Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Alton Locke, Tailor And Poet by Rev. Charles Kingsley et al

Part 10 out of 10

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.2 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

destroying the creed which the clergy do believe, however badly they may
have acted upon it."

"It is all true enough--bitterly true. But yet, why do we need the help of
the clergy?"

"Because you need the help of the whole nation; because there are other
classes to be considered beside yourselves; because the nation is neither
the few nor the many, but the all; because it is only by the co-operation
of all the members of a body, that any one member can fulfil its calling in
health and freedom; because, as long as you stand aloof from the clergy, or
from any other class, through pride, self-interest, or wilful ignorance,
you are keeping up those very class distinctions of which you and I too
complain, as 'hateful equally to God and to his enemies;' and, finally,
because the clergy are the class which God has appointed to unite all
others; which, in as far as it fulfils its calling, and is indeed a
priesthood, is above and below all rank, and knows no man after the flesh,
but only on the ground of his spiritual worth, and his birthright in that
kingdom which is the heritage of all."

"Truly," I answered, "the idea is a noble one--But look at the reality! Has
not priestly pandering to tyrants made the Church, in every age, a scoff
and a byword among free men?"

"May it ever do so," she replied, "whenever such a sin exists! But yet,
look at the other side of the picture. Did not the priesthood, in the
first ages, glory not in the name, but, what is better, in the office, of
democrats? Did not the Roman tyrants hunt them down as wild beasts, because
they were democrats, proclaiming to the slave and to the barbarian a
spiritual freedom and a heavenly citizenship, before which the Roman well
knew his power must vanish into naught? Who, during the invasion of the
barbarians, protected the poor against their conquerors? Who, in the middle
age, stood between the baron and his serfs? Who, in their monasteries,
realized spiritual democracy,--the nothingness of rank and wealth, the
practical might of co-operation and self-sacrifice? Who delivered England
from the Pope? Who spread throughout every cottage in the land the Bible
and Protestantism, the book and the religion which declares that a man's
soul is free in the sight of God? Who, at the martyr's stake in Oxford,
'lighted the candle in England that shall never be put out?' Who, by
suffering, and not by rebellion, drove the last perjured Stuart from his
throne, and united every sect and class in one of the noblest steps in
England's progress? You will say these are the exceptions; I say nay; they
are rather a few great and striking manifestations of an influence
which has been, unseen though not unfelt, at work for ages, converting,
consecrating, organizing, every fresh invention of mankind, and which is
now on the eve of christianizing democracy, as it did Mediaeval Feudalism,
Tudor Nationalism, Whig Constitutionalism; and which will succeed in
christianizing it, and so alone making it rational, human, possible;
because the priesthood alone, of all human institutions, testifies of
Christ the King of men, the Lord of all things, the inspirer of all
discoveries; who reigns, and will reign, till He has put all things under
His feet, and the kingdoms of the world have become the kingdoms of God and
of His Christ. Be sure, as it always has been, so will it be now. Without
the priesthood there is no freedom for the people. Statesmen know it; and,
therefore, those who would keep the people fettered, find it necessary
to keep the priesthood fettered also. The people never can be themselves
without co-operation with the priesthood; and the priesthood never can be
themselves without co-operation with the people. They may help to make a
sect-Church for the rich, as they have been doing, or a sect-Church for
paupers (which is also the most subtle form of a sect-Church for the rich),
as a party in England are trying now to do--as I once gladly would have
done myself: but if they would be truly priests of God, and priests of
the Universal Church, they must be priests of the people, priests of the
masses, priests after the likeness of Him who died on the cross."

"And are there any men," I said, "who believe this? and, what is more, have
courage to act upon it, now in the very hour of Mammon's triumph?"

"There are those who are willing, who are determined, whatever it may cost
them, to fraternize with those whom they take shame to themselves for
having neglected; to preach and to organize, in concert with them, a Holy
War against the social abuses which are England's shame; and, first
and foremost, against the fiend of competition. They do not want to be
dictators to the working men. They know that they have a message to the
artizan, but they know, too, that the artizan has a message to them; and
they are not afraid to hear it. They do not wish to make him a puppet for
any system of their own; they only are willing, if he will take the hand
they offer him, to devote themselves, body and soul, to the great end of
enabling the artizan to govern himself; to produce in the capacity of
a free man, and not of a slave; to eat the food he earns, and wear the
clothes he makes. Will your working brothers co-operate with these men?
Are they, do you think, such bigots as to let political differences stand
between them and those who fain would treat them as their brothers; or will
they fight manfully side by side with them in the battle against Mammon,
trusting to God, that if in anything they are otherwise minded, He will, in
His own good time, reveal even that unto them? Do you think, to take one
instance, the men of your own trade would heartily join a handful of these
men in an experiment of associate labour, even though there should be a
clergyman or two among them?"

"Join them?" I said. "Can you ask the question? I, for one, would devote
myself, body and soul, to any enterprise so noble. Crossthwaite would ask
for nothing higher, than to be a hewer of wood and a drawer of water to an
establishment of associate workmen. But, alas! his fate is fixed for the
New World; and mine, I verily believe, for sickness and the grave. And yet
I will answer for it, that, in the hopes of helping such a project, he
would give up Mackaye's bequest, for the mere sake of remaining in England;
and for me, if I have but a month of life, it is at the service of such men
as you describe."

"Oh!" she said, musingly, "if poor Mackaye had but had somewhat more faith
in the future, that fatal condition would perhaps never have been attached
to his bequest. And yet, perhaps, it is better as it is. Crossthwaite's
mind may want quite, as much as yours does, a few years of a simpler and
brighter atmosphere to soften and refresh it again. Besides, your health is
too weak, your life, I know, too valuable to your class, for us to trust
you on such a voyage alone. He must go with you."

"With me?" I said. "You must be misinformed; I have no thought of leaving
England."

"You know the opinion of the physicians?"

"I know that my life is not likely to be a long one; that immediate removal
to a southern, if possible to a tropical climate, is considered the only
means of preserving it. For the former I care little; _non est tanti
vivere_. And, indeed, the latter, even if it would succeed, is impossible.
Crossthwaite will live and thrive by the labour of his hands; while, for
such a helpless invalid as I to travel, would be to dissipate the little
capital which Mackaye has left me.

"The day will come, when society will find it profitable, as well as just,
to put the means of preserving life by travel within the reach of the
poorest. But individuals must always begin by setting the examples, which
the state too slowly, though surely (for the world is God's world after
all), will learn to copy. All is arranged for you. Crossthwaite, you know,
would have sailed ere now, had it not been for your fever. Next week
you start with him for Texas, No; make no objections. All expenses are
defrayed--no matter by whom."

"By you! By you! Who else?"

"Do you think that I monopolize the generosity of England? Do you think
warm hearts beat only in the breasts of working men? But, if it were I,
would not that be only another reason for submitting? You must go. You will
have, for the next three years, such an allowance as will support you in
comfort, whether you choose to remain stationary, or, as I hope, to travel
southward into Mexico. Your passage-money is already paid."

Why should I attempt to describe my feelings? I gasped for breath, and
looked stupidly at her for a minute or two.--The second darling hope of my
life within my reach, just as the first had been snatched from me! At last
I found words.

"No, no, noble lady! Do not tempt me! Who am I, the slave of impulse,
useless, worn out in mind and body, that you should waste such generosity
upon me? I do not refuse from the honest pride of independence; I have not
man enough left in me even for that. But will you, of all people, ask me
to desert the starving suffering thousands, to whom my heart, my honour
are engaged; to give up the purpose of my life, and pamper my fancy in a
luxurious paradise, while they are slaving here?"

"What? Cannot God find champions for them when you are gone? Has he not
found them already? Believe me, that Tenth of April, which you fancied the
death-day of liberty, has awakened a spirit in high as well as in low life,
which children yet unborn will bless."

"Oh, do not mistake me! Have I not confessed my own weakness? But if I have
one healthy nerve left in me, soul or body, it will retain its strength
only as long as it thrills with devotion to the people's cause. If I live,
I must live among them, for them. If I die, I must die at my post. I could
not rest, except in labour. I dare not fly, like Jonah, from the call of
God. In the deepest shade of the virgin forests, on the loneliest peak of
the Cordilleras, He would find me out; and I should hear His still small
voice reproving me, as it reproved the fugitive patriot-seer of old--What
doest thou here, Elijah?"

I was excited, and spoke, I am afraid, after my custom, somewhat too
magniloquently. But she answered only with a quiet smile:

"So you are a Chartist still?"

"If by a Chartist you mean one who fancies that a change in mere political
circumstances will bring about a millennium, I am no longer one. That dream
is gone--with others. But if to be a Chartist is to love my brothers with
every faculty of my soul--to wish to live and die struggling for their
rights, endeavouring to make them, not electors merely, but fit to be
electors, senators, kings, and priests to God and to His Christ--if that
be the Chartism of the future, then am I sevenfold a Chartist, and ready
to confess it before men, though I were thrust forth from every door in
England."

She was silent a moment.

"'The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner.'
Surely the old English spirit has cast its madness, and begins to speak
once more as it spoke in Naseby fights and Smithfield fires!"

"And yet you would quench it in me amid the enervating climate of the
tropics."

"Need it be quenched there? Was it quenched in Drake, in Hawkins, in the
conquerors of Hindostan? Weakness, like strength, is from within, of the
spirit, and not of sunshine. I would send you thither, that you may gain
new strength, new knowledge to carry out your dream and mine. Do not refuse
me the honour of preserving you. Do not forbid me to employ my wealth in
the only way which reconciles my conscience to the possession of it. I have
saved many a woman already; and this one thing remained--the highest of all
my hopes and longings--that God would allow me, ere I die, to save a man.
I have longed to find some noble soul, as Carlyle says, fallen down by the
wayside, and lift it up, and heal its wounds, and teach it the secret of
its heavenly birthright, and consecrate it to its King in heaven. I have
longed to find a man of the people, whom I could train to be the poet of
the people."

"Me, at least, you have saved, have taught, have trained! Oh that your care
had been bestowed on some more worthy object!"

"Let me, at least, then, perfect my own work. You do not--it is a sign
of your humility that you do not--appreciate the value of this rest. You
underrate at once your own powers, and the shock which they have received."

"If I must go, then, why so far? Why put you to so great expense? If you
must be generous, send me to some place nearer home--to Italy, to the coast
of Devon, or the Isle of Wight, where invalids like me are said to find all
the advantages which are so often, perhaps too hastily, sought in foreign
lands."

"No," she said, smiling; "you are my servant now, by the laws of chivalry,
and you must fulfil my quest. I have long hoped for a tropic poet; one
who should leave the routine imagery of European civilization, its meagre
scenery, and physically decrepit races, for the grandeur, the luxuriance,
the infinite and strongly-marked variety of tropic nature, the paradisiac
beauty and simplicity of tropic humanity. I am tired of the old images; of
the barren alternations between Italy and the Highlands. I had once dreamt
of going to the tropics myself; but my work lay elsewhere. Go for me, and
for the people. See if you cannot help to infuse some new blood into the
aged veins of English literature; see if you cannot, by observing man in
his mere simple and primeval state, bring home fresh conceptions of beauty,
fresh spiritual and physical laws of his existence, that you may realize
them here at home--(how, I see as yet but dimly; but He who teaches the
facts will surely teach their application)--in the cottages, in the
play-grounds, the reading-rooms, the churches of working men."

"But I know so little--I have seen so little!"

"That very fact, I flatter myself, gives you an especial vocation for my
scheme. Your ignorance of cultivated English scenery, and of Italian art,
will enable you to approach with a more reverend, simple, and unprejudiced
eye the primeval forms of beauty--God's work, not man's. Sin you will
see there, and anarchy, and tyranny, but I do not send you to look for
society, but for nature. I do not send you to become a barbarian settler,
but to bring home to the realms of civilization those ideas of physical
perfection, which as yet, alas! barbarism, rather than civilization, has
preserved. Do not despise your old love for the beautiful. Do not fancy
that because you have let it become an idol and a tyrant, it was not
therefore the gift of God. Cherish it, develop it to the last; steep your
whole soul in beauty; watch it in its most vast and complex harmonies,
and not less in its most faint and fragmentary traces. Only, hitherto you
have blindly worshipped it; now you must learn to comprehend, to master,
to embody it; to show it forth to men as the sacrament of Heaven, the
finger-mark of God!"

Who could resist such pleading from those lips? I at least could not.

CHAPTER XLI.

FREEDOM, EQUALITY, AND BROTHERHOOD.

Before the same Father, the same King, crucified for all alike, we had
partaken of the same bread and wine, we had prayed for the same spirit.
Side by side, around the chair on which I lay propped up with pillows,
coughing my span of life away, had knelt the high-born countess, the
cultivated philosopher, the repentant rebel, the wild Irish girl, her
slavish and exclusive creed exchanged for one more free and all-embracing;
and that no extremest type of human condition might be wanting, the
reclaimed Magdalene was there--two pale worn girls from Eleanor's asylum,
in whom I recognized the needlewomen to whom Mackaye had taken me, on
a memorable night, seven years before. Thus--and how better?--had God
rewarded their loving care of that poor dying fellow-slave.

Yes--we had knelt together: and I had felt that we were one--that there was
a bond between us, real, eternal, independent of ourselves, knit not by
man, but God; and the peace of God, which passes understanding, came over
me like the clear sunshine after weary rain.

One by one they shook me by the hand, and quitted the room; and Eleanor and
I were left alone.

"See!" she said, "Freedom, Equality, and Brotherhood are come; but not as
you expected."

Blissful, repentant tears blinded my eyes, as I replied, not to her, but to
Him who spoke by her--

"Lord! not as I will, but as thou wilt!"

"Yes," she continued, "Freedom, Equality, and Brotherhood are here. Realize
them in thine own self, and so alone thou helpest to make them realities
for all. Not from without, from Charters and Republics, but from within,
from the Spirit working in each; not by wrath and haste, but by patience
made perfect through suffering, canst thou proclaim their good news to
the groaning masses, and deliver them, as thy Master did before thee,
by the cross, and not the sword. Divine paradox!--Folly to the rich and
mighty--the watchword of the weak, in whose weakness is God's strength made
perfect. 'In your patience possess ye your souls, for the coming of the
Lord draweth nigh.' Yes--He came then, and the Babel-tyranny of Rome fell,
even as the more fearful, more subtle, and more diabolic tyranny of Mammon
shall fall ere long--suicidal, even now crumbling by its innate decay.
Yes--Babylon the Great--the commercial world of selfish competition,
drunken with the blood of God's people, whose merchandise is the bodies
and souls of men--her doom is gone forth. And then--then--when they, the
tyrants of the earth, who lived delicately with her, rejoicing in her sins,
the plutocrats and bureaucrats, the money-changers and devourers of labour,
are crying to the rocks to hide them, and to the hills to cover them, from
the wrath of Him that sitteth on the throne--then labour shall be free at
last, and the poor shall eat and be satisfied, with things that eye hath
not seen nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to
conceive, but which God has prepared for those who love Him. Then the
earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the
sea, and mankind at last shall own their King--Him. in whom they are all
redeemed into the glorious liberty of the Sons of God, and He shall reign
indeed on earth, and none but His saints shall rule beside Him. And then
shall this sacrament be an everlasting sign to all the nations of the
world, as it has been to you this day, of freedom, equality, brotherhood,
of Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good-will toward
men. Do you believe?"

Again I answered, not her, but Him who sent her--

"Lord, I believe! Help thou mine unbelief!"

"And now farewell. I shall not see you again before you start--and ere you
return--My health has been fast declining lately."

I started--I had not dared to confess to myself how thin her features had
become of late. I had tried not to hear the dry and hectic cough, or see
the burning spot on either cheek--but it was too true; and with a broken
voice I cried:

"Oh that I might die, and join you!"

"Not so--I trust that you have still a work to do. But if not, promise me
that, whatever be the event of your voyage, you will publish, in good time,
an honest history of your life; extenuating nothing, exaggerating nothing,
ashamed to confess or too proclaim nothing. It may perhaps awaken some rich
man to look down and take pity on the brains and hearts more noble than
his own, which lie struggling in poverty and misguidance among these foul
sties, which civilization rears--and calls them cities. Now, once again,
farewell!"

She held out her hand--I would have fallen at her feet, but the thought
of that common sacrament withheld me. I seized her hand, covered it with
adoring kisses--Slowly she withdrew it, and glided from the room--

What need of more words? I obeyed her--sailed--and here I am.

* * * * *

Yes! I have seen the land! Like a purple fringe upon the golden sea, "while
parting day dies like the dolphin," there it lay upon the fair horizon--the
great young free new world! and every tree, and flower, and insect on it
new!--a wonder and a joy--which I shall never see....

No,--I shall never reach the land. I felt it all along. Weaker and weaker,
day by day, with bleeding lungs and failing limbs, I have travelled the
ocean paths. The iron has entered too deeply into my soul....

Hark! Merry voices on deck are welcoming their future home. Laugh on,
happy ones!--come out of Egypt and the house of bondage, and the waste and
howling wilderness of slavery and competition, workhouses and prisons, into
a good land and large, a land flowing with milk and honey, where you will
sit every one under his own vine and his own fig-tree, and look into the
faces of your rosy children--and see in them a blessing and not a curse!
Oh, England! stern mother-land, when wilt thou renew thy youth?--Thou
wilderness of man's making, not God's!... Is it not written, that the
days shall come when the forest shall break forth into singing, and the
wilderness shall blossom like the rose?

Hark! again, sweet and clear, across the still night sea, ring out the
notes of Crossthwaite's bugle--the first luxury, poor fellow, he ever
allowed himself; and yet not a selfish one, for music, like mercy, is twice
blessed--

"It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."

There is the spirit-stirring marching air of the German workmen students

Thou, thou, thou, and thou,
Sir Master, fare thee well.--

Perhaps a half reproachful hint to the poor old England he is leaving. What
a glorious metre! warming one's whole heart into life and energy! If I
could but write in such a metre one true people's song, that should embody
all my sorrow, indignation, hope--fitting last words for a poet of the
people--for they will be my last words--Well--thank God! at least I shall
not be buried in a London churchyard! It may be a foolish fancy--but I have
made them promise to lay me up among the virgin woods, where, if the soul
ever visits the place of its body's rest, I may snatch glimpses of that
natural beauty from which I was barred out in life, and watch the gorgeous
flowers that bloom above my dust, and hear the forest birds sing around the
Poet's grave.

Hark to the grand lilt of the "Good Time Coming!"--Song which has cheered
ten thousand hearts; which has already taken root, that it may live and
grow for ever--fitting melody to soothe my dying ears! Ah! how should there
not be A Good Time Coming?--Hope, and trust, and infinite deliverance!--a
time such as eye hath not seen nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the
heart of man to conceive!--coming surely, soon or late, to those for whom a
God did not disdain to die!

* * * * *

Our only remaining duty is to give an extract from a letter written by John
Crossthwaite, and dated

"GALVESTON, TEXAS, _October, 1848_.

... "I am happy. Katie is happy, There is peace among us here, like 'the
clear downshining after rain.' But I thirst and long already for the
expiration of my seven years' exile, wholesome as I believe it to be. My
only wish is to return and assist in the Emancipation of Labour, and give
my small aid in that fraternal union of all classes which I hear is surely,
though slowly, spreading in my mother-land.

"And now for my poor friend, whose papers, according to my promise to him,
I transmit to you. On the very night on which he seems to have concluded
them--an hour after we had made the land--we found him in his cabin, dead,
his head resting on the table as peacefully as if he had slumbered. On a
sheet of paper by him were written the following verses; the ink was not
yet dry:

"'MY LAST WORDS.

"'I.

"'Weep, weep, weep, and weep,
For pauper, dolt, and slave;
Hark! from wasted moor and fen,
Feverous alley, workhouse den,
Swells the wail of Englishmen:
"Work! or the grave!"

"'II.

"'Down, down, down, and down,
With idler, knave, and tyrant;
Why for sluggards stint and moil
He that will not live by toil
Has no right on English soil;
God's word's our warrant!

"'III.

"'Up, up, up, and up,
Face your game, and play it!
The night is past--behold the sun!--
The cup is full, the web is spun,
The Judge is set, the doom begun;
Who shall stay it?'"

Book of the day: