, and understood to be one of the
oldest in the kingdom. About a month after the insertion of the
paragraph, Richard Newcomb, Esq., of Stamford, proprietor of the paper,
called upon me and thanked me for the paragraph; and offered me £20 a year
"to collect," as he said, "a few items of market and other news, and send
them to him weekly." I accepted the offer, for I understood that it
would not occupy much of my time; and I was resolute in keeping hold of my
studies, during the first two years that I lived in Lincoln.
But a new attraction arose at last; and all resolves about
study, and purposes of intellectual progress, and interests however
important, were sacrificed for my new passion. A few young men
wished to form a Choral Society, and asked me to allow them the use of my
school-room for rehearsals. I consented readily, and became a member
of the new society—taking my stand, weekly, as a tenor singer in the
choruses. My heart and brain were soon on flame with the worship of
Handel's grandeur, and with the love of his sweetness and tenderness.
They made me their secretary; and my head went to work to make the music
of the Choral Society worth hearing in old cathedralled Lincoln.
I planned, I visited, I wooed, I entreated, till I obtained
the aid and co-operation of the best musicians and the best singers in the
ancient city. Like every true reformer, I had to put down the
authority of the imperfect, and put the authoritative perfect in its
place. Over the company of raw amateurs—de-spite some grumbling—I
succeeded in placing the most perfect "singer at sight," and most
thoroughly experienced person in the music of Handel, to be found in the
whole city, as conductor; the best violinist in the city, as leader; the
best alto and tenor singers in the city, as leaders of their parts in the
choruses, and as principal solo singers; the organist of the cathedral, as
leader on the viola; the best violoncello player in Lincoln, as leader on
his instrument; while I also secured the aid of an experienced trumpeter.
We already had the aid of a good double-bass player, who was also a sound
timist. And I may also say that I had most valuable aid, by way of
counsel and advice, from that most accomplished musician, the late Rev.
George S. Dickson, Incumbent of St. Swithin's, Lincoln.
The next step was to obtain funds, that professional men
might be remunerated, and the society held together by something more than
mere enthusiasm. I wrote to the nobility, gentry, and clergy of the
county and the city, and to all members of Parliament for Lincolnshire;
and was successful in almost every case. I raised an income of £200
for the society's first year. Then I besought the Dean, the
Precentor, and Subdean to lend their powers of persuasion; and the
incumbent of the most central church in the city granted us the use of it
for our public concerts of sacred music. Mr. Whall, the most
thoroughly competent organist in Lincoln, presided at the organ; and,
before a crowded audience, the transcendent "Messiah," the noble "Dettingen
Te Deum," the brilliant and warlike "Judas Maccabæus,"
the gorgeous "Solomon," the sublime "Israel in Egypt," and other oratorios
of Handel, were performed with an enthusiasm that had never before been
witnessed in Lincoln. The "Creation" of Haydn, and scattered choral
pieces of Mozart and Beethoven, were also given.
Nor was the solo singing of a mean character. Our
conductor, George Brooke, of the cathedral choir, would have attracted
admiration, as a bass singer of great original powers of expression, and
great capability of execution, with the most critical audience in the
kingdom. The tenor singing of dear departed Charles Ashton—a
universal favourite in Lincoln—was the sweetest I ever heard, except
Braham's. Mr. Knowles, our alto solo singer, was not only a very
pleasing vocalist, but a competent musician; and is, at the moment I
write, a member of the choir in St. George's Chapel, Windsor.
I raised a separate subscription of twenty guineas, for the
purchase of concert drums; bought a chromatic slide trumpet at the urgent
request of our trumpeter; formed a rich musical library, comprising the
forty thick folio volumes of Arnold's complete score of Handel, with
German scores of the "Creation," the "Requiem," and the "Mount of
Olives"—for the use of the society. I say, I did all this—for,
although I met a committee of the performers, that conferred together
about the selection of choruses and solos for each concert, as it drew
nigh, they took no part in the real business of the society. I had
all that to plan and execute for myself.
What mad enthusiasm I felt for music! I often sat up
the greater part of a night to transact the writing necessary for the
furtherance of the prosperity of that Choral Society. I walked, I
ran, I jumped, about the city—I climbed its "steep hill" often half a
dozen times in a day—to win subscribers and collect subscriptions, and get
performers to be punctual at the rehearsals, and to reconcile their petty
animosities and keep them united; and I also spent some little money on
the darling project of making music successful in Lincoln. I was
ever striving to obtain more subscriptions, that our best performers might
be better paid—though I would have scorned to take one farthing myself.
The enjoyment—the rapture—I had in listening to the music, was more than a
reward for whatever time I gave to the society, or interest I sacrificed
But the check to my enthusiasm came; and the end of all this
passionate indulgence of the one sense of hearing—did I say? Nay, if
there were not mind in music, it could not master us in this way, and to
the degree that it masters many. A passion for music is something
far above the mere indulgence of feeling. Oh, how easily I could
again yield to it! But I dare not. Thank God! we shall have
music in heaven; and I can wait for it, till I get thither, remembering
that the music of heaven will unspeakably transcend all the music of
I say the end came. What no one had thought of trying
to do till I did it—and what all acknowledged I had done so well—was
deemed, at first, in whispers, an assumption of authority, and, at last,
and aloud, and to my face, a most shameful tyranny! I was opposed,—I
was thwarted,—I was "called to account,"—I was advised to resign,—I was
threatened with dethronement;—and so, eventually, I abdicated, and left
the Lincoln Choral Society, which had been my idol and my passion, to
LINCOLN: BUSY LIFE AS A NEWSPAPER WRITER:
IT was well that I broke my connection with music,
for my passion would have been ruinous to me had I continued to let it
sway me in the manner I have described. The proprietor of the
newspaper, by whom I had been engaged, at first, at £20 a year, to furnish
weekly trifles in the way of news, made larger demands now upon my time
and attention. The need of keeping up, in some degree, with the
spirit of the age, made him desirous of having reports of the new
municipality of Lincoln, and of the various important meetings which took
place in the old city—naturally, one may say, as the capital of the
shire. He gradually advanced me to £60, and at last to £100 per
annum. Of course I ceased to be a schoolmaster; and began now to be
regarded by some with strong dislike, and by others with no little fear
and dread, as the powerful correspondent of the Lincoln, Rutland, and
I wrote paragraphs on abuses that raised up enemies against
me; but many of these, when they saw I did not fear them, became my
friends. The paper rose in circulation; and the excitement was great
every Friday morning, in old Lincoln, to get a sight of their old business
paper, which had now become enlivened with such bristling criticisms and
startling revelations of abuses. A series of short articles entitled
"Lincoln Preachers," was, perhaps, the cause of more excitement than
anything beside that I wrote for the Mercury.
The Dean, the Precentor, the Chancellor, the Subdean, and the
Vicars of the Cathedral, all had their likenesses drawn as preachers and
men—according to the presumptuous judgment of him who drew them.
Nor were their incomes, their pluralities, and temporalities, any more
than their spiritualities, omitted in the brief and summary descriptions
given of them. The Dissenting and Wesleyan ministers, as well as the
parochial clergy of the city, were also presented with their
portraits—very much to their chagrin, vexation, and mortification, in
many cases. Some of them made ludicrous attempts, in a secret way,
to secure a favourable picture for themselves; and others blustered and
Let me confess what regret I feel now for much of my
newspaper life; for this was by no means the end of it. If I could
live over again, and choose the kind of life I would live, it would not be
that of a writer for newspapers, although I enjoyed a great part of my
employment. I am sure it was the cause to me of real corruption of
the heart, and hardening of the feelings. To hear your criticisms
quoted with a relish; to know that your sarcasms do really sting and
torment people filling important and responsible stations; to know that
hundreds like all this, rub their hands with glee, and look eagerly for
more of it; to see and hear yourself named as the cleverest fellow in the
place, and the man most to be dreaded! There is much that tickles
fallen human nature in all this; but I would get out of the way of it,
rather than write for it, if I had life to come over again.
Often, it is true, I wrote the sharp criticisms I speak of a
thousand times more for mirth than for mischief. But to turn the
laugh against a man is often a sorer punishment to him than to whip his
back with a cato'-nine-tails. My merriest articles for the general
reader were, I doubt not, a real source of grief to the party against whom
they were pointed. I had proof of this, more than once. But
some new temptation was sure to impel me, very soon, to perpetrate a
similar evil joke in another direction.
I resumed the composition of verses in Lincoln. "The
Daughter of Plantagenet," and some of the songs in my "Baron's Yule
Feast," were written in Lincoln. I also began an historical romance,
and wrote about one volume of the three intended volumes; but I did not
finish the romance till a later period, that I shall have to speak of.
Keeping in my heart of hearts the resolve that I would one day write a
poem that should not fail, I used often to ask myself, "What shall the
subject be, when the time comes?" But I could not determine,
although I mused on many subjects.
The answer came suddenly to my mind, one day, as I sat in one
of the recesses of the windows of the old Guildhall, attending a meeting
of the town council, in my office of reporter to the Stamford Mercury,
I conceived, as it seemed in a moment, the creation of either a drama, or
an epic, wherein the spirits of suicidal kings, and other remarkable
personages, should be interlocutors on some high theme, or themes; and
resolved to call it "The Purgatory of Suicides." I wrote down, on
one of the leaves of my reporting book, the names of Demosthenes, and
Hannibal, and Brutus, and Cassius, and Cato, and Nero, and Achitophel, and
Judas Iscariot, and Castlereagh, and others, at the time, and preserved
the leaf. I also kept the title before me, and never thought of
changing it for one moment.
I have said that I felt as if really entering the world and
beginning to belong to it, in Lincoln. And how utterly new a great
deal of the life I saw and joined in Lincoln, was to me! My office
on the newspaper brought me into the world of politics. It will have
been seen, already, that I had been a Radical from boyhood; and, now, of
course, I belonged in Lincoln to the Lytton-Bulwer party. For the
great novelist, dramatist, and so on,—the present Conservative
Lord Lytton, was then the Liberal Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer.
And when I asked him, one day, at the table of one of his principal
supporters, what government he would prefer for England, if we could
choose the kind of government, now?—he replied, without hesitation "A
Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer was at one time in great favour in
Lincoln; and, so far as I was able, I helped his cause by upholding it in
the Mercury, and endeavouring to strengthen his interest with the
Lincoln electors. I had often to report his speeches, and have a
most vivid remembrance of their eloquence, and of the remarkable energy
with which, very often, they were delivered.
Attendance at political meetings, public dinners, and
concerts of music, involved the consumption of time, the consumption of
wine, and late hours. I became a social man, a "lover of good
company," as men call it. The religious seriousness was gone.
Yet my new friendships were all of the intellectual cast.
There was one with whom I ought to have been better
acquainted. I lament, greatly, that I did not try to draw him nearer
to me. But sometimes the slender ties of half-relationship create
family likes and dislikes that prevent the formation of what might
otherwise be really valuable friendships. I allude to one whose
memory is already honoured by the very foremost mathematicians and deepest
thinkers, but whose name will become truly illustrious in the wiser
future, the late Dr. George Boole, professor of Mathematics in Queen's
College, Cork (Ed - prophetic words indeed, for in the 20th
Century Boole's algebra of logic—known now as "Boolean Algebra"—was to
become an essential tool in the design of digital computers).
My wife's mother was a Boole, and was sister to Dr. Boole's father—the
curator of the Mechanics' Institute, whom I have already mentioned. Young
George came to see his
cousins, one day, in that Christmas week of 1829, when I first went to
Lincoln as a visitor. He was then a boy of fourteen; had mastered Leslie's
Geometry, under his father's
teaching; was learning Latin, and thinking of Greek; and almost
overwhelmed me with inquiries about the contents of books he had not read.
I heard often of his intellectual progress during our courtship; but
never saw him again until, in the first year of our marriage, he came to
Lincoln, and read an encomium on
Sir Isaac Newton, before a crowded audience, in the Mechanics' Institute. The first Earl of Yarborough, who was present, had given a marble bust of
the immortal one to the
Institute; and it was unveiled before George began to read his paper. The
writing showed how his mind had expanded; but I drew a far larger
conclusion, as to the
growth of his intelligence, when he called to see his cousins (my wife and
her sister), and I could converse with him.
Some time afterwards, he settled in Lincoln, and opened a school. I saw
him now and then; but he was shy and formal. I ,think I could have brushed
away all his shyness, if I had set myself to do it. But I, proudly, let
the shyness grow between us, till it reached estrangement. In after years,
he called on me in London, and
talked friendlily and freely; and I then felt that he had distanced me so
far in his reach of mathematical science, and in his knowledge of
languages—in fact, in all
knowledge—that I was
but a dwarf in his presence. My acquaintance with some facts of his
private life, and knowledge of his tenderness towards his parents and care
of them in their age, warrant
me in saying that he was as good
as he was great. I shall increasingly regret, to my life's close, that I
did not strive to draw him towards me as a near and intimate friend. I
might have done it, if I had set
about it aright.
Gilbert Collins became my most frequent companion and closest friend in
Lincoln. He was, at first, a clerk in the Old Bank, and afterwards manager
of the Hull Branch Bank,
at Lincoln. We were nearly of an age; had been attached to the same
religious denomination, and had left it; and had an equally strong
attachment to the study of languages.
Collins had learned Latin at school, and had taught himself Greek, and had
translated for himself the entire Iliad and Odyssey. Of the Greek
Testament, he had a more
perfect knowledge than any one I ever
knew. He was laboriously constructing a Harmony of the Four Gospels, in
Greek, when I knew him; and you could not mention a Greek text in the
but he would give you the context, in a moment. He was also a
chess-player; and we sometimes spent an hour at the game; but I was never
a proficient in it.
Collins one day bought an old quarto Arabic Grammar which had been tumbled
about for years in an old book shop. There was a considerable vocabulary
of Arabic words at
the end; and the whim seized us both to set on and learn Arabic. I copied
the words from the vocabulary, in what we thought very pretty Arabic
writing; and we were much
taken with our project, when, one evening, George Boole suddenly stepped
in, and found us earnestly bent over our new toy. He examined the quarto
book with interest; but
seemed to have difficulty in restraining his laughter when he saw our
Arabic writing, and heard us gravely say we were determined to learn the
"But where will you get your Arabic books?" asked George; "and how can
you read them without a dictionary? You could not get a copy of
Richardson's dictionary, I
should think, under some twelve or
fifteen pounds." We felt ashamed of our thoughtlessness, and laid the
It would please one's self, very much, to put the names of all one's
friends in print: at any rate, such is my own feeling. Yet the general
reader might question, not only the
propriety, but the sanity, of such an act. Ergo, I shall leave many kind
hearty friendships that I formed in Lincoln uncommemorated. I shall, for
the present, mention one only, and then pass on to my more active history. The most important
friendship I formed in Lincoln, and, perhaps, the most influential on my
own mind, at the time, was that with Charles Seely.
He was then a rising young merchant; but has now for many years been M.P.
for Lincoln; while his son—the little Charley whom I used to take on my
knee—is M.P. for
Nottingham. Charles Seely selected me as an intellectual companion simply
from the fact that he thought my company was worth having. For when our
friendship was first
formed I was but a poor schoolmaster, and had no newspaper influence, or
influence of any kind, in the city. He would have me, almost every Sunday,
at his table;
and often we sauntered by the Witham, or along the Canwick fields, or by
the venerable Minster, in the dusk of evening; and sometimes I rode with
him, in his mercantile
journeys, to Boston or Sleaford. Our conversations were on politics, on
human character and society, or on general literature; but how often,
during the years that have
passed since I left Lincoln, have I thought of the one strong, deep
impression I caught of my friend's character—"This is the man whose
purpose is formed, and he will
accomplish it,"—and how completely that impression has been realised!
My changeful life has separated me from my friend; but I have watched his
patriotic course in Parliament,
and out of it, with intense gratification. I have seldom seen him during
all these years, and our correspondence has necessarily been very limited;
yet let me gratefully say
that, in my season of sickness and helplessness, a very few years ago, I
had substantial proof that my friend had not lost the remembrance of those
dear old times in
But my Lincoln chapters must come to an end. In September, 1838, I asked
leave of my patron, Mr. Richard Newcomb, to take a week's holiday, and go
to see London. He
granted leave; but took alarm, and wrote to me, before I had been two days
in the capital, desiring me not to look out for a better situation; but
to call at Stamford on my way
home, as he had something to offer me worth my acceptance. I called; and
he at once said, "Cooper, I want you to come and live at Stamford. I mean
to retire, and give
the management of the paper up to yourself, after I have put you in the
way of it a little. You will live here, in this house, so as to be near to
your business. I mean to live at
Rock Cottage. So go and dispose of your things at Lincoln; and bring Mrs.
Cooper with you, to live at Stamford"
I took him at his word, and asked for no "terms," but assured him I would
do what he wished me to do, for I felt really attached to him, and
strongly desirous of serving him.
And as soon as I could accomplish it, I disposed of our little furniture,
but not of my books; and my dear wife and I left Lincoln for
Stamford. My poor mother preferred to go back to Gainsborough. We went and
lived in the house in High Street, Stamford; but Mr. Newcomb did not go
out of it.
He simply assigned us two apartments in it. And I soon saw that he could
not bring his mind to give up the management of his paper to another: it
had become, as it
were, a part of his existence. He grew angry if I asked to take a larger
share in the management; and, at last, kept me in the counting-house as his
clerk, and would not let
me write even one line for the Mercury!
He was giving me £250 a year, with coals and the two rooms rent-free, and
I had other privileges which made my situation worth £300 per annum; but
he shut me out of his
company, and I had no society. I wish I had cheerfully accepted the
solitude, as of old, and worked hard to produce a book. But I rashly gave
notice to leave; and so, on
the 1st of June, 1839, we got on the stage-coach, with our boxes of books,
at Stamford,—and away I went to make my first venture in London.
FIRST LONDON LIFE: VICISSITUDES:
I THOUGHT I might very fairly expect a little introductory help, in
London, from the literary baronet and Liberal M.P. whom I had humbly
striven to serve in Lincoln. So I took
the manuscript of my unfinished romance, and called upon him, at his house
in Hertford Street, Mayfair. He received me, smoking, with a thousand
smiles; and assured
me he would show the manuscript to his publishers. I called at his door,
once or twice, during the seven weeks that elapsed before I saw him again; and then wrote to
tell him that I would wait upon him on such a day. He came, hastily, into
the room where I waited, put the manuscript into my hand, and said, "I
regret to say that although
Messrs. Saunders and Otley consider it a work of merit, they have so many
other things in hand, that they cannot receive it at present. Good
morning, Mr. Cooper!"—and
he bowed and disappeared through folding-doors into another room, in an
instant. His servant opened the
door behind me, as I stood staring, and showed me the way into the street.
I wish the literary baronet had either kindly told me one truth, that my
writing was too faulty to offer for publication, and I had better try to
achieve a more perfect work before I
sought a publisher; or that he had honestly told me another truth, that he
had never shown my poor manuscript to Messrs. S. and O., and did not
choose to take any trouble
on my behalf. I speedily learned the truth; and it gave me poor hope of
making my way by the help of friends in London.
We lodged in St. George's Road, Southwark, that I might be near Thomas
Miller, who then lived in Elliott's Row, in the same road. He was writing
"Lady Jane Grey," when I reached London. It was the third romance he had
written for Colburn, the publisher; but I found he only received small
sums for his labour, and
had to work hard to bring up his young family. He declared himself to have
no power whatever to help me to literary employ; but we again became
companions, and he took
me over his favourite walks to Sydenham, Dulwich, Greenwich, and other
parts of Surrey and Kent, and we talked of old times. At the very time I
write, I learn that he
is ill, and needs help. He has written forty books, in his time—all
tending to improve working men's minds. Is it right that this industrious
hard-worker should be left to
want in his old age ?
Before I left Lincolnshire I had corresponded with Sir Culling Eardley
Smith, while he was sheriff of the county; and when he learned that I was
in London and wanted
employment, he wrote to request me to go over to Bedwell Park, Herts. He
thought I could assist the Herts Reformer, a Liberal paper in which he
took an interest. I went
to Hertford, and saw the proprietor, but found that he really had no need
of my services, although he was willing to oblige Sir Culling; but I would
not impose myself upon him.
Sir Culling also gave me an introduction to Josiah Conder, who was then
editor of the Patriot newspaper. Mr. Conder was sure that he could make no
room for me—they were
quite full-handed; but he would give me a note to Alaric Watts. I called
on Alaric Watts, who was busy editing, I think, three or four papers, at
that time—in one of the courts in
Fleet Street. He laid down his pen, and asked me a few questions, said he
had no office vacant, in his own gift, and he did not know of
anything—would I call again?
The interview did not last more than three minutes; and though I called
again, several times, I was always told he was not in. Mr. Conder next
gave me a note to Mr.
Southgate, a small publisher in the Strand, who issued the Sunbeam and the
Probe; and I earned of him perhaps five pounds, by contributing reviews
and prose sketches, till
the two ephemeral papers ended.
I had many other ventures and adventures, in a small way; but it would
weary any mortal man to
recite them; and the recital would only be an old story which has been
often told already, by poor literary adventurers. The very little money I
could bring to London was soon
gone; and then I had to sell my books. I, happily, turned into Chancery
Lane, and asked Mr. Lumley to buy my beautifully bound Tasso, which I had
bought of D'Albrione, and
"Don Bellianis of Greece," a small quarto blackletter romance, which I
had bought from an auctioneer in Gainsborough, who knew nothing of its
value. Mr. Lumley gave
me liberal prices, wished I could bring him more such books, and conversed
with me very kindly.
I had to visit him again and again, on the same needy errand; and, seeing
my need, he asked if I would copy for him, at the British Museum, the
oldest printed book in the
Library—Caxton on Chess. I undertook to do so; Miller procured for me
William Jerdan's note of recommendation to Sir Henry Ellis, the librarian,
and I was soon free of the
Reading Room—a privilege I have always taken care to retain by getting my
ticket renewed whenever I revisit London. How I loved that old
reading-room—so humble, when
compared with the incomparable magnificent one erected by Panizzi!—and
how well acquainted I grew with the varied contents of its shelves!
When I had copied Caxton, Mr. Lumley told me, if I could not find more
remunerative employ, he would get me to assist him in making catalogues of
the old books he was sending to America—of which he despatched thousands
of volumes, at that time. Then he began to issue a Bibliographical
journal, or monthly book
advertiser, and I helped in some manner with that. All this was very
subordinate labour, and but little money could be afforded for it; but I
was treated with such respectful
kindness by Mr. Lumley, that I retain a very grateful remembrance of him.
We were often at "low-water mark," now, in our fortunes; but my dear wife
and I never suffered ourselves to sink into low spirits. Our experience,
we cheerily said, was a part
of "London adventure;" and who did not know that adventurers in London
often underwent great trials before success was reached? We strolled out
together in the evenings,
all over London, making ourselves acquainted with its highways and byways,
and always finding something to interest us in its streets and shop
I must not pass by a remarkable reminiscence of two Sundays in the year
1839. I had gone with my dear wife to hear Thomas Binney, at the Weigh
House Chapel; and
Robert Montgomery, at St. Dunstan's in the West—(when I also heard Adams
on the organ); and Caleb Morris, in Fetter Lane; and Melville,
(afterwards the "Golden Lecturer") at Camberwell; and Dr. Leifchild, at Craven Chapel; Thomas Dale, at St.
Bride's Church; and other preacher-notabilities of the time; but one
Sunday, being alone in the
street near Charing Cross, I met a literary man
whom I had known in Lincoln—John Saunders, then employed on Charles
Knight's Penny Magazine, and afterwards the author of "Abel Drake's Wife,"
and other novels; and
he invited me to go with him to hear the celebrated Robert Owen open a new
institution in John Street, Tottenham Court Road. I went, and heard Mr.
Owen deliver the
opening address in that lecture-hall, little imagining that I should
lecture there so often in the after-time.
Seeing an advertisement in the Times the next day, that W. J. Fox would
lecture, the following Sunday, at South Place, Finsbury Square, on the
System of Robert Owen, I
resolved to go thither. As I came in sight of the chapel, I saw Robert
Owen, walked close behind him, paid my shilling, like him, to sit in the
strangers' gallery, and sat close
by his side to listen to the lecture—little imagining that the lecturer
would become my friend in the future, and I should often occupy his
pulpit. Such are the remarkable
incidents in human life!
I began a new story, during these months of unfruitfulness: a story which
was intended to be autobiographical, in some degree. But from the
dissipating necessity of going
hither and thither to seek employ, and the need of doing some kind of
work, however humble, to earn part of a crust, I made but little progress with the sketch. The fragment will be found at the end of two
volumes of tales that were published for me some years afterwards, and
"Wise Saws and Modern Instances." During these months of London
vicissitude I also tried to keep up my fragmentary reading of Latin,
Greek, French, Italian, and
German—until, at length, I had no grammar or dictionary left! Every book
I brought from Lincolnshire—and I had about five hundred volumes, great
and small—had been
sold, by degrees; and, at last, I was compelled to enter a pawnshop. Spare
articles of clothing, and my father's old silver watch, "went up the
spout," as the expression goes
of those who, most sorrowfully, know what it means. Travelling cloak,
large box, hat-box, and every box or movable that could be spared in any
possible way, had "gone to
our uncle's"—and we saw ourselves on the very verge of being reduced to
threadbare suits—when deliverance came!
I had, like thousands of poor creatures who follow the practice daily, in
London, frequently answered advertisements in the daily newspapers, about
reporterships, and contributing of leading or other articles to
periodicals—but had no response: no, not one syllable! I had been in
London from the evening of the 1st of June,
1839, until near the end of March, 1840—when I answered an advertisement
respecting the editorship of a country paper printed in London. I went to
the printing-office of Mr.
Dougal Macgowan, in Great Windmill Street, Haymarket; and, after some
conversation, was engaged, at a salary of three pounds per week, as editor
of The Kentish Mercury, Gravesend Journal, and Greenwich Gazette,—a
weekly newspaper which was printed in Great Windmill Street, but which
must be published in Kent,
to render it a Kentish paper, it was thought.
So we gave up our London lodging, and went to live at Greenwich, in order
that I might publish the paper there. I remained in my new post only till
the end of November in the
same year; but I saw a great deal of the delightful county of Kent during
that year 1840, having to visit all the towns of any size worth visiting,
and some of them many times
over, on errands connected with the business of the paper. Our delectable
walks in Greenwich Park, too, can never be forgotten by my dear wife or
week-day that I was not journeying over Kent, I had to be in London, to
get up the paper for the printer. Do not let me fail to record that I had
to perform my work on classic
ground. Mr. Macgowan's printing-office had formerly been the Anatomical
Museum of the immortal John Hunter; and I did the work of my editorship,
daily, in what had once
been his study, or private sitting-room!
I only twice or thrice saw the proprietor of the Kentish Mercury—Mr. Wm.
Dougal Christie, then a young barrister in chambers, in the Temple—but
who has since been
distinguished as an M.P., Charge d'affaires at Rio Janeiro; and as the
excellent editor of Dryden and Shaftesbury. We did not agree in our
notions respecting the management of the paper; and so I, again, "gave
notice to leave."
"Another act of rashness!" cries out the reader; but I say otherwise,
this time. In the course of fourteen days I had a letter from the Rev. S.
B. Bergne, Independent minister of Lincoln, enclosing a letter from the
manager of a Leicester newspaper, inquiring, "Can you inform us of the
whereabouts of Thomas Cooper, who wrote the articles entitled 'Lincoln Preachers' in the
I dropped the letter from my hands; and my wife
remembers well my excited look, as I exclaimed, "The message has come at
last!—the message of
Destiny! We are
going to live at Leicester!"
Don't say "Pooh! stuff and nonsense!" good reader. Is there any one thing
you can truly say you comprehend? "No," you reply; "I can only apprehend
things." Just so. And it
is because I am deeply conscious of the same truth, that I have learned to
be slower in crying out—"Superstition!" than I used to be. I find there
are mysteries in our
existence that I cannot fathom; and I am compelled to leave them
unfathomed, and go on with the duties of active and useful life.
I left Leicester, my birthplace, when a year old, as I have told you, and
had never seen the place again to the time I am now speaking of, although
I was now thirty-five years
old. Yet I tell you, reader, that I had a peculiar impression on my mind,
years, that I had something to do of a stirring and important nature in
Leicester. I did not wish to go to Leicester, for all my aspirations,
during many years, had centred in
London. And I had no presentation to the mind of the exact work I had to
do in Leicester, nor anything resembling that. When there was nothing in
the employment of my
thoughts, at the time, to lead to such an impression, it would frequently
visit me—resting on my mind with a force that amazed me—until something
summoned away my
Instead of writing to tell the person who inquired for my "whereabouts," I
went over to Leicester at once, by the railway. The person who was
entrusted with the management
of the paper told me that it had but a limited circulation, and they could
not afford me much money. However, I took the situation at two pounds per
week, and agreed
to go and live at Leicester. I remember that, as I had closed accounts at
Great Windmill Street, had paid my last visit thither to say "good-bye" to
Mr. Macgowan, on the
Saturday afternoon, and was passing through the Strand on my way to take
the steam-boat for Greenwich, I saw a large placard outside the office of
the Sun newspaper,
proclaiming, "Birth of the Princess Royal!" So that it was on the 21st
November. On Monday, the 23rd, 1840, my dear wife and I left Greenwich and
London, and took
up our lodging in Leicester.
LEICESTER: WRETCHEDNESS OF STOCKINGERS:
I FOUND a dear old friend in Leicester: that same energetic Joseph Foulkes Winks who had instituted our Mutual Improvement Society and adult
school at Gainsborough.
I soon learned that he had not grown rich, except in the number of his
children; but he was as merry-hearted as ever, and as full of energy;
for, in addition to his business as
printer and bookseller, he was a busy politician, Baptist preacher, and
three or four small religious periodicals. My employment on the
Leicestershire Mercury seemed to me very trifling. I was simply expected
to attend the petty
sessions, or weekly magistrates' meeting, at Leicester and Loughborough,
and to make paragraphs concerning lectures and occasional meetings. I saw
the manager of the paper did not wish
me to do overmuch. I expressed my discontent and impatience to my friend
Winks; and he told me to wait, for something was about to be done with the
would effect a change favourable to myself. But I was soon sent on
the errand which led to the fulfilment of my "destiny."
"There is a Chartist lecture to be delivered at All Saints'
Open, to-night. As there is nothing else for you to attend to, you
may as well go and bring us an account of it. We do not want a full
report."—Such was the fiat of the manager of the Leicestershire
Mercury, that sent me to hear the first words I ever heard spoken by a
Before I left Lincolnshire, and during the year and half I
spent in London, I had read in the papers of the day, what everybody read,
about the meetings of Chartists—from the great assemblage in Palace Yard,
on the 17th September, 1838, when the high-bailiff of Westminster
presided,—where the immortal Corn Law
Rhymer advocated the political rights of the working classes, and
where so many bold speeches were made by men of rank and station, as well
as by working men—to the assembling of the "general Convention," and the
breaking up of that political body; and the Monmouthshire riots and
consequent banishment of Frost, Williams, and Jones, in February 1840.
I say I had read about these transactions in the newspapers; and of the
fierce agitation against the cruel enactments of the new Poor Law, under Oastler and Stephens. And I had seen mention of the Bull Ring
meetings at Birmingham; and of the seizure and imprisonment of many of the
Chartist leaders; and then of the release of some of them. But I had
never attended a Chartist meeting, or met with any one who maintained
Doubtless, the necessity I was under of finding some
employment that I might have bread, prevented me from feeling much
curiosity about public meetings, during the earlier part of the time that
I was in London. And then, when I became editor of the Kentish
paper, I was eager to get back to Greenwich every evening, when my work
was done in London, and glad to take up some favourite book, or walk with
my wife in the beautiful park, rather than seek out political meetings.
The Chartist meeting, in Leicester, that I was now sent to
report, gave very small promise of importance. I discovered the
small room in "All Saints' Open," after some inquiry, and found, at first,
some twenty ragged men collected. The place was filled in the course
of about a quarter of an hour, with women as well as men; and all were,
apparently, of the necessitous class, save, perhaps, half a dozen who were
more decently dressed than the crowd.
The lecturer entered, and, amidst eager clapping of hands,
made his way to the small platform. A working man told me his name
was John Mason, and he was a Birmingham shoemaker. The lecture
was delivered with great energy; but it was sober and argumentative, and
often eloquent. The political doctrines advocated were not new to me. I
had imbibed a belief in the justice of Universal Suffrage when a boy from
the papers lent me by the Radical brushmakers. I heard from John Mason
simply the recital of the old political programme of the Duke of Richmond,
and his friends, at the close of the last century; of noble, honest Major
John Cartwright; of Hunt and later Radicals. I had never had any doubt of
the equity that demanded a redistribution of Electoral Districts, short
Parliaments, the abolition of the property qualification for members of
Parliament, and the payment of members. Of all the "Six Points" of "the
People's Charter," there was but one I did not like: the Ballot. And I do
not like it now.
It will be seen that there was nothing to startle me in the lecturer's
political doctrines. And I discerned
no tendency to violence in his address. He was, indeed, as I thought,
exceedingly temperate in his language; and it was only when he came to
the wind-up that he
struck the note that roused strong feeling. He earnestly exhorted his
hearers not to be led away from their adherence to the People's Charter by
the Corn Law Repealers.
"Not that Corn Law Repeal is wrong," said he; when we get the Charter, we
will repeal the Corn Laws and all the other bad laws. But if you give up
your agitation for
the Charter to help the Free Traders,
they will not help you to get the Charter. Don't be deceived by the middle
classes again. You helped them to get their votes—you swelled their cry
of 'The bill, the
whole bill, and nothing but the bill!'
But where are the fine promises they made you? Gone to the winds! They
said when they had gotten their votes, they would help you to get yours. But they and the
rotten Whigs have never remembered
you. Municipal Reform has been for their benefit—not for yours. All other reforms the Whigs boast to have effected have
been for the benefit of the middle classes—not for yours. And now they
want to get the Corn
Laws repealed—not for your benefit—but for their own. 'Cheap Bread!'
they cry. But they mean 'Low Wages.' Do not listen to their cant and
humbug. Stick to your
Charter. You are veritable slaves without your votes!"
Such was the strain of the peroration. The speech was received with
frequent cries of "Hear, hear," and "That's right!" and sometimes with
clapping of hands and drumming
Two or three of the better-dressed men, who sat on the platform, spoke, at
the end, of the sufferings of those who were yet in prison for the
People's Charter and then they
gave three cheers for Feargus O'Connor, who was at that time a prisoner in
York Castle; and three cheers for Frost, Williams, and Jones, whom they
said they would have
back again; and it was nearly eleven o'clock when the meeting broke up.
As we passed out into the street, I was surprised to see the long upper
windows of the meaner houses fully lighted, and to hear the loud creak of
"Do your stocking weavers often work so late as this?" I asked of some
of the men who were leaving the meeting.
"No, not often: work's over scarce for that," they answered; "but we're
glad to work any hour, when we can get work to do."
"Then your hosiery trade is not good in Leicester?" I observed.
"Good! It's been good for nought this many a year," said one of the men;
"We've a bit of a spurt
now and then. But we soon go back again to starvation!"
"And what may be the average earning of a stocking weaver?" I
mean when a man is fully employed."
"About four and sixpence," was the reply.
That was the exact answer; but I had no right conception of its meaning. I
remembered that my own earnings as a handicraft had been low, because
I was not allowed to work for the best shops. And I knew that working men
in full employ, in the towns of Lincolnshire, were understood to be paid
tolerably well. I had
never, till now, had any experience of the condition of a great part of
the manufacturing population of England, and so my rejoinder was natural. The reply it evoked was the
first utterance that revealed to me the real state of suffering in which
thousands in England were living.
"Four and sixpence," I said; "well, six fours are
twenty-four, and six sixpences are three shillings: that's
seven-and-twenty shillings a week. The wages are not so bad when you are
"What are you talking about?" said they. "You mean four and sixpence a
day; but we mean four and sixpence a week."
"Four and sixpence a week!" I exclaimed. "You don't mean that men have to
work in those stocking frames that I hear going now, a whole week for four
How can they maintain their wives and children?"
"Ay, you may well ask that," said one of them, sadly.
We walked on in silence, for some moments, for they said no more, and I
felt as if I could scarcely believe what I heard. I knew that in
Lincolnshire, where I had passed so
great a part of my life, the farmers' labourers had wages which amounted
to double the earnings these stockingers said were theirs. I had heard of
the suffering of handloom
weavers and other operatives in the manufacturing districts, but had never
witnessed it. What I heard now seemed incredible; yet these
spirit-stricken men seemed to mean
what they said. I felt, therefore, that I must know something more about
the real meaning of what they had told me. I began to learn more of the
from them; and I learned it day by day more fully, as I made inquiry.
A cotton manufacturer builds a mill, and puts machinery into it; and then
gives so much per week, or so much per piece of work, to the men and women
and boys and girls
he employs. But I found that the arrangement in the hosiery trade was very
different. The stocking and glove manufacturers did not build mills, but
were the owners of the
'frames' in which the stockings and gloves were woven. These frames they
let out to the 'masters,' or middlemen, at a certain rent, covenanting to
give all the employ in
their power to the said 'masters.' The Messrs. Biggs, in my time, owned
twelve hundred frames, it was said. Perhaps, fifty of these would be let
out to William
Cummins, thirty to Joseph Underwood, and so on to other 'masters' or
middlemen. The 'masters' employed the working-hands, giving so much per
dozen for the weaving
of the stockings or gloves, and charging the man a weekly
frame-rent—which was, of course, at a profit above the rent the 'master'
paid the owner of the 'frame.'
But it was by a number of petty and vexatious grindings, in addition to
the obnoxious 'frame-rent,' that the poor framework-knitter was worn down,
till you might have known
him by his peculiar air of misery and dejection, if you had met him a
hundred miles from Leicester. He had to pay, not only 'frame-rent,' but so
much per week for the
'standing' of the frame in the shop of the 'master,' for the frames were
grouped together in the shops, generally, though you would often find a
single frame in a
weaver's cottage. The man had also to pay threepence per dozen to the
'master' for 'giving out' of the work. He had also to pay so much per
dozen to the female 'seamer' of
the hose. And he had also oil to buy for his machine, and lights to pay
for in the darker half of the year. All the deductions brought the average
earnings of the
to four and sixpence per week. I found this to be a truth confirmed on
And when he was 'in work,' the man was evermore experiencing some new
attempt at grinding him down to a lower sum per dozen for the weaving, or
at 'docking' him so
much per dozen for alleged faults in his work; while sometimes—and even
for several weeks together—he experienced the most grievous wrong of all. The 'master' not being
able to obtain full employment for all the frames he rented of the
manufacturer, but perhaps only half employ for them—distributed, or
'spread' the work over all the frames.
"Well," the reader will very likely say, "surely, it was better to give
all the men half-work, than no work to some, and half-work to others." But
the foul grievance was this: each
man had to pay a whole week's frame-rent, although he had only half a
week's work! Thus while the poor miserable weaver knew that his
half-week's work, after all the
deductions, would produce him such a mere pittance that he could only
secure a scant share of the meanest food, he remembered that the owner of
the frame had the
full rent per week, and the middleman or 'master' had also his weekly
pickings secured to him.
Again: a kind of hose would be demanded for which the frame needed a deal
of troublesome and tedious altering. But the poor weaver was expected
to make all the alterations himself. And sometimes he could not begin his
week's weaving until a day, or a day and a half, had been spent in making
alterations. Delay was also a custom on Monday mornings. The working man
must call again. He was too early. And, finally, all the work was
ended. The warehouses were glutted, and the hosiery
firms had no orders. This came again and again, in Leicester and
Loughborough and Hinckley, and the framework-knitting villages of the
county, until, when a little
prosperity returned, no one expected it to continue.
How different is the condition of Leicester now thirty years have gone
over! All who enter it for the first time are pleased with the air of
thrift the town wears, and the moving
population of the streets. I saw lounging groups of ragged men in my time. I hope what I saw will never be seen again. And I heard words of misery
and discontent from the
that, I hope, are not heard now. I should not like to hear them again, for
I know not what they might again impel me to say or do.
LEICESTER: MY CHARTIST-LIFE BEGUN:
I SAID in an earlier chapter that I found myself in a new world at Lincoln; but Leicester was a new world indeed to me, although I had been born in
it, nearly thirty-six years
before. How unlike it was to the life I had just seen in London: that
medley of experience of everything great and little which a man
can scarcely have anywhere but in the capital. How unlike it was to the
life I knew in Lincoln, where I had mingled a good deal with the
well-to-do circles of society, and
shared in their enjoyments. But how utterly unlike it was to the earlier
old Lincolnshire life that I had known, wherein I mingled with the poor
and saw a deal of their
suffering,—yet witnessed, not merely the respect usually subsisting
between master and servant, but in many instances the strong attachment of
the peasantry to the
farmers, and of the farmers to their landlords.
Here, in Leicester, in my office of reporter, I soon was witness to what
seemed to me an appalling fact: the fierce and open opposition, in public
working men to employers, manifested in derisive cries, hissing and
hooting, and shouts of scorn. The more I learned of the condition of the
people, the more comprehensible
this sad state of things seemed to me—but what was to be the remedy? My
old friend Winks believed in the justice of universal suffrage, with
myself; but as he belonged
to the party of the old political leaders, and they had decided to ask for
the repeal of the Corn Laws, he kept aloof from the Chartists. I got into
talk with a few of the lesser
employers, and they seemed at their wit's end for a remedy.
The working men, I found, were divided. One party believed in the justice
of the demands made by the Chartists, but held that the repeal of the Corn
benefit them—and these supported the manufacturers at the public
meetings. The other party demanded the People's Charter as a first measure
and they were the majority at
I often wished that some influential person—some one who had a character
in the town for real goodness—would offer a compromise. The three
brothers, John, William, and
Joseph Biggs, who were large employers, had such a character, in my time,
and deserved it, too. The compromise that I wished for was a proposal
to demand both
Charter and Corn Law Repeal, and take anything that could be got first. But there was no spirit of compromise. The manufacturers, to a man, stuck
to one side, and
would have no union for the Charter.
As I considered the Chartist side to be the side of the poor and the
suffering, I held up my hand for the Charter at public meetings. Of
course, I might have taken neither
side—the custom which is most usual with reporters; but I was made of
mettle that must take a side, and I could only take the side I did take.
I soon learned that this was an offence in their eyes who supported the
Leicestershire Mercury; and I speedily added to the offence. The
Chartists had started a penny weekly paper to which they gave the
high-sounding title of The Midland
Counties Illuminator. It was mean in appearance, and the fine,
intellectual old man, George Bown,
who edited the paper, lacked assistance. I wrote him a few articles under
promise of secrecy; but soon found that everybody knew what I did. I was,
not surprised when the manager of the Leicestershire Mercury told me that
I must seek a new situation, for that the paper had no sale sufficient to
enable the proprietors to
pay my salary.
"Never mind, Tom," said my old friend Winks, when I told him that I had
received notice to leave the Mercury in a month's time; "don't you leave
Leicester. There will be
something for you to do soon."
"Don't leave Leicester!" said a group of Chartists, whom I met in the
street, and who had heard of my dismissal; "stay and conduct our paper;
George Bown wants to give it
And in a day or two a deputation from the Chartist committee came to offer
me thirty shillings a week, if I would stay in Leicester to conduct their
little paper. My
friend Winks shook his head at it.
"Have nothing to do with them, Tom," said he; "you cannot depend on 'em.
You'll not get the thirty shillings a week they have promised you."
"I don't expect it," I replied; "but I think I can make the paper into
something better, if they will give it into my hands; and I think I can
do some good among these poor
men, if I join them."
My friend argued against me strongly, and at last
angrily, declaring that I should ruin myself. But my resolution was
taken. I felt I could not leave these
suffering stockingers. During the earlier weeks after I entered Leicester,
I had so little to fill my mind, or even to occupy my time, that I
purposed returning, in right
earnest, to my studies, so soon as I could repossess myself of the
requisite books. But the more I learned of the state of the poor, the less
inclined I felt to settle down to
study. The accounts of wretchedness, and of petty oppressions, and the
fierce defiances of their employers uttered by working men at public
meetings, kept me in
perpetual uneasiness, and set me thinking what I ought to do. The issue
was that I resolved to become the champion of the poor. "What is the
languages—what is the obtaining of all knowledge," I said to myself,
"compared to the real honour, whatever seeming disgrace
it may bring, of struggling to win the social and political rights of
The day after they had sent to ask me to conduct their paper, I said to
one of the Chartist Committee, "Cannot I have a meeting in your little
room at All Saints' Open, next
Sunday evening, that I may address your members?"
"I am sure we shall be all glad to hear you," said he.
And so, having respect to the day, I spoke to them for an hour, partly on
a religious theme, and partly on their suffering and wrongs, and on the
question of their political
rights. I offered a prayer—it was the prayer of my heart—at the
beginning and close of the meeting. This was in March, and I held these
Sunday night meetings in the little
room till the stirring events of the spring and summer of that year, 1841,
compelled us to seek a much larger arena for our enterprise.
The working men paid me thirty shillings for the first week; but could
only raise half the sum the second week. I found they were also in debt
for paper. So I proposed that
they gave up their periodical to me entirely, and I would father their
little debt. I obtained twenty pounds of a friend whom I must not name,
and made an engagement with
Albert Cockshaw, the printer, to print the Midland Counties Illuminator
on larger and better paper, and with better type. And I also took a front
room in the High Street, as an
office for my paper. The Chartists soon
elected me their secretary; and a great number of them urged me to make
my new place in the High Street a shop for the sale of newspapers—saying
they would take their
weekly Northern Star of me. So I sold not only the Chartist
but papers and pamphlets of various kinds, and my little shop became the
daily rendezvous of
working men. The paper rose in sale—for some of the men, who had no work,
took it into the villages, and thus added to its circulation.
As soon as the weather permitted, I began to get the people together for
meetings in the open air. On Sunday mornings, I usually went to one of the
but in the evening we held our meetings in some part of Leicester.
The events of 1841 soon grew very exciting. The death of Sir Ronald
Ferguson, M.P. for Nottingham, reduced the Whig majority to one on great
questions. And the cry
became loud through the land for a general election. Notwithstanding that
the Whig governments of Earl Grey and Lord Melbourne had won Parliamentary
Reform, put the Church Revenues into the hands of Commissioners, and,
above all, given a cheap postage to the people, every
body said, "Let us have a change!" But the wildest advice was given by
some who professed the most
ultra-democratic doctrines. "Let us end the power of the Whigs—vote for
Tories in preference to Whigs, the authors of the accursed Poor Law!"
became the cry.
Colonel Perronet Thompson, the veteran advocate for Corn Law Repeal,
kindly wrote me "Letters" for my paper. But he advocated such measures! That old and steady
advocates of freedom should have recommended us to help the Tories, sounds
very strange to me now. But the poor took up the cry readily. They
remarked that the Whigs
had banished John Frost and his companions, and had thrown four hundred
and thirty Chartists into prison; and therefore the Whigs were their
worst enemies. "We
will be revenged upon the Whigs," became the cry of Chartists.
Mr. Walter, the well-known proprietor of the powerful Times, so long a
determined foe of the New Poor Law, offered himself for Nottingham. The
determined to support him, and wished some of us to go over from
Leicester, to give what help we could. I and John Markham went over, and
spoke at a few meetings. But
I said to Mr. Walter, as we met him in the street, "Sir, don't have a
wrong idea of the reason why you are to have Chartist support. We mean to
use your party to cut
the throats of the Whigs, and then we mean to cut your throats also!" I
said it with a jocular air, and Mr. Walter laughed; but he understood that
the joke was an
Mr. Walter was returned for Nottingham; but, in the course of a few weeks,
the general election came on. And, before it, came Sir John Easthope and
Wynn Ellis, the
members for Leicester, and a great
meeting for Corn Law Repeal was held in Leicester market-place; and John
Collins of Birmingham, and Markham and I, had to have our waggons for a
platform opposed to
the grand stand of the respectables; and the war was now fairly begun. Meetings in the open air were kept up nightly—unless the weather forced
us into the little room at All
Saints' Open—until the day of nomination for members of parliament.
John Swain, the person with whom I lodged, was very savagely opposed to
the New Poor Law, and he proposed to me to meet, secretly, one of the
influentials of the Tory
party who had something to say to me concerning the approaching election.
"I cannot advise any of our Chartists to vote for the Tories," I said to
"The Chartists have not twenty votes among them all," said he; and no one
is going to ask you to get the Chartists to vote for a Tory."
I consented to see the Tory gentleman, and his proposal was that I should
get the Chartists to hold up their hands, at the nomination, for the Tory
"I believe," said I, "that the greater number of Chartists will do that
for the sake of revenge on the Whigs, without my asking them."
"I shall want to see you again," said he, "on the night before the
nomination. I shall have to ask a favour of you, and I hope you will not
The next step taken by our Leicester Chartists was a very flattering one
to myself. They proposed that I should be nominated by two Chartist "freemen" as the Universal
Suffrage candidate for the parliamentary representation of my native town!
But, behold! there was a sudden stoppage to the seemingly prosperous
current of my new fortunes. Mr. Cockshaw, the printer, told me he could
not print another number of
my paper. I owed him a few pounds; but I did not believe—nor did he
say—that this was his reason for discontinuing the printing of my paper. "I am not at liberty to tell the
reason," were his words. There was but one interpretation put upon his
conduct by our Chartists. Mr. Cockshaw was printer for the Corporation,
and I had written in what was
deemed an unmannerly style of some of its members, and, doubtless, I had;
and they wanted to end my paper, and also get me out of the town.
I defeated the Whiggish stratagem, however. There was not a printer in the
whole town of Leicester who dared to print my paper, for fear of offending
dignitaries, or dignitaries of somekind—except Thomas Warwick, an honest,
lowly man, although he voted for the Tories, who had a small quantity of
type, and that but of a
mean kind. I bargained with him, however; and as I could no longer issue
my smart-looking paper at three-halfpence, The Midland Counties
Illuminator—we kindled a smaller refulgence, The Chartist Rushlight, at one halfpenny.
The fun of the thing pleased everybody but the Whigs; and the Tories
bought our Rushlights as fast as the printer could throw them off, and
our Chartists were very merry
The night before the nomination, the Tory gentleman sent for me.
"All I ask of you," he said, "is that you will secure us as many
resolute men of your party as possible, to keep a firm stand in the centre
and immediately before the
hustings. They shall be paid for their work."
"You think that will enable your party to get the show of hands?"
"Exactly. We feel sure that the Mayor will pretend that the Whigs have the
show of hands—especially if he can say,—I could not see how the people
voted who were not in
"I do not see that it will be wrong to do what you ask," said I; "for
even if they do really enable you to get the show of hands, that will
not determine the election; and your
money will do our poor fellows good."
"There will be no polling," said he; "but keep that secret, please."
The "Captain Forester" who had been announced as the Tory candidate had
not yet made his appearance; and I knew, now, that he was only a dummy
and so felt no
hesitation whatever in promising the Tory gentleman that I would do what
he wished. And, accordingly, I summoned a few determined men,
and they soon brought up scores of others; and I took care they were all
paid before they went and took up their stand in front of the hustings. Three small linen bags were
given to me, on the nomination morning, each containing ten pounds in
silver; and I paid away every coin to the poor ragged men, and
wished I had ten times as much to give them. The Tory gentleman did not
give me the bags, nor was
he present when I received them. A Tory tradesman, who bore the highest
character in Leicester for uprightness and kindness to the poor, handed me
the bags—but I do
not tell his name.