the brave homilies on virtue which abound, this is a world in which a man
may be too good, and become an object of distrust by those who never lay
themselves open to this suspicion. The most misgiving reader need
not be afraid of the present writer. He is not too good.
In one of Ben Jonson's plays, a servant speaks of his master
as "an honest gentleman, who is never at leisure to be himself; he has
such tides of business." That has been the case with the Author. So
much and so long occupied in vindicating the right of others to their own
lives and the expression of their own reasoned opinions, he has had, until
late years, no leisure to express his own.
The diversified experience of the writer has been owing to a
wilfulness of sympathy with all self-helping efforts of improvement in the
State, in society, and in opinion. He does not belong to those
unpleasant and superior persons who have faith in themselves and no faith
in others; who, as Robert Burns found in his day, "take pride in showing a
proper, decent, unnoticing disregard for the poor insignificant devils,
the mechanics and peasants around them"—although they are as much
entitled to happiness as those who despise them are. It is not the
few who make the many, but the many who make the few. Those who live
without solicitude for the welfare of others do but encumber the land.
When they die—
"Nor earth nor sky shall yield a single tear;
Nor cloud shall gather more, nor leaf shall fall,
Nor gale breathe one sigh for them—for all."
They, by their
own choice, stand apart from humanity; and should they be suffered to rise
again hereafter, it would bring the Resurrection into contempt. The
Author has honour alone for those who have an outside nature, and
this record is mainly of movements and men who had this passion.
G. J. H.
OF AN AGITATOR'S LIFE.
"I blend the Holly with the oak!"
'Twas thus the voice of Nature spoke,
And, in fulfilment of her plan
She gave us Holyoake, the man.
THE OLD REASON FOR WRITING A NEW BOOK.
George Jacob Holyoake
author, however he may disown it, will be suspected of some egotism who
writes any account of the events of his life. He can hardly presume
they have interest without assuming that they have some importance.
A favourite way of parrying this inference is to represent that what the
author has done has been urged upon him by others. Yet a story
"published by request" is never read for that reason. The author is
usually regarded as having requested himself to do it, or that some
personal friends, knowing that he was bent upon it, made the request to
him that a colour of outside interest might be given to the act.
The persons who incited me did really put the idea into my
head. Mr. William White, Door Keeper of the House of Commons,
several times said to me that I ought to write some account of the social
and political affairs in which I had taken part. In the midnight and
early morning hours I often spent with him in his room at the House of
Commons, when lingering debates were dull, we used to converse about the
underground actors, who had died in our time, to whom political progress
had owed something.
Thomas Allsop, the friend of Coleridge and Lamb, of O'Connor
and Orsini, oft urged me to give some account of the proscribed men of
thought and action with whom I had been associated, Sam Timmins, of
Birmingham; Joseph Cowen, of Blaydon-on-Tyne; W. H. Duignan, of Walsall;
R. B. Reed, of Winlaton, who has a journalist's instinct for incidents;
Col. R. G. Ingersoll, of Washington; James Charlton, of Chicago; and James
Knowles, the editor of the Nineteenth Century, who proposed to
publish the chapters therein—an act of temerity which gave weight to his
word—and many others diverse in experience and far apart, said the same
thing to me. Thus I came to believe there might be interest in doing
it, and have devoted the intervals of ten years to it. The reader
may think the time might have been better bestowed.
In citing the names of those who incited me to write this
story there is no intention of imputing to them the responsibility of the
contents thereof, which they have never seen, and in which no episode that
had interest in their minds, may be given here in the same connection, or
told after a lapse of years, with the vividness and relevance which
excited their advice. Nothing more is meant by giving their names
than to show that any writer might be excused attempting a narrative which
such judges had suggested.
Still I am afraid there is some meanness in citing names of
those who (if I am believed) induced me to write the book, since I am
exposing them—if the story proves tiresome—to that resentment which ought
to fall upon the writer alone.
Though the narrative has occupied the leisure of years, the
procrastination is not wholly loss. He who delays concluding his
book until years of discretion have fairly set in (which arrive at 75 if
they come at all) has the advantage of remoteness of view, sees in truer
proportion the events he describes. Time takes out of incidents the
effrontery and inflation which their novelty begets at their birth.
There is a further advantage in delay, memory grows indolent,
and a narrator is less likely to weary the reader with too many recitals.
As it is, I remember more things than the public or posterity (should the
book reach them) will ever take interest in reading. Therefore, as I
heard Serjeant Talfourd at Worcester ask a jury when his evidence was
limited, "Sufficient unto the day—is the evil thereof?"
At the head of some chapters the reader will find double
dates, showing the years over which the chapter ranges. The book is
an autobiography of events, experiences, observations of men, manners, and
opinions which came under my notice. The story is only incidentally
an autobiography of the writer, whose life in chronological detail is not
of the importance to interest the general reader. The main endeavour
of the author, upon which he depends as his best justification to the
reader, is that he restricts these pages to those events which have, he
conceives, public instruction in them. A book of a similar character
relating to movements in the earlier part of this century would have been
of no mean service to him when he was young, as this peradventure may be
to many now.
OUTLINE OF THE STORY.
"WHY should I read this book?" is a question I often ask myself on opening
a new one. Books multiply—time seems to be more occupied than when
they were scarce, and every new book bears with it the ostensible promise
of new wisdom and new experience. Each work seems to have an equal
claim upon the reader. It is natural, therefore, to wish for an
outline (of the kind here given) of its character which may justify him
in, or deter him from, undertaking its perusal.
These chapters are the story of a Birmingham man, born in
sight of St. Martin's Church spire, when it peered above the
parsonage trees in the year in which Robert Owen declared in the London
Tavern that "all the religions of the world were wrong"—and Jonathan
Wooler issued the first number of the Black Dwarf, and St. Jean
Godin, founder of the famous Familistère of Guise, was born, so that the
writer's days began when social and political ideas were in the air.
Early familiar with economy and industry, a little good fortune seemed
great, and activity became a habit which had pleasure in it, and was at
once dependence and independence—dependence, because mechanical skill was
a personal resource; independence, because the power of working renders
any one free of obligation. Trained in Christianity, he came
personally to know that sincerity was not the same thing as truth, and
never forgot in after-life that error might be honest. Knowledge
without books was his chief attainment, as knowledge lies about everywhere
at hand to those who observe and think. Seeing that he had to be
answerable here for what he believed, and was told it would be so
hereafter, he thought it prudent to form his own opinions, since it was
incurring superfluous responsibility to become liable for the errors of
others. This gave him the perilous habit of saying what he thought,
which led to his being imprisoned for six months in Gloucester Gaol, to
encourage him in candour. These were his college days of learning.
John Sterling says that "the worst education which teaches self-denial is
better than the best which teaches everything else and not that." In
this sense the subject of these pages was well instructed, as during his
whole life opportunities of self-denial were continually afforded him.
Graduating in a gaol was not a recommendation afterwards to profitable
employment, and he became a wandering speaker on prohibited subjects of
usefulness and progress. At times he might have had some
advantageous and accredited position on the press or in popular movements,
but it was thought that his name might deter others from doing something
who never did anything. The only opportunities which befell him were
those of doing what many agreed ought to be done, and of undertaking
responsibilities which, owing to legal risks, or a clearer sense of
prudence, others declined. Controversies befell him in which he was
saved from forming any undue opinion of himself by the disparaging
frankness of adversaries, and in which the best and surest part of such
knowledge as he acquired was derived from the critical malevolence of
opponents. Seeing that spite in argument instructed those whose aim
was the mastery of a subject, he regarded even the ill-tempered and
malignant opponent as the friend of truth. He, therefore, encouraged
and never humiliated these assistant adversaries. He who knows both
sides of a disputed question is alone able to be fair to the adverse
convictions of others. The spirit of his story is described in the
lines of Sir Henry Taylor—
"He had this honesty
That, undesirous of a false renown,
He ever wished to pass for what he was.
Deliberately bent upon the right,
He kept it in the main."
Whittier relates that he left the "mission he had to fulfil, to turn the
crank of an opinion mill." Whereas if the present author had a
"mission" at all it was to turn that sort of crank. He was an
opinion-maker—a very useful business if honestly and intelligently done.
But if the trade is confined to the manufacture of true opinions the
"concern" will rarely pay. The sales will never be large and the
profit will be small. The owner of such a business will be fortunate
if he escape loss. In this respect the writer was not fortunate.
The one quality of his mind was that of a propagandist. It coloured
his aims, his character, his life. Without foreseeing it, without
expecting it, it came to pass, when age and blindness, for a time,
overtook him, many eminent persons, who considered him to have rendered
some service to the State in his day, contributed, with his humbler
friends, means that rendered work no longer obligatory to him. As he
had always acted on George Herbert's maxim, "Never exceed thy income"
(when it was precarious and small), a very limited income was a source of
health and enjoyment beyond what any who provided it could know.
Opinionativeness and wilfulness are not qualities to be approved, unless
they are mainly directed to the service of others. But, though they
bring vicissitude, they bring satisfaction, if public improvement has been
their incentive. Thus the subject of this autobiography may say in a
lesser degree, what could be fully said by him  who
wrote the lines—
"If he has gained but little for his purse,
His conscience, happily, is none the worse;
He never flouted peasant, fawned on peer,
He neither stooped to flattery nor to fear,
Knew in familiar fashion, face to face,
The wisest and the best of England's race;
Still walks erect, although his head is grey,
And feels his youth not wholly slipped away."
The outline of
the whole story the author has to tell is now before the reader, and
unless he has adventurous curiosity, he need not proceed further.
WHEN Sydney Smith was questioned concerning his
ancestors, he answered that his family went no further back than his
grandfather, who disappeared at the Assizes, and they asked no questions.
My paternal grandfather also "disappeared," but we did "ask questions,"
though to these no answer came until the next generation. His name
was Jacob. He was a man of unusual stature and strength, and stories
were told of his carrying a town watchman home on his shoulder who had
been unpleasant to him on his way. He had a forge on the old river
Rea in Birmingham. His name and business is in the directories of
the last century. Through the fraud of a partner, in a law contest
as to a right of way, losses by floods, which washed away his premises,
trouble overtook him. His family having some property he went away
alone to repair his own fortune, and his family never heard of him more.
Forty years later an old artizan in Sheffield, made curious by seeing my
name on a placard, told me that he had lived in a house in Manchester in
which a "Jacob Holyoake" resided—a powerful, wilful man, he described him
to be, who, having made a little money, went down one day to meet the
Birmingham coach, saying he intended to rejoin his family. He was
too late, and in his disappointment went and leaned over the hospital
wall, which one less tall could not have done. The place contained
many patients with a contagious fever, which he caught. Refusing to
believe in his danger when seized, and disliking medicine, he perished.
As he had never disclosed anything concerning himself, he was never
identified until the old man told me the story of his isolation and
end—forty years subsequent. And thus for the first time his family
learned how he died.
There was a tortoise-shell tea caddy in possession of my
informant's family given them by my grandfather. It appears that,
when death approached, he begged that his friend might be sent for, as he
wished to make some communication—doubtless a message to his family; but
as the doctors forbade any one to be admitted, the fever being deadly, his
friend was not told of his wish until after his death—so that his secret
My grandfather on my mother's side was Richard Groves.
His business was that of a buckle-maker. In the early years of the
long war, when taxes were heavy, men worked from five o'clock in the
morning until nine at night—hours which would drive trades unionists mad
in these days. Being provident-minded, during a great part of his
life he subscribed to a society from which special provision was to come
in his later years; but when the time came the society broke up, as was
the way of societies in his day. In my youth he was a minor
dignitary of the Established Church—very minor, indeed, being a beadle of
St. Martin's Church. There were two or three differing in
degree, but whether of service or seniority I never knew. The office
was one of more local awe than emolument. The beadle's staff at a
door was the sign of a funeral, and the beadle walking before the humble
burial party gave it, in the eyes of the poor, the character of a sacred
procession. I used to look with wonder at my grandfather's fine long
blue coat, red collar, brass buttons, and his tall japanned staff with
gilt nails. When a boy I used to often go round the churchyard with
him to see that the gravestones and the grass were all in order. My
great delight was to accompany him to his garden in the Bristol Road,
which seemed to me a paradise of fruit, and flowers, and vegetables.
He would go in the summer as early as four o'clock in the morning.
He used to allow me to strike him a light with steel and flint struck over
tinder —lucifer matches were not invented then—that
he might have a morning smoke in his little arbour. He continued to
go to his garden until a few weeks before his death, which occurred at a
patriarchal age. In the evenings, in his later days, I used to read
the prayers to him from the Church prayer-book, when he could no longer do
it himself. I can see him now, kneeling on his chair, holding
himself upright by his two hands on the back, bowing his head reverently
as I read to him, I sitting on a small chair below him. He would put
on his beadle's coat at this time, as though his dress had religious
association in his mind.
A few years ago an old resident (C. N.), who remembered the
circumstance, described in The Birmingham Weekly Post the local
respect in which he was held, and the large crowd who followed him to his
Such were my two grandfathers; my grandmothers I never knew,
and never heard described.
My ancestral inheritance was not of a nature to elate me,
though it gave me pleasure. It consisted of a walking-stick of my
grandfather's, of a curious spiral growth, and an inlaid ivory-headed cane
belonging to my paternal grandmother, bearing the date of 1699. This
estate of sticks and an habitual wilfulness of opinion and imagination,
which had no misgiving—always characteristic of my father and his
family—were the only signs I knew of a station superior to that in which
their lot was cast. A strong sense of pride and capacity of
submitting without concern to any privation which came through resenting
indignity were peculiar to them all. My father's sisters had
property at Selly Oak, near Birmingham. Often I heard speak of "the
Holyoakes, of Selly Oak." In Nantwich Churchyard may still be read a
memorial-stone bearing the name of my grandfather's brother, who had held,
up to the time of his death, official appointments in that ancient parish.
MY mother's maiden name was Catherine Groves, and as
she took the name of Holy-oak we had a woodland pedigree. She was a
Puritan-minded woman, of clear, decided ideas, and had, later in life, a
grave, impressive face. Of what she knew she was confident, and
never had any doubts. She wished her children to be honest,
truthful, and pious, and always set them the example. It never
occurred to her to do otherwise than what she said. The contrary
never entered into her mind. In those days horn buttons were made in
Birmingham, and my mother had a workshop attached to the house, in which
she conducted a business herself, employing several hands. She had
the business before her marriage. She received the orders; made the
purchases of materials; superintended the making of the goods; made out
the accounts; and received the money; besides taking care of her growing
family. There were no "Rights of Women" thought of in her day, but
she was an entirely self-acting, managing mistress. There were
feasts in the house at that time. I remember stealing out of bed one
night to survey from the top of the stairs the well-spread table upon
which was the first roasted sucking-pig I saw. The button business
died out while I was young, and from the remarks which came from
merchants, I learned that my mother was the last maker of that kind of
button in the town. It was always a peculiarity of Birmingham that
numerous small household trades existed, which gave the inmates
independence, and often led—if the trade continued good—to competence or
fortune. I recite these particulars, as they denote a state of
industry and society which has long passed away.
My first recollection of my father was seeing him on Sunday
and festive days, in drab cloth breeches and boots with white tops, such
as are worn now only in the hunting-field, and a brown overcoat, called a
"top-coat" then, which looked very rich in my eyes.
My father was in his sixty-third year at the time of his
death. He was tall and comely. He had an honest voice and an
expression which told you he could be trusted. His manners were free
without familiarity. Some men, rise to what rank they may, always
retain plebeian habits; this was not so with my father, although he spent
so large a portion of his life as a workman. His associates and also
his employers showed him respect in their speech. He owed some of
this deference to his mechanical ability. I passed thirteen years by
his side in the workshop, and never saw him addressed as other men around
him often were. What laws of etiquette he had were his own.
When summoned by his employers he always walked up (unless into office or
a private room) without uncovering his head, as was usual with others.
His not doing so seemed natural to him. It was not disrespect, it
Had the opportunities of learning existed in his youth which
exist in our day, his lot in life would have been very different.
Mechanics' Institutions were not invented then, and the acquirements of a
middle-class boy in 1800 were not many, and his were limited by the early
disappearance of his father, whose loss his mother survived but a short
time; and my father was left an orphan, and head of the family, at an
early age. He went when a youth to the Eagle Foundry, where he spent
more than forty years. Holidays in manufactories were not so much a
custom then as now. I never heard that during that long period he
was absent through illness or pleasure. If a vacation time occurred
at a fair or Christmas time, he spent it at some ideal invention of his
own. Though entirely without self-assertion, he had a quiet
implacable will. His self-respect once outraged, he never forgot it,
and I cannot say he ever forgave it. Wanting the resources which men
acquire in good society, or the power which culture gives, he had no means
of protecting himself save by reserve; and his resolution once taken, time
did not wear it out. His resentment became part of his nature.
Though inheriting this implacable faculty myself, it has long been clear
to me that it is wasted pertinacity. An offence which may arise in
thoughtlessness, haste, or necessity, is not worth remembering a day, and
an intentional offence is sufficiently despised in less time.
The day before his death, I had come down from London to
Birmingham to see him. He had a pipe of Turkish length, the bowl
resting on a chair near him, so that he could smoke at will, and I sat on
the bedside and smoked with him. He spoke at intervals of my mother.
She ever seemed a living mercy in the chamber of the sick. By day
and by night she was ever the same patient, kind, unwearying
ministrant—unconscious of the obligations of gratitude she created.
His voice had its old melody. Once he said, "It is a long time to
wait to die, but please God not long." His natural activity of
thought still remained with him, and dying seemed to him as something he
had still to do. Shortly afterwards the end came.
During all the years of my youth I never remember to have
heard my father use an expression which implied that he had ever heard of
religion. He never said anything against it, nor anything for it.
He left all that to my mother. He seemed to think that she had
enough religion for both of them, and in that he was right. He had a
pagan mind, and his thoughts dwelt on the human side of life.
We laid him in St. Paul's Churchyard, the burying-place
of his relatives, in the grave with "Uncle John," the Yorick of the
family. The Rev. Mr. Scarlett read the Church service. In all
things we consulted our mother's wishes.
I called upon Mr. Davenport, the rector of St. John's Church,
which stood at the back of my father's house, to thank him for his
kindness in visiting my father at our request in his illness, and in
speaking consoling words to my mother about him. The Rev. Mr.
Buckingham, an evangelical preacher, whose chapel my mother attended, I
also called upon, to express my sense of the liberal notions of God's
dealings with His creatures, that my mother had heard from him, which had
resulted in a more cheerful faith than she had been wont to have.
Afterwards the Rev. William Sharman, a Wesleyan minister, who in later
years I knew as a valued friend, was a no less kindly and beneficent
visitor to my mother. Indeed, he was a more merciful visitant, as he
held views of universal salvation, more genial and hopeful than the
dubious and anxious tenets of one of the Elect, as my mother hoped she was
and deserved to be.
After the death of my father, I advised my mother to rejoin
the Rev. John Angell James's Church. She acquired what she called
"convictions," under Mr. James's ministry, which she had attended
twenty-five years. Mr. Buckingham, her minister above named, was
leaving Birmingham, it was therefore I suggested her returning to Mr.
James's Church, and I offered to accompany her to Carr's Lane, which I
accordingly did; and on Sunday, May 15, 1853, I entered the chapel after
an absence of twenty years. What vicissitudes of religious
experiences had I gone through since I last walked along its familiar
galleries! What an utter, an unforeseen change had my life undergone since
then! There was the well-known clock, whose tardy hands I had watched
often wearily from the Sunday-school gallery, and the organ with its
monotonous peals, which first made me think music an invention for the
punishment of our sins.  There, too, were those
formal, dull ground-glass windows, which did not let in even the merciful
blaze of day; and I used to envy the cheerful sun above which dwelt so
high in the sky, and was never cooped up in a Sunday School, but looked
out over all the world, even on Robinson Crusoe's Island, and was not
forced to go to chapel on the bright Sunday morning. There, also, I
recognized a face almost in every pew which I had known before—faces I
never saw smile, and which now looked as though they had never smiled
since we met before. How should those who had read believingly the
"Anxious Inquirer" ever smile? To my disappointment Mr. James did
not preach that night, being absent in London, and I never heard, as I
wished to do, his mellifluous eloquence once more.
Nobody seemed to regard me as strong in my youth. When
I was a boy of seven or eight I heard it said of me, "it was doubtful
whether I should be reared." Nothing, however, happened. Then
it was said that "the age of thirteen or fourteen would try me."
Being found actively alive after that period, the years of "nineteen or
twenty" were fixed upon as the "critical time." As I obviously went
on living, the prophets of a short life had their opinion that
"twenty-nine or thirty" would decide my fate. Burns, Shelley, and
Byron had died before mid-age, but as I was not a poet I felt no
uneasiness on that account, so that it was long after before it occurred
to me that I was really going to live. I was not an unregarding
hearer of those observations. I remember mentioning them to my
tutor, Daniel Wright, who said he had a friend who had been similarly
warned, who actually had consumption all his life, and yet died at
seventy-four. He knew the conditions under which he could live, and
observed them. Mr. Wright gave me the first confidence in living
that I received. My mother, like many pious people of that period,
believed that the "three score years and ten" of the Psalmist were the
natural end of human life. Many believing persons in pious circles
would have lived longer but for this impression. My mother was
perplexed at living seven years beyond that time. Mr. Bright seemed
to be somewhat of the same opinion in saying:—"What Mr. Schnadhorst or Mr.
Harris quoted about the long continuance of the connection between
Birmingham and myself is a matter that is extremely doubtful: I think the
Psalmist was more right when he made the suggestion which everybody has
heard of, and most people come to think seriously of, when he spoke of the
threescore years and ten, which means that a man at threescore years and
ten is inducted into the order of old men." 
After the predictions recounted as to my early decease, it
was unimaginable to me that I should be writing at seventy-five in
pleasant health. Nor would it happen to me had I been robust.
I can count thirty or forty colleagues, all stronger than myself, who died
by my side. They could live or work, as strong persons usually do,
in a regardless manner, until the machine of life breaks down at once.
Temperance in all things, save work, became to me a necessity, and proved
THE business-like way of beginning a biography is to
state when and where the subject of it was born, though it is very rarely
that the reader sees any necessity for such particulars. As,
however, they impart a necessary air of veracity to the story, I give
them, merely premising that I had no business to be born at all, neither
when I was, nor where I was, nor of whom I was—if without filial impiety I
may say so. Parents seldom own it, but many like me have seen
aspects of this untoward world when they have felt that they ought to
apologize to their children for causing their appearance in it. My
mother had many children; she reared eleven; but I soon came to see how
much better it would have been for her—how much more enjoyment, peace,
repose, and freedom from anxiety would have fallen to her—had her family
been limited to three or four children.
No. 1, Inge Street, Birmingham, where I was born, still
stands, but in a dead street now.  The grime of
smoke, of decay and comfortlessness, are upon it. Then it was fresh
and bright. At No. 2 (next door) Mrs. Massey lived. She
was a very large old lady, who sold cakes and tarts, which lay enticingly
in a low, broad, bow window. Near hers was a house (No. 5) with
green silk curtains, where there resided a neat, little, clean,
bright-eyed old lady, who used to charm away warts, and other small
maladies. I was under her good-natured but ineffectual hands, at
times, for warts; but I found nothing clear them off like a fall at
leap-frog, when the sprawling hands came up quite free from those
intractable protuberances. Higher up the street (No. 12) lived Mr.
Hawksford, a baker and flour seller; a quiet, placid, pale-faced,
mild-mannered man, who, I always thought, looked like God. The first
idea my mother gave me of God made me think He was like that miller, who
never smiled or spoke, but was always kind and gentle to me—when I took
pies to be baked. The idea comes back to my mind as fresh as when it
was first formed in my childish, unsuspecting, unthinking fancy. Dr.
Mansel had not then delivered his Bampton Lectures, and no ideas of the
"Absolute" and the "Unconditioned" had been heard of in Inge Street.
Next to the mild, paternal miller, lived a plain, busy, rosy-faced widow,
who had no shop window, but kept the best grocer's shop in those
parts—where the butter was always fresh. Opposite to her lived a Mr.
Roberts, a pleasant-minded Irishman, who would have been as rotund as
Falstaff, if the business of grinding glasses for opticians, which he
followed, had been a little more prosperous. The history and
avocations of everybody in this street are still in my mind.
A little above the wart-witch, with the green silk curtains,
dwelt "Sally Padmore." Her house had two steps to it, and the raised
floor always delighted me. She often came and nursed us when ill.
Well or ill, we gave her trouble enough, kind, patient old soul: but it
was the trouble of attachment. She was never angry. She was
the only old woman I knew in my youth whose kindly voice never changed.
Household trouble came to her, and for three days she was lost.
Going one night into an outhouse, I saw her hanging up dead. Her
ghost was clear before me. It was shadowy, blue, and well defined.
There was no doubt she had killed herself somewhere. How could any
one see her ghost if she was not dead? It was the first ghost I had
seen, and I was not likely to forget it, and I knew her too well to
mistake it. Next day, while I was alarming all who would listen to
me, with the supernatural news, word came that she had returned home as
bright and active as usual. This experience weakened my confidence
in ghosts, which was implicit till then. Two doors below dear, kind
"Old Sally" was the home of a stalwart workman given to politics. I
saw his nose chopped off by a soldier in the Bull Ring Chartist Riots many
years later. But the reader will not care to hear about Inge Street
and its occupants for ever.
Before our door where I was born stood, on the opposite side,
a considerable clump of well-grown trees, amid which was a hatter's
working shop. On the adjacent corner of Hurst Street stood the Fox
Tavern, as it stands now; but then the sign had been newly painted by a
one-armed, short, quickstepping, nervous-faced, dapper artist; and a very
wonderful fox it seemed to me. The sharp-nosed, bushy-tailed animal
was rushing to cover—on the sign. I had never seen a fox or a cover,
except on that sign. I had only seen a workshop, and I envied the
fox who had such a paradise to flee to. Yet we were not without
glimpses of real nature about us. Below the Fox Tavern was a
"Green"; at the bottom was a garden belonging to a house with a gateway,
where one of my father's sisters lived. The garden fence was not a
dead wall, but a low, wood paling, through which children could see the
flowers in the garden. From the end of Inge Street the trees of the
parsonage ground made a small wood before us, and apparently in their
midst, but really beyond them, arose the spire of the "Old Church"—as we
called St. Martin's. On summer afternoons and moonlight nights
the church spire, rising above the nestling trees, presented an aspect of
a verdant village church in the midst of the busy workshop town.
Down through the "Green," the way led to Lady Well Walk, where more
gardens lay, and the well was wide, clear, and deep. Hundreds of
times did I fetch water from it. We had a pump in our own yard, but
we did not think much of the pump—and we did it no injustice. Gone
now—gone long ago—is the glory of well, and the Lady's Walk, and the
"Green," and the Parsonage Ground, and the trees, and church spire.
The spire is still about, but the sight of it has been hidden by buildings
of every order of deformity. Inge Street, now, looking down from the
Horse Fair end, is, as it were, the entrance to a coal-pit, which, when I
first knew it, appeared as the entrance to a sylvan glen.
In the midst of these scenes and persons described, was the
beginning of things to me. If I go back on the principle Prospero
proposed to Miranda and state—
what—house or person?
Of anything the image tell that
Hath kept in my remembrance.
That it lives in my mind; what see I else,
In the dark backward and abysm of time?"
That will be
The first time I was conscious of being in this world, I was
sitting upon a rug on the floor. A figure in a black dress was
vanishing through an open door. In front another open door disclosed
a road. Trees were bending in the wind, and there were sunlight and
shadow on the ground. I did not know that there was a sound in the
world nor a living being save the servant in the black dress. The
quiet shade seemed sad, and the sentiment crept into my mind. It
could not arise from disappointment, I being too young for coherent
thought; nor dissatisfaction with the world in general, which would have
been as impertinent as premature at that early age. However, it
came—the feeling of sadness was there. That scene was the beginning
of life to me.
It appears, from what I afterwards came to know, that at my
birth my mother wished me to be called "George," after my father. On
the other hand, my aunts on my father's side wished me to be called
"Jacob," after my grandfather. As neither side would give in, both
names were given to me—bearing which I became an unconscious peacemaker in
the family. For myself I never liked the name of Jacob. When I
came to have a preference I preferred that of Esau, who was an honest man
of wise ways. A modern writer on Scriptural names explains that
Jacob means, "active investigation of belief." If this be true, it
would reconcile me to it; but the recorded antecedents and behaviour of
Jacob in the Old Testament are not at all to my mind.
ARTIZAN LIFE SIXTY YEARS AGO.
BEFORE my mother's horn button business ceased, I
learned to wind the copper wire on a flat steel turned by a lathe, to
stamp the coil into shank form under a press, and to cut the shanks with
shears which often strained my little hands. Afterwards I had to
stick the shanks into circular pieces of perforated damp horn, called
"moles"—hammer them in—rivet them in a vice, and file them. The
buttons were then shaken in a long bag, which dried and polished them.
They were then strung into grosses, and delivered to the merchants who
ordered them. All the old processes are still distinctly in my mind.
It was an attraction to me to watch at a tinman's shop
window, and see him make lanterns. At length he consented to take
me, when the afternoon school was over, to work through the evening
soldering the handles on lanterns. I was a small boy then, and
though I often burned my fingers with the soldering iron, I earned in time
as much as 3s. 6d. per week piece-work. Afterwards I persuaded my
father to take me with him to the Eagle Foundry, from a desire to be at
work. I must have been very young then, as I remember asking my
father to let me hold his hand as I went along by his side in the early
morning; and his hand, enclosing mine, was a new sensation of pleasure,
and seemed to put fresh life into me. The time of being at the
foundry was six o'clock, and I was often half asleep as we went up Suffolk
Street on the way to Broad Street, where the foundry 
was, and where I was taught to be a whitesmith, working in white iron and
I see now the long, dull foundry yard as I saw it for
thirteen years from the window at which I worked. On the right is
the little house where the warehouseman lived, who had charge of the
premises at night: and, on the same side, the waggon-way leading to the
furnaces, the mills, and the casting shops. The warehouse and
show-rooms filled up the right of the yard to the gates. On the left
were ramshackle sheds for storing sheet iron. Piles of wrought iron
bars lay on the ground. A cold-looking iron pump stood close by, and
heaps of old cast iron broken up for blasting. The foundry cart is
loading near the stable door, and at the top, through the open gateway,
the town people are passing, and the distant sunshine falls upon the broad
road outside. The sunshine always seemed apart from us.
One workman at the foundry was a tall, lean old man: he was
very gaunt, and I think never had enough to eat; but I had more respect
for him than any other man there. His business was to do the forged
wrought-iron work for kitchen ranges and black iron stoves. Each man
made his own tools, and this old workman's pliers and tongs were the most
perfect of any one's, everything he forged was excellent in fitness and
finish, and, though he was paid no better than if he had done his work
slovenly, he never abated a blow on that account. He had an honest
passion for perfect work. He was a Staffordshire man. I cannot
recall his name, or I would give it to his honour. He had a daughter
named Esther. She was tall like her father, but did not remind us in
any other way of the Esther whose beauty pleaded for the Jews. She
was the only woman employed at the works. She had a little shop with
a fireplace and doorway only, in which she black-leaded stoves, which she
did as conscientiously as her father forged at the anvil. She was
always ready for work. I never remember to have seen her sit down.
There were two members of the firm—one was Mr. Samuel Smith,
a Unitarian, a placid gentleman. The men were always glad when it
fell to him to pay them, as he had a kindly word for them, and would
sometimes make them small advances when the wages of the piece-workers
fell low. William Hawkes was the other partner, to whom no workman
made any request. He had a brother Timothy, who was tall and
slender, and who had abundant black hair, and a Jewish cast of
countenance, quite unlike his brother William, who had red hair, and not
much of it. Timothy, when about thirty years of age, became a
Methodist, and grew quite fanatical in his new persuasion; but so far from
making him morose, it seemed rather to increase his kindly nature. A
workman was caught by the machinery in the mill, and his leg torn from his
body. He kept his bed until his death, living a year or more, and
Mr. Timothy used to go and sit with him, and pray with him, and make small
gifts for his comfort. His brother William—the acting "Master" as he
was called—was mainly an unpleasant person. He was exacting, and
always spoke with harshness. I saw old men who were in such terror
at his approach that they would strike their hands instead of the chisel
they were using, and were afraid of dismissal or reduction of wages in
consequence of the incapacity which he witnessed, and which his presence
caused. Piece-workers and day-workers were so continually subjected
to reduced prices and wages that they never felt certain on Monday morning
what they would receive on Saturday evening. There were no trade
intimations where other employment might be obtained—no energy in seeking
it—there was continual resentment, sullenness, and disgust, but no
independence, or self-dependence. If a man saved a little money, he
carefully concealed that he had done so; if he could afford to dress
cleanly and moderately well, he was afraid to do it, as his wages were
sure to be reduced. I remember a fine, well-built young man coming
to the foundry from Sheffield, where there was always independence among
the workmen. He undertook the deadliest work in the mill, the
grinding. There was great astonishment when he entered the foundry
gates wearing a well-fitting, handsome suit of black clothes. The
master was as much astonished at his audacity as the men were. He
changed his clothes in the mill and put on a rough grinder's dress,
mounted before the deadly stones, and worked like a splashed, mud-covered
Hercules—but he would wash, dress, and leave the foundry like a gentleman.
His employer at once concluded that he had given him too much wages; but
the moment a reduction was proposed, he resented it, drew the money due to
him, and went away entirely. It was almost the only example of
independence I remember to have seen.
One incident occurred which filled me with lasting
indignation. The younger brother of a man named Barton who had been
years employed in the mill was found by William Hawkes (the acting
partner), one meal-time, removing a file from one of the shops. He
was an industrious, well-conducted young fellow—he had not taken the file
away, which was worth about 7d., though he probably intended taking it.
He was apprehended, and transported for ten years, on the evidence of the
master. A week's imprisonment would have been sufficient penalty for
a first offence in a mill where theft was unknown. The arbitrary and
continual reduction of prices by the master was a far more serious theft
of the earnings of all the men. That was the way in which employers
behaved generally, so far as I knew them. Mr. Hawkes, nevertheless,
did kind things in his harsh way which were intended for the welfare of
the men, and I used to compare him to a sheep-dog, who kept the wolf from
attacking them, but bit the sheep himself when they turned aside. I
resolved not to be bitten, and it filled my mind with hatred to see poor
hard-working men about me subjected to the process.
The condition of mechanics who worked in little workshops of
their own was bad. They had to sell their small manufactures to
merchants. The men who lived in the town, and those who came miles
into it, with the produce of their week's work, were kept hanging about
the merchants' warehouses until nine, ten, and often eleven o'clock on
Saturday night, before they were paid their money; and their wives had to
make their little marketings after their husbands reached home.
There seemed no end to this, and no way out of it. There were no
Saturday half-holidays thought of then.
There stands now, or stood when I last was there, a factory
or warehouse at the head of Lady Well Walk, where in my childhood was an
open, spacious coal-yard, kept by a Mrs. Gillybrand. On dark, cold,
drizzling Saturday nights children were sometimes sent for a barrow of
coals for Sunday fires. They used to stand by a brazier fire blazing
in the coal-yard—sometimes for an hour waiting for barrows to come
in—turning themselves round, being half frozen and half toasted. At
the Fox Tavern, and at the mild, white-faced baker's, loads of coals were
at times delivered. No coal came round in sacks at other houses, and
a number of small barrows were kept at Gillybrand's, where buyers did
their own cartage, or rather barrowage. As, on Saturday nights,
wages, as I have said, were paid late, barrows were in demand often until
midnight. A level barrow-load was 6d., a full one 8d. The
buyer had just what the vendor threw in. No measure or scales were
used. When a barrow was to be had it was trundled home. I
pitied those who had to go out in the dark and cold on this last errand.
I dreaded it as a negro would being sent out in the snow. I did not
know then that these were the "good old times" of which I should
afterwards hear foolish persons prate.
Though there were no trades unions in my time among
whitesmiths, I could see, even then, that excellence of workmanship on the
part of a man, intelligent enough to know its value, was a source of
independence. There were two brothers at the foundry named
Threstlecock—one did the great forgings for the steam engines, the other
fitted the engines—a third man, very large and fat, with a small bullet
head, and Welsh impetuosity of manner, made the great castings, which
sometimes consumed a ton of molten iron. These men ventured to dress
somewhat better than others, and took more liberty as to time of coming or
leaving. They obtained higher wages for their work, and no attempt
at abatement was tried upon them. My father and one or two other men
were all that came within this class, and he would have fared still better
but for his known attachment to the place where he had been longer than
any other man. His children took him away at last that he might end
his days in sunshine and rest, but he doubtless would have lived longer
had they left it optional with him to linger about the old place at will.
His pleasure was in workmanship.
Long before that time he bought some newly-invented machinery
for turning bone buttons, hired steam power at the Baskerville Mill, and
placed me in charge of it. Working one day, leaning closely over my
work, the "chock" caught a silk handkerchief, of which the ends were
loose, round my neck, I was drawn down in a moment, and nearly strangled.
Fortunately the mill band turning the lathe was a loose one, and I had
power to stop the rotation for a short time, but could not extricate
myself. Mr. Roberts, the Irish optician, who lived in our street,
was grinding spectacle-glasses in an adjoining room, and heard my calls
for help, stopped the machinery, and unwound me, just as the "chock" was
beating into my throat; otherwise my head would have been wrung off, and I
should have been an observer of the operation.
By the time I was thirteen or fourteen I made a small bright
steel fire-gate, with all the improvements then known, as a chimney
ornament for my mother. All the drilling in the foundry was done by
hand: as this was very laborious, I devised a perpendicular drill to be
worked by mill power. At that time I had never seen one. My
delight was in mechanical contrivance. Not being able to buy
mathematical instruments, I made two pairs of compasses for pencil and
pen—one with double point and slide, hammered out of bits of sheet iron.
My tutor being pleased with them caused them to be laid on the table at
the annual distribution of prizes of the Mechanics' Institution.
This led to my being publicly presented with a proper case of mathematical
instruments, given by Mr. Isaac Pitman, the inventor of phonography.
Mr. Lloyd, a banker in Birmingham, caused George Stephenson, one night
when he was at the House of Commons, to put my name down on his staff of
young engineers. I was very proud to have my name on his list,
though nothing came of it, Mr. Lloyd having probably no opportunity of
again calling the attention of the famous engineer to it: and I had no
other friend in communication with him. What a different career mine
had been had I been called up!
Mechanical employment seems to me far preferable to any other
open to men in cities. Had there been in my time means of higher
education in evening classes, when degrees could be won without University
attendance—impossible to me—I should have remained in the workshop.
There is more independence in pursuits of handicraft, and more time for
original thought, than in clerkship or business. That which made me
desirous of escaping from the workshop was the hopelessness of sufficient
and certain wages, and the idea of personal subjection associated with it.
It has sometimes seemed to me that I was born with steel and
books in my blood. About the books I am not so clear, though I have
made many after their kind. But that I had a mechanical faculty
beyond the average in my circle was admitted there. I could tell the
quality of steel and other metals just as others can tell textile fabrics
at a glance. When a youth I would fit and finish bright steel work
better than men twice my age, and who had twice my wages. My father,
who came of a race of armourers, had, with other attainments, skill in
forging. Sheffield men, who were the best artificers in my time
where I worked as a whitesmith, always came to my father to do their
difficult forging. I often swung the striking hammer for my father
at the anvil, and to this day I have more pleasure and aptitude for that
form of physical exercise than for any other. Good, well-made,
well-contrived, well-finished machinery always gives me as much enjoyment
as a good painting.
The capacity to work as a whitesmith or engineer has always
been a source of pride to me. Anything I could do in my mechanic
days I could do ever after. It gave me a sense of independence.
If speaking, teaching, or writing failed me, I was always ready for the
LEADERS OF THE FIRST BIRMINGHAM POLITICAL UNION.
THE most remarkable Birmingham man of that day
(1830) was Thomas Attwood. He was Royalist and Radical, not
remarkable for intellectual strength, but had dignity of presence and a
persuasive and orotund manner of speaking. He was the founder and
moving spirit of the Birmingham Political Union. Being a banker, he
imparted to it an air of monetary responsibility. He and Joshua
Scholefield were the first members for Birmingham. Attwood was the
member for the town who was most popular with women. When he was
canvassing they were abundant in the courts and streets. He not only
kissed the children—he kissed their mothers. At one election he was
reputed to have kissed eight thousand women. Though a leader of the
masses, he was no democrat, and would have induced the Political Union to
accept a £20 franchise, but for the refusal of the more robust politicians
of Newcastle-on-Tyne, who, like the late Sir Joseph Cowen, were followers
of Lord Durham. They held a great meeting on the Town Moor, and
declared for a £10 franchise. But for the Newcastle men, the
electoral constituency of England would have been "confined to £20
householders." The Birmingham Political Union was the most conspicuous
force which impelled the Reform Bill of 1832, such as it was.
Attwood had a theory of currency which he thought would bring prosperity
to the people, and he sought a Reformed House of Commons, mainly because
he thought he could thereby carry his financial theory into law.
Robert Owen, in like manner, resolved to appeal to the people to carry his
social scheme of "Villages of Co-operation,"  when
Lords Liverpool, Lauderdale, and Sidmouth failed him. Cobden and
Bright, with a more genuine political sympathy with the people, were for a
broader measure of electoral reform, as better calculated to carry and
maintain free trade. All the £10 voters of Birmingham did was to
send a banker and a wealthy merchant to Parliament. In doing this
they had the justification of political gratitude. Yet George
Edmonds was the man who had greater claims than either.
Joshua Scholefield, Thomas Attwood's colleague in the
representation of the town, was a better Liberal than Attwood. He
was a small rotund man, with fire and purpose, and a ruddy complexion.
He menaced the Government with marching on London with a hundred thousand
men to inquire why the Reform Bill lingered so long. The Duke of
Wellington took notice of the projected visit. He was not afraid of
us, but did not want us in London.
In later years, Joshua's son William was elected member for
the borough. He was a man of gentle manners, of good commercial
knowledge and authority, who carried through Parliament the Industrial
Partnerships Bill, which first made participation of profits with workmen
possible. When in Parliament he had a residence at Runnymede Island,
on which Magna Charta was signed, which was enviable. Runnymede was
historic, but Runnymede was damp. I met him frequently at the House
of Commons in his later years. His health was failing, but he was
judicious in attendance, which he limited in accordance with his strength.
When a division was due, he infallibly appeared.
Lawrence Street Chapel, where the Socialist meetings were
held in those days, was built by the Southcottians. Mr. Bradley, a
tobacconist, was the chief supporter of the little church. It was he
who bought the silver cradle in which the little Shiloh was to be rocked,
which Joanna in due time was to bring forth, but never did. The last
occupation of the chapel (1890) is by the Kyrle Society. The
peculiarity of the Southcottian leaders, which excited more prejudice
against them than their harmless, Messianic expectations, was that they
wore long beards. Ignorance, always intolerant, resented this liberty of
differing from their neighbours even in so small a thing as wearing their
natural beards. No one understood then the truth of Schiller's
aphorism that "toleration only comes with larger information."
George Frederick Muntz, who afterwards became member for
Birmingham, was the only other man in the town who wore a beard. He
was, when he became member for the borough, the first civilian who wore a
beard  in the House of Commons—a military officer
only was accorded the limited liberty of wearing a moustache. Mr.
Muntz would have been insulted for wearing a beard, but he carried a thick
malacca cane, which it was known he would apply to the shoulders of any
person who affronted him. It was this which protected him from
ridicule in Birmingham and in the House of Commons. He was the most
powerful and resolute Radical in the town. A story told of him in my
youth was, that going home one night to his house in Soho, he was attacked
by two robbers. He knocked them down and brought them both into town
and gave them into custody. A local writer, one Joseph Allday, was
editor of a paper called the Argus, which he enlivened by offensive
personalities. Mr. Muntz, being compromised by some remarks, went
down to the office, seized Mr. Allday by the collar, drew him over the
counter into the middle of the street, when the editor found that personal
allusion to Mr. Muntz was liable to be tempered with an application of his
malacca cane. The assault came before the magistrates, with what
results I do not remember. In the later days of his membership, Mr.
Muntz was not edifying on the platform, and swore in his speeches.
Mr. William Cope tells of kindly acts of his. One day meeting an old
woman in Livery Street wheeling coals up the hill, he took the barrow in
hand and wheeled it up for her.
Philip Henry Muntz, a younger brother of George Frederick,
also wore a beard, when he came to have one, but his hair was not dark
like his brother's. He had the same brusqueness of manner, but less
coarseness. I heard him make his first speech in public. He
afterwards became member for the town. They were the two fighting
Radicals. It is singular that the only descendant of the family in
Parliament should be a Tory. I suppose there is a fatty degeneration
of the understanding in well-fed Liberals, as sometimes occurs otherwise
in too well-fed men.
Thomas Clutton Salt, a vehement member of the Political
Union, had an ornate style which entertained, but left little impression
on his audience. His quality was best seen in an address which he
issued to the town, which now has the merit of showing that Birmingham
women took interest in politics before John Stuart Mill's influence urged
them to organize themselves as a separate power in the State. One
passage in Mr. Salt's address said "the slave spirit crouches in fear—the
tyrant spirit contrives new oppressions—the Jew spirit tortures for gold;
therefore do women meddle with politics;" and more to the same effect.
Each paragraph gave impassioned reasons "why women meddle with politics."
Though no one then thought of giving women any political
rights, both parties were ready to avail themselves of their political
influence, and when the Liberals of Birmingham were invoking the aid of
the women of progress, the Tories of Norwich were issuing the following
“TO THE LADIES OF NORWICH.
"None but the brave deserve the fair.
If ever the sweets of social virtue, the warmth of honest
zeal, the earnings of industry, the prosperity of trade, had any influence
in the female breast, you have now a happy opportunity of exercising it to
the advantage of your country—your cause. If ever the
feelings of a parent, wife, sister, friend, or lover, had a sympathy with
public virtue, now is our time to indulge the tender passion.
If ever you felt for the ruin and disgrace of England, and for the
miseries and depravities of the obnoxious Reform Bill, you are called
on by the most tender and affectionate tie in nature to exert your
persuasive influence on the minds of a father, brother, husband, or lover;
tell them not to seek filial duty, congenial regard, matrimonial comfort,
nor tender compliance, till they have saved your country
from perdition! posterity from slavery. History furnishes us
with instances of female patriotism equal to any in the page of war and
politics. Oh! may the generous and beatific charm of female persuasions
prevail with the citizens of Norwich, to espouse the cause of
"STORMANT AND SCARLETT."
It never occurred to these eloquent adjurers that if women were thus able
to exercise political influence they were entitled to use it for
After the Reform Bill was carried the Union dissolved itself,
as the Anti-Corn Law League subsequently did when the Corn Laws were
repealed. Mr. G. F. Muntz proposed that the Union should be hung up
like a clean gun, to be taken down if need arose—a figure of speech
suitable to a gun-making town. The gun grew rusty on its nail.
Robert Kelly Douglas was an active leader of the Union.
He was spoken of as the editor of The Birmingham Journal. A
card of membership which I held—which I still have—is signed with his
familiar initials, "R. K. D., secretary," bearing the words, "Birmingham
Political Union, Instituted 1830—Revived 1837." His bold, clear
handwriting was like his speeches. He was fluent, relevant, and
forcible. He was tall, slender, with a fine head of grey hair, and
of dignified, cultivated manners.
At the great meeting known as the "Gathering of the Unions,"
200,000 on Newhall Hill sang the Call,
mountain, over plain,
Echoing wide, from sea to sea,
Peals, and shall not peal in vain,
The trumpet call of liberty."
"Lo! we answer; see! we come!
Quick at freedom's holy call;
We come, we come, we come, we come,
To do the glorious work of all;
And hark we raise from sea to sea,
Our sacred watchword Liberty!"
There were nine stanzas containing fifty-four lines in all. Never
did political meeting so large sing a song so long, before or since in
The Rev. Hugh Hutton put up a sonorous prayer. Unitarians in
those days preached in Johnsonian sentences, and used more vowels than any
other religionists. Only Unitarian ministers at that time would pray
for Liberals, or who would pray among them. We had a Catholic
priest, the Rev. T. M. M'Donnel, a member of the council of the Political
Union; a tall, clear, articulate, well-informed speaker, with grey hair
and public spirit; but he never did what Mr. Hutton did. A
Birmingham meeting never asked him. They would not imagine that a
Catholic could have got a blessing down from heaven if he tried. The
one leader who had most force of character, and who was best instructed on
Liberal principle, was George Edmonds, a schoolmaster and solicitor, who
was imprisoned in 1819 for the part he took at a Newhall Hill meeting.
He had the protruding underlip, the physical sign of capacity for oratory,
as might be seen in Lord Brougham, George Thompson, and other orators of
mark. There are orators in plenty without this characteristic, but
to those who have, it gives a sort of prehensile advantage over an
audience. More than an orator with a commanding voice and measured
force of delivery, Edmonds was a Radical thinker, and friend of Jonathan
Wooler in the days of the Black Dwarf Edmonds was tried with Major
Cartwright and Wooler, and sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment, for
taking part in the election of Sir Charles Wolseley, Bart., as M.P. for
Birmingham, 1820, no Speaker's writ authorizing it. Jonathan Wooler
concluded the twelfth volume of the Black Dwarf in 1824.
In his "Final Address" he states that "he commenced the work under the
idea that there was a public in Britain devotedly attached to
Parliamentary reform. This was an error. It is true that
hundreds of thousands have petitioned and clamoured for reform, but the
event has proved what the Black Dwarf treated as a calumny, that
they only clamoured for bread . . . and were not reformers, but bubbles
thrown up in the fermentation of society. . . . The majority has decided
in its crueller moments 'for things as they are.'" Yet within eight
years the great Reform Bill was carried by, what even Wellington had to
admit, was the universal demand of the country. This is a remarkable
instance of that political despair on the part of an insurgent politician,
resembling the darkness which precedes the dawn.
When Birmingham became a Parliamentary borough, Edmonds came
forward as a candidate, but was requested to stand aside in favour of Mr.
Seholefield. In the day of triumph it is seldom that a constituency
selects as its representative the man who laboured for it in perilous,
unfriended, and apathetic days. When such a man claims recognition,
he is told that he is dividing the Liberal interest—which appears not to
lie that way. Ultimately, Mr. Edmonds was made Town Clerk of
Birmingham. The last time I saw him he was one of an audience at a
discussion I held with an adversary in the town. There was no person
among its public men of the days of my youth whose presence could give me
so much pleasure.
The chief Radical critic of the Union, who better understood
the principle of democracy and cared more for it than the leaders, except
George Edmonds, was one George Russell, who made a little fortune in Moor
Street by printing and selling Catnatch songs. Had Macaulay visited
Birmingham he would have gone over Mr. Russell's copious ballad store with
delight. He had the finest collection in all the Midlands.
Unfortunately, Russell, like Mr. Corbett (contemporaneous with him in
Radical agitation), had a querulous manner and acted on the Pauline maxim
of being "instant in season and out of season," and as he was generally
"out," he was disliked. But he had the root of the matter in him in
political thoroughness. He left £12,000 to found a secular school,
of which he designated me as the teacher; but the bequest was disputed.
I was examined in the case, but, not being able to take oath, Mr. Arthur
Ryland, the Commissioner of the Inquiry, accepted my affirmation.
All the same, legal objection could be taken to it. The bequest was
annulled. Secular teaching was held to be hostile to Christianity, and
much against the validity of the bequest.
CHARACTERISTICS OF BIRMINGHAM MEN.
THE habit I had acquired of frequenting chapels and
missionary meetings led me to attend political assemblies. This
further enlarged my views of life and duty, which the religion taught me
had hidden from me.
The political impulses by which Birmingham had become
distinguished had quickened thought of the human kind in relation to this
world. For five years I was a scholar in the Carr's Lane Sunday
Schools, yet save Watts's hymns and reading in the Bible, I had learned
nothing. There was a sand class for seven or eight boys, in which
lessons in rudimentary writing were given. But beyond this, secular
instruction in these schools did not go. Once the Rev. John Angell
James, the pastor, delivered a week-night public address, in which he
counselled young men to be content in the station and with the lot which
Providence had assigned them. Dissent was no better than the Church
as regarded secular progress. When I heard Mr. James's counsel, I
believed it. It was logical Christian doctrine I knew, and I could
see that if acted upon, the Political Union was an organized sin—as its
object was to alter and raise the condition of the people. Had Mr.
James. himself acted upon his own principle, he would not have been a
Birmingham being in the heart of the Midlands of England, its
people have insularity of character as well as of race. The various
nations of invaders who, for more than a thousand years, bestowed on
England their malevolent presence, no doubt penetrated more or less to
Birmingham. But the British founders and their descendants probably
kept substantial occupancy of the interior of the country. Our
furious incursionists doubtless left behind them turbulent additions to
the population—perpetuating a like spirit along the invaded shores.
Thus to this day the coast-land population show energy and unrest of
character. The Midlanders have steadier attachment to independence
and to ways of their own. Insisting upon liberty as an ancient
inheritance, they regard as aliens any who would disturb their exercise of
Still in my mind is the perfect surprise with which I first
became aware of having the instinct of race. When the Crimean War
came it was popular. It was found out by the people that we were
committed to fighting somebody. Mr. Bright, Mr. Cobden, and a few
other great politicians fully understood that me ought not to be fighting
at all. The hereditary instinct of a warlike people once awakened,
is quite sufficient to make any conflict popular. There was much
less political intelligence then than now, and hardly any political
conscience as regarded foreign nations. When news came that my
countrymen were fighting in the trenches of Sebastopol, my wish was that
they might win, whether right or wrong. The great French war had
ceased two years before I was born. England had never been at war in
my time. There had been no inspiration of battle in the people
within my experience. The martial spirit slumbered as though it were
dead in the land, yet I had it and knew it not. At any lull in the
Crimean carnage, I was anxious that diplomacy should intervene to
terminate it, but while we were fighting I wished the English to win.
It was not right that we should win if we were wrong. It means an
ill organization of international affairs when any one succeeds who is in
the wrong—whether an individual or a nation. Yet an unknown and
unsuspected instinct of race set me wishing that, while fighting was going
on, we might succeed somehow or anyhow. I do not justify the
sentiment, but I own to having had it.
Such was the effect of insularity of birth and race that I
for a long time mistrusted all people not English—yet never disliking them
as persons; for their physical difference in appearance and alien ways
were always attractive to me. What I mistrusted was their judgment
and opinion, until experience taught me that sentiments of justice are, in
the main, the same among all people, although their way of displaying it
is so different that you doubt whether they know what it is.
Insularity of position gives self-containment of character to a people
unused to consulting opinion outside themselves. They hold their
views with obstinacy because they are theirs, and their first instinct is
to distrust the judgment of those who differ from them. If they
manifest narrowness of view, which comes from self-sufficiency, it gives
intensity to their character, and they maintain their opinion with unity
and force, and their determination can be counted upon in any contest in
which they engage. Judging from myself, I regarded the coast towns
of England as though they were inhabited by alien races. When Birmingham
men enter upon political agitation, the reader will think them likely to
be resolute in it. During the active years of the Political Union my
days were passed within a few yards of its office. I knew its
leaders in the street and on the platform, and their conduct accorded with
the impression of Birmingham men herein described. The legend of the
town, adopted on its incorporation, is rightly and creditably
"Forward"—the family motto of the Duke of Oueensberry.
ORATORS WHO CAME OUR WAY.
IN 1831 a few words on a sheet of paper stuck on Mr.
Muntz's warehouse door in Great Charles Street, at nine o'clock in the
morning, was notice enough to summon 12,000 or 20,000 persons to Newhall
Hill at midday. When a youth, not fifteen, I had often been out at
the meetings, and knew that there was a Reform Bill in the air.
The most famous of the oratorical visitors of the Political
Union was Daniel O'Connell. In those days the voices of the great
Irish leaders were always given to enlarge English freedom, as they have
often been since. On one occasion a vast assembly beyond compute, met on
Newhall Hill. Early in the morning a band of four hundred women had marched from Rowley Regis (locally called "Rowley Rags," which better
described it), a place several miles from Birmingham, and had taken up a
position in the hollow, near the platform. The tall form of
O'Connell was conspicuous as he rose to speak. The moment his eye
lighted on the unexpected mass of women in front of him, the quick
instinct of the orator decided his first sentence, and he began,
"Surrounded as I am by the fair, the gentle, and the good," which at once
captivated his feminine hearers. Their occupation prevented them
being very "fair," and holding a position amid 200,000 men—the number
computed to be present—showed they were not very "gentle"; but they were
"good," patriotic women, and they cheered the flattering allusion to
themselves. The men behind cheered because the women cheered; and
the crowd behind them, who were too far away to hear well, cheered because
those before them cheered, and thus the fortune of the great oration was
made. What Sir Bulwer Lytton said of O'Connell's speaking was true
at Newhall Hill:—
"Once to my sight the giant thus was given,
Walled by wide air and roofed by boundless heaven:
Methought no clarion could have sent its sound
Even to the centre of the hosts around;
And as I thought, rose the sonorous swell
As from some church tower swings the silver bell.
Aloft and clear, from airy tide to tide
It glided, easy as a bird may glide;
To the last verge of that vast audience."
O'Connell had three manners: a didactic tone in the Courts—dignified
argument in the House of Commons—raciness on the platform, where he
abandoned himself to himself, on the Yankee principle, "Fill yourself full
of your subject as though you were a barrel, take out the bung, and let
human nature caper." In London we have seen O'Connell take off his
necktie and open his collar to give himself more freedom. On one
occasion, referring to the births in Dublin having decreased 5,000 a year
for four years, he exclaimed, "I charge the British Government with the
murder of those 20,000 infants" (who never were born). It was said
with so much raciness that the audience did not perceive the delightful
absurdity. Mr. Sam Timmins told me that an Irish schoolmaster who
was present remarked to him, "That's worthy of my country." In one
sense, O'Connell was right—British misrule had caused the depopulation of
Another speaker who interested the residents more than any
other platform visitor to Birmingham, was Charles Reece Pemberton.
Though born in South Wales, he resided during his youth in Birmingham.
His life was all vicissitude and romance. Of a sensitive, poetic,
and dramatic temperament, he found an unsympathetic clerkship, to which he
was confined, unendurable and ran away with a companion to Liverpool,
where they were seized by a pressgang then prowling about. His
friend, endeavouring to swim from the warship to which they were drafted,
was drowned. Pemberton remained seven years in the service, and
became acquainted with several foreign stations. He had an
irrepressible passion for acting and came to have theatres abroad.
As a lecturer and expositor of Shakspeare he was unrivalled. He had
a handsome, intellectual face, what the French would call spirituelle
in expression, and his bright animation of manner, an intense hatred of
injustice and sympathy with human progress made him the most popular
lecturer whoever entered a Mechanics' Institution, to whose members he
chiefly spoke. In a hundred towns none who ever heard him ceased to
speak of him. His lectures on Shakspeare he illustrated by reciting
passages; but his criticisms were not destined to introduce the
passages—the passages were selected to illustrate the criticism. As
he excelled in comedy as well as tragedy, every lecture afforded both
instruction and delight. He wrote tragedies and songs, and some
autobiographical chapters (sent to W. J. Fox when he edited the Monthly
Repository) under the signature of "Pel Verjuice." The papers
excited great interest, which led to Mr. Fox seeking his acquaintance.
The first theatrical representation Pemberton ever saw was in the
Birmingham Theatre, and his description of that first night is a memorable
piece of writing. His pen was as vivid as his imagination. His
account of a nomination meeting in the Birmingham Town Hall in 1835 tells
the story of the beginning of electoral life in Birmingham. He wrote
or spoke only of that which he had himself seen or felt. The
impressions of the events and experience through which he had passed, he
retained with what many thought a supernatural fidelity. He was
playing one night at Hereford, having taken the theatre, as was his wont,
to perform a series of "Shakspeare's tragic glories," as he styled them.
Serjeant Talfourd, who was there during the Assize week, hearing that a
new actor was in the town, went down to witness his performance, and was
so struck by it that, finding but a small audience present, he paid the
expenses of the house succeeding nights, that he might witness all the
representations. In the New Monthly he afterwards described
Pemberton as "a new actor of real tragic power," who might come to compare
with Macready or Kean. By Talfourd's influence he appeared
afterwards at Covent Garden Theatre. "Critics differed as to the
merits of Pemberton's acting, and contradicted themselves more than they
usually do, which meant that there was new merit of some kind in the
performances. Mediocrity never excites controversy," as Mr. Serjeant
Talfourd said, writing upon this subject at the time. "The very
difference of opinion means much. Mere mediocrity is not thus mistaken.
It has no chameleon hues."
An affection of the throat, which timely cessation from
lecturing might have rendered curable, killed him. By the generosity
of Serjeant Talfourd, who bade him draw upon him for whatever he required,
he went abroad, but without advantage, and returned to die at his
brother's house in Ludgate Hill, Birmingham. I was the only stranger
whom he wished admitted to his room in his last days. He felt keenly
that when his powers were at their greatest, and when engagements, which
would have made him opulent, awaited him, his strength was exhausted.
His mind was filled with brilliant projects of service to the people.
His last thoughts were expressed in lines which he wrote.
"Oh, could I do, of my vast will
One millionth part—what joy would thrill
My soul! though lone and lorn,
I die: ennobled by this shame,
I'd court as worthiest, holiest fame,
His friend John
Fowler, of Sheffield, published a volume containing his life and works,
and Ebenezer Elliott wrote one of his finest poems upon him, entitled,
"Poor Charles." During his days of health he had given two
performances in the Birmingham Theatre for the Building Fund of the
Mechanics' Institution, and we erected a memorial over him in Key Hill
Cemetery. I was secretary of the committee, and W. J. Fox wrote his
Beneath this stone
Rest the mortal remains of Charles Reece Pemberton,
Who died March 3rd, 1840, aged 50.
His gentle and fervid nature,
His acute sensibility
And his aspirations to the beautiful and true,
Were developed and exercised
Through a life of vicissitude,
And often of privation and disappointment.
As a public lecturer
He has left a lasting memorial
In the minds of the many
Whom he guided to a perception
Of the genius of Shakspeare
In its diversified and harmonizing powers.
At oppression and hypocrisy
He spurned with a force proportioned
To that wherewith he clung
To justice and freedom, kindness, and sincerity.
Ever prompt for generous toil,
He won for himself from the world
Only the poet's dowry,
"The hate of hate, the scorn of scorn,
The love of love!"
This eloquent and comprehensive epitaph is his history. His health
was failing when in a crowded room in Great Charles Street he read Fox's
"Lecture on Class Moralities," which were then being delivered in South
Place Chapel, London. No Sunday evening readings had been heard in
Birmingham before. Since Pemberton's day I have heard hundreds of
lecturers and preachers in England and America, but never one who had the
animation, the inspiration, and the spontaneous variety he had. He
came into the lecture-room like a flash of light, and the hearer saw new
things ever after by it. He was of the people, and for the people,
and owed all his powers to himself.
One of the men of mark, who, though not conspicuous on the
platform of the Political Union, was William Pare—an organizing power on
the side of insurgent opinion, and a member of the Town Council.
Societies for the diffusion of Christian knowledge professedly took charge
of the affairs of another world. Lord Brougham formed the Society
for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge—an entirely new sort of knowledge
not recognized then, which had relation to the affairs of this world.
He sent Mr. Coates to Birmingham to arrange the establishment of a
mechanics' institution in the town. It was Mr. Pare mainly who
carried out this intent. In all municipal enterprises and
improvement Pare was foremost. He had an assuring voice, the genius
of enthusiasm, which won others to unity, and made no enemies. He was
appointed the first Registrar under the Act legalizing civil marriages,
but as he was an advocate of Mr. Owen's views, the Bishop of Exeter
brought his name before the House of Lords, which led to Mr. Pare
resigning that office. He was afterwards largely engaged as a
railway statist in connection with the construction of railways, and
subsequently as managing partner in The Irish Engineering Company of
Seville Iron Works, Dublin, and resided at Clontarf. He was the
Governor of Queenwood Community, established by Owen's disciples in
Hampshire. He preserved his youthful animation to a good age, and
his fidelity to the social and co-operative movement, and was the best
representative of the philosophical principles of Robert Owen of all his
disciples. His angerless voice never varied in the most conflicting
counsel, and he was pacific without being passive. He was
considerate to the erring, and at the same time energetic against error.
He had two qualities which seldom go together—advocacy and organization.
I was one of the first persons married in his office, intending to testify
in favour of civil marriage, though the prosaicness of the arrangement
provided by the Act inspired me with resentment. No bright chamber,
hall, or temple, to give distinction to the ceremony; only the business
office of a Registrar of Deaths, infusing funeral associations into a
wedding. Civil marriage had become a necessity; but it was made as
uninteresting as it could be, to drive persons back to church. It
was the hope that Mr. Pare would officiate reconciled me to it, and
imparted distinction to it in my mind.
NATURE OF THE MIDLAND MIND.
THE Midland mind is necessarily provincial.
Provincial is not a good term, as the counties are not subjugated
districts. I use the word provincial because there is none other which
designates the compeers of the capital, the dwellers in the open land of
plain and mountain. There is a common impression that the provincial mind
is of a lower type than the metropolitan. This arises from overlooking
that the London mind has brightness where the provincial mind has
strength. Londoners are the lapidaries of the nation. They polish the
diamond found in the counties, and sometimes, if no one challenges them,
they take credit for producing the jewel. If any one could take out of the
metropolitan mind all knowledge, thought, conjecture, imagination, and
poetry, which it has secreted from provincial thinkers, many minds would
be light as the shell when the egg is out. London abounds in egg-shell
minds; nevertheless, it has other minds of a noble order. The mark of metropolitanism is the mastery of many views. London is latitudinarian
without which there is no tolerance.
One great advantage of provincial life is the opportunity of
originality. There, originality can be seen by reason of its separateness. The provincial mind is the spring land of the nation. The metropolis is
but the confluence of its many streams. Though the metropolis has the
merit of attracting them, their origin is elsewhere. London is the mirror
of the counties, where every provincial man of genius who looks into it,
sees his own face. Still the provincial mind has the disadvantage of a
fixed eye. It sees clearly what is before it, and nothing escapes it
within its own range, but it sees little beyond and nothing around it. It
does not ignore excellence in others: it does not know of it. Ignoring
implies knowing and intentional disregard. The tendency of the provincial
mind is not only not to know, its tendency is not to believe in anything
but itself. Its secret opinion is that nature exhausted herself in
bestowing upon the provincial mind the ideas it has, and that other
persons, who profess to know something, are unconscious impostors, being
unaware that all true conceptions were other wise distributed before they
applied for them. If this be not so, the provincial mind often gives this
impression of itself. Any observer of local politics frequently sees a
citizen arise who supposes himself to know everything from the beginning
and previously. One day he finds himself a member of the Town Council, and
confronted by forty or fifty gentlemen each under precisely the same
impression of his own attainments. Then the all-knowing citizen is
dismayed at the skill required and the delay which intervenes before he
obtains ascendency for his views there. If it come to pass that the same
aspirant enters Parliament, he finds himself face to face with six hundred
and fifty-eight gentlemen, each privately convinced that he alone has the
right idea of the government of the world. Then he is amazed at the art,
tact, eloquence, patience, and resource necessary to overcome the
representative and concentrated obstinacy which he encounters in that
assembly. I have watched a hundred men in the House of Commons of just and
strong ambition, grow pale with dying purpose as they stepped into that
wilderness of infallibility, when the fierce blasts of contrariety of
opinion first beat upon them. They were discouraged when they discovered
how slowly the mill of the gods grind—when they have to turn the wheels.
Many leaders who have awakened the courage and hope of the provinces have
been the first to feel discouraged in Parliament, and what was worse to
propagate discouragement. The one advantage of the Parliamentary mind is
that it has, like a lighthouse, a revolving eye. It sees all the country
around. Hence Parliament awaits events with an unamazed expectancy. It is
never disconcerted and never despairs. It knows that common consent to the
right is a pursuit of infinite labour and infinite worth, and that victory
comes with facts, time, and persistence. Its art is impartiality, its
strategy is patience, its grace is deference, and its strength toleration.
It is wise not by its own wisdom, but by wisdom acquired in winning honest
It was not till I began to notice these varying
characteristics of local and metropolitan life that it was possible to
understand what persistence of effort is necessary in propagandism, or to
encounter without surprise the natural obstacles in the way of a new
conviction, and the resentments which are awakened by the attempt to
REVERENCE for excellence I always had. It was not
called forth or cultivated—it came to me like a sense. No book of
etiquette was needed to teach me how to act towards those whom I had
reason to regard. I used to walk home with my tutor to the other end of
the town on dark nights, though less able than he to defend myself, if
attacked on my return alone.
Mr. Daniel Wright had been the tutor of C. R. Pemberton,
already mentioned, and a greater Shakspearian critic than any other actor
before his time. Pemberton said to me "he owed more to Daniel Wright than
to any man, save his own father." I might, in my turn, say the same of Mr.
Wright, who gave me advice as to the conduct of life, and Mr. Hawkes
Smith, to whom Mr. Wright commended me, did also—advice which was only in
the minds of Unitarian thinkers, and of which no other religious body in
Birmingham had knowledge or took interest. Mr. Wright was at one time
partner with Thomas Clutton Salt, a colleague of Thomas Attwood, with whom
he was associated in founding the famous Birmingham Political Union, which
contributed so much to the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832. The place
of business of Salt and Wright was at the corner of Paradise Street, on
the spot on which the Town Hall now stands. Mr. Wright was a man immovable
in a cause he believed to be just. He had a lawsuit with his partner. He
won his cause but lost his capital. When the Mechanics' Institution was
formed, he was appointed tutor. Mr. Wright, more cultivated than his
partner, had the manners of a gentleman, and his wide knowledge was of a
kind always ready for use. He was about fifty when I became one of his
pupils. He was of middle stature, strongly built, his face was pallid; you
could scarcely see that it was pock-marked. His manner was grave and
silent, showing the sense of misfortune and fortitude. All who spoke of
him in the town did it with sympathy and respect.
In 1839, an exhibition of machinery and art manufactures was
held in the Shakspeare Rooms, New Street. It was said that Prince Albert
had in view to promote an International Exhibition (which was held eleven
years later) should this experiment excite distinctive public interest.
Some machines of remarkable delicacy of action were supplied by Lieutenant Lecount. Application was made to Mr. Wright to recommend some student at
the Mechanics' Institution, who, with assistants he might select, would
explain the various objects to visitors. Mr. Wright recommended me, and I
undertook the duty. One day Sir Robert Peel came, Prince Albert and other
persons of distinction visited the exhibition, Lieut. Lecount came down
daily. He was a short man and wore a rough sea jacket. He had served in
the navy under Constantine Moorson, and spoke with pride of a battle in
which he had been engaged with him. He was liable to fainting fits, and
when they were coming on he would crouch down among the machinery against
the wall, telling me not to regard him, and when he recovered he rose and
continued his survey. He was spoken of as "the mathematician of the London
and Birmingham Railway," as he was engaged in its construction. At that
time the Rev. Timothy East, a saintly and popular preacher, to whose
gentle tones and fierce expressions I was oft a listener—who ranked next
to the Rev. J. Angell James in his reputation in the town, was accustomed
to call at the railway office. As well as "mansions in the skies,"
Mr. East had shares in the railway, which Lecount thought incompatible
with his spiritual pretensions. Not knowing the lieutenant, and seeing him
in his rough attire, Mr. East took him to be a porter, and called out,
"Hold my horse." Lecount replied with a naval oath of rotund quality and
explosive as a shell—being provoked by the superciliousness in the
preacher's tone, which offended Lecount's self-respect. Mr. East
complained of the singular behaviour of "the man at the door," when he was
told that he had addressed Lieutenant Lecount, who was a French gentleman
of official distinction and of great attainments. Mr. East excused himself
for his mistake, and regretted that his many acquirements did not include
a little civility among them. Lecount, under the name of Dr. P. Y., wrote
a book of note at the time, which was published by my friend, Henry
Hetherington, entitled "A Hunt After the Devil." There was little of that
person in the book, which was filled with mathematical calculations,
remarkably identical with those which Bishop Colenso afterwards made, of
the dimensions of the ark and of its inadequacy to contain a ten
thousandth part of the inmates which we are informed entered it.
One morning, which I shall never forget, my tutor came down
in his friendly way to see how I was getting on in my new employment. He
shook hands at the entrance with Captain Van Burl, who was treasurer of
the exhibition, and died as he was doing so. We laid him in one of the
rooms, and it was hours after before I could persuade myself that he was
dead. Through his influence I had made many friends, whose wider views in
religion enlarged my own. As the Mechanics' Institution could not at once
replace Mr. Wright, the committee appointed me to conduct the classes for
a time. Some of the students in whom Mr. Wright had taken interest became
afterwards distinguished—among them was Dr. J. A. Langford.
Mr. Wright was buried in the Old Meeting House Yard, where
his pupils and friends placed a tablet over his grave. Dr. Langford
published in his "Century of Birmingham Life" a graceful and grateful
tribute which he wrote in his memory. Two of the stanzas celebrate Mr.
Wright's charm of manner, whether his subject was Shakspeare, Euclid, or
"As thou the poet's glorious strain,
Or Euclid's problems didst explain.
Thy eyes with loving-kindness bright,
More brightly beam, as beamed the light,
Of truth in minds so dear to thee
As all thy pupils were."
friend Mr. Hawkes Smith I was invited to teach a class in the Unitarian
Sunday School at the new Meeting House, locally known as Dr. Priestley's
Chapel, of which the Rev. Mr. Kentish was then the chief preacher. The
Sunday School had classes for the study of logic and mathematics—the
Unitarians alone gave such instruction on the Sunday. But I retained all
the time my Trinitarian belief with which they never interfered. The Rev.
William Crompton, whose sister Mr. George Dawson subsequently married,
once asked me if I remained Trinitarian in belief. I answered that I did. A vague impression existed in my mind that three Gods were not too many to
attend to the affairs of this vast universe.  Contemporaneous in the town was a Rev. Dr. Brindley, a schoolmaster who
was to the Church party what Busfield Ferrand was to the Tory party, who
used to attack Cobden and Bright in the Anti-Corn Law agitation; and
Brindley was like Ferrand in personal appearance, in coarseness, fury of
speech, and lust for notoriety. He first came forward, and delivered
a course of lectures in reply to George Combe, whose phrenological views
he represented as being highly hostile to Christianity. The idea of
intelligence being manifested under material conditions, and subject to
material laws, had not then entered into the theological mind. Mr. Hawkes
Smith delivered a course of lectures in vindication of Combe, when
Brindley's incapacity was made patent to the town. With the
adroitness of a robust controversialist, he retaliated by attacking Mr.
Hawkes Smith for his Socialistic views, where the sympathy of religious
prejudice in favour of his new assault would conceal his intellectual
deficiencies. Mr. Hawkes Smith was known for his intrepid defence of
Robert Owen's social views, which sought the improvement of human
condition by human means. Mr. Wright had taught his pupils that all
opinion should be tested by reason, so we were uninfluenced by Dr.
Brindley, and as he defamed Mr. Hawkes Smith, whom we all had reason to
regard, many of us began to inquire into the validity of Mr. Owen's views,
tested by the light of reason and experience. It appeared to me that
the practical outcome of these Socialist views was to supersede the
coercion of wrongdoers by removing the causes which led to mischievous
action, and extinguish the ignorance which led to erroneous opinion.
A memorable passage of Coleridge, the greatest thinker among theologians
of his day, which described the quality of mind in this class of
Socialists, made a strong impression upon me. It was this—
"Accustomed to regard all the affairs of men as a process,
they never hurry, and they never pause. Theirs is not a twilight of
political knowledge which gives just light enough to place one foot before
the other: as they advance the scene still opens upon them. Convinced that
vice originates not in the man, but in the surrounding circumstances—not
in the heart, but in the understanding—they are hopeless concerning no
one. By endeavouring to alter the circumstances they would remove, or by
strengthening the intellect disarm temptation."
Afterwards I was induced to hear Robert Owen, who came to address his
partizans in Allison Street Rooms. Eventually I took part in discussions
there. Sometimes I selected the Evening Lessons and read them.
As I selected from various authors passages I cared for, and read them as
though I cared for the sentiments, it caused me to be frequently requested
to officiate in that way, and ultimately to give some short lectures.
In 1837, I went one night with Mr. Hollick to deliver an address in
Kidderminster, and slept at an inn where, the bed being over the brewery,
the steam came through the floor, and I remember being very damp in the
morning, but not being chilled I took no harm.
Never doubting that other persons had a right to differ from
me, it never entered my mind to resent it, but in the Brindley controversy
I found theological persons did resent difference from them. While
Mr. Hawkes Smith was delivering his lectures in defence of phrenology and
the influence of circumstance on character, Mr. Brindley twisted on his
seat, made faces as though he wished to divert attention from the
arguments of the speaker, and otherwise treated difference of opinion as a
defect of morality, without incurring the disapprobation of his Christian
supporters, which made me less proud than I had been to be counted on
their side. For myself I could hardly be said to differ from
anybody, but looked at things in my own way, and as I conceived no one to
be under obligation to take my view, I felt myself under no obligation to
take theirs. When, however, the conflicts mentioned subsided, it did
seem an obligation to improve the material condition of others, if it
could be done. This impression was confirmed in various ways, and
under the influence of incidents which I may elsewhere recount.
Thus, in addition to the persuasion I had of the usefulness of piety, was
added the conviction of the piety of usefulness.
Mr. Brindley had industry and tact, and was right in some ,of
his objections to Socialism. Had he been actuated by the desire of
directing those of that opinion wisely, and of making such intention felt,
he might have rendered service to them and the public.
SOMETIMES a man may engage in actual tragedies,
under a political despotism for instance, there being apparently to him no
other extrication from an unendurable state of things. He foresees
then what may come to him in consequence. In so far as he acts from a
clear sense of duty he casts his lot with uncertain Fortune, and does not
repine when it goes against him. To foresee, in the language of
"The block may soak your gore,
Your head may sodden in the sun; your limbs
Be strung to city gates and castle walls,"
is not a fine
outlook, nor a pleasant future to contemplate. It is all very grand
in the blank verse of Marino Faliero, but that mode of figuring on "castle
walls" is quite a different thing; especially if some critical historian
comes after you and gives it as his opinion that you did it all "for
Sometimes a man may step into what is of the nature of a
tragedy and not know it; or an event may come to him with death in its
coils, but which does not pass for tragedy because death plays only a
silent part in it. These affairs occur in daily life more frequently
than is thought, and it appears to me that there is no station in society
in which education in heroism or fortitude in youth may not be serviceable
in after life.
One day when I was eighteen, a young Lichfield girl came into
my workshop to speak to a relative—a relative by kindness rather than by
blood, as she was kinless. She had a gipsy kind of beauty, but with
an instinctive shyness not common with that tribe. As I looked up at
her, the sunlight was pouring into the place. As she stood between
two windows, she seemed transparent. The crimson rays seemed to pass
through her hands and face. Carbon dust was flying about, and most objects
were grim around, which perhaps rendered more notice able the ruddiness
and freshness of the girl. I had never seen, anything like it.
Little did I think that sight would never go out of my mind. For two
years I sought her company as a lover. Always diffident myself,
unless some sense of duty dissipated the feeling, I was a very unengaging
though not unpersistent suitor. No art or entreaty of mine ever won
her voluntary society for a single stroll. Partly from hopelessness
of success and partly from having been taught enough at the Mechanics'
Institution to make me aware how little I knew, I determined to give
myself to learning what I could for some time. That my desistance
from my suit might relieve the Zingara from the inconvenience of my
assiduities, I wrote to her and explained the resolution I had taken.
Unhappy hour when I sent that letter. I see every article in the room in
which I stood when I wrote it. No answer resulted, but two Sundays
later—the sun was again shining in the street—she came to the door of the
house where I was and asked for me, and, when I went there, she, scarcely
glancing at me, held out the open letter, let it drop from her hand, and
leaving it went away. She could not in words ask me to take it
back—but in this mute and maidenly way she did it—and I knew it, yet
feared and deferred to act upon the unforeseen signs. Impelled by
the fascination of a new misery which so often carries us along when we
cannot avert it, or fathom the future, I went out and walked in silence
by her side to the gate of the cottage where she resided. I never
saw her again until she was dying. Ambition, albeit not an unworthy one,
had hardened my mind, but not so as to make me insensible to the happiness
of another. The desire to know had not cast all other sentiments out
of my heart, and I was sorry I had formed my purpose. Had I known
what pain came to her by my act, I would not have done it. Had I
known the consequence, I would not have done it. My motive and
conduct were without the range of her knowledge, and no doubt appeared as
an excuse merely for concealing a changed interest in her. Yet so
far as I had known she had none in me, and probably she did not know it
either—until my parting letter reached her. Had I any knowledge of
the incertitude of a girl's heart, oft unknown to herself, I might have
won her consent to delay. But I had no experience, no skill.
Intellectual ignorance had become insupportable to me, yet I had in my own
mind only to make a sacrifice of pleasure for my own improvement—not
sacrifice another. No distinction to be won atones for that.
Had I been capable of reasoning upon my duty, I should have seen that,
since I had sought the girl's love, I was bound to regard it when I
discovered that I had succeeded. A small china, acorn-shaped jewel,
which belonged to her mother (to whom it was a fatal gift of love), was
given me after her death. I do not lose it. I do not look at
it. Busy streets now cover the site of sandhills and trees where I
had first seen her walk. Not far away still stands the fence of the
cottage garden where we last parted. But never more do I walk there.
After years of absence, my road may pass through the place. But no
lapse of time, nor day nor night, make any difference. As soon as I
am there, houses and streets and friends with me disappear as though they
were not, and the trees, sandbanks, the bright broad roadway, and sunshine
come back. The old cottage stands there again just as I saw it fifty
years ago, and the silent, tremulous, tearful little beauty is turning to
go in. Happy years of love have since succeeded. Remorse has
never mingled therewith, because there was no intention of wrong in my
mind. But the past is still a pain. At times I dream that I go
out to meet the winsome figure coming down a glade. The crimson
sunlight is again upon her. Darkness comes—a river is running at my
feet, and I cannot pass over it. I turn to seek means of crossing
it—and awake. We never meet. Another time I dream that my long
self-set task of study is accomplished. My heart is joyous, I walk
until I come in sight of a familiar cottage amid trees. I pass the
fence. I open the door. The fire is burning—the kettle is
singing—flowers are in the window. I enter—the chairs are all empty,
the little round table has nothing on it. She is in the next room. I
watch and wait for the opening of the door. I listen—there is no one
stirring nor rustle overhead. There is no voice. There is
nobody there. I understand it all—and awake, glad that my
imagination is touched with sympathy and not with guilt.
There are a class of tragedies which come to you and spread their shadows
about you in which you have no natural lot or part.
A pretty young girl was on a visit at my house, I having
often been the guest of her parents. A colleague of mine, oft
calling upon me, came thus to see her and conceived affection for her.
Soon after her return home, St. Valentine's Day came, when she received
one of that saint's missives—in this case an offensive little picture such
as silly persons oft delight to send at that time to annoy or mystify
young lovers. As it came from London, and no one there whom the
young girl knew of was likely to send her a valentine of any kind save my
friend, she unhappily concluded that it came from him. They were but
slightly acquainted, and, after the way of country girls, she probably had
misgivings as to whether her town admirer might not look down upon her.
She imagined the valentine was meant to deride her, and that she had been
played with, and imposed upon by insincere professions of regard. By
another post there came openly and avowedly a true valentine, which would
have charmed her exceedingly had she been able to believe in it.
Thinking it also had come from her double-minded suitor, she returned it.
While the propriety of doing so was being discussed, by her sisters, none
having discernment to doubt whether—both could have come from one who had
never been open to a suspicion of insincerity—one of the sisters in her
excitement upset the ink pot over the true valentine, and as it had been
determined to return it, it was returned in that state. Being
received by her lover again with this mark of indignity or neglect upon
it, he in his turn imagined he was indeed rejected. Before this
arrived, he had written to the young lady's father the kind of letter
which a gentleman unknown to him would write, giving him references, and
asking his permission to pay his addresses to his daughter, in whom he had
become interested during her visit to London. No answer ever came,
which confirmed him in his impression that the returned valentine implied
his dismissal. Thus correspondence ceased on both sides. A
month later the letter to the father came back to the lover. By a
fatal mischance, such as often waits on lovers, he had directed the letter
to the wrong town (to Manchester instead of to Sheffield), having no
familiarity with the parts where she lived, and it lay undelivered in the
Dead Letter Office until the Post Office returned it to the writer.
What happiness that letter would have brought to the household for which
it was intended had it been delivered! The returned valentine made
him hesitate what to do, and he did nothing.
Here was as pretty a dramatic combination of misadventures in
love as any one need wish to meet with; and if all ended here it was an
affair to laugh over. But, alas, there was death in it. Before
the day of unravelment came, opportunity occurred to my friend, the
mystified lover, to renew his acquaintance with another whose affection he
had once unsuccessfully sought. Some time after it came to pass that
I was again a guest in the house where lived my former visitor who
received the double valentines. I found the pretty flower of the
household drooping. The old brightness was dimmed, the old gaiety
had departed. It had then become known to them that the
mischief-making valentine had been the act of a silly phrenologist, who
had been a guest in the house, and who had sent it to London to be posted
there in order to perplex the recipient. That act killed the girl.
We wished that all the bumps of that idiotic phrenologist had been reduced
to powder, and scattered to the winds, before that trick got into his
spurious brains. A new embroglio followed in an unsuspected way.
To vindicate the sincerity of my London friend, and to show that when my
host's daughter was entrusted to my care she had not become acquainted
with one who was not a man of honour—I related to what effect he had
written to her father, and how his letter came back through misdirection.
This knowledge unhappily made the disappointment sharper and more real.
In the end I was asked to decide what should be done. Had I
possessed common sense, I should have made reply, saying, "It was
altogether an affair for the elders in Israel, and not for a young man
unskilled in affairs of this kind, where only experience could see its
way." It is clearly a fault to be ready to take other people's
troubles upon you and relieve them from the necessity of thinking for
themselves. As the unhappy acquaintanceship commenced when my host's
daughter was my guest, it appeared to me that I ought to do something to
amend matters, if that were possible. When I related to my friend in
London the facts, he very honourably said that, although his thoughts were
turned elsewhere, he would marry my visitor if I said he ought. I
conferred with her mother. Had I been called upon to solve a problem
in Euclid, I could have done it: but I had never had time to study the
casuistry of love, and had small skill therein. It seemed to me that
to offer the young thing a second-hand heart, which had been twice
enthralled by another, might prove hereafter an ill gift. A hand
tendered as it were by command and not spontaneously and gladly offered,
did that mean happiness in the future? Could a mother advise her
child to venture upon that? The child most concerned would say
nothing. Love is diffident and also proud, and will not ask what it
is ready to offer its life for if presented to it. This I did not
sufficiently understand. So it was agreed that the poor lost thing
had better forget her London love. Whether she could forget it was
quite another thing. If such a duty befell me again, I should put
very different questions from those I put then. Then I did not know
that an honourable man can find happiness in a marriage of duty, where he
is sure of abounding love for himself. My decision brought a new cloud
over my path. Long after I saw that I should not have accepted any
responsibility in the matter; that what I ought to have done was simply to
say to my friend, "Go and see the girl yourself. The decision lies
between yourselves." In an interview love and honour would find a
wiser issue than any philosophy or prudence could devise. During the
thirty years in which I have oft again been a visitor at the house of the
parents of the girl, the shadow of that death meets me at the fireside.
Over the mantlepiece hangs the pretty face which the grave has so long
held. The mother, whose force of character amounted to distinction,
speaks a few words in accents which no other sorrow ever extorts from her.
The mischievous knave who sent the fatal valentine what must he think, if
he has a nature to be pierced by remorse? My friend whose ill-fate
it was to come in the poor child's path, when he has walked the deck of a
Cape seaship at night, must oft have seen in the shrouds a sweet, slender
figure, with a sad, pale face, glide away as he looked up: and doubtless
he has many a time wandered in his dreams to a strange Hallamshire grave
where the young light of life was extinguished in a hapless and hopeless
Among her papers sent to me after her death are the following
verses. I possess them still. They are in her own hand
writing. They are probably a copy of lines which expressed only too
well her own feelings and fate. They were the last words she wrote:
"I've pressed my last kiss on thy brow,
I've breathed my last farewell,
And hushed within my breaking heart
The love I may not tell.
I sought to win thee for mine own,
To wear thee in my heart,
That dream is o'er—I leave thee now,
And bless thee as we part.
Thy low sweet tones are in my ear,
Where'er my footsteps roam,
And pleasant memories of the past
Will make my heart their home.
And when my bark, now passion-tossed
Upon life's wintry sea,
Shall sink beneath the stormy wave,
Wilt thou not weep for me?
Farewell! I may not pause to gaze
Into those eyes of thine—
Heaven spare thy heart the agony
That now is rending mine."
Afterwards nothing happened to soften the memory of the silent tragedy
which found its way to my hearth. In this world where real sorrow is
pretty copious and any one with susceptibility meets with more than
enough, few tragedies are worth the telling. Neither on the stage
nor in books is it often excusable to produce them. Were it not that
in the two instances given here the reader may learn some wisdom how to
act in like cases—wisdom hidden from the actors in them, and which, had it
been possessed by them, might have prevented the tragedies happening—I
would not relate them.
W. J. Linton
In 1850 commenced the People's Review, of which the illustrated
cover, printed in colours, was designed and its vignettes executed by
J. Linton, whose skilful and generous pencil was always at the service of
his friends. So far as I remember it was the first sixpenny review
issued. It was edited by "Friends of Order and Progress," and he of whom I
have spoken in the preceding narrative was one of the "Friends" who
joined me in conducting it. He afterwards became a recognized
journalist, and an authority in military literature of which he had then
no knowledge, which was entirely out of his experience, and for which we
did not suppose he had any taste, which speaks all the more for his
versatility, capacity, and powers of application.
Other experiences, tragical though unobtrusive, occur in a varying career,
without personal instruction in them, save so far as their relation
prevents others feeling surprise whom they may befall.
It will come to pass that what you most desire and have long
looked for, you never see. All the while it lies near you—by your
side. But a gossamer veil, a mere spider web, woven by the
imagination, so thin that you might blow it away if you thought to do
it—yet just enough to hide from you what your eyes covet to behold, and
you know it not. You maybe concerned in catastrophes which, like
storms that dash down sea walls, or like winds which rend forest trees,
spreading desolation around you, and yet they never disturb that fragile,
all-concealing veil. Oftener than the unreflecting or unsensitive
imagine this form of fate happens. Duty itself often subjects men to
this silent destiny, which requires as much heroism to confront as open
war, and more courage to endure than hostile defeat. I have seen
those who, on comprehending what had occurred to them, were never the same
afterwards. Pursuits of business, or pursuits of the mind, effaced
the sense of the loss for a time, but at the first disengaged interval it
recurred. It was as though a supernatural visitant stood always at
the door of the mind, and the moment it was, as it were, on the latch, it
was opened, and the visitant came in. When occupation again begins,
it seems to go out again. You bar the door, but you know it is still
standing there. In daily life, there are cries, though no sound is
heard by others; there are tragedies, though no one is observed to be
FOURTEEN NIGHTS WITH GEORGE COMBE.
FIFTY years ago morality seemed stagnant.
There were ripples of controversy on technical points in theology, and no
one threw any new light over the monotonous plain of orthodox thought,
when a work was announced entitled "The Constitution of Man," by George
Combe. It was welcomed among students as the new Gospel of Practical
Ethics. The title was one of promise, the style was clear, the
thought innovatory; it used accepted terms of theology, and endowed them
with modern significance. It based morality on natural law, and the
mind of no theologian remained the same after reading it. I felt as
much interest in seeing the author of "The Constitution of Man" as I
should in seeing the writer of the "Arabian Nights." One evening in
May, 1838, Mr. William Hawkes Smith, already mentioned, the chief advocate
of social thought in Birmingham, put into my hands the prospectus of a
course of "Fourteen Lectures on Phrenology, to be delivered by George
Combe, of Edinburgh, in the theatre of the Philosophical Institution."
I was told Mr. Combe wanted an assistant. Mr. Hawkes Smith having
made fruitless applications, applied to my class-mate, Frederick Hollick,
who had the brightest mind of any student in the Mechanics' Institution.
He, with a frugal insight of the ways of the world-supernatural compared
with mine—said, "Very well; but on what terms? Fourteen nights abstracted
from my studies will be a manifest loss." Mr. Smith, who had no
instruction as to "terms," shook his head, and said, "Well, I must try
To me he came. To speak of money in relation to the
author of "The Constitution of Man" seemed to me a desecration, and I at
once assented to be at his command. Hollick had learned that no
enthusiasm, however intense, could live upon nothing. He was, in
that respect, of the opinion of Falstaff. "There lies glory, but
here stand I," and had no taste for growing thin on praise. I had
watched the asteroids from the roof of the Eagle Foundry during cold
nights of November, from six in the evening to eight o'clock in the
morning—from Sunday to Wednesday, and no cessation of my daily work was
provided for. This I had done for the Philosophical Institution, and
thought myself rich in their vote of thanks (being philosophers, it did
not occur to them that anything else was necessary); while, out of my
small earnings, I paid for medicine for myself and a coadjutor whom I had
seduced into these profitless, perilous, nocturnal, cold-giving, but
delightful watchings. We all had several colds. Hollick was
one of the watchers, but he never more became my meteorological comrade.
My not hinting at payment was an advantage in Mr. Combe's eyes, being one
of those whom "in England, Ireland, Scotland, North America, and Germany"
he sought, as afterwards appeared.
On May 31, 1838, Mr. Hawkes Smith introduced me to Mr. Combe,
saying friendly words as to what he believed to be my intelligence and
fitness; whereupon I said, "These kindly assurances are not necessary in
Mr. Combe's case, as he, by a more certain process, can judge himself of
my suitability." Upon this I took off my hat (we were standing in
the doorway of the ante-room), Mr. Combe, smiling, passed his hand over my
head, and said he was "sure that I should suit him well." This being
settled scientifically, I appeared for fourteen nights in the lecture-room
as Mr. Combe's assistant. I was given to understand that the
lectures would occupy, as in Edinburgh, but one hour; but it happened
that, including attendance before and after the lectures, I was occupied
nearly four hours each night. In addition, I attended a short course
of morning manipulations. On the 5th of June he presented me with
his "Elements of Phrenology" (the 3s. 6d. edition, with an
autograph inscription), which I still possess. He said it would
better enable me to assist him. At the conclusion he presented me
with an old bust, by De Ville, with the nose broken off, which would not
go into his box, but which I valued, as coming from him, more than any
other bust with the nose on, and that would go into a box.
On the morning of his final departure from Birmingham for
America, I went down to the Philosophical Institution to bid him farewell,
and there witnessed, for the first time, one man kiss another.
Bally, who was formerly with Spurzheim, had come to Birmingham with Combe.
He seemed much attached to Mr. Combe, and always professed the highest
regard for him. They stood together in the passage of the
institution, when Bally, to my astonishment, and apparently to Mr. Combe's,
threw his arms round him as though he was going to carry him into the cab,
but instead of which he pressed his Swiss lips to Combe's orange cheeks,
and perpetrated a series of kisses. I, who was unacquainted with the
continental custom of men kissing each other, was confused and amazed.
Several of my personal friends had attended Mr. Combe's
lectures, and subscribed to the piece of plate presented to him at the
conclusion of the course. Some of them said, by way of curiosity,
"What did he give you for your services, Holyoake?" I answered,
"Nothing; I did not expect anything!" "That's strange," they said.
The Mechanics' Institution had, during four weeks, given up their usual
lecture nights for Mr. Combe's convenience, which induced them to think
they had some claim upon him for a lecture for the benefit of their
building fund. Mr. Combe declined to accede thereto. Mr. John
Lowther Murphy, a member of the committee, proposed to write to the
Birmingham Journal upon the subject, and asked me to do so too.
To this I objected, saying, "No man was to be censured for not being
generous." As Mr. Combe had carried away an excellent purse from
Birmingham, Mr. Hawkes Smith was induced by others to write to Mr. Combe
respecting me. Subsequently he told me that Mr. Combe had written
from Bristol to say "I had no claim upon him, and, moreover, that I had
imperfectly held up the casts in the lecture-room." That he should
assume I had no claim upon him I was content, but to say I had assisted
him badly I thought mean; and, besides, it was not true; for at parting he
distinctly assured me that I "had suited him well." I consulted my
tutor, Mr. Wright, who said, "Send a letter to Mr. Combe, and put yourself
right with him." In the meantime, Mr. Combe had gone to America.
Mr. Vallance, a young merchant who was cognizant of the whole transaction,
volunteered to take my letter to Mr. Combe, and, finding him at Boston,
stepped up to him one night after a lecture, saying he "was the bearer of
a letter from Mr. Holyoake, of Birmingham, who would be glad of a reply
The letter stated in respectful terms that "his complaint of
the nature of my service came very late, as, had he made intimation of it
earlier in the fourteen nights during which I had served him, he would not
have seen any more of me. As his disparagement was not consistent
with what he had said to me on leaving, I was anxious to assure him that I
had never applied for remuneration, directly or indirectly, or complained
to any one of not having received any. It was some of his own
friends who thought I had a right to some payment." It was eight
years before I received any reply to my letter.
All that time I carried a copy of the letter about with me,
intending to re-deliver it myself if I should fall in with Mr. Combe.
It was Wednesday, January 7, 1846, before this happened. Being then
in Glasgow, I found that Dr. Andrew Combe was to deliver the inaugural
address of the Chair of Phrenology which he had founded in the Andersonian
University. As Dr. Combe was in declining health, the probability
was that his brother would officiate in his place; and so it proved.
The theatre of the Andersonian University is, as much as need be, like an
oven in appearance, and when filled it has the other quality of being an
oven in fact. Nevertheless, I was in that oven on that day. In
those days, most young men who read outside the Bible had some passage of
Byron in their minds. One that had impressed me began
"It we do but watch the hour
There never yet was human power”—
evade those who had persistence enough to wait and watch. At the
precise moment announced, my identical long sought friend George Combe
walked on to the platform. At the conclusion of his address I went
down to him and said, "Mr. Combe, you will remember me as Mr. Holyoake,
who assisted you during your lectures in Birmingham. I have a letter
to give you, which I have waited eight years for an opportunity of putting
into your hands. You will oblige me by an answer." He knew my
voice again; he took my letter with the air of a man who had an
inconvenient recollection awakened. He did reply on the 13th, in
which he said that "in the whole course of his experience in lecturing in
England, Ireland, Scotland, North America, and Germany, I was the only
assistant who ever hinted that he expected any pecuniary remuneration."
As I never had "hinted" this, and the letter before him expressly said so,
Mr. Combe was plainly in error. He had probably overlooked my
disclaimer. He added, "No one who does not interest himself in the
work so as to consider it an advantage to himself to execute it, makes a
desirable assistant to a lecturer on phrenology." But where the
assisted gains and the assister loses, participation in equity were not
unseemly. There must, therefore, be an organ in "desirable" young
men which Mr. Combe had not put in his craniological map, namely, the
organ of assist-for-nothingness. Mr. Combe further said that "the
events of my connection with him he could not recall at that distance of
time, and if he unsaid anything he had said, it would be contradicting
himself without any consciousness of being in error; but he assured me
sincerely nothing remained in his recollection the least injurious to me
as having occurred at the lectures." There ended the matter, as that
assurance was satisfactory. In acknowledging his letter, I expressed
my appreciation of his efforts on behalf of phrenological philosophy,
which threw a new light on human character, in which every man was
interested, and by which every man was advantaged. An extract from a
diary which I kept in those days shows what took place between me and Mr.
Combe at the time of his lectures in Birmingham.
"Attended on Mr. Combe. After his lecture I showed him the book of
Euclid which I had written out, with the diagrams which I had made with
sheet iron compasses of my own construction, and also some propositions of
my own which I deduced and demonstrated from Euclid. He said 'they
were highly creditable to me and neatly done, and that to comprehend all
the parts of a complicated proposition I must have a strong organ of form.
Those,' he said, 'who were deficient in form could take in only a part of
a diagram at a time, and while doing that forgot the other.' 'Size,' he
said, 'enabled me to determine what space to allot to a diagram, and to
adopt that size of letter in writing which made it possible for me to say
what I had to say in the space available.' This has always been easy to
me. 'Individuality,' he said, 'gave the power to recollect the parts
and references in propositions.' He added that 'I had causality
considerable,' and explained to me 'what organs were necessary in
mathematics, geometry, and arithmetic.' On another evening, when attending
him in the anteroom before the lecture, as he selected the different busts
he wanted me to produce to the audience, he explained to me why
phrenologists declined to discuss with opponents. 'If,' said he, 'a
man were to ask, Have you a nose on your face? what should you say? Why,
look. So it is with phrenology—it is founded on facts. We say
to opponents, Look to these facts. I never ask any one to believe
phrenology. I tell what it is, and people may do as they please
about believing it. Discussion can establish no fact; observation
must do this."'
I always counted these conversations as an advantage to me.
At that time, phrenology being new, it was a subject of much
interest to myself, Dr. Hollick, and other fellow-students, and we
procured the heads of animals in order to acquire definite ideas of
craniology. Wishing to verify what I could, I had asked Mr. Combe
questions concerning myself. He said "I was of the Nervous Lymphatic
Temperament" (it would have been better for my peace had I been more
lymphatic), and that I "had the organs of Locality large." Up to
that time I found my way about very well by observation, but afterwards,
trusting to Mr. Combe's assurance that I had Locality, I ordinarily took
the wrong road.
My estimate of Mr. Combe has never changed—that he was the
greatest expositor of phrenology who has arisen. He did for it what
Dr. Paley did for theology by his design argument; but Combe, no more than
Paley, invented his argument, and both would have stood higher in the
estimation of their readers had they owned what they owed to their
predecessors. Many adversaries never gave Combe credit for the
merits he had, because he concealed his obligations to the more original
minds of Spurzheim and Gall.
IN SEARCH OF MONSIEUR BALLY.
MONSIEUR BALLY, who had been
cast maker to Spurzheim, whom I last mentioned as kissing Mr. Combe,
became friendly to me after the great phrenologist had left the town.
The human face, like a principle, is fair or dubious on a first
inspection. In Monsieur Bally's there was a certain mixture of the
bland and the equivocal. I became acquainted with him as men do with
a razor, gradually and cautiously, and in the end the usual accident with
razors befell me—I was cut by him.
Job did not see his famous apparition more indelibly than I
still see Monsieur Bally, as he first walked up the right-hand side of the
laboratory in Cannon Street. I could tell the texture of his hair,
and the length of his eyebrows—where his coat wanted "nap," and where it
wanted brushing; for daily contact with plaster used to leave white marks
visible, and M. Bally, devoted to his profession, seemed unconscious
of what ought to follow, viz., the brushing.
No sooner was Mr. Combe gone, than I was given to understand
by my new friend, Bally, that he intended a longer stay, and proposed
doing a little business in making busts and casts, could he and the person
in want of such things be brought together. To this end I was to
promote a knowledge of his wishes and abilities among all likely persons
to whom, directly or indirectly, I had access. My kind friend, Dr.
Ick, curator of the Philosophical Institution, to whom belonged the
distinction of being the philosopher among the philosophicals, assisted me
with addresses. In this way Miss Louisa Anne Twamley, the
bright-eyed authoress of the "Banks of the Wye," was, among others,
induced to call on M. Bally and favour him with a sitting.
It may be that my services in the way of inquiry and
recommendation (for Bally was not without ability, which recommended
itself) were of little value to my friend of the casts, but he chose to
stimulate my zeal by promising to take my own cast by way of reward.
I thought M. Bally a very obliging man, and published his professional
skill far and wide.
At last the auspicious morning arrived when I was to be
immortalized in plaster. My hair was combed in appropriate order—I
had put on our best family face, for my ancestors had pride of race.
At last the factory bell rang nine—between that and ten breakfast had to
be eaten, Bally to be visited, and the cast to be taken. But
breakfast that morning took little time. I soon left the Old Wharf
wall (above which the Foundry stood), vaulted along Paradise Street (I
still speak of Birmingham), and by a quarter past nine I was in Upper
Temple Street at M. Bally’s door. A ring of the bell brought a maid
down, who informed me that "M. Bally had gone to Manchester the day
When the door was closed I sat down on the step. I had
made no bargain with Bally. I never made a bargain with anybody, but
simply believed those who made one with me. When I comprehended,
though outside, how completely I was "taken in," I returned to my work,
when the anodyne-toned "Never mind, George," of my father dispelled my
disappointment, and set me laughing at my credulity, without forgetting
it, and made reflections in my crude way, how a small breach of faith on
the part of a man may sow distrust in the mind of a youth. It was an
inextinguishable instinct with me that, if a thing was wrong, it ought to
be put right, and the wrong never passed out of my mind until the
opportunity came of resenting or rectifying it. Many times have I
been sorry that I had this quality of mind. It has been the source
of loss and peril to me. At that time, however, it seemed a duty to
me not to pass injustice over. I still think so, though I have a
clearer conception of the consequences. Therefore, to find out M.
Bally and give him to understand that I understood his peculiar mode of
business, became an object with me. Some time after I became unwell,
mainly through too little sleep. In addition to being early at work
and late at night at classes, I and three fellow-students sat up one night
a week with our books. This was sheer foolishness, since the
physical power of learning was decreased by it. The physiology of
thought was unknown to us. My medicine man, as the Indians call him,
advised a few weeks' travel on foot. This mode of travel suited my
means, and I set out, taking the way which led through Manchester, though
I knew it was not the city of recreation; but I thought thereby I might
fall in with my old friend the professor of plaster casts. Day by
day, as I proceeded on my valetudinarian way, I was cheered by this hope.
Several days were spent in passing through Burton, Derby, Matlock, and
Buxton. The memory of my first night in Manchester still remains
with me. Fever and delirium came and whirled the room round where I
lay on a bed, kindly made for me on the floor in a Socialist's house, amid
bales of broadcloth: The next morning I wandered down to King Street,
where, with better success than in Birmingham, I asked for M. Bally.
"Mon Dieu! Meester Holihoke,"—so far as at this distance of time I
can reproduce his manner of speaking—exclaimed the man of busts, as, he
saw me enter his room. "Mon Dieu, Meester Bally," I replied, "it is
very proper we should meet once more." "Vell, really, you see
I couldn't. I vent away. I didn't intend—I meant—" M. Bally
replied, with other inconclusive sentences. "Ah, Mr. Bally," I
added, "never mind. If you thought me too unimportant a person to
keep a promise to, you should have thought me too unimportant to make me
one. How is a young man to learn lessons of good faith if his elders
do not teach them? It was not right to do what you have, and to tell
you so was all I came for. I wish no more, except that I wish you
good-morning." That evasive Swiss I never saw more.
A TOUR ON FOOT.
MY early religious impressions were waning, yet I
had set out on my travels very much in the state of the apostles, who
carried neither purse nor scrip. The state of my purse was like Mr.
Spurgeon's chapel funds—a subject for prayer. It contained but five
sovereigns for a five weeks' tour. Yet, without making any addition
to it, several shillings remained on my return. My object was to go
to the Isle of Man, as I could see the sea there.
Many incidents of the journey still enrich my memory.
As they might not equally interest the reader, I pass them over. An
old pocket map of the main roads of England was my guide. Railways
had not then intersected the country, and a map of 1780 was still of use
to a pedestrian in 1838. Besides, as every road was of interest to
me, it did not matter whether there was a nearer one. Columbus was
not more enchanted at seeing new lands than I was at seeing new places.
Often I wished I had been born a geographer with a mission to make a map
of the world and see it first. When I arrived at Matlock in
Derbyshire, it was the time of the wakes. Having engaged a bed at a
large inn, about ten o'clock I asked to be shown to my room. The
pressure of custom was given as an excuse for delay. At twelve
o'clock, thinking the delay had lasted long enough, I repeated my request,
when I was told that, by reason of demands upon them, owing to the wake,
no bed remained at their disposal, and that I must seek one elsewhere.
Upon this I offered to sleep on a bench in one of the rooms. Being
refused, I remonstrated, saying they had no right, after contract made, to
turn out a traveller and a stranger into the streets at midnight, where he
knew no one, nor the road to another inn. As they had kept me four
hours in the house under promise of a bed, until it was too late to expect
that any other inn was open, I demanded the name of the nearest
magistrate, whom I would call up and claim his interference. They
professed ignorance of his name, and I had to take my knapsack and go out
into the street, which was then very dark. Unable to discover any
house open, or find any one to direct me, there seemed no prospect of
shelter, when, coming upon a young woman parting from her lover, I
appealed to them—to her chiefly, a woman having quicker sympathy for a
stranger in need than a man. On her instigation "Alfred" bethought
himself that down a near lane there was a small public-house still open.
It proved to be full of wake revellers and a young fiddler playing for
dancers. The mistress was a compassionate person, who said they had
but one spare bed, which was reserved for the fiddler, but if he was
willing I might share it. He was a pleasant youth of my own age,
who, being conciliated by a glass of ale, agreed to the arrangement,
provided I would wait until the dancing was over. This did not
happen until three o'clock in the morning. As the bed only
accommodated one, and being anxious not to incommode him, I slept on the
edge, where I was so delicately poised that a dream on the wrong side of
my head would have destroyed my balance. A lecture at the Mechanics'
Institution on the then new theory of the "Duality of the Brain," which I
had recently heard, put this conceit into my mind. In the morning,
finding my friend had a reading disposition, I gave him some numbers of
the Penny Magazine, which I had with me, the illustrations of which were
new to him, as he appeared never to have seen a paper with pictures.
They proved as valuable as glass beads in dealing with Indians. He
declared them a sufficient reward for his accommodation, as he had
incurred no expense on my account—at which I was very glad, as it left my
limited purse undiminished.
The cliffs, dells, and surprising scenery of Derbyshire, of
which I had no previous idea, delighted me. Stale, flat, and
commonplace was the district in which I had lived, compared with the
scenes amid which I now wandered. No bridge, no stream, no mountain,
no castle, no battle-ground, no spot of historic beauty, had hitherto met
my sight. Over the foundry walls where I worked had come gleams of
the sun, which had made me long to see the outlying world on which it
shone unconfined. Now I was in that world: happy days were those,
for my heart was as light as my purse!
Buxton, though then in its infancy compared with its present
attractions, was marvellous in my eyes. Whenever I could I lodged in
cottages, as I was not obliged to buy beer "for the good of the house,"
and a basin of milk was cheaper and served for the third meal of the day.
A pale-faced young traveller, of unforbidding aspect and his head full of
town ideas, was—when there were no penny papers to give news—sometimes as
welcome in English country places as a New York "prospector" at a prairie
farm in the Far West. I found it so. Often the husband would
sit up until a late hour conversing. Sometimes I thought the
cottagers regarded me as a pedlar of news, since they made me only very
moderate charges for my night's accommodation. Breakfast I never
took, under pretext that I had to be early on my way, and for twopence I
could buy on the wayside what was sufficient for me.
It was a surprise to me to find myself often taken to be a
foreigner. It might be from my peculiar voice, or from my freedom of
manner and speech. Most English persons go without information
rather than ask it of strangers. With what civility was possible to
me I asked it at once of any one at hand, and entered into conversation
with any one whom I thought would speak again, and, if doubtful whether
they would, I tried it. Thus, many hours which otherwise had been
dull became bright, and myself better informed. Professing to know
but little (which was more true than was thought), and saying I was one of
the few persons extant who was without any conviction of his own
infallibility—often gave persons good heart to tell me what they knew.
Any interest in my conversation was owing to my having been a teacher of
others—in Sunday School and classes—what little I knew best I had mostly
learned myself: and as I had enthusiasm in describing the stages through
which my own dulness had passed, I acquired confidence, and imparted it.
At length one Sunday at noon I entered Manchester, with no
little astonishment at its extent, its mills, its buildings, and its
incessant streets. I found my way to the pretty little Social
Institute which I knew existed in Salford, where I should meet some
friends familiar with my name, as it had been mentioned in the New Moral
World, read there. Not long before, James Morrison had died.
He was the first editor of ability and enthusiasm the Trades Unionists
had. His paper, the Pioneer, was friendly to co-operation. His
widow, a pleasant little person, was mistress of the tea-parties at the
Salford Institute, where I spent the remainder of the day very happily,
and heard the afternoon and evening lectures. There I first met
Joseph Smith, whose zeal had built the hall, and who forty-six years later
died of sudden pleasure at Wissahickon, near Philadelphia, on reading an
account I had written of him in the History of Co-operation in England,
when he thought himself forgotten. But of him mention may be made
Of course, as already related, I spent the first morning in
Manchester in paying an unlooked-for visit to my absconding friend, Bally,
of whom the reader has heard.
It was from regard to my purse that I rose at four o'clock on
my last morning in Manchester, to go by the early boat down the
Bridgewater Canal to Liverpool. The canal, however, had charms of
its own for me, and I much desired to be upon it, as I had often coveted
the life of a boat-boy who went through romantic scenery and by strange
towns, day and night.
After enchanted days in Liverpool among ships—never having
seen any before—I one morning stepped into a small steamer going to the
Isle of Man. John Green, a Social missionary stationed in the town
(and who was afterwards cut into two parts on a New York railway), came
down to the quayside to see me. He had heard of me as a young
speaker on the same side as himself. Not knowing me, and learning I
was leaving by that boat, he called from the quayside, "Holyoake,
Holyoake!" I remember I was as much startled at hearing my name as
Robinson Crusoe was when the parrot first called out his. Never
being a traveller before, I felt on the vessel like a stranger in a new
country—if the sea-coast can be considered a country. On the way to
the Isle of Man we had bad weather, and were hours going over. An
old lady died from fright or sickness on the passage. She was
covered over with tarpaulin, to prevent lady passengers being further
affrighted. In the Isle of Man I came to know the pleasant editor of
the Manx Herald, who invited me to write him a letter concerning
the Birmingham Mechanics' Institution. It was my first letter to a
newspaper. There seemed to be little money at the office, and I was
paid for my contribution by a roast chicken and a pint bottle of port
wine. It is natural I should remember this, for I have since made
many contributions to papers for which I should have been glad to be
requited as I was in that honest island. I spent a pleasant week in
Douglas, where fish and eggs were then marvellously cheap. My
landlady would often cook me five small fish, when I asked only for three.
She said fish did not count in Douglas.
On my return to England I wandered through North Wales, and
arrived at the slate quarries in the neighbourhood of Llanberis on a
Sunday morning. At a house at which I inquired my way, a little
girl, about six years of age, who had died, was about to be carried to the
church at the foot of Snowdon. That being my destination I asked
leave to accompany the funeral party. To my surprise the coffin
consisted merely of a long narrow box with a long rope loop on either
side, which two active Welsh girls took hold of, and rapidly descended the
mountain side, the coffin swinging between them. Half a dozen
relatives of the poor child made the procession. As the distance was
two or three miles, and the sun hot, the fatigue of the journey was beyond
my expectation. The girls leaped like goats from boulder to boulder
as they descended to the valley. With my knapsack and overcoat I
found it no easy task to keep up with them, but as I could discern no path
among the slate quarries, I was compelled to keep them in sight.
When we reached the old church it was an hour before the time when the
clergyman was expected. I examined the church, and stepped into the
pulpit—much to the surprise of the mourners—to look at the Welsh Bible, as
I had never seen one. That night I slept at the inn at the foot of
Snowdon, and when in bed smoked a portion of a cigar for the first time.
My reason was, having been told it might make me giddy, I thought falling
would be impossible in bed. That night I slept well, and remained in
bed twelve hours. For months I had not been able to lie there six.
Though I ascribed the effect to the cigar, the probability was that my
violent exertions in keeping up with the funeral party had more to do with
The next morning I went to Bettws-y-Coed. On my way
over the mountain I walked through a cloud charged with snow, which, as I
had never been in one before, interested me very much. Afterwards, I
fell in with a party of four persons—a man and his wife, a young girl and
her father—walking leisurely along. The men told me they were
tailors from Coventry, who each year made an excursion in that way through
some part of England they had not seen. They had saved a little
money for the purpose, which seemed to me a very wholesome and intelligent
thing to do, and deserved imitation by more people of that occupation.
As I wished for company, and they some variety of conversation, it was
agreed that I should travel with them, paying one-fifth of the travelling
expenses, which I had previously ascertained were small. Their plan
was to lunch at an inn door at mid-day on bread and cheese and a little
ale. The little enterprising wife would visit some farmhouse on the
way and buy a pullet, a piece of bacon, and vegetables. These the
strongest man of the party, who was short and robust, carried in a carpet
bag. When the days walking was completed and roadside spots of
interest visited, a quiet picturesque inn was selected, where, for a small
payment, we had the use of the kitchen fire, when the wife and daughter of
the party prepared a meal and made a cheaper bargain for the night by
engaging beds for the whole five. Setting out in the early morning,
buying a loaf and butter on our way, we made in due time a repast under a
tree, after obtaining warm milk from a farmhouse; and so we travelled many
days with much pleasure and economy.
While we were together the conversation fell mostly to me.
My companions were all religious, as that term was then understood—and
knew nothing else. They had heard only preachers of their own sect,
and were not connoisseurs even in sermons. Then I became sensible,
as I had never been before, of the advantage of going ever so little
outside the circumscribed and monotonous area of evangelical theology.
The literature of the human world had princely ideas which I found would
come and dwell with whoever would receive them: and that even the poorest
person might keep an open mind, hospitable as a baronial hall, where
kingliest thoughts of genius would visit and stay, so long as they were
welcome, and even attend their entertainer as a lordly retinue whenever he
went abroad. True, I had few of these retainers with me, but what I
had I was pleased to show and my companions pleased to see—judging from
When we parted, it was with the hope that we might meet again
in the same way. Before ending my travels, I went to Boscobel to see
the oak in which Charles II. was said to have hidden from his
pursuers—though history has never explained that the nation had any
advantage in his escaping or returning. I arrived in Birmingham
after nearly six weeks' absence, much refreshed and instructed by my first
adventure into the outer world.
Now I had seen the mountains where Nature keeps an outlook on
her dominions, hamlets sleeping in their morning beauty, and incessant
towns where nothing is still. I had seen even the bewitching peace
of the sea and had been on it when it was roused to imperious resentment
by the irresponsible and ruffianly winds. No more did I believe in
the predictions that monotony would prevail as civilization extended.
What I had seen convinced me that not even ignorance could repress the
resilient diversity of humanity, and that new knowledge infinitely
PARTNERSHIP IN PROPAGANDISM.
A LIFE of a propagandist I do not remember ever to
have seen. Some wiser person than myself may one day write such a
life. There are unobserved tragedies in propagandism as moving as
any which befall better understood adventures of romantic war. To be
married to ideas interferes with the felicities of the other kind of
marriage, which men value. The world has seen two famous
philosophers, Mill and Carlyle, write impassioned praise of their wives:
In Mill it was gratitude—in Carlyle, remorse. John Stuart Mill was
married to ideas, and the impassioned eulogy he wrote upon Mrs. Mill,
after her death, reads like the cry of regret as well as of love.
She deserved regard, inasmuch that she knew his chief life was in his
ideas, and was intelligently content with such attentions as befell her,
when leisure came to him. When her loss made him sensible of her
fine devotion, his affection became conscious to him. It was so with
Carlyle. His wife married him from pride in his genius, but
afterwards she pined for attentions which he, engrossed in his great
thoughts, never paused to give. When he came to read her letters
after her death, his heart awoke, and he made what reparation he could by
justly directing the publication of her letters—although they told against
There is no comparison between myself and these eminent
propagandists whom I have named—nor do I intend to suggest it, save in the
sense that private soldiers share the perils of the war of ideas as well
as the generals. That is all I mean to imply. My acquaintance
with my future wife was when she lived in the house of the chief Unitarian
bookseller in Birmingham, James Belcher, whose father had been imprisoned
in Warwick Gaol in Dr. Priestley's days for selling heterodox works,
political and religious. The favourite publication of the young
"person" (to use Mill's term) here referred to, was Chambers's Journal.
It implied a native human taste to like the practical human knowledge of
the affairs of this life, in one who had been a chorister girl in
Wordesley Church, where the teaching was unearthly and unuseful.
We were married in 1839, at the office of my townsman William
Pare, Registrar. I took care to explain beforehand to her whom it
most concerned, that I had enlisted in the Order of Industry, which did
little for its recruits. Yet to try to improve the fortunes of that
order was to be my lot, and I could no more be counted upon at home than
the sailor or soldier; and that my means would be as uncertain as duty.
We neither of us knew all that sort of compact meant. During forty
years, she neither uttered nor thought a reproach, though imprisonment,
want, and death to her child came of it. She was herself a soldier's
daughter, and had the courage of one. She met a calamity as a
soldier meets a shot. If I repeated Lord Bacon's saying, "He who
marries gives hostages to fortune that he will never do anything great,"
she would say, "We may not do great things, but we can do honest ones.
Do what you think right, and never mind me:" At no time did I inquire what
her opinions were on theological subjects, nor interrogate my children
thereupon, but wished them to form their own opinions; only counselling
them to acquaint themselves with both sides of every question interesting
to them, and to have clear grounds for their conclusions. My
propagandism consisted in explaining things—never in persuading, since the
responsibility of holding opinions belonged to those who accepted them.
My own opinion was not concealed, for I always distrusted and often
conceived contempt for the silent, whose philosophical impartiality ended
in concealing their own thoughts. My doctrine was that decision
should be made on the fullest knowledge obtainable: the duty of choice
belonged to those who were to be answerable for the opinions entertained.
My wife had a way of speaking and writing more clear, simple,
and compact than mine, by which I was instructed. My tendency and my
fault were to say too-much about everything, whereas she would express
spontaneously in a few words all that the occasion required. I could
not by art attain what she attained without it. A "bit of her mind"
was always worth having. Like a piece of malachite, the whole quarry
was the same, and all good. But praise is vain without some
illustration which enables the reader to test it. It was in
impromptu decisions in which she excelled. Of examples of her
writing, two instances are at hand-written when she was a very young
woman, and not known to me until many years after. The first is a
letter to my sister Caroline:—
"As to the famine, on account of which a fast is ordered, I am disposed to
think that by the time it reaches her Majesty, there will be other means
resorted to for its removal than praying, and more honest and manly means
might be resorted to on the present occasion. I question whether the
famine much affects the landowners. Why not allow the land to be
cultivated for the support of poor wretches who are suffering instead of
idly praying? It does not say much for the humanity of the Being the
people are directed to call upon, if the sight of their misery does not
elicit His attention without a formal prayer. I fear the fast is
only a deceitful way of pacifying hunger, fearing that hunger may induce
the hungry to eat food where they find it. I cannot think that any
humane being would inflict more misery on the poor than they already
suffer. It puzzles me to make out what men are educated for, or what
they do with their philosophy. Do men call upon the Supreme Being to
build houses for them when they fall? When suffering from ill-health, they
try to find out a remedy—they do not trust to prayer alone. It is
very odd people are always talking of the wisdom and goodness of God, and
yet they cannot trust His wisdom and goodness. Most assuredly we
never trust those we have no confidence in."
citation is a note on Harriet Martineau's "Household Education":—
"We often speak
about a very important part of our character—honesty; but, I think, seldom
look at the subject fairly, for, when we come to scrutinize the matter, we
often find ourselves anxious to fulfil every obligation, not merely money
matters alone—yet very often one very important feature of honesty we are
not equal to, which, I think, a great weakness—that is, demanding with the
same firmness what is due to us. That, I think, requires
considerable moral courage, which, in justice to ourselves as well as to
other persons, we ought to cultivate, and not trust to our silently
wishing that other persons should fulfil their engagements as punctually
Of Madeline, our first daughter, who perished during my imprisonment, I
speak in another chapter. Max, our boy of nine years, was killed by
a cabman who ran over him at the corner of Tavistock Street, Tavistock
Square, when Professor F. D. Maurice lived there. A gentleman whose
name I never knew carried him tenderly to University College Hospital.
His own clothes were spoiled by the blood. I could never learn who
he was to thank him for all that kindness. At the inquest I was
allowed to make a statement as to the recklessness of the cabman who
killed him, but was told that I could not give evidence against him, as I
was unable to take the oath. Max's favourite hand-brush and toys
were put in his coffin with him. In the grave of Peruvian women a
fan is sometimes found in their hands, and the faded feathers of parrots
and humming-birds. The graves of children oft contain a girl's
workbox or a boy's sling. We buried the poor fellow like a little
Peruvian. My friend, Mr. C. D. Collet, sang over his grave Miss
Martineau's fine hymn, beginning:—
"Beneath this starry arch,
Nought resteth or is still:
And all things have their march
As if—by one great will,
Moves one, move all.
Hark! to the footfall!
On bringing to my wife's table any one with whom I intended to act, she
would predict what I had to expect. "While you are near to revise
his acts, you will have a good assistant in such a one," she would say,
"but if left to his own responsibility he will fail you." Of another
she would say, "You will have a good colleague in him; but unless you are
prepared to abdicate your own opinion in all things, when you differ from
him, you will have an enemy." When I was not able to accept her
judgment I had reason afterwards to regret it.
Great pleasure was possible in the household with her,
because she had the elementary sense of taste—though not acquired in the
schools. Her preference was for one or two things of real worth and
beauty; she was impatient of a crowd of commonplace objects, which infect
as well as occupy the space in which alone things of beauty can be seen or
To the reader who thinks the writer dwells too long on this
subject he apologizes in the lines of the poet:—
"... Those who living filled the smallest
In death have often left the greatest void.
When from his dazzling sphere the mighty falls,
Men, proud of showing interest in his fate,
Run to each other, and with oaths protest
How wretched and how desolate they are.
The good depart, and silent are the good."
Mrs. Holyoake died at Brighton, 1884. For nearly eighteen
years she had resided in Sudbury, Harrow-on-the-Hill. Always loving
the country and flowers, her little garden was bright with them earlier
and later than her neighbours'. In the last days of her illness,
valued words of sympathy came to her from Lady Tennyson.
We brought Mrs. Holyoake to Highgate, to sleep in the
grave with her son Maximilian.
In an undefined way she considered herself a Churchwoman, and
would have been definitely so, had the nobler form of Theism, which the
Rev. Stopford A. Brooke holds, been recognized in her early days. I
could think of no other clergyman for whom I had so much regard, and whose
presence at her grave would give so much satisfaction to her, and I
therefore asked him to do me the great favour of conducting such service
as he might see fit in the chapel.
Mr. Brooke sent a letter which in its generous consideration
and sympathy was of the nature of a service:—
"January 15, 1884.
am very sorry—for I should have liked to have done this—that I cannot come
on Wednesday. I have a close engagement which I cannot get rid of; a
special business which must be done that day. I wish I could have
known of your desire earlier, but now it is too late. I am very
sorry for your loss. It is a very grievous thing, as I know full
well, to part with one who has slept at one's side for years, and been at
home with one's heart. There is nothing which fills that
relationship; and I feel a heartfelt grief for you. But you have
work to do, which, as I think, will still be loved by her, and still
sympathized with by her; and work heals enough of the heart to make life
possible, though nothing heals it altogether. Loss is loss, let men
say what they will.
"I wish I could see you now and again. When you come up to London,
let me know. I have never forgotten my talks with you. Yours
"S. A. BROOKE."
Thus it fell to me to speak at her grave. What I said follows.
The only public wish I knew her to have was that some one
should say a few words at her grave as it had been my custom to do often
at the graves of others.
I read the remarkable conversation between the angel Uriel
and the prophet Esdras, whom the angel rebukes for his discontent at not
knowing the secrets of the Most High when he had not comprehended that
which passed before him in daily life. Then the prophet with
instructed sense was content to ask for understanding of that which most
concerned him to know.
This was the measure of her unformulated reverence and
conviction—willing to know what could be known, but always acting on what
could be understood. Simplicity, directness, and unaffectedness were
preferences of hers. Show in speech, like show in life, seemed to
her want of taste. She had three qualities beyond most
women—service, truth, and pride. Such was the spontaneity of her
sense of service of others, that she never thought of herself, which was a
misfortune in one sense, since it is a kindness which is blindness, as it
must involve others in cares. Yet without some of this
self-abnegation in women public affairs could never be attended to by men.
The truth she cared for was not only of speech but of conduct—the only
form of truth which can be trusted. Of this she had so clear a sense
that the absence of it in others was not concealable from her. Her
pride was more than self-respect: it was debtlessness, an independence of
obligation, which was not a second nature, it was her first, and she had
had no other. In the days when our income was the least and most
precarious, she never had even a small debt. It was not conceivable
by her that I should stand on a platform and speak of political, social,
or religious reform, and owe people money. When it was clear that
the end of all things to her was at hand, her last inquiry was whether I
had paid some small accounts due at Harrow. I had done so, and
afterwards I pensioned her cat, and kept up the small annual gifts she was
accustomed to make. The lines of my friend, Mr. Percy Greg, are her
"The martyr's cross, without the martyr's cause,
The grief, the wrong, without the self-applause,
The homely round of duties nobly done:
These were her life, who sleeps beneath this stone."
THE INSURGENT AFFAIR IN THE BULL RING, BIRMINGHAM.
THE first insurgent affair of which I was a witness,
and if not an actor a sympathizer, was in the Birmingham Bull Ring.
When the middle class had got their £10 franchise, they did
not see what the working class wanted with votes. The Whigs had no
sympathies for and the Tories had active dislike of the poor Chartists,
and described their unfriended, indigent, and generous advocates as "hired
orators." Harmless meetings were held nightly around the Nelson
Monument. The "Friends of the People," as they called themselves
after the manner of Marat, were listened to with greedy ears. The
wilder the speeches the more they were applauded—because their
extravagance implied sympathy and indignation. Despair was diffused
like a pestilence. Invasion itself would have excited acquiescence.
As the Berlinese cheered the arrival of the first Napoleon, Birmingham
would have welcomed invaders, if they came in the disguise of deliverers.
In any change of masters there was hope, since the prospects
of the working class could not, it was thought, be worse. Not the
ignorant alone, but educated men, then and since, were of the same way of
thinking, and said so. Then fairness was regarded as feebleness.
There was nothing too mad to be believed, nothing too malignant to be
said, and that not of alien rule, but of a class in the same town.
Hundreds made arms secretly. Those who had no better weapons
sharpened an old file and stuck it in a haft. I saw many such.
A dozen gentlemen in the town, who had sympathy with the just discontent
of the people, could have kept the peace with applause. The sapient
and contemptuous magistrates sent for one hundred policemen from London.
Magistrates oftener break the peace than workmen, as they do in Ireland,
as they did at Peterloo in 1819—as Sir Charles Warren and Mr. Matthews,
acting on their ideas of public duty, did in Trafalgar Square in 1887. 
Birmingham would not be kept in order by London police, though they were
at least their own countrymen, and the Chartists broke down the iron
palings around Nelson, and drove the London contingent out of the Bull
Ring. I have often wondered what Irishmen must think of having their
heads broken by alien ruffians of order, sent over from England, when
Birmingham men treated London policemen as aliens. Some frenzied men
set fire to houses in revenge. Soldiers were brought out, and a
neighbour of mine, who happened to be standing unarmed and looking on at
the corner of Edgbaston Street, had his nose chopped off. Soldiers,
like policemen, soon know when outrages are expected of them. There
was no resistance after the police were driven away. At four o'clock
next morning I went with my wife, who wished to see whether Mr. Belcher,
whose house had been fired, needed aid in his household, as she had great
respect for him. Although we alone crossed the Bull Ring, the
soldiers rushed at us, and tried to cut me down. I did not like
them. Until then I thought the duty of a policeman or soldier was to
keep his head, protect the people, and keep the peace except in
self-defence. The town was sullen and turbulent, and had good reason
to be so. Whoever judges the capacity of Birmingham for freedom,
tolerance, and self-government, by the language and acts of that time,
would judge it as Ireland is judged to-day. Any Whig, and more so
the Tories, would have declared it madness to trust the people of the town
with municipal or Parliamentary vote. Yet, when they had both,
Birmingham became the best governed town in Great Britain. It has
been accorded the distinction of being a city now, and I from being a
townsman have become a citizen.
Mr. George Julian Harney was in the town at the time of the
"riots." It was then I first knew him. It was said he kept out
of the way; but he did not.  He lived in a
by-street near the Bull Ring, and I opposite to him, and saw him daily in
the riot week standing at the door openly.
In justice to the gentlemen of Birmingham, it ought to be
said that the Chartists assailed them by hateful epithets as being Whigs
and middle-class traitors, which disinclined them to take part with the
people where they thought their claims well founded. If any working
men wished to see fairer treatment of gentlemen, they were themselves
denounced "moderates" and agents of the "middle class." Still the
gentlemen had got all they wanted and were educated, and should have had
generous forbearance towards men less informed and incensed with real
Though a Chartist myself and always acting with the party, I
never joined in their war upon the Whigs. The Tories, as my friend
Charles Reece Pemberton said, "would rob you of £1 and give you twopence
back." The Whigs would not give you twopence, neither did they rob
you of the pound, and were in favour of that legislation which would
enable you to earn a shilling for yourself and keep the pound in your
pocket. The Whigs were the traditional friends of liberty. The
Tories were always against it. The Chartists suffered indignities at
the hands of the Whigs and allowed their resentment to shape their policy.
To spite the Whigs the Chartists gave their support to the Tories—their
hereditary and unchanging enemies. The Whigs were the only political
party standing between the people and the aggressive masterfulness of the
Tories. It was upon Chartist resentment towards the Whigs that Lord
Beaconsfield traded—and supplied the Chartist leaders with money to enable
them to express it. I knew many who took money for that purpose.
Francis Place showed me cheques paid to them to break up Anti-Corn Law
meetings, because that cause was defended by Whigs. I saw the
cheques which were sent to Place by Sir John Easthope and other bankers,
who had cashed them. In some of Place's books which were sold to
Josiah Parkes, and afterwards went to the British Museum, Chartist cheques
may possibly still be seen. At the same time these Chartists were
neither mercenary nor traitors. They did not take the money to
betray their own cause, nor for their personal use, but to defray the
expenses of agitation against the Whigs, who had treated Mr.
as Lord Salisbury and Mr. Balfour afterwards treated Mr. O'Brien.
There was no contempt or hatred within the limits of not sacrificing
principle which was not justifiable against them.
A KNAVE WHO WANTED LESSONS IN MATHEMATICS.
SUCH a one was my first pupil. No phrase of
indignation occurs to me adequate to describe my impressions of him.
In 1839 we were living in our first house, in the Sandpits,
Birmingham. It was on the verge of the town then. A bright,
fresh aspect of verdure lay before the window. A little speaking, a
little teaching, a little secretaryship work, alternately or altogether,
produced very little income for home. My wife cultivated a small bed
of mustard and cress under the window, which, with bread, served for a
meal when there was nothing else. She was always bright and reticent
to her neighbours, but a butcher's wife next door, observing little was
bought from them, thought things were not flourishing, and would sometimes
bring a cup of porter to the gate, and ask, in a friendly way, her
pale-faced neighbour to take a little with her, not assuming there was
need for it, and not knowing how to offer anything else.
One morning in January, a portly, respectable-looking
gentleman dressed in drab, whom I at first took for a farmer, knocked at
the door and asked "whether he was rightly informed that he could have
lessons in mathematics there." He did not say by whom he had been so
informed, and I was too glad of the inquiry being made to ask him.
He was told that "if he wished instruction in Euclid he could have lessons
from one to two hours every morning at a moderate rate." He said,
"That would do," and arranged to come next day. Nothing further was
said as to terms, as anything he might think reasonable it was worth my
while to accept.
Firing was very scant in the house, but the grate was made as
cheerful as possible—the table arranged, and diagram material put ready.
For five days this unknown visitor came each morning. He paid
attention, was inquiring, and seemed interested, but paid nothing.
Afraid, by pressing him for payment too soon, of losing a pupil I so much
needed, I did not ask him. The next week he repeated his visits.
My wife, who was always far more discerning than I was, said, "That man
does not intend to pay." To me it was inconceivable. I had
taught, as an assistant in a school, all day for 10s. a week and my
dinner, and for 10s. 6d. a week without my dinner, but I had
always been paid. However, at the end of the second week, I remarked
that "I should be glad if he would pay me for the lessons so far."
The drab fiend started up, took his hat, and said "he did not intend to
pay anything. I had made no bargain as to terms, and he was not
bound to give anything." And, after opening the door, he turned
round to say—"Young man, let this be a lesson to you. Never do
anything for anybody unless you know you will be paid for it. If you
follow this rule—and I can see you need it—you will gain a great deal more
than you have now lost by giving lessons to me." My contempt and
indignation had but one expression—a desire to knock the moralizing knave
down; but he was a much more powerful man than I. A woman seldom
stands calculating whether a thing can be done. If it ought to be
done she generally does it, and my wife would have driven the treacherous
student into the streets with a chair had she not remembered that the loss
of it was more than she could afford for breaking the knave's head.
It occurred to me when it was too late that I did not know who he was, or
whence he came, and I could no more sue him than I could a thief who had
made tracks and left no address.
What was the didactic scoundrel's object in coming to my door
I could never make out—probably to discover what my opinions were, as I
had been engaged by the Mechanics' Institution, which had many clerical
enemies. But I might have been a curate for anything my pupil could
make out, for I was no Pauline believer who spoke of personal views "out
Nevertheless, the rascal's "rule" was worth remembering.
It would have been well for me had I regarded it with limitations, though
it is a rule that would often lead to selfishness and meanness. I
have walked hundreds of miles to speak for nothing, when I knew I should
have nothing. I have executed hundreds of commissions, paying cost
as well as giving labour, when those who wanted the work done could afford
to pay for it, and would have done so, had they any idea it was necessary.
I never suggested it, lest it should be thought I wanted to make a profit
out of a public service. The fault was mine in two ways: first, I
liked being useful, and that encouraged persons to give me opportunities;
secondly, I could do nothing by halves, I did what I undertook as
thoroughly as I could, and incurred cost and time, never intended or
thought of by others.
Persons more wary than myself, I could see, when asked to do
things made skilful evasions. "They knew nothing of the facts you
might ask them for. They knew not where to refer to them. They
had forgotten the details. They did not know who had them in mind.
An engagement they could not forego prevented them giving time to the
thing asked of them. They had no influence. They knew no one
who could aid in the work." What is always more successful, they threw
doubts on the good of doing anything, which took the heart out of the
inquirer. Such answers are at times real, but oftener I knew them to
be given by persons who simply saw no prospect of return for the trouble
proposed to them. I never studied the art of doing nothing when
something ought to be done. This world would be a cold and shabby
world in which nobody did anything unless assured of being paid for it.
I have always been a rich man in the satisfaction I have had in what I
have done. Still, I might have been reasonably rich in another
sense, had I made out, in cases of service beyond my means, a small bill
of costs, and collected it. Now I can see I ought to have done it,
since others suffered for my scrupulousness.
Nevertheless, to this day I have hated the drab knave—as
Cobbett did the "lame fiend" Talleyrand, who came to him for lessons—who
first advised me to take special care of my own interests, and for years
after I was accustomed to look in police offices and assize courts,
expecting and desiring to catch sight of the rascal at the bar, where I
hope and believe he must have arrived—though I never had the pleasure of