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Annie Besant by Annie Besant

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[Illustration: _From a photograph by H.S. Mendelssohn, 27, Cathcart
Road, South Kensington, London._ ANNIE BESANT. 1885]

ANNIE BESANT

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Illustrated

LONDON

SECOND EDITION

PREFACE.

It is a difficult thing to tell the story of a life, and yet more
difficult when that life is one's own. At the best, the telling has a
savour of vanity, and the only excuse for the proceeding is that the
life, being an average one, reflects many others, and in troublous
times like ours may give the experience of many rather than of one.
And so the autobiographer does his work because he thinks that, at the
cost of some unpleasantness to himself, he may throw light on some of
the typical problems that are vexing the souls of his contemporaries,
and perchance may stretch out a helping hand to some brother who is
struggling in the darkness, and so bring him cheer when despair has
him in its grip. Since all of us, men and women of this restless and
eager generation--surrounded by forces we dimly see but cannot as yet
understand, discontented with old ideas and half afraid of new, greedy
for the material results of the knowledge brought us by Science but
looking askance at her agnosticism as regards the soul, fearful of
superstition but still more fearful of atheism, turning from the husks
of outgrown creeds but filled with desperate hunger for spiritual
ideals--since all of us have the same anxieties, the same griefs, the
same yearning hopes, the same passionate desire for knowledge, it may
well be that the story of one may help all, and that the tale of one
should that went out alone into the darkness and on the other side
found light, that struggled through the Storm and on the other side
found Peace, may bring some ray of light and of peace into the
darkness and the storm of other lives.

ANNIE BESANT.

THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY,

17 & 19, AVENUE ROAD, REGENT'S PARK, LONDON.

_August_, 1893.

CONTENTS.

CHAP.

I. "OUT OF THE EVERYWHERE INTO THE HERE"

II. EARLY CHILDHOOD

III. GIRLHOOD

IV. MARRIAGE

V. THE STORM OF DOUBT

VI. CHARLES BRADLAUGH

VII. ATHEISM AS I KNEW AND TAUGHT IT

VIII. AT WORK

IX. THE KNOWLTON PAMPHLET

X. AT WAR ALL ROUND

XI. MR. BRADLAUGH'S STRUGGLE

XII. STILL FIGHTING

XIII. SOCIALISM

XIV. THROUGH STORM TO PEACE

LIST OF BOOKS QUOTED

INDEX

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

ANNIE BESANT, 1885 _Frontispiece_

HOROSCOPE OF ANNIE BESANT _Page_ 12

ANNIE BESANT, 1869 _Facing page_ 86

THOMAS SCOTT _Facing page_ 112

CHARLES BRADLAUGH, M.P. _Facing page_ 212

CHARLES BRADLAUGH AND HENRY LABOUCHERE _Facing page_ 254

NORWICH BRANCH OF THE SOCIALIST LEAGUE _Facing page_ 314

STRIKE COMMITTEE OF THE MATCHMAKERS' UNION _Facing page_ 336

MEMBERS OF THE MATCHMAKERS' UNION _Facing page_ 338

CHAPTER I.

"OUT OF THE EVERYWHERE INTO THE HERE."

On October 1, 1847, I am credibly informed, my baby eyes opened to the
light(?) of a London afternoon at 5.39.

A friendly astrologer has drawn for me the following chart, showing the
position of the planets at this, to me fateful, moment; but I know
nothing of astrology, so feel no wiser as I gaze upon my horoscope.

Keeping in view the way in which sun, moon, and planets influence the
physical condition of the earth, there is nothing incongruous with the
orderly course of nature in the view that they also influence the
physical bodies of men, these being part of the physical earth, and
largely moulded by its conditions. Any one who knows the
characteristics ascribed to those who are born under the several signs
of the Zodiac, may very easily pick out the different types among his
own acquaintances, and he may then get them to go to some astrologer
and find out under what signs they were severally born. He will very
quickly discover that two men of completely opposed types are not born
under the same sign, and the invariability of the concurrence will
convince him that law, and not chance, is at work. We are born into
earthly life under certain conditions, just as we were physically
affected by them pre-natally, and these will have their bearing on our
subsequent physical evolution. At the most, astrology, as it is now
practised, can only calculate the interaction between these physical
conditions at any given moment, and the conditions brought to them by a
given person whose general constitution and natal condition are known.
It cannot say what the person will do, nor what will happen to him, but
only what will be the physical district, so to speak, in which he will
find himself, and the impulses that will play upon him from external
nature and from his own body. Even on those matters modern astrology is
not quite reliable--judging from the many blunders made--or else its
professors are very badly instructed; but that there is a real science
of astrology I have no doubt, and there are some men who are past
masters in it.

[Illustration: Horoscope of Annie Besant.]

It has always been somewhat of a grievance to me that I was born in
London, "within the sound of Bow Bells," when three-quarters of my
blood and all my heart are Irish. My dear mother was of purest Irish
descent, and my father was Irish on his mother's side, though belonging
to the Devonshire Woods on his father's. The Woods were yeomen of the
sturdy English type, farming their own land in honest, independent
fashion. Of late years they seem to have developed more in the
direction of brains, from the time, in fact, that Matthew Wood became
Mayor of London town, fought Queen Caroline's battles against her most
religious and gracious royal husband, aided the Duke of Kent with no
niggard hand, and received a baronetcy for his services from the Duke
of Kent's royal daughter. Since then they have given England a Lord
Chancellor in the person of the gentle-hearted and pure-living Lord
Hatherley, while others have distinguished themselves in various ways
in the service of their country. But I feel playfully inclined to
grudge the English blood they put into my father's veins, with his
Irish mother, his Galway birth, and his Trinity College, Dublin,
education. For the Irish tongue is musical in my ear, and the Irish
nature dear to my heart. Only in Ireland is it that if you stop to ask
a worn-out ragged woman the way to some old monument, she will say:
"Sure, then, my darlin', it's just up the hill and round the corner,
and then any one will tell you the way. And it's there you'll see the
place where the blessed Saint Patrick set his foot, and his blessing be
on yer." Old women as poor as she in other nations would never be as
bright and as friendly and as garrulous. And where, out of Ireland,
will you see a whole town crowd into a station to say good-bye to half
a dozen emigrants, till the platform is a heaving mass of men and
women, struggling, climbing over each other for a last kiss, crying,
keening, laughing, all in a breath, till all the air is throbbing and
there's a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes as the train
steams out? Where, out of Ireland, will you be bumping along the
streets on an outside car, beside a taciturn Jarvey, who, on suddenly
discovering that you are shadowed by "Castle" spies, becomes
loquaciously friendly, and points out everything that he thinks will
interest you? Blessings on the quick tongues and warm hearts, on the
people so easy to lead, so hard to drive. And blessings on the ancient
land once inhabited by mighty men of wisdom, that in later times became
the Island of Saints, and shall once again be the Island of Sages, when
the Wheel turns round.

My maternal grandfather was a typical Irishman, much admired by me and
somewhat feared also, in the childish days. He belonged to a decayed
Irish family, the Maurices, and in a gay youth, with a beautiful wife
as light-hearted as himself, he had merrily run through what remained
to him in the way of fortune. In his old age, with abundant snow-white
hair, he still showed the hot Irish blood on the lightest provocation,
stormily angry for a moment and easily appeased. My mother was the
second daughter in a large family, in a family that grew more numerous
as pounds grew fewer, and she was adopted by a maiden aunt, a quaint
memory of whom came through my mother's childhood into mine, and had
its moulding effect on both our characters. This maiden aunt was, as
are most Irish folk of decayed families, very proud of her family tree
with its roots in the inevitable "kings." Her particular kings were the
"seven kings of France"--the "Milesian kings"--and the tree grew up a
parchment, in all its impressive majesty, over the mantelpiece of their
descendant's modest drawing-room. This heraldic monster was regarded
with deep respect by child Emily, a respect in no wise deserved, I
venture to suppose, by the disreputable royalties of whom she was a
fortunately distant twig. Chased out of France, doubtless for cause
shown, they had come over the sea to Ireland, and there continued their
reckless plundering lives. But so strangely turns the wheel of time
that these ill-doing and barbarous scamps became a kind of moral
thermometer in the home of the gentle Irish lady in the early half of
the present century. For my mother has told me that when she had
committed some act of childish naughtiness, her aunt would say, looking
gravely over her spectacles at the small culprit, "Emily, your conduct
is unworthy of the descendant of the seven kings of France." And Emily,
with her sweet grey Irish eyes and her curling masses of raven black
hair, would cry in penitent shame over her unworthiness, with some
vague idea that those royal, and to her very real, ancestors would
despise her small, sweet, rosebud self, so wholly unworthy of their
disreputable majesties.

Thus those shadowy forms influenced her in childhood, and exercised
over her a power that made her shrink from aught that was unworthy,
petty or mean. To her the lightest breath of dishonour was to be
avoided at any cost of pain, and she wrought into me, her only
daughter, that same proud and passionate horror at any taint of shame
or merited disgrace. To the world always a brave front was to be kept,
and a stainless reputation, for suffering might be borne but dishonour
never. A gentlewoman might starve, but she must not run in debt; she
might break her heart, but it must be with a smile on her face. I have
often thought that the training in this reticence and pride of honour
was a strange preparation for my stormy, public, much attacked and
slandered life; and certain it is that this inwrought shrinking from
all criticism that touched personal purity and personal honour added a
keenness of suffering to the fronting of public odium that none can
appreciate who has not been trained in some similar school of dignified
self-respect. And yet perhaps there was another result from it that in
value outweighed the added pain: it was the stubbornly resistant
feeling that rose and inwardly asserted its own purity in face of
foulest lie, and turning scornful face against the foe, too proud
either to justify itself or to defend, said to itself in its own heart,
when condemnation was loudest: "I am not what you think me, and your
verdict does not change my own self. You cannot make me vile whatever
you think of me, and I will never, in my own eyes, be that which you
deem me to be now." And the very pride became a shield against
degradation, for, however lost my public reputation, I could never bear
to become sullied in my own sight--and that is a thing not without its
use to a woman cut off, as I was at one time, from home, and friends,
and Society. So peace to the maiden aunt's ashes, and to those of her
absurd kings, for I owe them something after all. And I keep grateful
memory of that unknown grand-aunt, for what she did in training my dear
mother, the tenderest, sweetest, proudest, purest of women. It is well
to be able to look back to a mother who served as ideal of all that was
noblest and dearest during childhood and girlhood, whose face made the
beauty of home, and whose love was both sun and shield. No other
experience in life could quite make up for missing the perfect tie
between mother and child--a tie that in our case never relaxed and
never weakened. Though her grief at my change of faith and consequent
social ostracism did much to hasten her death-hour, it never brought a
cloud between our hearts; though her pleading was the hardest of all to
face in later days, and brought the bitterest agony, it made no gulf
between us, it cast no chill upon our mutual love. And I look back at
her to-day with the same loving gratitude as ever encircled her to me
in her earthly life. I have never met a woman more selflessly devoted
to those she loved, more passionately contemptuous of all that was mean
or base, more keenly sensitive on every question of honour, more iron
in will, more sweet in tenderness, than the mother who made my girlhood
sunny as dreamland, who guarded me, until my marriage, from every touch
of pain that she could ward off or bear for me, who suffered more in
every trouble that touched me in later life than I did myself, and who
died in the little house I had taken for our new home in Norwood, worn
out, ere old age touched her, by sorrow, poverty, and pain, in May,
1874.

My earliest personal recollections are of a house and garden that we
lived in when I was three and four years of age, situated in Grove
Road, St. John's Wood. I can remember my mother hovering round the
dinner-table to see that all was bright for the home-coming husband; my
brother--two years older than myself--and I watching "for papa"; the
loving welcome, the game of romps that always preceded the dinner of
the elder folks. I can remember on the 1st of October, 1851, jumping up
in my little cot, and shouting out triumphantly: "Papa! mamma! I am
four years old!" and the grave demand of my brother, conscious of
superior age, at dinner-time: "May not Annie have a knife to-day, as
she is four years old?"

It was a sore grievance during that same year, 1851, that I was not
judged old enough to go to the Great Exhibition, and I have a faint
memory of my brother consolingly bringing me home one of those folding
pictured strips that are sold in the streets, on which were imaged
glories that I longed only the more to see. Far-away, dusky, trivial
memories, these. What a pity it is that a baby cannot notice, cannot
observe, cannot remember, and so throw light on the fashion of the
dawning of the external world on the human consciousness. If only we
could remember how things looked when they were first imaged on the
retinae; what we felt when first we became conscious of the outer world;
what the feeling was as faces of father and mother grew out of the
surrounding chaos and became familiar things, greeted with a smile,
lost with a cry; if only memory would not become a mist when in later
years we strive to throw our glances backward into the darkness of our
infancy, what lessons we might learn to help our stumbling psychology,
how many questions might be solved whose answers we are groping for in
the West in vain.

The next scene that stands out clearly against the background of the
past is that of my father's death-bed. The events which led to his
death I know from my dear mother. He had never lost his fondness for
the profession for which he had been trained, and having many medical
friends, he would now and then accompany them on their hospital rounds,
or share with them the labours of the dissecting-room. It chanced that
during the dissection of the body of a person who had died of rapid
consumption, my father cut his finger against the edge of the
breast-bone. The cut did not heal easily, and the finger became swollen
and inflamed. "I would have that finger off, Wood, if I were you," said
one of the surgeons, a day or two afterwards, on seeing the state of
the wound. But the others laughed at the suggestion, and my father, at
first inclined to submit to the amputation, was persuaded to "leave
Nature alone."

About the middle of August, 1852, he got wet through, riding on the top
of an omnibus, and the wetting resulted in a severe cold, which
"settled on his chest." One of the most eminent doctors of the day, as
able as he was rough in manner, was called to see him. He examined him
carefully, sounded his lungs, and left the room followed by my mother.
"Well?" she asked, scarcely anxious as to the answer, save as it might
worry her husband to be kept idly at home. "You must keep up his
spirits," was the thoughtless answer. "He is in a galloping
consumption; you will not have him with you six weeks longer." The wife
staggered back, and fell like a stone on the floor. But love triumphed
over agony, and half an hour later she was again at her husband's side,
never to leave it again for ten minutes at a time, night or day, till
he was lying with closed eyes asleep in death.

I was lifted on to the bed to "say good-bye to dear papa" on the day
before his death, and I remember being frightened at his eyes which
looked so large, and his voice which sounded so strange, as he made me
promise always to be "a very good girl to darling mamma, as papa was
going right away." I remember insisting that "papa should kiss Cherry,"
a doll given me on my birthday, three days before, by his direction,
and being removed, crying and struggling, from the room. He died on the
following day, October 5th, and I do not think that my elder brother
and I--who were staying at our maternal grandfather's--went to the
house again until the day of the funeral. With the death, my mother
broke down, and when all was over they carried her senseless from the
room. I remember hearing afterwards how, when she recovered her senses,
she passionately insisted on being left alone, and locked herself into
her room for the night; and how on the following morning her mother, at
last persuading her to open the door, started back at the face she saw
with the cry: "Good God, Emily! your hair is white!" It was even so;
her hair, black, glossy and abundant, which, contrasting with her large
grey eyes, had made her face so strangely attractive, had turned grey
in that night of agony, and to me my mother's face is ever framed in
exquisite silver bands of hair as white as the driven unsullied snow.

I have heard that the love between my father and mother was a very
beautiful thing, and it most certainly stamped her character for life.
He was keenly intellectual and splendidly educated; a mathematician and
a good classical scholar, thoroughly master of French, German, Italian,
Spanish, and Portuguese, with a smattering of Hebrew and Gaelic, the
treasures of ancient and of modern literature were his daily household
delight. Nothing pleased him so well as to sit with his wife, reading
aloud to her while she worked; now translating from some foreign poet,
now rolling forth melodiously the exquisite cadences of "Queen Mab."
Student of philosophy as he was, he was deeply and steadily sceptical;
and a very religious relative has told me that he often drove her from
the room by his light, playful mockery of the tenets of the Christian
faith. His mother and sister were strict Roman Catholics, and near the
end forced a priest into his room, but the priest was promptly ejected
by the wrath of the dying man, and by the almost fierce resolve of the
wife that no messenger of the creed he detested should trouble her
darling at the last.

Deeply read in philosophy, he had outgrown the orthodox beliefs of his
day, and his wife, who loved him too much to criticise, was wont to
reconcile her own piety and his scepticism by holding that "women ought
to be religious," while men had a right to read everything and think as
they would, provided that they were upright and honourable in their
lives. But the result of his liberal and unorthodox thought was to
insensibly modify and partially rationalise her own beliefs, and she
put on one side as errors the doctrines of eternal punishment, the
vicarious atonement, the infallibility of the Bible, the equality of
the Son with the Father in the Trinity, and other orthodox beliefs, and
rejoiced in her later years in the writings of such men as Jowett,
Colenso, and Stanley. The last named, indeed, was her ideal Christian
gentleman, suave, polished, broad-minded, devout in a stately way. The
baldness of a typical Evangelical service outraged her taste as much as
the crudity of Evangelical dogmas outraged her intellect; she liked to
feel herself a Christian in a dignified and artistic manner, and to be
surrounded by solemn music and splendid architecture when she "attended
Divine service." Familiarity with celestial personages was detestable
to her, and she did her duty of saluting them in a courtly and reverent
fashion. Westminster Abbey was her favourite church, with its dim light
and shadowy distances; there in a carven stall, with choristers
chanting in solemn rhythm, with the many-coloured glories of the
painted windows repeating themselves on upspringing arch and clustering
pillars, with the rich harmonies of the pealing organ throbbing up
against screen and monument, with the ashes of the mighty dead around,
and all the stately memories of the past inwrought into the very
masonry, there Religion appeared to her to be intellectually dignified
and emotionally satisfactory.

To me, who took my religion in strenuous fashion, this dainty and
well-bred piety seemed perilously like Laodicean lukewarmness, while
my headlong vigour of conviction and practice often jarred on her as
alien from the delicate balance and absence of extremes that should
characterise the gentlewoman. She was of the old _regime_; I of the
stuff from which fanatics are made: and I have often thought, in
looking back, that she must have had on her lips many a time unspoken
a phrase that dropped from them when she lay a-dying: "My little one,
you have never made me sad or sorry except for your own sake; you have
always been too religious." And then she murmured to herself: "Yes,
it has been darling Annie's only fault; she has always been too
religious." Methinks that, as the world judges, the dying voice spake
truly, and the dying eyes saw with a real insight. For though I was
then kneeling beside her bed, heretic and outcast, the heart of me was
religious in its very fervour of repudiation of a religion, and in its
rebellious uprising against dogmas that crushed the reason and did not
satisfy the soul. I went out into the darkness alone, not because
religion was too good for me, but because it was not good enough; it
was too meagre, too commonplace, too little exacting, too bound up
with earthly interests, too calculating in its accommodations to
social conventionalities. The Roman Catholic Church, had it captured
me, as it nearly did, would have sent me on some mission of danger and
sacrifice and utilised me as a martyr; the Church established by law
transformed me into an unbeliever and an antagonist.

For as a child I was mystical and imaginative religious to the very
finger-tips, and with a certain faculty for seeing visions and
dreaming dreams. This faculty is not uncommon with the Keltic races,
and makes them seem "superstitious" to more solidly-built peoples.
Thus, on the day of my father's funeral, my mother sat with vacant
eyes and fixed pallid face--the picture comes back to me yet, it so
impressed my childish imagination--following the funeral service,
stage after stage, and suddenly, with the words, "It is all over!"
fell back fainting. She said afterwards that she had followed the
hearse, had attended the service, had walked behind the coffin to the
grave. Certain it is that a few weeks later she determined to go to
the Kensal Green Cemetery, where the body of her husband had been
laid, and went thither with a relative; he failed to find the grave,
and while another of the party went in search of an official to
identify the spot, my mother said, "If you will take me to the chapel
where the first part of the service was read, I will find the grave."
The idea seemed to her friend, of course, to be absurd; but he would
not cross the newly-made widow, so took her to the chapel. She looked
round, left the chapel door, and followed the path along which the
corpse had been borne till she reached the grave, where she was
quietly standing when the caretaker arrived to point it out. The grave
is at some distance from the chapel, and is not on one of the main
roads; it had nothing on it to mark it, save the wooden peg with the
number, and this would be no help to identification at a distance
since all the graves are thus marked, and at a little way off these
pegs are not visible. How she found the grave remained a mystery in
the family, as no one believed her straightforward story that she had
been present at the funeral. With my present knowledge the matter is
simple enough, for I now know that the consciousness can leave the
body, take part in events going on at a distance, and, returning,
impress on the physical brain what it has experienced. The very fact
that she asked to be taken to the chapel is significant, showing that
she was picking up a memory of a previous going from that spot to the
grave; she could only find the grave if she started from _the place
from which she had started before_. Another proof of this
ultra-physical capacity was given a few months later, when her infant
son, who had been pining himself ill for "papa," was lying one night
in her arms. On the next morning she said to her sister: "Alf is going
to die." The child had no definite disease, but was wasting away, and
it was argued to her that the returning spring would restore the
health lost during the winter. "No," was her answer. "He was lying
asleep in my arms last night, and William" (her husband) "came to me
and said that he wanted Alf with him, but that I might keep the other
two." In vain she was assured that she had been dreaming, that it was
quite natural that she should dream about her husband, and that her
anxiety for the child had given the dream its shape. Nothing would
persuade her that she had not seen her husband, or that the
information he had given her was not true. So it was no matter of
surprise to her when in the following March her arms were empty, and a
waxen form lay lifeless in the baby's cot.

My brother and I were allowed to see him just before he was placed in
his coffin; I can see him still, so white and beautiful, with a black
spot in the middle of the fair, waxen forehead, and I remember the
deadly cold which startled me when I was told to kiss my little
brother. It was the first time that I had touched Death. That black
spot made a curious impression on me, and long afterwards, asking what
had caused it, I was told that at the moment after his death my mother
had passionately kissed the baby brow. Pathetic thought, that the
mother's kiss of farewell should have been marked by the first sign of
corruption on the child's face!

I do not mention these stories because they are in any fashion
remarkable or out of the way, but only to show that the sensitiveness
to impressions other than physical ones, that was a marked feature in
my own childhood, was present also in the family to which I belonged.
For the physical nature is inherited from parents, and sensitiveness
to psychic impressions is a property of the physical body; in our
family, as in so many Irish ones, belief in "ghosts" of all
descriptions was general, and my mother has told me of the banshee
that she had heard wailing when the death-hour of one of the family
was near. To me in my childhood, elves and fairies of all sorts were
very real things, and my dolls were as really children as I was myself
a child. Punch and Judy were living entities, and the tragedy in which
they bore part cost me many an agony of tears; to this day I can
remember running away when I heard the squawk of the coming Punch, and
burying my head in the pillows that I might shut out the sound of the
blows and the cry of the ill-used baby. All the objects about me were
to me alive, the flowers that I kissed as much as the kitten I petted,
and I used to have a splendid time "making believe" and living out all
sorts of lovely stories among my treasured and so-called inanimate
playthings. But there was a more serious side to this dreamful fancy
when it joined hands with religion.

CHAPTER II.

EARLY CHILDHOOD.

And now began my mother's time of struggle and of anxiety. Hitherto,
since her marriage, she had known no money troubles, for her husband
was earning a good income; he was apparently vigorous and well: no
thought of anxiety clouded their future. When he died, he believed
that he left his wife and children safe, at least, from pecuniary
distress. It was not so. I know nothing of the details, but the
outcome of all was that nothing was left for the widow and children,
save a trifle of ready money. The resolve to which my mother came was
characteristic. Two of her husband's relatives, Western and Sir
William Wood, offered to educate her son at a good city school, and to
start him in commercial life, using their great city influence to push
him forward. But the young lad's father and mother had talked of a
different future for their eldest boy; he was to go to a public
school, and then to the University, and was to enter one of the
"learned professions"--to take orders, the mother wished; to go to the
Bar, the father hoped. On his death-bed there was nothing more
earnestly urged by my father than that Harry should receive the best
possible education, and the widow was resolute to fulfil that last
wish. In her eyes, a city school was not "the best possible
education," and the Irish pride rebelled against the idea of her son
not being "a University man." Many were the lectures poured out on the
young widow's head about her "foolish pride," especially by the female
members of the Wood family; and her persistence in her own way caused
a considerable alienation between herself and them. But Western and
William, though half-disapproving, remained her friends, and lent many
a helping hand to her in her first difficult struggles. After much
cogitation, she resolved that the boy should be educated at Harrow,
where the fees are comparatively low to lads living in the town, and
that he should go thence to Cambridge or to Oxford, as his tastes
should direct. A bold scheme for a penniless widow, but carried out to
the letter; for never dwelt in a delicate body a more resolute mind
and will than that of my dear mother.

In a few months' time--during which we lived, poorly enough, in
Richmond Terrace, Clapham, close to her father and mother--to Harrow,
then, she betook herself, into lodgings over a grocer's shop, and set
herself to look for a house. This grocer was a very pompous man, fond
of long words, and patronised the young widow exceedingly, and one day
my mother related with much amusement how he had told her that she was
sure to get on if she worked hard. "Look at me!" he said, swelling
visibly with importance; "I was once a poor boy, without a penny of my
own, and now I am a comfortable man, and have my submarine villa to go
to every evening." That "submarine villa" was an object of amusement
when we passed it in our walks for many a long day.

"There is Mr. ----'s submarine villa," some one would say, laughing:
and I, too, used to laugh merrily, because my elders did, though my
understanding of the difference between suburban and submarine was on
a par with that of the honest grocer.

My mother had fortunately found a boy, whose parents were glad to place
him in her charge, of about the age of her own son, to educate with
him; and by this means she was able to pay for a tutor, to prepare the
two boys for school. The tutor had a cork leg, which was a source of
serious trouble to me, for it stuck out straight behind when we knelt
down to family prayers--conduct which struck me as irreverent and
unbecoming, but which I always felt a desire to imitate. After about a
year my mother found a house which she thought would suit her scheme,
namely, to obtain permission from Dr. Vaughan, the then head-master of
Harrow, to take some boys into her house, and so gain means of
education for her own son. Dr. Vaughan, who must have been won by the
gentle, strong, little woman, from that time forth became her earnest
friend and helper; and to the counsel and active assistance both of
himself and of his wife, was due much of the success that crowned her
toil. He made only one condition in granting the permission she asked,
and that was, that she should also have in her house one of the masters
of the school, so that the boys should not suffer from the want of a
house-tutor. This condition, of course, she readily accepted, and the
arrangement lasted for ten years, until after her son had left school
for Cambridge.

The house she took is now, I am sorry to say, pulled down, and
replaced by a hideous red-brick structure. It was very old and
rambling, rose-covered in front, ivy-covered behind; it stood on the
top of Harrow Hill, between the church and the school, and had once
been the vicarage of the parish, but the vicar had left it because it
was so far removed from the part of the village where all his work
lay. The drawing-room opened by an old-fashioned half-window,
half-door--which proved a constant source of grief to me, for whenever
I had on a new frock I always tore it on the bolt as I flew
through--into a large garden which sloped down one side of the hill,
and was filled with the most delightful old trees, fir and laurel,
may, mulberry, hazel, apple, pear, and damson, not to mention currant
and gooseberry bushes innumerable, and large strawberry beds spreading
down the sunny slopes. There was not a tree there that I did not
climb, and one, a widespreading Portugal laurel, was my private
country house. I had there my bedroom and my sitting-rooms, my study,
and my larder. The larder was supplied by the fruit-trees, from which
I was free to pick as I would, and in the study I would sit for hours
with some favourite book--Milton's "Paradise Lost" the chief favourite
of all. The birds must often have felt startled, when from the small
swinging form perching on a branch, came out in childish tones the
"Thrones, dominations, princedoms, virtues, powers," of Milton's
stately and sonorous verse. I liked to personify Satan, and to declaim
the grand speeches of the hero-rebel, and many a happy hour did I pass
in Milton's heaven and hell, with for companions Satan and "the Son,"
Gabriel and Abdiel. Then there was a terrace running by the side of
the churchyard, always dry in the wettest weather, and bordered by an
old wooden fence, over which clambered roses of every shade; never was
such a garden for roses as that of the Old Vicarage. At the end of the
terrace was a little summer-house, and in this a trap-door in the
fence, which swung open and displayed one of the fairest views in
England. Sheer from your feet downwards went the hill, and then far
below stretched the wooded country till your eye reached the towers of
Windsor Castle, far away on the horizon. It was the view at which
Byron was never tired of gazing, as he lay on the flat tombstone close
by--Byron's tomb, as it is still called--of which he wrote:--

"Again I behold where for hours I have pondered,
As reclining, at eve, on yon tombstone I lay,
Or round the steep brow of the churchyard I wandered,
To catch the last gleam of the sun's setting ray."

Reader mine, if ever you go to Harrow, ask permission to enter the old
garden, and try the effect of that sudden burst of beauty, as you
swing back the small trap-door at the terrace end.

Into this house we moved on my eighth birthday, and for eleven years it
was "home" to me, left always with regret, returned to always with joy.

Almost immediately afterwards I left my mother for the first time; for
one day, visiting a family who lived close by, I found a stranger
sitting in the drawing-room, a lame lady with a strong face, which
softened marvellously as she smiled at the child who came dancing in;
she called me to her presently, and took me on her lap and talked to
me, and on the following day our friend came to see my mother, to ask
if she would let me go away and be educated with this lady's niece,
coming home for the holidays regularly, but leaving my education in
her hands. At first my mother would not hear of it, for she and I
scarcely ever left each other; my love for her was an idolatry, hers
for me a devotion. (A foolish little story, about which I was
unmercifully teased for years, marked that absolute idolatry of her,
which has not yet faded from my heart. In tenderest rallying one day
of the child who trotted after her everywhere, content to sit, or
stand, or wait, if only she might touch hand or dress of "mamma," she
said: "Little one" (the name by which she always called me), "if you
cling to mamma in this way, I must really get a string and tie you to
my apron, and how will you like that?" "O mamma, darling," came the
fervent answer, "do let it be in a knot." And, indeed, the tie of love
between us was so tightly knotted that nothing ever loosened it till
the sword of Death cut that which pain and trouble never availed to
slacken in the slightest degree.) But it was urged upon her that the
advantages of education offered were such as no money could purchase
for me; that it would be a disadvantage for me to grow up in a
houseful of boys--and, in truth, I was as good a cricketer and climber
as the best of them--that my mother would soon be obliged to send me
to school, unless she accepted an offer which gave me every advantage
of school without its disadvantages. At last she yielded, and it was
decided that Miss Marryat, on returning home, should take me with her.

Miss Marryat--the favourite sister of Captain Marryat, the famous
novelist--was a maiden lady of large means. She had nursed her brother
through the illness that ended in his death, and had been living with
her mother at Wimbledon Park. On her mother's death she looked round
for work which would make her useful in the world, and finding that one
of her brothers had a large family of girls, she offered to take charge
of one of them, and to educate her thoroughly. Chancing to come to
Harrow, my good fortune threw me in her way, and she took a fancy to
me and thought she would like to teach two little girls rather than
one. Hence her offer to my mother.

Miss Marryat had a perfect genius for teaching, and took in it the
greatest delight. From time to time she added another child to our
party, sometimes a boy, sometimes a girl. At first, with Amy Marryat
and myself, there was a little boy, Walter Powys, son of a clergyman
with a large family, and him she trained for some years, and then sent
him on to school admirably prepared. She chose "her children"--as she
loved to call us--in very definite fashion. Each must be gently born
and gently trained, but in such position that the education freely
given should be a relief and aid to a slender parental purse. It was
her delight to seek out and aid those on whom poverty presses most
heavily, when the need for education for the children weighs on the
proud and the poor. "Auntie" we all called her, for she thought "Miss
Marryat" seemed too cold and stiff. She taught us everything herself
except music, and for this she had a master, practising us in
composition, in recitation, in reading aloud English and French, and
later, German, devoting herself to training us in the soundest, most
thorough fashion. No words of mine can tell how much I owe her, not
only of knowledge, but of that love of knowledge which has remained
with me ever since as a constant spur to study.

Her method of teaching may be of interest to some, who desire to train
children with least pain, and the most enjoyment to the little ones
themselves. First, we never used a spelling-book--that torment of the
small child--nor an English grammar. But we wrote letters, telling of
the things we had seen in our walks, or told again some story we had
read; these childish compositions she would read over with us,
correcting all faults of spelling, of grammar, of style, of cadence; a
clumsy sentence would be read aloud, that we might hear how unmusical
it sounded, an error in observation or expression pointed out. Then, as
the letters recorded what we had seen the day before, the faculty of
observation was drawn out and trained. "Oh, dear! I have nothing to
say!" would come from a small child, hanging over a slate. "Did you not
go out for a walk yesterday?" Auntie would question. "Yes," would be
sighed out; "but there's nothing to say about it." "Nothing to say! And
you walked in the lanes for an hour and saw nothing, little No-eyes?
You must use your eyes better to-day." Then there was a very favourite
"lesson," which proved an excellent way of teaching spelling. We used
to write out lists of all the words we could think of which sounded the
same but were differently spelt. Thus: "key, quay," "knight, night,"
and so on, and great was the glory of the child who found the largest
number. Our French lessons--as the German later--included reading from
the very first. On the day on which we began German we began reading
Schiller's "Wilhelm Tell," and the verbs given to us to copy out were
those that had occurred in the reading. We learned much by heart, but
always things that in themselves were worthy to be learned. We were
never given the dry questions and answers which lazy teachers so much
affect. We were taught history by one reading aloud while the others
worked--the boys as well as the girls learning the use of the needle.
"It's like a girl to sew," said a little fellow, indignantly, one day.
"It is like a baby to have to run after a girl if you want a button
sewn on," quoth Auntie. Geography was learned by painting skeleton
maps--an exercise much delighted in by small fingers--and by putting
together puzzle maps, in which countries in the map of a continent, or
counties in the map of a country, were always cut out in their proper
shapes. I liked big empires in those days; there was a solid
satisfaction in putting down Russia, and seeing what a large part of
the map was filled up thereby.

The only grammar that we ever learned as grammar was the Latin, and
that not until composition had made us familiar with the use of the
rules therein given. Auntie had a great horror of children learning by
rote things they did not understand, and then fancying they knew them.
"What do you mean by that expression, Annie?" she would ask me. After
feeble attempts to explain, I would answer: "Indeed, Auntie, I know in
my own head, but I can't explain." "Then, indeed, Annie, you do not
know in your own head, or you could explain, so that I might know in my
own head." And so a healthy habit was fostered of clearness of thought
and of expression. The Latin grammar was used because it was more
perfect than the modern grammars, and served as a solid foundation for
modern languages.

Miss Marryat took a beautiful place, Fern Hill, near Charmouth, in
Dorsetshire, on the borders of Devon, and there she lived for some five
years, a centre of beneficence in the district. She started a Sunday
School, and a Bible Class after awhile for the lads too old for the
school, who clamoured for admission to her class in it. She visited the
poor, taking help wherever she went, and sending food from her own
table to the sick. It was characteristic of her that she would never
give "scraps" to the poor, but would have a basin brought in at dinner,
and would cut the best slice to tempt the invalid appetite. Money she
rarely, if ever, gave, but she would find a day's work, or busy herself
to seek permanent employment for any one seeking aid. Stern in
rectitude herself, and iron to the fawning or the dishonest, her
influence, whether she was feared or loved, was always for good. Of the
strictest sect of the Evangelicals, she was an Evangelical. On the
Sunday no books were allowed save the Bible or the "Sunday at Home";
but she would try to make the day bright by various little devices; by
a walk with her in the garden; by the singing of hymns, always
attractive to children; by telling us wonderful missionary stories of
Moffat and Livingstone, whose adventures with savages and wild beasts
were as exciting as any tale of Mayne Reid's. We used to learn passages
from the Bible and hymns for repetition; a favourite amusement was a
"Bible puzzle," such as a description of some Bible scene, which was to
be recognised by the description. Then we taught in the Sunday School,
for Auntie would tell us that it was useless for us to learn if we did
not try to help those who had no one to teach them. The Sunday-school
lessons had to be carefully prepared on the Saturday, for we were
always taught that work given to the poor should be work that cost
something to the giver. This principle, regarded by her as an
illustration of the text, "Shall I give unto the Lord my God that which
has cost me nothing?" ran through all her precept and her practice.
When in some public distress we children went to her crying, and asking
whether we could not help the little children who were starving, her
prompt reply was, "What will you give up for them?" And then she said
that if we liked to give up the use of sugar, we might thus each save
sixpence a week to give away. I doubt if a healthier lesson can be
given to children than that of personal self-denial for the good of
others.

Daily, when our lessons were over, we had plenty of fun; long walks and
rides, rides on a lovely pony, who found small children most amusing,
and on which the coachman taught us to stick firmly, whatever his
eccentricities of the moment; delightful all-day picnics in the lovely
country round Charmouth, Auntie our merriest playfellow. Never was a
healthier home, physically and mentally, made for young things than in
that quiet village. And then the delight of the holidays! The pride of
my mother at the good report of her darling's progress, and the renewal
of acquaintance with every nook and corner in the dear old house and
garden.

The dreamy tendency in the child, that on its worldly side is fancy,
imagination, on its religious side is the germ of mysticism, and I
believe it to be far more common than many people think. But the
remorseless materialism of the day--not the philosophic materialism of
the few, but the religious materialism of the many--crushes out all the
delicate buddings forth of the childish thought, and bandages the eyes
that might otherwise see. At first the child does not distinguish
between what it "sees" and what it "fancies"; the one is as real, as
objective, to it as the other, and it will talk to and play with its
dream-comrades as merrily as with children like itself. As a child, I
myself very much preferred the former, and never knew what it was to be
lonely. But clumsy grown-ups come along and tramp right through the
dream-garden, and crush the dream-flowers, and push the dream-children
aside, and then say, in their loud, harsh voices--not soft and singable
like the dream-voices--"You must not tell such naughty stories, Miss
Annie; you give me the shivers, and your mamma will be very vexed with
you." But this tendency in me was too strong to be stifled, and it
found its food in the fairy tales I loved, and in the religious
allegories that I found yet more entrancing. How or when I learned to
read, I do not know, for I cannot remember the time when a book was not
a delight. At five years of age I must have read easily, for I remember
being often unswathed from a delightful curtain, in which I used to
roll myself with a book, and told to "go and play," while I was still a
five-years'-old dot. And I had a habit of losing myself so completely
in the book that my name might be called in the room where I was, and I
never hear it, so that I used to be blamed for wilfully hiding myself,
when I had simply been away in fairyland, or lying trembling beneath
some friendly cabbage-leaf as a giant went by.

I was between seven and eight years of age when I first came across
some children's allegories of a religious kind, and a very little
later came "Pilgrim's Progress," and Milton's "Paradise Lost."
Thenceforth my busy fancies carried me ever into the fascinating world
where boy-soldiers kept some outpost for their absent Prince, bearing
a shield with his sign of a red cross on it; where devils shaped as
dragons came swooping down on the pilgrim, but were driven away
defeated after hard struggle; where angels came and talked with little
children, and gave them some talisman which warned them of coming
danger, and lost its light if they were leaving the right path. What a
dull, tire-some world it was that I had to live in, I used to think to
myself, when I was told to be a good child, and not to lose my temper,
and to be tidy, and not mess my pinafore at dinner. How much easier to
be a Christian if one could have a red-cross shield and a white
banner, and have a real devil to fight with, and a beautiful Divine
Prince to smile at you when the battle was over. How much more
exciting to struggle with a winged and clawed dragon, that you knew
meant mischief, than to look after your temper, that you never
remembered you ought to keep until you had lost it. If I had been Eve
in the garden, that old serpent would never have got the better of me;
but how was a little girl to know that she might not pick out the
rosiest, prettiest apple from a tree that had no serpent to show it
was a forbidden one? And as I grew older the dreams and fancies grew
less fantastic, but more tinged with real enthusiasm. I read tales of
the early Christian martyrs, and passionately regretted I was born so
late when no suffering for religion was practicable; I would spend
many an hour in daydreams, in which I stood before Roman judges,
before Dominican Inquisitors, was flung to lions, tortured on the
rack, burned at the stake; one day I saw myself preaching some great
new faith to a vast crowd of people, and they listened and were
converted, and I became a great religious leader. But always, with a
shock, I was brought back to earth, where there were no heroic deeds
to do, no lions to face, no judges to defy, but only some dull duty to
be performed. And I used to fret that I was born so late, when all the
grand things had been done, and when there was no chance of preaching
and suffering for a new religion.

From the age of eight my education accented the religious side of my
character. Under Miss Marryat's training my religious feeling received
a strongly Evangelical bent, but it was a subject of some distress to
me that I could never look back to an hour of "conversion"; when
others gave their experiences, and spoke of the sudden change they had
felt, I used to be sadly conscious that no such change had occurred in
me, and I felt that my dreamy longings were very poor things compared
with the vigorous "sense of sin" spoken of by the preachers, and used
dolefully to wonder if I were "saved." Then I had an uneasy sense that
I was often praised for my piety when emulation and vanity were more
to the front than religion; as when I learned by heart the Epistle of
James, far more to distinguish myself for my good memory than from any
love of the text itself; the sonorous cadences of many parts of the
Old and New Testaments pleased my ear, and I took a dreamy pleasure in
repeating them aloud, just as I would recite for my own amusement
hundreds of lines of Milton's "Paradise Lost," as I sat swinging on
some branch of a tree, lying back often on some swaying bough and
gazing into the unfathomable blue of the sky, till I lost myself in an
ecstasy of sound and colour, half chanting the melodious sentences and
peopling all the blue with misty forms. This facility of learning by
heart, and the habit of dreamy recitation, made me very familiar with
the Bible and very apt with its phrases. This stood me in good stead
at the prayer-meetings dear to the Evangelical, in which we all took
part; in turn we were called on to pray aloud--a terrible ordeal to
me, for I was painfully shy when attention was called to me; I used to
suffer agonies while I waited for the dreaded words, "Now, Annie dear,
will you speak to our Lord." But when my trembling lips had forced
themselves into speech, all the nervousness used to vanish and I was
swept away by an enthusiasm that readily clothed itself in balanced
sentences, and alack! at the end, I too often hoped that God and
Auntie had noticed that I prayed very nicely--a vanity certainly not
intended to be fostered by the pious exercise. On the whole, the
somewhat Calvinistic teaching tended, I think, to make me a little
morbid, especially as I always fretted silently after my mother. I
remember she was surprised on one of my home-comings, when Miss
Marryat noted "cheerfulness" as a want in my character, for at home I
was ever the blithest of children, despite my love of solitude; but
away, there was always an aching for home, and the stern religion cast
somewhat of a shadow over me, though, strangely enough, hell never
came into my dreamings except in the interesting shape it took in
"Paradise Lost." After reading that, the devil was to me no horned and
hoofed horror, but the beautiful shadowed archangel, and I always
hoped that Jesus, my ideal Prince, would save him in the end. The
things that really frightened me were vague, misty presences that I
felt were near, but could not see; they were so real that I knew just
where they were in the room, and the peculiar terror they excited lay
largely in the feeling that I was just going to see them. If by chance
I came across a ghost story it haunted me for months, for I saw
whatever unpleasant spectre was described; and there was one horrid
old woman in a tale by Sir Walter Scott, who glided up to the foot of
your bed and sprang on it in some eerie fashion and glared at you, and
who made my going to bed a terror to me for many weeks. I can still
recall the feeling so vividly that it almost frightens me now!

CHAPTER III.

GIRLHOOD.

In the spring of 1861 Miss Marryat announced her intention of going
abroad, and asked my dear mother to let me accompany her. A little
nephew whom she had adopted was suffering from cataract, and she
desired to place him under the care of the famous Duesseldorf oculist.
Amy Marryat had been recalled home soon after the death of her mother,
who had died in giving birth to the child adopted by Miss Marryat, and
named at her desire after her favourite brother Frederick (Captain
Marryat). Her place had been taken by a girl a few months older than
myself, Emma Mann, one of the daughters of a clergyman, who had
married Miss Stanley, closely related, indeed, if I remember rightly,
a sister of the Miss Mary Stanley who did such noble work in nursing
in the Crimea.

For some months we had been diligently studying German, for Miss
Marryat thought it wise that we should know a language fairly well
before we visited the country of which it was the native tongue. We
had been trained also to talk French daily during dinner, so we were
not quite "helpless foreigners" when we steamed away from St.
Catherine's Docks, and found ourselves on the following day in
Antwerp, amid what seemed to us a very Babel of conflicting tongues.
Alas for our carefully spoken French, articulated laboriously! We were
lost in that swirl of disputing luggage-porters, and could not
understand a word! But Miss Marryat was quite equal to the occasion,
being by no means new to travelling, and her French stood the test
triumphantly, and steered us safely to a hotel. On the morrow we
started again through Aix-la-Chapelle to Bonn, the town which lies on
the borders of the exquisite scenery of which the Siebengebirge and
Rolandseck serve as the magic portal. Our experiences in Bonn were not
wholly satisfactory. Dear Auntie was a maiden lady, looking on all
young men as wolves to be kept far from her growing lambs. Bonn was a
university town, and there was a mania just then prevailing there for
all things English. Emma was a plump, rosy, fair-haired typical
English maiden, full of frolic and harmless fun; I a very slight,
pale, black-haired girl, alternating between wild fun and extreme
pensiveness. In the boarding-house to which we went at first--the
"Chateau du Rhin," a beautiful place overhanging the broad, blue
Rhine--there chanced to be staying the two sons of the late Duke of
Hamilton, the Marquis of Douglas and Lord Charles, with their tutor.
They had the whole drawing-room floor: we a sitting-room on the ground
floor and bedrooms above. The lads discovered that Miss Marryat did
not like her "children" to be on speaking terms with any of the "male
sect."

Here was a fine source of amusement. They would make their horses
caracole on the gravel in front of our window; they would be just
starting for their ride as we went for walk or drive, and would salute
us with doffed hat and low bow; they would waylay us on our way
downstairs with demure "Good morning"; they would go to church and
post themselves so that they could survey our pew, and Lord
Charles--who possessed the power of moving at will the whole skin of
the scalp--would wriggle his hair up and down till we were choking
with laughter, to our own imminent risk. After a month of this Auntie
was literally driven out of the pretty chateau, and took refuge in a
girls' school, much to our disgust; but still she was not allowed to
be at rest. Mischievous students would pursue us wherever we went;
sentimental Germans, with gashed cheeks, would whisper complimentary
phrases as we passed; mere boyish nonsense of most harmless kind, but
the rather stern English lady thought it "not proper," and after three
months of Bonn we were sent home for the holidays, somewhat in
disgrace. But we had some lovely excursions during those months; such
clambering up mountains, such rows on the swift-flowing Rhine, such
wanderings in exquisite valleys. I have a long picture-gallery to
retire into when I want to think of something fair, in recalling the
moon as it silvered the Rhine at the foot of Drachenfels, or the soft,
mist-veiled island where dwelt the lady who is consecrated for ever by
Roland's love.

A couple of months later we rejoined Miss Marryat in Paris, where we
spent seven happy, workful months. On Wednesdays and Saturdays we were
free from lessons, and many a long afternoon was passed in the
galleries of the Louvre, till we became familiar with the masterpieces
of art gathered there from all lands. I doubt if there was a beautiful
church in Paris that we did not visit during those weekly wanderings;
that of St. Germain de l'Auxerrois was my favourite--the church whose
bell gave the signal for the massacre of St. Bartholomew--for it
contained such marvellous stained glass, deepest, purest glory of
colour that I had ever seen. The solemn beauty of Notre Dame, the
somewhat gaudy magnificence of La Sainte Chapelle, the stateliness of
La Madeleine, the impressive gloom of St. Roch, were all familiar to
us. Other delights were found in mingling with the bright crowds which
passed along the Champs Elysees and sauntered in the Bois de Boulogne,
in strolling in the garden of the Tuileries, in climbing to the top of
every monument whence view of Paris could be gained. The Empire was
then in its heyday of glitter, and we much enjoyed seeing the
brilliant escort of the imperial carriage, with plumes and gold and
silver dancing and glistening in the sunlight, while in the carriage
sat the exquisitely lovely empress, with the little boy beside her,
touching his cap shyly, but with something of her own grace, in answer
to a greeting--the boy who was thought to be born to an imperial
crown, but whose brief career was to find an ending from the spears of
savages in a quarrel in which he had no concern.

In the spring of 1862 it chanced that the Bishop of Ohio visited
Paris, and Mr. Forbes, then English chaplain at the Church of the Rue
d'Aguesseau, arranged to have a confirmation. As said above, I was
under deep "religious impressions," and, in fact, with the exception
of that little aberration in Germany, I was decidedly a pious girl. I
looked on theatres (never having been to one) as traps set by Satan
for the destruction of foolish souls; I was quite determined never to
go to a ball, and was prepared to "suffer for conscience' sake
"--little prig that I was--if I was desired to go to one. I was
consequently quite prepared to take upon myself the vows made in my
name at my baptism, and to renounce the world, the flesh, and the
devil, with a heartiness and sincerity only equalled by my profound
ignorance of the things I so readily resigned. That confirmation was
to me a very solemn matter; the careful preparation, the prolonged
prayers, the wondering awe as to the "seven-fold gifts of the Spirit,"
which were to be given by "the laying on of hands," all tended to
excitement. I could scarcely control myself as I knelt at the altar
rails, and felt as though the gentle touch of the aged bishop, which
fluttered for an instant on my bowed head, were the very touch of the
wing of that "Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove," whose presence had been so
earnestly invoked. Is there anything easier, I wonder, than to make a
young and sensitive girl "intensely religious"? This stay in Paris
roused into activity an aspect of my religious nature that had
hitherto been latent. I discovered the sensuous enjoyment that lay in
introducing colour and fragrance and pomp into religious services, so
that the gratification of the aesthetic emotions became dignified with
the garb of piety. The picture-galleries of the Louvre, crowded with
Madonnas and saints, the Roman Catholic churches with their
incense-laden air and exquisite music, brought a new joy into my life,
a more vivid colour to my dreams. Insensibly, the colder, cruder
Evangelicalism that I had never thoroughly assimilated, grew warmer
and more brilliant, and the ideal Divine Prince of my childhood took
on the more pathetic lineaments of the Man of Sorrows, the deeper
attractiveness of the suffering Saviour of Men. Keble's "Christian
Year" took the place of "Paradise Lost," and as my girlhood began to
bud towards womanhood, all its deeper currents set in the direction of
religious devotion. My mother did not allow me to read love stories,
and my daydreams of the future were scarcely touched by any of the
ordinary hopes and fears of a girl lifting her eyes towards the world
she is shortly to enter. They were filled with broodings over the days
when girl-martyrs were blessed with visions of the King of Martyrs,
when sweet St. Agnes saw her celestial Bridegroom, and angels stooped
to whisper melodies in St. Cecilia's raptured ear. "Why then and not
now?" my heart would question, and I would lose myself in these
fancies, never happier than when alone.

The summer of 1862 was spent with Miss Marryat at Sidmouth, and, wise
woman that she was, she now carefully directed our studies with a view
to our coming enfranchisement from the "schoolroom." More and more
were we trained to work alone; our leading-strings were slackened, so
that we never felt them save when we blundered; and I remember that
when I once complained, in loving fashion, that she was "teaching me
so little," she told me that I was getting old enough to be trusted to
work by myself, and that I must not expect to "have Auntie for a
crutch all through life." And I venture to say that this gentle
withdrawal of constant supervision and teaching was one of the wisest
and kindest things that this noble-hearted woman ever did for us. It
is the usual custom to keep girls in the schoolroom until they "come
out"; then, suddenly, they are left to their own devices, and,
bewildered by their unaccustomed freedom, they waste time that might
be priceless for their intellectual growth. Lately, the opening of
universities to women has removed this danger for the more ambitious;
but at the time of which I am writing no one dreamed of the changes
soon to be made in the direction of the "higher education of women."

During the winter of 1862-63 Miss Marryat was in London, and for a few
months I remained there with her, attending the admirable French
classes of M. Roche. In the spring I returned home to Harrow, going up
each week to the classes; and when these were over, Auntie told me
that she thought all she could usefully do was done, and that it was
time that I should try my wings alone. So well, however, had she
succeeded in her aims, that my emancipation from the schoolroom was
but the starting-point of more eager study, though now the study
turned into the lines of thought towards which my personal tendencies
most attracted me. German I continued to read with a master, and
music, under the marvellously able teaching of Mr. John Farmer,
musical director of Harrow School, took up much of my time. My dear
mother had a passion for music, and Beethoven and Bach were her
favourite composers. There was scarcely a sonata of Beethoven's that I
did not learn, scarcely a fugue of Bach's that I did not master.
Mendelssohn's "Lieder" gave a lighter recreation, and many a happy
evening did we spend, my mother and I, over the stately strains of the
blind Titan, and the sweet melodies of the German wordless orator.
Musical "At Homes," too, were favourite amusements at Harrow, and at
these my facile fingers made me a welcome guest.

Thus set free from the schoolroom at 161/2, an only daughter, I could do
with my time as I would, save for the couple of hours a day given to
music, for the satisfaction of my mother. From then till I became
engaged, just before I was 19, my life flowed on smoothly, one current
visible to all and dancing in the sunlight, the other running
underground, but full and deep and strong. As regards my outer life,
no girl had a brighter, happier life than mine; studying all the
mornings and most of the afternoons in my own way, and spending the
latter part of the day in games and walks and rides--varied with
parties at which I was one of the merriest of guests. I practised
archery so zealously that I carried up triumphantly as prize for the
best score the first ring I ever possessed, while croquet found me a
most eager devotee. My darling mother certainly "spoiled" me, so far
as were concerned all the small roughnesses of life. She never allowed
a trouble of any kind to touch me, and cared only that all worries
should fall on her, all joys on me. I know now what I never dreamed
then, that her life was one of serious anxiety. The heavy burden of my
brother's school and college life pressed on her constantly, and her
need of money was often serious. A lawyer whom she trusted absolutely
cheated her systematically, using for his own purposes the remittances
she made for payment of liabilities, thus keeping upon her a constant
drain. Yet for me all that was wanted was ever there. Was it a ball to
which we were going? I need never think of what I would wear till the
time for dressing arrived, and there laid out ready for me was all I
wanted, every detail complete from top to toe. No hand but hers must
dress my hair, which, loosed, fell in dense curly masses nearly to my
knees; no hand but hers must fasten dress and deck with flowers, and
if I sometimes would coaxingly ask if I might not help by sewing in
laces, or by doing some trifle in aid, she would kiss me and bid me
run to my books or my play, telling me that her only pleasure in life
was caring for her "treasure." Alas! how lightly we take the
self-denying labour that makes life so easy, ere yet we have known
what life means when the protecting motherwing is withdrawn. So
guarded and shielded had been my childhood and youth from every touch
of pain and anxiety that love could bear for me, that I never dreamed
that life might be a heavy burden, save as I saw it in the poor I was
sent to help; all the joy of those happy years I took, not
ungratefully I hope, but certainly with as glad unconsciousness of
anything rare in it as I took the sunlight. Passionate love, indeed, I
gave to my darling, but I never knew all I owed her till I passed out
of her tender guardianship, till I left my mother's home. Is such
training wise? I am not sure. It makes the ordinary roughnesses of
life come with so stunning a shock, when one goes out into the world,
that one is apt to question whether some earlier initiation into
life's sterner mysteries would not be wiser for the young. Yet it is a
fair thing to have that joyous youth to look back upon, and at least
it is a treasury of memory that no thief can steal in the struggles of
later life. "Sunshine" they called me in those bright days of merry
play and earnest study. But that study showed the bent of my thought
and linked itself to the hidden life; for the Fathers of the early
Christian Church now became my chief companions, and I pored over the
Shepherd of Hernias, the Epistles of Polycarp, Barnabas, Ignatius, and
Clement, the commentaries of Chrysostom, the confessions of Augustine.
With these I studied the writings of Pusey, Liddon, and Keble, with
many another smaller light, joying in the great conception of a
Catholic Church, lasting through the centuries, built on the
foundations of apostles and of martyrs, stretching from the days of
Christ Himself down to our own--"One Lord, one Faith one Baptism," and
I myself a child of that Holy Church. The hidden life grew stronger,
constantly fed by these streams of study; weekly communion became the
centre round which my devotional life revolved, with its ecstatic
meditation, its growing intensity of conscious contact with the
Divine; I fasted, according to the ordinances of the Church;
occasionally flagellated myself to see if I could bear physical pain,
should I be fortunate enough ever to tread the pathway trodden by the
saints; and ever the Christ was the figure round which clustered all
my hopes and longings, till I often felt that the very passion of, my
devotion would draw Him down from His throne in heaven, present
visibly in form as I felt Him invisibly in spirit. To serve Him
through His Church became more and more a definite ideal in my life,
and my thoughts began to turn towards some kind of "religious life,"
in which I might prove my love by sacrifice and turn my passionate
gratitude into active service.

Looking back to-day over my life, I see that its keynote--through all
the blunders, and the blind mistakes, and clumsy follies--has been
this longing for sacrifice to something felt as greater than the self.
It has been so strong and so persistent that I recognise it now as a
tendency brought over from a previous life and dominating the present
one; and this is shown by the fact that to follow it is not the act of
a deliberate and conscious will, forcing self into submission and
giving up with pain something the heart desires, but the following it
is a joyous springing forward along the easiest path, the "sacrifice"
being the supremely attractive thing, not to make which would be to
deny the deepest longings of the soul, and to feel oneself polluted
and dishonoured. And it is here that the misjudgment comes in of many
generous hearts who have spoken sometimes lately so strongly in my
praise. For the efforts to serve have not been painful acts of
self-denial, but the yielding to an overmastering desire. We do not
praise the mother who, impelled by her protecting love, feeds her
crying infant and stills its wailings at her breast; rather should we
blame her if she turned aside from its weeping to play with some toy.
And so with all those whose ears are opened to the wailings of the
great orphan Humanity; they are less to be praised for helping than
they would be to be blamed if they stood aside. I now know that it is
those wailings that have stirred my heart through life, and that I
brought with me the ears open to hear them from previous lives of
service paid to men. It was those lives that drew for the child the
alluring pictures of martyrdom, breathed into the girl the passion of
devotion, sent the woman out to face scoff and odium, and drove her
finally into the Theosophy that rationalises sacrifice, while opening
up possibilities of service beside which all other hopes grow pale.

The Easter of 1866 was a memorable date in my life. I was introduced
to the clergyman I married, and I met and conquered my first religious
doubt. A little mission church had been opened the preceding Christmas
in a very poor district of Clapham. My grandfather's house was near at
hand, in Albert Square, and a favourite aunt and myself devoted
ourselves a good deal to this little church, as enthusiastic girls and
women will. At Easter we decorated it with spring flowers, with dewy
primroses and fragrant violets, and with the yellow bells of the wild
daffodil, to the huge delight of the poor who crowded in, and of the
little London children who had, many of them, never seen a flower.
Here I met the Rev. Frank Besant, a young Cambridge man, who had just
taken orders, and was serving the little mission church as deacon;
strange that at the same time I should meet the man I was to marry,
and the doubts which were to break the marriage tie. For in the Holy
Week preceding that Easter Eve, I had been--as English and Roman
Catholics are wont to do--trying to throw the mind back to the time
when the commemorated events occurred, and to follow, step by step,
the last days of the Son of Man, living, as it were, through those
last hours, so that I might be ready to kneel before the cross on Good
Friday, to stand beside the sepulchre on Easter Day. In order to
facilitate the realisation of those last sacred days of God incarnate
on earth, working out man's salvation, I resolved to write a brief
history of that week, compiled from the Four Gospels, meaning them to
try and realise each day the occurrences that had happened on the
corresponding date in A.D. 33, and so to follow those "blessed feet"
step by step, till they were

"... nailed for our advantage to the bitter cross."

With the fearlessness which springs from ignorance I sat down to my
task. My method was as follows:--

MATTHEW. | MARK. | LUKE. | JOHN.
| | |
PALM SUNDAY. | PALM SUNDAY. | PALM SUNDAY. | PALM SUNDAY.
| | |
Rode into | Rode into | Rode into | Rode into
Jerusalem. | Jerusalem. | Jerusalem. | Jerusalem.
Purified the | Returned to | Purified the | Spoke in
Temple. Returned | Bethany. | Temple. | the Temple.
to Bethany. | | Note: "Taught |
| | daily in the |
| | temple." |
| | |
MONDAY. | MONDAY. | MONDAY. | MONDAY.
| | |
Cursed the | Cursed the | Like Matthew. | ----
fig-tree. | fig-tree. | |
Taught in the | Purified the | |
Temple, and spake | Temple. Went | |
many parables. | out of city. | |
No breaks shown, | | |
but the fig-tree | | |
(xxi.19) did not | | |
wither till | | |
Tuesday (see | | |
Mark). | | |
| | |
TUESDAY. | TUESDAY. | TUESDAY. | TUESDAY.
| | |
All chaps. xxi. | Saw fig-tree | Discourses | ----
20, xxii.-xxv., | withered up. | No date |
spoken on | Then . | shown. |
Tuesday, for xxvi. | discourses | |
2 gives Passover | | |
as "after two | | |
days." | | |
| | |
WEDNESDAY. | WEDNESDAY. | WEDNESDAY. | WEDNESDAY.
| | |
Blank. | ---- | ---- | ----
(Possibly remained in Bethany; the alabaster box of oinment.)
| | |
THURSDAY. | THURSDAY. | THURSDAY. | THURSDAY.
| | |
Preparation of | Same as Matt.| Same as Matt. | Discourses
Passover. Eating | | | with disciples,
of Passover, and | | | but _before_ the
institution of the | | | Passover. Washes
Holy Eucharist. | | | the disciples'
Gethsemane. | | | feet. Nothing
Betrayal by Judas. | | | said of Holy
Led captive to | | | Eucharist, nor
Caiaphas. Denied | | | of agony in
by St. Peter. | | | Gethsemane.
| | | Malchus' ear.
| | | Led captive to
| | | Annas first.
| | | Then to Caiaphas.
| | | Denied
| | | by St. Peter.
| | |
FRIDAY. | FRIDAY. | FRIDAY. | FRIDAY
| | |
Led to Pilate. | As Matthew, | Led to | Taken to
Judas hangs | but hour of | Pilate. Sent | Pilate. Jews
himself. Tried. | crucifixion | to Herod. | would not enter,
Condemned to | given, | Sent back to | that they
death. Scourged | 9 a.m. | Pilate. Rest | might eat
and mocked. Led | | as in | the Passover.
to crucifixion. | | Matthew; but | Scourged by
Darkness from 12 | | _one_ | Pilate before
to 3. Died at 3. | | malefactor | condemnation,
| | repents. | and mocked. Shown
| | | by Pilate to
| | | Jews at 12.

I became uneasy as I proceeded with my task, for discrepancies leaped
at me from my four columns; the uneasiness grew as the contradictions
increased, until I saw with a shock of horror that my "harmony" was a
discord, and a doubt of the veracity of the story sprang up like a
serpent hissing in my face. It was struck down in a moment, for to me
to doubt was sin, and to have doubted on the very eve of the Passion
was an added crime. Quickly I assured myself that these apparent
contradictions were necessary as tests of faith, and I forced myself
to repeat Tertullian's famous "Credo quia impossible," till, from a
wooden recital, it became a triumphant affirmation. I reminded myself
that St. Peter had said of the Pauline Epistles that in them were
"some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and
unstable wrest ... unto their own destruction." I shudderingly
recognised that I must be very unlearned and unstable to find discord
among the Holy Evangelists, and imposed on myself an extra fast as
penance for my ignorance and lack of firmness in the faith. For my
mental position was one to which doubt was one of the worst of sins. I
knew that there were people like Colenso, who questioned the
infallibility of the Bible, but I remembered how the Apostle John had
fled from the Baths when Cerinthus entered them, lest the roof should
fall on the heretic, and crush any one in his neighbourhood, and I
looked on all heretics with holy horror. Pusey had indoctrinated me
with his stern hatred of all heresy, and I was content to rest with
him on that faith, "which must be old because it is eternal, and must
be unchangeable because it is true." I would not even read the works
of my mothers favourite Stanley, because he was "unsound," and because
Pusey had condemned his "variegated use of words which destroys all
definiteness of meaning"--a clever and pointed description, be it said
in passing, of the Dean's exquisite phrases, capable of so many
readings. It can then be imagined with what a stab of pain this first
doubt struck me, and with what haste I smothered it up, buried it, and
smoothed the turf over its grave. _But it had been there_, and it left
its mark.

CHAPTER IV.

MARRIAGE.

The last year of my girlish freedom was drawing to its close; how shall
I hope to make commonsense readers understand how I became betrothed
maiden ere yet nineteen, girl-wife when twenty years had struck?
Looking back over twenty-five years, I feel a profound pity for the
girl standing at that critical point of life, so utterly, hopelessly
ignorant of all that marriage meant, so filled with impossible dreams,
so unfitted for the _role_ of wife. As I have said, my day-dreams held
little place for love, partly from the absence of love novels from my
reading, partly from the mystic fancies that twined themselves round
the figure of the Christ. Catholic books of devotion--English or Roman,
it matters not, for to a large extent they are translations of the same
hymns and prayers--are exceedingly glowing in their language, and the
dawning feelings of womanhood unconsciously lend to them a passionate
fervour. I longed to spend my time in worshipping Jesus, and was, as
far as my inner life was concerned, absorbed in that passionate love of
"the Saviour" which, among emotional Catholics, really is the human
passion of love transferred to an ideal--for women to Jesus, for men to
the Virgin Mary. In order to show that I am not here exaggerating, I
subjoin a few of the prayers in which I found daily delight, and I do
this in order to show how an emotional girl may be attracted by these
so-called devotional exercises:--

"O crucified Love, raise in me fresh ardours of love and consolation,
that it may henceforth be the greatest torment I can endure ever to
offend Thee; that it may be my greatest delight to please Thee."

"Let the remembrance of Thy death, O Lord Jesu, make me to desire and
pant after Thee, that I may delight in Thy gracious presence."

"O most sweet Jesu Christ, I, unworthy sinner, yet redeemed by Thy
precious blood.... Thine I am and will be, in life and in death."

"O Jesu, beloved, fairer than the sons of men, draw me after Thee with
the cords of Thy love."

"Blessed are Thou, O most merciful God, who didst vouchsafe to espouse
me to the heavenly Bridegroom in the waters of baptism, and hast
imparted Thy body and blood as a new gift of espousal and the meet
consummation of Thy love."

"O most sweet Lord Jesu, transfix the affections of my inmost soul with
that most joyous and most healthful wound of Thy love, with true,
serene, most holy, apostolical charity; that my soul may ever languish
and melt with entire love and longing for Thee. Let it desire Thee and
faint for Thy courts; long to be dissolved and be with Thee."

"Oh, that I could embrace Thee with that most burning love of angels."

"Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth; for Thy love is better
than wine. Draw me, we will run after Thee. The king hath brought me
into his chambers.... Let my soul, O Lord, feel the sweetness of Thy
presence. May it taste how sweet Thou art.... May the sweet and burning
power of Thy love, I beseech Thee, absorb my soul."

All girls have in them the germ of passion, and the line of its
development depends on the character brought into the world, and the
surrounding influences of education. I had but two ideals in my
childhood and youth, round whom twined these budding tendrils of
passion; they were my mother and the Christ. I know this may seem
strange, but I am trying to state things as they were in this
life-story, and not give mere conventionalisms, and so it was. I had
men friends, but no lovers--at least, to my knowledge, for I have since
heard that my mother received two or three offers of marriage for me,
but declined them on account of my youth and my childishness--friends
with whom I liked to talk, because they knew more than I did; but they
had no place in my day-dreams. These were more and more filled with the
one Ideal Man, and my hopes turned towards the life of the Sister of
Mercy, who ever worships the Christ, and devotes her life to the
service of His poor. I knew my dear mother would set herself against
this idea, but it nestled warm at my heart, for ever that idea of
escaping from the humdrum of ordinary life by some complete sacrifice
lured me onwards with its overmastering fascination.

Now one unlucky result of this view of religion is the idealisation of
the clergyman, the special messenger and chosen servant of the Lord.
Far more lofty than any title bestowed by earthly monarch is that
patent of nobility straight from the hand of the "King of kings," that
seems to give to the mortal something of the authority of the immortal,
and to crown the head of the priest with the diadem that belongs to
those who are "kings and priests unto God." Viewed in this way, the
position of the priest's wife seems second only to that of the nun, and
has, therefore, a wonderful attractiveness, an attractiveness in which
the particular clergyman affected plays a very subordinate part; it is
the "sacred office," the nearness to "holy things," the consecration
which seems to include the wife--it is these things that shed a glamour
over the clerical life which attracts most those who are most apt to
self-devotion, most swayed by imagination. And the saddest pity of all
this is that the glamour is most over those whose brains are quick,
whose hearts are pure, who are responsive to all forms of noble
emotions, all suggestions of personal self-sacrifice; if such in later
life rise to the higher emotions whose shadows have attracted them, and
to that higher self-sacrifice whose whispers reached them in their
early youth, then the false prophet's veil is raised, the poverty of
the conception seen, and the life is either wrecked, or through
storm-wind and surge of battling billows, with loss of mast and sail,
is steered by firm hand into the port of a nobler faith.

That summer of 1866 saw me engaged to the young clergyman I had met at
the mission church in the spring, our knowledge of each other being an
almost negligeable quantity. We were thrown together for a week, the
only two young ones in a small party of holiday-makers, and in our
walks, rides, and drives we were naturally companions; an hour or two
before he left he asked me to marry him, taking my consent for granted
as I had allowed him such full companionship--a perfectly fair
assumption with girls accustomed to look on all men as possible
husbands, but wholly mistaken as regarded myself, whose thoughts were
in quite other directions. Startled, and my sensitive pride touched by
what seemed to my strict views an assumption that I had been flirting,
I hesitated, did not follow my first impulse of refusal, but took
refuge in silence; my suitor had to catch his train, and bound me
over to silence till he could himself speak to my mother, urging
authoritatively that it would be dishonourable of me to break his
confidence, and left me--the most upset and distressed little person
on the Sussex coast. The fortnight that followed was the first unhappy
one of my life, for I had a secret from my mother, a secret which I
passionately longed to tell her, but dared not speak at the risk of
doing a dishonourable thing. On meeting my suitor on our return to
town I positively refused to keep silence any longer, and then out
of sheer weakness and fear of inflicting pain I drifted into an
engagement with a man I did not pretend to love. "Drifted" is the
right word, for two or three months passed, on the ground that I was
so much of a child, before my mother would consent to a definite
engagement; my dislike of the thought of marriage faded before the
idea of becoming the wife of a priest, working ever in the Church and
among the poor. I had no outlet for my growing desire for usefulness
in my happy and peaceful home-life, where all religious enthusiasm was
regarded as unbalanced and unbecoming; all that was deepest and truest
in my nature chafed against my easy, useless days, longed for work,
yearned to devote itself, as I had read women saints had done, to the
service of the Church and of the poor, to the battling against sin and
misery--what empty names sin and misery then were to me! "You will
have more opportunities for doing good as a clergyman's wife than as
anything else," was one of the pleas urged on my reluctance.

In the autumn I was definitely betrothed, and I married fourteen months
later. Once, in the interval, I tried to break the engagement, but, on
my broaching the subject to my mother, all her pride rose up in revolt.
Would I, her daughter, break my word, would I dishonour myself by
jilting a man I had pledged myself to marry? She could be stern where
honour was involved, that sweet mother of mine, and I yielded to her
wish as I had been ever wont to do, for a look or a word from her had
ever been my law, save where religion was concerned. So I married in
the winter of 1867 with no more idea of the marriage relation than if I
had been four years old instead of twenty. My dreamy life, into which
no knowledge of evil had been allowed to penetrate, in which I had been
guarded from all pain, shielded from all anxiety, kept, innocent on all
questions of sex, was no preparation for married existence, and left me
defenceless to face a rude awakening. Looking back on it all, I
deliberately say that no more fatal blunder can be made than to train a
girl to womanhood in ignorance of all life's duties and burdens, and
then to let her face them for the first time away from all the old
associations, the old helps, the old refuge on the mother's breast.
That "perfect innocence" may be very beautiful, but it is a perilous
possession, and Eve should have the knowledge of good and evil ere she
wanders forth from the paradise of a mother's love. Many an unhappy
marriage dates from its very beginning, from the terrible shock to a
young girl's sensitive modesty and pride, her helpless bewilderment and
fear. Men, with their public school and college education, or the
knowledge that comes by living in the outside world, may find it hard
to realise the possibility of such infantile ignorance in many girls.
None the less, such ignorance is a fact in the case of some girls at
least, and no mother should let her daughter, blindfold, slip her neck
under the marriage yoke.

Before leaving the harbourage of girlhood to set sail on the troublous
sea of life, there is an occurrence of which I must make mention, as
it marks my first awakening of interest in the outer world of
political struggle. In the autumn of 1867 my mother and I were staying
with some dear friends of ours, the Robertses, at Pendleton, near
Manchester. Mr. Roberts was "the poor man's lawyer," in the
affectionate phrase used of him by many a hundred men. He was a close
friend of Ernest Jones, and was always ready to fight a poor man's
battle without fee. He worked hard in the agitation which saved women
from working in the mines, and I have heard him tell how he had seen
them toiling, naked to the waist, with short petticoats barely
reaching to their knees, rough, foul-tongued, brutalised out of all
womanly decency and grace; and how he had seen little children working
there too, babies of three and four set to watch a door, and falling
asleep at their work to be roused by curse and kick to the unfair
toil. The old man's eye would begin to flash and his voice to rise as
he told of these horrors, and then his face would soften as he added
that, after it was all over and the slavery was put an end to, as he
went through a coal district the women standing at their doors would
lift up their children to see "Lawyer Roberts" go by, and would bid
"God bless him" for what he had done. This dear old man was my first
tutor in Radicalism, and I was an apt pupil. I had taken no interest
in politics, but had unconsciously reflected more or less the decorous
Whiggism which had always surrounded me. I regarded "the poor" as folk
to be educated, looked after, charitably dealt with, and always
treated with most perfect courtesy, the courtesy being due from me, as
a lady, to all equally, whether they were rich or poor. But to Mr.
Roberts "the poor" were the working-bees, the wealth producers, with a
right to self-rule not to looking after, with a right to justice, not
to charity, and he preached his doctrines to me in season and out of
season. I was a pet of his, and used often to drive him to his office
in the morning, glorying much in the fact that my skill was trusted in
guiding a horse through the crowded Manchester streets. During these
drives, and on all other available occasions, Mr. Roberts would preach
to me the cause of the people. "What do you think of John Bright?" he
demanded suddenly one day, looking at me with fiery eyes from under
heavy brows. "I have never thought of him at all," was the careless
answer. "Isn't he a rather rough sort of man, who goes about making
rows?" "There, I thought so!" he thundered at me fiercely. "That's
just what I say. I believe some of you fine ladies would not go to
heaven if you had to rub shoulders with John Bright, the noblest man
God ever gave to the cause of the poor."

This was the hot-tempered and lovable "demagogue," as he was called,
with whom we were staying when Colonel Kelly and Captain Deasy, two
Fenian leaders, were arrested in Manchester and put on their trial. The
whole Irish population became seething with excitement, and on
September 18th the police van carrying them to Salford Gaol was stopped
at the Bellevue Railway Arch by the sudden fall of one of the horses,
shot from the side of the road. In a moment the van was surrounded, and
crowbars were wrenching at the van door. It resisted; a body of police
was rapidly approaching, and if the rescue was to be effective the door
must be opened. The rescuers shouted to Brett, the constable inside, to
pass out his keys; he refused, and some one exclaimed, "Blow off the
lock!" In a moment the muzzle of a revolver was against the lock, and
it was blown off; but Brett, stooping down to look through the keyhole,
received the bullet in his head, and fell dying as the door flew open.
Another moment, and Allen, a lad of seventeen, had wrenched open the
doors of the compartments occupied by Kelly and Deasy, dragged them
out, and while two or three hurried them off to a place of safety, the
others threw themselves between the fugitives and the police, and with
levelled revolvers guarded their flight. The Fenian leaders once safe,
they scattered, and young William Allen, whose one thought had been for
his chiefs, seeing them safe, fired his revolver in the air, for he
would not shed blood in his own defence. Disarmed by his own act, he
was set on by the police, brutally struck down, kicked and stoned, and
was dragged off to gaol, faint and bleeding, to meet there some of his
comrades in much the same plight as himself. Then Manchester went mad,
and race-passions flared up into flame; no Irish workman was safe in a
crowd of Englishmen, no Englishman safe in the Irish quarter. The
friends of the prisoners besieged "Lawyer Roberts's" house, praying his
aid, and he threw his whole fiery soul into their defence. The man who
had fired the accidentally fatal shot was safely out of the way, and
none of the others had hurt a human being. A Special Commission was
issued, with Mr. Justice Blackburn at its head--"the hanging judge,"
groaned Mr. Roberts--and it was soon in Manchester, for all Mr.
Roberts's efforts to get the venue of the trial changed were futile,
though of fair trial then in Manchester there was no chance. On October
25th the prisoners were actually brought up before the magistrates in
irons, and Mr. Ernest Jones, their counsel, failing in his protest
against this outrage, threw down his brief and left the court. So great
was the haste with which the trial was hurried on that on the 29th
Allen, Larkin, Gould (O'Brien), Maguire, and Condon were standing in
the dock before the Commission charged with murder.

My first experience of an angry crowd was on that day as we drove to
the court; the streets were barricaded, the soldiers were under arms,
every approach to the court crowded with surging throngs. At last our
carriage was stopped as we were passing at a foot's pace through an
Irish section of the crowd, and various vehement fists came through the
window, with hearty curses at the "d----d English who were going to see
the boys murdered." The situation was critical, for we were two women
and three girls, when I bethought myself that we were unknown, and
gently touched the nearest fist: "Friends, these are Mr. Roberts' wife
and daughters." "Roberts! Lawyer Roberts! God bless Roberts! Let his
carriage through." And all the scowling faces became smile-wreathen,
and curses changed to cheers, as a road to the court steps was cleared
for us.

Alas! if there was passion on behalf of the prisoners outside, there
was passion against them within, and the very opening of the trial
showed the spirit that animated the prosecution and the bench. Digby
Seymour, Q.C., and Ernest Jones, were briefed for the defence, and Mr.
Roberts did not think that they exercised sufficiently their right of
challenge; he knew, as we all did, that many on the panel had loudly
proclaimed their hostility to the Irish, and Mr. Roberts persisted in
challenging them as his counsel would not. In vain Judge Blackburn
threatened to commit the rebellious solicitor: "These men's lives are
at stake, my lord," was his indignant plea. "Remove that man!" cried
the angry judge, but as the officers of the court came forward very
slowly--for all poor men loved and honoured the sturdy fighter--he
changed his mind and let him stay. Despite all his efforts, the jury
contained a man who had declared that he "didn't care what the evidence
was, he would hang every d----d Irishman of the lot." And the result
showed that he was not alone in his view, for evidence of the most
disreputable kind was admitted; women of the lowest type were put into
the box as witnesses, and their word taken as unchallengeable; thus was
destroyed an _alibi_ for Maguire, afterwards accepted by the Crown, a
free pardon being issued on the strength of it. Nothing could save the
doomed men from the determined verdict, and I could see from where I
was sitting into a little room behind the bench, where an official was
quietly preparing the black caps before the verdict had been delivered.
The foregone "Guilty" was duly repeated as verdict on each of the five
cases, and the prisoners asked if they had anything to say why sentence
of death should not be passed on them. Allen, boy as he was, made a
very brave and manly speech; he had not fired, save in the air--if he
had done so he might have escaped; he had helped to free Kelly and
Deasy, and did not regret it; he was willing to die for Ireland.
Maguire and Condon (he also was reprieved) declared they were not
present, but, like Allen, were ready to die for their country. Sentence
of death was passed, and, as echo to the sardonic "The Lord have mercy
on your souls," rang back from the dock in five clear voices, with
never a quiver of fear in them, "God save Ireland!" and the men passed
one by one from the sight of my tear-dimmed eyes.

It was a sorrowful time that followed; the despair of the heart-broken
girl who was Allen's sweetheart, and who cried to us on her knees,
"Save my William!" was hard to see; nothing we or any one could do
availed to avert the doom, and on November 23rd Allen, Larkin, and
O'Brien were hanged outside Salford Gaol. Had they striven for freedom
in Italy England would have honoured them; here she buried them as
common murderers in quicklime in the prison yard.

I have found, with a keen sense of pleasure, that Mr. Bradlaugh and
myself were in 1867 to some extent co-workers, although we knew not of
each other's existence, and although he was doing much, and I only
giving such poor sympathy as a young girl might, who was only just
awakening to the duty of political work. I read in the _National
Reformer_ for November 24, 1867, that in the preceding week he was
pleading on Clerkenwell Green for these men's lives:--"According to
the evidence at the trial, Deasy and Kelly were illegally arrested.
They had been arrested for vagrancy of which no evidence was given, and
apparently remanded for felony without a shadow of justification. He
had yet to learn that in England the same state of things existed as in
Ireland; he had yet to learn that an illegal arrest was sufficient
ground to detain any of the citizens of any country in the prisons of
this one. If he were illegally held, he was justified in using enough
force to procure his release. Wearing a policeman's coat gave no
authority when the officer exceeded his jurisdiction. He had argued
this before Lord Chief Justice Erie in the Court of Common Pleas, and
that learned judge did not venture to contradict the argument which he
submitted. There was another reason why they should spare these men,
although he hardly expected the Government to listen, because the
Government sent down one of the judges who was predetermined to convict
the prisoners; it was that the offence was purely a political one. The
death of Brett was a sad mischance, but no one who read the evidence
could regard the killing of Brett as an intentional murder. Legally, it
was murder; morally, it was homicide in the rescue of a political
captive. If it were a question of the rescue of the political captives
of Varignano, or of political captives in Bourbon, in Naples, or in
Poland, or in Paris, even earls might be found so to argue. Wherein is
our sister Ireland less than these? In executing these men, they would
throw down the gauntlet for terrible reprisals. It was a grave and
solemn question. It had been said by a previous speaker that they were
prepared to go to any lengths to save these Irishmen. They were not. He
wished they were. If they were, if the men of England, from one end to
the other, were prepared to say, 'These men shall not be executed,'
they would not be. He was afraid they had not pluck enough for that.
Their moral courage was not equal to their physical strength. Therefore
he would not say that they were prepared to do so. They must plead _ad
misericordiam_. He appealed to the press, which represented the power
of England; to that press which in its panic-stricken moments had done
much harm, and which ought now to save these four doomed men. If the
press demanded it, no Government would be mad enough to resist. The
memory of the blood which was shed in 1798 rose up like a bloody ghost
against them to-day. He only feared that what they said upon the
subject might do the poor men more harm than good. If it were not so,
he would coin words that should speak in words of fire. As it was, he
could only say to the Government: You are strong to-day; you hold these
men's lives in your hands; but if you want to reconcile their country
to you, if you want to win back Ireland, if you want to make her
children love you--then do not embitter their hearts still more by
taking the lives of these men. Temper your strength with mercy; do not
use the sword of justice like one of vengeance, for the day may come
when it shall be broken in your hands, and you yourselves brained by
the hilt of the weapon you have so wickedly wielded." In October he
had printed a plea for Ireland, strong and earnest, asking:--

"Where is our boasted English freedom when you cross to Kingstown pier?
Where has it been for near two years? The Habeas Corpus Act suspended,
the gaols crowded, the steamers searched, spies listening at shebeen
shops for sedition, and the end of it a Fenian panic in England. Oh,
before it be too late, before more blood stain the pages of our present
history, before we exasperate and arouse bitter animosities, let us try
and do justice to our sister land. Abolish once and for all the land
laws, which in their iniquitous operation have ruined her peasantry.
Sweep away the leech-like Church which has sucked her vitality, and has
given her back no word even of comfort in her degradation. Turn her
barracks into flax mills, encourage a spirit of independence in her
citizens, restore to her people the protection of the law, so that they
may speak without fear of arrest, and beg them to plainly and boldly
state their grievances. Let a commission of the best and wisest amongst
Irishmen, with some of our highest English judges added, sit solemnly
to hear all complaints, and then let us honestly legislate, not for the
punishment of the discontented, but to remove the causes of the
discontent. It is not the Fenians who have depopulated Ireland's
strength and increased her misery. It is not the Fenians who have
evicted tenants by the score. It is not the Fenians who have checked
cultivation. Those who have caused the wrong at least should frame the
remedy."

In December, 1867, I sailed out of the safe harbour of my happy and
peaceful girlhood on to the wide sea of life, and the waves broke
roughly as soon as the bar was crossed. We were an ill-matched pair, my
husband and I, from the very outset; he, with very high ideas of a
husband's authority and a wife's submission, holding strongly to the
"master-in-my-own-house theory," thinking much of the details of home
arrangements, precise, methodical, easily angered and with difficulty
appeased. I, accustomed to freedom, indifferent to home details,
impulsive, very hot-tempered, and proud as Lucifer. I had never had a
harsh word spoken to me, never been ordered to do anything, had had my
way smoothed for my feet, and never a worry had touched me. Harshness
roused first incredulous wonder, then a storm of indignant tears, and
after a time a proud, defiant resistance, cold and hard as iron. The
easy-going, sunshiny, enthusiastic girl changed--and changed pretty
rapidly--into a grave, proud, reticent woman, burying deep in her own
heart all her hopes, her fears, and her disillusions. I must have been
a very unsatisfactory wife from the beginning, though I think other
treatment might gradually have turned me into a fair imitation of the
proper conventional article. Beginning with the ignorance before
alluded to, and so scared and outraged at heart from the very first;
knowing nothing of household management or economical use of money--I
had never had an allowance or even bought myself a pair of
gloves--though eager to perform my new duties creditably; unwilling to
potter over little things, and liking to do swiftly what I had to do,
and then turn to my beloved books; at heart fretting for my mother but
rarely speaking of her, as I found my longing for her presence raised
jealous vexation; with strangers about me with whom I had no sympathy;
visited by ladies who talked to me only about babies and
servants--troubles of which I knew nothing and which bored me
unutterably--and who were as uninterested in all that had filled my
life, in theology, in politics, in science, as I was uninterested in
the discussions on the housemaid's young man and on the cook's
extravagance in using "butter, when dripping would have done perfectly
well, my dear"; was it wonderful that I became timid, dull, and
depressed?

All my eager, passionate enthusiasm, so attractive to men in a young
girl, were doubtless incompatible with "the solid comfort of a wife,"
and I must have been inexpressibly tiring to the Rev. Frank Besant.
And, in truth, I ought never to have married, for under the soft,
loving, pliable girl there lay hidden, as much unknown to herself as to
her surroundings, a woman of strong dominant will, strength that panted
for expression and rebelled against restraint, fiery and passionate
emotions that were seething under compression--a most undesirable
partner to sit in the lady's arm-chair on the domestic rug before the
fire. [_Que le diable faisait-elle dans cette galere,_] I have often
thought, looking back at my past self, and asking, Why did that foolish
girl make her bed so foolishly? But self-analysis shows the
contradictories in my nature that led me into so mistaken a course. I
have ever been the queerest mixture of weakness and strength, and have
paid heavily for the weakness. As a child I used to suffer tortures of
shyness, and if my shoe-lace was untied would feel shamefacedly that
every eye was fixed on the unlucky string; as a girl I would shrink
away from strangers and think myself unwanted and unliked, so that I
was full of eager gratitude to any one who noticed me kindly; as the
young mistress of a house, I was afraid of my servants, and would let
careless work pass rather than bear the pain of reproving the ill-doer;
when I have been lecturing and debating with no lack of spirit on the
platform, I have preferred to go without what I wanted at the hotel
rather than to ring and make the waiter fetch it; combative on the
platform in defence of any cause I cared for, I shrink from quarrel or
disapproval in the home, and am a coward at heart in private while a
good fighter in public. How often have I passed unhappy quarters of an
hour screwing up my courage to find fault with some subordinate whom my
duty compelled me to reprove, and how often have I jeered at myself for
a fraud as the doughty platform combatant, when shrinking from blaming
some lad or lass for doing their work badly! An unkind look or word has
availed to make me shrink into myself as a snail into its shell, while
on the platform opposition makes me speak my best. So I slid into
marriage blindly and stupidly, fearing to give pain; fretted my heart
out for a year; then, roused by harshness and injustice, stiffened and
hardened, and lived with a wall of ice round me within which I waged
mental conflicts that nearly killed me; and learned at last how to live
and work in armour that turned the edge of the weapons that struck it,
and left the flesh beneath unwounded, armour laid aside, but in the
presence of a very few.

My first serious attempts at writing were made in 1868, and I took up
two very different lines of composition; I wrote some short stories of
a very flimsy type, and also a work of a much more ambitious character,
"The Lives of the Black Letter Saints." For the sake of the
unecclesiastically trained it may be as well to mention that in the
Calendar of the Church of England there are a number of Saints' Days;
some of these are printed in red, and are Red Letter Days, for which
services are appointed by the Church; others are printed in black, and
are Black Letter Days, and have no special services fixed for them. It
seemed to me that it would be interesting to take each of these days
and write a sketch of the life of the saint belonging to it, and
accordingly I set to work to do so, and gathered various books of
history and legend where-from to collect my "facts." I do not in the
least know what became of that valuable book; I tried Macmillans with
it, and it was sent on by them to some one who was preparing a series
of Church books for the young; later I had a letter from a Church
brotherhood offering to publish it, if I would give it as "an act of
piety" to their order; its ultimate fate is to me unknown.

The short stories were more fortunate. I sent the first to the _Family
Herald_, and some weeks afterwards received a letter from which dropped
a cheque as I opened it. Dear me! I have earned a good deal of money
since by my pen, but never any that gave me the intense delight of that
first thirty shillings. It was the first money I had ever earned, and
the pride of the earning was added to the pride of authorship. In my
childish delight and practical religion, I went down on my knees and
thanked God for sending it to me, and I saw myself earning heaps of
golden guineas, and becoming quite a support of the household. Besides,
it was "my very own," I thought, and a delightful sense of independence
came over me. I had not then realised the beauty of the English law,
and the dignified position in which it placed the married woman; I did
not understand that all a married woman earned by law belonged to her
owner, and that she could have nothing that belonged to her of
right.[1] I did not want the money: I was only so glad to have
something of my own to give, and it was rather a shock to learn that it
was not really mine at all.

From time to time after that I earned a few pounds for stories in the
same journal; and the _Family Herald_, let me say, has one peculiarity
which should render it beloved by poor authors; it pays its contributor
when it accepts the paper, whether it prints it immediately or not;
thus my first story was not printed for some weeks after I received the
cheque, and it was the same with all the others accepted by the same
journal. Encouraged by these small successes, I began writing a novel!
It took a long time to do, but was at last finished, and sent off to
the _Family Herald_. The poor thing came back, but with a kind note,
telling me that it was too political for their pages, but that if I
would write one of "purely domestic interest," and up to the same
level, it would probably be accepted. But by that time I was in the
full struggle of theological doubt, and that novel of "purely domestic
interest" never got itself written.

I contributed further to the literature of my country a theological
pamphlet, of which I forget the exact title, but it dealt with the duty
of fasting incumbent on all faithful Christians, and was very patristic
in its tone.

In January, 1869, my little son was born, and as I was very ill for
some months before, and was far too much interested in the tiny
creature afterwards, to devote myself to pen and paper, my literary
career was checked for a while. The baby gave a new interest and a new
pleasure to life, and as we could not afford a nurse I had plenty to do
in looking after his small majesty. My energy in reading became less
feverish when it was done by the side of the baby's cradle, and the
little one's presence almost healed the abiding pain of my mother's
loss.

I may pass very quickly over the next two years. In August, 1870, a
little sister was born to my son, and the recovery was slow and
tedious, for my general health had been failing for some time.

[Illustration: _From a photograph by Dighton's Art Studio, Cheltenham_.
ANNIE BESANT 1869.]

The boy was a bright, healthy little fellow, but the girl was delicate
from birth, suffering from her mother's unhappiness, and born somewhat
prematurely in consequence of a shock. When, in the spring of 1871, the
two children caught the whooping cough, my Mabel's delicacy made the
ordeal well-nigh fatal to her. She was very young for so trying a
disease, and after a while bronchitis set in and was followed by
congestion of the lungs. For weeks she lay in hourly peril of death We
arranged a screen round the fire like a tent, and kept it full of steam
to ease the panting breath; and there I sat, day and night, all through
those weary weeks, the tortured baby on my knees. I loved my little
ones passionately, for their clinging love soothed the aching at my
heart, and their baby eyes could not critically scan the unhappiness
that grew deeper month by month; and that steam-filled tent became my
world, and there, alone, I fought with Death for my child. The doctor
said that recovery was impossible, and that in one of the paroxysms of
coughing she must die; the most distressing thing was that, at last,
even a drop or two of milk would bring on the terrible convulsive
choking, and it seemed cruel to add to the pain of the apparently dying
child. At length, one morning the doctor said she could not last
through the day; I had sent for him hurriedly, for the body had
suddenly swollen up as a result of the perforation of one of the
pleurae, and the consequent escape of air into the cavity of the chest.
While he was there one of the fits of coughing came on, and it seemed
as though it must be the last. He took a small bottle of chloroform out
of his pocket, and putting a drop on a handkerchief held it near the
child's face, till the drug soothed the convulsive struggle. "It can't
do any harm at this stage," he said, "and it checks the suffering." He
went away, saying that he feared he would never see the child alive
again. One of the kindest friends I had in my married life was that
same doctor, Mr. Lauriston Winterbotham; he was as good as he was
clever, and, like so many of his noble profession, he had the merits of
discretion and silence. He never breathed a word as to my unhappiness,
until in 1878 he came up to town to give evidence as to cruelty
which--had the deed of separation not been held as condonation--would
have secured me a divorce _a mensa et thoro._

The child, however, recovered, and her recovery was due, I think, to
that chance thought of Mr. Winterbotham's about the chloroform, for I
used it whenever the first sign of a fit of coughing appeared, and so
warded off the convulsive attack and the profound exhaustion that
followed, in which a mere flicker of breath at the top of the throat
was the only sign of life, and sometimes even that disappeared, and I
thought her gone. For years the child remained ailing and delicate,
requiring the tenderest care, but those weeks of anguish left a deeper
trace on mother than on child. Once she was out of danger I collapsed
physically, and lay in bed for a week unmoving, and then rose to face a
struggle which lasted for three years and two months, and nearly cost
me my life, the struggle which transformed me from a Christian into an
Atheist. The agony of the struggle was in the first nineteen months--a
time to be looked back upon with shrinking, as it was a hell to live
through at the time. For no one who has not felt it knows the fearful
anguish inflicted by doubt on the earnestly religious soul. There is in
life no other pain so horrible, so keen in its torture, so crushing in
its weight. It seems to shipwreck everything, to destroy the one steady
gleam of happiness "on the other side" that no earthly storm could
obscure; to make all life gloomy with a horror of despair, a darkness
that verily may be felt. Nothing but an imperious intellectual and
moral necessity can drive into doubt a religious mind, for it is as
though an earthquake shook the foundations of the soul, and the very
being quivers and sways under the shock. No life in the empty sky; no
gleam in the blackness of the night; no voice to break the deadly
silence; no hand outstretched to save. Empty-brained triflers who have
never tried to think, who take their creed as they take their fashions,
speak of Atheism as the outcome of foul life and vicious desires. In
their shallow heartlessness and shallower thought they cannot even
dimly imagine the anguish of entering the mere penumbra of the Eclipse
of Faith, much less the horror of that great darkness in which the
orphaned soul cries out into the infinite emptiness: "Is it a Devil
that has made the world? Is the echo, 'Children, ye have no Father,'
true? Is all blind chance, is all the clash of unconscious forces, or
are we the sentient toys of an Almighty Power that sports with our
agony, whose peals of awful mockery of laughter ring back answer to the
wailings of our despair?"

How true are the noble words of Mrs. Hamilton King:--

"For some may follow Truth from dawn to dark,
As a child follows by his mother's hand,
Knowing no fear, rejoicing all the way;
And unto some her face is as a Star
Set through an avenue of thorns and fires,
And waving branches black without a leaf;

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