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The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford by Mark Rutherford

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At last a burying-ground was found, belonging to a little half-forsaken
Unitarian chapel; and there Mardon was laid. A few friends came from
London, one of whom had been a Unitarian minister, and he "conducted
the service," such as it was. It was of the simplest kind. The body
was taken to the side of the grave, and before it was lowered a few
words were said, calling to mind all the virtues of him whom we had
lost. These the speaker presented to us with much power and sympathy.
He did not merely catalogue a disconnected string of excellences, but
he seemed to plant himself in the central point of Mardon's nature, and
to see from what it radiated.

He then passed on to say that about immortality, as usually understood,
he knew nothing; but that Mardon would live as every force in nature
lives--for ever; transmuted into a thousand different forms; the
original form utterly forgotten, but never perishing. The cloud breaks
up and comes down upon the earth in showers which cease, but the clouds
and the showers are really undying. This may be true,--but, after all,
I can only accept the fact of death in silence, as we accept the loss
of youth and all other calamities. We are able to see that the
arrangements which we should make, if we had the control of the
universe, would be more absurd than those which prevail now. We are
able to see that an eternity of life in one particular form, with one
particular set of relationships, would be misery to many and
mischievous to everybody, however sweet those relationships may be to
some of us. At times we are reconciled to death as the great
regenerator, and we pine for escape from the surroundings of which we
have grown weary; but we can say no more, and the hour of illumination
has not yet come. Whether it ever will come to a more nobly developed
race we cannot tell.

Thus far goes the manuscript which I have in my possession. I know
that there is more of it, but all my search for it has been in vain.
Possibly some day I may be able to recover it. My friend discontinued
his notes for some years, and consequently the concluding portion of
them was entirely separate from the earlier portion, and this is the
reason, I suppose, why it is missing.

Miss Mardon soon followed her father. She caught cold at his funeral;
the seeds of consumption developed themselves with remarkable rapidity,
and in less than a month she had gone. Her father's peculiar habits
had greatly isolated him, and Miss Mardon had scarcely any friends.
Rutherford went to see her continually, and during the last few nights
sat up with her, incurring not a little scandal and gossip, to which he
was entirely insensible.

For a time he was utterly broken-hearted; and not only broken-hearted,
but broken-spirited, and incapable of attacking the least difficulty.
All the springs of his nature were softened, so that if anything was
cast upon him, there it remained without hope, and without any effort
being made to remove it. He only began to recover when he was forced
to give up work altogether and take a long holiday. To do this he was
obliged to leave Mr. Wollaston, and the means of obtaining his much-
needed rest were afforded him, partly by what he had saved, and partly
by the kindness of one or two whom he had known.

I thought that Miss Mardon's death would permanently increase my
friend's intellectual despondency, but it did not. On the contrary, he
gradually grew out of it. A crisis seemed to take a turn just then,
and he became less involved in his old speculations, and more devoted
to other pursuits. I fancy that something happened; there was some
word revealed to him, or there was some recoil, some healthy horror of
eclipse in this self-created gloom which drove him out of it.

He accidentally renewed his acquaintance with the butterfly-catcher,
who was obliged to leave the country and come up to London. He,
however, did not give up his old hobby, and the two friends used every
Sunday in summer time to sally forth some distance from town and spend
the whole live-long day upon the downs and in the green lanes of
Surrey. Both of them had to work hard during the week. Rutherford,
who had learned shorthand when he was young, got employment upon a
newspaper, and ultimately a seat in the gallery of the House of
Commons. He never took to collecting insects like his companion, nor
indeed to any scientific pursuits, but he certainly changed.

I find it very difficult to describe exactly what the change was,
because it was into nothing positive; into no sect, party, nor special
mode. He did not, for example, go off into absolute denial. I
remember his telling me, that to suppress speculation would be a
violence done to our nature as unnatural as if we were to prohibit
ourselves from looking up to the blue depths between the stars at
night; as if we were to determine that nature required correcting in
this respect, and that we ought to be so constructed as not to be able
to see anything but the earth and what lies on it. Still, these things
in a measure ceased to worry him, and the long conflict died away
gradually into a peace not formally concluded, and with no specific
stipulations, but nevertheless definite. He was content to rest and
wait. Better health and time, which does so much for us, brought this
about. The passage of years gradually relaxed his anxiety about death
by loosening his anxiety for life without loosening his love of life.

But I would rather not go into any further details, because I still
cherish the hope that some day or the other I may recover the contents
of the diary. I am afraid that up to this point he has misrepresented
himself, and that those who read his story will think him nothing but a
mere egoist, selfish and self-absorbed. Morbid he may have been, but
selfish he was not. A more perfect friend I never knew, nor one more
capable of complete abandonment to a person for whom he had any real
regard, and I can only hope that it may be my good fortune to find the
materials which will enable me to represent him autobiographically in a
somewhat different light to that in which he appears now.

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