Annie Besant by Annie Besant

Produced by Jonathan Ingram and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. ANNIE BESANT AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY Illustrated LONDON SECOND EDITION PREFACE. It is a difficult thing to tell the story of a life, and yet more difficult when that life is one’s own. At the best, the telling has a savour of vanity, and the only excuse
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Produced by Jonathan Ingram and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.

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







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




_August_, 1893.




















ANNIE BESANT, 1885 _Frontispiece_


ANNIE BESANT, 1869 _Facing page_ 86

THOMAS SCOTT _Facing page_ 112

CHARLES BRADLAUGH, M.P. _Facing page_ 212







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

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

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

[Illustration: Horoscope of Annie Besant.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“… nailed for our advantage to the bitter cross.”

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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