Part 7 out of 10
"The arms! I should never have thought of such a plan."
"Dare say you wouldn't. Then I harked back to the doorkeeper, while you
were St. Sebastianizing. He didn't know their names, or didn't choose to
show me their ticket, on which it ought to have been; so I went to one of
the fellows whom I knew, and got him to find out. There comes out the value
of money--for money makes acquaintances. Well, I found who they were.--Then
I saw no chance of getting at them. But for the rest of that year at
Cambridge, I beat every bush in the university, to find some one who
knew them; and as fortune favours the brave, at last I hit off this Lord
Lynedale; and he, of course, was the ace of trumps--a fine catch in
himself, and a double catch because he was going to marry the cousin. So I
made a dead set at him; and tight work I had to nab him, I can tell you,
for he was three or four years older than I, and had travelled a good deal,
and seen life. But every man has his weak side; and I found his was a sort
of a High-Church Radicalism, and that suited me well enough, for I was
always a deuce of a radical myself; so I stuck to him like a leech, and
stood all his temper, and his pride, and those unpractical, windy visions
of his, that made a common-sense fellow like me sick to listen to; but I
stood it, and here I am."
"And what on earth induced you to stoop to all this--" meanness I was on
the point of saying. "Surely you are in no want of money--your father could
buy you a good living to-morrow."
"And he will, but not the one I want; and he could not buy me reputation,
power, rank, do you see, Alton, my genius? And what's more, he couldn't buy
me a certain little tit-bit, a jewel, worth a Jew's eye and a half, Alton,
that I set my heart on from the first moment I set my eye on it."
My heart beat fast and fierce, but he ran on--
"Do you think I'd have eaten all this dirt if it hadn't lain in my way to
her? Eat dirt! I'd drink blood, Alton--though I don't often deal in strong
words--if it lay in that road. I never set my heart on a thing yet, that
I didn't get it at last by fair means or foul--and I'll get her! I don't
care for her money, though that's a pretty plum. Upon my life, I don't. I
worship her, limbs and eyes. I worship the very ground she treads on. She's
a duck and a darling," said he, smacking his lips like an Ogre over his
prey, "and I'll have her before I've done, so help me--"
"Whom do you mean?" I stammered out.
"Lillian, you blind beetle."
I dropped his arm--"Never, as I live!"
He started back, and burst into a horse-laugh.
"Hullo! my eye and Betty Martin! You don't mean to say that I have the
honour of finding a rival in my talented cousin?"
I made no answer.
"Come, come, my dear fellow, this is too ridiculous. You and I are very
good friends, and we may help each other, if we choose, like kith and kin
in this here wale. So if you're fool enough to quarrel with me, I warn you
I'm not fool enough to return the compliment. Only" (lowering his voice),
"just bear one little thing in mind--that I am, unfortunately, of a
somewhat determined humour; and if folks will get in my way, why it's not
my fault if I drive over them. You understand? Well, if you intend to be
sulky, I don't. So good morning, till you feel yourself better."
And he turned gaily down a side-street and disappeared, looking taller,
handsomer, manfuller than ever.
I returned home miserable; I now saw in my cousin not merely a rival, but a
tyrant; and I began to hate him with that bitterness which fear alone can
inspire. The eleven pounds still remained unpaid. Between three and four
pounds was the utmost which I had been able to hoard up that autumn, by
dint of scribbling and stinting; there was no chance of profit from my book
for months to come--if indeed it ever got published, which I hardly dare
believe it would; and I knew him too well to doubt that neither pity nor
delicacy would restrain him from using his power over me, if I dared even
to seem an obstacle in his way.
I tried to write, but could not. I found it impossible to direct my
thoughts, even to sit still; a vague spectre of terror and degradation
crushed me. Day after day I sat over the fire, and jumped up and went into
the shop, to find something which I did not want, and peep listlessly into
a dozen books, one after the other, and then wander back again to the
fireside, to sit mooning and moping, starting at that horrible incubus of
debt--a devil which may give mad strength to the strong, but only paralyses
the weak. And I was weak, as every poet is, more or less. There was in me,
as I have somewhere read that there is in all poets, that feminine vein--a
receptive as well as a creative faculty--which kept up in me a continual
thirst after beauty, rest, enjoyment. And here was circumstance after
circumstance goading me onward, as the gadfly did Io, to continual
wanderings, never ceasing exertions; every hour calling on me to do, while
I was only longing to be--to sit and observe, and fancy, and build freely
at my own will. And then--as if this necessity of perpetual petty exertion
was not in itself sufficient torment--to have that accursed debt--that
knowledge that I was in a rival's power, rising up like a black wall before
me, to cripple, and render hopeless, for aught I knew, the very exertions
to which it compelled me! I hated the bustle--the crowds; the ceaseless
roar of the street outside maddened me. I longed in vain for peace--for one
day's freedom--to be one hour a shepherd-boy, and lie looking up at the
blue sky, without a thought beyond the rushes that I was plaiting! "Oh!
that I had wings as a dove!--then would I flee away, and be at rest!"--
And then, more than once or twice either, the thoughts of suicide crossed
me; and I turned it over, and looked at it, and dallied with it, as a last
chance in reserve. And then the thought of Lillian came, and drove away
the fiend. And then the thought of my cousin came, and paralysed me again;
for it told me that one hope was impossible. And then some fresh instance
of misery or oppression forced itself upon me, and made me feel the awful
sacredness of my calling, as a champion of the poor, and the base cowardice
of deserting them for any selfish love of rest. And then I recollected how
I had betrayed my suffering brothers.--How, for the sake of vanity and
patronage, I had consented to hide the truth about their rights--their
wrongs. And so on through weary weeks of moping melancholy--"a
double-minded man, unstable in all his ways?"
At last, Mackaye, who, as I found afterwards, had been watching all along
my altered mood, contrived to worm my secret out of me. I had dreaded, that
whole autumn, having to tell him the truth, because I knew that his first
impulse would be to pay the money instantly out of his own pocket; and my
pride, as well as my sense of justice, revolted at that, and sealed my
lips. But now this fresh discovery--the knowledge that it was not only in
my cousin's power to crush me, but also his interest to do so--had utterly
unmanned me; and after a little innocent and fruitless prevarication, out
came the truth with tears of bitter shame.
The old man pursed up his lips, and, without answering me, opened his table
drawer, and commenced fumbling among accounts and papers.
"No! no! no! best, noblest of friends! I will not burden you with the
fruits of my own vanity and extravagance. I will starve, go to gaol sooner
than take your money. If you offer it me I will leave the house, bag and
baggage, this moment." And I rose to put my threat into execution.
"I havena at present ony sic intention," answered he, deliberately, "seeing
that there's na necessity for paying debits twice owre, when ye ha' the
stampt receipt for them." And he put into my hands, to my astonishment and
rapture, a receipt in full for the money, signed by my cousin.
Not daring to believe my own eyes, I turned it over and over, looked at
it, looked at him--there was nothing but clear, smiling assurance in his
beloved old face, as he twinkled, and winked, and chuckled, and pulled
off his spectacles, and wiped them, and put them on upside-down; and then
relieved himself by rushing at his pipe, and cramming it fiercely with
tobacco till he burst the bowl.
Yes; it was no dream!--the money was paid, and I was free! The sudden
relief was as intolerable as the long burden had been; and, like a prisoner
suddenly loosed from off the rack, my whole spirit seemed suddenly to
collapse, and I sank with my head upon the table to faint even for
* * * * *
But who was my benefactor? Mackaye vouchsafed no answer, but that I "suld
ken better than he." But when he found that I was really utterly at a
loss to whom to attribute the mercy, he assured me, by way of comfort,
that he was just as ignorant as myself; and at last, piecemeal, in his
circumlocutory and cautious Scotch method, informed me, that some six weeks
back he had received an anonymous letter, "a'thegither o' a Belgravian cast
o' phizog," containing a bank note for twenty pounds, and setting forth the
writer's suspicions that I owed my cousin money, and their desire that Mr.
Mackaye, "o' whose uprightness and generosity they were pleased to confess
themselves no that ignorant," should write to George, ascertain the sum,
and pay it without my knowledge, handing over the balance, if any, to me,
when he thought fit--"Sae there's the remnant--aucht pounds, sax shillings,
an' saxpence; tippence being deduckit for expense o' twa letters anent the
"But what sort of handwriting was it?" asked I, almost disregarding the
"Ou, then--aiblins a man's, aiblins a maid's. He was no chirographosophic
himsel--an' he had na curiosity anent ony sic passage o' aristocratic
"But what was the postmark of the letter?"
"Why for suld I speired? Gin the writers had been minded to be beknown,
they'd ha' sign't their names upon the document. An' gin they didna sae
intend, wad it be coorteous o' me to gang speiring an' peering ower covers
"But where is the cover?"
"Ou, then," he went on, with the same provoking coolness, "white paper's o'
geyan use, in various operations o' the domestic economy. Sae I just tare
it up--aiblins for pipe-lights--I canna mind at this time."
"And why," asked I, more vexed and disappointed than I liked to
confess--"why did you not tell me before?"
"How wad I ken that you had need o't? An' verily, I thocht it no that bad
a lesson for ye, to let ye experiment a towmond mair on the precious balms
that break the head--whereby I opine the Psalmist was minded to denote the
delights o' spending borrowed siller."
There was nothing more to be extracted from him; so I was fain to set to
work again (a pleasant compulsion truly) with a free heart, eight pounds in
my pocket, and a brainful of conjectures. Was it the dean? Lord Lynedale?
or was it--could it be--Lillian herself? That thought was so delicious
that I made up my mind, as I had free choice among half a dozen equally
improbable fancies, to determine that the most pleasant should be the true
one; and hoarded the money, which I shrunk from spending as much as I
should from selling her miniature or a lock of her beloved golden hair.
They were a gift from her--a pledge--the first fruits of--I dare not
confess to myself what.
Whereat the reader will smile, and say, not without reason, that I was fast
fitting myself for Bedlam; if, indeed, I had not proved my fitness for it
already, by paying the tailors' debts, instead of my own, with the ten
pounds which Farmer Porter had given me. I am not sure that he would not be
correct; but so I did, and so I suffered.
A TRUE NOBLEMAN.
At last my list of subscribers was completed, and my poems actually in
the press. Oh! the childish joy with which I fondled my first set of
proofs! And how much finer the words looked in print than they ever
did in manuscript!--One took in the idea of a whole page so charmingly
at a glance, instead of having to feel one's way through line after
line, and sentence after sentence.--There was only one drawback to my
happiness--Mackaye did not seem to sympathize with it. He had never
grumbled at what I considered, and still do consider, my cardinal offence,
the omission of the strong political passages; he seemed, on the contrary,
in his inexplicable waywardness, to be rather pleased at it than otherwise.
It was my publishing at all at which he growled.
"Ech," he said, "owre young to marry, is owre young to write; but it's the
way o' these puir distractit times. Nae chick can find a grain o' corn, but
oot he rins cackling wi' the shell on his head, to tell it to a' the warld,
as if there was never barley grown on the face o' the earth before. I
wonder whether Isaiah began to write before his beard was grown, or Dawvid
either? He had mony a long year o' shepherding an' moss-trooping, an'
rugging an' riving i' the wilderness, I'll warrant, afore he got thae gran'
lyrics o' his oot o' him. Ye might tak example too, gin ye were minded, by
Moses, the man o' God, that was joost forty years at the learning o' the
Egyptians, afore he thocht gude to come forward into public life, an'
then fun' to his gran' surprise, I warrant, that he'd begun forty years
too sune--an' then had forty years mair, after that, o' marching an'
law-giving, an' bearing the burdens o' the people, before he turned poet."
"Poet, sir! I never saw Moses in that light before."
"Then ye'll just read the 90th Psalm--'the prayer o' Moses, the man o'
God'--the grandest piece o' lyric, to my taste, that I ever heard o' on the
face o' God's earth, an' see what a man can write that'll have the patience
to wait a century or twa before he rins to the publisher's. I gie ye up
fra' this moment; the letting out o' ink is like the letting out o' waters,
or the eating o' opium, or the getting up at public meetings.--When a man
begins he canna stop. There's nae mair enslaving lust o' the flesh under
the heaven than that same _furor scribendi_, as the Latins hae it."
But at last my poems were printed, and bound, and actually published, and
I sat staring at a book of my own making, and wondering how it ever got
into being! And what was more, the book "took," and sold, and was reviewed
in People's journals, and in newspapers; and Mackaye himself relaxed
into a grin, when his oracle, the _Spectator_, the only honest paper,
according to him, on the face of the earth, condescended, after asserting
its impartiality by two or three searching sarcasms, to dismiss me,
grimly-benignant, with a paternal pat on the shoulder. Yes--I was a real
live author at last, and signed myself, by special request, in the * * * *
Magazine, as "the author of Songs of the Highways." At last it struck me,
and Mackaye too, who, however he hated flunkeydom, never overlooked an act
of discourtesy, that it would be right for me to call upon the dean, and
thank him formally for all the real kindness he had shown me. So I went to
the handsome house off Harley-street, and was shown into his study, and saw
my own book lying on the table, and was welcomed by the good old man, and
congratulated on my success, and asked if I did not see my own wisdom in
"yielding to more experienced opinions than my own, and submitting to a
censorship which, however severe it might have appeared at first, was, as
the event proved, benignant both in its intentions and effects?"
And then I was asked, even I, to breakfast there the next morning. And I
went, and found no one there but some scientific gentlemen, to whom I was
introduced as "the young man whose poems we were talking of last night."
And Lillian sat at the head of the table, and poured out the coffee and
tea. And between ecstasy at seeing her, and the intense relief of not
finding my dreaded and now hated cousin there, I sat in a delirium of
silent joy, stealing glances at her beauty, and listening with all my ears
to the conversation, which turned upon the new-married couple.
I heard endless praises, to which I could not but assent in silence, of
Lord Ellerton's perfections. His very personal appearance had been enough
to captivate my fancy; and then they went on to talk of his magnificent
philanthropic schemes, and his deep sense, of the high duties of a
landlord; and how, finding himself, at his father's death, the possessor of
two vast but neglected estates, he had sold one in order to be able to do
justice to the other, instead of laying house to house, and field to field,
like most of his compeers, "till he stood alone in the land, and there was
no place left;" and how he had lowered his rents, even though it had forced
him to put down the ancestral pack of hounds, and live in a corner of the
old castle; and how he was draining, claying, breaking up old moorlands,
and building churches, and endowing schools, and improving cottages;
and how he was expelling the old ignorant bankrupt race of farmers, and
advertising everywhere for men of capital, and science, and character, who
would have courage to cultivate flax and silk, and try every species of
experiment; and how he had one scientific farmer after another, staying in
his house as a friend; and how he had numbers of his books rebound in plain
covers, that he might lend them to every one on his estate who wished to
read them; and how he had thrown open his picture gallery, not only to the
inhabitants of the neighbouring town, but what (strange to say) seemed to
strike the party as still more remarkable, to the labourers of his own
village; and how he was at that moment busy transforming an old unoccupied
manor-house into a great associate farm, in which all the labourers were
to live under one roof, with a common kitchen and dining-hall, clerks and
superintendents, whom they were to choose, subject only to his approval,
and all of them, from the least to the greatest, have their own interest
in the farm, and be paid by percentage on the profits; and how he had one
of the first political economists of the day staying with him, in order to
work out for him tables of proportionate remuneration, applicable to such
an agricultural establishment; and how, too, he was giving the spade-labour
system a fair-trial, by laying out small cottage-farms, on rocky knolls and
sides of glens, too steep to be cultivated by the plough; and was locating
on them the most intelligent artisans whom he could draft from the
manufacturing town hard by--
And at that notion, my brain grew giddy with the hope of seeing myself one
day in one of those same cottages, tilling the earth, under God's sky, and
perhaps--. And then a whole cloud-world of love, freedom, fame, simple,
graceful country luxury steamed up across my brain, to end--not, like the
man's in the "Arabian Nights," in my kicking over the tray of China, which
formed the base-point of my inverted pyramid of hope--but in my finding the
contents of my plate deposited in my lap, while I was gazing fixedly at
I must say for myself, though, that such accidents happened seldom; whether
it was bashfulness, or the tact which generally, I believe, accompanies
a weak and nervous body, and an active mind; or whether it was that I
possessed enough relationship to the monkey-tribe to make me a first-rate
mimic, I used to get tolerably well through on these occasions, by acting
on the golden rule of never doing anything which I had not seen some one
else do first--a rule which never brought me into any greater scrape than
swallowing something intolerably hot, sour, and nasty (whereof I never
discovered the name), because I had seen the dean do so a moment before.
But one thing struck me through the whole of this conversation--the way in
which the new-married Lady Ellerton was spoken of, as aiding, encouraging,
originating--a helpmeet, if not an oracular guide, for her husband--in all
these noble plans. She had already acquainted herself with every woman on
the estate; she was the dispenser, not merely of alms--for those seemed a
disagreeable necessity, from which Lord Ellerton was anxious to escape as
soon as possible--but of advice, comfort, and encouragement. She not only
visited the sick, and taught in the schools--avocations which, thank God,
I have reason to believe are matters of course, not only in the families
of clergymen, but those of most squires and noblemen, when they reside on
their estates--but seemed, from the hints which I gathered, to be utterly
devoted, body and soul, to the welfare of the dwellers on her husband's
"I had no notion," I dared at last to remark, humbly enough, "that
Miss--Lady Ellerton cared so much for the people."
"Really! One feels inclined sometimes to wish that she cared for anything
beside them," said Lillian, half to her father and half to me.
This gave a fresh shake to my estimate of that remarkable woman's
character. But still, who could be prouder, more imperious, more abrupt in
manner, harsh, even to the very verge of good-breeding? (for I had learnt
what good-breeding was, from the debating society as well as from the
drawing-room;) and, above all, had she not tried to keep me from Lillian?
But these cloudy thoughts melted rapidly away in that sunny atmosphere of
success and happiness, and I went home as merry as a bird, and wrote all
the morning more gracefully and sportively, as I fancied, than I had ever
But my bliss did not end here. In a week or so, behold one morning a
note--written, indeed, by the dean--but directed in Lillian's own hand,
inviting me to come there to tea, that I might see a few, of the literary
characters of the day.
I covered the envelope with kisses, and thrust it next my fluttering heart.
I then proudly showed the note to Mackaye. He looked pleased, yet pensive,
and then broke out with a fresh adaptation of his favourite song,
--and shovel hats and a' that--
A man's a man for a' that.
"The auld gentleman is a man and a gentleman; an' has made a verra
courteous, an' weel considerit move, gin ye ha' the sense to profit by it,
an' no turn it to yer ain destruction."
"Ay--that's the word, an' nothing less, laddie!"
And he went into the outer shop, and returned with a volume of Bulwer's
"What! are you a novel reader, Mr. Mackaye?"
"How do ye ken what I may ha' thocht gude to read in my time? Yell be
pleased the noo to sit down an' begin at that page--an read, mark, learn,
an' inwardly digest, the history of Castruccio Cesarini--an' the gude God
gie ye grace to lay the same to heart."
I read that fearful story; and my heart sunk, and my eyes were full of
tears, long ere I had finished it. Suddenly I looked up at Mackaye, half
angry at the pointed allusion to my own case.
The old man was watching me intently, with folded hands, and a smile of
solemn interest and affection worthy of Socrates himself. He turned his
head as I looked up, but his lips kept moving. I fancied, I know not why,
that he was praying for me.
THE TRIUMPHANT AUTHOR.
So to the party I went, and had the delight of seeing and hearing the men
with whose names I had been long acquainted, as the leaders of scientific
discovery in this wondrous age; and more than one poet, too, over whose
works I had gloated, whom I had worshipped in secret. Intense was the
pleasure of now realizing to myself, as living men, wearing the same flesh
and blood as myself, the names which had been to me mythic ideas. Lillian
was there among them, more exquisite than ever; but even she at first
attracted my eyes and thoughts less than did the truly great men around
her. I hung on every word they spoke, I watched every gesture, as if they
must have some deep significance; the very way in which they drank their
coffee was a matter of interest to me. I was almost disappointed to see
them eat and chat like common men. I expected that pearls and diamonds
would drop from their lips, as they did from those of the girl, in the
fairy-tale, every time they opened their mouths; and certainly, the
conversation that evening was a new world to me--though I could only, of
course, be a listener. Indeed, I wished to be nothing more. I felt that
I was taking my place there among the holy guild of authors--that I too,
however humbly, had a thing to say, and had said it; and I was content to
sit on the lowest step of the literary temple, without envy for those elder
and more practised priests of wisdom, who had earned by long labour the
freedom of the inner shrine. I should have been quite happy enough standing
there, looking and listening--but I was at last forced to come forward.
Lillian was busy chatting with grave, grey-headed men, who seemed as ready
to flirt, and pet and admire the lovely little fairy, as if they had been
as young and gay as herself. It was enough for me to see her appreciated
and admired. I loved them for smiling on her, for handing her from her seat
to the piano with reverent courtesy: gladly would I have taken their place:
I was content, however, to be only a spectator; for it was not my rank, but
my youth, I was glad to fancy, which denied me that blissful honour. But
as she sang, I could not help stealing up to the piano; and, feasting my
greedy eyes with every motion of those delicious lips, listen and listen,
entranced, and living only in that melody.
Suddenly, after singing two or three songs, she began fingering the keys,
and struck into an old air, wild and plaintive, rising and falling like the
swell of an AEolian harp upon a distant breeze.
"Ah! now," she said, "if I could get words for that! What an exquisite
lament somebody might write to it, if they could only thoroughly take in
the feeling and meaning of it."
"Perhaps," I said, humbly, "that is the only way to write songs--to let
some air get possession of ones whole soul, and gradually inspire the words
for itself; as the old Hebrew prophets had music played before them, to
wake up the prophetic spirit within them."
She looked up, just as if she had been unconscious of my presence till that
"Ah! Mr. Locke!--well, if you understand my meaning so thoroughly, perhaps
you will try and write some words for me."
"I am afraid that I do not enter sufficiently into the meaning of the air."
"Oh! then, listen while I play it over again. I am sure _you_ ought to
appreciate anything so sad and tender."
And she did play it, to my delight, over again, even more gracefully and
carefully than before--making the inarticulate sounds speak a mysterious
train of thoughts and emotions. It is strange how little real intellect, in
women especially, is required for an exquisite appreciation of the beauties
of music--perhaps, because it appeals to the heart and not the head.
She rose and left the piano, saying archly, "Now, don't forget your
promise;" and I, poor fool, my sunlight suddenly withdrawn, began torturing
my brains on the instant to think of a subject.
As it happened, my attention was caught by hearing two gentlemen close to
me discuss a beautiful sketch by Copley Fielding, if I recollect rightly,
which hung on the wall--a wild waste of tidal sands, with here and there a
line of stake-nets fluttering in the wind--a grey shroud of rain sweeping
up from the westward, through which low red cliffs glowed dimly in the rays
of the setting sun--a train of horses and cattle splashing slowly through
shallow desolate pools and creeks, their wet, red, and black hides
glittering in one long line of level light.
They seemed thoroughly conversant with art; and as I listened to their
criticisms, I learnt more in five minutes about the characteristics of
a really true and good picture, and about the perfection to which our
unrivalled English landscape-painters have attained, than I ever did from
all the books and criticisms which I had read. One of them had seen the
spot represented, at the mouth of the Dee, and began telling wild stories
of salmon-fishing, and wildfowl shooting--and then a tale of a girl, who,
in bringing her father's cattle home across the sands, had been caught by
a sudden flow of the tide, and found next day a corpse hanging among the
stake-nets far below. The tragedy, the art of the picture, the simple,
dreary grandeur of the scenery, took possession of me; and I stood gazing
a long time, and fancying myself pacing the sands, and wondering whether
there were shells upon it--I had often longed for once only in my life to
pick up shells--when Lady Ellerton, whom I had not before noticed, woke me
from my reverie.
I took the liberty of asking after Lord Ellerton.
"He is not in town--he has stayed behind for one day to attend a great
meeting of his tenantry--you will see the account in the papers to-morrow
morning--he comes to-morrow." And as she spoke her whole face and figure
seemed to glow and heave, in spite of herself, with pride and affection.
"And now, come with me, Mr. Locke--the * * * ambassador wishes to speak to
"The * * * ambassador!" I said, startled; for let us be as democratic as we
will, there is something in the name of great officers which awes, perhaps
rightly, for the moment, and it requires a strong act of self-possession
to recollect that "a man's a man for a' that." Besides, I knew enough of
the great man in question to stand in awe of him for his own sake, having
lately read a panegyric of him, which perfectly astounded me, by its
description of his piety and virtue, his family affection, and patriarchal
simplicity, the liberality and philanthropy of all his measures, and the
enormous intellectual powers, and stores of learning, which enabled him,
with the affairs of Europe on his shoulders, to write deeply and originally
on the most abstruse questions of theology, history, and science.
Lady Ellerton seemed to guess my thoughts. "You need not be afraid of
meeting an aristocrat, in the vulgar sense of the word. You will see one
who, once perhaps as unknown as yourself, has risen by virtue and wisdom to
guide the destinies of nations--and shall I tell you how? Not by fawning
and yielding to the fancies of the great; not by compromising his own
convictions to suit their prejudices--"
I felt the rebuke, but she went on--
"He owes his greatness to having dared, one evening, to contradict a
crown-prince to his face, and fairly conquer him in argument, and thereby
bind the truly royal heart to him for ever."
"There are few scions of royalty to whose favour that would be a likely
"True; and therefore the greater honour is due to the young student who
could contradict, and the prince who could be contradicted."
By this time we had arrived in the great man's presence; he was sitting
with a little circle round him, in the further drawing-room, and certainly
I never saw a nobler specimen of humanity. I felt myself at once before a
hero--not of war and bloodshed, but of peace and civilization; his portly
and ample figure, fair hair and delicate complexion, and, above all,
the benignant calm of his countenance, told of a character gentle and
genial--at peace with himself and all the world; while the exquisite
proportion of his chiselled and classic features, the lofty and ample
brain, and the keen, thoughtful eye, bespoke, at the first glance,
refinement and wisdom--
The reason firm, the temperate will--
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill.
I am not ashamed to say, Chartist as I am, that I felt inclined to fall
upon my knees, and own a master of God's own making.
He received my beautiful guide with a look of chivalrous affection, which
I observed that she returned with interest; and then spoke in a voice
peculiarly bland and melodious:
"So, my dear lady, this is the _protege_ of whom you have so often spoken?"
So she had often spoken of me! Blind fool that I was, I only took it in as
food for my own self-conceit, that my enemy (for so I actually fancied her)
could not help praising me.
"I have read your little book, sir," he said, in the same soft, benignant
voice, "with very great pleasure. It is another proof, if I required any,
of the under-current of living and healthful thought which exists even in
the less-known ranks of your great nation. I shall send it to some young
friends of mine in Germany, to show them that Englishmen can feel acutely
and speak boldly on the social evils of their country, without indulging
in that frantic and bitter revolutionary spirit, which warps so many young
minds among us. You understand the German language at all?"
I had not that honour.
"Well, you must learn it. We have much to teach you in the sphere of
abstract thought, as you have much to teach us in those of the practical
reason and the knowledge of mankind. I should be glad to see you some
day in a German university. I am anxious to encourage a truly spiritual
fraternization between the two great branches of the Teutonic stock, by
welcoming all brave young English spirits to their ancient fatherland.
Perhaps hereafter your kind friends here will be able to lend you to me.
The means are easy, thank God! You will find in the Germans true brothers,
in ways even more practical than sympathy and affection."
I could not but thank the great man, with many blushes, and went home that
night utterly _"tete montee,"_ as I believe the French phrase is--beside
myself with gratified vanity and love; to lie sleepless under a severe fit
of asthma--sent perhaps as a wholesome chastisement to cool my excited
spirits down to something like a rational pitch. As I lay castle-building,
Lillian's wild air rang still in my ears, and combined itself somehow with
that picture of the Cheshire sands, and the story of the drowned girl,
till it shaped itself into a song, which, as it is yet unpublished, and
as I have hitherto obtruded little or nothing of my own composition on my
readers, I may be excused for inserting it here.
"O Mary, go and call the cattle home,
And call the cattle home,
And call the cattle home,
Across the sands o' Dee;"
The western wind was wild and dank wi' foam,
And all alone went she.
The creeping tide came up along the sand,
And o'er and o'er the sand,
And round and round the sand,
As far as eye could see;
The blinding mist came down and hid the land--
And never home came she.
"Oh, is it weed, or fish, or floating hair--
A tress o' golden hair,
O' drowned maiden's hair,
Above the nets at sea?
Was never salmon yet that shone so fair,
Among the stakes on Dee."
They rowed her in across the rolling foam,
The cruel crawling foam,
The cruel hungry foam,
To her grave beside the sea:
But still the boatmen hear her call the cattle home,
Across the sands o' Dee.
There--let it go!--it was meant as an offering for one whom it never
About mid-day I took my way towards the dean's house, to thank him for
his hospitality--and, I need not say, to present my offering at my idol's
shrine; and as I went, I conned over a dozen complimentary speeches about
Lord Ellerton's wisdom, liberality, eloquence--but behold! the shutters of
the house were closed. What could be the matter? It was full ten minutes
before the door was opened; and then, at last, an old woman, her eyes
red with weeping, made her appearance. My thoughts flew instantly to
Lillian--something must have befallen her. I gasped out her name first, and
then, recollecting myself, asked for the dean.
"They had all left town that morning,"
"Miss--Miss Winnstay--is she ill?"
"Thank God!" I breathed freely again. What matter what happened to all the
"Ay, thank God, indeed; but poor Lord Ellerton was thrown from his horse
last night and brought home dead. A messenger came here by six this
morning, and they're all gone off to * * * *. Her ladyship's raving
mad.--And no wonder." And she burst out crying afresh, and shut the door in
Lord Ellerton dead! and Lillian gone too! Something whispered that I should
have cause to remember that day. My heart sunk within me. When should I see
That day was the 1st of June, 1845. On the 10th of April, 1848, I saw
Lillian Winnstay again. Dare I write my history between those two points of
time? Yes, even that must be done, for the sake of the rich who read, and
the poor who suffer.
THE PLUSH BREECHES TRAGEDY.
My triumph had received a cruel check enough when just at its height, and
more were appointed to follow. Behold! some two days after, another--all
the more bitter, because my conscience whispered that it was not altogether
undeserved. The people's press had been hitherto praising and petting me
lovingly enough. I had been classed (and heaven knows that the comparison
was dearer to me than all the applause of the wealthy) with the Corn-Law
Rhymer, and the author of the "Purgatory of Suicides." My class had claimed
my talents as their own--another "voice fresh from the heart of nature,"
another "untutored songster of the wilderness," another "prophet arisen
among the suffering millions,"--when, one day, behold in Mr. O'Flynn's
paper a long and fierce attack on me, my poems, my early history! How he
could have got at some of the facts there mentioned, how he could have
dared to inform his readers that I had broken my mother's heart by my
misconduct, I cannot conceive; unless my worthy brother-in-law, the Baptist
preacher, had been kind enough to furnish him with the materials. But
however that may be, he showed me no mercy. I was suddenly discovered to be
a time-server, a spy, a concealed aristocrat. Such paltry talent as I had,
I had prostituted for the sake of fame. I had deserted The People's Cause
for filthy lucre--an allurement which Mr. O'Flynn had always treated with
withering scorn--_in print_. Nay, more, I would write, and notoriously did
write, in any paper, Whig, Tory, or Radical, where I could earn a shilling
by an enormous gooseberry, or a scrap of private slander. And the working
men were solemnly warned to beware of me and my writings, till the editor
had further investigated certain ugly facts in my history, which he would
in due time report to his patriotic and enlightened readers.
All this stung me in the most sensitive nerve of my whole heart, for I
knew that I could not altogether exculpate myself; and to that miserable
certainty was added the dread of some fresh exposure. Had he actually heard
of the omissions in my poems?--and if he once touched on that subject,
what could I answer? Oh! how bitterly now I felt the force of the critic's
careless lash! The awful responsibility of those written words, which
we bandy about so thoughtlessly! How I recollected now, with shame and
remorse, all the hasty and cruel utterances to which I, too, had given
vent against those who had dared to differ from me; the harsh, one-sided
judgments, the reckless imputations of motive, the bitter sneers,
"rejoicing in evil rather than in the truth." How I, too, had longed to
prove my victims in the wrong, and turned away, not only lazily, but
angrily, from many an exculpatory fact! And here was my Nemesis come at
last. As I had done unto others, so it was done unto me!
It was right that it should be so. However indignant, mad, almost
murderous, I felt at the time, I thank God for it now. It is good to be
punished in kind. It is good to be made to feel what we have made others
feel. It is good--anything is good, however bitter, which shows us that
there is such a law as retribution; that we are not the sport of blind
chance or a triumphant fiend, but that there is a God who judges the
earth--righteous to repay every man according to his works.
But at the moment I had no such ray of comfort--and, full of rage and
shame, I dashed the paper down before Mackaye. "How shall I answer him?
What shall I say?"
The old man read it all through, with a grim saturnine smile.
"Hoolie, hoolie, speech, is o' silver--silence is o' gold says Thomas
Carlyle, anent this an' ither matters. Wha'd be fashed wi' sic blethers?
Ye'll just abide patient, and haud still in the Lord, until this tyranny be
owerpast. Commit your cause to him, said the auld Psalmist, an' he'll mak
your righteousness as clear as the light, an' your just dealing as the
"But I must explain; I owe it as a duty to myself; I must refute these
charges; I must justify myself to our friends."
"Can ye do that same, laddie?" asked he, with one of his quaint, searching
looks. Somehow I blushed, and could not altogether meet his eye, while he
went on, "--An' gin ye could, whaur would ye do 't? I ken na periodical
whar the editor will gie ye a clear stage an' no favour to bang him ower
"Then I will try some other paper."
"An' what for then? They that read him, winna read the ither; an' they that
read the ither, winna read him. He has his ain set o' dupes like every
ither editor; an' ye mun let him gang his gate, an' feed his ain kye with
his ain hay. He'll no change it for your bidding."
"What an abominable thing this whole business of the press is then, if each
editor is to be allowed to humbug his readers at his pleasure, without a
possibility of exposing or contradicting him!"
"An' ye've just spoken the truth, laddie. There's na mair accursed
inquisition, than this of thae self-elected popes, the editors. That
puir auld Roman ane, ye can bring him forat when ye list, bad as he
is. 'Faenum habet in cornu;' his name's ower his shop-door. But these
anonymies--priests o' the order of Melchisedec by the deevil's side,
without father or mither, beginning o' years nor end o' days--without a
local habitation or a name-as kittle to baud as a brock in a cairn--"
"What do you mean, Mr. Mackaye?" asked I, for he was getting altogether
unintelligibly Scotch, as was his custom when excited.
"Ou, I forgot; ye're a puir Southern body, an' no sensible to the
gran' metaphoric powers o' the true Dawric. But it's an accursit state
a'thegither, the noo, this, o' the anonymous press--oreeginally devised, ye
ken, by Balaam the son o' Beor, for serving God wi'out the deevil's finding
it out--an' noo, after the way o' human institutions, translated ower
to help folks to serve the deevil without God's finding it out. I'm no'
astonished at the puir expiring religious press for siccan a fa'; but for
the working men to be a' that's bad--it's grewsome to behold. I'll tell ye
what, my bairn, there's na salvation for the workmen, while they defile
themselves this fashion, wi' a' the very idols o' their ain tyrants--wi'
salvation by act o' parliament--irresponsible rights o' property--anonymous
Balaamry--fechtin' that canny auld farrant fiend, Mammon, wi' his ain
weapons--and then a' fleyed, because they get well beaten for their pains.
I'm sair forfaughten this mony a year wi' watching the puir gowks, trying
to do God's wark wi' the deevil's tools. Tak tent o' that."
And I did "tak tent o' it." Still there would have been as little present
consolation as usual in Mackaye's unwelcome truths, even if the matter had
stopped there. But, alas! it did not stop there. O'Flynn seemed determined
to "run a muck" at me. Every week some fresh attack appeared. The very
passages about the universities and church property, which had caused our
quarrel, were paraded against me, with free additions and comments; and, at
last, to my horror, out came the very story which I had all along dreaded,
about the expurgation of my poems, with the coarsest allusions to petticoat
influence--aristocratic kisses--and the Duchess of Devonshire canvassing
draymen for Fox, &c., &c. How he got a clue to the scandal I cannot
conceive. Mackaye and Crossthwaite, I had thought, were the only souls to
whom I had ever breathed the secret, and they denied indignantly the having
ever betrayed my weakness. How it came out, I say again, I cannot conceive;
except because it is a great everlasting law, and sure to fulfil itself
sooner or later, as we may see by the histories of every remarkable, and
many an unremarkable, man--"There is nothing secret, but it shall be made
manifest; and whatsoever ye have spoken in the closet, shall be proclaimed
upon the house-tops."
For some time after that last exposure, I was thoroughly crest-fallen--and
not without reason. I had been giving a few lectures among the working men,
on various literary and social subjects. I found my audience decrease--and
those who remained seemed more inclined to hiss than to applaud me. In
vain I ranted and quoted poetry, often more violently than my own opinions
justified. My words touched no responsive chord in my hearers' hearts; they
had lost faith in me.
At last, in the middle of a lecture on Shelley, I was indulging, and
honestly too, in some very glowing and passionate praise of the true
nobleness of a man, whom neither birth nor education could blind to the
evils of society; who, for the sake of the suffering many, could trample
under foot his hereditary pride, and become an outcast for the People's
I heard a whisper close to me, from one whose opinion I valued, and value
still--a scholar and a poet, one who had tasted poverty, and slander, and a
prison, for The Good Cause:
"Fine talk: but it's 'all in his day's work.' Will he dare to say that
to-morrow to the ladies at the West-end?"
No--I should not. I knew it; and at that instant I felt myself a liar,
and stopped short--my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth. I fumbled
at my papers--clutched the water-tumbler--tried to go on--stopped short
again--caught up my hat, and rushed from the room, amid peals of astonished
It was some months after this that, fancying the storm blown over, I
summoned up courage enough to attend a political meeting of our party; but
even there my Nemesis met full face. After some sanguinary speech, I really
forgot from whom, and, if I recollected, God forbid that I should tell now,
I dared to controvert, mildly enough, Heaven knows, some especially frantic
assertion or other. But before I could get out three sentences, O'Flynn
flew at me with a coarse invective, hounded on, by-the-by, by one who,
calling himself a gentleman, might have been expected to know better.
But, indeed, he and O'Flynn had the same object in view, which was simply
to sell their paper; and as a means to that great end, to pander to the
fiercest passions of their readers, to bully and silence all moderate and
rational Chartists, and pet and tar on the physical-force men, till the
poor fellows began to take them at their word. Then, when it came to deeds
and not to talk, and people got frightened, and the sale of the paper
decreased a little, a blessed change came over them--and they awoke one
morning meeker than lambs; "ulterior measures" had vanished back into
the barbarous ages, pikes, vitriol-bottles, and all; and the public were
entertained with nothing but homilies on patience and resignation, the
"triumphs of moral justice," the "omnipotence of public opinion," and the
"gentle conquests of fraternal love"--till it was safe to talk treason and
But just then treason happened to be at a premium. Sedition, which had been
floundering on in a confused, disconsolate, underground way ever since
1842, was supposed by the public to be dead; and for that very reason it
was safe to talk it, or, at least, back up those who chose to do so. And
so I got no quarter--though really, if the truth must be told, I had said
Home I went disgusted, to toil on at my hack-writing, only praying that I
might be let alone to scribble in peace, and often thinking, sadly, how
little my friends in Harley-street could guess at the painful experience,
the doubts, the struggles, the bitter cares, which went to the making of
the poetry which they admired so much!
I was not, however, left alone to scribble in peace, either by O'Flynn or
by his readers, who formed, alas! just then, only too large a portion of
the thinking artizans; every day brought some fresh slight or annoyance
with it, till I received one afternoon, by the Parcels Delivery Company,
a large unpaid packet, containing, to my infinite disgust, an old pair of
yellow plush breeches, with a recommendation to wear them, whose meaning
could not be mistaken.
Furious, I thrust the unoffending garment into the lire, and held it there
with the tongs, regardless of the horrible smell which accompanied its
martyrdom, till the lady-lodger on the first floor rushed down to inquire
whether the house was on fire.
I answered by hurling a book at her head, and brought down a volley of
abuse, under which I sat in sulky patience, till Mackaye and Crossthwaite
came in, and found her railing in the doorway, and me sitting over the
fire, still intent on the frizzling remains of the breeches.
"Was this insult of your invention, Mr. Crossthwaite?" asked I, in a tone
of lofty indignation, holding up the last scrap of unroasted plush.
Roars of laughter from both of them made me only more frantic, and I broke
out so incoherently, that it was some time before the pair could make out
the cause of my fury.
"Upon my honour, Locke," quoth John, at last, holding his sides, "I
never sent them; though, on the whole--you've made my stomach ache with
laughing. I can't speak. But you must expect a joke or two, after your late
I stood, still and white with rage.
"Really, my good fellow, how can you wonder if our friends suspect you?
Can you deny that you've been off and on lately between flunkeydom and The
Cause, like a donkey between two bundles of hay? Have you not neglected
our meetings? Have you not picked all the spice out of your poems? And can
you expect to eat your cake and keep it too? You must be one thing or the
other; and, though Sandy, here, is too kind-hearted to tell you, you have
disappointed us both miserably--and there's the long and short of it."
I hid my face in my hands, and sat moodily over the fire; my conscience
told me that I had nothing to answer.
"Whisht, Johnnie! Ye're ower sair on the lad. He's a' right at heart still,
an he'll do good service. But the deevil a'ways fechts hardest wi' them
he's maist 'feard of. What's this anent agricultural distress ye had to
tell me the noo?"
"There is a rising down in the country, a friend of mine writes me. The
people are starving, not because bread is dear, but because it's cheap;
and, like sensible men, they're going to have a great meeting, to inquire
the rights and wrong of all that. Now, I want to send a deputation down, to
see how far they are inclined to go, and let them know we up in London are
with them. And then we might get up a corresponding association, you know.
It's a great opening for spreading the principles of the Charter."
"I sair misdoubt, it's just bread they'll be wanting, they labourers, mair
than liberty. Their God is their belly, I'm thinking, and a verra poor
empty idol he is the noo; sma' burnt offerings and fat o' rams he gets to
propitiate him. But ye might send down a canny body, just to spy out the
nakedness o' the land."
"I will go," I said, starting up. "They shall see that I do care for The
Cause. If it's a dangerous mission, so much the better. It will prove my
sincerity. Where is the place?"
"About ten miles from D * * * *."
"D * * * *!" My heart sank. If it had been any other spot in England! But
it was too late to retract. Sandy saw what was the matter, and tried to
turn the subject; but I was peremptory, almost rude with him. I felt I must
keep up my present excitement, or lose my heart, and my caste, for ever;
and as the hour for the committee was at hand, I jumped up and set off
thither with them, whether they would or not. I heard Sandy whisper to
Crossthwaite, and turned quite fiercely on him.
"If you want to speak about me, speak out. If you fancy that I shall let my
connexion with that place" (I could not bring myself to name it) "stand in
the way of my duty, you do not know me."
I announced my intention at the meeting. It was at first received coldly;
but I spoke energetically--perhaps, as some told me afterwards, actually
eloquently. When I got heated, I alluded to my former stay at D * * * *,
and said (while my heart sunk at the bravado which I was uttering) that I
should consider it a glory to retrieve my character with them, and devote
myself to the cause of the oppressed, in the very locality whence had first
arisen their unjust and pardonable suspicions. In short, generous, trusting
hearts as they were, and always are, I talked them round; they shook me by
the hand one by one, bade me God speed, told me that I stood higher than
ever in their eyes, and then set to work to vote money from their funds for
my travelling expenses, which I magnanimously refused, saying that I had a
pound or two left from the sale of my poems, and that I must be allowed, as
an act of repentance and restitution, to devote it to The Cause.
My triumph was complete. Even O'Flynn, who, like all Irishmen, had plenty
of loose good-nature at bottom, and was as sudden and furious in his loves
as in his hostilities, scrambled over the benches, regardless of patriots'
toes, to shake me violently by the hand, and inform me that I was "a broth
of a boy," and that "any little disagreements between us had vanished like
a passing cloud from the sunshine of our fraternity"--when my eye was
caught by a face which there was no mistaking--my cousin's!
Yes, there he sat, watching me like a basilisk, with his dark, glittering,
mesmeric eyes, out of a remote corner of the room--not in contempt or
anger, but there was a quiet, assured, sardonic smile about his lips, which
chilled me to the heart.
The meeting was sufficiently public to allow of his presence, but how had
he found out its existence? Had he come there as a spy on me? Had he been
in the room when my visit to D * * * * was determined on? I trembled at the
thought; and I trembled, too, lest he should be daring enough--and I knew
he could dare anything--to claim acquaintance with me there and then. It
would have ruined my new-restored reputation for ever. But he sat still and
steady: and I had to go through the rest of the evening's business under
the miserable, cramping knowledge that every word and gesture was being
noted down by my most deadly enemy; trembling whenever I was addressed,
lest some chance word of an acquaintance would implicate me still
further--though, indeed, I was deep enough already. The meeting seemed
interminable; and there I fidgeted, with my face scarlet--always seeing
those basilisk eyes upon me--in fancy--for I dared not look again towards
the corner where I knew they were.
At last it was over--the audience went out; and when I had courage to look
round, my cousin had vanished among them. A load was taken off my breast,
and I breathed freely again--for five minutes;--for I had not made ten
steps up the street, when an arm was familiarly thrust through mine, and I
found myself in the clutches of my evil genius.
"How are you, my dear fellow? Expected to meet you there. Why, what an
orator you are! Really, I haven't heard more fluent or passionate English
this month of Sundays. You must give me a lesson in sermon-preaching. I can
tell you, we parsons want a hint or two in that line. So you're going down
to D * * * *, to see after those poor starving labourers? 'Pon my honour,
I've a great mind to go with you."
So, then, he knew all! However, there was nothing for it but to brazen
it out; and, besides, I was in his power, and however hateful to me his
seeming cordiality might be, I dared not offend him at that moment.
"It would be well if you did. If you parsons would show yourselves at such
places as these a little oftener, you would do more to make the people
believe your mission real, than by all the tracts and sermons in the
"But, my dear cousin" (and he began to snuffle and sink his voice), "there
is so much sanguinary language, so much unsanctified impatience, you
frighten away all the meek apostolic men among the priesthood--the very
ones who feel most for the lost sheep of the flock.
"Then the parsons are either great Pharisees or great cowards, or both."
"Very likely. I was in a precious fright myself, I know, when I saw you
recognized me. If I had not felt strengthened, you know, as of course one
ought to be in all trials, by the sense of my holy calling, I think I
should have bolted at once. However, I took the precaution of bringing my
Bowie and revolver with me, in case the worst came to the worst."
"And a very needless precaution it was," said I, half laughing at the
quaint incongruity of the priestly and the lay elements in his speech. "You
don't seem to know much of working men's meetings, or working men's morals.
Why, that place was open to all the world. The proceedings will be in the
newspaper to-morrow. The whole bench of bishops might have been there, if
they had chosen; and a great deal of good it would have done them!"
"I fully agree with you, my dear fellow. No one hates the bishops more than
we true high-churchmen, I can tell you--that's a great point of sympathy
between us and the people. But I must be off. By-the-by, would you like me
to tell our friends at D * * * * that I met you? They often ask after you
in their letters, I assure you."
This was a sting of complicated bitterness. I felt all that it meant at
once. So he was in constant correspondence with them, while I--and that
thought actually drove out of my head the more pressing danger of his
utterly ruining me in their esteem, by telling them, as he had a very good
right to do, that I was going to preach Chartism to discontented mobs.
"Ah! well! perhaps you wouldn't wish it mentioned? As you like, you
know. Or, rather," and he laid an iron grasp on my arm, and dropped his
voice--this time in earnest--"as you behave, my wise and loyal cousin! Good
I went home--the excitement of self-applause, which the meeting had called
up, damped by a strange weight of foreboding. And yet I could not help
laughing, when, just as I was turning into bed, Crossthwaite knocked at
my door, and, on being admitted, handed over to me a bundle wrapped up in
"There's a pair of breeks for you--not plush ones, this time, old
fellow--but you ought to look as smart as possible. There's so much in a
man's looking dignified, and all that, when he's speechifying. So I've
just brought you down my best black trousers to travel in. We're just of
a size, you know; little and good, like a Welshman's cow. And if you tear
them, why, we're not like poor, miserable, useless aristocrats; tailors
and sailors can mend their own rents." And he vanished, whistling the
I went to bed and tossed about, fancying to myself my journey, my speech,
the faces of the meeting, among which Lillian's would rise, in spite of all
the sermons which I preached to myself on the impossibility of her being
there, of my being known, of any harm happening from the movement; but I
could not shake off the fear. If there were a riot, a rising!--If any harm
were to happen to her! If--Till, mobbed into fatigue by a rabble of such
miserable hypothetic ghosts, I fell asleep, to dream that I was going to be
hanged for sedition, and that the mob were all staring and hooting at me,
and Lillian clapping her hands and setting them on; and I woke in an agony,
to find Sandy Mackaye standing by my bedside with a light.
"Hoolie, laddie! ye need na jump up that way. I'm no' gaun to burke ye the
nicht; but I canna sleep; I'm sair misdoubtful o' the thing. It seems a'
richt, an' I've been praying for us, an' that's mickle for me, to be taught
our way; but I dinna see aught for ye but to gang. If your heart is richt
with God in this matter, then he's o' your side, an' I fear na what men may
do to ye. An' yet, ye're my Joseph, as it were, the son o' my auld age, wi'
a coat o' many colours, plush breeks included; an' gin aught take ye, ye'll
bring down my grey haffets wi' sorrow to the grave!"
The old man gazed at me as be spoke, with a deep, earnest affection I
had never seen in him before; and the tears glistened in his eyes by the
flaring candlelight, as he went on:
"I ha' been reading the Bible the nicht. It's strange how the words o't
rise up, and open themselves whiles, to puir distractit bodies; though,
maybe, no' always in just the orthodox way. An' I fell on that, 'Behold
I send ye forth as lambs in the midst o' wolves. Be ye therefore wise as
serpents an' harmless as doves;' an' that gave me comfort, laddie, for ye.
Mind the warning, dinna gang wud, whatever ye may see an' hear; it's an
ill way o' showing pity, to gang daft anent it. Dinna talk magniloquently;
that's the workman's darling sin. An' mind ye dinna go too deep wi' them.
Ye canna trust them to understand ye; they're puir foolish sheep that ha'
no shepherd--swine that ha' no wash, rather. So cast na your pearls before
swine, laddie, lest they trample them under their feet, an' turn again an'
He went out, and I lay awake tossing till morning, making a thousand good
resolutions--like the rest of mankind.
THE MEN WHO ARE EATEN.
With many instructions from our friends, and warnings from Mackaye, I
started next day on my journey. When I last caught sight of the old man,
he was gazing fixedly after me, and using his pocket-handkerchief in a
somewhat suspicious way. I had remarked how depressed he seemed, and my own
spirits shared the depression. A presentiment of evil hung over me, which
not even the excitement of the journey--to me a rare enjoyment--could
dispel. I had no heart, somehow, to look at the country scenes around,
which in general excited in me so much interest, and I tried to lose myself
in summing up my stock of information on the question which I expected to
hear discussed by the labourers. I found myself not altogether ignorant.
The horrible disclosures of S.G.O., and the barbarous abominations of
the Andover Workhouse, then fresh in the public mind, had had their due
effect on mine; and, like most thinking artizans, I had acquainted myself
tolerably from books and newspapers with the general condition of the
I arrived in the midst of a dreary, treeless country, whose broad brown and
grey fields were only broken by an occasional line of dark, doleful firs,
at a knot of thatched hovels, all sinking and leaning every way but the
right, the windows patched with paper, the doorways stopped with filth,
which surrounded a beer-shop. That was my destination--unpromising enough
for any one but an agitator. If discontent and misery are preparatives for
liberty--and they are--so strange and unlike ours are the ways of God--I
was likely enough to find them there.
I was welcomed by my intended host, a little pert, snub-nosed shoemaker,
who greeted me as his cousin from London--a relationship which it seemed
prudent to accept.
He took me into his little cabin, and there, with the assistance of a
shrewd, good-natured wife, shared with me the best he had; and after supper
commenced, mysteriously and in trembling, as if the very walls might have
ears, a rambling, bitter diatribe on the wrongs and sufferings of the
labourers; which went on till late in the night, and which I shall spare my
readers: for if they have either brains or hearts, they ought to know more
than I can tell them, from the public prints, and, indeed, from their own
eyes--although, as a wise man says, there is nothing more difficult than to
make people see first the facts which lie under their own nose.
Upon one point, however, which was new to me, he was very fierce--the
customs of landlords letting the cottages with their farms, for the mere
sake of saving themselves trouble; thus giving up all power of protecting
the poor man, and delivering him over, bound hand and foot, even in the
matter of his commonest home comforts, to farmers, too penurious, too
ignorant, and often too poor, to keep the cottages in a state fit for the
habitation of human beings. Thus the poor man's hovel, as well as his
labour, became, he told me, a source of profit to the farmer, out of which
he wrung the last drop of gain. The necessary repairs were always put
off as long as possible--the labourers were robbed of their gardens--the
slightest rebellion lost them not only work, but shelter from the elements;
the slavery under which they groaned penetrated even to the fireside and to
"And who was the landlord of this parish?"
"Oh! he believed he was a very good sort of man, and uncommon kind to the
people where he lived, but that was fifty miles away in another country;
and he liked that estate better than this, and never came down here, except
for the shooting."
Full of many thoughts, and tired out with my journey, I went up to bed, in
the same loft with the cobbler and his wife, and fell asleep, and dreamt of
* * * * *
About eight o'clock the next morning I started forth with my guide, the
shoemaker, over as desolate a country as men can well conceive. Not a house
was to be seen for miles, except the knot of hovels which we had left,
and here and there a great dreary lump of farm-buildings, with its yard
of yellow stacks. Beneath our feet the earth was iron, and the sky iron
above our heads. Dark curdled clouds, "which had built up everywhere an
under-roof of doleful grey," swept on before the bitter northern wind,
which whistled through the low leafless hedges and rotting wattles, and
crisped the dark sodden leaves of the scattered hollies, almost the only
trees in sight.
We trudged on, over wide stubbles, with innumerable weeds; over wide
fallows, in which the deserted ploughs stood frozen fast; then over clover
and grass, burnt black with frost; then over a field of turnips, where we
passed a large fold of hurdles, within which some hundred sheep stood, with
their heads turned from the cutting blast. All was dreary, idle, silent;
no sound or sign of human beings. One wondered where the people lived, who
cultivated so vast a tract of civilized, over-peopled, nineteenth-century
England. As we came up to the fold, two little boys hailed us from the
inside--two little wretches with blue noses and white cheeks, scarecrows of
rags and patches, their feet peeping through bursten shoes twice too big
for them, who seemed to have shared between them a ragged pair of worsted
gloves, and cowered among the sheep, under the shelter of a hurdle, crying
and inarticulate with cold.
"What's the matter, boys?"
"Turmits is froze, and us can't turn the handle of the cutter. Do ye gie us
a turn, please?"
We scrambled over the hurdles, and gave the miserable little creatures the
benefit of ten minutes' labour. They seemed too small for such exertion:
their little hands were purple with chilblains, and they were so sorefooted
they could scarcely limp. I was surprised to find them at least three years
older than their size and looks denoted, and still more surprised, too, to
find that their salary for all this bitter exposure to the elements--such
as I believe I could not have endured two days running--was the vast sum
of one shilling a week each, Sundays included. "They didn't never go to
school, nor to church nether, except just now and then, sometimes--they had
to mind the shop."
I went on, sickened with the contrast between the highly-bred, over-fed,
fat, thick-woolled animals, with their troughs of turnips and malt-dust,
and their racks of rich clover-hay, and their little pent-house of
rock-salt, having nothing to do but to eat and sleep, and eat again, and
the little half-starved shivering animals who were their slaves. Man
the master of the brutes? Bah! As society is now, the brutes are the
masters--the horse, the sheep, the bullock, is the master, and the labourer
is their slave. "Oh! but the brutes are eaten!" Well; the horses at least
are not eaten--they live, like landlords, till they die. And those who are
eaten, are certainly not eaten by their human servants. The sheep they fat,
another kills, to parody Shelley; and, after all, is not the labourer, as
well as the sheep, eaten by you, my dear Society?--devoured body and soul,
not the less really because you are longer about the meal, there being an
old prejudice against cannibalism, and also against murder--except after
the Riot Act has been read.
"What!" shriek the insulted respectabilities, "have we not paid him his
wages weekly, and has he not lived upon them?" Yes; and have you not given
your sheep and horses their daily wages, and have they not lived on them?
You wanted to work them; and they could not work, you know, unless they
were alive. But here lies your iniquity: you gave the labourer nothing but
his daily food--not even his lodgings; the pigs were not stinted of their
wash to pay for their sty-room, the man was; and his wages, thanks to your
competitive system, were beaten down deliberately and conscientiously
(for was it not according to political economy, and the laws thereof?)
to the minimum on which he could or would work, without the hope or the
possibility of saving a farthing. You know how to invest your capital
profitably, dear Society, and to save money over and above your income of
daily comforts; but what has he saved?--what is he profited by all those
years of labour? He has kept body and soul together--perhaps he could
have done that without you or your help. But his wages are used up every
Saturday night. When he stops working, you have in your pocket the whole
real profits of his nearly fifty years' labour, and he has nothing. And
then you say that you have not eaten him! You know, in your heart of
hearts, that you have. Else, why in Heaven's name do you pay him poor's
rates? If, as you say, he has been duly repaid in wages, what is the
meaning of that half-a-crown a week?--you owe him nothing. Oh! but the man
would starve--common humanity forbids? What now, Society? Give him alms, if
you will, on the score of humanity; but do not tax people for his support,
whether they choose or not--that were a mere tyranny and robbery. If the
landlord's feelings will not allow him to see the labourer starve, let
him give, in God's name; but let him not cripple and drain, by compulsory
poor-rates, the farmer who has paid him his "just remuneration" of wages,
and the parson who probably, out of his scanty income, gives away twice as
much in alms as the landlord does out of his superfluous one. No, no; as
long as you retain compulsory poor-laws, you confess that it is not merely
humane, but just, to pay the labourer more than his wages. You confess
yourself in debt to him, over and above an uncertain sum, which it suits
you not to define, because such an investigation would expose ugly gaps and
patches in that same snug competitive and property world of yours; and,
therefore, being the stronger party, you compel your debtor to give up the
claim which you confess, for an annuity of half-a-crown a week--that being
the just-above-starving-point of the economic thermometer. And yet you say
you have not eaten the labourer! You see, we workmen too have our thoughts
about political economy, differing slightly from yours, truly--just as the
man who is being hanged may take a somewhat different view of the process
from the man who is hanging him. Which view is likely to be the more
With some such thoughts I walked across the open down, toward a circular
camp, the earthwork, probably, of some old British town. Inside it, some
thousand or so of labouring people were swarming restlessly round a single
large block of stone, some relic of Druid times, on which a tall man stood,
his dark figure thrown out in bold relief against the dreary sky. As we
pushed through the crowd, I was struck with the wan, haggard look of all
faces; their lacklustre eyes and drooping lips, stooping shoulders, heavy,
dragging steps, gave them a crushed, dogged air, which was infinitely
painful, and bespoke a grade of misery more habitual and degrading than
that of the excitable and passionate artisan.
There were many women among them, talking shrilly, and looking even more
pinched and wan than the men.
I remarked, also, that many of the crowd carried heavy sticks, pitchforks,
and other tools which might be used as fearful weapons--an ugly sign, which
I ought to have heeded betimes.
They glared with sullen curiosity at me and my Londoner's clothes, as, with
no small feeling of self-importance, I pushed my way to the foot of the
stone. The man who stood on it seemed to have been speaking some time. His
words, like all I heard that day, were utterly devoid of anything like
eloquence or imagination--a dull string of somewhat incoherent complaints,
which derived their force only from the intense earnestness, which attested
their truthfulness. As far as I can recollect, I will give the substance of
what I heard. But, indeed, I heard nothing but what has been bandied about
from newspaper to newspaper for years--confessed by all parties, deplored
by all parties, but never an attempt made to remedy it.
--"The farmers makes slaves on us. I can't hear no difference between a
Christian and a nigger, except they flogs the niggers and starves the
Christians; and I don't know which I'd choose. I served Farmer * * * *
seven year, off and on, and arter harvest he tells me he's no more work
for me, nor my boy nether, acause he's getting too big for him, so he gets
a little 'un instead, and we does nothing; and my boy lies about, getting
into bad ways, like hundreds more; and then we goes to board, and they bids
us go and look for work; and we goes up next part to London. I couldn't
get none; they'd enough to do, they said, to employ their own; and we
begs our way home, and goes into the Union; and they turns us out again
in two or three days, and promises us work again, and gives us two days'
gravel-picking, and then says they has no more for us; and we was sore
pinched, and laid a-bed all day; then next board-day we goes to 'em and
they gives us one day more--and that threw us off another week, and then
next board-day we goes into the Union again for three days, and gets sent
out again: and so I've been starving one-half of the time, and they putting
us off and on o' purpose like that; and I'll bear it no longer, and that's
what I says."
He came down, and a tall, powerful, well-fed man, evidently in his Sunday
smock-frock and clean yellow leggings, got up and began:
"I hav'n't no complaint to make about myself. I've a good master, and
the parson's a right kind 'un, and that's more than all can say, and the
squire's a real gentleman; and my master, he don't need to lower his wages.
I gets my ten shillings a week all the year round, and harvesting, and a
pig, and a 'lotment--and that's just why I come here. If I can get it, why
"Cause our masters baint like yourn."
"No, by George, there baint no money round here like that, I can tell you."
"And why ain't they?" continued the speaker. "There's the shame on it.
There's my master can grow five quarters where yourn only grows three; and
so he can live and pay like a man; and so he say he don't care for free
trade. You know, as well as I, that there's not half o' the land round here
grows what it ought. They ain't no money to make it grow more, and besides,
they won't employ no hands to keep it clean. I come across more weeds in
one field here, than I've seen for nine year on our farm. Why arn't some of
you a-getting they weeds up? It 'ud pay 'em to farm better--and they knows
that, but they're too lazy; if they can just get a living off the land,
they don't care; and they'd sooner save money out of your wages, than save
it by growing more corn--it's easier for 'em, it is. There's the work to
be done, and they won't let you do it. There's you crying out for work,
and work crying out for you--and neither of you can get to the other. I
say that's a shame, I do. I say a poor man's a slave. He daren't leave his
parish--nobody won't employ him, as can employ his own folk. And if he
stays in his parish, it's just a chance whether he gets a good master or
a bad 'un. He can't choose, and that's a shame, it is. Why should he go
starving because his master don't care to do the best by the land? If they
can't till the land, I say let them get out of it, and let them work it as
can. And I think as we ought all to sign a petition to government, to tell
'em all about it; though I don't see as how they could help us, unless
they'd make a law to force the squires to put in nobody to a farm as hasn't
money to work it fairly."
"I says," said the next speaker, a poor fellow whose sentences were
continually broken by a hacking cough, "just what he said. If they can't
till the land, let them do it as can. But they won't; they won't let us
have a scrap on it, though we'd pay 'em more for it nor ever they'd make
for themselves. But they says it 'ud make us too independent, if we had an
acre or so o' land; and so it 'ud for they. And so I says as he did--they
want to make slaves on us altogether, just to get the flesh and bones off
us at their own price. Look you at this here down.--If I had an acre on it,
to make a garden on, I'd live well with my wages, off and on. Why, if this
here was in garden, it 'ud be worth twenty, forty times o' that it be now.
And last spring I lays out o' work from Christmas till barley-sowing, and
I goes to the farmer and axes for a bit o' land to dig and plant a few
potatoes--and he says, 'You be d--d! If you're minding your garden after
hours, you'll not be fit to do a proper day's work for me in hours--and I
shall want you by-and-by, when the weather breaks'--for it was frost most
bitter, it was. 'And if you gets potatoes you'll be getting a pig--and then
you'll want straw, and meal to fat 'un--and then I'll not trust you in
my barn, I can tell ye;' and so there it was. And if I'd had only one
half-acre of this here very down as we stands on, as isn't worth five
shillings a year--and I'd a given ten shillings for it--my belly wouldn't a
been empty now. Oh, they be dogs in the manger, and the Lord'll reward 'em
therefor! First they says they can't afford to work the land 'emselves, and
then they wain't let us work it ether. Then they says prices is so low they
can't keep us on, and so they lowers our wages; and then when prices goes
up ever so much, our wages don't go up with 'em. So, high prices or low
prices, it's all the same. With the one we can't buy bread, and with the
other we can't get work. I don't mind free trade--not I: to be sure, if
the loaf's cheap, we shall be ruined; but if the loafs dear, we shall be
starved, and for that, we is starved now. Nobody don't care for us; for my
part, I don't much care for myself. A man must die some time or other. Only
I thinks if we could some time or other just see the Queen once, and tell
her all about it, she'd take our part, and not see us put upon like that, I
"Gentlemen!" cried my guide, the shoemaker, in a somewhat conceited and
dictatorial tone, as he skipped up by the speaker's side, and gently
shouldered him down--"it ain't like the ancient times, as I've read off,
when any poor man as had a petition could come promiscuously to the King's
royal presence, and put it direct into his own hand, and be treated like a
gentleman. Don't you know as how they locks up the Queen now-a-days, and
never lets a poor soul come a-near her, lest she should hear the truth
of all their iniquities? Why they never lets her stir without a lot o'
dragoons with drawn swords riding all around her; and if you dared to go
up to her to ax mercy, whoot! they'd chop your head off before you could
say, 'Please your Majesty.' And then the hypocrites say as it's to keep her
from being frightened--and that's true--for it's frightened she'd be, with
a vengeance, if she knowed all that they grand folks make poor labourers
suffer, to keep themselves in power and great glory. I tell ye, 'tarn't
per-practicable at all, to ax the Queen for anything; she's afeard of
her life on 'em. You just take my advice, and sign a round-robin to the
squires--you tell 'em as you're willing to till the land for 'em, if
they'll let you. There's draining and digging enough to be done as 'ud keep
ye all in work, arn't there?"
"Ay, ay; there's lots o' work to be done, if so be we could get at it.
Everybody knows that."
"Well, you tell 'em that. Tell 'em here's hundreds, and hundreds of ye
starving, and willing to work; and then tell 'em, if they won't find ye
work, they shall find ye meat. There's lots o' victuals in their larders
now; haven't you as good a right to it as their jackanapes o' footmen? The
squires is at the bottom of it all. What do you stupid fellows go grumbling
at the farmers for? Don't they squires tax the land twenty or thirty
shillings an acre; and what do they do for that? The best of 'em, if he
gets five thousand a year out o' the land, don't give back five hundred in
charity, or schools, or poor-rates--and what's that to speak of? And the
main of 'em--curse 'em!--they drains the money out o' the land, and takes
it up to London, or into foreign parts, to spend on fine clothes and fine
dinners; or throws it away at elections, to make folks beastly drunk, and
sell their souls for money--and we gets no good on it. I'll tell you what
it's come to, my men--that we can't afford no more landlords. We can't
afford 'em, and that's the truth of it!"
The crowd growled a dubious assent.
"Oh, yes, you can grumble at the farmers, acause you deals with them
first-hand; but you be too stupid to do aught but hunt by sight. I be an
old dog, and I hunts cunning. I sees farther than my nose, I does, I larnt
politics to London when I was a prentice; and I ain't forgotten the plans
of it. Look you here. The farmers, they say they can't live unless they can
make four rents, one for labour, and one for stock, and one for rent, and
one for themselves; ain't that about right? Very well; just now they can't
make four rents--in course they can't. Now, who's to suffer for that?--the
farmer as works, or the labourer as works, or the landlord as does nothing?
But he takes care on himself. He won't give up his rent--not he. Perhaps
he might give back ten per cent, and what's that?--two shillings an acre,
maybe. What's that, if corn falls two pound a load, and more? Then the
farmer gets a stinting; and he can't stint hisself, he's bad enough off
already; he's forty shillings out o' pocket on every load of wheat--that's
eight shillings, maybe, on every acre of his land on a four-course
shift--and where's the eight shillings to come from, for the landlord's
only given him back two on it? He can't stint hisself, he daren't stint
his stock, and so he stints the labourers; and so it's you as pays the
landlord's rent--you, my boys, out o' your flesh and bones, you do--and you
can't afford it any longer, by the look of you--so just tell 'em so!"
This advice seemed to me as sadly unpractical as the rest. In short, there
seemed to be no hope, no purpose among them--and they felt it; and I could
hear, from the running comment of murmurs, that they were getting every
moment more fierce and desperate at the contemplation of their own
helplessness--a mood which the next speech was not likely to soften.
A pale, thin woman scrambled up on the stone, and stood there, her scanty
and patched garments fluttering in the bitter breeze, as, with face
sharpened with want, and eyes fierce with misery, she began, in a
querulous, 'scornful falsetto:
"I am an honest woman. I brought up seven children decently; and never axed
the parish for a farden, till my husband died. Then they tells me I can
support myself and mine--and so I does. Early and late I hoed turmits, and
early and late I rep, and left the children at home to mind each other; and
one on 'em fell into the fire, and is gone to heaven, blessed angel! and
two more it pleased the Lord to take in the fever; and the next, I hope,
will soon be out o' this miserable sinful world. But look you here: three
weeks agone, I goes to the board. I had no work. They say they could not
relieve me for the first week, because I had money yet to take.--The
hypocrites! they knowing as I couldn't but owe it all, and a lot more
beside. Next week they sends the officer to inquire. That was ten days
gone, and we starving. Then, on board-day, they gives me two loaves. Then,
next week, they takes it off again. And when I goes over (five miles) to
the board to ax why--they'd find me work--and they never did; so we goes
on starving for another week--for no one wouldn't trust us; how could they
when we was in debt already a whole lot?--you're all in debt!"
"That we are."
"There's some here as never made ten shillings a week in their lives, as
owes twenty pounds at the shop!"
"Ay, and more--and how's a man ever to pay that?"
"So this week, when I comes, they offers me the house. Would I go into
the house? They'd be glad to have me, acause I'm strong and hearty and a
good nurse. But would I, that am an honest woman, go to live with they
offscourings--they"--(she used a strong word)--"would I be parted from my
children? Would I let them hear the talk, and keep the company as they will
there, and learn all sorts o' sins that they never heard on, blessed be
God! I'll starve first, and see them starve too--though, Lord knows, it's
hard.--Oh! it's hard," she said, bursting into tears, "to leave them as I
did this morning, crying after their breakfasts, and I none to give 'em.
I've got no bread--where should I? I've got no fire--how can I give one
shilling and sixpence a hundred for coals? And if I did, who'd fetch 'em
home? And if I dared break a hedge for a knitch o' wood, they'd put me in
prison, they would, with the worst. What be I to do? What be you going to
do? That's what I came here for. What be ye going to do for us women--us
that starve and stint, and wear our hands off for you men and your
children, and get hard words, and hard blows from you? Oh! if I was a man,
I know what I'd do, I do! But I don't think you be men three parts o' you,
or you'd not see the widow and the orphan starve as you do, and sit quiet
and grumble, as long as you can keep your own bodies and souls together.
Eh! ye cowards!"
What more she would have said in her excitement, which had risen to an
absolute scream, I cannot tell; but some prudent friend pulled her down off
the stone, to be succeeded by a speaker more painful, if possible; an aged
blind man, the worn-out melancholy of whose slow, feeble voice made my
heart sink, and hushed the murmuring crowd into silent awe.
Slowly he turned his grey, sightless head from side to side, as if feeling
for the faces below him--and then began:
"I heard you was all to be here--and I suppose you are; and I said I would
come--though I suppose they'll take off my pay, if they hear of it. But I
knows the reason of it, and the bad times and all. The Lord revealed it to
me as clear as day, four years agone come Easter-tide. It's all along of
our sins, and our wickedness--because we forgot Him--it is. I mind the old
war times, what times they was, when there was smuggled brandy up and down
in every public, and work more than hands could do. And then, how we all
forgot the Lord, and went after our own lusts and pleasures--squires and
parsons, and farmers and labouring folk, all alike. They oughted to
ha' knowed better--and we oughted too. Many's the Sunday I spent in
skittle-playing and cock-fighting, and the pound I spent in beer, as might
ha' been keeping me now. We was an evil and perverse generation--and so one
o' my sons went for a sodger, and was shot at Waterloo, and the other fell
into evil ways, and got sent across seas--and I be left alone for my
sins. But the Lord was very gracious to me and showed me how it was all a
judgment on my sins, he did. He has turned his face from us, and that's why
we're troubled. And so I don't see no use in this meeting. It won't do no
good; nothing won't do us no good, unless we all repent of our wicked ways,
our drinking, and our dirt, and our love-children, and our picking and
stealing, and gets the Lord to turn our hearts, and to come back again, and
have mercy on us, and take us away speedily out of this wretched world,
where there's nothing but misery and sorrow, into His everlasting glory,
Amen! Folks say as the day of judgment's a coming soon--and I partly think
so myself. I wish it was all over, and we in heaven above; and that's all I
have to say."
It seemed a not unnatural revulsion, when a tall, fierce man, with a
forbidding squint, sprung jauntily on the stone, and setting his arms
a-kimbo, broke out:
"Here be I, Blinkey, and I has as good a right to speak as ere a one.
You're all blamed fools, you are. So's that old blind buffer there. You
sticks like pigs in a gate, hollering and squeeking, and never helping
yourselves. Why can't you do like me? I never does no work--darned if I'll
work to please the farmers. The rich folks robs me, and I robs them,
and that's fair and equal. You only turn poachers--you only go stealing
turmits, and fire-ud, and all as you can find--and then you'll not need to
work. Arn't it yourn? The game's no one's, is it now?--you know that. And
if you takes turmits or corn, they're yourn--you helped to grow 'em. And
if you're put to prison, I tell ye, it's a darned deal warmer, and better
victuals too, than ever a one of you gets at home, let alone the Union.
Now I knows the dodge. Whenever my wife's ready for her trouble, I gets
cotched; then I lives like a prince in gaol, and she goes to the workus;
and when it's all over, start fair again. Oh, you blockheads'--to stand
here shivering with empty bellies.--You just go down to the farm and burn
they stacks over the old rascal's head; and then they that let you starve
now, will be forced to keep you then. If you can't get your share of the
poor-rates, try the county-rates, my bucks--you can get fat on them at the
Queen's expense--and that's more than you'll do in ever a Union as I hear
on. Who'll come down and pull the farm about the folks' ears? Warn't he as
turned five on yer off last week? and ain't he more corn there than 'ud
feed you all round this day, and won't sell it, just because he's
waiting till folks are starved enough, and prices rise? Curse the old
villain!--who'll help to disappoint him 'o that? Come along!"
A confused murmur arose, and a movement in the crowd. I felt that now or
never was the time to speak. If once the spirit of mad aimless riot broke
loose, I had not only no chance of a hearing, but every likelihood of
being implicated in deeds which I abhorred; and I sprung on the stone and
entreated a few minutes' attention, telling them that I was a deputation
from one of the London Chartist committees. This seemed to turn the stream
of their thoughts, and they gaped in stupid wonder at me as I began hardly
less excited than themselves.
I assured them of the sympathy of the London working men, made a comment
on their own speeches--which the reader ought to be able to make for
himself--and told them that I had come to entreat their assistance towards
obtaining such a parliamentary representation as would secure them their
rights. I explained the idea of the Charter, and begged for their help in
carrying it out.
To all which they answered surlily, that they did not know anything about
politics--that what they wanted was bread.
I went on, more vehement than ever, to show them how all their misery
sprung (as I then fancied) from being unrepresented--how the laws were made
by the rich for the poor, and not by all for all--how the taxes bit deep
into the necessaries of the labourer, and only nibbled at the luxuries of
the rich--how the criminal code exclusively attacked the crimes to which
the poor were prone, while it dared not interfere with the subtler
iniquities of the high-born and wealthy--how poor-rates, as I have just
said, were a confession on the part of society that the labourer was not
fully remunerated. I tried to make them see that their interest, as much as
common justice, demanded that they should have a voice in the councils of
the nation, such as would truly proclaim their wants, their rights, their
wrongs; and I have seen no reason since then to unsay my words.
To all which they answered, that their stomachs were empty, and they wanted
bread. "And bread we will have!"
"Go, then," I cried, losing my self-possession between disappointment and
the maddening desire of influence--and, indeed, who could hear their story,
or even look upon their faces, and not feel some indignation stir in him.
unless self-interest had drugged his heart and conscience--"go," I cried,
"and get bread! After all, you have a right to it. No man is bound to
starve. There are rights above all laws, and the right to live is one. Laws
were made for man, not man for laws. If you had made the laws yourselves,
they might bind you even in this extremity; but they were made in spite of
you--against you. They rob you, crash you; even now they deny you bread.
God has made the earth free to all, like the air and sunshine, and you are
shut out from off it. The earth is yours, for you till it. Without you it
would be a desert. Go and demand your share of that corn, the fruit of your
own industry. What matter, if your tyrants imprison, murder you?--they can
but kill your bodies at once, instead of killing them piecemeal, as they do
now; and your blood will cry against them from the ground:--Ay, Woe!"--I
went on, carried away by feelings for which I shall make no apology; for,
however confused, there was, and is, and ever will be, a God's truth in
them, as this generation will find out at the moment when its own serene
self-satisfaction crumbles underneath it--"Woe unto those that grind the
faces of the poor! Woe unto those who add house to house, and field to
field, till they stand alone in the land, and there is no room left for the
poor man! The wages of their reapers, which they have held back by fraud,
cry out against them; and their cry has entered into the ears of the God of
But I had no time to finish. The murmur swelled into a roar for "Bread!
Bread!" My hearers had taken me at my word. I had raised the spirit; could
I command him, now he was abroad?
"Go to Jennings's farm!"
"No! he ain't no corn, he sold un' all last week."
"There's plenty at the Hall farm! Rouse out the old steward!"
And, amid yells and execrations, the whole mass poured down the hill,
sweeping me away with them. I was shocked and terrified at their threats.
I tried again and again to stop and harangue them. I shouted myself hoarse
about the duty of honesty; warned them against pillage and violence;
entreated them to take nothing but the corn which they actually needed;
but my voice was drowned in the uproar. Still I felt myself in a measure
responsible for their conduct; I had helped to excite them, and dare not,
in honour, desert them; and trembling, I went on, prepared to see the
worst; following, as a flag of distress, a mouldy crust, brandished on the
point of a pitchfork.
Bursting through the rotting and half-fallen palings, we entered a wide,
rushy, neglected park, and along an old gravel road, now green with grass,
we opened on a sheet of frozen water, and, on the opposite bank, the huge
square corpse of a hall, the close-shuttered windows of which gave it a
dead and ghastly look, except where here and there a single one showed, as
through a black empty eye-socket, the dark unfurnished rooms within. On the
right, beneath us, lay, amid tall elms, a large mass of farm-buildings,
into the yard of which the whole mob rushed tumultuously--just in time to
see an old man on horseback dart out and gallop hatless up the park, amid
the yells of the mob.
"The old rascal's gone! and he'll call up the yeomanry. We must be quick,
boys!" shouted one, and the first signs of plunder showed themselves in an
indiscriminate chase after various screaming geese and turkeys; while a
few of the more steady went up to the house-door, and knocking, demanded
sternly the granary keys.
A fat virago planted herself in the doorway, and commenced railing at them,
with the cowardly courage which the fancied immunity of their sex gives
to coarse women; but she was hastily shoved aside, and took shelter in an
upper room, where she stood screaming and cursing at the window.
The invaders returned, cramming their mouths with bread, and chopping
asunder flitches of bacon. The granary doors were broken open, and the
contents scrambled for, amid immense waste, by the starving wretches. It
was a sad sight. Here was a poor shivering woman, hiding scraps of food
under her cloak, and hurrying out of the yard to the children she had
left at home. There was a tall man, leaning against the palings, gnawing
ravenously at the same loaf as a little boy, who had scrambled up behind
him. Then a huge blackguard came whistling up to me, with a can of ale.
"Drink, my beauty! you're dry with hollering by now!"
"The ale is neither yours nor mine; I won't touch it."
"Darn your buttons! You said the wheat was ourn, acause we growed it--and
thereby so's the beer--for we growed the barley too."
And so thought the rest; for the yard was getting full of drunkards, a
woman or two among them, reeling knee-deep in the loose straw among the
"Thresh out they ricks!" roared another.
"Get out the threshing-machine!"
"You harness the horses!"
"No! there bain't no time. Yeomanry'll be here. You mun leave the ricks."
"Darned if we do. Old Woods shan't get naught by they."
"Fire 'em, then, and go on to Slater's farm!"
"As well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb," hiccuped Blinkey, as he rushed
through the yard with a lighted brand. I tried to stop him, but fell on my
face in the deep straw, and got round the barns to the rick-yard just in
time to here a crackle--there was no mistaking it; the windward stack was
in a blaze of fire.
I stood awe-struck--I cannot tell how long--watching how the live
flame-snakes crept and hissed, and leapt and roared, and rushed in long
horizontal jets from stack to stack before the howling wind, and fastened
their fiery talons on the barn-eaves, and swept over the peaked roofs, and
hurled themselves in fiery flakes into the yard beyond--the food of man,
the labour of years, devoured in aimless ruin!--Was it my doing? Was it
At last I recollected myself, and ran round again into the straw-yard,
where the fire was now falling fast. The only thing which saved the house
was the weltering mass of bullocks, pigs, and human beings drunk and sober,
which, trampled out unwittingly the flames as fast as they caught.
The fire had seized the roofs of the cart-stables, when a great lubberly
boy blubbered out:--
"Git my horses out! git my horses out o' the fire! I be so fond o' mun!"
"Well, they ain't done no harm, poor beasts!" And a dozen men ran in to
save them; but the poor wretches, screaming with terror, refused to stir. I
never knew what became of them-but their shrieks still haunt my dreams....
The yard now became a pandemonium. The more ruffianly part of the mob--and
alas! there were but too many of them--hurled the furniture out of the
windows, or ran off with anything that they could carry. In vain I
expostulated, threatened; I was answered by laughter, curses, frantic
dances, and brandished plunder. Then I first found out how large a portion
of rascality shelters itself under the wing of every crowd; and at the
moment, I almost excused the rich for overlooking the real sufferers, in
indignation at the rascals. But even the really starving majority, whose
faces proclaimed the grim fact of their misery, seemed gone mad for the
moment. The old crust of sullen, dogged patience had broken up, and their
whole souls had exploded into reckless fury and brutal revenge--and yet
there was no hint of violence against the red fat woman, who, surrounded
with her blubbering children, stood screaming and cursing at the
first-floor window, getting redder and fatter at every scream. The worst
personality she heard was a roar of laughter, in which, such is poor
humanity, I could not but join, as her little starved drab of a
maid-of-all-work ran out of the door, with a bundle of stolen finery under
her arm, and high above the roaring of the flames, and the shouts of the
rioters, rose her mistress's yell.
"O Betsy! Betsy! you little awdacious unremorseful hussy!--a running away
with my best bonnet and shawl!"
The laughter soon, however, subsided, when a man rushed breathless into the
yard, shouting, "The yeomanry!"
At that sound; to my astonishment, a general panic ensued. The miserable
wretches never stopped to enquire how many, or how far off, they were--but
scrambled to every outlet of the yard, trampling each other down in their
hurry. I leaped up on the wall, and saw, galloping down the park, a mighty
armament of some fifteen men, with a tall officer at their head, mounted on
a splendid horse.
"There they be! there they be! all the varmers, and young Squire Clayton
wi' mun, on his grey hunter! O Lord! O Lord! and all their swords drawn!"
I thought of the old story in Herodotus--how the Scythian masters returned
from war to the rebel slaves who had taken possession of their lands and
wives, and brought them down on their knees with terror, at the mere sight
of the old dreaded dog-whips.
I did not care to run. I was utterly disgusted, disappointed with
myself--the people. I longed, for the moment, to die and leave it all; and
left almost alone, sat down on a stone, buried my head between my hands,
and tried vainly to shut out from my ears the roaring of the fire.
At that moment "Blinkey" staggered out past me and against me, a
writing-desk in his hands, shouting, in his drunken glory, "I've vound ut
at last! I've got the old fellow's money! Hush! What a vule I be, hollering
like that!"--And he was going to sneak off, with a face of drunken cunning,
when I sprung up and seized him by the throat.
"Rascal! robber! lay that down! Have you not done mischief enough already?"
"I wain't have no sharing. What? Do you want un yourself, eh? Then we'll
see who's the stronger!"
And in an instant he shook me from him, and dealt me a blow with the corner
of the desk, that laid me on the ground....
I just recollect the tramp of the yeomanry horses, and the gleam and jingle
of their arms, as they galloped into the yard. I caught a glimpse of the
tall young officer, as his great grey horse swept through the air, over
the high yard-pales--a feat to me utterly astonishing. Half a dozen long
strides--the wretched ruffian, staggering across the field with his booty,
was caught up.--The clear blade gleamed in the air--and then a fearful
yell--and after that I recollect nothing.
* * * * *
Slowly I recovered my consciousness. I was lying on a truckle-bed--stone
walls and a grated window! A man stood over me with a large bunch of
keys in his hand. He had been wrapping my head with wet towels. I knew,
instinctively, where I was.
"Well, young man," said he, in a not unkindly tone--"and a nice job you've
made of it! Do you know where you are?".
"Yes," answered I, quietly; "in D * * * * gaol."
The day was come--quickly, thank Heaven; and I stood at the bar, with four
or five miserable, haggard labourers, to take my trial for sedition, riot,
I had passed the intervening weeks half stupified with the despair of
utter disappointment; disappointment at myself and my own loss of
self-possession, which had caused all my misfortune,--perhaps, too, and the
thought was dreadful, that of my wretched fellow-sufferers:--disappointment
with the labourers, with The Cause; and when the thought came over me, in
addition, that I was irreparably disgraced in the eyes of my late patrons,
parted for ever from Lillian by my own folly, I laid down my head and
longed to die.
Then, again, I would recover awhile, and pluck up heart. I would plead my
cause myself--I would testify against the tyrants to their face--I would
say no longer to their besotted slaves, but to the men themselves, "Go to,
ye rich men, weep and howl! The hire of your labourers who have reaped down
your fields, which is by you kept back by fraud, crieth; and the cries of
them that have reaped hath entered into the ears of the Lord God of Hosts."
I would brave my fate--I would die protesting, and glory in my martyrdom.
"Martyrdom?" said Mackaye, who had come down to D * * * *, and was busy
night and day about my trial. "Ye'll just leave alone the martyr dodge, my
puir bairn. Ye're na martyr at a', ye'll understand, but a vera foolish
callant, that lost his temper, an' cast his pearls before swine--an' very
questionable pearls they, too, to judge by the price they fetch i' the
And then my heart sank again. And a few days before the trial a letter
came, evidently in my cousin's handwriting, though only signed with his
"SIR,--You are in a very great scrape--you will not deny that. How you
will get out of it depends on your own common sense. You probably won't be
hanged--for nobody believes that you had a hand in burning the farm; but,
unless you take care, you will be transported. Call yourself John Nokes;
entrust your case to a clever lawyer, and keep in the background. I warn
you, as a friend--if you try to speechify, and play the martyr, and let out
who you are, the respectable people who have been patronizing you will find
it necessary for their own sakes to clap a stopper on you for good and all,
to make you out an impostor and a swindler, and get you out of the way for
life: while, if you are quiet, it will suit them to be quiet too, and say
nothing about you, if you say nothing about them; and then there will be a
chance that they, as well as your own family, will do everything in their
power to hush the matter up. So, again, don't let out your real name; and
instruct your lawyers to know nothing about the W.'s; and then, perhaps,
the Queen's counsel will know nothing about them either. Mind--you are
warned, and woe to you if you are fool enough not to take the warning.
Plead in a false name! Never, so help me Heaven! To go into court with a
lie in my mouth--to make myself an impostor--probably a detected one--it
seemed the most cunning scheme for ruining me, which my evil genius could
have suggested, whether or not it might serve his own selfish ends. But as
for the other hints, they seemed not unreasonable, and promised to save me
trouble; while the continued pressure of anxiety and responsibility was
getting intolerable to my over-wearied brain. So I showed the letter to
Mackaye, who then told me that he had taken it for granted that I should
come to my right mind, and had therefore already engaged an old compatriot
as attorney, and the best counsel which money could procure.
"But where did you get the money? You have not surely been spending your
own savings on me?"
"I canna say that I wadna ha' so dune, in case o' need. But the men in town
just subscribit; puir honest fellows."
"What! is my folly to be the cause of robbing them of their slender
earnings? Never, Mackaye! Besides, they cannot have subscribed enough to
pay the barrister whom you just mentioned. Tell me the whole truth, or,
positively, I will plead my cause myself."
"Aweel, then, there was a bit bank-note or twa cam' to hand--I canna say
whaur fra'. But they that sent it direckit it to be expendit in the defence
o' the sax prisoners--whereof ye make ane."
Again a world of fruitless conjecture. It must be the same unknown friend
who had paid my debt to my cousin--Lillian?
* * * * *
And so the day was come. I am not going to make a long picturesque
description of my trial--trials have become lately quite hackneyed
subjects, stock properties for the fiction-mongers--neither, indeed,
could I do so, if I would. I recollect nothing of that day, but
fragments--flashes of waking existence, scattered up and down in what
seemed to me a whole life of heavy, confused, painful dreams, with the
glare of all those faces concentrated on me--those countless eyes which
I could not, could not meet--stony, careless, unsympathizing--not even
angry--only curious. If they had but frowned on me, insulted me, gnashed
their teeth on me, I could have glared back defiance; as it was, I stood
cowed and stupified, a craven by the side of cravens.
Let me see--what can I recollect? Those faces--faces--everywhere faces--a
faint, sickly smell of flowers--a perpetual whispering and rustling of
dresses--and all through it, the voice of some one talking, talking--I
seldom knew what, or whether it was counsel, witness, judge, or prisoner,
that was speaking. I was like one asleep at a foolish lecture, who hears in
dreams, and only wakes when the prosing stops. Was it not prosing? What
was it to me what they said? They could not understand me--my motives--my
excuses; the whole pleading, on my side as well as the crown's, seemed one
huge fallacy--beside the matter altogether--never touching the real point
at issue, the eternal moral equity of my deeds or misdeeds. I had no doubt
that it would all be conducted quite properly, and fairly, and according to
the forms of law; but what was law to me--I wanted justice. And so I let
them go on their own way, conscious of but one thought--was Lillian in the
I dared not look and see. I dared not lift up my eyes toward the gaudy
rows of ladies who had crowded to the "interesting trial of the D * * * *
rioters." The torture of anxiety was less than that of certainty might be,
and I kept my eyes down, and wondered how on earth the attorneys had found
in so simple a case enough to stuff those great blue bags.
When, however, anything did seem likely to touch on a reality, I woke up
forthwith, in spite of myself. I recollect well, for instance, a squabble
about challenging the jurymen; and my counsel's voice of pious indignation,
as he asked, "Do you call these agricultural gentlemen, and farmers,
however excellent and respectable--on which point Heaven forbid that I,
&c., &c.--the prisoner's 'pares,' peers, equals, or likes? What single
interest, opinion, or motive, have they in common, but the universal one
of self-interest, which, in this case, happens to pull in exactly opposite
directions? Your Lordship has often animadverted fully and boldly on the
practice of allowing a bench of squires to sit in judgment on a poacher;
surely it is quite as unjust that agricultural rioters should be tried by a
jury of the very class against whom they are accused of rebelling."
"Perhaps my learned brother would like a jury of rioters?" suggested some
"Upon my word, then, it would be much the fairer plan."
I wondered whether he would have dared to say as much in the street
outside--and relapsed into indifference. I believe there was some long
delay, and wrangling about law-quibbles, which seemed likely at one time to
quash the whole prosecution, but I was rather glad than sorry to find
that it had been overruled. It was all a play, a game of bowls--the
bowls happening to be human heads--got up between the lawyers, for the
edification of society; and it would have been a pity not to play it out,
according to the rules and regulations thereof.
As for the evidence, its tenor may be easily supposed from my story.
There were those who could swear to my language at the camp. I was seen
accompanying the mob to the farm, and haranguing them. The noise was too
great for the witnesses to hear all I said, but they were certain I talked
about the sacred name of liberty. The farmer's wife had seen me run round
to the stacks when they were fired--whether just before or just after, she
never mentioned. She had seen me running up and down in front of the house,
talking loudly, and gesticulating violently; she saw me, too, struggling
with another rioter for her husband's desk;--and the rest of the witnesses,
some of whom I am certain I had seen, busy plundering, though they were
ready to swear that they had been merely accidental passers-by, seemed
to think that they proved their own innocence, and testified their pious
indignation, by avoiding carefully any fact which could excuse me. But,