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Memoirs of Sir Wemyss Reid 1842-1885 by Stuart J. Reid, ed.

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I received something like a shock when, having written an enthusiastic
but juvenile panegyric upon him on the occasion of one of his visits to
Newcastle, I learned that he had sent his secretary to buy a dozen copies
of the paper to send to his friends. That so great a man should have
thought a mere newspaper effusion worth noticing seemed to me altogether
incredible. The reader may smile at the confession, but I own I never
thought quite so much of Dickens, as a man, after this incident. This
only shows how high was the pedestal upon which I had placed him, and how
slight was my knowledge of human nature.

CHAPTER III.

MY LIFE-WORK BEGUN.

On the Staff of the _Newcastle Journal_--In a Dilemma--Lord John
Russell and Mr. Gladstone at Newcastle-upon-Tyne--Mr. Gladstone's
Triumphal Progress--A Memorable Colliery Disaster--A Pit-Sinker's
Heroism--Adventure at a Dickens Reading.

At last my term of probation came to an end. My friend and teacher, Mr.
Lowes, after a temporary absence from Newcastle, had returned to it to
undertake the editorship of the _Newcastle Journal_, a weekly Tory
newspaper which was about to appear in a daily edition. We had kept up
our friendship, and to my intense delight he offered me the post of chief
reporter on the daily paper. This was in the spring of 1861. My father
had come, reluctantly enough, to the conclusion that I must be allowed to
go my own way, and accordingly, on July 1st in that year, I entered on my
career as a professional journalist. On the previous day I had said
good-bye to the W.B. Lead Office, and to Mr. Fothergill, whose kindly
interest in my fortunes had never wavered, and whose own literary tastes
and sympathies led him at last to look with something like approval on
the step I was taking. Never was a young subaltern prouder of his first
commission than was I of an appointment which gave me a recognised
standing, however humble, on the English Press.

Nor was I without substantial reason for my delight at the change in my
lot. My work at the W.B. Lead Office had been light enough in all
conscience; but the drudgery of official routine, the strict keeping of
office hours, and the monotony which made one day the counterpart of any
other, were no more to my liking than they are to the liking of anyone
who is young and high-spirited. All this was now at an end. No special
hours had to be kept, and no two days were the same. Instead of the four
walls of my office, I now had the whole of the northern counties as my
sphere of work. To this hour I remember the delight with which on my
second morning at the _Journal_ office I set off, in company with
the reporters of the _Chronicle_ and the _Express_, to report
the Quarter Sessions at Hexham. A poor task no doubt it was, but it
involved a journey up the beautiful Tyne valley, and a glimpse of the old
abbey town; it meant, in short, the change from a life of drudgery to one
of adventure, and that morning I felt that I had recovered my lost youth.

But enough of my own feelings. The readiness with which I adapted myself
to my new surroundings, the zest with which I entered into the
friendships of my new comrades, certainly indicated that I had something,
at all events, of the Bohemian in my nature. Of the public events of that
year, 1861, there is comparatively little to be said. I remember, indeed,
that I happened to be acting for the first time as sub-editor in the
temporary absence of my friend, Mr. Lowes, when I received a telegram
announcing that the first shot had been fired in the American War. Some
two or three months later Newcastle was favoured with a visit from Lord
John Russell, who had recently accepted an earldom. He was entertained at
a great banquet in the Town Hall, whereat all the Whig notabilities of
the North of England assembled to do him honour. Now, in my days,
provincial reporters were an unsophisticated race. To a young journalist,
living in Newcastle, the journalism of London seemed so remote and
unattainable that it might as well have been in another planet. The sight
of a reporter for one of the London dailies was awe-inspiring, and the
notion of being called upon to work in the company of so august a being
almost took one's breath away.

It fell out that at the Russell banquet it was arranged that his speech
should be reported in short "turns" by the whole body of reporters
present. This is an arrangement now, I believe, in universal use, the
object being to get the report out quickly. But in 1861 it was almost
unknown on the provincial press, and this was my first experience of it.
Perhaps I was unnerved by the presence of a couple of _Times_
reporters, or perhaps my knowledge of shorthand was not then all that it
should have been. Be this as it may, I have to confess with regret that
in reporting my turn of the great statesman's speech I made one woeful
blunder. Lord Russell said (I quote from memory) that we saw now in the
New World that which had so often been seen in the Old--a struggle on the
one side for empire and on the other for independence. Now in the system
of shorthand which I had learned, the word "independence" is represented
by an arbitrary symbol, consisting of two dots, one above the other, like
a colon. When I came to write out my turn, I found to my horror that the
signification of this particular symbol had escaped my memory. There it
was, staring me in the face from my note-book, but what it meant for my
very life I could not at the moment tell. And the telegraph messengers
were pestering me for my copy, and, worst of all, the reporters from
London seemed to my guilty conscience to be eyeing me askance, and
wondering what the delay meant. In a desperate moment I made a guess, not
at the meaning of my symbol, but at some word which might take its place,
and possibly pass unnoticed; so I represented Lord Russell as having said
that we saw in the New World, what we had often seen in the old, a
struggle on the one side for empire, and on the other for power. If it
did not make absolute nonsense of the speaker's words, it certainly
robbed them of all their point and meaning, and yet history is based upon
blunders like this. And years afterwards I saw in a certain volume this
mutilated sentence printed as Lord Russell's judgment upon the causes of
the great rebellion. Never did anybody feel more ashamed of himself than
I did at that time, and never again was I caught in a similar dilemma.

Newcastle was very fond in those days of entertaining the distinguished
stranger. Lord Russell's visit in 1861 had been such a success that
twelve months later the Liberals of the town resolved to invite Mr.
Gladstone to be their guest. Mr. Gladstone was at that time Chancellor of
the Exchequer. It was not very long since he had ceased to be a
Conservative; but already he had incurred the suspicions of a section of
the Liberal Party, and the old Whigs of Northumberland would have nothing
to do with his visit to the Tyne. But Mr. Gladstone did not need the
sympathy or countenance of the Brahmins of Liberalism. He came, he was
seen, and he conquered. Rarely have I seen anything to compare with the
enthusiasm which fired the people of Tyneside during the two days he
spent amongst them in October, 1862. I have said elsewhere that this
visit was one of the turning-points in Mr. Gladstone's life. He himself
practically acknowledged this to me in after-days. It was the first
occasion in his career on which he had been brought into close contact
with a great industrial community. It was the first time that he was
treated as the popular idol by an overwhelming multitude of his fellow
men. On the first day of his visit he was entertained at a banquet in the
Town Hall, and it was in his speech after dinner that he made one of the
notable mistakes of his great career. The Civil War in America, to which
Lord Russell had alluded twelve months before, was still raging. I need
hardly say that the sympathies of the upper classes were enthusiastically
with the South. The names of the public men of eminence who favoured the
North might have been counted upon one's fingers. Mr. Gladstone believed
in the cause of the Confederates, and in this speech at Newcastle he
declared that Jefferson Davis had created not merely an army and a navy,
but a nation. The speech caused a great sensation. Naturally enough, it
aroused bitter indignation on the other side of the Atlantic, whilst the
sympathisers with the North in this country felt deeply aggrieved by it.
In subsequent years Mr. Gladstone publicly made amends to the great
Republic for his error of judgment, but it was a long time before he was
allowed to forget it.

I had no misadventure in reporting this memorable speech. It was the
first occasion on which I had ever heard Mr. Gladstone speak, and it is
even fresher in my recollection than my last sight of him shortly before
his death. I can recall his tall, upright figure, the handsome, open
countenance, as mobile as an actor's, the flashing eye that in moments of
passion lit up so wonderfully, the crop of waving brown-black hair. I
have seldom seen a finer-looking man. I hear once again the beautiful
voice, so sonorous, so varied in tone, so emphatic in accent. To the boy
of twenty a first sight of this great historic figure was a revelation.
He seemed different from everybody else, almost a being from another
world. I suppose that my admiration of Mr. Gladstone, which some have
considered idolatrous, is to be dated from that hour. Thirty years
afterwards I still regarded him as my political leader, and as the chief
of men.

On the second day of his visit to Newcastle, Mr. Gladstone, as the guest
of the River Tyne Commissioners, steamed down the Tyne from Newcastle to
its mouth. His progress was like that of a conqueror returning from the
wars. The firing of cannon, the waving of flags, the cheering of
thousands, acclaimed his passage down the coaly stream. An immense train
of steamers and barges, all gaily decorated, followed in his wake. At
different points of the journey his steamer was brought to a standstill,
in order that addresses of welcome might be presented to him by different
public bodies. He made speeches without end in reply. I think I reported
eight of them myself. It was evident that he was deeply impressed by this
demonstration, and I have always held that it was on that fateful day in
October, 1862, that he discovered that his unpopularity with the upper
classes was more than counterbalanced by his hold upon the affections of
the people. As we were returning to Newcastle in the evening, I happened
to be standing near Mrs. Gladstone, and she entered into conversation
with me. It was the first time that I had ever seen her. "I think this
has been the happiest day of my life," she said to me, with that
exuberant enthusiasm in the cause of her illustrious husband which was
one of the sweetest and noblest traits of her character. Exactly twenty
years later, on October 8th, 1882, I sat beside Mrs. Gladstone at dinner
at Leeds, where the Prime Minister had just been making a series of
memorable speeches, and had received a welcome which even surpassed that
at Newcastle in 1862. I recalled our meeting on the steamboat twenty
years before, and her face kindled with an expression of delight. "Ah,"
she said, "I shall never forget that day! It was the first time, you
know, that _he_ was received as he deserved to be."

My reporting experiences at Newcastle were as varied as those of most
journalists. One day I would be listening to a bishop's charge; the next,
in some beautiful spot in the valley of the North Tyne, I would be
professing to criticise shorthorns at a cattle show, and on the third day
it might be my misfortune to have to be present at an execution. Colliery
accidents, boat races (for which the Tyne has long been famous),
performances at the theatre--all these came within the scope of my duty.
It was admirable training, and has turned out many a good journalist.
Always to be on the alert, so that no important item of news should be
missed by my paper; always to be ready to reel off a column of readable
"copy" on any subject whatever; always to be prepared for any duty that
might turn up--these were among the necessary qualifications for my post.
Then, as the _Journal_ was short-handed, it sometimes fell to my lot
to undertake tasks which usually lie outside the reporter's sphere.
Sometimes I had to take a turn at sub-editing, and sometimes I had even
to write a leader. My first attempt at leader-writing for the
_Journal_ was on a momentous occasion--the death of the Prince
Consort. This was an event which for a time lightened my duties
considerably. All public festivities were suspended; meetings of every
kind were put off, and for a space of some weeks the country was spared
the infliction of reading reports of speeches.

It was just about a month after the death of the Prince Consort that the
most notable incident connected with my career as a reporter at Newcastle
occurred. This was the terrible disaster at the Hartley New Pit, a
colliery some fifteen miles from Newcastle, near the bleak Northumberland
coast. The accident was of a peculiar character, and it excited an
extraordinary amount of public interest. Up to that time it had been
lawful to work coal mines with a single shaft, so that there was only one
possible mode of egress for the men at work in the pit. Hartley was one
of these single shaft collieries, and on the morning of Thursday, January
17th, 1862, more than two hundred men and boys were suddenly made
prisoners in the workings by the blocking of this shaft. The beam of a
pumping engine erected directly over the mouth of the pit broke, and one
half of the beam--a piece of metal weighing some fifteen tons--fell down
the shaft. It tore down the sides in its descent, and finally lodged at a
point above the seam in which the men were working, with an immense mass
of _dbris_ from the shaft walls piled above it.

The suspense of the relatives of the buried men and boys was terrible,
and the whole civilised world seemed to share their emotion. After the
accident had occurred, signals had been exchanged between the buried men
and those at the surface, but none could tell how long the former might
be able to sustain life in the vitiated atmosphere of the mine, when
ventilation was no longer possible. I reached Hartley a few hours after
the breaking of the beam, and in the hand-to-hand encounter with death at
that forlorn and desolate spot I first became acquainted at close
quarters with the tragic realities of life. For a full week in that
bitter January weather I may be said to have lived on the pit platform.
From ten in the morning till long after midnight I remained there,
writing hourly despatches for my paper; then I drove to Newcastle, a
cold, dark journey of a couple of hours, and scribbled my latest bulletin
at the _Journal_ office. This done, I lay down on a pile of
newspapers in the rat-haunted office, and snatched a few hours' sleep
before returning to the post of duty. But some nights it was impossible
to leave the mouth of the pit even for a moment, for none could tell when
the captives might be reached; so I sat with the doctors, the mining
engineers, and one or two colleagues before the fire which gave us a
partial warmth, though it did not shield us from the pitiless winds and
the drifting sleet and snow, which often effaced my "copy" more quickly
than I wrote it. It was a time of hardship and endurance, not soon to be
forgotten; but it was also a time which tested to the full the
capacities, both mental and physical, of the journalist, and I at least
derived nothing but benefit from that rough experience.

For a full week the work of re-opening the shaft went on by night and
day, and there were wives and parents who during all that week hardly
left the neighbourhood of the pit for a single hour. The task of
re-opening the shaft was one of extreme peril. The men had to be lowered
to their work at the end of a rope in which a loop had been made, which
was secured round their bodies. The two chief dangers they had to face
were the continual falling in of the sides of the shaft and the presence
of noxious gases. They never flinched, however, and I witnessed on that
dreary pit platform at Hartley that which I have always considered the
bravest deed I ever saw. I and a handful of watchers were dozing round
the open fire in the early hours of a bitter winter morning, just one
week after the accident had happened, when we were suddenly aroused by an
urgent signal from the shaft, evidently coming from the men working far
below. We thought that the imprisoned miners had been reached, and
eagerly we waited till the first messenger was brought to the surface.
Alas! when he was raised to the mouth of the shaft we saw that he was one
of the sinkers, and was unconscious--apparently, indeed, dead. Whilst the
doctor in attendance was seeking to restore him, other men were brought
up, nearly all in the same condition, until the whole of the sinkers who
had been engaged in their perilous task of mercy were laid in a row,
pallid and unconscious, at our feet. The truth was at once apparent. The
obstacle which had so long blocked the shaft had at last been removed,
but a deadly gas--carbon dioxide--had at once ascended from the
long-sealed workings, and we knew that the men we had been trying to save
must be beyond the reach of help.

One of the sinkers who lay insensible on the platform was the son of the
master-sinker, Coulson by name. I saw Coulson, when he realised what had
happened, stoop down and kiss the unconscious lips of his son, and then,
without a word or a sign of hesitation, he calmly took his place in the
loop, and ordered the attendants to lower him into the pit. None dared
say him nay, for there was still a last faint possibility that some one
among the imprisoned miners might yet be alive. But it seemed to us on
the pit-heap that the brave old man was going to certain death, and we
never expected to see him alive again when he vanished from our sight. He
did come back alive, however, and brought with him the terrible story of
what he had seen. All the two hundred imprisoned colliers were dead. They
were found sitting in long rows in the workings adjoining the shaft. Most
had their heads buried in their hands, but here and there friends sat
with intertwined arms, whilst fathers whose boys were working with them
in the pit were in every case found with their lads clasped in their
arms. They had all died very peacefully, and certainly not more than
forty-eight hours after the closing of the shaft. One of the over-men had
kept a diary of events. It told how some had succumbed to the fatal
atmosphere before others, and how, in the depths of the mine, a
prayer-meeting had been held, and "Brother Tibbs" had "exhorted" his
fellow-sufferers. There was something noble in this peaceful ending of a
life of toil and danger. It affected the whole country profoundly. It
drew from the Queen, who herself had been but a few weeks a widow, a
letter of sympathy which touched the heart of the nation. A subscription
was raised for the widows and orphans on so liberal a scale that all
their wants were more than provided for. I had myself the pleasure of
starting a subscription for Coulson and his heroic fellow-workers in the
shaft, which realised a handsome sum; and I was present in the Town Hall
at Newcastle when they were decorated with the medals they deserved so
well.

Incidentally, this great disaster affected my own career. My accounts,
written at the pit mouth from day to day, had been widely quoted and read
throughout the country, and it was desired that I should reprint them.
They were accordingly republished for the benefit of the fund raised for
the sinkers, and had a large sale. As my name appeared on the reprint, it
gave me a certain passing renown in journalistic circles, and materially
aided me in my future professional life.

Charles Dickens, as I have already mentioned, came to Newcastle to read
from his works during my reportership on the _Journal_. I was, of
course, an enthusiastic admirer of his, though, as I have said, Thackeray
was my chief hero as a novelist. I have already spoken of the boyish
eulogium which I wrote upon Dickens in anticipation of his visit.

The evening of his first reading was marked by an incident which nearly
cut short my career. The hall where he was to read was full to the door
when I arrived. With three ladies--who, like myself, had come too late--I
was in danger of being excluded. A form was, however, brought in, and
placed directly beneath the platform, so close to it that we had to
incline our heads at an uncomfortable angle in order to see the reader's
face. Suddenly, before the reading had proceeded very far, the heavy
proscenium, which Dickens always carried about with him for the purpose
of his readings, fell with a crash over me and the three ladies on the
form. We were so near that the top of the proscenium happily fell beyond
us, and we escaped with a severe fright. Years afterwards I was amused to
read, in one of the published letters of Dickens to his sister-in-law, an
account of this accident, in which the novelist told how his gasman had
said afterwards: "The master stood it like a brick." But it was not upon
the master, but upon me and the three ladies that that terrible
proscenium suddenly descended.

CHAPTER IV.

FROM REPORTER TO EDITOR.

First Visit to London--The Capital in 1862--Acquaintance with
Sothern--Bursting of the Bradfield Reservoir--Attendance at Public
Executions and at Floggings--Assuming the Editorship of the _Preston
Guardian_--Political and Literary Influences--Great Speeches by
Gladstone and Bright--Bright's Contempt for Palmerston--Robertson
Gladstone Defends his Brother--Death of Abraham Lincoln--Meeting with his
Granddaughter.

My first visit to London was on the occasion of the opening of the
International Exhibition of 1862. The abominable system of Parliamentary
trains, which made it necessary that the third-class passenger should
rise in the middle of the night if he had to make a journey of any
length, was then in force. I had, therefore, to start at five o'clock in
the morning in order that I might reach London in the evening. I can
still recall some of the emotions of that journey. London was to me the
city of all cities--the one great goal of the journalist's ambition. I
took short views of life even then, but my secret hope, ever present to
my mind, was that I might some day attain a post in connection with the
London Press. As the crawling train came into the southern
counties--farther south than I had ever been in my life before--I
remember counting the milestones on the road, and suffering all the
emotions of the youth in "Locksley Hall" as he draws nearer to the
world's central point.

My first impression, when I found myself in the cab that was to carry me
to the Brompton Road, where lodgings had been engaged for me, was one of
bewilderment at the length of the streets. I had studied a plan of
London, and thought from it that I could, in case of need, find my way
easily on foot from King's Cross to Brompton. Now I discovered, to my
dismay, that streets which had seemed no longer than those with which I
was familiar at Newcastle stretched to a length that was apparently
interminable; whilst instead of one unbroken thoroughfare I was rattled
in my cab through squares and streets innumerable, the names of none of
which had I been able to read upon my plan. My next impression was one of
delight at the fidelity with which little bits of street scenery had been
portrayed by John Leech in _Punch_. In Newcastle we knew nothing of
the kitchen area and the portico. I was filled with joy when, in passing
through the Bloomsbury squares, I recognised, as I thought, the very
houses, porticoes, and areas that Leech had made the background for his
magnificent flunkeys and neat parlour-maids.

The streets of London were a good deal dingier and dirtier in 1862 than
they are to-day, and they were certainly vastly noisier. The wooden
pavement was unknown, and the roar of traffic in crowded thoroughfares
was positively deafening. The window-boxes filled with the flowers that
are now so common and so pretty a feature of the London summer were rare,
as also were the coloured awnings and outside blinds now almost universal
in the better-class of thoroughfares. Hyde Park was untidy and neglected,
flower-beds being practically unknown. The fine open space at Hyde Park
Corner did not exist, and Piccadilly Circus was a circus really, and one
of very narrow extent. But though far from possessing the magnificence of
which it can now boast, London forty years ago had certain advantages
over the city of to-day. There were no enormous piles of flats shutting
out air and light from the streets, where both are so much needed. Few of
the houses were more than four storeys in height, and the irregular
architecture which then prevailed in Piccadilly--that most delightful of
all the streets of the world--added to its attractiveness. But I must not
be led into a digression upon London, a city so great and wonderful that
a volume might easily be filled with the story of the associations it
holds in my memory.

On the day after my arrival in town I was present at the State Opening of
the Great Exhibition of 1862, the second--and apparently the last--of the
international exhibitions held in London. Its interest was sensibly
diminished by the fact that, in consequence of the death of the Prince
Consort, neither the Queen nor any member of her family was present. The
Duke of Cambridge, then in the prime of his manhood, took the leading
part in the ceremony, and he had as his supporters Prince Frederick of
Prussia, afterwards the Emperor Frederick, and the Prince of Hesse. We
were not so clever in those days at arranging spectacles as we have since
become, and, shortly before the hour fixed for the opening ceremony, a
good deal of confusion still reigned upon the das set apart for the
official notabilities. I was amused to see Lord Granville, who was, if I
remember aright, chairman of the Royal Commissioners, broom in hand,
vigorously sweeping the carpet in front of the State chairs only a few
moments before he had to rush off to receive the Duke of Cambridge. My
most vivid recollection of the opening ceremony is the singing of
Tennyson's fine ode, composed for the occasion. I can still recall the
cadence of the first lines as they fell upon my ears.

A visit to the House of Commons, where I remember hearing speeches from
Lord Palmerston and Sir George Cornewall Lewis, and where I gazed with
longing eyes upon the occupants of the reporters' gallery, fills up my
memories of this first sight of London. I might, indeed, have included in
them some reference to Sothern, the actor, who was then at the height of
his glory in the famous part of Lord Dundreary. But it was at Newcastle,
not in London, that I actually made Sothern's acquaintance. No actor ever
made a single character so famous as this part of Dundreary was made by
Sothern. When he came to Newcastle on his first provincial tour I met
him, and spent some pleasant evenings with him after the play. He was a
man of refined speech and good social gifts. His besetting weakness, as I
learned even then, was that addiction to practical jokes which, on more
than one occasion in his subsequent career, involved him in unpleasant
situations. One of his favourite tricks was to select some portly and
self-important gentleman whom he saw passing along Piccadilly or Oxford
Street, and, rushing up to him, to claim him as his dearly loved but
long-lost uncle. The more strenuously the victim denied the relationship,
the more eloquently pathetic and indignant became Sothern. A crowd always
collected quickly, and more than once the police were summoned to relieve
the putative uncle from the presence of his unwelcome nephew.

Sothern told me that he was driven nearly mad during the long run of Lord
Dundreary--or, rather, _Our American Cousin_, as the play was
named--at the Haymarket. He found it almost impossible to repeat his own
jokes before a house in which he invariably recognised many familiar
faces. He was constantly driven to vary his "gag," in order to amuse
these veterans of the theatre, and it was in a large measure to escape
from them that he made his provincial tour. In one of his conversations
on the stage with the fair Georgina, who was endeavouring to entrap him
into marriage, he used sometimes, at the moment when the lady thought
that he was about to propose, to put a question of a very different kind:
"Can you wag your left ear?" I asked him one day what had made him invent
so ridiculous a question as this. "Because I _can_ wag my left ear,"
was his prompt response, and straightway I saw the organ in question
flapping about like a sail in a breeze. The Theatre Royal at Newcastle in
those days was under the management of Mr. E. D. Davis, a well-known
figure in the provincial theatrical world. It was before the days of
touring companies, and Mr. Davis was supported by an excellent body of
artists, including his brother and his son Alfred, as well as his niece
Emily Cross. I went to the theatre in the dignified capacity of dramatic
critic; but neither then, nor at any subsequent period of my life, did I
fall a victim to that passion for the drama to which so many Pressmen
succumb. Indeed, I have a lively recollection of incurring the
well-merited reproof of pretty Miss Cross for having engaged in one of
the stage boxes in a hot political discussion with another Newcastle
journalist, Mr. Joseph Cowen to wit. Yet it was at Newcastle that I had
my first and last association with dramatic authorship. One of the
Davises had written a play which he had called _Wild Flowers_. He
asked me to read the manuscript, and when I had done so I suggested that
it should be entitled _The Marriage Contract_, an emendation which
the author duly accepted.

My term of service on the Newcastle Press came to an end sooner than I
had anticipated. The chief feature of my reporting experiences in 1863
was the meeting of the British Association in my native town. There was
keen rivalry between the _Journal_ and the _Chronicle_--Mr.
Cowen's newspaper--with regard to the reporting of all local matters.
Unfortunately for me, the _Chronicle_ was a wealthy paper, and the
_Journal_ a very poor one. I had, therefore, to wage an unequal war
with my richer rival. A British Association meeting throws a heavy strain
upon the newspapers of the town in which it takes place. Half-a-dozen
sections meet every day, and all must be reported; whilst there are, in
addition, evening meetings and social functions, the story of which must
be told from day to day. Sir William Armstrong, then just coming into
fame as a maker of guns, though long known to Newcastle as a great
mechanical engineer and the inventor of the hydraulic crane, was the
president of the meeting. This added to the pride which the people of
Newcastle felt in the fact that their town had been chosen for the scene
of so distinguished a gathering. In those days local patriotism ran very
high in the old town. We were intensely provincial, and our favourite
belief was that Newcastle stood unrivalled among the cities of the earth.
When any distinguished stranger came amongst us--as, for example, Mr.
Gladstone, on the occasion to which I have already referred--we washed
our face, and put on our best clothes in order to impress the visitor. We
had something of the perfervid nature of the Scot in our characters, and
rose to extraordinary heights of enthusiasm on very indifferent pretexts.
It followed that when we had so distinguished a body as the British
Association to receive as our guests, and when we had furnished in one of
our own citizens the president of the meeting, we almost went out of our
minds in our exultant delight. I do not know if Newcastle is still
capable of these transports of enthusiasm. I rather think that the local
patriotism which distinguished so many of our cities fifty years ago is
now, in these days of incessant intercommunication, merged in the larger
patriotism of the nation. Be this as it may, I must explain that my
dissertation on the manner in which Newcastle received the British
Association in 1863 is merely intended to account for the fact that, as a
result of that meeting, I suffered from a serious illness, brought on by
anxiety and overwork. I found that reporting, when you had to compete
with a formidable rival possessing a staff three times as large as your
own, was laborious, as well as exciting; and having a desire to attempt
literary work upon a higher level, I gave up my position as a reporter,
and adopted instead the vocation of a leader-writer.

My last bit of work as a reporter for the _Newcastle Journal_ was in
describing the accident which happened at Bradfield, near Sheffield, in
the spring of 1864. The dam of the great reservoir from which Sheffield
drew its water supply burst, and a torrent of water, many feet in depth,
and nearly a quarter of a mile in width, suddenly rushed down a narrow
valley, and flooded the lower part of Sheffield. The tragic occurrence
was subsequently described by Charles Reade in his novel, "Put Yourself
in His Place." Reade was not an eye-witness of the scene that was
presented after the flood had spent its force, but I can bear testimony
to the fact that he described it accurately. Certainly it was a wonderful
and terrible sight that was presented when I visited the place a few
hours after the bursting of the dam. The streets of Sheffield were
ploughed up to the depth of many feet; lamp-posts were twisted like wire,
and many houses either stood tottering with one of their sides clean
swept away, or lay a mere heap of ruins. Hundreds of lives were lost. A
great battle could not have dealt death more freely than did this flood.
Most of the victims were drowned in their beds, and it was a terrible
sight to see the long rows of corpses, clad in night-dresses, that were
laid out in the public building that had been hastily turned into a
mortuary. I think, indeed, the horror of that spectacle surpassed even
that of the scene at Hartley New Pit, when the victims of the accident
there were disinterred.

The newspaper reporter has still, in the discharge of his duty, to see
many strange and painful things, but he is now spared some of the most
trying sights to which he was exposed in my reporting days. Among these,
none was so painful and so revolting as a public execution. I attended
several executions during my connection with the Newcastle Press, and I
was a witness in 1868 of the last public execution in England--that of
Barrett, the Fenian, of whom I shall have more to say by-and-by. I am
thankful to know that the necessity of attendance at these dreadful
scenes is no longer imposed upon the journalist, and I feel a profound
pity for those officials who are compelled by an imperative duty to be
present at the private strangling of their fellow-creatures. It is true,
however, that use hardens the heart and deadens the nerves. I remember
how, on the first occasion of witnessing an execution, as I stood
trembling at the foot of the scaffold on which the victim was about to
appear, I noticed an old reporter, for whom I entertained a great
personal respect, pacing up and down beside me, reading the New
Testament. In the passion of horror and pity that filled my young heart,
I concluded that my friend was seeking spiritual comfort in view of the
event in which we were about to take part as spectators and recorders. I
said something to him about the horror of the act we were shortly to
witness. He looked up with a placid smile from his reading, and said
gently--for he was essentially a gentle man--"Yes, very sad, very sad;
but let us be thankful it isn't raining." And then he calmly returned to
his daily reading of the Word. If even gentle hearts can thus grow
callous, what must be the "moral effect" of an execution upon those who
are already brutalised?

Another unpleasant sight which reporters are now spared is the flogging
of garrotters. When the Act authorising this punishment was passed,
provision was made that the representatives of the Press should be
present when it was inflicted. More than once I have had to witness these
floggings in the course of my ordinary duty. I confess that they did not
affect me as they seemed to affect most of my colleagues. An execution,
with the violent thrusting of a human soul into the unknown, moved me
deeply; but the physical punishment of a ruffian who had himself
inflicted atrocious suffering upon some innocent person seemed to be such
well-deserved retribution that even the coward's shrieks for mercy made
no impression upon my nerves; and yet I have seen reporters who could
laugh and joke at an execution faint at the flogging of a garrotter. So
differently are human beings constituted!

At the end of June, 1864, I left my native town, and went to Preston to
undertake editorial duties in connection with the _Preston
Guardian_--the leading Liberal paper in North Lancashire. It was a
custom amongst journalists in those days always to give a farewell
entertainment to a brother of the Press when he quitted a town where he
had been engaged for any length of time. I was entertained at the usual
complimentary dinner, and was made the recipient of a very handsome
testimonial. I felt most unfeignedly that I had not deserved it, yet the
possession of the gold watch and collection of standard books subscribed
for out of the scanty earnings of my colleagues was a real comfort to me
when, with a sad heart, I left the sacred shelter of my home and quitted
the town in which the whole of my life up to that moment had been spent.
I reached Preston one summer evening as homesick as any lad could have
been. I did not know the name of a single person in the town except that
of the proprietor of the _Guardian_, Mr. Toulmin. I did not even
know the name of an hotel at which to stay for the night. A porter at the
railway station told me the name of the chief inn, and thither I repaired
with my belongings.

An amusing experience befell me here, which, as it relates to a state of
things that is now obsolete, I may recount. On the day after my arrival,
having introduced myself at the _Guardian_ office, and taken formal
possession of my new post, I returned to my hotel in time for the daily
dinner which the waitress had informed me was served at one o'clock. The
coffee-room, when I entered it, was filled by commercial travellers, all
hovering with hungry looks around the table that had been laid for
dinner. They seemed relieved when I, as shy a youth as could anywhere be
found, entered the room, and instantly seated themselves at the table. I
looked round for some corner in which I might hide myself from what
seemed to me to be their almost ferocious gaze, and was filled with alarm
when I found that the only seat left vacant was that at the head of the
table. Instinctively I shrank from so conspicuous a place, and as I moved
away the hungry company seemed to glare at me more fiercely than ever. A
waitress approached me, and saying, "You are president of the day, sir,"
motioned me to the vacant seat at the head of the board. I do not think I
was ever more miserable or more frightened in my life than when, under
her imperious direction, I took my seat and met the gaze of a dozen
hungry men: on the sideboard stood the soup tureens, the waiting-maids
beside them, but not a cover was lifted or a motion made, and dead
silence filled the room. I sat in blushing bewilderment, waiting for the
dinner to be served. Suddenly, from the other end of the table, a harsh
voice issued from the lips of a burly, red-faced man. "Mr. President, if
you are a Christian, you'll perhaps be good enough to say grace, and let
us get to our dinner, which we want very badly." I managed to stammer
forth the formula of my childhood, and thought the worst was over. Not a
bit of it. No sooner had the soup been audibly consumed than the hated
voice from the foot of the table again assailed me. "Mr. President, I
really don't know what you mean by neglecting your duties in this way,
but let me tell you that this is not a company of teetotallers." "Ask
them what wine they would like," whispered the waitress behind me, who
saw my plight, and who evidently pitied it, for she added, "Don't let
that nasty man at the other end of the table bully you." But I was
incapable of maintaining the deception in which I had been innocently
involved, and, taking my courage in both hands, I frankly told the
company that I was not a commercial traveller, had never in my life dined
at a commercial table, and, as I knew nothing of the usages of such a
place, would beg the gentleman at the other end of the table to take upon
himself the duties of president. There was a burst of laughter from the
majority of the diners, and good-humour was instantly restored. My
_vis--vis_, who was addressed as "Mr. Vice," was, indeed, somewhat
grumpy; but I had won the goodwill of the others, and was allowed to look
on, a silent spectator, whilst the many mystic rites and usages which
distinguished the "commercial table" of that epoch were duly celebrated.
Strange to say, that was not only my first but my last experience of the
kind, and now I imagine that the old customs of the road--the
wine-drinking, the speech-making, the toasts, and the graces before and
after meat--are all things of the past.

My editorial career at Preston began with a somewhat painful and even
dramatic episode. I had returned to the office, after my dinner with the
commercial travellers, in order to attend to my duties for the day. The
_Guardian_ was published twice a week--on Wednesday and Saturday.
This was Tuesday afternoon. The proprietor had informed me that he was
already provided with a leading article for Wednesday's publication, and
my duties were therefore confined to the sub-editing of the news and the
writing of a few editorial paragraphs. Suddenly Mr. Toulmin entered my
room, and, without uttering a word, placed a telegram on the desk before
me. It consisted of these words, still imprinted on my memory:
"Washington Wilkes died suddenly last night while addressing a public
meeting." I knew Mr. Wilkes by name as a Radical journalist of
considerable ability, who wrote regularly for the _Morning Star_.
Accordingly I expressed my regret on hearing of his death. "Yes," said
Mr. Toulmin, bluntly; "that's all very well, but now you'll have to write
the leader for to-morrow, for Wilkes was to have written it." Under these
startling circumstances I penned my first leading article for the
_Preston Guardian_. Though I thus stepped into the shoes of a dead
man, I fear that I can hardly have filled them; but this was, on the
whole, not to be wondered at.

Mr. Toulmin, my new employer, was a man of marked character. Long before
my business connection with him ceased, I learned to regard him with
genuine respect and liking, and these feelings I entertained for him to
the day of his death. But his somewhat rough exterior was not altogether
prepossessing, and when I came to him first as a raw lad, shy, sensitive,
and intolerant of manners that were foreign to my own, I must frankly
confess that I felt repelled by him. Besides, I quickly discovered that I
should have to fight my own battles if I wished to preserve my
professional rights and dignity. I had been engaged as editor and
sub-editor of the _Guardian_, and as it was my first editorship, it
need hardly be said that I valued my position highly. Mr. Toulmin, I
subsequently found, had a reputation for getting all he could out of the
members of his staff without much regard to the customs of journalism.
Thus, I had scarcely finished the article which would have been written
by Washington Wilkes but for his sudden death, when Mr. Toulmin, coming
into my room, expressed his warm satisfaction at the quickness with which
I had turned out my work; then, with an almost paternal smile upon his
face, he laid before me some pages of manuscript, and in an insinuating
voice said: "Would you mind keeping your eye upon this whilst I run over
this proof?" In an instant I grasped his meaning. I had been engaged as
editor, and he proposed to fill up my spare time by employing me as a
proof-reader. For a moment I was almost apoplectic with indignation at
what I regarded as an outrage upon my dignity. To this day I am thankful
that I controlled my temper, but I am not less thankful that I had the
courage--and it required some courage--to say to him, with a smile as
insinuating as his own: "I should have been delighted, but unfortunately
I have an engagement out of doors." And thereupon I left the room,
triumphant.

Never again did Mr. Toulmin invite me to assist him in reading a proof,
and long afterwards he made frank admission to me of the fact that this
incident proved that I was "not going to be put upon." Very soon I found
that he was not only a kind-hearted but a very able man. He had begun
life, at the age of six, in a cotton factory. The statement to-day is
hardly credible, but such is the fact. In those cruel times, when no Lord
Ashley had as yet arisen to open the door of the workman's prison-house
and set the children free, this poor child had been shut up from six in
the morning till six at night in the fetid atmosphere of a cotton-mill.
God knows what the economic value of such a weakling's labour may have
been! One would think that a South Carolina planter would have been wiser
than to work his "stock" at such an age. Be this as it may, my friend had
passed through this terrible apprenticeship to toil--always hungry,
always tired; and had not only survived it, but emerged from it a man.
When I knew him he could talk calmly of the horrors of his childhood, but
there was an undercurrent of bitterness in his reference to those times
which one could understand and respect. He was an ardent and convinced
Liberal, and I think that I owe more to his teaching for the character of
my own political views than I owe to anybody else.

When I went to Lancashire in 1864 the terrible effects of the cotton
famine were everywhere to be seen. History has done justice to the noble
fortitude with which the operatives of Lancashire "clemmed" (starved) in
silence during that awful time. Never shall I forget the pale, pinched
faces of the men and women as they walked to and from their daily labour.
The worst of the struggle was over, but hundreds of great mills were
still closed, and those which were open only ran half-time. The working
classes in Lancashire, as in most places, were on the side of the North
in the American Civil War, and not even the sufferings which that war
caused them, made them abate their opposition to the slave-holding South.
But in Lancashire, as elsewhere, the upper classes--with the exception of
the few who followed the noble leadership of John Bright--were
enthusiasts on the side of the South, and, if they had dared, would have
urged English intervention on behalf of the Confederate States. There was
thus a strong and marked difference of opinion between the upper and the
lower classes in Lancashire, as elsewhere. The great question in domestic
politics was that of Parliamentary reform. Advanced Liberals believed
that if only the franchise was enlarged, and the working-man admitted
within the pale, Liberal principles and ideas would henceforward triumph
permanently in our national politics, and they were, consequently, eager
to bring about this great constitutional change. Tories also believed
that this would be the effect of the enlargement of the franchise, and
they naturally opposed it vehemently. Neither party foresaw that the
elements common to human nature everywhere would influence the course of
politics just as fully after the working men had been admitted within the
pale of the Constitution as before, and that we should find even amongst
the lower orders the same differences between Liberals and Conservatives
as prevailed in the middle class.

The sober Whiggish turn of mind which I had inherited from my father
influenced me greatly in those days. Like the rest of the world, I
believed that to admit the working classes to the franchise would be to
give democracy a free rein, and to bring about changes, both social and
political, of an extreme kind. Many of the changes then suggested did not
seem to me to be wise. For this reason I could not enter as heartily as I
might otherwise have done into the demand for Parliamentary reform. To go
slowly, I thought, would be to go safely. From this Laodicean frame of
mind I was rescued by Mr. Toulmin. It was not only that he could speak of
the dark days at the beginning of the century, and of the inequality and
injustice which then prevailed under Tory rule in England; he was able
also to point out the contrast between the unselfish and heroic conduct
of the Lancashire operatives with regard to the American Civil War, and
that of their superiors, in whose hands the political destinies of the
country rested. He was in the habit of enforcing his broad and sensible
arguments on the subject of Parliamentary reform by means of a quaint
little diagram, which he was continually presenting to those with whom he
engaged in argument. "Look at this," he would say, pointing to an
inverted pyramid, "that is the British constitution as it is at present.
Does it not strike you as being rather top-heavy, and not unlikely to
topple over in a storm? Now look at this," and he placed the pyramid on
its proper base. "That is what I want to see, and you'll agree with me
it's a great deal safer than the other way." I thought of Tennyson's
words: "Broad-based upon her people's will," and felt that there was more
in the rude little diagram than in many subtle and learned arguments.

It was not only from my intercourse with Mr. Toulmin that I derived
mental profit in those days. I was always a rapid worker, and I speedily
found that two days and a half in each week sufficed to enable me to
discharge my duties at the _Guardian_ office. The ample leisure
which I thus enjoyed I devoted to reading, and in my lonely lodgings I
spent hours each day in study. As I look back upon that time I feel again
stealing over me like a vivifying flood the influence of Carlyle, under
the spell of whose teaching and inspiration I then practically came for
the first time. The companions of my solitude in those days were at least
not ignoble ones. Carlyle, Browning--not yet the victim of the Browning
Society--Thackeray, and most of our great historians, were always by my
side, and my mind gradually expanded as it absorbed their words and
thoughts. In one respect Preston has always seemed to me to be unique
among English towns. The centre of the town, if I may commit a bull, lay
at a point on its circumference. The Town Hall, the parish church, the
leading business thoroughfare, the railway station, and the
_Guardian_ office were all close to the river Ribble, separated from
it only by the beautiful Avenham Park, where the residences of the local
aristocracy were to be found. All the industrial part of the town, and
the houses of the operatives, lay farther away from the river. Across the
river there was nothing but open country. My modest lodgings in Regent
Street were at the same time within three minutes' walk of the
_Guardian_ office and of the old wooden bridge that crossed the
Ribble. Thus I could escape almost directly from the town into the open
country, and many were the hours I spent in delightful solitary rambles
through the lanes and fields of rural Lancashire. It is a good thing for
a young man to have time for solitary thinking, and no one who is worth
his salt can enjoy the kind of solitude which fell to my lot at Preston
without gaining by it. If I went there a boy, I left the place, after my
eighteen months of editorship, a man.

Of my newspaper experiences at Preston there is not much to record. Two
notable speeches that I heard and reported--although I would not read
proofs I was quite willing to oblige Mr. Toulmin by keeping up my
practice as a shorthand writer--recur to me. One was a speech made in
1865 by Mr. Gladstone at Manchester. The chief memory it has left with me
is of the touching and stately eloquence with which he told his audience
that he felt that his own life's work was drawing to a close. Of the men
with whom he had entered upon public life, he declared the majority had
passed away, and that fact reminded him that he could not reasonably
expect that his own time could be much further prolonged. No one who
heard him could have imagined that thirty years of public service still
lay before the speaker. The other speech was still more notable, for it
introduced me for the first time to the greatest of all the orators of
the nineteenth century, John Bright. Mr. Bright's speech, which was
delivered at Blackburn, promised to be of peculiar interest, inasmuch as
he made it only a few days after the death of Lord Palmerston, in
October, 1865. Everybody was curious to know what the great Liberal would
say of the man whose policy he had so often opposed, and with whom he had
so often crossed swords on the floor of Parliament. I went to Blackburn
as curious as anybody else. Bright made a long speech, and from beginning
to end he never mentioned the name of Palmerston. Years afterwards, in a
spirit, I fear, slightly tinged with malice, I would sometimes supply
that notable omission by naming Palmerston to Mr. Bright. The effect was
always the same, and always electrical. "Palmerston!" he would cry. "The
man who involved us in the crime of the Crimean War!" And then he would
break off with an angry toss of his leonine head; but the accents of
immeasurable scorn filled the hiatus in his speech.

In after years I became what I still remain--an enthusiastic admirer of
Mr. Bright's oratory. I hope to say something on a later page on this
subject. Here I need only note the fact that his first speech
disappointed me. Indeed, men were usually disappointed when they heard
him for the first time. They went expecting to hear an orator full of
sound and fury. They were amazed by the reserve--one might almost say the
repose--of his style. Of gesture he made absolutely no use. He never let
his magnificent voice rise above a certain pitch; he never poured out his
words in a tumultuous torrent; he was always deliberate and measured in
his utterances, and it was only as you grew accustomed to him that you
noted those wonderful inflections of the voice which expressed so clearly
the emotions of the orator.

In 1865 the country was much agitated on the question of the cattle
plague. It was a question that particularly affected Cheshire and the
rural parts of Lancashire. The action taken by the Government, of which
Mr. Gladstone was a prominent member, was strongly opposed by the
representatives of the agricultural interest. A county meeting was held
at Preston to consider the subject and to denounce the Ministry. If I
remember aright, the Earl of Derby, the famous "Rupert of debate," was in
the chair, and he was surrounded by half the magnates of Lancashire. It
was a notable and imposing gathering. One titled speaker after another
got up and abused Ministers, and it was notable that Mr. Gladstone fell
in for the hottest measure of abuse. When some resolution was about to be
put a man seated in the body of the hall got up and asked if he might say
a few words. He was a tall, thick-set person, and his dress was so plain
that most of us took him for a farmer, if not a farm-labourer. The
meeting, which was enjoying the eloquence of earls and aristocrats of
every degree, turned with anger upon the unknown intruder, and shouted
"Name, name!" with all its might. "My name is Gladstone," said the
stranger, in a clear and powerful voice. Everybody burst into a roar of
laughter. It seemed so curious that immediately after listening to
unmeasured vituperation of _the_ Gladstone, this humble person who
had obtruded himself unexpectedly upon the scene should happen to be of
the same name. But before the laughter had subsided Sir James
Kay-Shuttleworth, who was on the platform, shouted out the explanation of
the mystery. "Mr. Robertson Gladstone, of Liverpool." It was the brother
of the much-hated Chancellor of the Exchequer. He had gone to the meeting
to defend his illustrious relative; and defend him he did, with so much
force and eloquence that he not only made some of the noble speakers look
rather foolish, but convinced one, at least, who heard him that if he had
adopted a Parliamentary career, he too might have been one of the great
figures of the House of Commons.

As I look back upon my editorial experiences during the year and a half
that I spent at Preston, the salient questions which stand out in my
recollection are the war between Denmark and the Austro-Prussian allies,
in which this country was so nearly involved, and the concluding
struggles in the American Civil War, which may be said to have had their
culmination in the tragical assassination of Lincoln. It may seem a
strange thing to say, and yet I believe that Lincoln's cruel death did
more to hasten the return of peace and goodwill, not only in the United
States, but all over the world, after the close of the war, than anything
else could have done. It is certain that it produced a remarkable effect
in England. The "classes" in England were, as I have said, almost
unanimously opposed to the North, and there was no single person engaged
in the great struggle whom they more persistently misunderstood and
misrepresented than Abraham Lincoln. Even now I feel a sense of shame as
I recall the abuse which was showered upon that great man at the time
when he was leading his country through the most terrible crisis in her
history. But his death, coming as it did in the moment of victory, and
also at the moment when he had shown that he knew how to be moderate and
magnanimous in victory, opened the eyes of the world, and showed him,
even to those Englishmen who had hated him, in his true colours--one of
the wisest and noblest men of our time.

This revelation of the blunder which "the classes" had committed in their
estimate of Lincoln had an even greater effect in softening the
asperities which the war left behind it than had the exposure of the
egregious miscalculations of English statesmen as to the comparative
military strength of North and South. One must not blame Englishmen too
severely, however, for their lack of appreciation of Lincoln. It is
doubtful if even now he is appreciated at his true worth by Americans
themselves. Some years ago I had the privilege of taking in to dinner a
charming young lady who was Lincoln's direct descendant. I said to her,
"You can hardly understand how pleased I am to have met you. There is
scarcely any man whose name is familiar to me whom I honour as I honour
the memory of your grandfather." The young lady opened her eyes in
innocent amazement, and confessed subsequently that she had been very
much surprised by my little speech. "At home they never say anything
about grandpapa." Lowell, however, has said something about him which
will live for ever in the elegiac poetry of the world.

My stay at Preston came to an end in January, 1866. I had become engaged
whilst staying there, and, feeling stronger in health, was anxious to
obtain a more active position than the editorship of a newspaper
published only twice a week. My wishes were realised when I received an
offer from the proprietors of the _Leeds Mercury_ of a position on
that journal, which had long been one of the most important of provincial
newspapers. I accepted the offer, and left Preston at the beginning of
1866 with feelings of nothing but goodwill and respect for my old chief,
Mr. Toulmin.

CHAPTER V.

WORK ON THE _LEEDS MERCURY_.

My New Duties--Betrothal--The Writing of Leading Articles--The Founder of
the _Leeds Mercury_--Edward Baines the Second--Thomas Blackburn
Baines--Patriotic Nonconformists--Another Colliery Explosion: A Story of
Heroism--An Abortive Fenian Raid at Chester--Reminiscences of the Prince
of Wales's Visits to Yorkshire--Mr. Bright and the Reform Demonstrations
of 1866--The Closing Speech at St. James's Hall--The Tribune of the
People Vindicates the Queen.

I did not know, when I arrived in Leeds one wintry day in the beginning
of 1866, how long my connection with that town was to last, and how
closely I was to become associated with its public life. Beyond one or
two members of the _Mercury_ staff, I knew nobody in Leeds, so that
once more I found myself amongst strangers. But whereas at Preston I had
remained a stranger and a wayfarer during the whole period of my sojourn
in the place, I had not been long in Leeds before I began to feel that I
had found a second home. This was, no doubt, due in part to the fact that
old friends of mine were already employed on the _Mercury_ staff,
through whom I speedily made a number of acquaintances among the
townspeople. But I think that the sense of being at home which I acquired
so soon was chiefly due to the character of the inhabitants of Leeds.
Whatever may be the case now, at that time the Leeds people were typical
representatives of the best characteristics of Yorkshire. They were
frank, outspoken, warm-hearted, and hospitable. They were not, indeed, so
refined in speech as they might have been, and to the stranger their
blunt utterances were at times rather disconcerting. They criticised
one's work freely, and never hesitated to say when they did not like it.
They had strong prejudices and prepossessions, to both of which they gave
free expression. But if they never hesitated to criticise, they were just
as ready, when they were pleased, to utter words of praise and
encouragement; and it was not long before I had the gratification of
finding that my humble efforts on the _Leeds Mercury_ had made for
me many friends whom I did not know in the flesh.

Next to the delight of a first appearance in print, there is nothing that
brings so much joy to the heart of a young writer as the discovery that
something which he has written has won the sympathy and secured for him
the friendly approval of some unknown reader. It is in this that there
lies, after all, the highest reward of the journalist. No honours, no
money, no fame can ever satisfy him as does the knowledge that by means
of his pen he is influencing the thoughts, and winning the affections, of
some at least of that vast unknown public whom it is his duty to address.
A sheet of paper is but a flimsy thing, yet, as a rule, when used by the
journalist it cuts off the electric current of sympathy which passes
between speaker and auditor when they are visible to each other. The
discovery that it may sometimes be a conductor, instead of an
obstruction, to the current warms the heart of a young writer in a
wonderful fashion, and is the best stimulus that he can have in the
pursuit of his profession. To my dying day I shall think of Leeds with
pleasure and gratitude, in remembrance of the fact that it was there that
I first enjoyed this delightful experience.

My duties on the _Leeds Mercury_ were, in the first instance, both
varied and modest. I had to superintend the work of the reporting staff,
taking part myself, when necessary, in the reporting of large meetings
and important speeches. I had to do all the descriptive work of the
journal, and in those days more importance was attached to the work of
the descriptive writer than appears to be the case at present. Russell,
of the _Times_, the illustrious "pen of the war," furnished the
model for descriptive journalism in the 'sixties. There was none of that
slap-dash statement of bare facts, embellished by the more or less
impertinent personal impressions and opinions of the reporter, to which
we have become accustomed in recent times. It was expected that a
descriptive article should be in the nature of an essay, and that it
should actually describe, more or less vividly, the scene with which it
dealt. If anyone cares to search the files of our leading newspapers
between 1860 and 1870, he will come upon some pieces of descriptive
writing of astonishing literary merit.

In addition to acting as descriptive writer, I had, when required, to
contribute leading articles to the _Mercury_. At first I did this at
rare intervals. It was an innovation for anyone connected with the
reporting staff to contribute to the leading columns, and I remember the
alarm and indignation of the older members of the staff when they learned
that work of this character was to be entrusted to me. But I had
practised leader-writing at Preston; I liked it (though my preference was
for descriptive writing), and it was not long before I found that I had
got into the regular leader-writer's stride. I was barely
four-and-twenty, and I had, therefore, a consuming sense of the value of
my lucubrations and the importance of my opinions. It is emphatically
true, as Sir William Harcourt once wrote to me, that "Youth is the age of
Wegotism." When I wielded that magnificent editorial "we," and was able
to back up my own crude ideas with all the authority of a great daily
newspaper, I felt that I, too, was somebody in the world of affairs, and
that though I might live in modest lodgings and possess but narrow means,
I was not without a distinct place and influence of my own in the great
commonwealth. Such are the illusions of the youthful leader-writer--
foolish, perhaps, but not ignoble.

Some of my early leaders pleased the proprietors of the paper, one of
whom was also the editor. It was arranged that I was to contribute
regularly the chief article for Monday's paper. Now, as I have said, I
had become engaged, and my cousin, Miss Kate Thornton, to whom I was
betrothed, lived at Stockport, at a distance of more than two hours from
Leeds. I had been in the habit of visiting Stockport almost every
Saturday, returning to my duties on Monday morning. This leader-writing
for Monday's paper threatened to interfere with this arrangement.
Fortunately for me, the proprietors of the _Mercury_--of whom I
shall have more to say presently--had a great reverence for Sunday. The
_Leeds Mercury_, indeed, had not become a daily paper until long
after this change in its character was expected by the public, simply
because an ordinary daily newspaper entailed a certain amount of Sunday
work upon those engaged in producing it. It was not until the proprietors
had satisfied themselves that it would be possible to produce a Monday
morning's newspaper, and at the same time to keep the office closed from
midnight on Saturday till midnight on Sunday, that they resolved to
publish daily. The arrangement was costly; it was vastly inconvenient to
everybody concerned. I am afraid that it did not conduce to the keeping
of the Sabbath, seeing that the compositors, who were not allowed to
enter the office until midnight of that day, were tempted to spend an
hour or two in some public-house before commencing their belated work.
But with all its drawbacks, the plan had at least the advantage of
keeping the office doors shut for the whole of the twenty-four sacred
hours, and thus the appearance of evil, if not the evil itself, was
avoided. As a consequence of this system, the greater part of Monday's
paper had to be set on Saturday, and the leader, in particular, was
always furnished to the printers on that day. So far, therefore, there
was nothing to prevent my writing the Monday's leader, and still paying
my usual weekly visit to Stockport. All that was necessary was that the
editor should give me my subject early enough on Saturday morning.

This, however, was what I could not induce him to do. He was supposed to
be at the office shortly after eleven o'clock, and my train for Stockport
did not leave until half-past one. If the editor had been punctual, and
if he had given me my subject at once, I should have had ample time in
which to write my leader. But unfortunately he was not punctual, and too
often when he came he was occupied with other business, whilst I hung
about miserably counting the minutes until I was summoned to his
presence. Then, when at last I had received my subject, or had got leave
to write upon some topic suggested by myself, I hurried to the
sub-editor's room, and, sitting at a corner of a table upon which I laid
my watch, dashed off my precious article at the top of my speed. When I
began my practice as a leader-writer I took from an hour and a half to
two hours to write my fifteen hundred words; but, under the pressure of
that terrible half-past one o'clock train, I gradually improved my pace,
until at last, if I took more than an hour in the production of an
article, I felt dissatisfied. Mere speed in writing is a very small
accomplishment. It is not necessarily a virtue, and it may even be a
vice; but it is undoubtedly an accomplishment that I possess. In later
days my regular time for turning out an article of the length I have
named was from forty to fifty minutes. I could write my leaders with
people talking around me, and felt no difficulty in joining in the
conversation. I am told that many journalists regard it as incredible
that an article of fifteen hundred words could be written in from forty
to fifty minutes. All I can say is that it is a fact, and I attribute
this speed in writing to the pressure of that half-past one o'clock train
on Saturdays in the good old days of my first residence in Leeds.

The story of the _Leeds Mercury_ is an honourable one in the annals
of English journalism. It was first established, if I remember aright, in
the year 1718. In the editor's room at Leeds a file of the paper is
preserved, dating from the year 1727. This file is complete for more than
170 years, with one melancholy exception. In the volume for 1745 the
numbers of the paper published during the second Jacobite Rising are
omitted. But in spite of this omission, these volumes, extending over so
long a period, are of immense value and interest. In its earliest days
the _Mercury_, though published in a provincial town, sought to
reproduce in its columns not so much the news of the locality as the
humour of the Metropolis; and the very first leading article in the
earliest volume preserved at Leeds bears the quaint title, "To the Ladies
who affect showing their stockings."

Comparatively early in the Georgian era the _Mercury_ became
distinguished for the excellence of its news, both local and general. It
was not, of course, a large newspaper in those days, but the four pages
of which it consisted were full of meat. There was no descriptive
reporting; but what could be more expressive than the announcement of a
marriage in such terms as these:--"On Tuesday se'n-night, Squire Brown of
Bumpkin Hall was married to Miss Matilda Midas of Halifax, a handsome
young lady with ten thousand pounds to her dowry"? We are much more
florid nowadays, but by no means so precise. The leader-writer did not
spread himself abroad a hundred years ago. Indeed, soon after the
_Leeds Mercury_ gave up discussing the amiable weakness that it
attributed to ladies with well-turned ankles, it ceased for a time to
discuss anything at all. It was only in the beginning of the nineteenth
century that it resumed its leading articles. But what leading articles
they were! Fine writing and redundancy of style were both discarded, and
when the news of Waterloo arrived, the editor's comment upon the great
epoch-making victory was expressed in a dozen lines. One sighs at the
thought of the miles of "long primer" that would be expended if we had
the opportunity of commenting upon such a theme to-day. Yet the
twelve-line article in the _Leeds Mercury_ of June, 1815, really
said everything that was to the point on the subject with which it dealt.

It was in the year 1800 that the _Mercury_ took that new stand in
its history which was to place it in the front rank among English
provincial journals. Three or four years earlier a young journeyman
printer, named Edward Baines, had tramped across the moors which form the
dividing line between Lancashire and Yorkshire, and after walking the
whole distance from Preston to Leeds, had found employment in the small
printing office in which the _Leeds Mercury_ was produced. Edward
Baines, the first, was undoubtedly a man of great ability and remarkable
character. Very soon after he began his humble work as a compositor in
Leeds he attracted the attention not only of his employer, but of some of
the gentry of the town. He was seen to be a person of uncommon
intelligence, strict integrity, and distinct political sagacity. The
_Leeds Mercury_, at the close of the eighteenth century, was still a
mere news-sheet, professing no opinions of its own, and consequently
making no attempt to mould the opinions of its readers. The Whig party in
the West Riding felt that they needed an organ of their own to support
their cause in that great district. Accordingly, they subscribed funds
sufficient to acquire the _Mercury_ and to provide capital for
carrying it on, and they placed the paper in the hands of Edward Baines,
the young printer who, but a few years previously, had made his first
appearance in Yorkshire.

The trust they reposed in Mr. Baines was more than justified. Under his
direction the _Mercury_ became in a few years the leading journal in
the north of England. The money that had been advanced to him for its
purchase he speedily repaid, and by the time that Wellington was dealing
his death-blow at French Imperialism, Edward Baines had made himself a
power, not only in Leeds but in Yorkshire. I remember being told by very
old men that when the news of Waterloo reached him a chair was taken out
of his office in Briggate to the street, where an eager crowd had
gathered. Mounting upon this chair, Mr. Baines read the despatch
announcing the great victory to his enthusiastic fellow townsmen. An
earnest Liberal, he fought by the side of the Liberal leaders both with
his pen and his tongue during the long struggle for Parliamentary Reform,
and he was in due time rewarded by being elected to represent Leeds in
the House of Commons. His may fairly be described as an ideal career. He
gained friends, influence, wealth, in the town he had entered as a
penniless workman. But, better than all, he witnessed the triumph of
nearly all the great political and social movements to which he had lent
his powerful aid. Having represented his fellow-townsmen in three
successive Parliaments, he was honoured at his death, at a ripe age, in
1848, with a public funeral, which people in Leeds still recall as a
unique demonstration of gratitude and esteem. In Yorkshire, where his
career was better known than elsewhere, the name given to him by the
generation that followed him was that of "the English Benjamin Franklin."

It was Mr. Baines's good fortune to leave behind him in his sons men who
were worthy to succeed him. His eldest son, Matthew Talbot Baines, went
to the Bar. After his father's death he entered Parliament, where he had
a distinguished career, becoming eventually a Cabinet Minister under Lord
Palmerston. He died at a comparatively early age, and it was well known
to the initiated that, if he had not died thus young, it was the
intention of the Government to propose him for the Speakership. The
second son of the man who really founded the fortunes of the _Leeds
Mercury_ was, like his father, called Edward. He, too, attained
distinction in the public service. From his youth he was his father's
chief assistant in the editorship of the _Mercury_, and by his
enterprise, sagacity, and fine abilities as a journalist he greatly
extended the influence and reputation of the paper. As a boy he was
present at the so-called Battle of Peterloo--the riot which took place at
Manchester in 1819, when a political meeting was being held on the site
of the present Free Trade Hall. Young Edward attended the meeting as a
reporter for the _Mercury_. He observed everything that happened,
and it was his evidence, given subsequently at Lancaster Assizes, that
saved many innocent persons, who had been hunted down by the cruel
authorities of the day, from the punishment of transportation.

Edward Baines the second edited the _Mercury_ down to 1859, when, on
the death of his brother, he was chosen by his fellow-townsmen to succeed
him as their representative in Parliament. He had there a most honourable
career. He was, like his father, a Nonconformist, and he was also a
strict teetotaller. When he entered the House of Commons there was only
one other teetotaller in that body. A generous and cultured man, filled
with enthusiasm for the public good, he succeeded during his
Parliamentary career in winning the respect of the House, not only for
himself personally, but for those Nonconformist and teetotal principles
which Society, at that time, held in such low esteem. Strangely enough,
this life-long advocate of temperance reform lost his seat in the General
Election of 1874 through an outburst of teetotal fanaticism on the part
of the advocates of the Permissive Bill. As he refused to vote for that
measure, they ran an intemperate temperance advocate named Lees against
him, and by doing so gave the seat to a local brewer. On his eightieth
birthday, in 1880, he was knighted by Queen Victoria in recognition of
his life-long devotion to the public service.

I am not, however, telling the story of the Baineses. I have not even
referred to it at such length merely because I feel it to be an
honourable and instructive chapter in English local history, but because
it throws light upon the peculiar position and authority enjoyed by the
_Leeds Mercury_ when I first became connected with it in 1866. At
that time, the son of the second Edward Baines, Thomas Blackburn Baines,
was editor of the paper, but his father took as active a part in its
political direction as was consistent with the performance of his duties
in Parliament. While Tom Baines edited the paper, the management was in
the hands of his uncle, Frederick Baines, a man for whom I retain to this
day something of the affection and respect of a son for a father. The
paper, it will be seen, was thus the exclusive possession of the Baines
family. It represented the views to which they had clung so tenaciously
from the first. It was the great organ of Nonconformity in the English
Press, and it was at the same time the advocate of a pronounced, though
not an extreme, Liberalism. Its influence in the politics of Yorkshire
was great, but no small part of that influence was due to the fact that
the character of its conductors was known to the world, and that they
were everywhere recognised as high-minded men, to whom journalism was
something more than a trade. It was, indeed, a fortunate accident that
brought me, whilst still in my youth, into intimate association with so
high-minded a family.

They had their peculiarities. I have spoken already of their strict
regard for the Sabbath. In other matters also they clung to many of the
notions of the Puritans of an older generation. They never allowed the
_Mercury_ to publish betting news, or to pander to the national
passion for gambling sport in any manner whatever. It would have been a
good thing for the Englishman of to-day if, in this respect, their
action, instead of being the exception, had been the rule among newspaper
proprietors. The love of sport and of betting which has had so bad an
effect upon the national character during the last thirty years would
have been greatly curbed if other newspaper proprietors had been as
mindful of their responsibilities as were the Baineses. As it was, they
met with no reward for the heavy sacrifice they made in refusing to cater
for the tastes of the sport-loving populace.

Another peculiarity which marked the _Mercury_ in those days, though
founded upon equally admirable motives, was not so happy in its character
as this exclusion of betting news. Edward Baines the second regarded the
theatre from the old Nonconformist point of view. He looked upon it, as
so many did, as being an agent for the demoralisation of the young, and
he refused to allow any notice of it to appear in the columns of his
paper. This naturally excited the anger and ridicule of a large section
of the public, who were not insensible to the change that was gradually
taking place on the British stage. But no arguments and no ridicule could
move the sturdy old Nonconformist. I remember once pleading with him for
some relaxation of this rule. He heard all I had to say with courteous
attention, but when I had exhausted my stock of arguments he delivered
himself as follows: "My dear Mr. Reid, I feel sure that you are quite
sincere and conscientious in the views you hold, but you do not know the
theatre as I do. I speak from personal experience when I say that both in
itself and in its surroundings it is immoral and demoralising." I stared
aghast at this utterance. I knew that I went to theatres occasionally,
but until then I had believed that Edward Baines had never crossed the
threshold of a playhouse. He saw my look of surprise, and continued,
"Yes, I am sorry to say that between the years 1819 and 1822 I attended
the theatre frequently in London, and I can never forget the shocking
immorality I witnessed both on the stage and among the audience." Dear,
simple, high-principled, and most scrupulous soul! It was impossible to
make way against his sixty-year-old memories.

But I must not omit to mention one characteristic of the proprietors of
the _Mercury_ which had a marked influence upon their manner of
conducting that paper. This was their intense love of country. Both
Edward Baines and his brother Frederick, though they never called
themselves patriots, were among the most patriotic men I have ever known.
They were Nonconformists and Liberals, and consequently, in the belief of
their ignorant political opponents, they ought also to be Little
Englanders of the huckster class. Instead of being Little Englanders,
they were all through their lives the advocates of a sane but ardent
Imperialism. They loved their country, and they believed in it--believed
in it not only as the foremost nation of the earth, but as a great
instrument for good among the peoples of the world. It followed that,
whilst the _Mercury_ advocated advanced Liberal opinions on most
domestic questions, it was always in foreign affairs the supporter of an
enlightened and reasonable Imperialism, and on any question affecting
international policy it resolutely refused to take the mere partisan
point of view. I have dwelt at this length upon some of the
characteristics of the _Leeds Mercury_ and its proprietors when I
first became acquainted with them because they had a great and abiding
influence upon my own character and opinions. At Preston I had learned to
sympathise with the democracy, and to believe ardently in the cause of
political reform. At Leeds I came in contact with a wider and loftier
standard of Liberalism, and, whilst retaining my faith in the principles
of my party on domestic questions, I added to it a conviction, not less
profound, of the duty of advancing the interests of the British Empire
throughout the world by every means in my power. In later years, when I
was myself the editor of the _Leeds Mercury_, some of my excellent
friends in London--and notably Mr. Stead--were wont to deplore my
tendency in favour of Imperialism in foreign affairs, and to attribute it
to the influence upon me of the Pall Mall clubs. As a matter of fact, I
was led in this direction by the influence of these two estimable
Yorkshire Nonconformists.

My first stay in Leeds in the somewhat anomalous position I have
described lasted for little more than eighteen months. During that period
I found plenty of work to do as a descriptive writer and reporter, and
was brought into contact with some notable and interesting persons. Some
months after I had become connected with the _Mercury_, I renewed my
acquaintance with the tragical vicissitudes of colliery life. An
explosion occurred at the Oaks Pit, near Barnsley, which led to the
sacrifice of three hundred lives. Such a loss of life, exceeding that on
many an historic battlefield, was in itself terrible, but the
circumstances attending the accident at the Oaks Pit added to the
grimness of the tragedy. When I reached the colliery a few hours after
the explosion occurred I found that some two hundred of the men who had
been working in it were known to have been killed, but that many more
were believed to be still alive in the distant workings, and that a large
rescue party had gone below to recover them. Having sent my last despatch
to Leeds, I went to an inn at Barnsley to snatch a few hours of sleep
before resuming work at daybreak. In the morning, as I was hastening back
to the colliery to learn what progress had been made during the night, I
suddenly saw a dense volume of black smoke shoot out of the mouth of the
pit, and, rising high in the air, spread in a fan-shaped cloud of
enormous size. Immediately afterwards the dull reverberation of an
underground explosion fell upon my ear. A rough collier was walking
beside me, and when he heard that ominous sound he turned white, and
staggered against the wall which lined the road. "God have mercy on us!"
he cried, "she's fired again." It was an awful moment. Both I and the
pitman knew that, in addition to any survivors of the first explosion,
there were twenty or thirty brave men risking their lives in a work of
mercy when this new catastrophe took place.

We ran to the pit at our utmost speed, and when we reached the bank we
found ourselves in the midst of a distressing scene. The engineers and
workmen who had been engaged at the mouth of the pit were completely
unnerved by this unexpected disaster, and were weeping like children. The
second explosion had driven the "cage" completely out of the shaft, and
it hung in a wrecked condition in the gallows-like scaffolding which
surmounted the pit. There was thus no means of descending the shaft, even
if anyone had been courageous enough to do so. This renewed explosion
was, I ought to say, almost unprecedented in the long story of colliery
accidents. In a few minutes the wives and friends of the search party
below came thronging around us with agonised inquiries as to the safety
of those whom they loved. For a time all was confusion and despair; but
very quickly the voice of authority was heard, and the pit platform was
cleared of all except the small party that remained on duty and myself.
It was, as a matter of fact, a place of danger, for, as a second
explosion had occurred, it was quite possible that it might be followed
by a third. In spite of this risk, it was resolved to communicate, if
possible, with the bottom of the shaft.

By order of the engineer in charge, we all lay down at full length on the
platform, and one of our number was pushed forward until his head and
shoulders protruded over the black chasm of the pit, from which a thin
column of smoke was still rising. He was armed with a hammer, and with
this he struck one of the metal guiders of the ruined cage, giving the
pitman's "jowl" or signal, "three times three, and one over." Lying
breathless, we listened, hoping for some response. But there was only the
silence of death. Thrice the brave man repeated the signal, but no
answering sound came from the depths of the pit, and sadly we came to the
conclusion that all had perished. The signal man was dragged back from
his post of peril, and we were consulting eagerly as to the next step to
be taken, when a third explosion suddenly took place, shaking the
platform on which we stood, and covering us with fragments of burning
wood. Several of us were slightly hurt, but no one sustained any serious
injury. The painful fact that was forced upon us, however, by this new
explosion was that nothing could for the present be done to ascertain the
fate of the gallant fellows who had apparently been lost in their attempt
to rescue their comrades. It was clear that the pit was making gas, and
that a fire was burning somewhere in the workings, which in due time
might--and, as a matter of fact, did--cause fresh explosions. In these
circumstances nothing could be done except to pour water into the pit in
the hope of extinguishing the fire. Sorrowfully the band of workers
abandoned the pit-heap, leaving only a couple of young mining engineers
to keep watch above the scene of death.

In the middle of the following night--repeated explosions having taken
place during the day--a remarkable incident occurred. One of the
engineers left in charge--named, if I remember aright, Jeffcock--was
suddenly startled by hearing a sound proceeding, apparently, from the
depths of the pit. He went to the edge of the shaft, and then heard
unmistakably, far below him, the "jowl" for which we had listened in vain
on the previous morning. It proved that there was someone living in the
pit, and Mr. Jeffcock instantly determined to save him if he could. The
shaft was a very deep one. The cage which was the ordinary means of
descent had, as I have already explained, been destroyed, whilst the
pit-sides had been torn by the successive explosions, so that they were
in a highly dangerous state. But undaunted by these difficulties and
dangers, Jeffcock carried out his heroic task. Summoning assistance, he
caused himself to be lowered at the end of a rope to the bottom of the
shaft. Heaven only knows what were the terrors and dangers of that
descent. He faced them all unflinchingly. At the bottom of the pit he
discovered not any member of the search party, for they had all
succumbed, but one of the men employed in the colliery, who, by some
extraordinary chance, had escaped with his life not only from the
original explosion, but from all those which followed it. With immense
labour and risk he brought this man, the sole survivor of more than three
hundred, to the pit's mouth, and the next night the thoughtless fellow
for whom a brave man had risked so much, and whose own escape from death
had been almost miraculous, was carousing in a public-house in Barnsley,
and pocketing the coppers which hundreds of curious persons paid for the
privilege of seeing him.

One evening, in the summer of 1866, when I was on duty in the
_Mercury_ office, I received a telegram which Mr. Baines had
despatched from the House of Commons half an hour before. It stated that
the Home Secretary had just received information that Chester Castle had
been attacked by five hundred Fenians from Manchester, and that troops
were being despatched from London to meet them. I saw that a train which
left Leeds late in the evening would land me at Chester an hour or so
after midnight, and I at once made up my mind to take it. When I reached
Chester all was quiet at the station, and there were no signs of a Fenian
rising. I asked the chief official on duty if he knew anything about the
affair. All he could tell me was that during the early hours of the
evening the waiting rooms, and even the platform itself, had been filled
with crowds of "working men in their Sunday clothes," who had seemed to
be waiting for somebody or something. There were many hundreds of them,
and their unexplained presence had greatly puzzled the railway officials.
Some time before I arrived they had disappeared.

I went out into the streets of the old city. The darkness of the summer
night still brooded over me, but there was light enough to see that at
every street corner and every open space a crowd was gathered. They were
curious crowds. In every case the men were clustered in a circle, their
faces all turned towards the centre. They seemed to be listening intently
to someone who, in the middle of each little group, was speaking in low
but earnest tones. I made my way to one of the small crowds, and, joining
it, tried to hear what it was that the speaker in the middle was saying;
but instantly a strange thing happened. The crowd fell apart, melted away
into the gloom, and I suddenly found myself standing alone. Thrice did I
thus attempt to learn what was passing in these mysterious groups, and
every time the result was the same. I accosted individuals in the
streets, and questioned them as to the meaning of the curious scene, so
unusual in the dead of night in a quiet cathedral city. No man answered
me, except in some unintelligible syllable. I was not molested, nobody
was uncivil, but from no one could I get a word of explanation.
Gradually, as morning began to break, the throng became thinner. It was
dispersed like the mist by the sunshine.

By four o'clock Chester was apparently deserted by its strange visitors.
I went to the castle, and found that all was quiet there. I went to the
police office, and here I was told that the men were undoubtedly Fenians,
but that they had been guilty of no violence, and had given no excuse to
the police to interfere with them. They had apparently come to Chester
from every quarter, Liverpool, Manchester, and Stafford having each
contributed a contingent. But few had come by rail, most having entered
the city on foot. What it all signified the police declared they could
not understand, though they had no doubt that it had meant mischief. At
five o'clock I returned to the station, and saw two special trains arrive
within a few minutes of each other. These brought down a full battalion
of the Guards from London. It was a fine sight to see the regiment
marching with fixed bayonets from the station to the Castle. When the
last man had disappeared within the Castle gates, we knew that, whatever
plot had been hatched, it had miscarried.

The next day I gave in the _Leeds Mercury_ a full account of what I
had seen at Chester, and stoutly upheld the theory that a Fenian raid,
which had somehow or other miscarried, had been intended. But, on the
same morning, almost every other newspaper in the United Kingdom
published an account of the affair that had been supplied by a Liverpool
news agency. In this account the whole matter was turned into ridicule,
and the authorities were said to have been hoaxed, or carried away by
their own excited imaginations. But I had seen those strange, mysterious
groups, planted so thickly in the streets of Chester under the silent
night, and I could not accept the explanation of the Liverpool reporter.
Still, for the moment his story was that which was generally believed,
and I had to submit to the suspicion of having allowed myself to be
befooled. Not until more than twelve months later was the truth revealed.
It came out in the course of the trial of certain Fenian prisoners that
there really had been a plot to seize, not Chester Castle, but the arms
it contained. The conspirators knew that the guard in the Castle was very
weak. They hoped to get into the place by stratagem, and to seize the
contents of the armoury. Then they meant to capture a train, and, having
destroyed the telegraph wires, to carry their booty to Holyhead, where
they expected to find a steamer which would land them in Ireland. It was
about as mad a plan as was ever devised--as mad as John Brown's seizure
of the arsenal at Springfield. But desperate men attempt daring deeds.
Fortunately for the peace of the realm, the plot against Chester was
revealed to the Government in time, and when the little army of Fenians
knew that they had been betrayed, they silently dispersed without
striking a blow. It was, I confess, a satisfaction to me when the
informer--Corydon, if I remember the name aright--confirmed the truth of
my interpretation of that strange scene at Chester; and I had the
additional satisfaction of feeling that I was one of the few living men
who had, with his own eyes, actually seen a hostile army assembled on
English soil.

A reporter's life brings him into contact both with tragedy and comedy. I
have an amusing recollection of a visit paid by Edward VII., when Prince
of Wales, to Upper Teesdale during my stay in Leeds, for the purpose of
shooting on the Duke of Cleveland's moors. I travelled in the special
train which took the Prince and his party to the little station of
Lartington, then the terminus of the line which now connects the east and
west coasts. No royal personage had visited that beautiful valley before.
It was Sunday, and the whole population seemed to have turned out to see
the train, in which the heir to the throne travelled, fly past them.
Everywhere it was greeted with the waving of hats and handkerchiefs; but
I saw one old man, apparently an agricultural labourer, who was not
content with uncovering his head when the train went by. Reverently he
sank down upon his knees, and remained in that position until long after
we had sped past him. From Lartington the Prince and his party were to
drive to the inn at High Force, a dozen or fourteen miles away. I, and a
companion, representing a Sheffield newspaper, were to take up our
quarters for the night at the little village of Middleton-in-Teesdale,
halfway to High Force. A country omnibus had been provided for the Prince
and his friends, and in this they drove off. We had to walk, as no
vehicle was to be got.

When we had tramped a mile or more on our way, we met two men who were
walking quickly towards Lartington. One of them, who from his appearance
might have been a village schoolmaster, accosted us politely. "Can you
tell me if his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has arrived at
Lartington station yet?" "Yes," I replied, "he got there more than half
an hour ago." "Then where is he?" said my interlocutor in an injured tone
of voice. "He surely cannot be stopping there?" I told him that this was
not the case, and that he had already preceded us along that very road.
"Impossible!" retorted the schoolmaster. "I've been on this road ever
since the morning, and I can assure you that his Royal Highness has not
passed this way." "Did you not see a small omnibus pass," I asked, "with
some luggage on the roof?" The schoolmaster's companion, who was younger,
admitted that he had done so. "Well, then," I continued, "you must have
seen a gentleman in a brown felt hat sitting beside the driver, and
smoking a cigar. That was the Prince of Wales." "Don't attempt to make a
fool of me, you impertinent jackanapes!" roared my schoolmaster friend in
a mighty rage, and, setting off again at full speed, he proceeded on his
way towards Lartington, in search of the kingly vision he expected to
discover.

There was another occasion, during those early Yorkshire days, when I had
a little experience connected with the Prince. He and the Princess were
about to be received as the guests of a great--a very great--dignitary.
It was the first occasion on which this really eminent man had
entertained their Royal Highnesses, and he had specially furnished
certain rooms in his stately abode for their use. He gave a polite
intimation that he would be glad to see one representative of the Press
of the United Kingdom, in order that he might show him these apartments,
with a view to their being properly described in print. My colleagues of
the Yorkshire Press unanimously selected me to represent them on this
great occasion, and were good enough to warn me that they would expect at
least a column of descriptive matter detailing the glories of the
upholstery provided for the Royal apartments.

To my surprise, when I got to the house I was at once brought face to
face with the Great Man himself. He was mighty affable, and most
desperately anxious that I should do justice to his newly bought
furniture. I shall never forget my tour of the bedrooms and boudoirs to
which I was expected to do justice. The Great Man pounded the beds to
prove their elasticity. He turned down the bedclothes to convince me of
the fineness of the linen. He lifted up chairs in order that I might
satisfy myself of the solidity of their construction, and he expatiated
upon the beauties of curtains, window-hangings, and carpets in periods as
sonorous as any with which he had thrilled the House of Lords. I frankly
confess that I was astounded, and not a little shocked. I could see that
the Great Man was disappointed at my somewhat stolid reception of a
florid eloquence of which George Robins, the auctioneer, might have been
proud. I do not think, however, he was half so much disappointed as my
colleagues were when I returned to them and dictated a dozen lines of
severe catalogue as the only "description" I was capable of giving of the
furniture of two commonplace bedrooms. I never met the Great Man in after
life without seeing him, in my mind's eye, flourishing a chair upside
down, or lovingly patting with his mighty hand an embroidered coverlet.

Upon the whole, the most important of the events in which I took part as
reporter and descriptive writer during this period at Leeds was the
series of Reform demonstrations in which Mr. Bright played the leading
part in the autumn of 1866. I remember no public meetings in the course
of my life that equalled them in enthusiasm. The Russell administration
had been defeated in the previous session on the question of
Parliamentary Reform, the defeat having been brought about by the action
of the Adullamites, so-called, under the leadership of Lord Grosvenor and
Mr. Lowe. John Bright, to use a phrase that has since become historic,
"took off his coat" at the end of that session, and went to the country
with the avowed determination of raising such a movement in favour of
Parliamentary Reform that even the Tory Government, which was now in
office under the Premiership of Lord Derby, would be compelled to yield
to it. His plan of campaign was as simple as are most great plans. He
arranged to address meetings in the chief cities of England, Scotland,
and Ireland. Each meeting was to be preceded by a Reform demonstration
held on some open piece of ground in or near the city where the meeting
was to be held. These demonstrations took place at Birmingham,
Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow, Dublin, and London. I was present at all of
them.

Never were such open-air gatherings held in England before. On more than
one occasion the attendance exceeded a hundred thousand. The gatherings
were without exception orderly and enthusiastic. All the smaller towns
and villages near the scene of meeting sent deputations. There were great
processions through the streets, headed by bands and political banners.
At the place of meeting many different platforms were erected, and
resolutions calling upon the Government to introduce a measure of
Parliamentary Reform were put simultaneously from all the platforms.
Nothing could have been more impressive as a demonstration of national
feeling than these wonderful gatherings, so vast, so resolute in their
bearing, and yet so orderly. They made even Ministers feel that the time
had passed for trifling with the question of Reform. The Government were
compelled to yield, and, as everybody knows, the session of 1867
witnessed the passing of the Household Suffrage Act. But by far the most
important factor in each of these successive gatherings was the evening
meeting that followed the open-air demonstration. At this Mr. Bright was
always the chief speaker. I do not think he ever made better speeches
than those which he delivered during this autumn of 1866. I have recorded
the first occasion on which I heard Bright speak, and have said that his
oratory was not so impressive on a first hearing as people might suppose.
For my own part, I found that the spell of his magic grew stronger every
time that it was renewed, and before I had listened to the last of this
wonderful series of orations I had become what I remained to the end--the
most enthusiastic of his admirers.

The opening speech of the series was delivered at Birmingham, and it
contained one passage that, after all these years, is still stamped upon
my memory. It was a brilliant vindication of Mr. Gladstone, as the
apostle of Parliamentary Reform, from the sharp attacks made upon him by
the Adullamites. Even then the intrigues against Mr. Gladstone's
leadership of the Liberal party--intrigues which did not cease until the
day of his final retirement nearly thirty years later--had begun. Bright
treated them with characteristic contempt. He inveighed with all his
force against the men who were going about declaring that Mr. Gladstone
was unfit to be the leader of the party, and, with that accent of
withering scorn which was one of his most formidable weapons as an
orator, he cried, "If they have another leader who can take Mr.
Gladstone's place, why do they not let us see him? _Where have they
been hiding him until now?_" That single sentence fell like a hammer
upon the heads of the intriguers of the Cave. In face of it they could
not continue their absurd attempt to rob Mr. Gladstone of his appointed
place.

The most florid and poetical of Bright's Reform speeches was that which
he delivered at Glasgow. It consisted, for the most part, of a noble
appeal to ministers of religion, and to all interested in the social
welfare of the people, to try what a Reformed Parliament could do to
remove the burdens laid upon the shoulders of common humanity. "The
classes have failed, let us try the nation." The speech closed with a
fine peroration in which the speaker, after referring to the effect
already produced by the public movement in favour of Reform, declared
that he could see "as it were upon the hill-tops of Time, the glimmerings
of the dawn of a new and a better day for the country and the people that
he loved so well." It was with this peroration still ringing in my ears
that I hurried from the meeting to the telegraph office. I was
palpitating with excitement under the influence of Bright's magic
eloquence. Judge of my astonishment when I heard two worthy citizens of
Glasgow who had just left the hall comment upon the speech in these
words. First Citizen: "A varra disappointing speech!" Second Citizen: "Ou
aye! He just canna speak at all." This extraordinary incident at least
bears out what I said as to the disappointing character of Bright's
eloquence upon people who listened to it for the first time. A man needed
to grow into an appreciation of it. There was, by the way, an amusing
incident in connection with the reporting of this Glasgow speech. Bright,
as I have said, had referred to the influence of the great popular
demonstrations in favour of Reform, and had spoken of them as "those vast
gatherings, sublime in their numbers and in their resolution." Some
unhappy reporter, by a very slight slip, made him speak of the meetings
as sublime in their numbers and their resolutions--a very different
matter.

His last Reform speech in 1866 was delivered in London, in St. James's
Hall. It was preceded on the previous day by the usual procession through
the streets and an open-air demonstration at Lillie Bridge. The poor
Londoners were very much alarmed at the prospect of the gathering. The
editors of the morning papers opened their respective Balaam boxes and
gave the asses a holiday, to borrow a phrase of Christopher North.
Innumerable letters were published, declaring that the mob of reformers,
led by the wild man from Birmingham, would probably sack the town; and
fervent entreaties were addressed to the Government to line the streets
with troops for the protection of peaceful and law-abiding householders.
The Government, which had received its lesson in Hyde Park in the
preceding summer, did nothing of the sort; but I believe that a good many
houses and even shops in the West End were actually closed and barricaded
by their perturbed and nervous proprietors. There was one notable and
significant exception to this rule. Miss--now the Baroness--Burdett-Coutts
not only did not close her house in Piccadilly, but assembled a party of
friends at it, and, seated in the midst of them in the great bay-window
overlooking Piccadilly, saluted in friendly fashion the great army of the
unenfranchised as they passed along the road. She was cheered
vociferously, and must have felt a thrill of satisfaction at the thought
that she was recognised as the worthy representative of that stout old
Radical reformer, Sir Francis Burdett. I took up my position to see the
procession pass in Pall Mall, opposite the Reform Club. I had never before
seen that famous building. It struck me at the time as having a cold and
gloomy exterior, yet I gazed upon it with reverence as the home of the most
distinguished of the men who espoused the cause of liberty. I little
thought, on that dull winter day, how many years I was destined to spend
within its walls, or how large a part I was to take in its affairs.

Of course, all the fears of the alarmists were falsified. The only
untoward incidents were the raids of the pickpockets upon the crowds. I
myself was one of their victims, in a somewhat curious fashion. I was
riding with another reporter in a cab at the tail of the procession. The
crowd, as we approached Lillie Bridge, was very dense, pressing upon us
on all sides. Suddenly a hand was put in at the open window of the cab,
and, before I had the presence of mind to grasp the situation, the pin I
wore had been removed from my scarf, literally under my very eyes. It was
one of the neatest and most impudent robberies I ever saw.

Bright's speech at St. James's Hall was a very fine one. It contained a
memorable passage in which he described men dwelling in fancied security
on the slopes of a slumbering volcano. He demanded if those who warned
them of the peril to which they were exposed were to be accused of being
the cause of that peril. It was a brilliant and telling retort upon those
who charged him with having stirred up a seditious movement for his own
personal ends. But his best speech at St. James's Hall was a brief and
unpremeditated utterance at the close of the meeting. Mr. Ayrton, the
well-known member for the Tower Hamlets, an advanced Radical, and a man
who subsequently made himself notorious as a Minister of the Crown by his
aggressive and unconciliatory utterances, was one of the speakers who
followed Bright. He referred to the demonstration in front of Miss
Burdett-Coutts's house on the previous day, and made some remarks
comparing her with the Queen, who was just then in Scotland, by no means
to the advantage of the latter. Bright's loyalty, which was strong and
real, was outraged by Ayrton's language. In burning words, evidently born
of genuine emotion, he repudiated and rebuked the want of respect shown
to her Majesty, and declared that any woman, be she the wife of a working
man or the queen of a mighty realm, who was capable of showing an intense
devotion to the memory of her lost husband was worthy of the respect and
reverence of every honest heart. Years afterwards, I have reason to know,
that utterance was borne in mind in high quarters. It laid the foundation
of the high personal regard and friendship which her Majesty extended to
the old tribune of the people when he became a Minister of the Crown.

CHAPTER VI.

LIFE IN LONDON.

Appointed London Correspondent of the _Leeds Mercury_--My
Marriage--Securing Admission to the Reporters' Gallery--Relations between
Reporters and Members--Inadequate Accommodation for the
Press--Reminiscences of the Clerkenwell Explosion--The Last Public
Execution--The Arundel Club--James Macdonell--Robert Donald--James
Payn--Mrs. Riddell and the _St. James's Magazine_--My First
Novel--How Sala Cut Short an Anecdote--Disraeli as Leader of the House in
1868--A Personal Encounter with him at Aylesbury--Mr. Gladstone's First
Ministry--Bright and Forster--W. E. Baxter--Irish Church Disestablishment
Debate in the House of Lords--Mr. Mudford--Bereavement.

In 1867 a change unexpectedly took place in my position. The London
representative of the _Leeds Mercury,_ my old friend Mr. Charles
Russell, now editor of the _Glasgow Herald,_ retired from his post,
and I was appointed to succeed him. In addition to the duties which had
been discharged by Mr. Russell, it was arranged that I was to act as
London correspondent of the _Mercury_ and to continue to be an
occasional contributor of leaders. On September 5th in this year I was
married at Cheadle Congregational Church, Cheshire, to my cousin, to whom
I had long been engaged, and I at once went to London to spend my
honeymoon in the delightful occupation of house-hunting. The London
suburbs wore a different aspect in 1867 from that which they now present.
In the far west of London, at all events, the reign of the semi-detached
villa, with its private garden, was still maintained. There were no lofty
"mansions" comprising endless suites for the accommodation of persons of
limited means, and the system of a common garden for the residents in a
particular street or square was practically unknown outside the central
district of the metropolis. Notting Hill, Kensington, Shepherd's Bush,
and Hammersmith offered to the man of moderate means the choice among an
infinite number of pleasant little villas, each boasting its own garden
and lawn secluded from the public eye. My choice fell upon a house of
this description in Addison Road North, and there I spent two happy
years, the garden, with its fine old tree casting a welcome shade over
the lawn, making me forget the fact that I was, at last, an actual
dweller in the world's greatest city.

Almost my first business in London was to secure admission to the
Reporters' Gallery in the House of Commons. There was an autumn session
in that year, 1867, and I was anxious to get access to the Gallery when
it began. In order to obtain the coveted Gallery ticket I proffered my
gratuitous services as an occasional reporter to the _Morning Star_.
My offer was accepted, and after an interview with Mr. Justin McCarthy,
who was then editor of the _Star_, I was introduced to Mr. Edwards,
the chief of the reporting staff, as a new member of that body. Edwards,
who was one of the veterans of the Gallery, was a character in his way.
He was an Irishman possessed of a delicious brogue, a devout Roman
Catholic, intensely proud of the fact that he had a son in the
priesthood. His mind was stored with reminiscences of the Gallery in the
days when the status of a Parliamentary reporter was hardly recognised
even in the House of Commons itself. Like so many of the Gallery men of
this time, his world seemed to be limited to the little society of which
he was a conspicuous member. Nothing appeared to interest him that lay
outside the immediate duties of a Parliamentary reporter. His sole
reading seemed to be the reports of debates, his sole pleasure listening
to Parliamentary speeches. Many amusing stories were told of him by his
colleagues. Not long before I made his acquaintance, Mr. Bright, in one
of the debates on the Liberal Reform Bill, had made his famous reference
to the Cave of Adullam which caused the anti-reformers in the Liberal
party to be nicknamed "Adullamites." Mr. Bright was interested in the
_Morning Star_, and that newspaper's report of this passage in his
speech was obviously confused and defective. The day after it was printed
the manager of the _Star_ summoned Edwards to his presence in order
to complain of this fact. "Do you think our fellows understood the
allusion to the Cave of Adullam?" he inquired of Edwards. "Of course they
did," replied the latter, hotly. "They're an ignorant lot, I know, but
there isn't one of them so ignorant as not to have read the Arabian
Nights!"

Edwards was very kind to me. He seemed to feel a profound respect for a
man who undertook to do any work for nothing, and he did his utmost to
make my somewhat anomalous position personally agreeable. One bit of good
advice he gave me. That was that I should not let anyone know that I
received no salary. The truth is that in those days the Parliamentary
reporters were a very clannish set--almost, indeed, a close corporation.
To my youthful eyes, most of them appeared to be men who had attained an
almost incredible age. They could talk of the days in the old House of
Commons when no Reporters' Gallery existed, and the unfortunate shorthand
writers had to take their notes on their knees, at the back of the
Strangers' Gallery. In the House of Lords they had to stand in a kind of
gangway, and I have heard a venerable man tell how a certain
distinguished peeress, who had to pass along this gangway when she went
to hear the debates, used deliberately to brush against the reporters as
she did so, and knock the note-books out of their hands. It was, I
suppose, her Grace's manner of displaying her peculiar affection for the
Press. The reporters looked with suspicion upon any newcomer, and for a
time after I entered the Gallery I was viewed with unconcealed dislike by
most of my new colleagues.

A somewhat untoward incident that happened on the first night on which I
took my seat as one of the _Star_ staff added to this feeling.
Worthy Edward Baines, sitting on the Opposition benches below me, no
sooner recognised me in the Gallery than he felt it to be his duty to
come up and have a chat with me. Accordingly he made his way to one of
the side galleries adjoining the reporters' seats, and conversed with me
for several minutes, pointing out the leading members and officials of
the House and making himself generally agreeable, as was his wont. I
little knew what offence I was unconsciously giving to my colleagues. In
those days a gulf that was regarded as impassable divided the members of
the Press from the members of the House. Occasionally the white-haired,
or rather white-wigged, Mr. Ross, the head of the _Times_
Parliamentary corps, might be seen holding a mysterious colloquy in some
gloomy corner behind the Gallery with some politician; but the
overwhelming majority of the reporters had never exchanged a word with a
Member of Parliament in their lives, and, to do them justice, they
evidently had no desire to do so. The caste of reporters neither had, nor
wished to have, any relations with the Brahmins of the green benches
below them, and I found subsequently that if by any chance a reporter
were detected in conversation with even the most obscure Member of
Parliament he thought it necessary to give some explanation of his
conduct to his Gallery friends afterwards. It may be imagined, then, with
what feelings the veterans of the Gallery saw a newcomer, on his very
first appearance in the Gallery, talking on friendly and confidential
terms with a well-known Member of the House. Some of the old hands
positively snorted at me in their indignation, and one of the few friends
I had in the Gallery earnestly warned me that the recurrence of such an
incident would prove fatal to my career as a Parliamentary reporter. Who
would have imagined then that the relations of journalists and Members
would ever assume their present intimate character?

The accommodation for reporters outside the Gallery was very different
then from what it is now. There were two wretched little cabins, ill-lit
and ill-ventilated, immediately behind the Gallery, which were used for
"writing out." But one of these was occupied exclusively by the
_Times_ staff, and the other was so small that it could not
accommodate a quarter of the number of reporters. One of the committee
rooms on the upper corridor--No. 18, if I remember aright--was given up
after a certain hour in the afternoon to the reporters, and here most of
the work of "writing out" was done. As for other accommodation for the
Press, it consisted only of a cellar-like apartment in the yard below,
where men used to resort to smoke, and of the ante-room to the Gallery,
where the majestic Mr. Wright presided.

Mr. Wright was one of the characters of the Gallery. Like most of the
officials of the House in those days, he was a _protg_ of the
Sergeant-at-Arms, Lord Charles Russell. Rumour declared that he had
originally been a boat-builder on the Thames, and had secured the favour
of Lord Charles by his services in teaching his sons to row. He certainly
looked more like a boat-builder, or the captain of a barge, than the
keeper of the vestibule to the Reporters' Gallery. He was permitted to
purvey refreshments of a modest kind to the reporters. He always had a
bottle of whisky on tap, a loaf or two of stale bread, and a most
nauseous-looking ham. I never, during my career in the Gallery, tasted
that ham. The tradition was that every night, when Mr. Wright, at the
close of his duties, retired to his modest abode in Lambeth, he took with
him the ham, wrapped in a large red bandana which he had been
flourishing, and using, during the evening, and for greater security
placed it under his bed during the night. I do not vouch for the truth of
this story, universally believed by the Gallery men of my day.

I simply repeat that I never in the course of my life tasted one of Mr.
Wright's hams. The sole refreshment I ever consumed in his filthy den
consisted of eggs and tea. The tea I drank with unfeigned reluctance, but
the eggs, however stale, inspired me with a confidence I felt in none of
the other viands provided by the ex-boat-builder. The reporters nowadays
have a dining-room of their own, as well as reading-room, smoking-room,
and tea-room. The status of the Press is changed indeed.

One of Mr. Wright's characteristics was his love of talking Johnsonese. I
can see him in my mind's eye now, as I emerged from the Gallery after a
heavy "turn," reclining on the wooden bench which was his favourite place
of rest. His head half covered with the famous red bandana; his boots
off, and a pair of dirty worsted stockings exposed to view, he twiddled
his thumbs, and through half-closed eyes cast a disparaging glance at the
young member of the Gallery who had not yet patronised either his whisky
or his ham; then, with a grunt, he would wake up and begin to speak. "I
hope, sir, that you are intellectual enough to appreciate the grandeur of
the debate to which you have just been privileged to listen. Sir, it
fills me with an amazement that is simply inexpressible to listen to
those two men, Gladstone and Disraeli, when they are a-conducting
themselves as they 'ave been this evening. What I want to know, sir, is,
where do they get it from? You and me could never do such a thing--no,
not a moment. In my opinion they are more than mortal." But enough of Mr.
Wright, who is dead now, though he lived to see the twentieth century
born, and to mourn over the changed times which no longer made the hungry
reporter dependent upon his famous ham.

The first night of that autumn session of 1867 was a memorable one. Mr.
Disraeli sat on the Treasury Bench as leader of the House. Opposite to
him sat Mr. Gladstone, now the recognised leader of the Liberal party.
Mrs. Disraeli had been seriously ill; was, in fact, still ill when
Parliament met. Mr. Gladstone, who never overlooked the courtesies of
debate, in opening his attack upon the Government after the speech had
been duly moved and seconded, made touching reference to the personal
anxieties of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr. Disraeli was visibly
moved. He suddenly covered his face with his hands, and one could see
that his eyes were filled with tears. Nearly thirty years later there was
a similar scene in the House, in which Mr. Gladstone was again the moving
cause. This was when, referring to a speech by Mr. Austen Chamberlain, he
spoke of it in terms that made Mr. Chamberlain himself flush with
emotion, and caused the tears to gather in the eyes of that hardened
political fighter. Strange are the links which bind the generations
together!

It was in the late autumn of 1867 that one of the most remarkable of the
outrages committed by the Fenians in London took place. This was the
explosion at the Clerkenwell House of Detention. The object of the crime
was the rescue of two Fenians who were confined in the prison. The
authorities at Scotland Yard had got wind of the plot, and sought to put
the governor of the prison, and the magistrates who controlled it, on
their guard. The latter declared themselves quite able to look after
their prisoners, and declined the proffered assistance of the police.
Instead of keeping guard, as they should have done, round the walls of
the House of Detention, they contented themselves with keeping the
prisoners--whose names, if my memory does not fail, were Burke and
Casey--in their cells at the hour when they usually took their daily
exercise in the yard. A wheelbarrow, laden with powerful explosives, was
deliberately wheeled up to the prison wall, outside the exercise ground,
at the time when Burke and Casey were supposed to be walking there. An
orange was thrown over into the yard, this being the signal that had been
agreed upon with the captives, and the fuse attached to the barrel of
explosives was lighted. Then the conspirators quietly retired, nobody
molesting them. A terrific explosion followed.

I had just left the reading-room of the British Museum that afternoon,
and was crossing the quadrangle, when I heard a sound which my experience
of the Oaks Pit enabled me at once to recognise as that of an explosion.
I thought that some kitchen boiler in an adjoining house must have burst;
but nothing was to be seen, and I went my way, merely making a note, with
the reporter's instinct, of the exact moment at which the explosion took
place. The next morning the London papers were full of the details of the
great crime. Several persons, including some children, had been killed
outright, and many more had been injured. A breach had been made in the
prison wall, but the Fenian prisoners, of course, had not escaped, owing
to the precautions taken by the authorities. The whole country was roused
to a violent state of indignation by this crime, which followed close
upon a similar attempt to rescue other Fenian prisoners who were being
carried in a prison van through the streets of Manchester. The Manchester
crime resulted in the death of a police sergeant named Brett, and for
that murder three men--Allen, Larkin, and Gould, who are still famous in
Irish history as "the Manchester martyrs"--were hanged.

On the day following the Clerkenwell explosion I attended the inquest
upon some of the victims, and, curiously enough, I was the only person
who could inform the coroner of the exact hour at which the outrage was
committed. The police were soon in hot pursuit of the culprits. Five men
were arrested, and after a tedious investigation at Bow Street were
committed for trial at the Old Bailey. If I remember aright, they were
Irishmen hailing from Glasgow. I made my first acquaintance with Bow
Street Police Court at the examination of these men. It was the old
police court--a dismal, stuffy, ill-ventilated room--where justice had
been administered for several generations. I have a lively recollection
of the fact that whilst I was reporting the proceedings I suddenly
fainted, for the first time in my life; and I still remember gratefully
the kindness of the police, who removed me from the court room into the
fresh air, and tended me with the utmost care until I had recovered. This
sympathy with illness is one of the best characteristics of our London
police.

The trial at the Old Bailey resulted in the acquittal of all the
prisoners except one, a man named Barrett. He was convicted, and
sentenced to death. Great interest in his case was felt in Glasgow, and I
was asked by one of the Glasgow newspapers to telegraph to it a full
account of the execution. It was in one respect to be a remarkable
occasion, for an Act had just received the assent of Parliament putting
an end to public executions, and Barrett's was to be the last event of
the kind. I and an old newspaper friend named Donald, who was also
commissioned to describe the scene, agreed to stay up all night in order
that we might witness the gruesome preliminaries of a hanging at the Old
Bailey. We were on duty in the Reporters' Gallery up to a late hour of
the night, and I remember that Mr. Bright, rising from his seat below the
gangway, made an appeal to the Home Secretary to spare the condemned
man's life. It was very unusual for such an appeal to be made in that
fashion, and it was still more unusual to make it within a few hours of
the time fixed for the execution. The Home Secretary was, of course,
unable to comply with Mr. Bright's prayer, but this scene in the House of
Commons was undoubtedly a solemn one, more solemn and impressive than the
tragedy to which it was the prelude. Donald and I, when the House at last
rose, sauntered slowly through the streets, taking note of that night
side of London, which was novel to both of us. In the early hours of the
morning we found ourselves at Covent Garden, where we watched the
unloading of the vegetable carts and the unpacking of the great hampers
filled with sweet spring flowers. Before six o'clock we had reached the
Old Bailey, where already a large crowd was gathering.

Rumours of an attempted rescue, even on the scaffold, had been freely
circulated. Calcraft, the executioner, had received a number of
threatening letters, which had frightened him greatly. The police,
knowing what the Fenians had already attempted in the way of rescuing
their friends, were very much on the alert, and more than a hundred
officers, in private clothes and armed with revolvers, had been placed
outside the barriers amongst the crowd. At six o'clock the great gates
leading to the yard of the Old Bailey courthouse were thrown open, and
with a heavy, rumbling sound the grim old scaffold which had figured in
so many scenes of horror was for the last time drawn forth from its
resting-place and wheeled to its position in front of the small,
iron-barred door, which, as late as 1900, was still seen in the middle of

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