Part 2 out of 3
"'You must know. You must know that ever since we have been married
you have never cared for one single thing I have done or said; that is
to say, you have never cared for me. It is NOT being married.'
"It was an explosive outburst, sudden and almost incoherent, and I
cried as if my heart would break.
"'What is the meaning of all this? You must be unwell. Will you not
have a glass of wine?'
"I could not regain myself for some minutes, during which he sat
perfectly still, without speaking, and without touching me. His
coldness nerved me again, congealing all my emotion into a set resolve,
and I said -
"'I want no wine. I am not unwell. I do not wish to have a scene. I
will not, by useless words, embitter myself against you, or you against
me. You know you do not love me. I know I do not love you. It is all
a bitter, cursed mistake, and the sooner we say so and rectify it the
"The colour left his face; his lips quivered, and he looked as if he
would have killed me.
"'What monstrous thing is this? What do you mean by your
"I did not speak.
"'Speak!' he roared. 'What am I to understand by rectifying your
mistake? By the living God, you shall not make me the laughing-stock
and gossip of the town! I'll crush you first.'
"I was astonished to see such rage develop itself so suddenly in him,
and yet afterwards, when I came to reflect, I saw there was no reason
for surprise. Self, self was his god, and the thought of the damage
which would be done to him and his reputation was what roused him. I
was still silent, and he went on -
"'I suppose you intend to leave me, and you think you'll disgrace me.
You'll disgrace yourself. Everybody knows me here, and knows you've
had every comfort and everything to make you happy. Everybody will say
what everybody will have the right to say about you. Out with it and
confess the truth, that one of your snivelling poets has fallen in love
with you and you with him.'
"I still held my peace, but I rose and went into the best bedchamber,
and sat there in the dark till bedtime. I heard James come upstairs at
ten o'clock as usual, go to his own room, and lock himself in. I never
hesitated a moment. I could not go home to become the centre of all
the chatter of the little provincial town in which I was born. My old
nurse, who took care of me as a child, had got a place in London as
housekeeper in a large shop in the Strand. She was always very fond of
me, and to her instantly I determined to go. I came down, wrote a
brief note to James, stating that after his base and lying sneer he
could not expect to find me in the morning still with him, and telling
him I had left him for ever. I put on my cloak, took some money which
was my own out of my cashbox, and at half-past twelve heard the mail-
coach approaching. I opened the front door softly--it shut with an
oiled spring bolt; I went out, stopped the coach, and was presently
rolling over the road to the great city.
"Oh, that night! I was the sole passenger inside, and for some hours I
remained stunned, hardly knowing what had become of me. Soon the
morning began to break, with such calm and such slow-changing splendour
that it drew me out of myself to look at it, and it seemed to me a
prophecy of the future. No words can tell the bound of my heart at
emancipation. I did not know what was before me, but I knew from what
I had escaped; I did not believe I should be pursued, and no sailor
returning from shipwreck and years of absence ever entered the port
where wife and children were with more rapture than I felt journeying
through the rain into which the clouds of the sunrise dissolved, as we
rode over the dim flats of Huntingdonshire southwards.
"There is no need for me to weary you any longer, nor to tell you what
happened after I got to London, or how I came here. I had a little
property of my own and no child. To avoid questions I resumed my
maiden name. But one thing you must know, because it will directly
tend to enforce what I am going to beseech of you. Years afterwards, I
might have married a man who was devoted to me. But I told him I was
married already, and not a word of love must he speak to me. He went
abroad in despair, and I have never seen anything more of him.
"You can guess now what I am going to pray of you to do. Without
hesitation, write to this girl and tell her the exact truth. Anything,
any obloquy, anything friends or enemies may say of you must be faced
even joyfully rather than what I had to endure. Better die the death
of the Saviour on the cross than live such a life as mine."
I said: "Miss Arbour, you are doubtless right, but think what it
means. It means nothing less than infamy. It will be said, I broke
the poor thing's heart, and marred her prospects for ever. What will
become of me, as a minister, when all this is known?"
She caught my hand in hers, and cried with indescribable feeling -
"My good sir, you are parleying with the great Enemy of Souls. Oh! if
you did but know, if you COULD but know, you would be as decisive in
your recoil from him, as you would from hell suddenly opened at your
feet. Never mind the future. The one thing you have to do is the
thing that lies next to you, divinely ordained for you. What does the
119th Psalm say?--'Thy word is a lamp unto my feet.' We have no light
promised us to show us our road a hundred miles away, but we have a
light for the next footstep, and if we take that, we shall have a light
for the one which is to follow. The inspiration of the Almighty could
not make clearer to me the message I deliver to you. Forgive me--you
are a minister, I know, and perhaps I ought not to speak so to you, but
I am an old woman. Never would you have heard my history from me, if I
had not thought it would help to save you from something worse than
At this moment there came a knock at the door, and Miss Arbour's sister
came in. After a few words of greeting I took my leave and walked
home. I was confounded. Who could have dreamed that such tragic
depths lay behind that serene face, and that her orderly precision was
like the grass and flowers upon volcanic soil with Vesuvian fires
slumbering below? I had been altogether at fault, and I was taught,
what I have since been taught, over and over again, that unknown
abysses, into which the sun never shines, lie covered with commonplace
in men and women, and are revealed only by the rarest opportunity.
But my thoughts turned almost immediately to myself, and I could bring
myself to no resolve. I was weak and tired, and the more I thought the
less capable was I of coming to any decision. In the morning, after a
restless night, I was in still greater straits, and being perfectly
unable to do anything, I fled to my usual refuge, the sea. The whole
day I swayed to and fro, without the smallest power to arbitrate
between the contradictory impulses which drew me in opposite
I knew what I ought to do, but Ellen's image was ever before me, mutely
appealing against her wrongs, and I pictured her deserted and with her
life spoiled. I said to myself that instinct is all very well, but for
what purpose is reason given to us if not to reason with it; and
reasoning in the main is a correction of what is called instinct, and
of hasty first impressions. I knew many cases in which men and women
loved one another without similarity of opinions, and, after all,
similarity of opinions upon theological criticism is a poor bond of
union. But then, no sooner was this pleaded than the other side of the
question was propounded with all its distinctness, as Miss Arbour had
I came home thoroughly beaten with fatigue, and went to bed.
Fortunately I sank at once to rest, and with the morning was born the
clear discernment that whatever I ought to do, it was more manly of me
to go than to write to Ellen. Accordingly, I made arrangements for
getting somebody to supply my place in the pulpit for a couple of
Sundays, and went home.
CHAPTER VI--ELLEN AND MARY
I now found myself in the strangest position. What was I to do? Was I
to go to Ellen at once and say plainly, "I have ceased to care for
you"? I did what all weak people do.
I wished that destiny would take the matter out of my hands. I would
have given the world if I could have heard that Ellen was fonder of
somebody else than me, although the moment the thought came to me I saw
its baseness. But destiny was determined to try me to the uttermost,
and make the task as difficult for me as it could be made.
It was Thursday when I arrived, and somehow or other--how I do not
know--I found myself on Thursday afternoon at her house. She was very
pleased to see me, for many reasons. My last letters had been doubtful
and the time for our marriage, as she at least thought, was at hand.
I, on my part, could not but return the usual embrace, but after the
first few words were over there was a silence, and she noticed that I
did not look well. Anxiously she asked me what was the matter. I said
that something had been upon my mind for a long time, which I thought
it my duty to tell her. I then went on to say that I felt she ought to
know what had happened. When we were first engaged we both professed
the same faith. From that faith I had gradually departed, and it
seemed to me that it would be wicked if she were not made acquainted
before she took a step which was irrevocable. This was true, but it
was not quite all the truth, and with a woman's keenness she saw at
once everything that was in me. She broke out instantly with a sob -
"Oh, Rough!"--a nickname she had given me--"I know what it all means--
you want to get rid of me."
God help me, if I ever endure greater anguish than I did then. I could
not speak, much less could I weep, and I sat and watched her for some
minutes in silence. My first impulse was to retract, to put my arms
round her neck, and swear that whatever I might be, Deist or Atheist,
nothing should separate me from her. Old associations, the thought of
the cruel injustice put upon her, the display of an emotion which I had
never seen in her before, almost overmastered me, and why I did not
yield I do not know. Again and again have I failed to make out what it
is which, in moments of extreme peril, has restrained me from making
some deadly mistake, when I have not been aware of the conscious
exercise of any authority of my own. At last I said -
"Ellen, what else was I to do? I cannot help my conversion to another
creed. Supposing you had found out that you had married a Unitarian
and I had never told you!"
"Oh, Rough! you are not a Unitarian, you don't love me," and she sobbed
I could not plead against hysterics. I was afraid she would get ill.
I thought nobody was in the house, and I rushed across the passage to
get her some stimulants. When I came back her father was in the room.
He was my aversion--a fussy, conceited man, who always prated about "my
daughter" to me in a tone which was very repulsive--just as if she were
his property, and he were her natural protector against me.
"Mr. Rutherford," he cried, "what is the matter with my daughter? What
have you said to her?"
"I don't think, sir, I am bound to tell you. It is a matter between
Ellen and myself."
"Mr. Rutherford, I demand an explanation. Ellen is mine. I am her
"Excuse me, sir, if I desire not to have a scene here just now. Ellen
is unwell. When she recovers she will tell you. I had better leave,"
and I walked straight out of the house.
Next morning I had a letter from her father to say, that whether I was
a Unitarian or not, my behaviour to Ellen showed I was bad enough to be
one. Anyhow, he had forbidden her all further intercourse with me.
When I had once more settled down in my solitude, and came to think
over what had happened, I felt the self-condemnation of a criminal
without being able to accuse myself of a crime. I believe with Miss
Arbour that it is madness for a young man who finds out he has made a
blunder, not to set it right; no matter what the wrench may be. But
that Ellen was a victim I do not deny. If any sin, however, was
committed against her, it was committed long before our separation. It
was nine-tenths mistake and one-tenth something more heinous; and the
worst of it is, that while there is nothing which a man does which is
of greater consequence than the choice of a woman with whom he is to
live, there is nothing he does in which he is more liable to self-
On my return I heard that Mardon was ill, and that probably he would
die. During my absence a contested election for the county had taken
place, and our town was one of the polling-places. The lower classes
were violently Tory. During the excitement of the contest the mob had
set upon Mardon as he was going to his work, and had reviled him as a
Republican and an Atheist. By way of proving their theism they had
cursed him with many oaths, and had so sorely beaten him that the shock
was almost fatal. I went to see him instantly, and found him in much
pain, believing that he would not get better, but perfectly peaceful.
I knew that he had no faith in immortality, and I was curious beyond
measure to see how he would encounter death without such a faith; for
the problem of death, and of life after death, was still absorbing me
even to the point of monomania. I had been struggling as best I could
to protect myself against it, but with little success. I had long
since seen the absurdity and impossibility of the ordinary theories of
hell and heaven. I could not give up my hope in a continuance of life
beyond the grave, but the moment I came to ask myself how, I was
involved in contradictions. Immortality is not really immortality of
the person unless the memory abides and there be a connection of the
self of the next world with the self here, and it was incredible to me
that there should be any memories or any such connection after the
dissolution of the body; moreover, the soul, whatever it may be, is so
intimately one with the body, and is affected so seriously by the
weaknesses, passions, and prejudices of the body, that without it my
soul would not be myself, and the fable of the resurrection of the
body, of this same brain and heart, was more than I could ever swallow
in my most orthodox days.
But the greatest difficulty was the inability to believe that the
Almighty intended to preserve all the mass of human beings, all the
countless millions of barbaric, half-bestial forms which, since the
appearance of man, had wandered upon the earth, savage or civilised.
Is it like Nature's way to be so careful about individuals, and is it
to be supposed that, having produced, millions of years ago, a creature
scarcely nobler than the animals he tore with his fingers, she should
take pains to maintain him in existence for evermore? The law of the
universe everywhere is rather the perpetual rise from the lower to the
higher; an immortality of aspiration after more perfect types; a
suppression and happy forgetfulness of its comparative failures.
There was nevertheless an obstacle to the acceptance of this negation
in a faintness of heart which I could not overcome. Why this ceaseless
struggle, if in a few short years I was to be asleep for ever? The
position of mortal man seemed to me infinitely tragic. He is born into
the world, beholds its grandeur and beauty, is filled with unquenchable
longings, and knows that in a few inevitable revolutions of the earth
he will cease. More painful still; he loves somebody, man or woman,
with a surpassing devotion; he is so lost in his love that he cannot
endure a moment without it; and when he sees it pass away in death, he
is told that it is extinguished--that that heart and mind absolutely
It was always a weakness with me that certain thoughts preyed on me. I
was always singularly feeble in laying hold of an idea, and in the
ability to compel myself to dwell upon a thing for any lengthened
period in continuous exhaustive reflection. But, nevertheless, ideas
would frequently lay hold of me with such relentless tenacity that I
was passive in their grasp. So it was about this time with death and
immortality, and I watched eagerly Mardon's behaviour when the end had
to be faced. As I have said, he was altogether calm. I did not like
to question him while he was so unwell, because I knew that a
discussion would arise which I could not control, and it might disturb
him, but I would have given anything to understand what was passing in
During his sickness I was much impressed by Mary's manner of nursing
him. She was always entirely wrapped up in her father, so much so,
that I had often doubted if she could survive him; but she never
revealed any trace of agitation. Under the pressure of the calamity
which had befallen her, she showed rather increased steadiness, and
even a cheerfulness which surprised me. Nothing went wrong in the
house. Everything was perfectly ordered, perfectly quiet, and she rose
to a height of which I had never suspected her capable, while her
father's stronger nature was allowed to predominate. She was
absolutely dependent on him. If he did not get well she would be
penniless, and I could not help thinking that with the like chance
before me, to say nothing of my love for him and anxiety lest he should
die, I should be distracted, and lose my head; more especially if I had
to sit by his bed, and spend sleepless nights such as fell to her lot.
But she belonged to that class of natures which, although delicate and
fragile, rejoice in difficulty. Her grief for her father was
exquisite, but it was controlled by a sense of her responsibility. The
greater the peril, the more complete was her self-command.
To the surprise of everybody Mardon got better. His temperate habits
befriended him in a manner which amazed his more indulgent neighbours,
who were accustomed to hot suppers, and whisky-and-water after them.
Meanwhile I fell into greater difficulties than ever in my ministry. I
wonder now that I was not stopped earlier. I was entirely unorthodox,
through mere powerlessness to believe, and the catalogue of the
articles of faith to which I might be said really to subscribe was very
brief. I could no longer preach any of the dogmas which had always
been preached in the chapel, and I strove to avoid a direct conflict by
taking Scripture characters, amplifying them from the hints in the
Bible, and neglecting what was supernatural. That I was allowed to go
on for so long was mainly due to the isolation of the town and the
ignorance of my hearers. Mardon and his daughter came frequently to
hear me, and this, I believe, finally roused suspicion more than any
doctrine expounded from the pulpit. One Saturday morning there
appeared the following letter in the Sentinel:
"Sin,--Last Sunday evening I happened to stray into a chapel not a
hundred miles from Water Lane. Sir, it was a lovely evening, and
'The glorious stars on high,
Set like jewels in the sky,'
were circling their courses, and, with the moon, irresistibly reminded
me of that blood which was shed for the remission of sins. Sir, with
my mind attuned in that direction I entered the chapel. I hoped to
hear something of that Rock of Ages in which, as the poet sings, we
shall wish to hide ourselves in years to come. But, sir, a young man,
evidently a young man, occupied the pulpit, and great was my grief to
find that the tainted flood of human philosophy had rolled through the
town and was withering the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. Years ago
that pulpit sent forth no uncertain sound, and the glorious gospel was
proclaimed there--not a GERMAN GOSPEL, sir--of our depravity and our
salvation through Christ Jesus. Sir, I should like to know what the
dear departed who endowed that chapel, and are asleep in the Lord in
that burying-ground, would say if they were to rise from their graves
and sit in those pews again and hear what I heard--a sermon which might
have been a week-day lecture. Sir, as I was passing through the town,
I could not feel that I had done my duty without announcing to you the
fact as above stated, and had not raised a humble warning from -
Sir, Yours truly,
"A CHRISTIAN TRAVELLER."
Notwithstanding the transparent artifice of the last paragraph, there
was no doubt that the author of this precious production was Mr. Snale,
and I at once determined to tax him with it. On the Monday morning I
called on him, and found him in his shop.
"Mr. Snale," I said, "I have a word or two to say to you."
"Certainly, sir. What a lovely day it is! I hope you are very well,
sir. Will you come upstairs?"
But I declined to go upstairs, as it was probable I might meet Mrs.
Snale there. So I said that we had better go into the counting-house,
a little place boxed off at the end of the shop, but with no door to
it. As soon as we got in I began.
"Mr. Snale, I have been much troubled by a letter which has appeared in
last week's Sentinel. Although disguised, it evidently refers to me,
and to be perfectly candid with you, I cannot help thinking you wrote
"Dear me, sir, may I ask WHY you think so?"
"The internal evidence, Mr. Snale, is overwhelming; but if you did not
write it, perhaps you will be good enough to say so."
Now Mr. Snale was a coward, but with a peculiarity which I have marked
in animals of the rat tribe. He would double and evade as long as
possible, but if he found there was no escape, he would turn and tear
and fight to the last extremity.
"Mr. Rutherford, that is rather--ground of an, of an--what shall I
say?--of an assumptive nature on which to make such an accusation, and
I am not obliged to deny every charge which you may be pleased to make
"Pardon me, Mr. Snale, do you then consider what I have said is an
accusation and charge? Do you think that it was wrong to write such a
"Well, sir, I cannot exactly say that it was; but I must say, sir, that
I do think it peculiar of you, peculiar of you, sir, to come here and
attack one of your friends, who, I am sure, has always showed you so
much kindness--to attack him, sir, with no proof."
Now Mr. Snale had not openly denied his authorship. But the use of the
word "friend" was essentially a lie--just one of those lies which, by
avoiding the form of a lie, have such a charm for a mind like his. I
was roused to indignation.
"Mr. Snale, I will give you the proof which you want, and then you
shall judge for yourself. The letter contains two lines of a hymn
which you have misquoted. You made precisely that blunder in talking
to the Sunday-school children on the Sunday before the letter appeared.
You will remember that in accordance with my custom to visit the
Sunday-school occasionally, I was there on that Sunday afternoon."
"Well, sir, I've not denied I did write it."
"Denied you did write it!" I exclaimed, with gathering passion; "what
do you mean by the subterfuge about your passing through the town and
by your calling me your friend a minute ago? What would you have
thought if anybody had written anonymously to the Sentinel, and had
accused you of selling short measure? You would have said it was a
libel, and you would also have said that a charge of that kind ought to
be made publicly and not anonymously. You seem to think, nevertheless,
that it is no sin to ruin me anonymously."
"Mr. Rutherford, I AM sure I am your friend. I wish you well, sir,
both here"--and Mr. Snale tried to be very solemn--"and in the world to
come. With regard to the letter, I don't see it as you do, sir. But,
sir, if you are going to talk in this tone, I would advise you to be
careful. We have heard, sir"--and here Mr. Snale began to simper and
grin with an indescribably loathsome grimace--"that some of your
acquaintances in your native town are of opinion that you have not
behaved quite so well as you should have done to a certain young lady
of your acquaintance; and what is more, we have marked with pain here,
sir, your familiarity with an atheist and his daughter, and we have
noticed their coming to chapel, and we have also noticed a change in
your doctrine since these parties attended there."
At the word "daughter" Mr. Snale grinned again, apparently to somebody
behind me, and I found that one of his shopwomen had entered the
counting-house, unobserved by me, while this conversation was going on,
and that she was smirking in reply to Mr. Snale's signals. In a moment
the blood rushed to my brain. I was as little able to control myself
as if I had been shot suddenly down a precipice.
"Mr. Snale, you are a contemptible scoundrel and a liar."
The effort on him was comical. He cried:
"What, sir!--what do you mean, sir?--a minister of the gospel--if you
were not, I would--a liar"--and he swung round hastily on the stool on
which he was sitting, to get off and grasp a yard-measure which stood
against the fireplace. But the stool slipped, and he came down
ignominiously. I waited till he got up, but as he rose a carriage
stopped at the door, and he recognised one of his best customers.
Brushing the dust off his trousers, and smoothing his hair, he rushed
out without his hat, and in a moment was standing obsequiously on the
pavement, bowing to his patron. I passed him in going out, but the
oily film of subserviency on his face was not broken for an instant.
When I got home I bitterly regretted what had happened. I never regret
anything more than the loss of self-mastery. I had been betrayed, and
yet I could not for the life of me see how the betrayal could have been
prevented. It was upon me so suddenly, that before a moment had been
given me for reflection, the words were out of my mouth. I was
distinctly conscious that the _I_ had not said those words. They had
been spoken by some other power working in me which was beyond my
reach. Nor could I foresee how to prevent such a fall for the future.
The only advice, even now, which I can give to those who comprehend the
bitter pangs of such self-degradation as passion brings, is to watch
the first risings of the storm, and to say "Beware; be watchful," at
the least indication of a tempest. Yet, after every precaution, we are
at the mercy of the elements, and in an instant the sudden doubling of
a cape may expose us, under a serene sky, to a blast which, taking us
with all sails spread, may overset us and wreck us irretrievably.
My connection with the chapel was now obviously at an end. I had no
mind to be dragged before a church meeting, and I determined to resign.
After a little delay I wrote a letter to the deacons, explaining that I
had felt a growing divergence from the theology taught heretofore in
Water Lane, and I wished consequently to give up my connection with
them. I received an answer stating that my resignation had been
accepted; I preached a farewell sermon; and I found myself one Monday
morning with a quarter's salary in my pocket, a few bills to pay, and a
What was to be done? My first thought was towards Unitarianism, but
when I came to cast up the sum-total of what I was assured, it seemed
so ridiculously small that I was afraid. The occupation of a merely
miscellaneous lecturer had always seemed to me very poor. I could not
get up Sunday after Sunday and retail to people little scraps suggested
by what I might have been studying during the week; and with regard to
the great subjects--for the exposition of which the Christian minister
specially exists--how much did I know about them? The position of a
minister who has a gospel to proclaim; who can go out and tell men what
they are to do to be saved, was intelligible; but not so the position
of a man who had no such gospel.
What reason for continuance as a preacher could I claim? Why should
people hear me rather than read books? I was alarmed to find, on
making my reckoning, that the older I got the less I appeared to
believe. Nakeder and nakeder had I become with the passage of every
year, and I trembled to anticipate the complete emptiness to which
before long I should be reduced.
What the dogma of immortality was to me I have already described, and
with regard to God I was no better. God was obviously not a person in
the clouds, and what more was really firm under my feet than this--that
the universe is governed by immutable laws? These laws were not what
is commonly understood as God. Nor could I discern any ultimate
tendency in them. Everything was full of contradiction. On the one
hand was infinite misery; on the other there were exquisite adaptations
producing the highest pleasure; on the one hand the mystery of life-
long disease, and on the other the equal mystery of the unspeakable
glory of the sunrise on a summer's morning over a quiet summer sea.
I happened to hear once an atheist discoursing on the follies of
theism. If he had made the world, he would have made it much better.
He would not have racked innocent souls with years of torture, that
tyrants might live in splendour. He would not have permitted the
earthquake to swallow up thousands of harmless mortals, and so forth.
But, putting aside all dependence upon the theory of a coming
rectification of such wrongs as these, the atheist's argument was
It would have been easy to show that a world such as he imagines is
unthinkable directly we are serious with our conception of it. On
whatever lines the world may be framed, there must be distinction,
difference, a higher and a lower; and the lower, relatively to the
higher, must always be an evil. The scale upon which the higher and
lower both are makes no difference. The supremest bliss would not be
bliss if it were not definable bliss--that is to say, in the sense that
it has limits, marking it out from something else not so supreme.
Perfectly uninterrupted, infinite light, without shadow, is a physical
absurdity. I see a thing because it is lighted, but also because of
the differences of light, or, in other words, because of shade, and
without shade the universe would be objectless, and in fact invisible.
The atheist was dreaming of shadowless light, a contradiction in terms.
Mankind may be improved, and the improvement may be infinite, and yet
good and evil must exist. So with death and life. Life without death
is not life, and death without life is equally impossible.
But though all this came to me, and was not only a great comfort to me,
but prevented any shallow prating like that to which I listened from
this lecturer, it could not be said that it was a gospel from which to
derive apostolic authority. There remained morals. I could become an
instructor of morality. I could warn tradesmen not to cheat, children
to honour their parents, and people generally not to lie. The mission
was noble, but I could not feel much enthusiasm for it, and more than
this, it was a fact that reformations in morals have never been
achieved by mere directions to be good, but have always been the result
of an enthusiasm for some City of God, or some supereminent person.
Besides, the people whom it was most necessary to reach would not be
the people who would, unsolicited, visit a Unitarian meeting-house. As
for a message of negations, emancipating a number of persons from the
dogma of the Trinity or future punishment, and spending my strength in
merely demonstrating the nonsense of orthodoxy, my soul sickened at the
very thought of it. Wherein would men be helped, and wherein should I
There were only two persons in the town who had ever been of any
service to me. One was Miss Arbour, and the other was Mardon. But I
shrank from Miss Arbour, because I knew that my troubles had never been
hers. She belonged to a past generation, and as to Mardon, I never saw
him without being aware of the difficulty of accepting any advice from
him. He was perfectly clear, perfectly secular, and was so definitely
shaped and settled, that his line of conduct might always be predicted
beforehand with certainty. I knew very well what he thought about
preaching, and what he would tell me to do, or rather, what he would
tell me not to do.
Nevertheless, after all, I was a victim to that weakness which impels
us to seek the assistance of others when we know that what they offer
will be of no avail. Accordingly, I called on him. Both he and Mary
were at home, and I was received with more than usual cordiality. He
knew already that I had resigned, for the news was all over the town.
I said I was in great perplexity.
"The perplexities of most persons arise," said Mardon, "as yours
probably arise, from not understanding exactly what you want to do.
For one person who stumbles and falls with a perfectly distinct object
to be attained, I have known a score whose disasters are to be
attributed to their not having made themselves certain what their aim
is. You do not know what you believe; consequently you do not know how
"What would you do if you were in my case?"
"Leave the whole business and prefer the meanest handicraft. You have
no right to be preaching anything doubtful. You are aware what my
creed is. I profess no belief in God, and no belief in what hangs upon
it. Try and name now, any earnest conviction you possess, and see
whether you have a single one which I have not got."
"I DO believe in God."
"There is nothing in that statement. What do you believe about Him?--
that is the point. You will find that you believe nothing, in truth,
which I do not also believe of the laws which govern the universe and
"I believe in an intellect of which these laws are the expression."
"Now what kind of an intellect can that be? You can assign to it no
character in accordance with its acts. It is an intellect, if it be an
intellect at all, which will swallow up a city, and will create the
music of Mozart for me when I am weary; an intellect which brings to
birth His Majesty King George IV., and the love of an affectionate
mother for her child; an intellect which, in the person of a tender
girl, shows an exquisite conscience, and in the person of one or two
religious creatures whom I have known, shows a conscience almost
inverted. I have always striven to prove to my theological friends
that their mere affirmation of God is of no consequence. They may be
affirming anything or nothing. The question, the all-important
question is, WHAT can be affirmed about Him?"
"Your side of the argument naturally admits of a more precise statement
than mine. I cannot encompass God with a well-marked definition, but
for all that, I believe in Him. I know all that may be urged against
the belief, but I cannot help thinking that the man who looks upon the
stars, or the articulation of a leaf, is irresistibly impelled, unless
he has been corrupted by philosophy, to say, There is intellect there.
It is the instinct of the child and of the man."
"I don't think so; but grant it, and again I ask, WHAT intellect is
"Again I say, I do not know."
"Then why dispute? Why make such a fuss about it?"
"It really seems to me of immense importance whether you see this
intellect or not, although you say it is of no importance. It appears
to be of less importance than it really is, because I do not think that
even you ever empty the universe of intellect. I believe that mind
never worships anything but mind, and that you worship it when you
admire the level bars of cloud over the setting sun. You think you
eject mind, but you do not. I can only half imagine a belief which
looks upon the world as a mindless blank, and if I could imagine it, it
would be depressing in the last degree to me. I know that I have mind,
and to live in a universe in which my mind is answered by no other
would be unbearable. Better any sort of intelligence than none at all.
But, as I have just said, your case admits of plainer statement than
mine. You and I have talked this matter over before, and I have never
gained a logical victory over you. Often I have felt thoroughly
prostrated by you, and yet, when I have left you, the old superstition
has arisen unsubdued. I do not know how it is, but I always feel that
upon this, as upon many other subjects, I never can really speak
myself. An unshapen thought presents itself to me, I look at it, and I
do all in my power to give it body and expression, but I cannot. I am
certain that there is something truer and deeper to be said about the
existence of God than anything I have said, and what is more, I am
certain of the presence of this something in me, but I cannot lift it
to the light."
"Ah, you are now getting into the region of sentiment, and I am unable
to accompany you. When my friends go into the clouds, I never try to
All this time Mary had been sitting in the arm-chair against the
fireplace in her usual attitude, resting her head on her hand and with
her feet crossed one over the other on the fender. She had been
listening silently and motionless. She now closed her eyes and said -
"Father, father, it is not true."
"What is not true?"
"I do not mean that what you have said about theology is not true, but
you make Mr. Rutherford believe you are what you are not. Mr.
Rutherford, father sometimes tells us he has no sentiment, but you must
take no notice of him when he talks in that way. I always think of our
visit to the seaside two years ago. The railway-station was in a
disagreeable part of the town, and when we came out we walked along a
dismal row of very plain-looking houses. There were cards in the
window with 'Lodgings' written on them, and father wanted to go in to
ask the terms. I said that I did not wish to stay in such a dull
street, but father could not afford to pay for a sea view, and so we
went in to inquire. We then found that what we thought were the fronts
of the houses were the backs, and that the fronts faced the bay. They
had pretty gardens on the other side, and a glorious sunny prospect
over the ocean."
Mardon laughed and said -
"Ah, Mary, there is no sea front here, and no garden."
I took up my hat and said I must go. Both pressed me to stop, but I
declined. Mardon urged me again, and at last said -
"I believe you've never once heard Mary sing."
Mary protested, and pleaded that as they had no piano, Mr. Rutherford
would not care for her poor voice without any accompaniment. But I,
too, protested that I should, and she got out the "Messiah." Her
father took a tuning-fork out of his pocket, and having struck it, Mary
rose and began, "He was despised." Her voice was not powerful, but it
was pure and clear, and she sang with that perfect taste which is
begotten solely of a desire to honour the Master. The song always had
a profound charm for me. Partly this was due to association. The
words and tones, which have been used to embody their emotions by those
whom we have loved, are doubly expressive when we use them to embody
our own. The song is potent too, because with utmost musical
tenderness and strength it reveals the secret of the influence of the
story of Jesus. Nobody would be bold enough to cry, THAT TOO IS MY
CASE, and yet the poorest and the humblest soul has a right to the
consolation that Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
For some reason or the other, or for many reasons, Mary's voice wound
itself into the very centre of my existence. I seemed to be listening
to the tragedy of all human worth and genius. The ball rose in my
throat, the tears mounted to my eyes, and I had to suppress myself
Presently she ceased. There was silence for a moment. I looked round,
and saw that Mardon's face was on the table, buried in his hands. I
felt that I had better go, for the presence of a stranger, when the
heart is deeply stirred, is an intrusion. I noiselessly left the room,
and Mary followed. When we got to the door she said: "I forgot that
mother used to sing that song. I ought to have known better." Her own
eyes were full; I thought the pressure of her hand as she bade me good-
bye was a little firmer than usual, and as we parted an over-mastering
impulse seized me. I lifted her hand to my lips; without giving her
time to withdraw it, I gave it one burning kiss, and passed out into
the street. It was pouring with rain, and I had neither overcoat nor
umbrella, but I heeded not the heavens, and not till I got home to my
own fireless, dark, solitary lodgings, did I become aware of any
contrast between the sphere into which I had been exalted and the
earthly commonplace world by which I was surrounded.
The old Presbyterian chapels throughout the country have many of them
become Unitarian, and occasionally, even in an agricultural village, a
respectable red-brick building may be seen, dating from the time of
Queen Anne, in which a few descendants of the eighteenth century
heretics still testify against three Gods in one and the deity of Jesus
Christ. Generally speaking, the attendance in these chapels is very
meagre, but they are often endowed, and so they are kept open.
There was one in the large, straggling half-village, half-town of D-,
within about ten miles of me, and the pulpit was then vacant. The
income was about 100 pounds a year. The principal man there was a
small general dealer, who kept a shop in the middle of the village
street, and I had come to know him slightly, because I had undertaken
to give his boy a few lessons to prepare him for admission to a
boarding-school. The money in my pocket was coming to an end, and as I
did not suppose that any dishonesty would be imposed on me, and
although the prospect were not cheering, I expressed my willingness to
be considered as a candidate.
In the course of a week or two I was therefore invited to preach. I
was so reduced that I was obliged to walk the whole distance on the
Sunday morning, and as I was asked to no house, I went straight to the
chapel, and loitered about in the graveyard till a woman came and
opened a door at the back. I explained who I was, and sat down in a
Windsor chair against a small kitchen table in the vestry. It was
cold, but there was no fire, nor were any preparations made for one.
On the mantel-shelf were a bottle of water and a glass, but as the
water had evidently been there for some time, it was not very tempting.
I waited in silence for about twenty minutes, and my friend the dealer
then came in, and having shaken hands, and remarked that it was chilly,
asked me for the hymns. These I gave him, and went into the pulpit. I
found myself in a plain-looking building designed to hold about two
hundred people. There was a gallery opposite me, and the floor was
occupied with high, dark, brown pews, one or two immediately on my
right and left being surrounded with faded green curtains. I counted
my hearers, and discovered that there were exactly seventeen, including
two very old labourers, who sat on a form near the door. The gallery
was quite empty, except a little organ, or seraphine, I think it was
called, which was played by a young woman. The dealer gave out the
hymns, and accompanied the seraphine in a bass voice, singing the air.
A weak whisper might be perceived from the rest of the congregation,
but nothing more.
I was somewhat taken aback at finding in the Bible a discourse which
had been left by one of my predecessors. It was a funeral-sermon,
neatly written, and had evidently done duty on several occasions,
although the allusions in it might be considered personal. The piety
and good works of the departed were praised with emphasis, but the
masculine pronouns originally used were altered above the lines all
throughout to feminine pronouns, and the word "brother" to "sister," so
that no difficulty might arise in reading it for either sex. I was
faint, benumbed, and with no heart for anything. I talked for about
half-an-hour about what I considered to be the real meaning of the
death of Christ, thinking that this was a subject which might prove as
attractive as any other.
After the service the assembly of seventeen departed, save one thin
elderly gentleman, who came into the vestry, and having made a slight
bow, said: "Mr. Rutherford, will you come with me, if you please?" I
accordingly followed him, almost in silence, through the village till
we reached his house, where his wife, who had gone on before, received
us. They had formerly kept the shop which the dealer now had, but had
retired. They might both be about sixty-five, and were of about the
same temperament, pale, thin, and ineffectual, as if they had been fed
We had dinner in a large room with an old-fashioned grate in it, in
which was stuck a basket stove. I remember perfectly well what we had
for dinner. There was a neck of mutton (cold), potatoes, cabbage, a
suet pudding, and some of the strangest-looking ale I ever saw--about
the colour of lemon juice, but what it was really like I do not know,
as I did not drink beer. I was somewhat surprised at being asked
whether I would take potatoes OR cabbage, but thinking it was the
custom of the country not to indulge in both at once, and remembering
that I was on probation, I said "cabbage."
Very little was spoken during dinner-time by anybody, and scarcely a
word by my hostess. After dinner she cleared the things away, and did
not again appear. My host drew near the basket stove, and having
remarked that it was beginning to rain, fell into a slumber. At twenty
minutes to two we sallied out for the afternoon service, and found the
seventeen again in their places, excepting the two labourers, who were
probably prevented by the wet from attending.
The service was a repetition of that in the morning, and when I came
down my host again came forward and presented me with nineteen
shillings. The fee was a guinea, but from that two shillings were
abated for my entertainment. He informed me at the same time that a
farmer, who had been hearing me and who lived five miles on my road,
would give me a lift. He was a very large, stout man, with a rosy
countenance, which was somewhat of a relief after the gruel face of my
former friend. We went round to a stable-yard, and I got into a four-
wheeled chaise. His wife sat with him in front, and a biggish boy sat
with me behind.
When we came to a guide-post which pointed down his lane, I got out,
and was dismissed in the dark with the observation--uttered good-
naturedly and jovially, but not very helpfully--that he was "afraid I
should have a wettish walk." The walk certainly was wettish, and as I
had had nothing to eat or drink since my midday meal, I was miserable
and desponding. But just before I reached home the clouds rolled off
with the south-west wind into detached, fleecy masses, separated by
liquid blue gulfs, in which were sowed the stars, and the effect upon
me was what that sight, thank God, always has been--a sense of the
infinite, extinguishing all mean cares.
I expected to hear no more from my Unitarian acquaintances, and was
therefore greatly surprised when, a week after my visit, I received an
invitation to "settle" amongst them. The usual month's trial was
thought unnecessary, as I was not altogether a stranger to some of
them. I hardly knew what to do, I could not feel any enthusiasm at the
prospect of the engagement, but, on the other hand, there was nothing
else before me. There is no more helpless person in this world than a
minister who is thrown out of work. At any rate, I should be doing no
harm if I went.
I pondered over the matter a good deal, and then reflected that in a
case where every opening is barred save one, it is our duty not to
plunge at an impassable barrier, but to take that one opening, however
unpromising it may be. Accordingly I accepted. My income was to be a
hundred a year, and it was proposed that I should lodge with my friend
the retired dealer, who had the only two rooms in the village which
I went to bid Mardon and Mary good-bye. I had not seen either of them
since the night of the song. To my surprise I found them both away.
The blinds were down and the door locked. A neighbour, who heard me
knocking, came out and told me the news. Mardon had had a dispute with
his employer, and had gone to London to look for work. Mary had gone
to see a relative at some distance, and would remain there until her
father had determined what was to be done.
I obtained the addresses of both of them, and wrote to Mardon, telling
him what my destiny for the present was to be. To Mary I wrote also,
and to her I offered my heart. Looking backward, I have sometimes
wondered that I felt so little hesitation; not that I have ever doubted
since, that what I did then was the one perfectly right thing which I
have done in my life, but because it was my habit so to confuse myself
with meditative indecision. I had doubted before. I remember once
being so near engaging myself to a girl that the desk was open and the
paper under my hand. But I held back, could not make up my mind, and
happily was stayed. Had I not been restrained, I should for ever have
been miserable. The remembrance of this escape, and the certain
knowledge that of all beings whom I knew I was most likely to be
mistaken in an emergency, always produced in me a torturing tendency to
inaction. There was no such tendency now. I thought I chose Mary, but
there was no choice. The feeblest steel filing which is drawn to a
magnet, would think, if it had consciousness, that it went to the
magnet of its own free will. My soul rushed to hers as if dragged by
the force of a loadstone.
But she was not to be mine. I had a note from her, a sweet note,
thanking me with much tenderness for my affectionate regard for her,
but saying that her mind had long since been made up. She was an only
child of a mother whom her father had loved above everything in life,
and she could never leave him nor suffer any affection to interfere
with that which she felt for him and which he felt for her. I might
well misinterpret him, and think it strange that he should be so much
bound up in her. Few people knew him as she did.
The shock to me at first was overpowering, and I fell under the
influence of that horrible monomania from which I had been free for so
long. For weeks I was prostrate, with no power of resistance; the evil
being intensified by my solitude. Of all the dreadful trials which
human nature has the capacity to bear unshattered, the worst--as,
indeed, I have already said--is the fang of some monomaniacal idea
which cannot be wrenched out. A main part of the misery, as I have
also said, lies in the belief that suffering of this kind is peculiar
to ourselves. We are afraid to speak of it, and not knowing,
therefore, how common it is, we are distracted with the fear that it is
our own special disease.
I managed to get through my duties, but how I cannot tell. Fortunately
our calamities are not what they appear to be when they lie in
perspective behind us or before us, for they actually consist of
distinct moments, each of which is overcome by itself. I was helped by
remembering my recovery before, and I was able now, as a reward of
long-continued abstinence from wine, to lie much stiller, and wait with
more patience till the cloud should lift.
Mardon having gone to London, I was more alone than ever, but my love
for Mary increased in intensity, and had a good deal to do with my
restoration to health. It was a hopeless love, but to be in love
hopelessly is more akin to sanity than careless, melancholy
indifference to the world. I was relieved from myself by the anchorage
of all my thoughts elsewhere. The pain of loss was great, but the main
curse of my existence has not been pain or loss, but gloom; blind
wandering in a world of black fog, haunted by apparitions. I am not
going to expand upon the history of my silent relationship to Mary
during that time. How can I? All that I felt has been described
better by others; and if it had not been, I have no mind to attempt a
description myself, which would answer no purpose.
I continued to correspond with Mardon, but with Mary I interchanged no
word. After her denial of me I should have dreaded the charge of
selfishness if I had opened my lips again. I could not place myself in
her affection before her father.
My work at the chapel was of the most lifeless kind. My people really
consisted of five families--those of the retired dealer, the farmer who
took me home the first day I preached, and a man who kept a shop in the
village for the sale of all descriptions of goods, including ready-made
clothing and provisions. He had a wife and one child.
Then there was a super-annuated brass-founder, who had a large house
near, and who nominally was a Unitarian, having professed himself a
Unitarian in the town in which he was formerly in business, where
Unitarianism was flourishing. He had come down here to cultivate, for
amusement, a few acres of ground, and play the squire at a cheap rate.
Released from active employment, he had given himself over to eating
and drinking, particularly the drinking of port wine. His wife was
dead, his sons were in business for themselves, and his daughters all
went to church. His connection with the chapel was merely nominal, and
I was very glad it was so. I was hardly ever brought into contact with
him, except as trustee, and once I was asked to his house to dinner;
but the attempt to make me feel my inferiority was so painful, and the
rudeness of his children was so marked, that I never went again.
There was also a schoolmaster, who kept a low-priced boarding-school
with a Unitarian connection. He lived, however, at such a distance
that his visits were very unfrequent. Sometimes on a fine summer's
Sunday morning the boys would walk over--about twenty of them
altogether, but this only happened perhaps half-a-dozen times in a
Although my congregation had a freethought lineage, I do not think that
I ever had anything to do with a more petrified set. With one
exception, they were meagre in the extreme. They were perfectly
orthodox, except that they denied a few orthodox doctrines. Their
method was as strict as that of the most rigid Calvinist. They plumed
themselves, however, greatly on their intellectual superiority over the
Wesleyans and Baptists round them; and so far as I could make out, the
only topics they delighted in were demonstrations of the unity of God
from texts in the Bible, and polemics against tri-theism. Sympathy
with the great problems then beginning to agitate men they had none.
Socially they were cold, and the entertainment at their houses was pale
and penurious. They never considered themselves bound to contribute a
shilling to my support. There was an endowment of a hundred a year,
and they were relieved from all further anxiety. They had no
enthusiasm for their chapel, and came or stayed away on the Sunday just
as it suited them, and without caring to assign any reason.
The one exception was the wife of the shopkeeper. She was a contrast
to her husband and all the rest. I do not think she was a Unitarian
born and bred. She talked but little about theology, but she was
devoted to her Bible, and had a fine sense for all the passages in it
which had an experience in them. She was generous, spiritual, and
possessed of an unswerving instinct for what was right. Oftentimes her
prompt decisions were a scandal to her more sedate friends, who did not
believe in any way of arriving at the truth except by rationalising,
but she hardly ever failed to hit the mark. It was in questions of
relationship between persons, of behaviour, and of morals, that her
guidance was the surest. In such cases her force seemed to keep her
straight, while the weakness of those around made it impossible for
them not to wander, first on one side and then on the other. She was
unflinching in her expressions, and at any sacrifice did her duty. It
was her severity in obeying her conscience which not only gave
authority to her admonitions, but was the source of her inspirations.
She was not much of a reader, but she read strange things. She had
some old volumes of a magazine--a "Repository" of some kind; I have
forgotten what--and she picked out from them some translations of
German verses which she greatly admired. She was not a well educated
woman in the school sense of the word, and of several of our greatest
names in literature had heard nothing. I do not think she knew
anything about Shakespeare, and she never entered into the meaning of
dramatic poetry. At all points her path was her own, intersecting at
every conceivable angle the paths of her acquaintances, and never
straying along them except just so far as they might happen to be hers.
While I was in the village an event happened which caused much
commotion. Her son was serving in the shop, and there was in the house
at the time a nice-looking, clean servant-girl. Mrs. Lane, for that
was my friend's name, had meditated discharging her, for, with her
usual quickness, she thought she saw something in the behaviour of her
son to the girl which was peculiar. One morning, however, both her son
and the girl were absent, and there was a letter upon the table
announcing that they were in a town about twenty miles off and were
The shock was great, and a tumult of voices arose, confusing counsel.
Mrs. Lane said but little, but never wavered an instant. Leaving her
husband to "consider what was best to be done," she got out the gig,
drove herself over to her son's lodging, and presented herself to her
amazed daughter-in-law, who fell upon her knees and prayed for pity.
"My dear," said Mrs. Lane, "get up this instant; you are my daughter.
Not another word. I've come to see what you want." And she kissed her
tenderly. The girl was at heart a good girl. She was so bound to her
late mistress and her new mother by this behaviour, that the very depth
in her opened, and she loved Mrs. Lane ever afterwards with almost
religious fervour. She was taught a little up to her son's level, and
a happier marriage I never knew. Mrs. Lane told me what she had done,
but she had no theory about it. She merely said she knew it to be the
right thing to do.
She was very fond of getting up early in the morning and going out, and
in such a village this was an eccentricity bordering almost on lunacy.
At five o'clock she was often wandering about her garden. She was a
great lover of order in the house, and kept it well under control, but
I do not think I ever surprised her when she was so busy that she would
not easily, and without any apparent sacrifice, leave what she was
doing to come and talk with me.
As I have said, the world of books in which I lived was almost
altogether shut to her, but yet she was the only person in the village
whose conversation was lifted out of the petty and personal into the
region of the universal. I have been thus particular in describing
her--I fear without raising any image of her--because she was of
incalculable service to me. I languished from lack of life, and her
mere presence, so exuberant in its full vivacity, was like mountain
air. Furthermore, she was not troubled much with my philosophical
difficulties. They had not come in her path. Her world was the world
of men and women--more particularly of those she knew--and it was a
world in which it did me good to dwell. She was all the more important
to me, because outside our own little circle there was no society
whatever. The Church and the other Dissenting bodies considered us
I often wondered that Mr. Lane retained his business, and, indeed, he
would have lost it if he had not established a reputation for honesty,
which drew customers to him, who, notwithstanding the denunciations of
the parson, preferred tea with some taste in it from a Unitarian to the
insipid wood-flavoured stuff which was sold by the grocer who believed
in the Trinity.
CHAPTER VIII--PROGRESS IN EMANCIPATION
I was with my Unitarian congregation for about a twelvemonth. My life
during that time, save so far as my intercourse with Mrs. Lane, and one
other friend presently to be mentioned, was concerned, was as sunless
and joyless as it had ever been. Imagine me living by myself, roaming
about the fields, and absorbed mostly upon insoluble problems with
which I never made any progress, and which tended to draw me away from
what enjoyment of life there was which I might have had.
One day I was walking along under the south side of a hill, which was a
great place for butterflies, and I saw a man, apparently about fifty
years old, coming along with a butterfly-net. He did not see me, for
he looked about for a convenient piece of turf, and presently sat down,
taking out a sandwich-box, from which he produced his lunch. His
occupation did not particularly attract me, but in those days, if I
encountered a new person who was not repulsive, I was always as eager
to make his acquaintance as if he perchance might solve a secret for
me, the answer to which I burned to know. I have been disappointed so
many times, and have found that nobody has much more to tell me, that
my curiosity has somewhat abated, but even now, the news that anybody
who has the reputation for intelligence has come near me, makes me
restless to see him. I accordingly saluted the butterfly-catcher, who
returned the salutation kindly, and we began to talk.
He told me that he had come seven miles that morning to that spot
because he knew that it was haunted by one particular species of
butterfly which he wished to get; and as it was a still, bright day, he
hoped to find a specimen. He had been unsuccessful for some years.
Presupposing that I knew all about his science, he began to discourse
upon it with great freedom, and he ended by saying that he would be
happy to show me his collection, which was one of the finest in the
"But I forget," said he, "as I always forget in such cases, perhaps you
don't care for butterflies."
"I take much interest in them. I admire exceedingly the beauty of
"Ah, yes, but you don't care for them scientifically, or for collecting
"No, not particularly. I cannot say I ever saw much pleasure in the
mere classification of insects."
"Perhaps you are devoted to some other science?"
"No, I am not."
"Well, I daresay it looks absurd for a man at my years to be running
after a moth. I used to think it was absurd, but I am wiser now.
However, I cannot stop to talk; I shall lose the sunshine. The first
time you are anywhere near me, come and have a look. You will alter
Some weeks afterwards I happened to be in the neighbourhood of the
butterfly-catcher's house, and I called. He was at home, and welcomed
me cordially. The first thing he did was to show me his little museum.
It was really a wonderful exhibition, and as I saw the creatures in
lines, and noted the amazing variations of the single type, I was
filled with astonishment. Seeing the butterflies systematically
arranged was a totally different thing from seeing a butterfly here and
there, and gave rise to altogether new thoughts. My friend knew his
subject from end to end, and I envied him his mastery of it. I had
often craved the mastery of some one particular province, be it ever so
minute. I half or a quarter knew a multitude of things, but no one
thing thoroughly, and was never sure, just when I most wanted to be
sure. We got into conversation, and I was urged to stay to dinner. I
consented, and found that my friend's household consisted of himself
alone. After dinner, as we became a little more communicative, I asked
him when and how he took to this pursuit.
"It will be twenty-six years ago next Christmas," said he, "since I
suffered a great calamity. You will forgive my saying anything about
it, as I have no assurance that the wound which looks healed may not
break out again. Suffice to say, that for some ten years or more my
thoughts were almost entirely occupied with death and our future state.
There is a strange fascination about these topics to many people,
because they are topics which permit a great deal of dreaming, but very
little thinking: in fact, true thinking, in the proper sense of the
word, is impossible in dealing with them. There is no rigorous advance
from one position to another, which is really all that makes thinking
worth the name. Every man can imagine or say cloudy things about death
and the future, and feel himself here, at least, on a level with the
ablest brain which he knows.
"I went on gazing gloomily into dark emptiness, till all life became
nothing for me. I did not care to live, because there was no assurance
of existence beyond. By the strangest of processes, I neglected the
world, because I had so short a time to be in it. It is with absolute
horror now that I look back upon those days, when I lay as if alive in
a coffin of lead. All passions and pursuits were nullified by the
ever-abiding sense of mortality. For years this mood endured, and I
was near being brought down to the very dust.
"At last, by the greatest piece of good fortune, I was obliged to go
abroad. The change, and the obligation to occupy myself about many
affairs, was an incalculable blessing to me. While travelling I was
struck with the remarkable and tropical beauty of the insects, and
especially of the butterflies. I captured a few, and brought them
home. On showing them to a friend, learned in such matters, I
discovered that they were rare, and I had a little cabinet made for
them. I looked into the books, found what it was which I had got, and
what I had not got.
"Next year it was my duty to go abroad again, and I went with some
feeling akin to pleasure, for I wished to add to my store. I increased
it considerably, and by the time I returned I had as fine a show as any
private person might wish to possess. A good deal of my satisfaction,
perhaps, was unaccountable, and no rational explanation can be given of
it. But men should not be too curious in analysing and condemning any
means which Nature devises to save them from themselves, whether it be
coins, old books, curiosities, butterflies, or fossils. And yet my
newly-acquired passion was not altogether inexplicable. I was the
owner of something which other persons did not own, and in a little
while, in my own limited domain, I was supreme. No man either can
study any particular science thoroughly without transcending it; and it
is an utter mistake to suppose that, because a student sticks to any
one branch, he necessarily becomes contracted.
"However, I am not going to philosophise; I do not like it. All I can
say is, that I shun all those metaphysical speculations of former years
as I would a path which leads to madness. Other people may be able to
occupy themselves with them and be happy; I cannot. I find quite
enough in my butterflies to exercise my wonder, and yet, on the other
hand, my study is not a mere vacant, profitless stare. When you saw me
that morning, I was trying to obtain an example which I have long
wanted to fill up a gap. I have looked for it for years, but have
missed it. But I know it has been seen lately where we met, and I
shall triumph at last."
A good deal of all this was to me incomprehensible. It seemed mere
solemn trifling compared with the investigation of those great
questions with which I had been occupied, but I could not resist the
contagion of my friend's enthusiasm when he took me to his little
library and identified his treasures with pride, pointing out at the
same time those in which he was deficient. He was specially exultant
over one minute creature which he had caught himself, which he had not
as yet seen figured, and he proposed going to the British Museum almost
on purpose to see if he could find it there.
When I got home I made inquiries into the history of my entomologist.
I found that years ago he had married a delicate girl, of whom he was
devotedly fond. She died in childbirth, leaving him completely broken.
Her offspring, a boy, survived, but he was a cripple, and grew up
deformed. As he neared manhood he developed a satyr-like lustfulness,
which was almost uncontrollable, and made it difficult to keep him at
home without constraint. He seemed to have no natural affection for
his father, nor for anybody else, but was cunning with the base,
beastly cunning of the ape. The father's horror was infinite. This
thing was his only child, and the child of the woman whom he
worshipped. He was excluded from all intercourse with friends; for, as
the boy could not be said to be mad, he could not be shut up. After
years of inconceivable misery, however, lust did deepen into absolute
lunacy, and the crooked, misshapen monster was carried off to an
asylum, where he died, and the father well-nigh went there too.
Before I had been six months amongst the Unitarians, I found life even
more intolerable with them than it had been with the Independents. The
difference of a little less belief was nothing. The question of
Unitarianism was altogether dead to me; and although there was a phase
of the doctrine of God's unity which would now and then give me an
opportunity for a few words which I felt, it was not a phase for which
my hearers in the least cared or which they understood.
Here, as amongst the Independents, there was the same lack of personal
affection, or even of a capability of it--excepting always Mrs. Lane--
and, in fact, it was more distressing amongst the Unitarians than
amongst the orthodox. The desire for something like sympathy and love
absolutely devoured me. I dwelt on all the instances in poetry and
history in which one human being had been bound to another human being,
and I reflected that my existence was of no earthly importance to
anybody. I could not altogether lay the blame on myself. God knows
that I would have stood against a wall and have been shot for any man
or woman whom I loved, as cheerfully as I would have gone to bed, but
nobody seemed to wish for such a love, or to know what to do with it.
Oh, the humiliations under which this weakness has bent me! Often and
often I have thought that I have discovered somebody who could really
comprehend the value of a passion which could tell everything and
venture everything. I have overstepped all bounds of etiquette in
obtruding myself on him, and have opened my heart even to shame. I
have then found that it was all on my side. For every dozen times I
went to his house, he came to mine once, and only when pressed: I have
languished in sickness for a month without his finding it out; and if I
were to drop into the grave, he would perhaps never give me another
thought. If I had been born a hundred years earlier, I should have
transferred this burning longing to the unseen God and have become a
devotee. But I was a hundred years too late, and I felt that it was
mere cheating of myself and a mockery to think about love for the only
God whom I knew--the forces which maintained the universe.
I am now getting old, and have altered in many things. The hunger and
thirst of those years have abated, or rather, the fire has had ashes
heaped on it, so that it is well-nigh extinguished. I have been
repulsed into self-reliance and reserve, having learned wisdom by
experience; but still I know that the desire has not died, as so many
other desires have died, by the natural evolution of age. It has been
forcibly suppressed, and that is all. If anybody who reads these words
of mine should be offered by any young dreamer such a devotion as I
once had to offer, and had to take back again refused so often, let him
in the name of all that is sacred accept it. It is simply the most
precious thing in existence. Had I found anybody who would have
thought so, my life would have been redeemed into something which I
have often imagined, but now shall never know.
I determined to leave, but what to do I could not tell. I was fit for
nothing, and yet I could not make up my mind to accept a life which was
simply living. It must be a life, through which some benefit was
conferred upon my fellow-creatures. This was mainly delusion. I had
not then learned to correct this natural instinct to be of some service
to mankind by the thought of the boundlessness of infinity and of
Nature's profuseness. I had not come to reflect that, taking into
account her eternities, and absolute exhaustlessness, it was folly in
me to fret and fume, and I therefore clung to the hope that I might
employ myself in some way which, however feebly, would help mankind a
little to the realisation of an ideal. But I was not the man for such
a mission. I lacked altogether that concentration which binds up the
scattered powers into one resistless energy, and I lacked faith. All I
could do was to play the vagrant in literature, picking up here and
there an idea which attracted me, and presenting it to my flock on the
Sunday; the net result being next to nothing.
However, existence like that which I had been leading was intolerable,
and change it I must. I accordingly resigned, and with ten pounds in
my pocket, which was all that remained after paying my bills, I came to
London, thinking that until I could settle what to do, I would try and
teach in a school. I called on an agent somewhere near the Strand, and
after a little negotiation, was engaged by a gentleman who kept a
private establishment at Stoke Newington.
Thither I accordingly went one Monday afternoon in January, about two
days before the term commenced. When I got there, I was shown into a
long schoolroom, which had been built out from the main building. It
was dark, save for one candle, and was warmed by a stove. The walls
were partly covered with maps, and at one end of the room hung a
diagram representing a globe, on which an immense amount of wasted
ingenuity had been spent to produce the illusion of solidity. The
master, I was told, was out, and in this room with one candle I
remained till nine o'clock. At that time a servant brought me some
bread and cheese on a small tray, with half-a-pint of beer. I asked
for water, which was given me, and she then retired. The tray was set
down on the master's raised desk, and sitting there I ate my supper in
silence, looking down upon the dimly-lighted forms, and forward into
the almost absolute gloom.
At ten o'clock a man, who seemed as if he were the knife and boot-
cleaner, came and said he would show me where I was to sleep. We
passed through the schoolroom into a kind of court, where there was a
ladder standing against a trap-door. He told me that my bedroom was up
there, and that when I got up I could leave the ladder down, or pull it
up after me, just as I pleased.
I ascended and found a little chamber, duly furnished with a chest of
drawers, bed, and washhand-stand. It was tolerably clean and decent;
but who shall describe what I felt! I went to the window and looked
out. There were scattered lights here and there, marking roads, but as
they crossed one another, and now and then stopped where building had
ceased, the effect they produced was that of bewilderment with no clue
to it. Further off was the great light of London, like some unnatural
dawn, or the illumination from a fire which could not itself be seen.
I was overcome with the most dreadful sense of loneliness. I suppose
it is the very essence of passion, using the word in its literal sense,
that no account can be given of it by the reason.
Reflecting on what I suffered, then, I cannot find any solid ground for
it, and yet there are not half-a-dozen days or nights of my life which
remain with me like that one. I was beside myself with a kind of
terror, which I cannot further explain. It is possible for another
person to understand grief for the death of a friend, bodily suffering,
or any emotion which has a distinct cause, but how shall he understand
the worst of all calamities, the nameless dread, the efflux of all
vitality, the ghostly, haunting horror which is so nearly akin to
It is many years ago since that evening, but while I write I am at the
window still, and the yellow flare of the city is still in my eyes. I
remember the thought of all the happy homes which lay around me, in
which dwelt men who had found a position, an occupation, and, above all
things, affection. I know the causelessness of a good deal of all
those panic fears and all that suffering, but I tremble to think how
thin is the floor on which we stand which separates us from the
The next morning I went down into the schoolroom, and after I had been
there for some little time, the proprietor of the school made his
appearance. He was not a bad man, nor even unkind in his way, but he
was utterly uninteresting, and as commonplace as might be expected
after having for many years done nothing but fight a very uphill battle
in boarding the sons of tradesfolk, and teaching them, at very moderate
rates, the elements of Latin, and the various branches of learning
which constitute what is called a commercial education. He said that
he expected some of the boys back that day; that when they came, he
should wish me to take my meals with them, but that meanwhile he would
be glad if I would breakfast with him and his wife. This accordingly I
did. What his wife was like I have almost entirely forgotten, and I
only saw her once again. After breakfast he said I could go for a
walk, and for a walk I went; wandering about the dreary, intermingled
chaos of fields with damaged hedges, and new roads divided into
Meanwhile one or two of the boys had made their appearance, and I
therefore had my dinner with them. After dinner, as there was nothing
particular to do, I was again dismissed with them for a walk just as
the light of the winter afternoon was fading. My companions were
dejected, and so was I! The wind was south-easterly, cold, and raw,
and the smoke came up from the region about the river and shrouded all
the building plots in fog. I was now something more than depressed.
It was absolutely impossible to endure such a state of things any
longer, and I determined that, come what might, I would not stop. I
considered whether I should leave without saying a word--that is to
say, whether I should escape, but I feared pursuit and some unknown
When I got home, therefore, I sought the principal, and informed him
that I felt so unwell that I was afraid I must throw up my engagement
at once. He naturally observed that this was a serious business for
him; that my decision was very hasty--what was the matter with me? I
might get better; but he concluded, after my reiterated asseverations
that I must go, with a permission to resign, only on one condition,
that I should obtain an equally efficient substitute at the same
salary. I was more agitated than ever. With my natural tendency to
believe the worst, I had not the least expectation of finding anybody
who would release me.
The next morning I departed on my errand. I knew a poor student who
had been at college with me, and who had nothing to do, and to him I
betook myself. I strove--as even now I firmly believe--not to make the
situation seem any better than it was, and he consented to take it. I
have no clear recollection of anything that happened till the following
day, excepting that I remember with all the vividness of actual and
present sensuous perception lugging my box down the ladder and sending
for a cab. I was in a fever lest anything should arrest me, but the
cab came, and I departed. When I had got fairly clear of the gates, I
literally cried tears of joy--the first and the last of my life. I am
constrained now, however, to admit that my trouble was but a bubble
blown of air, and I doubt whether I have done any good by dwelling upon
CHAPTER IX--OXFORD STREET
Until I had actually left, I hardly knew where I was going, but at last
I made up my mind I would go to Reuben Shapcott, another fellow-
student, whom I knew to be living in lodgings in one of the streets
just then beginning to creep over the unoccupied ground between Camden
Town and Haverstock Hill, near the Chalk Farm turnpike gate. To his
address I betook myself, and found him not at home. He, like me, had
been unsuccessful as a minister, and wrote a London letter for two
country papers, making up about 100 or 120 pounds a year by preaching
occasionally in small Unitarian chapels in the country. I waited till
his return, and told him my story. He advised me to take a bed in the
house where he was staying, and to consider what could be done.
At first I thought I would consult Mardon, but I could not bring myself
to go near him. How was I to behave in Mary's presence? During the
last few months she had been so continually before me, that it would
have been absolutely impossible for me to treat her with assumed
indifference. I could not have trusted myself to attempt it. When I
had been lying alone and awake at night, I had thought of all the
endless miles of hill and valley that lay outside my window, separating
me from the one house in which I could be at peace; and at times I
scarcely prevented myself from getting up and taking the mail train and
presenting myself at Mardon's door, braving all consequences. With the
morning light, however, would come cooler thoughts and a dull sense of
This, I know, was not pure love for her; it was a selfish passion for
relief. But then I have never known what is meant by a perfectly pure
love. When Christian was in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and,
being brought to the mouth of hell, was forced to put up his sword, and
could do no other than cry, O Lord, I beseech Thee, deliver my soul, he
heard a voice going before him and saying, Though I walk through the
Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear none ill, for Thou art with
me. And by and by the day broke. "Then," said Christian, "He hath
turned the Shadow of Death into morning. Whereupon Christian sang -
"Oh, world of wonders! (I can say no less)
That I should be preserved in that distress
That I have met with here! Oh, blessed be
That hand that from it hath delivered me!"
This was Christian's love for God, and for God as his helper. Was that
perfectly pure? However, this is a digression. I determined to help
myself in my own way, and thought I would try the publishers. One
morning I walked from Camden Town to Paternoster Row. I went
straightway into two or three shops and asked whether they wanted
anybody. I was ready to do the ordinary work it of a publisher's
assistant, and aspired no higher. I met with several refusals, some of
them not over-polite, and the degradation--for so I felt it--of
wandering through the streets and suing for employment cut me keenly.
I remember one man in particular, who spoke to me with the mechanical
brutality with which probably he replied to a score of similar
applications every week. He sat in a little glass box at the end of a
long dark room lighted with gas. It was a bitterly cold room, with no
contrivances for warming it, but in his box there was a fire burning
for his own special benefit. He surveyed all his clerks unceasingly,
and woe betide the unhappy wretch who was caught idling. He and his
slaves reminded me of a thrashing-machine which is worked by horses
walking round in a ring, the driver being perched on a high stool in
the middle and armed with a long whip.
While I was waiting his pleasure he came out and spoke to one or two of
his miserable subordinates words of directest and sharpest rebuke,
without anger or the least loss of self-possession, and yet without the
least attempt to mitigate their severity. I meditated much upon him.
If ever I had occasion to rebuke anybody, I always did it
apologetically, unless I happened to be in a flaming passion--and this
was my habit, not from any respectable motive of consideration for the
person rebuked, but partly because I am timid, and partly because I
shrink from giving pain. This man said with perfect ease what I could
not have said unless I had been wrought up to white heat. With all my
dislike to him, I envied him: I envied his complete certainty; for
although his language was harsh in the extreme, he was always sure of
his ground, and the victim upon whom his lash descended could never say
that he had given absolutely no reason for the chastisement, and that
it was altogether a mistake. I envied also his ability to make himself
disagreeable and care nothing about it; his power to walk in his own
path, and his resolve to succeed, no matter what the cost might be.
As I left him, it occurred to me that I might be more successful
perhaps with a publisher of whom I had heard, who published and sold
books of a sceptical turn. To him I accordingly went, and although I
had no introductions or recommendatory letters, I was received, if not
with a cordiality, at least with an interest which surprised me. He
took me into a little back shop, and after hearing patiently what I
wanted, he asked me somewhat abruptly what I thought of the miracles in
the Bible. This was a curious question if he wished to understand my
character; but his mind so constantly revolved in one circle, and
existed so completely by hostility to the prevailing orthodoxy, that
belief or disbelief in it was the standard by which he judged men. It
was a very absurd standard doubtless, but no more absurd than many
others, and not so absurd then as it would be now, when heresy is
becoming more fashionable.
I explained to him as well as I could what my position was; that I did
not suppose that the miracles actually happened as they are recorded,
but that, generally speaking, the miracle was a very intense statement
of a divine truth; in fact, a truth which was felt with a more than
common intensity seemed to take naturally a miraculous expression.
Hence, so far from neglecting the miraculous stories of the Bible as
simply outside me, I rejoiced in them more, perhaps, than in the plain
historical or didactic prose.
He seemed content, although hardly to comprehend, and the result was
that he asked me if I would help him in his business. In order to do
this, it would be more economical if I would live in his house, which
was too big for him. He promised to give me 40 pounds a year, in
addition to board and lodging. I joyously assented, and the bargain
The next day I came to my new quarters. I found that he was a
bachelor, with a niece, apparently about four or five and twenty years
old, acting as a housekeeper, who assisted him in literary work. My
own room was at the top of the house, warm, quiet, and comfortable,
although the view was nothing but a wide reaching assemblage of
chimney-pots. My hours were long--from nine in the morning till seven
in the evening; but this I did not mind. I felt that if I was not
happy, I was at least protected, and that I was with a man who cared
for me, and for whom I cared. The first day I went there, he said that
I could have a fire in my bedroom whenever I chose, so that I could
always retreat to it when I wished to be by myself. As for my duties,
I was to sell his books, keep his accounts, read proofs, run errands,
and in short do just what he did himself.
After my first morning's work we went upstairs to dinner, and I was
introduced to "my niece Theresa." I was rather surprised that I should
have been admitted to a house in which there lived a young woman with
no mother nor aunt, but this surprise ceased when I came to know more
of Theresa and her uncle. She had yellowish hair which was naturally
waved, a big arched head, greyish-blue eyes, so far as I could make
out, and a mouth which, although it had curves in it, was compressed
and indicative of great force of character. She was rather short, with
square shoulders, and she had a singularly vigorous, firm walk. She
had a way, when she was not eating or drinking, of sitting back in her
chair at table and looking straight at the person with whom she was
Her uncle, whom, by the way, I had forgotten to name--his name was
Wollaston--happened to know some popular preacher whom I knew, and I
said that I wondered so many people went to hear him, for I believed
him to be a hypocrite, and hypocrisy was one of the easiest of crimes
to discover. Theresa, who had hitherto been silent, and was reclining
in her usual attitude, instantly broke out with an emphasis and
directness which quite startled me.
"The easiest to discover, do you think, Mr. Rutherford? I think it is
the most difficult, at least for ordinary persons; and when they do
discover it, I believe they like it, especially if it is successful.
They like the sanction it gives to their own hypocrisy. They like a
man to come to them who will say to them, 'We are all hypocrites
together,' and who will put his finger to his nose and comfort them.
Don't you think so yourself?"
In conversation I was always a bad hand at assuming a position contrary
to the one assumed by the person to whom I might be talking--nor could
I persistently maintain my own position if it happened to be opposed.
I always rather tried to see as my opponent saw, and to discover how
much there was in him with which I could sympathise. I therefore
assented weakly to Theresa, and she seemed disappointed. Dinner was
just over; she got up and rang the bell and went out of the room.
I found my work very hard, and some of it even loathsome. Particularly
loathsome was that part of it which brought me into contact with the
trade. I had to sell books to the booksellers' assistants, and I had
to collect books myself. These duties are usually undertaken in large
establishments by men specially trained, who receive a low rate of
wages and who are rather a rough set. It was totally different work to
anything I had ever had to do before, and I suffered as a man with soft
hands would suffer who was suddenly called to be a blacksmith or a
Specially, too, did I miss the country. London lay round me like a
mausoleum. I got into the habit of rising very early in the morning
and walking out to Kensington Gardens and back before breakfast,
varying my route occasionally so as even to reach Battersea Bridge,
which was always a favourite spot with me. Kensington Gardens and
Battersea Bridge were poor substitutes for the downs, and for the level
stretch by the river towards the sea where I first saw Mardon, but we
make too much of circumstances, and the very pressure of London
produced a sensibility to whatever loveliness could be apprehended
there, which was absent when loveliness was always around me. The
stars seen in Oxford Street late one night; a sunset one summer evening
from Lambeth pier; and, above everything, Piccadilly very early one
summer morning, abide with me still, when much that was more romantic
has been forgotten. On the whole, I was not unhappy. The constant
outward occupation prevented any eating of the heart or undue brooding
over problems which were insoluble, at least for my intellect, and on
that very account fascinated me the more.
I do not think that Wollaston cared much for me personally. He was a
curious compound, materialistic yet impulsive, and for ever drawn to
some new thing; without any love for anybody particularly, as far as I
could see, and yet with much more general kindness and philanthropy
than many a man possessing much stronger sympathies and antipathies.
There was no holy of holies in him, into which one or two of the elect
could occasionally be admitted and feel God to be there. He was no
temple, but rather a comfortable, hospitable house open to all friends,
well furnished with books and pictures, and free to every guest from
garret to cellar. He had "liberal" notions about the relationship
between the sexes. Not that he was a libertine, but he disbelieved in
marriage, excepting for so long as husband and wife are a necessity to
one another. If one should find the other uninteresting, or somebody
else more interesting, he thought there ought to be a separation.
All this I soon learned from him, for he was communicative without any
reserve. His treatment of his niece was peculiar. He would talk on
all kinds of subjects before her, for he had a theory that she ought to
receive precisely the same social training as men, and should know just
what men knew. He was never coarse, but on the other hand he would say
things to her in my presence which brought a flame into my face. What
the evil consequences of this might be, I could not at once foresee,
but one good result obviously was, that in his house there was nothing
of that execrable practice of talking down to women; there was no
change of level when women were present.
One day he began to speak about a novel which everybody was reading
then, and I happened to say that I wished people who wrote novels would
not write as if love were the very centre and sum of human existence.
A man's life was made up of so much besides love, and yet novelists
were never weary of repeating the same story, telling it over and over
again in a hundred different forms.
"I do not agree with you," said Theresa. "I disagree with you utterly.
I dislike foolish, inane sentiment--it makes me sick; but I do believe,
in the first place, that no man was ever good for anything who has not
been devoured, I was going to say, by a great devotion to a woman. The
lives of your great men are as much the history of women whom they
adored as of themselves. Dante, Byron, Shelley, it is the same with
all of them, and there is no mistake about it; it is the great fact of
life. What would Shakespeare be without it? and Shakespeare is life.
A man, worthy to be named a man, will find the fact of love perpetually
confronting him till he reaches old age, and if he be not ruined by
worldliness or dissipation, will be troubled by it when he is fifty as
much as when he was twenty-five. It is the subject of all subjects.
People abuse love, and think it the cause of half the mischief in the
world. It is the one thing that keeps the world straight, and if it
were not for that overpowering instinct, human nature would fall
asunder; would be the prey of inconceivable selfishness and vices, and
finally, there would be universal suicide. I did not intend to be
eloquent: I hate being eloquent. But you did not mean what you said;
you spoke from the head or teeth merely."
Theresa's little speech was delivered not with any heat of the blood.
There was no excitement in her grey eyes, nor did her cheek burn. Her
brain seemed to rule everything. This was an idea she had, and she
kindled over it because it was an idea. It was impossible, of course,
that she should say what she did without some movement of the organ in
her breast, but how much share this organ had in her utterances I never
could make out. How much was due to the interest which she as a
looker-on felt in men and women, and how much was due to herself as a
woman, was always a mystery to me.
She was fond of music, and occasionally I asked her to play to me. She
had a great contempt for bungling, and not being a professional player,
she never would try a piece in my presence of which she was not
perfectly master. She particularly liked to play Mozart, and on my
asking her once to play a piece of Beethoven, she turned round upon me
and said: "You like Beethoven best. I knew you would. He encourages
a luxurious revelling in the incomprehensible and indefinably sublime.
He is not good for you."
My work was so hard, and the hours were so long, that I had little or
no time for reading, nor for thinking either, except so far as
Wollaston and Theresa made me think. Wollaston himself took rather to
science, although he was not scientific, and made a good deal of what
he called psychology. He was not very profound, but he had picked up a
few phrases, or if this word is too harsh, a few ideas about
metaphysical matters from authors who contemned metaphysics, and with
these he was perfectly satisfied. A stranger listening to him would at
first consider him well read, but would soon be undeceived, and would
find that these ideas were acquired long ago; that he had never gone
behind or below them, and that they had never fructified in him, but
were like hard stones, which he rattled in his pocket. He was totally
unlike Mardon. Mardon, although he would have agreed with many of
Wollaston's results, differed entirely from him in the processes by
which they had been brought about; and a mental comparison of the two
often told me what I had been told over and over again, that what we
believe is not of so much importance as the path by which we travel to
Theresa too, like her uncle, eschewed metaphysics, but she was a woman,
and a woman's impulses supplied in her the lack of those deeper
questionings, and at times prompted them. She was far more original
than he was, and was impatient of the narrowness of the circle in which
he moved. Her love of music, for example, was a thing incomprehensible
to him, and I do not remember that he ever sat for a quarter of an hour
really listening to it. He would read the newspaper or do anything
while she was playing. She never resented his inattention, except when
he made a noise, and then, without any rebuke, she would break off and
go away. This mode of treatment was the outcome of one of her
theories. She disbelieved altogether in punishment, except when it was
likely to do good, either to the person punished or to others. "A good
deal of punishment," she used to say, "is mere useless pain."
Both Theresa and her uncle were kind and human, and I endeavoured to my
utmost to repay them by working my hardest. My few hours of leisure
were sweet, and when I spent them with Wollaston and Theresa, were
interesting. I often asked myself why I found this mode of existence
more tolerable than any other I had hitherto enjoyed. I had, it is
true, an hour or two's unspeakable peace in the early morning, but, as
I have said, at nine my toil commenced, and, with a very brief interval
for meals, lasted till seven. After seven I was too tired to do
anything by myself, and could only keep awake if I happened to be in
One reason certainly why I was content, was Theresa herself. She was a
constant study to me, and I could not for a long time obtain any
consistent idea of her. She was not a this or a that or the other.
She could not be summarily dismissed into any ordinary classification.
At first I was sure she was hard, but I found by the merest accident
that nearly all her earnings were given with utmost secrecy to support
a couple of poor relatives. Then I thought her self-conscious, but
this, when I came to think upon it, seemed a mere word. She was one of
those women, and very rare they are, who deal in ideas, and
reflectiveness must be self-conscious. At times she appeared
passionless, so completely did her intellect dominate, and so superior
was she to all the little arts and weaknesses of women; but this was a
criticism she contradicted continually.
There was very little society at the Wollastons', but occasionally a
few friends called. One evening there was a little party, and the
conversation flagged. Theresa said that it was a great mistake to
bring people together with nothing special to do but talk. Nothing is
more tedious than to be in a company assembled for no particular
reason, and every host, if he asks more than two persons at the
outside, ought to provide some entertainment. Talking is worth nothing
unless it is perfectly spontaneous, and it cannot be spontaneous if
there are sudden and blank silences, and nobody can think of a fresh
departure. The master of the house is bound to do something. He ought
to hire a Punch and Judy show, or get up a dance.
This spice of bitterness and flavour of rudeness was altogether
characteristic of Theresa, and somebody resented it by reminding her
that SHE was the hostess. "Of course," she replied, "that is why I
said it: what shall I do?" One of her gifts was memory, and her
friends cried out at once that she should recite something. She
hesitated a little, and then throwing herself back in her chair, began
The Lass of Lochroyan. At first she was rather diffident, but she
gathered strength as she went on. There is a passage in the middle of
the poem in which Lord Gregory's cruel mother pretends she is Lord
Gregory, and refuses to recognise his former love, Annie of Lochroyan,
as she stands outside his tower. The mother calls to Annie from the
"Gin thou be Annie of Lochroyan
(As I trow thou binna she),
Now tell me some of the love tokens
That passed between thee and me."
"Oh, dinna ye mind, Lord Gregory,
As we sat at the wine,
We changed the rings frae our fingers,
And I can show thee thine?
"Oh, yours was gude, and gude enough,
But aye the best was mine;
For yours was o' the gude red gowd,
BUT MINE O' THE DIAMOND FINE."
The last verse is as noble as anything in any ballad in the English
language, and I thought that when Theresa was half way through it her
voice shook a good deal. There was a glass of flowers standing near
her, and just as she came to an end her arm moved and the glass was in
a moment on the floor, shivered into twenty pieces. I happened to be
watching her, and felt perfectly sure that the movement of her arm was
not accidental, and that her intention was to conceal, by the apparent
mishap, an emotion which was increasing and becoming inconvenient. At
any rate, if that was her object it was perfectly accomplished, for the
recitation was abruptly terminated, there was general commiseration
over the shattered vase, and when the pieces were picked up. and order
was restored, it was nearly time to separate.
Two of my chief failings were forgetfulness and a want of thoroughness
in investigation. What misery have I not suffered from insufficient
presentation of a case to myself, and from prompt conviction of
insufficiency and inaccuracy by the person to whom I in turn presented
it! What misery have I not suffered from the discovery that explicit
directions to me had been overlooked or only half understood!
One day in particular, I had to take round a book to be "subscribed"
which Wollaston had just published--that is to say, I had to take a
copy to each of the leading booksellers to see how many they would
purchase. Some books are sold "thirteen as twelve," the thirteenth
book being given to the purchaser of twelve, and some are sold "twenty-
five as twenty-four." This book was to be sold "twenty-five as twenty-
four," according to Wollaston's orders. I subscribed it thirteen as
twelve. Wollaston was annoyed, as I could see, for I had to go over
all my work again, but in accordance with his fixed principles, he was
not out of temper.
It so happened that that same day he gave me some business
correspondence which I was to look through; and having looked through
it, I was to answer the last letter in the sense which he indicated. I
read the correspondence and wrote the letter for his signature. As
soon as he saw it, he pointed out to me that I had only half mastered
the facts, and that my letter was all wrong. This greatly disturbed
me, not only because I had vexed him and disappointed him, but because
it was renewed evidence of my weakness. I thought that if I was
incapable of getting to the bottom of such a very shallow complication
as this, of what value were any of my thinkings on more difficult
subjects, and I fell a prey to self-contempt and scepticism. Contempt
from those about us is hard to bear, but God help the poor wretch who
How well I recollect the early walk on the following morning in
Kensington Gardens, the feeling of my own utter worthlessness, and the
longing for death as the cancellation of the blunder of my existence!
I went home, and after breakfast some proofs came from the printer of a
pamphlet which Wollaston had in hand. Without unfastening them, he
gave them to me, and said that as he had no time to read them himself,
I must go upstairs to Theresa's study and read them off with her.
Accordingly I went and began to read. She took the manuscript and I
took the proof. She read about a page, and then she suddenly stopped.
"Oh, Mr. Rutherford," she said, it, "what have you done? I heard my
uncle distinctly tell you to mark on the manuscript when it went to the
printer, that it was to be printed in demy octavo, and you have marked
I had had little sleep that night, I was exhausted with my early walk,
and suddenly the room seemed to fade from me and I fainted. When I
came to myself, I found that Theresa had not sought for any help; she
had done all that ought to be done. She had unfastened my collar and
had sponged my face with cold water. The first thing I saw as I
gradually recovered myself, was her eyes looking steadily at me as she
stood over me, and I felt her hand upon my head. When she was sure I
was coming to myself, she held off and sat down in her chair.
I was a little hysterical, and after the fit was over I broke loose.
With a storm of tears, I laid open all my heart. I told her how
nothing I had ever attempted had succeeded; that I had never even been
able to attain that degree of satisfaction with myself and my own
conclusions, without which a man cannot live; and that now I found I
was useless, even to the best friends I had ever known, and that the
meanest clerk in the city would serve them better than I did. I was
beside myself, and I threw myself on my knees, burying my face in
Theresa's lap and sobbing convulsively. She did not repel me, but she
gently passed her fingers through my hair. Oh, the transport of that
touch! It was as if water had been poured on a burnt hand, or some
miraculous Messiah had soothed the delirium of a fever-stricken
sufferer, and replaced his visions of torment with dreams of Paradise.
She gently lifted me up, and as I rose I saw her eyes too were wet.
"My poor friend," she said, "I cannot talk to you now. You are not
strong enough, and for that matter, nor am I, but let me say this to
you, that you are altogether mistaken about yourself. The meanest
clerk in the city could not take your place here." There was just a
slight emphasis I thought upon the word "here." "Now" she said, "you
had better go. I will see about the pamphlet."
I went out mechanically, and I anticipate my story so far as to say
that, two days after, another proof came in the proper form. I went to
the printer to offer to pay for setting it up afresh, and was told that
Miss Wollaston had been there and had paid herself for the
rectification of the mistake, giving special injunctions that no notice
of it was to be given to her uncle. I should like to add one more
beatitude to those of the gospels and to say, Blessed are they who heal
us of self-despisings. Of all services which can be done to man, I
know of none more precious.
When I went back to my work I worshipped Theresa, and was entirely
overcome with unhesitating, absorbing love for her. I saw no thing
more of her that day nor the next day. Her uncle told me that she had
gone into the country, and that probably she would not return for some
time, as she had purposed paying a lengthened visit to a friend at a
distance. I had a mind to write to her; but I felt as I have often
felt before in great crises, a restraint which was gentle and
incomprehensible, but nevertheless unmistakable. I suppose it is not
what would be called conscience, as conscience is supposed to decide
solely between right and wrong, but it was none the less peremptory,
although its voice was so soft and low that it might easily have been
overlooked. Over and over again, when I have purposed doing a thing,
have I been impeded or arrested by this same silent monitor, and never
have I known its warnings to be the mere false alarms of fancy.
After a time, the thought of Mary recurred to me. I was distressed to
find that, in the very height of my love for Theresa, my love for Mary
continued unabated. Had it been otherwise, had my affection for Mary
grown dim, I should not have been so much perplexed, but it did not.
It may be ignominious to confess it, but so it was; I simply record the
I had not seen Mardon since that last memorable evening at his house,
but one day as I was sitting in the shop, who should walk it in but
Mary herself. The meeting, although strange, was easily explained.
Her father was ill, and could do nothing but read. Wollaston published
free-thinking books, and Mardon had noticed in an advertisement the
name of a book which he particularly wished to see. Accordingly he
sent Mary for it. She pressed me very much to call on him. He had
talked about me a good deal, and had written to me at the last address
he knew, but the letter had been returned through the dead-letter
It was a week before I could go, and when did go, I found him much
worse than I had imagined him to be. There was no virulent disease of
any particular organ, but he was slowly wasting away from atrophy, and
he knew, or thought he knew, he should not recover. But he was
"With regard to immortality," he said, "I never know what men mean by
it. WHAT self is it which is to be immortal? Is it really desired by
anybody that he should continue to exist for ever with his present
limitations and failings? Yet if these are not continued, the man does
not continue, but something else, a totally different person. I
believe in the survival of life and thought. People think is not
enough. They say they want the survival of their personality. It is
very difficult to express any conjecture upon the matter, especially
now when I am weak, and I have no system--nothing but surmises. One
thing I am sure of--that a man ought to rid himself as much as possible
of the miserable egotism which is so anxious about self, and should be
more and more anxious about the Universal."
Mardon grew slowly worse. The winter was coming on, and as the
temperature fell and the days grew darker, he declined. With all his
heroism and hardness he had a weakness or two, and one was, that he did
not want to die in London or be buried there. So we got him down to
Sandgate near Hythe, and procured lodging for him close to the sea, so
that he could lie in bed and watch the sun and moon rise over the
water. Mary, of course, remained with him, and I returned to London.
Towards the end of November I got a letter, to tell me that if I wished
to see him alive again, I must go down at once. I went that day, and I
found that the doctor had been and had said that before the morning the
end must come. Mardon was perfectly conscious, in no pain, and quite
calm. He was just able to speak. When I went into his bedroom, he
smiled, and without any preface or introduction he said: "Learn not to
be over-anxious about meeting troubles and solving difficulties which
time will meet and solve for you." Excepting to ask for water, I don't
think he spoke again.
All that night Mary and I watched in that topmost garret looking out
over the ocean. It was a night entirely unclouded, and the moon was at
the full. Towards daybreak her father moaned a little, then became
quite quiet, and just as the dawn was changing to sunrise, he passed
away. What a sunrise it was! For about half-an-hour before the sun
actually appeared, the perfectly smooth water was one mass of gently
heaving opaline lustre. Not a sound was to be heard, and over in the
south-east hung the planet Venus. Death was in the chamber, but the
surpassing splendour of the pageant outside arrested us, and we sat
awed and silent. Not till the first burning-point of the great orb
itself emerged above the horizon, not till the day awoke with its
brightness and brought with it the sounds of the day and its cares, did
we give way to our grief.
It was impossible for me to stay. It was not that I was obliged to get
back to my work in London, but I felt that Mary would far rather be
alone, and that it would not be proper for me to remain. The woman of
the house in which the lodgings were was very kind, and promised to do
all that was necessary. It was arranged that I should come down again
to the funeral.
So I went back to London. Before I had got twenty miles on my journey
the glory of a few hours had turned into autumn storm. The rain came
down in torrents, and the wind rushed across the country in great
blasts, stripping the trees, and driving over the sky with hurricane
speed great masses of continuous cloud, which mingled earth and heaven.
I thought of all the ships which were on the sea in the night, sailing
under the serene stars which I had seen rise and set; I thought of
Mardon lying dead, and I thought of Mary. The simultaneous passage
through great emotions welds souls, and begets the strongest of all
forms of love. Those who have sobbed together over a dead friend, who
have held one another's hands in that dread hour, feel a bond of
sympathy, pure and sacred, which nothing can dissolve.
I went to the funeral as appointed. There was some little difficulty
about it, for Mary, who knew her father so well, was unconquerably
reluctant that an inconsistency should crown the career of one who, all
through life, had been so completely self-accordant. She could not
bear that he should be buried with a ceremony which he despised, and
she was altogether free from that weakness which induces a compliance
with the rites of the Church from persons who avow themselves sceptics.