THE NURTURE OF A YOUNG SAILOR
THE HISTORY OF COCKLE TOM.
COCKLE TOM was born in
poverty, cradled in hardship, and schooled, never in the alphabet, but
perpetually in endurance of labour, hunger, and fatigue. His manhood
was brief; but his death was generous and heroic. He was one of the
humble children of genuine romance, which England produces in profusion,
but whose lives are unchronicled, and the moral of their story lost,
simply from the fact that, though full of virtuous ambition, they are
untainted with vain-glory: they neither seek for notice in cities, nor lay
claim to distinction in public assemblies; but they restlessly seek to
obtain and preserve the reputation that they are hard-workers, undaunted
by any danger, and capable of sustaining any amount of fatigue, or
undertaking any risk, even that of life itself, to benefit the existence
or preserve the life of a fellow-creature. Such is genuine Saxon
character—genuine old English nature: what elements for useful greatness
in a nation, if its rulers were Alfreds! But to proceed with our
Cockle Tom was born at Northcotes-on-the-Sands, a slender,
straggling village, bleakly situate on the Lincolnshire sea-coast, and at
no great distance from the mouth of the Humber. His father was a
simple fisherman, who rented the "cockle sands," as they were called,—an
extent of something more than a mile, belonging to the parish of
Northcotes, and possessed in fee-simple by the principal landholder in the
neighbourhood. Having married young, and being early the head of a
numerous small family, Tom's father, from the penury of his condition, was
constrained to introduce every one of his male children, at least, to the
rough and painful labour of gathering cockles on the sea-beach by the time
they had reached the tender age of five years. And at that age was
Tom first taken, by his elder brothers, without shoes or stockings, with a
bundle of rags rather than clothes around him, and a red flannel night-cap
tied fast round his head, to gather the shell-fish, by scraping them out
of the sand with his little hands, and putting them into a small hempen
bag tied round his loins. Little Tom was very eager to go;—for "the
sea! the sea!" was his unvarying song (chanted in a wild untaught melody
which perhaps even Neükomm himself would
have thought beautiful, could he have listened to it) from the day when he
was three years old, the first day on which his father bore him on
shoulder to gaze upon the ships riding in the German Ocean. But poor
little Tom cried bitterly with frozen hands, and cold, and hunger, before
the day was over, and it was time to return to his mother's aproned knee,
and the soothing heaven of sympathy that dwelt on her tongue and in her
Yet, on the morrow, little Tom would go again. The
father would have left him at home till the Spring strengthened and the
sun came nearer, for it was but early March as yet; but the little
adventurer was too true to his nature to accept the boon. And from
that day, summer and winter, except when even the father himself was
compelled to stay at home by reason of an unusual storm, Tom continued to
mount his little red night-cap, like the rest, and make one among the
picturesque line of industrious stragglers on the sea-beach. To
school Tom never went in his life: though his lot would not have been more
highly favoured in that respect, had he been the child of a peasant in the
interior, or even the son of a decent mechanic in Lincolnshire, at that
period,—for we are speaking of events of one hundred years' date, from
their commencement to our own time,—and at that period the idea of sending
a poor man's child to school was regarded as a piece of overweening pride
that deserved no gentle rebuke from "the better sort of people." But
what though he could never read? he could make boats; and indeed his
earliest error was a display of that kind of ingenuity, for he bored a
hole in the bottom of his mother's bread-tin when but four years old,
stuck a wooden mast in it, fitted on a sail, and set it afloat on the
surface of a brook that ran by the end of his father's little garden; and,
while he clapped his little hands in ecstasy, away dashed his ship to the
sea! He was severely chidden for this, but not flogged: that was not
his mother's way; she happened to have too much good sense to brutify her
offspring: and the lecture served to shew him that he had done
foolishly,—but it did not annihilate that passion for ships and the sea
which his first sight of them had created within him. He could make
boats—did we say? ay, and he made a ship, too,—such a ship!—tho' this was
when he was twelve years old, and had seen the magnificent
merchant-vessels from the Mediterranean and the West Indies go by in full
sail for the Humber and the port of Hull,—such a ship, with masts, and
yards, and rigging, and port-holes, and even miniature sailors,—it was so
wondrous a piece of art as the oldest villager in Northcotes had never
seen, and rendered little Tom the every-day talk of all its inhabitants.
Such talk did not render little Tom vain, however, for his yearning mind
had influenced his hands to form the ship from no principle of
praise-seeking: it was a type that signified he meant to sail in such an
ocean-vehicle—if the simple people could so have read it.
Unmindful of praise, and true to the energy that was growing
within him, little Tom learnt to swim, and dive, and play with the huge
ocean as familiarly as with his elder brothers. More especially if a
vessel chanced to anchor near the shore, either to wait for a change of
wind, or to barter for fish, that was a temptation so powerful with Tom,
that he seldom waited for his father's return, if at a distance with the
boat,—but into the wave he would plunge, and speedily gain the vessel,
becoming, in a few minutes, a favourite with every one on board, for his
sense and activity. Tom's brothers shared the pleasure, or at least
the benefits, of these ventures, though they were neither skilful nor
courageous enough to share the peril; for little Tom usually returned,
bearing by the strings in his mouth, like a water dog, his cockle-bag
filled with precious scraps of sea biscuit, and sometimes a bit or two of
boiled salt beef,—a priceless luxury for the brothers, to whom noble
little Tom invariably gave up the bag, as soon as he reached the shore.
By the time that Tom was regularly entered as one of his poor
father's labouring band, the strongest of his three elder brothers was
taken by the father into the little boat, taught to assist in managing the
bladdered nets, and so advanced from a mere cockle-gatherer to an embryo
fisherman. The two next brothers were neither sufficiently strong,
active, or enterprising, ever to rival the oldest; but when Tom was ten
years old, though Jack was fifteen, his father preferred taking Tom in the
boat. The little hero not only gained greater knowledge, but rapidly
grew in courage, presence of mind, and plan for adventure, by the change.
In fact, the father's circumstances were speedily bettered by his child's
intelligence and energy.
One day, while his father was "dealing" the largest net out
of the boat, so as to prevent its getting "foul," and little Tom was
riding upon the old horse which the father was necessitated to keep for
his daily use, towing the end of the net by a line to the required
distance into the water, he perceived that he was among an unusually large
shoal of fine fish,—and so swam the horse out, considerably, with the
intent to have a full sweep of the treasure. Much to the lad's
chagrin, however, the father hallooed, and motioned, and menaced, for him
to come back; and so Tom, who was too true a lad to disobey when his
father seemed so angry, was constrained to give up his prize, and the
result was that the father had to meet his usual chapman for the Louth
market with only a pitiful take of fish for the day. Tom was then
about twelve years old, but his shrewdness discerned how greatly these
timid acts of his father served to gird a the hungry family with
straitness. He had never disobeyed on a large scale before; but his
spirit prompted him to what, according to his unschooled casuistry, he
conceived to be a virtuous disobedience, now—and yet it was a venturous
and perilous deed for a child that he undertook. And thus he went
He drew his mother aside, as soon as they returned home in
the evening, and dazzled her imagination with his brilliant and excited
account of the value and fineness of the shoal he had seen, and told her
he was resolved to have them before the next morning.
"The Lord help thee, bairn!" exclaimed the mother; "what art
thou talking of?"
"Talking sense, mother," said Tom; "and you'll see it: for
you must sit up till Jack and I come back with the old horse: we'll set
off as soon as my fayther has gone to bed and fallen fast asleep."
"Jack!" cried the mother, "why, it'll make him tremble to
talk o' such a thing!"
"The more's the shame for him, then," replied the little
hero; "if he does tremble, and durst not go, I shall think him a lubber"—a
word that Tom had learnt from the sailors, and, of course, was very fond
of using: "the moon's at full, and we can see as well as by daylight to
manage the net."
"Thou'lt be drownded, bairn," said the mother, "and, besides,
the fish may be all gone from where thou saw 'em this morning."
"Not they," insisted Tom; "they're brits, mother,—fine large
brits," he repeated, with sparkling eyes; "and you've heard my fayther say
over and over again that flat fish stay in a snug bottom for days
together. I saw 'em spread all along the far flat, within the sunken
rocks, toward Donna Hook: they've found fine shelter, and plenty to feed
on, no doubt, and they won't go away; they'll make pounds, mother—and we
need money, you know, mother."
Tom's mother gazed at him with fond wonder: so much ardour,
so much earnest zeal to benefit his parents, and brothers and sisters, in
one so young—it was almost too much for her, and the tears rose, as she
stood silently looking at her child, with one hand on his shoulder, and
his eager, entreating eyes penetrating into her very soul to learn whether
he would win her consent. He prevailed, however, and she heard the
last footsteps of the old horse, as it slowly left the door of the
cottage, with Tom and Jack on its back, and the net packed behind, with
feelings of excited apprehension she had not felt since the first storm
after her marriage, when her husband was out at sea.
"What's that?" asked the father, half awaking at the sound of
the horse's feet, and wondering that his wife was still up; but she
rendered him some evasive answer, and continued darning one of the
children's rent garments, telling him that she must have it done for the
boy to put on in the morning. Leaving the reader to imagine the
mother's agonizing doubts and fears, and anxious listenings to the
movement of every changeful sound of the night, let us attend to Tom and
his brother, and their daring adventure. Not that it needs any
expanded description,—for it was entered upon, and achieved, with all
Tom's soul thrown into it, in such a way as to render it memorable to
Jack's latest day, when Jack told it to his children. Jack was
fearful enough at remaining alone in the boat to hand out the net by
moonlight,—but Tom was dashing along on the old horse that was a good
swimmer, and was not long in doubling and returning. Again and again
was their swoop of the sea repeated, till their strength was well-nigh
exhausted with toiling to carry on land their loads of fish. A
mighty harvest from the great waters it was, to be reaped by the energy
and intrepidity of a boy of twelve years old. The fish were
concealed in a "crike" or small freshlet, a little removed from the beach,
where it was easy to form a dam; and with one good load upon the old
horse, fastened in the folded net, the lads set off on foot, long before
day-light, from the beach, and speedily were at their father's
cottage-door with this earnest of their booty.
"Whoa-hoa!" cried Tom aloud to the old horse, almost before
it was time to stop; and his mother, who was already in front of her
cottage, lifted up her closed hand, and shook it, and cried, "Hush, bairn—whisht,
whisht!—thy fayther will hear thee, and what's to be done then?"
But Tom was neither to be hushed nor whished. "Tell my
fayther to get up, and take Dick and Will with him to fetch the rest o'
the brits and rays, while Jack and I have some breakfast, for we are
hungry above a bit," he said; and he tumbled the fish out of the net, and
told his mother they had left ten times as many in the crike. What
cared Tom whether his father felt inclined to scold or not? He knew
that the booty would silently and overwhelmingly plead his pardon.
And oh, the trembling joy and pride of the poor mother,—her thoughts of
large pecuniary relief and admiration of her child's noble act, combining,
and causing her to prattle with so much elation that she scarcely knew
what she said!
Seven pounds, in sterling English money, Tom's poor father
made of his child's night adventure: a sum he had never approached for one
day's, no, nor one week's labour in his little boat, since he had
possessed it. Need it be said that Tom's father was proud of him?
He loved all his children: they and his wife were his jewels; his only
idols in the world; and to picture truly his yearnings for their
happiness, as he cast a thought towards his cottage, or counted his boys
by their little red caps, toiling, meanwhile, afar off from the beach
where the children straggled sometimes at great distances from each other,
at their hardy employ,—to tell what truly exalted thinkings passed hourly
through the mind of that poor fisherman, tossed upon the surge, often a
whole day without a fragment of gain, and yet clinging with glowing love
to his wife and children on land,—oh, it would form a theme to kindle the
sweetest eloquence of the gentle yet godlike Shakspere himself! But
it was natural that Tom should become his father's peculiar pride, for he
was, indeed, a child to be proud of.
It was, therefore, a melancholy sound, the first request of
that heroic boy, when he became fourteen—a sorrowful note in the ears of
his doting parents—that he might become a sailor, and leave them!
The father and mother exchanged a dreary look, and said nought. It
was a request they might expect, one day or other, for the lad had always
raved about the daring life of a sailor, and he was now becoming of an age
when it was fit he should enter on such a profession as he intended to
follow for life: but yet they had always put the thought aside, and clung
to the enjoyment of possessing such a son, and beholding him as "the light
of their eyes," daily. Tom saw and felt what his parents endured
when he presented his first request, and he did not renew it till another
month had flown, and a Boston sloop was lying off the cockle-sands, laden
with timber from Hull, when he again asked if he might go for a sailor.
This time, however, the question was put under circumstances which seemed
to soften the dread of separation. Boston was a Lincolnshire port,
and a voyage thither and back, on trial, would soon be performed, so that
they would soon see their darling again; and therefore his parents gave
consent for Tom's departure.
The boy became as much the darling of the little crew in the
sloop, during their brief voyage, as he had been of his father and mother.
They gave him the name which stuck to him through life, as soon as they
heard his history, to which, indeed, they were scarcely strangers, for it
was not the first time he had been on board their shallop. And
"Cockle Tom" was proud to tell his new name when he saw his home again: it
had been given him by sailors, and it was, therefore, more honourable in
his estimation than knighthood or nobility given by a monarch would have
been, had he known of either.
There was now no putting off the complete separation from
their noblest child for Tom's parents. He had fully made up his mind
to live on the sea, his darling element: and, besides, he had been to
Hull, the port to which the Boston sloop traded, and had seen the
Greenland whale-ships, and talked with the sailors till he was all
excitement for the noble daring of joining an attack upon the vast sea
monsters, and seeing the mountain icebergs, and hearing the roaring of the
white bears. His father therefore prepared clothing for the lad, and
began to think of setting out with him to Hull, in order to see him
safely-committed, as a sailor-apprentice, to the care of some kind and
fatherly sort of Greenland captain.
It was a dull week that young Cockle Tom passed at home; for,
despite his enthusiasm, the complete separation from his parents was a
thought that cut him to the quick. Did, then, the fisherman's child,
who had been led forth to endure the cold sea wind, and labour, and
hunger, from infancy, love his parents! Ay, that did he, and with
such a love as you know nothing of, young spruce, who have been to a
boarding-school, and have since become versed in all the hollownesses of
"respectable life." If there was a sacred corner in Tom's heart, it
was that where the precious images of his father and mother were
enshrined. Toil, fatigue, hunger, pain, loss of sleep, nay, death
itself, he would have encountered at any moment to benefit them; and,
young as he was, he formed strong judgments on men's characters who failed
in parental duty. He never swore but once in his life, before
leaving home, and that was when a young farmer in the parish married a
flaunting wife, and gave up his aged father, blind, and palsy stricken, to
be placed in an alms-house. "D——n his eyes!" exclaimed young Tom,
while his own eyes flashed fire, "I should like to grapple his weasand, as
big as he is!" That was a rude expression, and a strange one, too,
for a boy of fourteen; but while his mother reproved it with such a look
as she had never given him before,—and he blushed like scarlet, and
promised, with tears in his eyes, never to swear again,—yet she read
within Tom's heart, by the aid of those few syllables, the existence of a
principle which, she felt, more truly ennobled her child than the highest
earthly titles would have aggrandised him.
It was some relief to young Tom to reflect that his parents
were now in comparatively comfortable circumstances, and chiefly through
his means. The ice of timidity once broken, Jack had become more
adventurous, and within one year, by the joint efforts of the two
brothers, so great an increase took place in the fish the father had to
offer for sale, that he was enabled to buy the little cottage in which he
lived, with the garden adjoining, as well as to clothe his whole family.
The next year furnished a new and larger boat, and an extra horse, besides
stocking the little purse of the father with a few spare guineas in
gold—the noble old spade aces which "looked so much like real money," as
our forefathers used to say, when they first saw the queer,
"fly-away-blow-away" paper money.
Did they cry—Tom, or his mother—when the separation came?
Ay, and brothers, and sisters, and father too, as he was about to depart
with him—real tears, to be sure; for, as much like their native oaks as
our genuine old English race were in their hardihood and endurance of
storms, their hearts were of the tenderest—in the right place. A
still severer feeling of desolation was experienced by Tom and his father
when they parted at Hull; but Tom "girt up the loins of his mind," and
buried his sorrow in listening to the sailors' talk, and in thinking of
his coming adventures.
And now "the history of Cockle Tom" may end; for our purpose
is not to write a long story, but to show how a simple and yet truly noble
character may be formed: and that purpose is accomplished as well as we
are able to reach it. For the remainder of Cockle Tom's life,—it was
that of the true English sailor,—full of generosity and noble daring,
shaded, here and there, with a dash of passion, or a fit of insobriety at
the end of a long voyage of suffering, but tinted to brilliancy with many
an act of exalted sacrifice. Five voyages Cockle Tom made to
Greenland, or the Straits; three to the West Indies, and one to the East;
six times he passed through the Straits of Gibraltar and visited Malta, or
Corfu, or Constantinople; and four times he voyaged to the Guinea coast,
ere he reached the age of thirty. That was the limit of his life;
but he had saved as many lives as he numbered years by that time. As
an expert swimmer,—as a soul that would venture even into the jaws of
death to save a drowning man,—as a shipmate that would always take the
severer share of toil and ease another,—as an agile and clever mariner
that was unexcelled in the rapidity and perfection with which he could
execute any manoeuvre in the management of his ship,—as the heart of fun
and merriment,—and as the lad whose purse was ever at the command of a
brother in need,—Cockle Tom was the glory and pride of every "true British
tar" who knew him.
And how fresh did his filial love remain amidst separation
and newness of scene! His father and mother kept that sacred corner
in his heart, perfectly unrivalled, for many a long year; and when he
admitted another fair image there it was not allowed to encroach upon the
consecrated room occupied by the old ones. He loved his wife, whom
he married at five-and-twenty, and she deserved his love; but he did not
love his parents the less for that. They received many a solid proof
of his affection, though they seldom saw him; and the news of his death,
though it did not distract them with unseemly grief, dimmed the brightness
of their declining days.
Cockle Tom lay in harbour at Hull, after his return from the
fourth Guinea voyage: his vessel was delivered of its cargo: a friend had
written "home" for him,—for his father's cottage was "home" with him, even
after he had married and had a little neat house in Hull. On the
morrow, his young wife and himself were to have set out to see his aged
parents once more, when, in the fineness of the evening, while numerous
pleasure boats were jostling each other in the narrow space of the
harbour, thronged as it was with large and small craft, one boat upset,
and five human lives were in danger. In a moment, Tom had plunged
from the deck where he stood, and the next moment had placed two in safety
in one of the boats: a second struggle, and two more were rescued; but, in
attempting to save the last, the dying struggler, or the cramp,
overpowered him, and he sank to rise no more! Such was the
consistent end of the life of Cockle Tom,—the "true British sailor."
"A bold peasantry, their country's pride," are fast fading:
may our other twin jewel in English national character—the noble
sailor—ever preserve its lustre!
THE LAST DAYS OF AN OLD SAILOR;
"BUTTER YOUR SHIRT! SING TANTARA-BOBUS,
AMONG the few survivors of our "glorious" sea-fights
which the Peace sent home to Gainsboro', a busy little port on the Trent,
was old Matthew Hardcastle, a veteran of threescore and ten, and something
more. It was said that Matthew might have been discharged from
ship-board some years earlier; but his attachment to the sea was extreme,
and he was at length, to speak plainly, forced out of the navy.
Gainsboro' was, at that particular period, somewhat fertile
in the production of eccentric folk, for Joe Hornby was then to be seen in
it, with his hat stuck full of field flowers, and sometimes, to the peril
of its "crown," fixed on his head wrong side upwards, because "the world
was turned upside down;" and the septuagenarian spinster, Nelly Fish,
might be seen flaunting along the narrow causeway, her strange pile of
five or six straw hats, which she wore one upon another, to show that "she
knew all the fashions that had been, as well as those that were;"—and
Martin Jackson would, ever and anon, sally forth in some odd guise that
demonstrated his lunacy; for to-day he might be seen covered with papers
on which were written all kinds of queer criticisms on the rulers of the
day, and to-morrow he would go through the streets clad in his wife's
chemise for an outer robe, and wearing an old horseman's helmet with a
fox's tail for a plume, while half-a-dozen terriers yelped away at his
heels, following thick and fast to the mad hunter's cries of "Yo-ho! yo-ho!
Hark forward! Tantivy! Yo-ho! yoho!"
Such were some of the strange relics of humanity which
afforded grave problems for those who were able to moralise, or thought
they were, at that time, in Gainsbro'; but, amidst all and sundry of its
human catalogue, none of the curious articles thereof attracted more
general attention, as they passed, to and fro in the streets of the little
town, than the veteran warrior-seaman, Matthew Hardcastle. Indeed,
Matthew was beheld, by "gentle and simple," in a different light to the
eccentrics, poor things! before mentioned. The world, in spite of
its conviction that it is wrong to laugh, laughs on at the antics and
whims of the helpless beings it calls "insane"; and Gainsboro' followed
the way of the world in laughing, too often, at poor Joe Hornby, and Nelly
Fish, and Martin Jackson; but it was by no means a custom to laugh at
Matthew was a tall, well-built old fellow, and did not lose
an inch of his height, notwithstanding his very advanced age. His
brave face resembled more the gnarled bark of an old oak than any other
thing that ever existed; it was a real sea-faring face, was Matthew's, if
ever a man wore one in this world. And then his wig! All the
town talked of Matthew Hardcastle's wig. It did not fall below his
shoulders, like the princely-looking old wigs of the days of Marlborough;
but it was a very grand, burly wig, for all that. It reached below
the ears of the fine old man, considerably; and it displayed five tiers of
curls,—glorious curls they were! Matthew's grand three-cocked hat,
too,—for he and old George Laughton, the currier, with his soul of
independence, and Charley Careless, the little high-spirited silversmith,
were the three last men in Gainsboro' who refused to put away the splendid
head-covering of their forefathers for the paltry upper-gear of modern
times,—Matthew's three-cocked hat stood higher behind than it did before,
and, conjoined with the grandeur of his wig, caused Matthew to look as
bold and imposing as a brigadier major! And whoever met Matthew on
the causeway, rocking as he went with a regular naval kind of motion, and
supporting his aged steps by a bamboo in either hand, was sure to say,
"Good morning to you, Matthew! I hope you are quite well this
morning!" if they were considered to be his equals or superiors in rank;
while all the little boys and girls were wont to stop and bow or curtsy to
him, and say, "Your sarvant, Matthew!" Such was the real honour paid
to the aged sailor who had fought "the battles of his country," as they
The time came, however, when all this show of respect to the
brave old sailor ceased, for he lived too long! Twenty more years
made his age hard upon one hundred. That was a rare age to live; but
it would have been better for Matthew if he had died ten years earlier,
for he lived till the effects of the "glorious " battles in which he had
been engaged began to be felt—and felt grievously, even in that district,
which you would deem comparatively happy when viewed after your mind's eye
had been viewing the miseries, at that time, of our dense hives of
manufacture. He lived till hungry and ragged labourers began to
stand daily in melancholy groups, and with folded arms, in the streets,
and till the parish authorities began to talk of pulling down the old
workhouse, to build a new "bastile" on the lovely green spot where the
children used to resort to play at sand-mills!
Matthew felt the change in the "civilisation," as it was
called, of the times, sensibly, as old as he was; but there was an
inexhaustible spring of vivacity in the old seaman's noble nature, and in
spite of age, infirmities, and bad times, Matthew Hardcastle was the
merriest, as well as the oldest man in Gainsboro'. "Butter your
shirt, sing tantara-bobus make shift!" Matthew would say, morning,
noon, and night, when the poor would be uttering their plaints in his
ears; and the whimsical saying, together with the jolly old fellow's way
of uttering it, many a time turned the mourning of his neighbours into
One day, a stranger heard this singular saying, as he was
journeying through the town, and passing by the street end of the alley
where Matthew was leaning on his two sticks to take the evening air, and
chatting with his neighbours, according to his custom. The traveller
could not fail to be struck with the saying, for he had heard it before;
and he had seen the veteran who uttered it before, though it was many a
long year since. The traveller stopped, and gazed on the old sailor
for a moment or two, and then stretched out his aged hand—for he, too, was
an old man—to grasp the hand of his ancient friend.
"Matthew Hardcastle! what, old Matthew!" he exclaimed.
Matthew stared, and seemed at a loss for a few seconds; but,
at length, he let one stick fall, as it were mechanically, and, clasping
his old friend's hand with the hearty gripe of a true sailor, cried aloud,
while the fire of his youth seemed once more to gleam from his eyes,
"What! Paul Perkins! God bless thy heart!
Why, I thought—but God bless thy heart and soul, how art thou?—I thought
thou hadst gone to Davy's locker ten or fifteen years ago!"
"And I little thought that ever these old eyes were again to
look upon Matthew Hardcastle," replied Paul; "why, Lord save us, you must
be an amazing age! I am nearly threescore and ten, but you were a
man in your prime when I was but little older than a child, you know."
"Butter your shirt, sing tantara-bobus make shift!" answered
jolly old Matthew; "what matters it how old one may be? We shall
live till we die—kill us that dare!" And the pair of sound-hearted
old tars burst into a merry laugh that came up so clearly from the
well-spring of their hearts as to create a kindred merriment through the
curious crowd, which had by this time begun to gather round them, in the
"Well, but come, shipmate, this must not be a dry meeting,"
said Paul; "suppose we step into the Red Lion, or the Black Horse, that I
see on the signs here, hard by, and wet our whistles together, once more.
It may be for the last time, you know, in this world."
"Avast, heaving!" replied Matthew; "I have no objection for
Molly Crabtree, here, to fetch us a jack of rum or so, and we can have it
in my little berth; but my old head won't bear the racket of a publichouse
"Well, well, have it your own way, Mat," replied the other;
and the two ancient men adjourned, as fast as their stiffened limbs would
permit them, to Matthew's little dwelling in the alley.
Matthew's hammock—for he could never be persuaded to sleep in
a bed—was slung at one corner of the narrow room, and just under it was
placed his arm-chair. He would fain have given up his usual seat, on
this occasion, to his friend; but Paul Perkins had too much real and
untaught courtesy to accept of it.
"No, no, keep on board your own ship, Matthew," he cried; "I
won't do any such thing: sit ye down, sit ye down."
And so Matthew sat down, with this entreaty, and reared his
two sticks against the wall, and doffed his rare hat, and showed his wig
in all its glory. Paul looked round the room, and could not help
indulging in the natural exultation of a sailor. Nelson, and Howe,
and Duncan, and Rodney, showed their gallant faces, according to the best
skill of some humble limner, over the little mantelpiece: a fine model of
a first-rate man-of-war—the work of Matthew's own fingers in his younger
days—stood, in unapproachable pride, upon a little dresser on the opposite
side of the dwelling; and, above it, a curious tobacco-pipe, from some
foreign shore, curled its enormous length around three or four nails
driven into the wall, and displayed the painted image of a black-a-moor's
head, at its extremity. Other odd fragments of a sailor's fondness,
such as small carved "figure-heads" of vessels, wrought with the
pocket-knife, to relieve hours of tedium, pouches of kangaroo-skin, the
favourite repositories of the sailor's favourite weed, pipe-stoppers of
bone, cut into grotesque shapes, and such-like nick-knackeries decorated
the walls, till scarcely a bare patch of them could be seen.
"Well, and I suppose you're at home here, Mat, eh?" said
Paul, his face beaming with pleasure as he asked the question.
A sudden and unwonted shade came over Matthew's countenance:
"Hum!" said he, gloomily, "liked the old Dreadnought better; but she's
now—God bless her!—only a hull, like me. But butter your shirt!"
cried the gallant-hearted old fellow, bursting into his prevailing
gaiety,—"sing tantara-bobus make shift! we shall live till we die—kill us
that dare!" And, again the old lads set up a merry laugh in unison,
and were as happy, for the nonce, as the proudest monarchs in christendom.
Molly Crabtree now entered with the rum, and began to prepare
the grog, that real nectar for the sailor. The precious glass was
mixed, and went round over and over again; nor would the old sailors be
said "nay" when Molly looked modest about it: she was compelled to take a
sip each time when it came to her turn. Old shipmates were named,
and the bravery and virtues of the dead were honoured; hearty and kind
wishes for the welfare of the living were expressed; old stories were
told, and the joys of old times were recorded with a sigh; but sighing
usually was followed by a laugh amid the utterance of old Matthew's
singular expletive, "Butter your shirt! sing tantara-bobus make shift!"
"Upon my honour, Mat," at length said Paul, for, as it began
to grow towards midnight, the phraseology of the ancient mariners began to
grow more consequential,—more by token that the "jack" of rum had now been
repeated, for the third time—"upon my honour, Mat, you and I were no
skinkers in that hot action when you first wore the buttered shirt."
"Why, Lord ha' marcy on us!" cried Molly Crabtree, who had
been listening all along, and staring like an owl at twilight, during the
successive strange recitals of the two old seafarers,—"did Matthew ever
wear a real buttered shirt, then? For Heaven's sake tell us the
"That I will, ma'am," said Paul, touching his hat as
gallantly as an admiral; "you see, it was during a severe engagement with
the Dutchmen that Mat and I were ordered to the maintop,—but hardly had we
reached it, when a shot from the enemy cut our mainmast fairly in two, and
hurled us both on to the enemy's deck, in the midst of more than a hundred
heavy-bottomed Dutchmen! To dream of fighting against such odds,
ma'am, you'll understand was, of course, out of all question; so we
quietly walked our bodies, to the tune of 'donner and blitzen,' down
below, to become close prisoners under hatches. Now it so happened,
d'ye see, ma'am? that the only fellow-prisoners we found in the hole where
they crammed us were cheeses and queer big tubs; and we felt a nat'ral
sort of a curiosity to rummage about the hole, when left in the dark by
ourselves. Clambering up some o' these huge tubs at one end of the
hole, we both lost footing together, and fell head over heels into the
midst of something that was remarkably soft; and there we struggled, and
struggled hard, too,—but 'twas all in vain, we could not flounder out,—and
so were content to remain closed on all sides up to the neck, with just
our heads bobbing out, and gasping for breath. Shiver my timbers, if
ever I was so pickled before or since! At length the Dutchman was
taken; and when some of our lads made their way into the dark hole where
we were, we began to hail 'em.—'Dreadnought a-hoy!' said Mat: 'The Union
jack a-hoy!' said I: 'Who's there, in the devil's name?' cried one: 'Why,
that's old Mat Hardcastle's growl—where the devil is he?' said first one
of our lads and then another. And, as sure as you're there, ma'am,"
continued Paul, growing more polite and gallant as he proceeded, "what
with one noise or another, it wasn't until the lads had driven their
marling-spikes through almost every cask in the hole, that Mat and I were
discovered up to the neck in one of the Dutchmen's big butter firkins.
We were a good deal ashamed, ma'am, o' course, being as how we were soaked
to the skin in the grease, for it warmed, as we stuck in it; and no doubt
by its melting, we should ha' been able to have got out of it without
help, if we had had to stay much longer before we had been found.
The worst of it was, we could not get time to strip for some hours after,
and this made us both mighty uneasy, for many was the joke that was passed
upon us as to how we liked our buttered shirts. But Mat's heart was
always light, all his life long; and he answered all who asked that saucy
question, just as he puts by all sorrow now, with 'Butter your shirt! sing
tantara-bobus make shift!'—and ever since then Matthew has kept his
saying; and it is not a bad one, either, let me tell you, ma'am! what
think ye?" concluded Paul Perkins, and took a stiffer pull at the grog
than he had ever done that night, thinking that he deserved it for his
cleverness, and feeling himself entitled to a double pull because he had
missed his turn by telling this yarn.
Molly Crabtree only answered with a hearty laugh, and Paul
laughed too, but Matthew laughed louder and longer than either of them,
for he was 'a practised laugher, and lived by it,' as he used jokingly to
say. But now the fourth measure of grog was done, and it was too
late to buy more; so the conversation began to grow less boisterous.
Molly rose to depart; and the two veterans were left by themselves.
Paul urged Matthew to get into his hammock, and Matthew urged Paul; but
neither could prevail on the other, and so at last they fairly fell asleep
in their chairs, and neither of them awoke,—though they each snored as
loud as a rhinoceros,—until Molly Crabtree came and opened the shutters
some hours after sunrise the ensuing morning. Their limbs were
tolerably stiff, and their heads ached beyond a joke, it may easily be
guessed, for it was many a long day since either of them had gone to sleep
groggy. They made the best of their aches and pains, however, when
they awoke, and, after a hearty renewed gripe of friendship, 'thrust each
a lumping quid of tobacco into his mouth, and then quietly awaited the
preparation of breakfast by Molly Crabtree.
Now, as natural as our forefathers always reckoned it to be
to get drunk, or, at least, tipsy, with an old friend, when you met him
after a long absence or separation, yet it was always felt to be not less
natural that the cosy companions of the preceding night talked like sober
men the next morning. So it was with Matthew Hardcastle and Paul
"Matthew,—I've been thinking," began Paul, very measuredly,
as he was sipping the cocoa-sop out of a bright brown earthen porringer,
with a spoon, in imitation of his host,—"I've been thinking,—we shall soon
be in our last port."
"True, very true," said Matthew, "and, d'ye know, Paul? I
would not much care if we had the same voyage to go again, save and except
a little at the end on't."
"Then we don't think alike," said Paul, dropping his spoon
into the porringer, and looking thoughtful: "I'm sure, Mat, you'll bear me
witness that I'm no skinkerly coward; but, splice me, if I don't think
that all this warring and fighting, and blowing up of poor men's limbs is,
after all, a great piece of wickedness. And, besides that, I've
thought very much of late,—and particularly since I've seen the times
change so much, that this setting of poor Englishmen on to fight poor
foreigners, and poor foreigners to fight poor Englishmen, is only a deep
scheme, on the part of the rich abroad and the rich at home, to keep the
"Say you so, Paul?" exclaimed Matthew, also resting his spoon
on the brim of the porringer, and looking very intently upon his friend;
"why, you know, Paul, if we had not gone to fight the foreigners, they
would have come to fight us."
"But who amongst 'em was it that wanted to fight? just think
of that, Matthew," rejoined Paul, very earnestly. "You and I had no
quarrel with the French, or the Dutch, or the Spaniard, you know.
And what poor foreigners, think you, had any quarrel with the people here?
No, no, depend on it, Matthew, the poor never made these wars, nor ever
thought of fighting, or wished to fight, on either side: it was the rich
'our betters,' as they are called—who began the quarrel, and then pushed
us, or dragged us, into it, to lose our limbs, or shed our blood, or
escape if we could."
"'Pon my word," said Matthew, shaking his wig very
significantly, "I've had some such thoughts as these now and then,—and
you're making a strong yarn on't, Paul, I confess,— but what's the use of
muddling one's old brains with such things? You know what I always
say, Paul,—'Butter your shirt——"'
"Nay, but avast a bit, Mat," said Paul, looking invincibly
serious; "we are getting fast into our last port, as I said before; and,
if we have been unthinking fools all our lives, I don't see why we should
not open our eyes and look about us a bit, before we step on the last
shore. Times are harder now than ever you and I knew 'em; and, as
much fuss as there used to be made about an old seaman, all that sort of
thing is gone. I question if you and I live a few years longer and
grow cranky,- and, God knows, I begin to feel queer, night and
morning,—but folks will grow weary of waiting on us, and the parish wolves
will haul us away to the workhouse, and pocket our little pensions."
"God Almighty forbid!" ejaculated Matthew, very fervently.
"But 'tis very likely to come to pass, however, let me tell
you," rejoined Paul; "you knew Jerry Simpson: he was berthsman with us, if
you remember, and lost an arm at Trafalgar. He wouldn't go into
Greenwich college, but went and settled in Shoreditch, with his old
sister. She died two twelvemonths ago, and poor old Jerry soon grew
helpless—so they took him into the parish poorhouse, pocketing his
pension, and he died there, of sheer grief, about six months ago.
That was a rum reward for fighting for his country so bravely as Jerry
"By — it was!" exclaimed old Matthew, involuntarily—for the
fine old fellow had not uttered an oath for years before: "the Lord ha'
mercy upon me for swearing, poor old sinner that I am!" he continued:—"but
you don't say that that's true about Jerry Simpson, do you, Paul? why, he
used to rush into a gun-boat like a ravenous wolf! Shiver my old
timbers! but a braver sailor than Jerry never stepped upon deck!"
"'Pon the word of a sailor, what I have said is true,"
replied Paul, "for I saw it with my own sorrowful eyes. But now
don't you perceive, Matthew," resumed Paul, eager to take advantage of the
impression this fact had made, "that the change in the state of things is
owing to the heavy taxes caused by the war, and——"
"Why, you see, Paul, I don't understand these things," said
Matthew, impatiently; "but I feel you are right about us poor dogs never
wishing to bite the foreigners—for I never had such a thought till I got
on board ship. But why is it that great folks wish to shed blood at
such a rate? What do they want, and what would they have?
'Zounds! if I have but my bit o' 'bacco, and can rest at night, I'm as
happy as any of 'em. And then, again, Paul, why is it—excuse me,
Paul, if I seem to talk foolish; I'm older than you, but you always had
more book larning, I'm well aware—why is it that the poor don't let the
rich fight their battles themselves, if they want any fighting?"
"Why, there, now, you old billy-goat!" exclaimed Paul,
laughing; "you know that both you and I were dragged off by the
press-gang, just as we were about to step on shore at Wapping; and were
not thousands hauled away in the same manner throughout the war?
'Why is it that we don't let 'em fight their own battles themselves'
indeed! why, you know, Mat, the poor dogs are compelled to obey the rich
ones in this world. What I want you to see is that the rich dogs
make these wars on purpose to keep the poor dogs under. And yet I
don't know, Matthew, that either you or I can alter things: it is past our
time o' life; and, besides, I believe the whole consarn will before long
tumble to pieces of itself, for the world's about tired of it."
"Blow me!" exclaimed Matthew, completely wearied of the
subject, and anxious to resume his usual careless and happy vein, "if I
can see the use of all your palaver, Paul: you may be right, in the main,
but then you make no sail, take as many tacks as you will. You still
end by saying the poor dogs are forced to bark and bite as the rich dogs
bid 'em; and you own we are both too old to do aught towards bettering
things; and, besides, you say the consarn's doomed' to fall to pieces by
its own rottenness; and so, instead of bothering my old brains about it, I
still say, as I did when we got out of the Dutchman's firkin, 'Butter your
shirt! sing tantarara-bobus make shift!"'
The argument was ended with a hearty laugh on both sides,
for, as toughly as Paul had spun his yarn, it was clear, from his last
observation, that he was beginning to esteem his work as "labour in vain."
That day and another passed in calling old times to mind; and, on the
fourth day, the two ancient friends and fellows in many a storm and broil,
parted, never to meet again on the lee-shore of Time.
Old Matthew Hardcastle kept up his gaiety of heart till his
last day, though that day was, to the full, as doleful as his trusty
friend Paul Perkins had prognosticated it would be. Reader, if ever
it falls in your way to visit old Gainsboro', you will learn that, in the
main, what I am about to relate is too true. In proportion as
Matthew became helpless, people were wearied with waiting upon him; and,
disgraceful to relate! the old warrior-seaman was, at length, neglected
till his aged body swarmed with filth. Instead of respect, disgust
was now expressed for him by an unreasonable world. Paul Perkins'
prophecy came true to the letter; the parish "worthies" came to "take care
of him"; they took him to the poor-house; he was stripped stark-naked in
the wash-house; and cold water was "swabbed," as he himself would have
said, upon his aged body to cleanse him! Even in that moment, the
brave companion of Howe and Nelson strove to keep up the gaiety of his
noble heart, and once essayed his old saying, "Butter your shirt!
sing"——But his aged lips quivered, and his jaws chattered with the
cold,—and his bold old heart broke with the barbarous treatment he was
Oh! this is a world of wrong; and it will take a great deal
of effort to right it, if ever it be righted at all. Reader! if you
even think, with Paul Perkins, that the bad system of War, among nations,
will, at length, fall to pieces by virtue, or rather by the vice, of its
own imperfections,—is it not, still, sensible and philanthropic to be
doing what little we can to hasten what we feel to be "a consummation
devoutly to be wished"?
DOROTHY PYECROFT'S PREACHING;
"CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME."
ALL the world, in the village of Sturton-le-Steeple,
had said so, before the time of old Dorothy Pyecroft; but Dorothy did not
join all the world in saying so. Sturton is a homely little place,
situate in the pleasant shire of Nottingham, and lying within a couple of
miles of the Trent, and old Lincolnshire; and its church steeple forms a
pretty object in the landscape which you view from the hills above
Gainsboro'. Dorothy Pyecroft, from the time that she was a child but
the height of a table, went to Gainsboro' market with butter, eggs, or
poultry, as regularly as Tuesday returned in each week; for the hearty old
dame used commonly to boast that she had never known what it was to have a
day's illness in her life, although, at the season we are beginning to
gossip about, she was full threescore and ten. It was a bonny sight
to see the dame go tripping o'er the charming lea which spreads its
flowery riches from Sturton-le-Steeple to the banks of noble Trent, by
four of the clock on a gay summer's morning, with the clean milking-pail
under her arm, that was bare to the elbow. You would have thought,
at a distance, she had been some blithe maiden in her teens. And
then the cheerful and clear tone in which she summoned her cows, calling
to them as kindly as if they were her children—"Come, my pratty creaturs!"
a call that was the signal for a treat of pleasing pastoral music to the
enthusiastic early angler on the Trent: the rich, varied "low" of the
cows,—alto, tenor, and bass,—answered that call, in changeful echo across
the stream; the angler's delighted ear caught a treble, heavenward, from
the matin lark, to complete the "harmony"; and even the cackling of the
geese, uttering their confused joy at the sound of the dame's voice,
seemed to mingle no unpleasing "discord" with the natural chorus. By
the time that her morning's milking was over, the spoilt maidens of the
village were only beginning to open their kitchen window-shutters; and she
usually passed the whole train of them, loitering and chattering about
their sweethearts, on their way to the lea, as she returned home, with the
rich load upon her head, and her arms fixed as properly a-kimbo as could
be shown by the sprightliest lass that ever carried a milking-pail.
Some little shame was commonly felt among the loiterers as they passed the
exemplary old woman,—but it did not result in their reformation. Old
Farmer Muxloe, who was always abroad at daybreak, and usually chatted a
few moments with the dame just at the point where the footpath crossed the
bridle-way over the lea, often commented, in no very measured terms, on
the decline of discipline among milkmaids since the days when he was a
"Ah, dame!" he used to say, "there have been sore changes
since you and I used to take a turn around the maypole; I'm sure the world
gets lazier and lazier every day."
"Why, you see, neighbour, fashions change," the old dame
would reply—for she ever loved to take the more charitable side of a
question; "maybe, things may change again, and folk may take to getting up
earlier, after a few more years are over."
"I'faith, I've little hope on't," the old farmer would reply,
and shake his head, and smile; "but there's nobody like thee, Dolly, for
taking the kindest side."
"Why, neighbour, I always think it the best," Dorothy would
rejoin, with a benevolent smile; "I never saw things grow better by harsh
words and harsh thinkings, in my time."
And then the old farmer would smile again, and say, "Well
well, that's just like thee! God bless thee, Dolly, and good morning
to thee!" and away he would turn Dobbin's head, and proceed on his usual
morning's ride from field to field.
The work of her little dairy, added to the care of an humble
household, composed of an infirm and helpless husband, and an equally
infirm maiden sister—with, all and sundry, a stout house-dog, two tabby
cats, and a fruitful poultry-yard,—usually occupied Dorothy Pyecroft
through the bustling forenoon of each day; and when there was no immediate
call upon her skill and benevolence among sick neighbours,—for she was the
cleverest herb-woman in the village, and exercised her knowledge of the
healing art without fee, or willing acceptance even of thanks,—she would
sit in her polished high-backed chair, and work through the livelong
afternoon at her spinning-wheel, drowsing her two infirm companions into a
salutary rest and forgetfulness with the humming monotony of her labour,
but revolving within her own mind many a useful and solemn thought,
Dorothy sat absorbed in this her favourite employ, one
afternoon in autumn, when an itinerant pedlar made his customary call at
the cottage-door. The dame's mind was so deeply involved in the
contrivance of one of her little plans of benevolence, that she did not
recognize the face of the traveller until he had addressed her twice.
"Any small wares for children? any needles, pins, or
thimbles?" cried the pedlar, running through the list of his articles with
the glibness of frequent repetition.
"No, Jonah: I want none," replied the dame kindly; "but,
maybe, you'll take a horn o' beer, and a crumb or two o' bread and
The pedlar assented, well pleased, and lowered the pack from
his shoulders, and set down the basket from his hand, next seating himself
in a chair without the ceremonial of asking, and in all the gladsome
confidence of welcome.
"Thank you, thank you, dame," he said, and smacked his lips
with pleasurable anticipation, as he took the horn of smiling beer and the
piece of bread and cheese from the dame's hand.
"You're welcome, Jonah," replied the dame heartily.
"Have you walked far to-day? and what luck have you had?"
"I've come twenty miles, and have never taken handsel yet,
dame," answered Jonah, in a melancholy tone.
"So, poor heart!" said Dorothy, very pitifully; "I must buy a
few dozens of needles of thee, however, before thou goest. I fear
times are hard, Jonah: I hear many and grievous complaints."
"Times are harder than ever I knew them to be, dame, I assure
you," rejoined Jonah; "and they that have a little money seem most
determined to hold it fast. Sore murmurings are made about this by
poor folk: but I don't wonder at it, myself," concluded the worldly pedlar,
"for, in sore times like these, there's no knowing what a body may come to
want; and, as the old saying goes, you know, dame, 'Charity begins at
home!"'—and Jonah buried his nose in the ale-horn, thinking he had said
something so wisely conclusive that it could not be contradicted.
"They say it was a parson who first used that saying,"
observed Dorothy, glancing from her wheel, very keenly, towards the pedlar;
"but, for my part, Jonah, I am very far from thinking it such a saying as
a parson ought to use."
"Say you, dame?" said Jonah, opening his eyes very wide.
"Did charity begin at home with their Master?" said Dorothy,
by way of explanation.
"Ah, dame!" said the pedlar, quickly discerning Dorothy's
meaning, "I fear but few parsons think of imitating their Master
"That's more than I like to say," observed the gentle
Dorothy; "I think there are more good people in the world than some folks
think for;—but I'm sure, Jonah, we all want a better understanding of our
duty towards each other."
"Right, Dame Dorothy, right!—that's the best sort of
religion; but there's the least of it in this world," rejoined the pedlar.
"Why, Jonah," continued the good dame, "I think there might
easily be a great deal more good in the world than there is.
Everybody ought to remember how many little kindnesses it is in their
power to perform for others, without any hurt to themselves."
"Yes, a sight o' good might be done in that way, dame,"
observed the pedlar, beginning very much to admire Dorothy's remarks; "and
how much more happy the world would be then!"
"Just so!" exclaimed Dorothy, her aged face beaming with
benevolence; "that is the true way of making the world happy,—for all to
be trying to do their fellow-creatures some kindness. And then, you
see, Jonah, when once the pleasure of thus acting began to be felt, there
would soon be a pretty general willingness to make greater efforts, and
even sacrifices of self-interest, as it is wrongly called, in order to
experience greater pleasure and likewise to increase the world's
"Truly, dame," said the pedlar, "you do me good to hear you
talk. I'm but a poor scholar; yet I can tell, without book, that you
must be right."
"But then, you see, Jonah," continued the dame, half
unconscious of Jonah's last observation, "if everybody were to say,
'Charity begins at home,' this general happiness would never begin.
I like best, Jonah, to think of the example of the Blessed Being who came
into the world to do us all good. He went about pitying the
miserable and afflicted, and healing and blessing them. Charity did
not begin at home with Him, Jonah!"
The tears were now hastening down Jonah's rough cheeks.
How forcible are lessons of goodness! how irresistibly the heart owns
their power! Jonah could not support the conversation further.
Dorothy's plain and unaffected remarks sank deep in his bosom: and when he
rose up, and buckled on his pack once more, and the aged dame gave him "handsel,"
or first money for the day, by purchasing a few pins and needles, the poor
pedlar bade her farewell in an accent that showed he felt more than common
thankfulness for her kindness.
Alas! this is a world where good impressions are, too often,
speedily effaced by bad ones. Jonah called next at the gate of a
wealthy squire, and, with hat in hand, asked for leave to go up to the
kitchen-door and expose his wares to the servants. The squire
refused; and when Jonah pleaded his poverty, and ventured to remonstrate,
the squire frowningly threatened to set the dogs upon him, if he did not
instantly decamp! Jonah turned away, and bitterly cursed the
unfeeling heart of the rich man,—avowing, internally, that Dorothy
Pyecroft was only a doating old fool,—for, after all, "Charity begun at
Scarcely had the pedlar taken twenty steps from Dame
Dorothy's cottage, ere the village clergyman knocked at her door.
The dame knew the young parson's "rap-rap-rap!" It was quick and
consequential, and unlike the way of knocking at a door used by any one
else in Sturton who thought it necessary to be so ceremonious as to give
notice before they entered their neighbour's dwelling. Dame Dorothy
ceased her spinning, and rose to open the door, curtseying with natural
politeness, and inviting her visitor to be seated.
"Thank ye!" said the parson, raising his brows
superciliously, putting the hook-end of his hunting-whip to his mouth, and
striding about the floor in his spurred boots; "sit you down, I beg, Dame
Pyecroft! sit you down—I'll not sit, thank ye!"
"I fear, sir, there is a great deal of suffering at present,"
said Dorothy, sitting down, and fixing her mild blue eyes upon the
thoughtless young coxcomb, and feeling too earnestly in love with goodness
to lose any opportunity of recommending its glorious lessons.
"Oh!—suffering!—ay!" observed the young clergyman, in a tone
that showed he did not know what it was to think seriously: "you know
there always was a difference between the rich and the poor."
"But do you not think, sir, that the rich might lessen the
difference between themselves and the poor, without injuring themselves?"
asked Dorothy, in a tone of mild but firm expostulation.
"Why, as to that, I can't say exactly," replied the parson,
apparently brought to a halt in his thoughtlessness, and unable to
extricate himself from the difficulty in which his ignorance placed him;
"I can't say exactly; but, you know, Dame Pyecroft, some people have
nothing to give away though they may be better off than many of the poor:
with such people, you know, Dame Pyecroft, the old proverb holds good,
that 'Charity begins at home."'
"I am grieved to hear you quote that proverb, sir," said
Dorothy; "I had just been exerting my poor wits to show that that saying
was not a right one, in the hearing of poor Jonah the pedlar, before your
reverence came in."
"Not a right saying, Dame Pyecroft? Why, you know it is
a very old-established saying; and I think it a very shrewd one," rejoined
"But it is not so old as the New Testament, sir," replied
Dorothy, with a winning smile; "and as shrewd as it is, do you think, sir,
it was ever acted upon by your Great Master?"
The young clergyman took his hook-whip from his mouth, laid
it on the table, took out his pocket-handkerchief, and, blushing up to the
eyes, sat down before he attempted an answer to the good old dame's meek
but powerful question.
"You will remember, Dame Dorothy," he said, at length, "that
the Saviour was in very different circumstances to all other human beings
that ever lived."
"But you will remember, sir," rejoined Dorothy, in the same
mildly pertinacious manner, "that that Blessed Being said to His
disciples, 'I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done
to you: if I have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another's
"Yes: that is very beautiful," said the young clergyman,
feeling the irresistible force of goodness, and speaking as if he had
never read the passage in the book for himself: "the Saviour's example is
"And does not your reverence perceive how easy and delightful
it would be for every one to begin to follow it?" immediately rejoined
Dorothy, taking advantage of the good impression which, she saw, was being
made on the mind of the young parson; "how easily might all who have
enough give even of their little superfluity; how easily might we all do
each other kindnesses which would cost us nothing! What solid
pleasure this would bring back upon each of our hearts; and how surely it
would lead us to make sacrifices, in order to experience the richer
pleasure of doing greater good! Oh, sir," concluded the good old
creature, with a tear that an angel might envy gliding down her aged and
benevolent cheek, "I cannot think that any one knows the secret of true
happiness who practises the precept—'Charity begins at home!'"
The young and inexperienced man gazed with a strange
expression at his new and humble teacher. This was better preaching
than he had ever heard or practised. His heart had been misled, but
not thoroughly vitiated, by a selfish and falsely styled "respectable"
education. He was too much affected to prolong the conversation
then; but he became, from that time, a pupil at the feet of the aged
Dorothy. His fine manners were laid aside. He became a real
pastor. He was, from that day, more frequently in the cottages of
the poor, twenty times over, than in the houses of the rich. He
distributed of his substance to relieve the wants of others, and lived
himself upon little. He forgot creeds to preach goodness, and pity,
and mercy, and love. He preached till he wept, and his audiences
wept with him. His life was an embodiment of the virtues he
inculcated. And when, in the course of five short years, he laid
down his body in the grave, a victim to the earnest conviction of his
mind, the poor crowded around his hallowed resting-place with streaming
eyes, and loving, but afflicted hearts, wishing they might be where he was
when they died, since they were sure his presence, they said, of itself
would make heaven!
The young clergyman interred Dorothy Pyecroft but half a year
before his own departure; and her last words were words of thankfulness
that ever she had shown the young man the fallacy of the proverb—"Charity
begins at home."
THE MINISTER OF MERCY.
LEICESTER has the appearance of a new town as you
glance at it, in your rapid course on the Midland Counties Railway.
And, if the "locomotives" halt for a few minutes at a point on the line
where you have a full view of the goodly borough, the momentary impression
which numerous ancient church-towers give you of the real antiquity of the
place is soon effaced by the extensive rows of newly-built houses that
stretch away on every side till they appear to cover almost the entire
populous area on which you are gazing. Successive gusts of
prosperity for the manufacturers, occurring at various periods, followed
by a full breeze of thrift for the last twenty years,—have in fact swelled
the town to more than treble its size at the close of the last century.
Yet a few days' sojourn in the borough would afford a lover
of antiquity no inferior treat. The massive wall and arched vaults
of a ruin, believed to have formed part of a temple of Janus during the
ages that Britain was under Roman sway,—the ivied remains of the noble
abbey where the imperious and vice-regal Wolsey "laid his bones,"—the
sternly frowning "Newarke," or entrance-tower to the castle of the
Grantmesnels, Bellomonts, Blanchmaines, De Montforts, Plantagenets, and
other proud Earls of Leicester,—the solitary wooded mound on which the
castle itself anciently stood,—the rich minute carving of the old
churches,—the quaint interior of the old town-hall,—the grotesque exterior
of much of the really ancient part of the town, composed of dwellings
striped with timber and plaster, and decked with ornamented or overhanging
gables,—dwellings wherein the soldiers of the fated kingly Crookt-back
were billeted on the night before Bosworth-field,—these, and sundry other
features of historic chronicle and change, could not fail to awaken eager
interest in an antiquarian. Our story, however, concerns itself less
with the outward than the inward, and regards rather the misery of the
living than the pride of the dead.
Passing along the ancient line of highway from York to
London, from the churchless burial-yard of St. Leonard, over the old North
bridge, revealing the meandering Soar and the meadows of the old monks; by
the curious Gothic west door of the very ancient church of All Saints,
that almost compels you to stop and look at it; and then, by the
transverse streets, where the venerable "high cross" was taken down but a
few years ago, and reaching that part of the ancient principal line of
street called "Southgate," where modern Goths so lately took down that
most interesting historical relic, the house in which the last regal
Plantagenet slept the night before his death, (a splendid gable filled
with a world of old English associations; and breathing a wholesome lesson
to Englishmen from every atom of its mouldering substance!) the traveller
would come to a ruinous-looking entry of a street on his right, bearing
the chivalrous designation of "Red Cross Street." At the door of a
low, crumbling house about half-way down this ancient by-street, a
dissenting minister stopped one winter's evening some five-and-fifty years
ago, to make his usual call of duty and benevolence. His gentle
knock, however, was not answered; and, before he could repeat it, he was
saluted hastily by a rich manufacturer, a member of his congregation, who
was passing by on some business errand.
"You are the very man I wanted to see," said the minister in
a very earnest tone, seizing the manufacturer by one arm, as if he feared
the man of business might feel disposed to escape him, "I want half an
hour's conversation with you, sir."
"But I cannot stay now, sir," replied the manufacturer; will
you join me in my morning ride in the gig to-morrow? Do, sir; it
will do you good."
"I will, I will; thank you, sir," answered the minister, in a
quick, nervous way that seemed to be unusual with him; and they shook
hands with great apparent fervour, and bid each other "good night."
The dissenting minister did not find entrance into the low,
ruined-looking house, until a neighbour or two had forced open the door.
A light was then brought, and a figure of affecting interest was revealed.
A venerable, silver-haired man lay breathing his last; and by the side of
his humble bed, with folded hands, knelt she who had been the partaker of
his joys and sorrows for sixty years, lost to all consciousness except
that of mental prayer for her departing husband. The sound of the
minister's voice seemed to arouse her for a moment; but she relapsed again
into complete obliviousness of all things, save the one absorbing feeling
created by the view of that gasping pallid form that lay before her.
So the minister knelt, likewise; and when the neighbours who had entered
with him had followed his example he prayed audibly and earnestly, yet so
reverently and pathetically, that, while he prayed and wept, the
neighbours thought themselves in the presence of some superior being, with
a soul of compass to embrace and bless the whole human race, rather than a
mere mortal. The face of the dying man kindled, too, with wondrous
feeling, when he heard the sounds of that well-known and beloved voice,
though he had seemed past consciousness but a few moments before.
And when the minister paused in his petition, and saw the aged man's look
fixed upon him, he said, with unutterable sweetness and tenderness,—
"William, my dear old friend, is all well within?—is your
hope still blooming and full of immortality?"
The aged man raised his withered right hand with a last
effort—waved it thrice—smiled with an ineffable smile,—and expired!
The minister was raising the aged and speechless woman from
her kneeling posture, and placing her in an arm-chair, when her married
daughter and several other neighbours entered the house of death.
The minister recognised the daughter, and, after committing the widow
earnestly to her care, emptied his waistcoat pocket of the silver it
contained, and gave it, without counting, into the hands of the astonished
young woman, who stood staring, while the good man snatched up his hat,
and, saying "God bless you all! I'll call again tomorrow: God bless
you all!"—hurried away in a moment.
A tall, grave-looking man, in the habit of a gentleman, bowed
courteously to the dissenting minister, as he was turning the corner of
the High Street, and, addressing him by his name, uttered the customary
observations on the severity of the weather.
"Ah, my dear sir," spake the dissenting minister, unable,
from the state of his feelings, to answer in the same strain, "I wish I
had had you with me a quarter of an hour ago."
"Why, sir?" asked the gentleman.
"That you might have seen, for yourself, how a Christian can
die," answered the minister.
"Ah!" replied the gentleman, with a look of serious concern,
"there you, and all truly Christian ministers, find a field of more
exalted enterprise than the whole world of turmoil and strife, put
together, can furnish. I envy you, my dear sir—I envy you, more
than I can express to you."
"It is, indeed, a field of exalted, of truly glorious
enterprise, the visiting of death-beds—the pouring of heavenly
consolation into the spirit that is leaving its frail clay tabernacle, and
the gladdening of the human wretchedness which is left to mourn and weep,"
burst forth the good minister, forgetting that he stood in the bleak,
cold, open street, and not in his pulpit; "but, oh, my good friend, what a
dark, disconsolate scene would your Free-thinking make of the chamber of
death, were it as universally spread as you wish it to be!"
"It is there where you always have the advantage of me, sir,"
rejoined the gentleman; "I have acknowledged it, again and again; and I
feel the force of that reflection so powerfully, sometimes, that I half
resolve to spend the remainder of my life in some scheme of philanthropy,
and, meanwhile, join in persuading men to believe Christianity, although I
do not believe its historical evidences are worth a straw—."
"But that would be wrong, sir!" said the minister
interrupting the other, very earnestly.
"So I think, sir," continued the gentleman; "and yet I feel
sometimes as if I should become guilty of a crime by striving to take away
what I regard as a pleasant deceit from men,—their chance, by imbibing a
full confidence in Christianity, of expiring not merely with calmness, but
with rapturous joy and triumph. Free-thinking will never enable even
the largest intellect, the most highly cultivated man, to die thus; much
less will it give such a death to an imperfectly educated or ignorant man.
But then, I reflect again, that it would be morally and veritably criminal
in me to join in strengthening what I sincerely believe to be falsehood."
"And so it would, sir," said the dissenting minister, taking
the gentleman's arm, who offered it, that they might walk on to avoid some
degree of the cold; "so it would, sir: it would render you a very
contemptible creature. Let me tell you, sir, that with all the
delight I experience in fulfilling some little of my duty as a Christian
minister, the remembrance of it would not move me one inch towards the bed
of a dying man with the view of offering him the consolations of revealed
religion—if I believed such consolations to be a mere farce. I
would scorn to mock him with false hopes. You know how deeply I
regret your scepticism, my dear sir; but I would not see you veil it
through a spurious tenderness. No, sir: truth and sincerity are the
purest jewels in human character: even pity and benevolence, themselves,
are gems of inferior water."
"I wish all Christians were like yourself," said the
gentleman, after a pause of admiration for the great and good being with
whom he felt it a real privilege to walk; "but I see so little practice of
goodness from the hundreds around me who profess a religion that enthrones
it, that the sight tends much to confirm me in my old opinions."
"Indeed, sir," observed the minister, in a very grave tone,
"I must tell you that you will be guilty of great self-deceit, if you
imagine that the wickedness of hypocrites, or the slackness of lukewarm
professors, will form a valid excuse for your rejection of Christ's
mission, should you, one day, prove it true."
"I know it, my dear sir," replied the gentleman; "I know it
well; though I thank you for your kind and well-meant zeal in reminding me
of it. I will tell you one thought of mine, however,—and it is one
that fixes itself very forcibly before my judgment;—if callousness to the
sufferings of their workmen continues to increase among the manufacturers
as rapidly as it has increased for the last ten years, Christianity will
be openly scoffed at by the poor of the next generation, in the very
streets where we are now walking."
"You have only expressed what I expressed last Sunday morning
from my own pulpit, sir," returned the minister, seeming too deeply
affected with his strong belief of the probability of such an event to be
able to add more.
"I hear that the wretched frame-work knitters suffer more and
more from abatements of wages and other encroachments upon their means of
subsistence, of the most unfeeling and unprincipled character," resumed
the gentleman; "and although hundreds are without work at the present
time, and the complaints of suffering from want of food, fuel, and
clothing, are so loud and frequent, yet not a single rich manufacturer of
the many that profess religion, in Leicester, proposes to open a public
subscription for the poor, according to the humane custom of past times.
I heard a whisper that you had begun to stir up the languid charity of
some of your friends towards the commencement of a subscription: was I
rightly informed, sir?"
"It is the very subject I intended to broach to Mr.— —
to-morrow morning," replied the minister, with an enthusiastic glow
suffusing his expressive face.
"Please place your own name for that sum somewhere on the
list," said the gentleman, taking a note for twenty pounds out of his
pocket-book and giving it to the minister.
The good preacher was trying to stifle his grateful tears, in
order to thank the sceptic,—but the latter bowed and strode away; and the
good preacher, as he walked towards his own house in deep reflective
silence, had many thoughts of the true interpretation of such words as
"infidel" and "Christian," that would have startled his audience, if he
had uttered them before it on the following Sunday.
In spite of an agonised bodily system, the minister was early
abroad the next morning, and his glorious brow beamed with pleasure, when
the maid-servant announced that the rich manufacturer's gig was at the
door, and the conversation was near that he hoped would result in the
effective commencement of a subscription to relieve the misery, and
hunger, and cold, and disease, under which the depressed stockingers and
their families were groaning that severe winter. Yet the
philanthropist, with all his guilelessness, knew the man he had to deal
with, and proceeded in a circumlocutory way to his object. In the
end, he enforced the claims of man as a brother, the admirableness and
divinity of charity, and the indefeasible rights of the working man as a
substantial agent in the creation of wealth, with so much of the
potentiality of his eloquence, that the manufacturer, in spite of the
resistance his heart's avarice made to the godlike theme, assented to the
proposal that he should begin the public subscription. But how
heart-stricken with shame did the golden-tongued pleader feel when, on
producing the little book he had prepared for collecting the names of
subscribers, the rich manufacturer hesitated as soon as he had written his
name, bit the end of his cedar pencil, and then hastily put 'five pounds'
at the end of his name! The minister did not thank him, for his soul
was too noble to permit his tongue to utter one word which his heart would
not accompany: but he had, again, some peculiar thoughts about the true
interpretation of the words "infidel" and "Christian."
Neither was the good man to be damped by such an inauspicious
beginning; but begging Mr. — — would not drive on again till he, the
minister, had got safely out of the gig, bid the rich churl "good
morning," posted away to the house of another "of whom the world was not
worthy," but with whom Leicester was likewise blessed at that time: the
Rev. Mr. Robinson, vicar of St. Mary's: stayed till that good man formed a
little collecting book; and then they set out on the work of canvassing
the town for names to form the subscription list. Assisted
occasionally by others, the dissenting minister persevered, till, in the
lapse of several days, and at the cost to himself of excruciating
visitations of increased pain in the night season, he completed such a
list as gave effectual relief to the hundreds of his suffering
fellow-creatures then inhabiting Leicester.
That labour was no sooner ended than he commenced a close
inquiry into the real state of the staple trade of the town; and, finding
that the reports of oppression and extortion, the foul fruits of
avaricious competition, were not exaggerated, he sat down and wrote an
appeal in behalf of the suffering framework-knitters that might have
jeopardized the favour and acceptance of a less able preacher with the
wealthier members of his congregation.
If a stranger to the old town of Leicester should ask whose
is the portrait this faint limning is intended to call to memory, it is
hoped it will not be deemed an act of desecration to introduce, in a
volume of merely fugitive essays, a name too truly holy to be lightly
mentioned,—a name inscribed, ineffaceably, in English literature, by the
sunbeam of his peerless and hallowed eloquence to whom it belonged, the
name of ROBERT HALL.