Part 3 out of 10
the commercial classes money most truly and fearfully "makes the man." A
difference in income, as you go lower, makes more and more difference in
the supply of the common necessaries of life; and worse--in education and
manners, in all which polishes the man, till you may see often, as in
my case, one cousin a Cambridge undergraduate, and the other a tailor's
My uncle one day came down to visit us, resplendent in a black velvet
waistcoat, thick gold chain, and acres of shirt-front; and I and Susan were
turned to feed on our own curiosity and awe in the back-yard, while he and
my mother were closeted together for an hour or so in the living-room. When
he was gone, my mother called me in; and with eyes which would have been
tearful had she allowed herself such a weakness before us, told me very
solemnly and slowly, as if to impress upon me the awfulness of the matter,
that I was to be sent to a tailor's workrooms the next day.
And an awful step it was in her eyes, as she laid her hands on my head and
murmured to herself, "Behold, I send you forth as a lamb in the midst of
wolves. Be ye, therefore, wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." And
then, rising hastily to conceal her own emotion, fled upstairs, where
we could hear her throw herself on her knees by the bedside, and sob
That evening was spent dolefully enough, in a sermon of warnings against
all manner of sins and temptations, the very names of which I had never
heard, but to which, as she informed me, I was by my fallen nature
altogether prone: and right enough was she in so saying, though as often
happens, the temptations from which I was in real danger were just the ones
of which she had no notion--fighting more or less extinct Satans, as Mr.
Carlyle says, and quite unconscious of the real, modern, man-devouring
Satan close at her elbow.
To me, in spite of all the terror which she tried to awaken in me, the
change was not unwelcome; at all events, it promised me food for my eyes
and my ears,--some escape from the narrow cage in which, though I hardly
dare confess it to myself, I was beginning to pine. Little I dreamt to what
a darker cage I was to be translated! Not that I accuse my uncle of neglect
or cruelty, though the thing was altogether of his commanding. He was as
generous to us as society required him to be. We were entirely dependent on
him, as my mother told me then for the first time, for support. And had he
not a right to dispose of my person, having bought it by an allowance to my
mother of five-and-twenty pounds a year? I did not forget that fact; the
thought of my dependence on him rankled in me, till it almost bred hatred
in me to a man who had certainly never done or meant anything to me but in
kindness. For what could he make me but a tailor--or a shoemaker? A pale,
consumptive, rickety, weakly boy, all forehead and no muscle--have not
clothes and shoes been from time immemorial the appointed work of such? The
fact that that weakly frame is generally compensated by a proportionally
increased activity of brain, is too unimportant to enter into the
calculations of the great King Laissez-faire. Well, my dear Society, it is
you that suffer for the mistake, after all, more than we. If you do tether
your cleverest artisans on tailors' shopboards and cobblers' benches,
and they--as sedentary folk will--fall a thinking, and come to strange
conclusions thereby, they really ought to be much more thankful to you than
you are to them. If Thomas Cooper had passed his first five-and-twenty
years at the plough tail instead of the shoemaker's awl, many words would
have been left unsaid which, once spoken, working men are not likely to
With a beating heart I shambled along by my mother's side next day to Mr.
Smith's shop, in a street off Piccadilly; and stood by her side, just
within the door, waiting till some one would condescend to speak to us, and
wondering when the time would come when I, like the gentleman who skipped
up and down the shop, should shine glorious in patent-leather boots, and a
blue satin tie sprigged with gold.
Two personages, both equally magnificent, stood talking with their backs
to us; and my mother, in doubt, like myself, as to which of them was the
tailor, at last summoned up courage to address the wrong one, by asking if
he were Mr. Smith.
The person addressed answered by a most polite smile and bow, and assured
her that he had not that honour; while the other he-he'ed, evidently a
little flattered by the mistake, and then uttered in a tremendous voice
"I have nothing for you, my good woman--go. Mr. Elliot! how did you come to
allow these people to get into the establishment?"
"My name is Locke, sir, and I was to bring my son here this morning."
"Oh--ah!--Mr. Elliot, see to these persons. As I was saying, my lard,
the crimson velvet suit, about thirty-five guineas. By-the-by, that coat
ours? I thought so--idea grand and light--masses well broken--very fine
chiaroscuro about the whole--an aristocratic wrinkle just above the
hips--which I flatter myself no one but myself and my friend Mr. Cooke
really do understand. The vapid smoothness of the door dummy, my lard,
should be confined to the regions of the Strand. Mr. Elliot, where are you?
Just be so good as to show his lardship that lovely new thing in drab and
_blue fonce_. Ah! your lardship can't wait.--Now, my good woman, is this
the young man?"
"Yes," said my mother: "and--and--God deal so with you, sir, as you deal
with the widow and the orphan."
"Oh--ah--that will depend very much, I should say, on how the widow and
the orphan deal with me. Mr. Elliot, take this person into the office
and transact the little formalities with her, Jones, take the young man
up-stairs to the work-room."
I stumbled after Mr. Jones up a dark, narrow, iron staircase till we
emerged through a trap-door into a garret at the top of the house.
I recoiled with disgust at the scene before me; and here I was to
work--perhaps through life! A low lean-to room, stifling me with the
combined odours of human breath and perspiration, stale beer, the sweet
sickly smell of gin, and the sour and hardly less disgusting one of new
cloth. On the floor, thick with dust and dirt, scraps of stuff and ends of
thread, sat some dozen haggard, untidy, shoeless men, with a mingled look
of care and recklessness that made me shudder. The windows were tight
closed to keep out the cold winter air; and the condensed breath ran in
streams down the panes, chequering the dreary outlook of chimney-tops and
smoke. The conductor handed me over to one of the men.
"Here, Crossthwaite, take this younker and make a tailor of him. Keep him
next you, and prick him up with your needle if he shirks."
He disappeared down the trap-door, and mechanically, as if in a dream,
I sat down by the man and listened to his instructions, kindly enough
bestowed. But I did not remain in peace two minutes. A burst of chatter
rose as the foreman vanished, and a tall, bloated, sharp-nosed young man
next me bawled in my ear,--
"I say, young'un, fork out the tin and pay your footing at Conscrumption
"What do you mean?"
"Aint he just green?--Down with the stumpy--a tizzy for a pot of
"I never drink beer."
"Then never do," whispered the man at my side; "as sure as hell's hell,
it's your only chance."
There was a fierce, deep earnestness in the tone which made me look up at
the speaker, but the other instantly chimed in--
"Oh, yer don't, don't yer, my young Father Mathy? then yer'll soon learn it
here if yer want to keep yer victuals down."
"And I have promised to take my wages home to my mother."
"Oh criminy! hark to that, my coves! here's a chap as is going to take the
blunt home to his mammy."
"T'aint much of it the old'un'll see," said another. "Ven yer pockets it
at the Cock and Bottle, my kiddy, yer won't find much of it left o' Sunday
"Don't his mother know he's out?" asked another, "and won't she know it--
"Ven he's sitting in his glory
Half-price at the Victory.
"Oh! no, ve never mentions her--her name is never heard. Certainly not, by
no means. Why should it?"
"Well, if yer won't stand a pot," quoth the tall man, "I will, that's all,
and blow temperance. 'A short life and a merry one,' says the tailor--
"The ministers talk a great deal about port,
And they makes Cape wine very dear,
But blow their hi's if ever they tries
To deprive a poor cove of his beer.
"Here, Sam, run to the Cock and Bottle for a pot of half-and-half to my
A thin, pale lad jumped up and vanished, while my tormentor turned to me:
"I say, young'un, do you know why we're nearer heaven here than our
"I shouldn't have thought so," answered I with a _naivete_ which raised a
laugh, and dashed the tall man for a moment.
"Yer don't? then I'll tell yer. A cause we're a top of the house in the
first place, and next place yer'll die here six months sooner nor if yer
worked in the room below. Aint that logic and science, Orator?" appealing
"Why?" asked I.
"A cause you get all the other floors' stinks up here as well as your
own. Concentrated essence of man's flesh, is this here as you're a
breathing. Cellar workroom we calls Rheumatic Ward, because of the damp.
Ground-floor's Fever Ward--them as don't get typhus gets dysentery, and
them as don't get dysentery gets typhus--your nose'd tell yer why if you
opened the back windy. First floor's Ashmy Ward--don't you hear 'um now
through the cracks in the boards, a puffing away like a nest of young
locomotives? And this here most august and upper-crust cockloft is the
Conscrumptive Hospital. First you begins to cough, then you proceeds
to expectorate--spittoons, as you see, perwided free gracious for
nothing--fined a kivarten if you spits on the floor--
"Then your cheeks they grows red, and your nose it grows thin,
And your bones they stick out, till they comes through your skin:
"and then, when you've sufficiently covered the poor dear shivering bare
backs of the hairystocracy--
"Die, die, die,
Away you fly,
Your soul is in the sky!
"as the hinspired Shakspeare wittily remarks."
And the ribald lay down on his back, stretched himself out, and pretended
to die in a fit of coughing, which last was, alas! no counterfeit, while
poor I, shocked and bewildered, let my tears fall fast upon my knees.
"Fine him a pot!" roared one, "for talking about kicking the bucket. He's
a nice young man to keep a cove's spirits up, and talk about 'a short life
and a merry one.' Here comes the heavy. Hand it here to take the taste of
that fellow's talk out of my mouth."
"Well, my young'un," recommenced my tormentor, "and how do you like your
"Leave the boy alone," growled Crossthwaite; "don't you see he's crying?"
"Is that anything good to eat? Give me some on it if it is--it'll save me
washing my face." And he took hold of my hair and pulled my head back.
"I'll tell you what, Jemmy Downes," said Crossthwaite, in a voice which
made him draw back, "if you don't drop that, I'll give you such a taste of
my tongue as shall turn you blue."
"You'd better try it on then. Do--only just now--if you please."
"Be quiet, you fool!" said another. "You're a pretty fellow to chaff the
orator. He'll slang you up the chimney afore you can get your shoes on."
"Fine him a kivarten for quarrelling," cried another; and the bully
subsided into a minute's silence, after a _sotto voce_--"Blow temperance,
and blow all Chartists, say I!" and then delivered himself of his feelings
in a doggerel song:
"Some folks leads coves a dance,
With their pledge of temperance,
And their plans for donkey sociation;
And their pockets full they crams
By their patriotic flams,
And then swears 'tis for the good of the nation.
"But I don't care two inions
For political opinions,
While I can stand my heavy and my quartern;
For to drown dull care within,
In baccy, beer, and gin,
Is the prime of a working-tailor's fortin!
"There's common sense for yer now; hand the pot here."
I recollect nothing more of that day, except that I bent myself to my work
with assiduity enough to earn praises from Crossthwaite. It was to be done,
and I did it. The only virtue I ever possessed (if virtue it be) is the
power of absorbing my whole heart and mind in the pursuit of the moment,
however dull or trivial, if there be good reason why it should be pursued
I owe, too, an apology to my readers for introducing all this ribaldry. God
knows, it is as little to my taste as it can be to theirs, but the thing
exists; and those who live, if not by, yet still besides such a state of
things, ought to know what the men are like to whose labour, ay, lifeblood,
they own their luxuries. They are "their brothers' keepers," let them deny
it as they will. Thank God, many are finding that out; and the morals of
the working tailors, as well as of other classes of artisans, are rapidly
improving: a change which has been brought about partly by the wisdom
and kindness of a few master tailors, who have built workshops fit for
human beings, and have resolutely stood out against the iniquitous and
destructive alterations in the system of employment. Among them I may, and
will, whether they like it or not, make honourable mention of Mr. Willis,
of St. James's Street, and Mr. Stultz, of Bond Street.
But nine-tenths of the improvement has been owing, not to the masters, but
to the men themselves; and who among them, my aristocratic readers, do you
think, have been the great preachers and practisers of temperance, thrift,
charity, self-respect, and education. Who?--shriek not in your Belgravian
saloons--the Chartists; the communist Chartists: upon whom you and your
venal press heap every kind of cowardly execration and ribald slander. You
have found out many things since Peterloo; add that fact to the number.
It may seem strange that I did not tell my mother into what a pandemonium
I had fallen, and got her to deliver me; but a delicacy, which was not
all evil, kept me back; I shrank from seeming to dislike to earn my daily
bread, and still more from seeming to object to what she had appointed for
me. Her will had been always law; it seemed a deadly sin to dispute it. I
took for granted, too, that she knew what the place was like, and that,
therefore, it must be right for me. And when I came home at night, and
got back to my beloved missionary stories, I gathered materials enough
to occupy my thoughts during the next day's work, and make me blind and
deaf to all the evil around me. My mother, poor dear creature, would have
denounced my day-dreams sternly enough, had she known of their existence;
but were they not holy angels from heaven? guardians sent by that Father,
whom I had been taught _not_ to believe in, to shield my senses from
I was ashamed, too, to mention to my mother the wickedness which I saw
and heard. With the delicacy of an innocent boy, I almost imputed the
very witnessing of it as a sin to myself; and soon I began to be ashamed
of more than the mere sitting by and hearing. I found myself gradually
learning slang-insolence, laughing at coarse jokes, taking part in angry
conversations; my moral tone was gradually becoming lower; but yet the
habit of prayer remained, and every night at my bedside, when I prayed to
"be converted and made a child of God," I prayed that the same mercy might
be extended to my fellow-workmen, "if they belonged to the number of the
elect." Those prayers may have been answered in a wider and deeper sense
than I then thought of.
But, altogether, I felt myself in a most distracted, rudderless state. My
mother's advice I felt daily less and less inclined to ask. A gulf was
opening between us; we were moving in two different worlds, and she saw
it, and imputed it to me as a sin; and was the more cold to me by day, and
prayed for me (as I knew afterwards) the more passionately while I slept.
But help or teacher I had none. I knew not that I had a Father in heaven.
How could He be my Father till I was converted? I was a child of the Devil,
they told me; and now and then I felt inclined to take them at their word,
and behave like one. No sympathizing face looked on me out of the wide
heaven--off the wide earth, none. I was all boiling with new hopes, new
temptations, new passions, new sorrows, and "I looked to the right hand and
to the left, and no man cared for my soul."
I had felt myself from the first strangely drawn towards Crossthwaite,
carefully as he seemed to avoid me, except to give me business directions
in the workroom. He alone had shown me any kindness; and he, too, alone was
untainted with the sin around him. Silent, moody, and preoccupied, he was
yet the king of the room. His opinion was always asked, and listened to.
His eye always cowed the ribald and the blasphemer; his songs, when he
rarely broke out into merriment, were always rapturously applauded. Men
hated, and yet respected him. I shrank from him at first, when I heard
him called a Chartist; for my dim notions of that class were, that they
were a very wicked set of people, who wanted to kill all the soldiers and
policemen and respectable people, and rob all the shops of their contents.
But, Chartist or none, Crossthwaite fascinated me. I often found myself
neglecting my work to study his face. I liked him, too, because he was as I
was--small, pale, and weakly. He might have been five-and-twenty; but his
looks, like those of too many a working man, were rather those of a man
of forty. Wild grey eyes gleamed out from under huge knitted brows, and a
perpendicular wall of brain, too large for his puny body. He was not only,
I soon discovered, a water-drinker, but a strict "vegetarian" also; to
which, perhaps, he owed a great deal of the almost preternatural clearness,
volubility, and sensitiveness of his mind. But whether from his ascetic
habits, or the un-healthiness of his trade, the marks of ill-health were
upon him; and his sallow cheek, and ever-working lip, proclaimed too
The fiery soul which, working out its way,
Fretted the pigmy body to decay;
And o'er informed the tenement of clay.
I longed to open my heart to him. Instinctively I felt that he was a
kindred spirit. Often, turning round suddenly in the workroom, I caught him
watching me with an expression which seemed to say, "Poor boy, and art thou
too one of us? Hast thou too to fight with poverty and guidelessness, and
the cravings of an unsatisfied intellect, as I have done!" But when I tried
to speak to him earnestly, his manner was peremptory and repellent. It was
well for me that so it was--well for me, I see now, that it was not from
him my mind received the first lessons in self-development. For guides did
come to me in good time, though not such, perhaps, as either my mother or
my readers would have chosen for me.
My great desire now was to get knowledge. By getting that I fancied, as
most self-educated men are apt to do, 1 should surely get wisdom. Books, I
thought, would tell me all I needed. But where to get the books? And which?
I had exhausted our small stock at home; I was sick and tired, without
knowing why, of their narrow conventional view of everything. After all,
I had been reading them all along, not for their doctrines but for their
facts, and knew not where to find more, except in forbidden paths. I dare
not ask my mother for books, for I dare not confess to her that religious
ones were just what I did not want; and all history, poetry, science, I had
been accustomed to hear spoken of as "carnal learning, human philosophy,"
more or less diabolic and ruinous to the soul. So, as usually happens
in this life--"By the law was the knowledge of sin"--and unnatural
restrictions on the development of the human spirit only associated with
guilt of conscience, what ought to have been an innocent and necessary
My poor mother, not singular in her mistake, had sent me forth, out of an
unconscious paradise into the evil world, without allowing me even the sad
strength which comes from eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil;
she expected in me the innocence of the dove, as if that was possible on
such an earth as this, without the wisdom of the serpent to support it. She
forbade me strictly to stop and look into the windows of print shops, and
I strictly obeyed her. But she forbade me, too, to read any book which I
had not first shown her; and that restriction, reasonable enough in the
abstract, practically meant, in the case of a poor boy like myself, reading
no books at all. And then came my first act of disobedience, the parent of
many more. Bitterly have I repented it, and bitterly been punished. Yet,
strange contradiction! I dare not wish it undone. But such is the great law
of life. Punished for our sins we surely are; and yet how often they become
our blessings, teaching us that which nothing else can teach us! Nothing
else? One says so. Rich parents, I suppose, say so, when they send their
sons to public schools "to learn life." We working men have too often no
other teacher than our own errors. But surely, surely, the rich ought to
have been able to discover some mode of education in which knowledge may be
acquired without the price of conscience, Yet they have not; and we must
not complain of them for not giving such a one to the working man when they
have not yet even given it to their own children.
In a street through which I used to walk homeward was an old book shop,
piled and fringed outside and in with books of every age, size, and colour.
And here I at last summoned courage to stop, and timidly and stealthily
taking out some volume whose title attracted me, snatch hastily a few pages
and hasten on, half fearful of being called on to purchase, half ashamed of
a desire which I fancied every one else considered as unlawful as my mother
did. Sometimes I was lucky enough to find the same volume several days
running, and to take up the subject where I had left it off; and thus I
contrived to hurry through a great deal of "Childe Harold," "Lara," and the
"Corsair"--a new world of wonders to me. They fed, those poems, both my
health and my diseases; while they gave me, little of them as I could
understand, a thousand new notions about scenery and man, a sense of poetic
melody and luxuriance as yet utterly unknown. They chimed in with all
my discontent, my melancholy, my thirst after any life of action and
excitement, however frivolous, insane, or even worse. I forgot the
Corsair's sinful trade in his free and daring life; rather, I honestly
eliminated the bad element--in which, God knows, I took no delight--and
kept the good one. However that might be, the innocent--guilty pleasure
grew on me day by day. Innocent, because human--guilty, because
disobedient. But have I not paid the penalty?
One evening, however, I fell accidentally on a new book--"The Life and
Poems of J. Bethune." I opened the story of his life--became interested,
absorbed--and there I stood, I know not how long, on the greasy pavement,
heedless of the passers who thrust me right and left, reading by the
flaring gas-light that sad history of labour, sorrow, and death.--How
the Highland cotter, in spite of disease, penury, starvation itself, and
the daily struggle to earn his bread by digging and ditching, educated
himself--how he toiled unceasingly with his hands--how he wrote his poems
in secret on dirty scraps of paper and old leaves of books--how thus he
wore himself out, manful and godly, "bating not a jot of heart or hope,"
till the weak flesh would bear no more; and the noble spirit, unrecognized
by the lord of the soil, returned to God who gave it. I seemed to see in
his history a sad presage of my own. If he, stronger, more self-restrained,
more righteous far than ever I could be, had died thus unknown, unassisted,
in the stern battle with social disadvantages, what must be my lot?
And tears of sympathy, rather than of selfish fear, fell fast upon the
A harsh voice from the inner darkness of the shop startled me.
"Hoot, laddie, ye'll better no spoil my books wi' greeting ower them."
I replaced the book hastily, and was hurrying on, but the same voice called
me back in a more kindly tone.
"Stop a wee, my laddie. I'm no angered wi' ye. Come in, and we'll just ha'
a bit crack thegither."
I went in, for there was a geniality in the tone to which I was
unaccustomed, and something whispered to me the hope of an adventure, as
indeed it proved to be, if an event deserves that name which decided the
course of my whole destiny.
"What war ye greeting about, then? What was the book?"
"'Bethune's Life and Poems,' sir," I said. "And certainly they did affect
me very much."
"Affect ye? Ah, Johnnie Bethune, puir fellow! Ye maunna take on about sic
like laddies, or ye'll greet your e'en out o' your head. It's mony a braw
man beside Johnnie Bethune has gane Johnnie-Bethune's gate."
Though unaccustomed to the Scotch accent, I could make out enough of
this speech to be in nowise consoled by it. But the old man turned the
conversation by asking me abruptly my name, and trade, and family.
"Hum, hum, widow, eh? puir body! work at Smith's shop, eh? Ye'll ken John
Crossthwaite, then? ay? hum, hum; an' ye're desirous o' reading books? vara
weel--let's see your cawpabilities."
And he pulled me into the dim light of the little back window, shoved back
his spectacles, and peering at me from underneath them, began, to my great
astonishment, to feel my head all over.
"Hum, hum, a vara gude forehead--vara gude indeed. Causative organs large,
perceptive ditto. Imagination superabundant--mun be heeded. Benevolence,
conscientiousness, ditto, ditto. Caution--no that large--might be
developed," with a quiet chuckle, "under a gude Scot's education. Just turn
your head into profile, laddie. Hum, hum. Back o' the head a'thegither
defective. Firmness sma'--love of approbation unco big. Beware o' leeing,
as ye live; ye'll need it. Philoprogenitiveness gude. Ye'll be fond o'
bairns, I'm guessing?"
"Very," answered I, in utter dismay at what seemed to me a magical process
for getting at all my secret failings.
"Hum, hum! Amative and combative organs sma'--a general want o' healthy
animalism, as my freen' Mr. Deville wad say. And ye want to read books?"
I confessed my desire, without, alas! confessing that my mother had
"Vara weel; then books I'll lend ye, after I've had a crack wi'
Crossthwaite aboot ye, gin I find his opinion o' ye satisfactory. Come
to me the day after to-morrow. An' mind, here are my rules:--a' damage
done to a book to be paid for, or na mair books lent; ye'll mind to
take no books without leave; specially ye'll mind no to read in bed o'
nights,--industrious folks ought to be sleeping' betimes, an' I'd no be a
party to burning puir weans in their beds; and lastly, ye'll observe not to
read mair than five books at once."
I assured him that I thought such a thing impossible; but he smiled in his
saturnine way, and said--
"We'll see this day fortnight. Now, then, I've observed ye for a month past
over that aristocratic Byron's poems. And I'm willing to teach the young
idea how to shoot--but no to shoot itself; so ye'll just leave alane that
vinegary, soul-destroying trash, and I'll lend ye, gin I hear a gude report
of ye, 'The Paradise Lost,' o' John Milton--a gran' classic model; and
for the doctrine o't, it's just aboot as gude as ye'll hear elsewhere the
noo. So gang your gate, and tell John Crossthwaite, privately, auld Sandy
Mackaye wad like to see him the morn's night."
I went home in wonder and delight. Books! books! books! I should have my
fill of them at last. And when I said my prayers at night, I thanked God
for this unexpected boon; and then remembered that my mother had forbidden
it. That thought checked the thanks, but not the pleasure. Oh, parents! are
there not real sins enough in the world already, without your defiling it,
over and above, by inventing new ones?
That day fortnight came,--and the old Scotchman's words came true. Four
books of his I had already, and I came in to borrow a fifth; whereon he
began with a solemn chuckle:
"Eh, laddie, laddie, I've been treating ye as the grocers do their new
prentices. They first gie the boys three days' free warren among the figs
and the sugar-candy, and they get scunnered wi' sweets after that. Noo,
then, my lad, ye've just been reading four books in three days--and here's
a fifth. Ye'll no open this again."
"Oh!" I cried, piteously enough, "just let me finish what I am reading. I'm
in the middle of such a wonderful account of the Hornitos of Jurullo."
"Hornets or wasps, a swarm o' them ye're like to have at this rate; and
a very bad substitute ye'll find them for the Attic bee. Now tak' tent.
I'm no in the habit of speaking without deliberation, for it saves a man
a great deal of trouble in changing his mind. If ye canna traduce to me
a page o' Virgil by this day three months, ye read no more o' my books.
Desultory reading is the bane o' lads. Ye maun begin with self-restraint
and method, my man, gin ye intend to gie yoursel' a liberal education. So
I'll just mak' you a present of an auld Latin grammar, and ye maun begin
where your betters ha' begun before you."
"But who will teach me Latin?"
"Hoot, man! who'll teach a man anything except himsel'? It's only
gentlefolks and puir aristocrat bodies that go to be spoilt wi' tutors and
pedagogues, cramming and loading them wi' knowledge, as ye'd load a gun, to
shoot it all out again, just as it went down, in a college examination, and
forget all aboot it after."
"Ah!" I sighed, "if I could have gone to college!"
"What for, then? My father was a Hieland farmer, and yet he was a weel
learned man: and 'Sandy, my lad,' he used to say, 'a man kens just as
much as he's taught himsel', and na mair. So get wisdom; and wi' all your
getting, get understanding.' And so I did. And mony's the Greek exercise
I've written in the cowbyres. And mony's the page o' Virgil, too, I've
turned into good Dawric Scotch to ane that's dead and gane, poor hizzie,
sitting under the same plaid, with the sheep feeding round us, up among
the hills, looking out ower the broad blue sea, and the wee haven wi' the
There was a long solemn pause. I cannot tell why, but I loved the man from
that moment; and I thought, too, that he began to love me. Those few words
seemed a proof of confidence, perhaps all the deeper, because accidental
I took the Virgil which he lent me, with Hamilton's literal translation
between the lines, and an old tattered Latin grammar; I felt myself quite
a learned man--actually the possessor of a Latin book! I regarded as
something almost miraculous the opening of this new field for my ambition.
Not that I was consciously, much less selfishly, ambitious. I had no idea
as yet to be anything but a tailor to the end; to make clothes--perhaps in
a less infernal atmosphere--but still to make clothes and live thereby. I
did not suspect that I possessed powers above the mass. My intense longing
after knowledge had been to me like a girl's first love--a thing to be
concealed from every eye--to be looked at askance even by myself, delicious
as it was, with holy shame and trembling. And thus it was not cowardice
merely, but natural modesty, which put me on a hundred plans of concealing
my studies from my mother, and even from my sister.
I slept in a little lean-to garret at the back of the house, some ten feet
long by six wide. I could just stand upright against the inner wall, while
the roof on the other side ran down to the floor. There was no fireplace in
it, or any means of ventilation. No wonder I coughed all night accordingly,
and woke about two every morning with choking throat and aching head. My
mother often said that the room was "too small for a Christian to sleep in,
but where could she get a better?"
Such was my only study. I could not use it as such, however, at night
without discovery; for my mother carefully looked in every evening, to
see that my candle was out. But when my kind cough woke me, I rose, and
creeping like a mouse about the room--for my mother and sister slept in the
next chamber, and every sound was audible through the narrow partition--I
drew my darling books out from under a board of the floor, one end of which
I had gradually loosened at odd minutes, and with them a rushlight, earned
by running on messages, or by taking bits of work home, and finishing them
for my fellows.
No wonder that with this scanty rest, and this complicated exertion of
hands, eyes, and brain, followed by the long dreary day's work of the shop,
my health began to fail; my eyes grew weaker and weaker; my cough became
more acute; my appetite failed me daily. My mother noticed the change,
and questioned me about it, affectionately enough. But I durst not, alas!
tell the truth. It was not one offence, but the arrears of months of
disobedience which I should have had to confess; and so arose infinite
false excuses, and petty prevarications, which embittered and clogged still
more my already overtasked spirit. About my own ailments--formidable as
I believed they were--I never had a moment's anxiety. The expectation of
early death was as unnatural to me as it is, I suspect, to almost all. I
die? Had I not hopes, plans, desires, infinite? Could I die while they were
unfulfilled? Even now, I do not believe I shall die yet. I will not believe
it--but let that pass.
Yes, let that pass. Perhaps I have lived long enough--longer than many a
There is a race of mortals who become
Old in their youth, and die ere middle age.
And might not those days of mine then have counted as months?--those days
when, before starting forth to walk two miles to the shop at six o'clock in
the morning, I sat some three or four hours shivering on my bed, putting
myself into cramped and painful postures, not daring even to cough, lest my
mother should fancy me unwell, and come in to see me, poor dear soul!--my
eyes aching over the page, my feet wrapped up in the bedclothes, to keep
them from the miserable pain of the cold; longing, watching, dawn after
dawn, for the kind summer mornings, when I should need no candlelight.
Look at the picture awhile, ye comfortable folks, who take down from your
shelves what books you like best at the moment, and then lie back, amid
prints and statuettes, to grow wise in an easy-chair, with a blazing fire
and a camphine lamp. The lower classes uneducated! Perhaps you would be so
too, if learning cost you the privation which it costs some of them.
But this concealment could not last. My only wonder is, that I continued to
get whole months of undiscovered study. One morning, about four o'clock, as
might have been expected, my mother heard me stirring, came in, and found
me sitting crosslegged on my bed, stitching away, indeed, with all my
might, but with a Virgil open before me.
She glanced at the book, clutched it with one hand and my arm with the
other, and sternly asked,
"Where did you get this heathen stuff?"
A lie rose to my lips; but I had been so gradually entangled in the loathed
meshes of a system of concealment, and consequent prevarication, that
I felt as if one direct falsehood would ruin for ever my fast-failing
self-respect, and I told her the whole truth. She took the book and left
the room. It was Saturday morning, and I spent two miserable days, for she
never spoke a word to me till the two ministers had made their appearance,
and drank their tea on Sunday evening: then at last she opened:
"And now, Mr. Wigginton, what account have you of this Mr. Mackaye, who has
seduced my unhappy boy from the paths of obedience?"
"I am sorry to say, madam," answered the dark man, with a solemn snuffle,
"that he proves to be a most objectionable and altogether unregenerate
character. He is, as I am informed, neither more nor less than a Chartist,
and an open blasphemer."
"He is not!" I interrupted, angrily. "He has told me more about God, and
given me better advice, than any human being, except my mother."
"Ah! madam, so thinks the unconverted heart, ignorant that the god of the
Deist is not the God of the Bible--a consuming fire to all but His beloved
elect; the god of the Deist, unhappy youth, is a mere self-invented,
all-indulgent phantom--a will-o'-the-wisp, deluding the unwary, as he has
deluded you, into the slough of carnal reason and shameful profligacy."
"Do you mean to call me a profligate?" I retorted fiercely, for my blood
was up, and I felt I was fighting for all which I prized in the world:
"if you do, you lie. Ask my mother when I ever disobeyed her before? I
have never touched a drop of anything stronger than water; I have slaved
over-hours to pay for my own candle, I have!--I have no sins to accuse
myself of, and neither you nor any person know of any. Do you call me a
profligate because I wish to educate myself and rise in life?"
"Ah!" groaned my poor mother to herself, "still unconvinced of sin!"
"The old Adam, my dear madam, you see,--standing, as he always does, on his
own filthy rags of works, while all the imaginations of his heart are only
evil continually. Listen to me, poor sinner--"
"I will not listen to you," I cried, the accumulated disgust of years
bursting out once and for all, "for I hate and despise you, eating my poor
mother here out of house and home. You are one of those who creep into
widows' houses, and for pretence make long prayers. You, sir, I will hear,"
I went on, turning to the dear old man who had sat by shaking his white
locks with a sad and puzzled air, "for I love you."
"My dear sister Locke," he began, "I really think sometimes--that is,
ahem--with your leave, brother--I am almost disposed--but I should wish to
defer to your superior zeal--yet, at the same time, perhaps, the desire for
information, however carnal in itself, may be an instrument in the Lord's
hands--you know what I mean. I always thought him a gracious youth, madam,
didn't you? And perhaps--I only observe it in passing--the Lord's people
among the dissenting connexions are apt to undervalue human learning as a
means--of course, I mean, only as a means. It is not generally known, I
believe, that our reverend Puritan patriarchs, Howe and Baxter, Owen and
many more, were not altogether unacquainted with heathen authors; nay, that
they may have been called absolutely learned men. And some of our leading
ministers are inclined--no doubt they will be led rightly in so important
a matter--to follow the example of the Independents in educating their
young ministers, and turning Satan's weapons of heathen mythology against
himself, as St. Paul is said to have done. My dear boy, what books have you
now got by you of Mr. Mackaye's?"
"Milton's Poems and a Latin Virgil."
"Ah!" groaned the dark man; "will poetry, will Latin save an immortal
"I'll tell you what, sir; you say yourself that it depends on God's
absolute counsel whether I am saved or not. So, if I am elect, I shall be
saved whatever I do; and if I am not, I shall be damned whatever I do; and
in the mean time you had better mind your own business, and let me do the
best I can for this life, as the next is all settled for me."
This flippant, but after all not unreasonable speech, seemed to silence the
man; and I took the opportunity of running up-stairs and bringing down my
Milton. The old man was speaking as I re-entered.
"And you know, my dear madam, Mr. Milton was a true converted man, and a
"He was Oliver Cromwell's secretary," I added.
"Did he teach you to disobey your mother?" asked my mother.
I did not answer; and the old man, after turning over a few leaves, as if
he knew the book well, looked up.
"I think, madam, you might let the youth keep these books, if he will
promise, as I am sure he will, to see no more of Mr. Mackaye."
I was ready to burst out crying, but I made up my mind and answered,
"I must see him once again, or he will think me so ungrateful. He is the
best friend that I ever had, except you, mother. Besides, I do not know if
he will lend me any, after this."
My mother looked at the old minister, and then gave a sullen assent.
"Promise me only to see him once--but I cannot trust you. You have deceived
me once, Alton, and you may again!"
"I shall not, I shall not," I answered proudly. "You do not know me"--and I
"You do not know yourself, my poor dear foolish child!" she replied--and
that was true too.
"And now, dear friends," said the dark man, "let us join in offering up a
few words of special intercession."
We all knelt down, and I soon discovered that by the special intercession
was meant a string of bitter and groundless slanders against poor me,
twisted into the form of a prayer for my conversion, "if it were God's
will." To which I responded with a closing "Amen," for which I was sorry
afterwards, when I recollected that it was said in merely insolent mockery.
But the little faith I had was breaking up fast--not altogether, surely, by
my own fault. [Footnote: The portraits of the minister and the missionary
are surely exceptions to their class, rather than the average. The Baptists
have had their Andrew Fuller and Robert Hall, and among missionaries Dr.
Carey, and noble spirits in plenty. But such men as those who excited
Alton Locke's disgust are to be met with, in every sect; in the Church of
England, and in the Church of Rome. And it is a real and fearful scandal
to the young, to see such men listened to as God's messengers, in spite
of their utter want of any manhood or virtue, simply because they are
"orthodox," each according to the shibboleths of his hearers, and possess
that vulpine "discretion of dulness," whose miraculous might Dean Swift
sets forth in his "Essay on the Fates of Clergymen." Such men do exist, and
prosper; and as long as they are allowed to do so, Alton Lockes will meet
them, and be scandalized by them.--ED.]
At all events, from that day I was emancipated from modern Puritanism. The
ministers both avoided all serious conversation with me; and my mother
did the same; while, with a strength of mind, rare among women, she never
alluded to the scene of that Sunday evening. It was a rule with her never
to recur to what was once done and settled. What was to be, might be prayed
over. But it was to be endured in silence; yet wider and wider ever from
that time opened the gulf between us.
I went trembling the next afternoon to Mackaye and told my story. He first
scolded me severely for disobeying my mother. "He that begins o' that gate,
laddie, ends by disobeying God and his ain conscience. Gin ye're to be a
scholar, God will make you one--and if not, ye'll no mak' yoursel' ane
in spite o' Him and His commandments." And then he filled his pipe and
chuckled away in silence; at last he exploded in a horse-laugh.
"So ye gied the ministers a bit o' yer mind? 'The deil's amang the tailors'
in gude earnest, as the sang says. There's Johnnie Crossthwaite kicked the
Papist priest out o' his house yestreen. Puir ministers, it's ill times wi'
them! They gang about keckling and screighing after the working men, like
a hen that's hatched ducklings, when she sees them tak' the water. Little
Dunkeld's coming to London sune, I'm thinking.
"Hech! sic a parish, a parish, a parish;
Hech! sic a parish as little Dunkeld!
They hae stickit the minister, hanged the precentor,
Dung down the steeple, and drucken the bell."
"But may I keep the books a little while, Mr. Mackaye?"
"Keep them till ye die, gin ye will. What is the worth o' them to me? What
is the worth o' anything to me, puir auld deevil, that ha' no half a dizen
years to live at the furthest. God bless ye, my bairn; gang hame, and mind
your mither, or it's little gude books'll do ye."
TAILORS AND SOLDIERS.
I was now thrown again utterly on my own resources. I read and re-read
Milton's "Poems" and Virgil's "AEneid" for six more months at every spare
moment; thus spending over them, I suppose, all in all, far more time than
most gentlemen have done. I found, too, in the last volume of Milton, a few
of his select prose works: the "Areopagitica," the "Defence of the English
People," and one or two more, in which I gradually began to take an
interest; and, little of them as I could comprehend, I was awed by their
tremendous depth and power, as well as excited by the utterly new trains of
thought into which they led me. Terrible was the amount of bodily fatigue
which I had to undergo in reading at every spare moment, while walking to
and fro from my work, while sitting up, often from midnight till dawn,
stitching away to pay for the tallow-candle which I burnt, till I had to
resort to all sorts of uncomfortable contrivances for keeping myself awake,
even at the expense of bodily pain--Heaven forbid that I should weary
my readers by describing them! Young men of the upper classes, to whom
study--pursue it as intensely as you will--is but the business of the day,
and every spare moment relaxation; little you guess the frightful drudgery
undergone by a man of the people who has vowed to educate himself,--to live
at once two lives, each as severe as the whole of yours,--to bring to the
self-imposed toil of intellectual improvement, a body and brain already
worn out by a day of toilsome manual labour. I did it. God forbid, though,
that I should take credit to myself for it. Hundreds more have done it,
with still fewer advantages than mine. Hundreds more, an ever-increasing
army of martyrs, are doing it at this moment: of some of them, too, perhaps
you may hear hereafter.
I had read through Milton, as I said, again and again; I had got out of
him all that my youth and my unregulated mind enabled me to get. I had
devoured, too, not without profit, a large old edition of "Fox's Martyrs,"
which the venerable minister lent me, and now I was hungering again for
fresh food, and again at a loss where to find it.
I was hungering, too, for more than information--for a friend. Since my
intercourse with Sandy Mackaye had been stopped, six months had passed
without my once opening my lips to any human being upon the subjects with
which my mind was haunted day and night. I wanted to know more about
poetry, history, politics, philosophy--all things in heaven and earth. But,
above all, I wanted a faithful and sympathizing ear into which to pour all
my doubts, discontents, and aspirations. My sister Susan, who was one year
younger than myself, was growing into a slender, pretty, hectic girl of
sixteen. But she was altogether a devout Puritan. She had just gone through
the process of conviction of sin and conversion; and being looked upon
at the chapel as an especially gracious professor, was either unable or
unwilling to think or speak on any subject, except on those to which I
felt a growing distaste. She had shrunk from me, too, very much, since my
ferocious attack that Sunday evening on the dark minister, who was her
special favourite. I remarked it, and it was a fresh cause of unhappiness
At last I made up my mind, come what would, to force myself upon
Crossthwaite. He was the only man whom I knew who seemed able to help me;
and his very reserve had invested him with a mystery, which served to
heighten my imagination of his powers. I waylaid him one day coming out of
the workroom to go home, and plunged at once desperately into the matter.
"Mr. Crossthwaite, I want to speak to you. I want to ask you to advise me."
"I have known that a long time."
"Then why did you never say a kind word to me?"
"Because I was waiting to see whether you were worth saying a kind word to.
It was but the other day, remember, you were a bit of a boy. Now, I think,
I may trust you with a thing or two. Besides, I wanted to see whether you
trusted me enough to ask me. Now you've broke the ice at last, in with you,
head and ears, and see what you can fish out."
"I am very unhappy--"
"That's no new disorder that I know of."
"No; but I think the reason I am unhappy is a strange one; at least, I
never read of but one person else in the same way. I want to educate
myself, and I can't."
"You must have read precious little then, if you think yourself in a
strange way. Bless the boy's heart! And what the dickens do you want to be
educating yourself for, pray?"
This was said in a tone of good-humoured banter, which gave me courage. He
offered to walk homewards with me; and, as I shambled along by his side, I
told him all my story and all my griefs.
I never shall forget that walk. Every house, tree, turning, which we passed
that day on our way, is indissolubly connected in my mind with some strange
new thought which arose in me just at each spot; and recurs, so are the
mind and the senses connected, as surely as I repass it.
I had been telling him about Sandy Mackaye. He confessed to an acquaintance
with him; but in a reserved and mysterious way, which only heightened my
We were going through the Horse Guards, and I could not help lingering
to look with wistful admiration on the huge mustachoed war-machines who
sauntered about the court-yard.
A tall and handsome officer, blazing in scarlet and gold, cantered in on a
superb horse, and, dismounting, threw the reins to a dragoon as grand and
gaudy as himself. Did I envy him? Well--I was but seventeen. And there is
something noble to the mind, as well as to the eye, in the great strong
man, who can fight--a completeness, a self-restraint, a terrible sleeping
power in him. As Mr. Carlyle says, "A soldier, after all, is--one of the
few remaining realities of the age. All other professions almost promise
one thing, and perform--alas! what? But this man promises to fight, and
does it; and, if he be told, will veritably take out a long sword and kill
So thought my companion, though the mood in which he viewed the fact was
somewhat different from my own.
"Come on," he said, peevishly clutching me by the arm; "what do you want
dawdling? Are you a nursery-maid, that you must stare at those red-coated
butchers?" And a deep curse followed.
"What harm have they done you?"
"I should think I owed them turn enough."
"They cut my father down at Sheffield,--perhaps with the very swords he
helped to make,--because he would not sit still and starve, and see us
starving around him, while those who fattened on the sweat of his brow, and
on those lungs of his, which the sword-grinding dust was eating out day by
day, were wantoning on venison and champagne. That's the harm they've done
me, my chap!"
"Poor fellows!--they only did as they were ordered, I suppose."
"And what business have they to let themselves be ordered? What right, I
say--what right has any free, reasonable soul on earth, to sell himself for
a shilling a day to murder any man, right or wrong--even his own brother
or his own father--just because such a whiskered, profligate jackanapes
as that officer, without learning, without any god except his own
looking-glass and his opera-dancer--a fellow who, just because he is born
a gentleman, is set to command grey-headed men before he can command his
own meanest passions. Good heavens! that the lives of free men should be
entrusted to such a stuffed cockatoo; and that free men should be such
traitors to their country, traitors to their own flesh and blood, as to
sell themselves, for a shilling a day and the smirks of the nursery-maids,
to do that fellow's bidding!"
"What are you a-grumbling here about, my man?--gotten the cholera?" asked
one of the dragoons, a huge, stupid-looking lad.
"About you, you young long-legged cut-throat," answered Crossthwaite, "and
all your crew of traitors."
"Help, help, coomrades o' mine!" quoth the dragoon, bursting with laughter;
"I'm gaun be moorthered wi' a little booy that's gane mad, and toorned
I dragged Crossthwaite off; for what was jest to the soldiers, I saw, by
his face, was fierce enough earnest to him. We walked on a little, in
"Now," I said, "that was a good-natured fellow enough, though he was a
soldier. You and he might have cracked many a joke together, if you did but
understand each other;--and he was a countryman of yours, too."
"I may crack something else besides jokes with him some day," answered he,
"'Pon my word, you must take care how you do it. He is as big as four of
"That vile aristocrat, the old Italian poet--what's his
name?--Ariosto--ay!--he knew which quarter the wind was making for, when he
said that fire-arms would be the end of all your old knights and gentlemen
in armour, that hewed down unarmed innocents as if they had been sheep.
Gunpowder is your true leveller--dash physical strength! A boy's a man with
a musket in his hand, my chap!"
"God forbid," I said, "that I should ever be made a man of in that way, or
you either. I do not think we are quite big enough to make fighters; and if
we were, what have we got to fight about?"
"Big enough to make fighters?" said he, half to himself; "or strong enough,
perhaps?--or clever enough?--and yet Alexander was a little man, and the
Petit Caporal, and Nelson, and Caesar, too; and so was Saul of Tarsus,
and weakly he was into the bargain. AEsop was a dwarf, and so was Attila;
Shakspeare was lame; Alfred, a rickety weakling; Byron, clubfooted;--so
much for body _versus_ spirit--brute force _versus_ genius--genius."
I looked at him; his eyes glared like two balls of fire. Suddenly he turned
"Locke, my boy, I've made an ass of myself, and got into a rage, and broken
a good old resolution of mine, and a promise that I made to my dear little
woman--bless her! and said things to you that you ought to know nothing of
for this long time; but those red-coats always put me beside myself. God
forgive me!" And he held out his hand to me cordially.
"I can quite understand your feeling deeply on one point," I said, as I
took it, "after the sad story you told me; but why so bitter on all? What
is there so very wrong about things, that we must begin fighting about it?"
"Bless your heart, poor innocent! What is wrong?--what is not wrong? Wasn't
there enough in that talk with Mackaye, that you told me of just now, to
show anybody that, who can tell a hawk from a hand-saw?"
"Was it wrong in him to give himself such trouble about the education of a
poor young fellow, who has no tie on him, who can never repay him?"
"No; that's just like him. He feels for the people, for he has been one of
us. He worked in a printing-office himself many a year, and he knows the
heart of the working man. But he didn't tell you the whole truth about
education. He daren't tell you. No one who has money dare speak out his
heart; not that he has much certainly; but the cunning old Scot that he is,
he lives by the present system of things, and he won't speak ill of the
bridge which carries him over--till the time comes."
I could not understand whither all this tended, and walked on silent and
somewhat angry, at hearing the least slight cast on Mackaye.
"Don't you see, stupid?" he broke out at last. "What did he say to you
about gentlemen being crammed by tutors and professors? Have not you as
good a right to them as any gentleman?"
"But he told me they were no use--that every man must educate himself."
"Oh! all very fine to tell you the grapes are sour, when you can't reach
them. Bah, lad! Can't you see what comes of education?--that any dolt,
provided he be a gentleman, can be doctored up at school and college,
enough to make him play his part decently--his mighty part of ruling us,
and riding over our heads, and picking our pockets, as parson, doctor,
lawyer, member of parliament--while we--you now, for instance--cleverer
than ninety-nine gentlemen out of a hundred, if you had one-tenth the
trouble taken with you that is taken with every pig-headed son of an
"Am I clever?" asked I, in honest surprise.
"What! haven't you found that out yet? Don't try to put that on me. Don't a
girl know when she's pretty, without asking her neighbours?"
"Really, I never thought about it."
"More simpleton you. Old Mackaye has, at all events; though, canny
Scotchman that he is, he'll never say a word to you about it, yet he makes
no secret of it to other people. I heard him the other day telling some of
our friends that you were a thorough young genius."
I blushed scarlet, between pleasure and a new feeling; was it ambition?
"Why, hav'n't you a right to aspire to a college education as any
do-nothing canon there at the abbey, lad?"
"I don't know that I have a right to anything."
"What, not become what Nature intended you to become? What has she given
you brains for, but to be educated and used? Oh! I heard a fine lecture
upon that at our club the other night. There was a man there--a gentleman,
too, but a thorough-going people's man, I can tell you, Mr. O'Flynn. What
an orator that man is to be sure! The Irish AEschines, I hear they call
him in Conciliation Hall. Isn't he the man to pitch into the Mammonites?
'Gentlemen and ladies,' says he, 'how long will a diabolic society'--no, an
effete society it was--'how long will an effete, emasculate, and effeminate
society, in the diabolic selfishness of its eclecticism, refuse to
acknowledge what my immortal countryman, Burke, calls the "Dei voluntatem
in rebus revelatam"--the revelation of Nature's will in the phenomena of
matter? The cerebration of each is the prophetic sacrament of the yet
undeveloped possibilities of his mentation. The form of the brain alone,
and not the possession of the vile gauds of wealth and rank, constitute
man's only right to education--to the glories of art and science. Those
beaming eyes and roseate lips beneath me proclaim a bevy of undeveloped
Aspasias, of embryo Cleopatras, destined by Nature, and only restrained by
man's injustice, from ruling the world by their beauty's eloquence. Those
massive and beetling brows, gleaming with the lambent flames of patriotic
ardour--what is needed to unfold them into a race of Shakspeares and of
Gracchi, ready to proclaim with sword and lyre the divine harmonies of
liberty, equality, and fraternity, before a quailing universe?'"
"It sounds very grand," replied I, meekly; "and I should like very much
certainly to have a good education. But I can't see whose injustice keeps
me out of one if I can't afford to pay for it."
"Whose? Why, the parson's to be sure. They've got the monopoly of education
in England, and they get their bread by it at their public schools and
universities; and of course it's their interest to keep up the price of
their commodity, and let no man have a taste of it who can't pay down
handsomely. And so those aristocrats of college dons go on rolling in
riches, and fellowships, and scholarships, that were bequeathed by the
people's friends in old times, just to educate poor scholars like you and
me, and give us our rights as free men."
"But I thought the clergy were doing so much to educate the poor. At
least, I hear all the dissenting ministers grumbling at their continual
"Ay, educating them to make them slaves and bigots. They don't teach them
what they teach their own sons. Look at the miserable smattering of general
information--just enough to serve as sauce for their great first and last
lesson of 'Obey the powers that be'--whatever they be; leave us alone in
our comforts, and starve patiently; do, like good boys, for it's God's
will. And then, if a boy does show talent in school, do they help him up
in life? Not they; when he has just learnt enough to whet his appetite for
more, they turn him adrift again, to sink and drudge--to do his duty, as
they call it, in that state of life to which society and the devil have
"But there are innumerable stories of great Englishmen who have risen from
the lowest ranks."
"Ay; but where are the stories of those who have not risen--of all the
noble geniuses who have ended in desperation, drunkenness, starvation,
suicide, because no one would take the trouble of lifting them up, and
enabling them to walk in the path which Nature had marked out for them?
Dead men tell no tales; and this old whited sepulchre, society, ain't going
to turn informer against itself."
"I trust and hope," I said, sadly, "that if God intends me to rise, He
will open the way for me; perhaps the very struggles and sorrows of a poor
genius may teach him more than ever wealth and prosperity could."
"True, Alton, my boy! and that's my only comfort. It does make men of us,
this bitter battle of life. We working men, when we do come out of the
furnace, come out, not tinsel and papier mache, like those fops of red-tape
statesmen, but steel and granite, Alton, my boy--that has been seven times
tried in the fire: and woe to the papier mache gentleman that runs against
us! But," he went on, sadly, "for one who comes safe through the furnace,
there are a hundred who crack in the burning. You are a young bear, my
lad, with all your sorrows before you; and you'll find that a working
man's training is like the Red Indian children's. The few who are
strong enough to stand it grow up warriors; but all those who are not
fire-and-water-proof by nature--just die, Alton, my lad, and the tribe
thinks itself well rid of them."
So that conversation ended. But it had implanted in my bosom a new seed of
mingled good and evil, which was destined to bear fruit, precious perhaps
as well as bitter. God knows, it has hung on the tree long enough. Sour
and harsh from the first, it has been many a year in ripening. But the
sweetness of the apple, the potency of the grape, as the chemists tell
us, are born out of acidity--a developed sourness. Will it be so with
my thoughts? Dare I assert, as I sit writing here, with the wild waters
slipping past the cabin windows, backwards and backwards ever, every plunge
of the vessel one forward leap from the old world--worn-out world I had
almost called it, of sham civilization and real penury--dare I hope ever to
return and triumph? Shall I, after all, lay my bones among my own people,
and hear the voices of freemen whisper in my dying ears?
Silence, dreaming heart! Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof--and
the good thereof also. Would that I had known that before! Above all, that
I had known it on that night, when first the burning thought arose in my
heart, that I was unjustly used; that society had not given me my rights.
It came to me as a revelation, celestial-infernal, full of glorious hopes
of the possible future in store for me through the perfect development of
all my faculties; and full, too, of fierce present rage, wounded vanity,
bitter grudgings against those more favoured than myself, which grew in
time almost to cursing against the God who had made me a poor untutored
working man, and seemed to have given me genius only to keep me in a
Tantalus' hell of unsatisfied thirst.
Ay, respectable gentlemen and ladies, I will confess all to you--you shall
have, if you enjoy it, a fresh opportunity for indulging that supreme
pleasure which the press daily affords you of insulting the classes
whose powers most of you know as little as you do their sufferings. Yes;
the Chartist poet is vain, conceited, ambitious, uneducated, shallow,
inexperienced, envious, ferocious, scurrilous, seditious, traitorous.--Is
your charitable vocabulary exhausted? Then ask yourselves, how often have
you yourself honestly resisted and conquered the temptation to any one of
these sins, when it has come across you just once in a way, and not as they
came to me, as they come to thousands of the working men, daily and hourly,
"till their torments do, by length of time, become their elements"? What,
are we covetous too? Yes! And if those who have, like you, still covet
more, what wonder if those who have nothing covet something? Profligate
too? Well, though that imputation as a generality is utterly calumnious,
though your amount of respectable animal enjoyment per annum is a hundred
times as great as that of the most self-indulgent artizan, yet, if you had
ever felt what it is to want, not only every luxury of the senses, but even
bread to eat, you would think more mercifully of the man who makes up by
rare excesses, and those only of the limited kinds possible to him, for
long intervals of dull privation, and says in his madness, "Let us eat and
drink, for to-morrow we die!" We have our sins, and you have yours. Ours
may be the more gross and barbaric, but yours are none the less damnable;
perhaps all the more so, for being the sleek, subtle, respectable,
religious sins they are. You are frantic enough, if our part of the press
calls you hard names, but you cannot see that your part of the press
repays it back to us with interest. _We_ see those insults, and feel them
bitterly enough; and do not forget them, alas! soon enough, while they pass
unheeded by your delicate eyes as trivial truisms. Horrible, unprincipled,
villanous, seditious, frantic, blasphemous, are epithets, of course, when
applied to--to how large a portion of the English people, you will some day
discover to your astonishment. When will that come, and how? In thunder,
and storm, and garments rolled in blood? Or like the dew on the mown grass,
and the clear shining of the sunlight after April rain?
Yes, it was true. Society had not given me my rights. And woe unto the man
on whom that idea, true or false, rises lurid, filling all his thoughts
with stifling glare, as of the pit itself. Be it true, be it false, it is
equally a woe to believe it; to have to live on a negation; to have to
worship for our only idea, as hundreds of thousands of us have this day,
the hatred, of the things which are. Ay, though, one of us here and there
may die in faith, in sight of the promised land, yet is it not hard, when
looking from the top of Pisgah into "the good time coming," to watch the
years slipping away one by one, and death crawling nearer and nearer, and
the people wearying themselves in the fire for very vanity, and Jordan not
yet passed, the promised land not yet entered? While our little children
die around us, like lambs beneath the knife, of cholera and typhus and
consumption, and all the diseases which the good time can and will prevent;
which, as science has proved, and you the rich confess, might be prevented
at once, if you dared to bring in one bold and comprehensive measure,
and not sacrifice yearly the lives of thousands to the idol of vested
interests, and a majority in the House. Is it not hard to men who smart
beneath such things to help crying aloud--"Thou cursed Moloch-Mammon, take
my life if thou wilt; let me die in the wilderness, for I have deserved
it; but these little ones in mines and factories, in typhus-cellars, and
Tooting pandemoniums, what have they done? If not in their fathers' cause,
yet still in theirs, were it so great a sin to die upon a barricade?"
Or after all, my working brothers, is it true of our promised land, even as
of that Jewish one of old, that the _priests'_ feet must first cross the
mystic stream into the good land and large which God has prepared for us?
Is it so indeed? Then in the name of the Lord of Hosts, ye priests of His,
why will ye not awake, and arise, and go over Jordan, that the people of
the Lord may follow you?
THE SCEPTIC'S MOTHER.
My readers will perceive from what I have detailed, that I was not likely
to get any positive ground of comfort from Crossthwaite; and from within
myself there was daily less and less hope of any. Daily the struggle became
more intolerable between my duty to my mother and my duty to myself--that
inward thirst for mental self-improvement, which, without any clear
consciousness of its sanctity or inspiration, I felt, and could not help
feeling, that I _must_ follow. No doubt it was very self-willed and
ambitious of me to do that which rich men's sons are flogged for not doing,
and rewarded with all manner of prizes, scholarships, fellowships for
doing. But the nineteenth year is a time of life at which self-will is apt
to exhibit itself in other people besides tailors; and those religious
persons who think it no sin to drive their sons on through classics and
mathematics, in hopes of gaining them a station in life, ought not to be
very hard upon me for driving myself on through the same path without any
such selfish hope of gain--though perhaps the very fact of my having no
wish or expectation of such advantage will constitute in their eyes my sin
and folly, and prove that I was following the dictates merely of a carnal
lust, and not of a proper worldly prudence. I really do not wish to be
flippant or sneering. I have seen the evil of it as much as any man, in
myself and in my own class. But there are excuses for such a fault in the
working man. It does sour and madden him to be called presumptuous and
ambitious for the very same aspirations which are lauded up to the skies in
the sons of the rich--unless, indeed, he will do one little thing, and so
make his peace with society. If he will desert his own class; if he will
try to become a sham gentleman, a parasite, and, if he can, a Mammonite,
the world will compliment him on his noble desire to "_rise in life_."
He will have won his spurs, and be admitted into that exclusive pale of
knighthood, beyond which it is a sin to carry arms even in self-defence.
But if the working genius dares to be true to his own class--to stay among
them--to regenerate them--to defend them--to devote his talents to those
among whom God placed him and brought him up--then he is the demagogue, the
incendiary, the fanatic, the dreamer. So you would have the monopoly of
talent, too, exclusive worldlings? And yet you pretend to believe in the
miracle of Pentecost, and the religion that was taught by the carpenter's
Son, and preached across the world by fishermen!
I was several times minded to argue the question out with my mother, and
assert for myself the same independence of soul which I was now earning for
my body by my wages. Once I had resolved to speak to her that very evening;
but, strangely enough, happening to open the Bible, which, alas! I did
seldom at that time, my eye fell upon the chapter where Jesus, after having
justified to His parents His absence in the Temple, while hearing the
doctors and asking them questions, yet went down with them to Nazareth
after all, and was subject unto them. The story struck me vividly as a
symbol of my own duties. But on reading further, I found more than one
passage which seemed to me to convey a directly opposite lesson, where His
mother and His brethren, fancying Him mad, attempted to interfere with His
labours, and asserting their family rights as reasons for retaining Him,
met with a peremptory rebuff. I puzzled my head for some time to find
out which of the two cases was the more applicable to my state of
self-development. The notion of asking for teaching from on high on
such a point had never crossed me. Indeed, if it had, I did not believe
sufficiently either in the story or in the doctrines connected with it,
to have tried such a resource. And so, as may be supposed, my growing
self-conceit decided for me that the latter course was the fitting one.
And yet I had not energy to carry it out. I was getting so worn out in body
and mind from continual study and labour, stinted food and want of sleep,
that I could not face the thought of an explosion, such as I knew must
ensue, and I lingered on in the same unhappy state, becoming more and more
morose in manner to my mother, while I was as assiduous as ever in all
filial duties. But I had no pleasure in home. She seldom spoke to me.
Indeed, there was no common topic about which we could speak. Besides, ever
since that fatal Sunday evening, I saw that she suspected me and watched
me. I had good reason to believe that she set spies upon my conduct. Poor
dear mother! God forbid that I should accuse thee for a single care of
thine, for a single suspicion even, prompted as they all were by a mother's
anxious love. I would never have committed these things to paper, hadst
thou not been far beyond the reach or hearing of them; and only now, in
hopes that they may serve as a warning, in some degree to mothers, but ten
times more to children. For I sinned against thee, deeply and shamefully,
in thought and deed, while thou didst never sin against me; though all thy
caution did but hasten the fatal explosion which came, and perhaps must
have come, under some form or other, in any case.
I had been detained one night in the shop till late; and on my return my
mother demanded, in a severe tone, the reason of my stay; and on my telling
her, answered as severely that she did not believe me; that she had too
much reason to suspect that I had been with bad companions.
"Who dared to put such a thought into your head?"
She "would not give up her authorities, but she had too much reason to
Again I demanded the name of my slanderer, and was refused it. And then.
I burst out, for the first time in my life, into a real fit of rage with
her. I cannot tell how I dared to say what I did, but I was weak, nervous,
irritable--my brain excited beyond all natural tension. Above all, I felt
that she was unjust to me; and my good conscience, as well as my pride,
"You have never trusted me," I cried, "you have watched me--"
"Did you not deceive me once already?"
"And if I did," I answered, more and more excited, "have I not slaved for
you, stinted myself of clothes to pay your rent? Have I not run to and fro
for you like a slave, while I knew all the time you did not respect me or
trust me? If you had only treated me as a child and an idiot, I could have
borne it. But you have been thinking of me all the while as an incarnate
fiend--dead in trespasses and sins--a child of wrath and the devil. What
right have you to be astonished if I should do my father's works?"
"You may be ignorant of vital religion," she answered; "and you may insult
me. But if you make a mock of God's Word, you leave my house. If you can
laugh at religion, you can deceive me."
The pent-up scepticism of years burst forth.
"Mother," I said, "don't talk to me about religion, and election, and
conversion, and all that--I don't believe one word of it. Nobody does,
except good kind people--(like you, alas! I was going to say, but the devil
stopped the words at my lips)--who must needs have some reason to account
for their goodness. That Bowyer--he's a soft heart by nature, and as he
is, so he does--religion has had nothing to do with that, any more than it
has with that black-faced, canting scoundrel who has been telling you lies
about me. Much his heart is changed. He carries sneak and slanderer written
in his face--and sneak and slanderer he will be, elect or none. Religion?
Nobody believes in it. The rich don't; or they wouldn't fill their churches
up with pews, and shut the poor out, all the time they are calling them
brothers. They believe the gospel? Then why do they leave the men who make
their clothes to starve in such hells on earth as our workroom? No more
do the tradespeople believe in it; or they wouldn't go home from sermon
to sand the sugar, and put sloe-leaves in the tea, and send out lying
puffs of their vamped-up goods, and grind the last farthing out of the
poor creatures who rent their wretched stinking houses. And as for the
workmen--they laugh at it all, I can tell you. Much good religion is doing
for them! You may see it's fit only for women and children--for go where
you will, church or chapel, you see hardly anything but bonnets and babies!
I don't believe a word of it,--once and for all. I'm old enough to think
for myself, and a free-thinker I will be, and believe nothing but what I
know and understand."
I had hardly spoken the words, when I would have given worlds to recall
them--but it was to be--and it was.
Sternly she looked at me full in the face, till my eyes dropped before her
gaze. Then she spoke steadily and slowly:
"Leave this house this moment. You are no son of mine henceforward. Do you
think I will have my daughter polluted by the company of an infidel and a
"I will go," I answered fiercely; "I can get my own living at all events!"
And before I had time to think, I had rushed upstairs, packed up my bundle,
not forgetting the precious books, and was on my way through the frosty,
echoing streets, under the cold glare of the winter's moon.
I had gone perhaps half a mile, when the thought of home rushed over
me--the little room where I had spent my life--the scene of all my childish
joys and sorrows--which I should never see again, for I felt that my
departure was for ever. Then I longed to see my mother once again--not to
speak to her--for I was at once too proud and too cowardly to do that--but
to have a look at her through the window. One look--for all the while,
though I was boiling over with rage and indignation, I felt that it was all
on the surface--that in the depths of our hearts I loved her and she loved
me. And yet I wished to be angry, wished to hate her. Strange contradiction
of the flesh and spirit!
Hastily and silently I retraced my steps to the house. The gate was
padlocked. I cautiously stole over the palings to the window--the shutter
was closed and fast. I longed to knock--I lifted my hand to the door, and
dare not: indeed, I knew that it was useless, in my dread of my mother's
habit of stern determination. That room--that mother I never saw again. I
turned away; sickened at heart, I was clambering back again, looking behind
me towards the window, when I felt a strong grip on my collar, and turning
round, had a policeman's lantern flashed in my face.
"Hullo, young'un, and what do you want here?" with a strong emphasis, after
the fashion of policemen, on all his pronouns.
"Hush! or you'll alarm my mother!"
"Oh! eh! Forgot the latch-key, you sucking Don Juan, that's it, is it? Late
home from the Victory?"
I told him simply how the case stood, and entreated him to get me a night's
lodging, assuring him that my mother would not admit me, or I ask to be
The policeman seemed puzzled, but after scratching his hat in lieu of his
head for some seconds, replied,
"This here is the dodge--you goes outside and lies down on the kerb-stone;
whereby I spies you a-sleeping in the streets, contrary to Act o'
Parliament; whereby it is my duty to take you to the station-house; whereby
you gets a night's lodging free gracious for nothing, and company perwided
by her Majesty."
"Oh, not to the station-house!" I cried in shame and terror.
"Werry well; then you must keep moving all night continually, whereby you
avoids the hact; or else you goes to a twopenny-rope shop and gets a lie
down. And your bundle you'd best leave at my house. Twopenny-rope society
a'n't particular. I'm going off my beat; you walk home with me and leave
your traps. Everybody knows me--Costello, V 21, that's my number."
So on I went with the kind-hearted man, who preached solemnly to me all the
way on the fifth commandment. But I heard very little of it; for before I
had proceeded a quarter of a mile, a deadly faintness and dizziness came
over me, I staggered, and fell against the railings.
"And have you been drinking arter all?"
"I never--a drop in my life--nothing but bread-and-water this fortnight."
And it was true. I had been paying for my own food, and had stinted
myself to such an extent, that between starvation, want of sleep, and
over-exertion, I was worn to a shadow, and the last drop had filled the
cup; the evening's scene and its consequences had been too much for me, and
in the middle of an attempt to explain matters to the policeman, I dropped
on the pavement, bruising my face heavily.
He picked me up, put me under one arm and my bundle under the other, and
was proceeding on his march, when three men came rollicking up.
"Hullo, Poleax--Costello--What's that? Work for us? A demp unpleasant
"Oh, Mr. Bromley, sir! Hope you're well, sir! Werry rum go this here, sir!
I finds this cove in the streets. He says his mother turned him out o'
doors. He seems very fair spoken, and very bad in he's head, and very bad
in he's chest, and very bad in he's legs, he does. And I can't come to no
conclusions respecting my conduct in this here case, nohow!"
"Memorialize the Health of Towns Commission," suggested one.
"Bleed him in the great toe," said the second.
"Put a blister on the back of his left eye-ball," said a third.
"Case of male asterisks," observed the first. "Rj. Aquae pumpis purae
quantum suff. Applicatur extero pro re nata. J. Bromley, M.D., and don't
he wish he may get through!"--
"Tip us your daddle, my boy," said the second speaker. "I'll tell you what,
Bromley, this fellow's very bad. He's got no more pulse than the
Pimlico sewer. Run in into the next pot'us. Here--you lay hold of him,
Bromley--that last round with the cabman nearly put my humerus out."
The huge, burly, pea-jacketed medical student--for such I saw at once
he was--laid hold of me on the right tenderly enough, and walked me off
between him and the policeman.
I fell again into a faintness, from which I was awakened by being shoved
through the folding-doors of a gin-shop, into a glare of light and hubbub
of blackguardism, and placed on a settle, while my conductor called out--
"Pots round, Mary, and a go of brandy hot with, for the patient. Here,
young'un, toss it off, it'll make your hair grow."
I feebly answered that I never had drunk anything stronger than water.
"High time to begin, then; no wonder you're so ill. Well, if you won't,
I'll make you--"
And taking my head under his arm, he seized me by the nose, while another
poured the liquor down my throat--and certainly it revived me at once.
A drunken drab pulled another drunken, drab off the settle to make room for
the "poor young man"; and I sat there with a confused notion that something
strange and dreadful had happened to me, while the party drained their
respective quarts of porter, and talked over the last boat-race with the
"Now then, gen'l'men," said the policeman, 'if you think he's recovered,
we'll take him home to his mother; she ought for to take him in, surely."
"Yes, if she has as much heart in her as a dried walnut."
But I resisted stoutly; though I longed to vindicate my mother's affection,
yet I could not face her. I entreated to be taken to the station-house;
threatened, in my desperation, to break the bar glasses, which, like Doll
Tearsheet's abuse, only elicited from the policeman a solemn "Very well";
and under the unwonted excitement of the brandy, struggled so fiercely, and
talked so incoherently, that the medical students interfered.
"We shall have this fellow in phrenitis, or laryngitis, or dothenenteritis,
or some other itis, before long, if he's aggravated."
"And whichever it is, it'll kill him. He has no more stamina left than a
yard of pump water."
"I should consider him chargeable to the parish," suggested the bar-keeper.
"Exactually so, my Solomon of licensed victuallers. Get a workhouse order
for him, Costello."
"And I should consider, also, sir," said the licensed victualler, with
increased importance, "having been a guardian myself, and knowing the hact,
as the parish couldn't refuse, because they're in power to recover all
hexpenses out of his mother."
"To be sure; it's all the unnatural old witch's fault."
"No, it is not," said I, faintly.
"Wait till your opinion's asked, young'un. Go kick up the authorities,
"Now, I'll just tell you how that'll work, gemmen," answered the policeman,
solemnly. "I goes to the overseer--werry good sort o' man--but he's in bed.
I knocks for half an hour. He puts his nightcap out o' windy, and sends me
to the relieving-officer. Werry good sort o' man he too; but he's in bed.
I knocks for another half-hour. He puts his nightcap out o' windy--sends
me to the medical officer for a certificate. Medical officer's gone to a
midwifery case. I hunts him for an hour or so. He's got hold of a babby
with three heads, or summat else; and two more women a-calling out for him
like blazes. 'He'll come to-morrow morning.' Now, I just axes your opinion
of that there most procrastinationest go."
The big student, having cursed the parochial authorities in general,
offered to pay for my night's lodging at the public-house. The good man of
the house demurred at first, but relented on being reminded of the value
of a medical student's custom: whereon, without more ado, two of the rough
diamonds took me between them, carried me upstairs, undressed me, and put
me to bed, as tenderly as if they had been women.
"He'll have the tantrums before morning, I'm afraid," said one.
"Very likely to turn to typhus," said the other.
"Well, I suppose--it's a horrid bore, but
"What must be must; man is but dust,
If you can't get crumb, you must just eat crust.
"Send me up a go of hot with, and I'll sit up with him till he's asleep,
dead, or better."
"Well, then, I'll stay too; we may just as well make a night of it here as
well as anywhere else."
And he pulled a short black pipe out of his pocket, and sat down to
meditate with his feet on the hobs of the empty grate; the other man went
down for the liquor; while I, between the brandy and exhaustion, fell fast
asleep, and never stirred till I woke the next morning with a racking
headache, and saw the big student standing by my bedside, having, as I
afterwards heard, sat by me till four in the morning.
"Hallo, young'un, come to your senses? Headache, eh? Slightly
comato-crapulose? We'll give you some soda and salvolatile, and I'll pay
for your breakfast."
And so he did, and when he was joined by his companions on their way to St.
George's, they were very anxious, having heard my story, to force a few
shillings on me "for luck," which, I need not say, I peremptorily refused,
assuring them that I could and would get my own living, and never take a
farthing from any man.
"That's a plucky dog, though he's a tailor," I heard them say, as, after
overwhelming them with thanks, and vowing, amid shouts of laughter, to
repay them every farthing I had cost them, I took my way, sick and stunned,
towards my dear old Sandy Mackaye's street.
Rough diamonds indeed! I have never met you again, but I have not forgotten
you. Your early life may be a coarse, too often a profligate one--but you
know the people, and the people know you: and your tenderness and care,
bestowed without hope of repayment, cheers daily many a poor soul in
hospital wards and fever-cellars--to meet its reward some day at the
people's hands. You belong to us at heart, as the Paris barricades can
tell. Alas! for the society which stifles in after-life too many of your
better feelings, by making you mere flunkeys and parasites, dependent for
your livelihood on the caprices and luxuries of the rich.
THE DULWICH GALLERY.
Sandy Mackaye received me in a characteristic way--growled at me for
half an hour for quarrelling with my mother, and when I was at my wit's
end, suddenly offered me a bed in his house and the use of his little
sitting-room--and, bliss too great to hope! of his books also; and when I
talked of payment, told me to hold my tongue and mind my own business. So
I settled myself at once; and that very evening he installed himself as my
private tutor, took down a Latin book, and set me to work on it.
"An' mind ye, laddie," said he, half in jest and half in earnest, "gin I
find ye playing truant, and reading a' sorts o' nonsense instead of minding
the scholastic methods and proprieties, I'll just bring ye in a bill at the
year's end o' twa guineas a week for lodgings and tuition, and tak' the law
o' ye; so mind and read what I tell ye. Do you comprehend noo?"
I did comprehend, and obeyed him, determining to repay him some day--and
somehow--how I did not very clearly see. Thus I put myself more or less
into the old man's power; foolishly enough the wise world will say. But I
had no suspicion in my character; and I could not look at those keen grey
eyes, when, after staring into vacancy during some long preachment, they
suddenly flashed round at me, and through me, full of fun and quaint
thought, and kindly earnestness, and fancy that man less honest than his
face seemed to proclaim him.
By-the-by, I have as yet given no description of the old eccentric's
abode--an unpardonable omission, I suppose, in these days of Dutch painting
and Boz. But the omission was correct, both historically and artistically,
for I had as yet only gone to him for books, books, nothing but books; and
I had been blind to everything in his shop but that fairy-land of shelves,
filled, in my simple fancy, with inexhaustible treasures, wonder-working,
omnipotent, as the magic seal of Solomon.
It was not till I had been settled and at work for several nights in his
sanctum, behind the shop, that I began to become conscious what a strange
den that sanctum was.
It was so dark, that without a gaslight no one but he could see to read
there, except on very sunny days. Not only were the shelves which covered
every inch of wall crammed with books and pamphlets, but the little window
was blocked up with them, the floor was piled with bundles of them, in some
places three feet deep, apparently in the wildest confusion--though there
was some mysterious order in them which he understood, and symbolized,
I suppose, by the various strange and ludicrous nicknames on their
tickets--for he never was at fault a moment if a customer asked for a
book, though it were buried deep in the chaotic stratum. Out of this book
alluvium a hole seemed to have been dug near the fireplace, just big enough
to hold his arm-chair and a table, book-strewn like everything else, and
garnished with odds and ends of MSS., and a snuffer-tray containing scraps
of half-smoked tobacco, "pipe-dottles," as he called them, which were
carefully resmoked over and over again, till nothing but ash was left.
His whole culinary utensils--for he cooked as well as eat in this strange
hole--were an old rusty kettle, which stood on one hob, and a blue plate
which, when washed, stood on the other. A barrel of true Aberdeen meal
peered out of a corner, half buried in books, and a "keg o' whusky, the
gift o' freens," peeped in like case out of another.
This was his only food. "It was a' poison," he used to say, "in London.
Bread full o' alum and bones, and sic filth--meat over-driven till it was
a' braxy--water sopped wi' dead men's juice. Naething was safe but gude
Scots parrich and Athol brose." He carried his water-horror so far as to
walk some quarter of a mile every morning to fill his kettle at a favourite
pump. "Was he a cannibal, to drink out o' that pump hard-by, right under
the kirkyard?" But it was little he either ate or drank--he seemed to live
upon tobacco. From four in the morning till twelve at night, the pipe
never left his lips, except when he went into the outer shop. "It promoted
meditation, and drove awa' the lusts o' the flesh. Ech! it was worthy o'
that auld tyrant, Jamie, to write his counter-blast to the poor man's
freen! The hypocrite! to gang preaching the virtues o' evil-savoured smoke
'ad daemones abigendos,--and then rail again tobacco, as if it was no as
gude for the purpose as auld rags and horn shavings!"
Sandy Mackaye had a great fancy for political caricatures, rows of which,
there being no room for them on the walls, hung on strings from the
ceiling--like clothes hung out to dry--and among them dangled various books
to which he had taken an antipathy, principally High Tory and Benthamite,
crucified, impaled through their covers, and suspended in all sorts of
torturing attitudes. Among them, right over the table, figured a copy of
Icon Basilike dressed up in a paper shirt, all drawn over with figures of
flames and devils, and surmounted by a peaked paper cap, like a victim
at an _auto-da-fe_. And in the midst of all this chaos grinned from the
chimney-piece, among pipes and pens, pinches of salt and scraps of butter,
a tall cast of Michael Angelo's well-known skinless model--his pristine
white defaced by a cap of soot upon the top of his scalpless skull, and
every muscle and tendon thrown into horrible relief by the dirt which had
lodged among the cracks. There it stood, pointing with its ghastly arm
towards the door, and holding on its wrist a label with the following
Here stand I, the working man,
Get more off me if you can.
I questioned Mackaye one evening about those hanged and crucified books,
and asked him if he ever sold any of them.
"Ou, ay," he said; "if folks are fools enough to ask for them, I'll just
answer a fool according to his folly."
"But," I said, "Mr. Mackaye, do you think it right to sell books of the
very opinions of which you disapprove so much?"
"Hoot, laddie, it's just a spoiling o' the Egyptians; so mind yer book, and
dinna tak in hand cases o' conscience for ither folk. Yell ha' wark eneugh
wi' yer ain before ye're dune."
And he folded round his knees his Joseph's coat, as he called it, an old
dressing-gown with one plaid sleeve, and one blue one, red shawl-skirts,
and a black broadcloth back, not to mention, innumerable patches of every
imaginable stuff and colour, filled his pipe, and buried his nose in
"Harrington's Oceana." He read at least twelve hours every day of his life,
and that exclusively old history and politics, though his favourite books
were Thomas Carlyle's works. Two or three evenings in the week, when he had
seen me safe settled at my studies, he used to disappear mysteriously
for several hours, and it was some time before I found out, by a chance
expression, that he was attending some meeting or committee of working-men.
I begged him to take me there with him. But I was stopped by a laconic
"When ye're ready."
"And when shall I be ready, Mr. Mackaye?"
"Read yer book till I tell ye."
And he twisted himself into his best coat, which had once been black,
squeezed on his little Scotch cap, and went out.
* * * * *
I now found myself, as the reader may suppose, in an element far more
congenial to my literary tastes, and which compelled far less privation of
sleep and food in order to find time and means for reading; and my health
began to mend from the very first day. But the thought of my mother haunted
me; and Mackaye seemed in no hurry to let me escape from it, for he
insisted on my writing to her in a penitent strain, informing her of my
whereabouts, and offering to return home if she should wish it. With
feelings strangely mingled between the desire of seeing her again and the
dread of returning to the old drudgery of surveillance, I sent the letter,
and waited the whole week without any answer. At last, one evening, when
I returned from work, Sandy seemed in a state of unusual exhilaration. He
looked at me again and again, winking and chuckling to himself in a way
which showed me that his good spirits had something to do with my concerns:
but he did not open on the subject till I had settled to my evening's
reading. Then, having brewed himself an unusually strong mug of
whisky-toddy, and brought out with great ceremony a clean pipe, he
"Alton, laddie, I've been fiechting Philistines for ye the day."
"Ah! have you heard from my mother?"
"I wadna say that exactly; but there's been a gran bailie body wi' me that
calls himsel' your uncle, and a braw young callant, a bairn o' his, I'm
"Ah! that's my cousin--George; and tell me--do tell me, what you said to
"Ou--that'll be mair concern o' mine than o' yourn. But ye're no going back
to your mither."
My heart leapt up with--joy; there is no denying it--and then I burst into
"And she won't see me? Has she really cast me off?"
"Why, that'll be verra much as ye prosper, I'm thinking. Ye're an
unaccreedited hero, the noo, as Thomas Carlyle has it. 'But gin ye do weel
by yoursel', saith the Psalmist, 'ye'll find a' men speak well o' ye'--if
ye gang their gate. But ye're to gang to see your uncle at his shop o'
Monday next, at one o'clock. Now stint your greeting, and read awa'."
On the next Monday I took a holiday, the first in which I had ever indulged
myself; and having spent a good hour in scrubbing away at my best shoes
and Sunday suit, started, in fear and trembling, for my uncle's
I was agreeably surprised, on being shown into the little back office at
the back of the shop, to meet with a tolerably gracious reception from the
good-natured Mammonite. He did not shake hands with me, it is true;--was
I not a poor relation? But he told me to sit down, commended me for the
excellent character which he had of me both from my master and Mackaye,
and then entered on the subject of my literary tastes. He heard I was a
precious clever fellow. No wonder, I came of a clever stock; his poor dear
brother had plenty of brains for everything but business. "And you see, my
boy" (with a glance at the big ledgers and busy shop without), "I knew
a thing or two in my time, or I should not have been here. But without
capital, _I_ think brains a curse. Still we must make the best of a bad
matter; and if you are inclined to help to raise the family name--not
that I think much of book writers myself--poor starving devils, half of
them--but still people do talk about them--and a man might get a snug thing
as newspaper editor, with interest; or clerk to something or other--always
some new company in the wind now--and I should have no objection, if you
seemed likely to do us credit, to speak a word for you. I've none of your
mother's confounded puritanical notions, I can tell you; and, what's more,
I have, thank Heaven, as fine a city connexion as any man. But you must
mind and make yourself a good accountant--learn double entry on the Italian
method--that's a good practical study; and if that old Sawney is soft
enough to teach you other things gratis, he may as well teach you that
too. I'll bet he knows something about it--the old Scotch fox. There
now--that'll do--there's five shillings for you--mind you don't lose
them--and if I hear a good account of you, why, perhaps--but there's no use
At this moment a tall handsome young man, whom I did not at first recognize
as my cousin George, swung into the office, and shook me cordially by the
"Hullo, Alton, how are you? Why, I hear you're coming out as a regular
genius--breaking out in a new place, upon my honour! Have you done with
"Well, I think I have. I wish you'd have a talk with him, my boy. I'm sorry
I can't see more of him, but I have to meet a party on business at the
West-end at two, and Alderman Tumbril and family dine with us this evening,
don't they? I think our small table will be full."
"Of course it will. Come along with me, and we'll have a chat in some quiet
out-of-the-way place. This city is really so noisy that you can't hear your
own ears, as our dean says in lecture."
So he carried me off, down back streets and alleys, a little puzzled at the
extreme cordiality of his manner. Perhaps it sprung, as I learned afterward
to suspect, from his consistent and perpetual habit of ingratiating himself
with every one whom he approached. He never cut a chimney-sweep if he
knew him. And he found it pay. The children of this world are in their
generation wiser than the children of light.
Perhaps it sprung also, as I began to suspect in the first hundred yards of
our walk, from the desire of showing off before me the university clothes,
manners, and gossip, which he had just brought back with him from
I had not seen him more than three or four times in my life before, and
then he appeared to me merely a tall, handsome, conceited, slangy boy. But
I now found him much improved--in all externals at least. He had made it
his business, I knew, to perfect himself in all athletic pursuits which
were open to a Londoner. As he told me that day--he found it pay, when one
got among gentlemen. Thus he had gone up to Cambridge a capital
skater, rower, pugilist--and billiard player. Whether or not that last
accomplishment ought to be classed in the list of athletic sports, he
contrived, by his own account, to keep it in that of paying ones. In
both these branches he seemed to have had plenty of opportunities of
distinguishing himself at college; and his tall, powerful figure showed
the fruit of these exercises in a stately and confident, almost martial,
carriage. Something jaunty, perhaps swaggering, remained still in his air
and dress, which yet sat not ungracefully on him; but I could see that he
had been mixing in society more polished and artificial than that to which
we had either of us been accustomed, and in his smart Rochester, well-cut
trousers, and delicate French boots, he excited, I will not deny it, my
boyish admiration and envy.
"Well," he said, as soon as we were out of the shop, "which way? Got a
holiday? And how did you intend to spend it?"
"I wanted very much," I said, meekly, "to see the pictures at the National
"Oh! ah! pictures don't pay; but, if you like--much better ones at
Dulwich--that's the place to go to--you can see the others any day--and
at Dulwich, you know, they've got--why let me see--" And he ran over
half-a-dozen outlandish names of painters, which, as I have never again
met with them, I am inclined on the whole to consider as somewhat
extemporaneous creations. However, I agreed to go.
"Ah! capital--very nice quiet walk, and convenient for me--very little out
of my way home. I'll walk there with you."
"One word for your neighbour and two for yourself," thought I; but on
we walked. To see good pictures had been a long cherished hope of mine.
Everything beautiful in form or colour was beginning of late to have an
intense fascination for me. I had, now that I was emancipated, gradually
dared to feed my greedy eyes by passing stares into the print-shop windows,
and had learnt from them a thousand new notions, new emotions, new longings
after beauties of Nature, which seemed destined never to be satisfied. But
pictures, above all, foreign ones, had been in my mother's eyes, Anathema
Maranatha, as vile Popish and Pagan vanities, the rags of the scarlet woman
no less than the surplice itself--and now, when it came to the point, I
hesitated at an act of such awful disobedience, even though unknown to
her. My cousin, however, laughed down my scruples, told me I was out of
leading-strings now, and, which was true enough, that it was "a * * * *
deal better to amuse oneself in picture galleries without leave, than live
a life of sneaking and lying under petticoat government, as all home-birds
were sure to do in the long-run." And so I went on, while my cousin kept up
a running fire of chat the whole way, intermixing shrewd, bold observations
upon every woman who passed, with sneers at the fellows of the college to
which we were going--their idleness and luxury--the large grammar-school
which they were bound by their charter to keep up, and did not--and hints
about private interest in high quarters, through which their wealthy
uselessness had been politely overlooked, when all similar institutions
in the kingdom were subject to the searching examination of a government
commission. Then there were stories of boat-races and gay noblemen,
breakfast parties, and lectures on Greek plays flavoured with a spice of
Cambridge slang, all equally new to me--glimpses into a world of wonders,
which made me feel, as I shambled along at his side, trying to keep step
with his strides, more weakly and awkward and ignorant than ever.
We entered the gallery. I was in a fever of expectation.
The rich sombre light of the rooms, the rich heavy warmth of the
stove-heated air, the brilliant and varied colouring and gilded frames
which embroidered the walls, the hushed earnestness of a few artists,
who were copying, and the few visitors who were lounging from picture to
picture, struck me at once with mysterious awe. But my attention was in a
moment concentrated on one figure opposite to me at the furthest end. I
hurried straight towards it. When I had got half-way up the gallery I
looked round for my cousin. He had turned aside to some picture of a Venus
which caught my eye also, but which, I remember now, only raised in me then
a shudder and a blush, and a fancy that the clergymen must be really as
bad as my mother had taught me to believe, if they could allow in their
galleries pictures of undressed women. I have learnt to view such things
differently now, thank God. I have learnt that to the pure all things are
pure. I have learnt the meaning of that great saying--the foundation of all
art, as well as all modesty, all love, which tells us how "the man and his
wife were both naked, and not ashamed." But this book is the history of my
mental growth; and my mistakes as well as my discoveries are steps in that
development, and may bear a lesson in them.
How I have rambled! But as that day was the turning-point of my whole short
life, I may be excused for lingering upon every feature of it.
Timidly, but eagerly, I went up to the picture, and stood entranced before
it. It was Guido's St. Sebastian. All the world knows the picture, and all
the world knows, too, the defects of the master, though in this instance he
seems to have risen above himself, by a sudden inspiration, into that true
naturalness, which is the highest expression of the Spiritual. But the
very defects of the picture, its exaggeration, its theatricality, were
especially calculated to catch the eye of a boy awaking out of the narrow
dulness of Puritanism. The breadth and vastness of light and shade upon
those manly limbs, so grand and yet so delicate, standing out against the
background of lurid night, the helplessness of the bound arms, the arrow
quivering in the shrinking side, the upturned brow, the eyes in whose dark
depths enthusiastic faith seemed conquering agony and shame, the parted
lips, which seemed to ask, like those martyrs in the Revelations,
reproachful, half-resigned, "O Lord, how long?"--Gazing at that picture
since, I have understood how the idolatry of painted saints could arise in
the minds even of the most educated, who were not disciplined by that stern
regard for fact which is--or ought to be--the strength of Englishmen. I
have understood the heart of that Italian girl, whom some such picture of
St. Sebastian, perhaps this very one, excited, as the Venus of Praxiteles
the Grecian boy, to hopeless love, madness, and death. Then I had never
heard of St. Sebastian. I did not dream of any connexion between that, or
indeed any picture, and Christianity; and yet, as I stood before it, I
seemed to be face to face with the ghosts of my old Puritan forefathers, to
see the spirit which supported them on pillories and scaffolds--the spirit
of that true St. Margaret, the Scottish maiden whom Claverhouse and his
soldiers chained to a post on the sea-sands to die by inches in the rising
tide, till the sound of her hymns was slowly drowned in the dash of the
hungry leaping waves. My heart swelled within me, my eyes seemed bursting
from my head with the intensity of my gaze, and great tears, I knew not
why, rolled slowly down my face.
A woman's voice close to me, gentle yet of deeper tone than most, woke me
from my trance.
"You seem to be deeply interested in that picture?"
I looked round, yet not at the speaker. My eyes before they could meet
hers, were caught by an apparition the most beautiful I had ever yet
beheld. And what--what--have I seen equal to her since? Strange, that I
should love to talk of her. Strange, that I fret at myself now because
I cannot set down on paper line by line, and hue by hue, that wonderful
loveliness of which--. But no matter. Had I but such an imagination as
Petrarch, or rather, perhaps, had I his deliberate cold self-consciousness,
what volumes of similes and conceits I might pour out, connecting that
peerless face and figure with all lovely things which heaven and earth
contain. As it is, because I cannot say all, I will say nothing, but repeat
to the end again and again, Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beyond all