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The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford by Mark Rutherford

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This etext was produced from the 1913 Hodder and Stoughton edition by
David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk



The present edition is a reprint of the first, with corrections of
several mistakes which had been overlooked.

There is one observation which I may perhaps be permitted to make on
re-reading after some years this autobiography. Rutherford, at any
rate in his earlier life, was an example of the danger and the folly of
cultivating thoughts and reading books to which he was not equal, and
which tend to make a man lonely.

It is all very well that remarkable persons should occupy themselves
with exalted subjects, which are out of the ordinary road which
ordinary humanity treads; but we who are not remarkable make a very
great mistake if we have anything to do with them. If we wish to be
happy, and have to live with average men and women, as most of us have
to live, we must learn to take an interest in the topics which concern
average men and women. We think too much of ourselves. We ought not
to sacrifice a single moment's pleasure in our attempt to do something
which is too big for us, and as a rule, men and women are always
attempting what is too big for them. To ninety-nine young men out of a
hundred, or perhaps ninety-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine
out of a hundred thousand, the wholesome healthy doctrine is, "Don't
bother yourselves with what is beyond you; try to lead a sweet, clean,
wholesome life, keep yourselves in health above everything, stick to
your work, and when your day is done amuse and refresh yourselves."

It is not only a duty to ourselves, but it is a duty to others to take
this course. Great men do the world much good, but not without some
harm, and we have no business to be troubling ourselves with their
dreams if we have duties which lie nearer home amongst persons to whom
these dreams are incomprehensible. Many a man goes into his study,
shuts himself up with his poetry or his psychology, comes out, half
understanding what he has read, is miserable because he cannot find
anybody with whom he can talk about it, and misses altogether the far
more genuine joy which he could have obtained from a game with his
children or listening to what his wife had to tell him about her

"Lor, miss, you haven't looked at your new bonnet to-day," said a
servant girl to her young mistress.

"No, why should I? I did not want to go out."

"Oh, how can you? why, I get mine out and look at it every night."

She was happy for a whole fortnight with a happiness cheap at a very
high price.

That same young mistress was very caustic upon the women who block the
pavement outside drapers' shops, but surely she was unjust. They
always seem unconscious, to be enjoying themselves intensely and most
innocently, more so probably than an audience at a Wagner concert.
Many persons with refined minds are apt to depreciate happiness,
especially if it is of "a low type." Broadly speaking, it is the one
thing worth having, and low or high, if it does no mischief, is better
than the most spiritual misery.

Metaphysics and theology, including all speculations on the why and the
wherefore, optimism, pessimism, freedom, necessity, causality, and so
forth, are not only for the most part loss of time, but frequently
ruinous. It is no answer to say that these things force themselves
upon us, and that to every question we are bound to give or try to give
an answer. It is true, although strange, that there are multitudes of
burning questions which we must do our best to ignore, to forget their
existence; and it is not more strange, after all, than many other facts
in this wonderfully mysterious and defective existence of ours. One
fourth of life is intelligible, the other three-fourths is
unintelligible darkness; and our earliest duty is to cultivate the
habit of not looking round the corner.

"Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry
heart; for God hath already accepted thy works. Let thy garments be
always white, and let not thy head lack ointment. Live joyfully with
the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which
He hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that
is thy portion in life."

R. S.

This is the night when I must die,
And great Orion walketh high
In silent glory overhead:
He'll set just after I am dead.

A week this night, I'm in my grave:
Orion walketh o'er the wave:
Down in the dark damp earth I lie,
While he doth march in majesty.

A few weeks hence and spring will come;
The earth will bright array put on
Of daisy and of primrose bright,
And everything which loves the light.

And some one to my child will say,
"You'll soon forget that you could play
Beethoven; let us hear a strain
From that slow movement once again."

And so she'll play that melody,
While I among the worms do lie;
Dead to them all, for ever dead;
The churchyard clay dense overhead.

I once did think there might be mine
One friendship perfect and divine;
Alas! that dream dissolved in tears
Before I'd counted twenty years.

For I was ever commonplace;
Of genius never had a trace;
My thoughts the world have never fed,
Mere echoes of the book last read.

Those whom I knew I cannot blame:
If they are cold, I am the same:
How could they ever show to me
More than a common courtesy?

There is no deed which I have done;
There is no love which I have won,
To make them for a moment grieve
That I this night their earth must leave.

Thus, moaning at the break of day,
A man upon his deathbed lay;
A moment more and all was still;
The Morning Star came o'er the hill.

But when the dawn lay on his face,
It kindled an immortal grace;
As if in death that Life were shown
Which lives not in the great alone.

Orion sank down in the west
Just as he sank into his rest;
I closed in solitude his eyes,
And watched him till the sun's uprise.


Now that I have completed my autobiography up to the present year, I
sometimes doubt whether it is right to publish it. Of what use is it,
many persons will say, to present to the world what is mainly a record
of weaknesses and failures? If I had any triumphs to tell; if I could
show how I had risen superior to poverty and suffering; if, in short, I
were a hero of any kind whatever, I might perhaps be justified in
communicating my success to mankind, and stimulating them to do as I
have done. But mine is the tale of a commonplace life, perplexed by
many problems I have never solved; disturbed by many difficulties I
have never surmounted; and blotted by ignoble concessions which are a
constant regret.

I have decided, however, to let the manuscript remain. I will not
destroy it, although I will not take the responsibility of printing it.
Somebody may think it worth preserving; and there are two reasons why
they may think so, if there are no others. In the first place it has
some little historic value, for I feel increasingly that the race to
which I belonged is fast passing away, and that the Dissenting minister
of the present day is a different being altogether from the Dissenting
minister of forty years ago.

In the next place, I have observed that the mere knowing that other
people have been tried as we have been tried is a consolation to us,
and that we are relieved by the assurance that our sufferings are not
special and peculiar, but common to us with many others. Death has
always been a terror to me, and at times, nay generally, religion and
philosophy have been altogether unavailing to mitigate the terror in
any way. But it has been a comfort to me to reflect that whatever
death may be, it is the inheritance of the whole human race; that I am
not singled out, but shall merely have to pass through what the weakest
have had to pass through before me. In the worst of maladies, worst at
least to me, those which are hypochondriacal, the healing effect which
is produced by the visit of a friend who can simply say, "I have
endured all that," is most marked. So it is not impossible that some
few whose experience has been like mine may, by my example, be freed
from that sense of solitude which they find so depressing.

I was born, just before the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was
opened, in a small country town in one of the Midland shires. It is
now semi-manufacturing, at the junction of three or four lines of
railway, with hardly a trace left of what it was fifty years ago. It
then consisted of one long main street, with a few other streets
branching from it at right-angles. Through this street the mail-coach
rattled at night, and the huge waggon rolled through it, drawn by four
horses, which twice a week travelled to and from London and brought us
what we wanted from the great and unknown city.

My father and mother belonged to the ordinary English middle class of
well-to-do shop-keepers. My mother's family came from a little
distance, but my father's had lived in those parts for centuries. I
remember perfectly well how business used to be carried on in those
days. There was absolutely no competition, and although nobody in the
town who was in trade got rich, except the banker and the brewer,
nearly everybody was tolerably well off, and certainly not pressed with
care as their successors are now. The draper, who lived a little way
above us, was a deacon in our chapel, and every morning, soon after
breakfast, he would start off for his walk of about four miles,
stopping by the way to talk to his neighbours about the events of the
day. At eleven o'clock or thereabouts he would return and would begin
work. Everybody took an hour for dinner--between one and two--and at
that time, especially on a hot July afternoon, the High Street was
empty from end to end, and the profoundest peace reigned.

My life as a child falls into two portions, sharply divided--week-day
and Sunday. During the week-day I went to the public school, where I
learned little or nothing that did me much good. The discipline of the
school was admirable, and the headmaster was penetrated with a most
lofty sense of duty, but the methods of teaching were very imperfect.
In Latin we had to learn the Eton Latin Grammar till we knew every word
of it by heart, but we did scarcely any retranslation from English into
Latin. Much of our time was wasted on the merest trifles, such as
learning to write, for example, like copperplate, and, still more
extraordinary, in copying the letters of the alphabet as they are used
in printing.

But we had two half-holidays in the week, which seem to me now to have
been the happiest part of my life. A river ran through the town, and
on summer Wednesdays and Saturdays we wandered along its banks for
miles, alternately fishing and bathing. I remember whole afternoons in
June, July, and August, passed half-naked or altogether naked in the
solitary meadows and in the water; I remember the tumbling weir with
the deep pool at the bottom in which we dived; I remember, too, the
place where we used to swim across the river with our clothes on our
heads, because there was no bridge near, and the frequent disaster of a
slip of the braces in the middle of the water, so that shirt, jacket,
and trousers were soaked, and we had to lie on the grass in the
broiling sun without a rag on us till everything was dry again.

In winter our joys were of a different kind but none the less
delightful. If it was a frost, we had skating; not like skating on a
London pond, but over long reaches, and if the locks had not
intervened, we might have gone a day's journey on the ice without a
stoppage. If there was no ice, we had football, and what was still
better, we could get up a steeplechase--on foot straight across hedge
and ditch.

In after-years, when I lived in London, I came to know children who
went to school in Gower Street, and travelled backwards and forwards by
omnibus--children who had no other recreation than an occasional visit
to the Zoological Gardens, or a somewhat sombre walk up to Hampstead to
see their aunt; and I have often regretted that they never had any
experience of those perfect poetic pleasures which the boy enjoys whose
childhood is spent in the country, and whose home is there. A country
boarding-school is something altogether different.

On the Sundays, however, the compensation came. It was a season of
unmixed gloom. My father and mother were rigid Calvinistic
Independents, and on that day no newspaper nor any book more secular
than the Evangelical Magazine was tolerated. Every preparation for the
Sabbath had been made on the Saturday, to avoid as much as possible any
work. The meat was cooked beforehand, so that we never had a hot
dinner even in the coldest weather; the only thing hot which was
permitted was a boiled suet pudding, which cooked itself while we were
at chapel, and some potatoes which were prepared after we came home.
Not a letter was opened unless it was clearly evident that it was not
on business, and for opening these an apology was always offered that
it was possible they might contain some announcement of sickness. If
on cursory inspection they appeared to be ordinary letters, although
they might be from relations or friends, they were put away.

After family prayer and breakfast the business of the day began with
the Sunday-school at nine o'clock. We were taught our Catechism and
Bible there till a quarter past ten. We were then marched across the
road into the chapel, a large old-fashioned building dating from the
time of Charles II. The floor was covered with high pews. The roof
was supported by three or four tall wooden pillars which ran from the
ground to the ceiling, and the galleries by shorter pillars. There was
a large oak pulpit on one side against the wall, and down below,
immediately under the minister, was the "singing pew," where the
singers and musicians sat, the musicians being performers on the
clarionet, flute, violin, and violoncello. Right in front was a long
enclosure, called the communion pew, which was usually occupied by a
number of the poorer members of the congregation.

There were three services every Sunday, besides intermitting prayer-
meetings, but these I did not as yet attend. Each service consisted of
a hymn, reading the Bible, another hymn, a prayer, the sermon, a third
hymn, and a short final prayer. The reading of the Bible was
unaccompanied with any observations or explanations, and I do not
remember that I ever once heard a mistranslation corrected.

The first, or long prayer, as it was called, was a horrible hypocrisy,
and it was a sore tax on the preacher to get through it. Anything more
totally unlike the model recommended to us in the New Testament cannot
well be imagined. It generally began with a confession that we were
all sinners, but no individual sins were ever confessed, and then
ensued a kind of dialogue with God, very much resembling the speeches
which in later years I have heard in the House of Commons from the
movers and seconders of addresses to the Crown at the opening of

In all the religion of that day nothing was falser than the long
prayer. Direct appeal to God can only be justified when it is
passionate. To come maundering into His presence when we have nothing
particular to say is an insult, upon which we should never presume if
we had a petition to offer to any earthly personage. We should not
venture to take up His time with commonplaces or platitudes; but our
minister seemed to consider that the Almighty, who had the universe to
govern, had more leisure at His command that the idlest lounger at a
club. Nobody ever listened to this performance. I was a good child on
the whole, but I am sure I did not; and if the chapel were now in
existence, there might be traced on the flap of the pew in which we sat
many curious designs due to these dreary performances.

The sermon was not much better. It generally consisted of a text,
which was a mere peg for a discourse, that was pretty much the same
from January to December. The minister invariably began with the fall
of man; propounded the scheme of redemption, and ended by depicting in
the morning the blessedness of the saints, and in the evening the doom
of the lost. There was a tradition that in the morning there should be
"experience"--that is to say, comfort for the elect, and that the
evening should be appropriated to their less fortunate brethren.

The evening service was the most trying to me of all these. I never
could keep awake, and knew that to sleep under the Gospel was a sin.
The chapel was lighted in winter by immense chandeliers with tiers of
candles all round. These required perpetual snuffing, and I can see
the old man going round the chandeliers in the middle of the service
with a mighty pair of snuffers which opened and shut with a loud click.
How I envied him because he had semi-secular occupation which prevented
that terrible drowsiness! How I envied the pew-opener, who was allowed
to stand at the vestry door, and could slip into the vestry every now
and then, or even into the burial-ground if he heard irreverent boys
playing there! The atmosphere of the chapel on hot nights was most
foul, and this added to my discomfort. Oftentimes in winter, when no
doors or windows were open, I have seen the glass panes streaming with
wet inside, and women carried out fainting.

On rare occasions I was allowed to go with my father when he went into
the villages to preach. As a deacon he was also a lay-preacher, and I
had the ride in the gig out and home, and tea at a farm-house.

Perhaps I shall not have a better opportunity to say that, with all
these drawbacks, my religious education did confer upon me some
positive advantages. The first was a rigid regard for truthfulness.
My parents never would endure a lie or the least equivocation. The
second was purity of life, and I look upon this as a simply
incalculable gain. Impurity was not an excusable weakness in the
society in which I lived; it was a sin for which dreadful punishment
was reserved. The reason for my virtue may have been a wrong reason,
but, anyhow, I was saved, and being saved, much more was saved than
health and peace of mind.

To this day I do not know where to find a weapon strong enough to
subdue the tendency to impurity in young men; and although I cannot
tell them what I do not believe, I hanker sometimes after the old
prohibitions and penalties. Physiological penalties are too remote,
and the subtler penalties--the degradation, the growth of callousness
to finer pleasures, the loss of sensitiveness to all that is most nobly
attractive in woman--are too feeble to withstand temptation when it
lies in ambush like a garrotter, and has the reason stunned in a

The only thing that can be done is to make the conscience of a boy
generally tender, so that he shrinks instinctively from the monstrous
injustice of contributing for the sake of his own pleasure to the ruin
of another. As soon as manhood dawns, he must also have his attention
absorbed on some object which will divert his thoughts intellectually
or ideally; and by slight yet constant pressure, exercised not by fits
and starts, but day after day, directly and indirectly, his father must
form an antipathy in him to brutish, selfish sensuality. Above all,
there must be no toying with passion, and no books permitted, without
condemnation and warning, which are not of a heroic turn. When the boy
becomes a man he may read Byron without danger. To a youth he is

Before leaving this subject I may observe, that parents greatly err by
not telling their children a good many things which they ought to know.
Had I been taught when I was young a few facts about myself, which I
only learned accidentally long afterwards, a good deal of misery might
have been spared me.

Nothing particular happened to me till I was about fourteen, when I was
told it was time I became converted. Conversion, amongst the
Independents and other Puritan sects, is supposed to be a kind of
miracle wrought in the heart by the influence of the Holy Spirit, by
which the man becomes something altogether different to what he was
previously. It affects, or should affect, his character; that is to
say, he ought after conversion to be better in every way than he was
before; but this is not considered as its main consequence. In its
essence it is a change in the emotions and increased vividness of
belief. It is now altogether untrue. Yet it is an undoubted fact that
in earlier days, and, indeed, in rare cases, as late as the time of my
childhood, it was occasionally a reality.

It is possible to imagine that under the preaching of Paul sudden
conviction of a life misspent may have been produced with sudden
personal attachment to the Galilean who, until then, had been despised.
There may have been prompt release of unsuspected powers, and as prompt
an imprisonment for ever of meaner weaknesses and tendencies; the
result being literally a putting off of the old, and a putting on of
the new man. Love has always been potent to produce such a
transformation, and the exact counterpart of conversion, as it was
understood by the apostles, may be seen whenever a man is redeemed from
vice by attachment to some woman whom he worships, or when a girl is
reclaimed from idleness and vanity by becoming a mother.

But conversion, as it was understood by me and as it is now understood,
is altogether unmeaning. I knew that I had to be "a child of God," and
after a time professed myself to be one, but I cannot call to mind that
I was anything else than I always had been, save that I was perhaps a
little more hypocritical; not in the sense that I professed to others
what I knew I did not believe, but in the sense that I professed it to
myself. I was obliged to declare myself convinced of sin; convinced of
the efficacy of the atonement; convinced that I was forgiven; convinced
that the Holy Ghost was shed abroad in my heart; and convinced of a
great many other things which were the merest phrases.

However, the end of it was, that I was proposed for acceptance, and two
deacons were deputed, in accordance with the usual custom, to wait upon
me and ascertain my fitness for membership. What they said and what I
said has now altogether vanished; but I remember with perfect
distinctness the day on which I was admitted. It was the custom to
demand of each candidate a statement of his or her experience. I had
no experience to give; and I was excused on the grounds that I had been
the child of pious parents, and consequently had not undergone that
convulsion which those, not favoured like myself, necessarily underwent
when they were called.

I was now expected to attend all those extra services which were
specially for the church. I stayed to the late prayer-meeting on
Sunday; I went to the prayer-meeting on week-days, and also to private
prayer-meetings. These services were not interesting to me for their
own sake. I thought they were, but what I really liked was clanship
and the satisfaction of belonging to a society marked off from the
great world.

It must also be added that the evening meetings afforded us many
opportunities for walking home with certain young women, who, I am
sorry to say, were a more powerful attraction, not to me only, but to
others, than the prospect of hearing brother Holderness, the travelling
draper, confess crimes which, to say the truth, although they were many
according to his own account, were never given in that detail which
would have made his confession of some value. He never prayed without
telling all of us that there was no health in him, and that his soul
was a mass of putrefying sores; but everybody thought the better of him
for his self-humiliation. One actual indiscretion, however, brought
home to him would have been visited by suspension or expulsion.


It was necessary that an occupation should be found for me, and after
much deliberation it was settled that I should "go into the ministry."
I had joined the church, I had "engaged in prayer" publicly, and
although I had not set up for being extraordinarily pious, I was
thought to be as good as most of the young men who professed to have a
mission to regenerate mankind.

Accordingly, after some months of preparation, I was taken to a
Dissenting College not very far from where we lived. It was a large
old-fashioned house with a newer building annexed, and was surrounded
with a garden and with meadows. Each student had a separate room, and
all had their meals together in a common hall. Altogether there were
about forty of us. The establishment consisted of a President, an
elderly gentleman who had an American degree of doctor of divinity, and
who taught the various branches of theology. He was assisted by three
professors, who imparted to us as much Greek, Latin, and mathematics as
it was considered that we ought to know. Behold me, then, beginning a
course of training which was to prepare me to meet the doubts of the
nineteenth century; to be the guide of men; to advise them in their
perplexities; to suppress their tempestuous lusts; to lift them above
their petty cares, and to lead them heavenward!

About the Greek and Latin and the secular part of the college
discipline I will say nothing, except that it was generally
inefficient. The theological and Biblical teaching was a sham. We had
come to the college in the first place to learn the Bible. Our whole
existence was in future to be based upon that book; our lives were to
be passed in preaching it. I will venture to say that there was no
book less understood either by students or professors. The President
had a course of lectures, delivered year after year to successive
generations of his pupils, upon its authenticity and inspiration. They
were altogether remote from the subject; and afterwards, when I came to
know what the difficulties of belief really were, I found that these
essays, which were supposed to be a triumphant confutation of the
sceptic, were a mere sword of lath. They never touched the question,
and if any doubts suggested themselves to the audience, nobody dared to
give them tongue, lest the expression of them should beget a suspicion
of heresy.

I remember also some lectures on the proof of the existence of God and
on the argument from design; all of which, when my mind was once
awakened, were as irrelevant as the chattering of sparrows. When I did
not even know who or what this God was, and could not bring my lips to
use the word with any mental honesty, of what service was the "watch
argument" to me? Very lightly did the President pass over all these
initial difficulties of his religion. I see him now, a gentleman with
lightish hair, with a most mellifluous voice and a most pastoral
manner, reading his prim little tracts to us directed against the
"shallow infidel" who seemed to deny conclusions so obvious that we
were certain he could not be sincere, and those of us who had never
seen an infidel might well be pardoned for supposing that he must
always be wickedly blind.

About a dozen of these tracts settled the infidel and the whole mass of
unbelief from the time of Celsus downwards. The President's task was
all the easier because he knew nothing of German literature; and,
indeed, the word "German" was a term of reproach signifying something
very awful, although nobody knew exactly what it was.

Systematic theology was the next science to which the President
directed us. We used a sort of Calvinistic manual which began by
setting forth that mankind was absolutely in God's power. He was our
maker, and we had no legal claim whatever to any consideration from
Him. The author then mechanically built up the Calvinistic creed, step
by step, like a house of cards. Systematic theology was the great
business of our academical life. We had to read sermons to the
President in class, and no sermon was considered complete and proper
unless it unfolded what was called the scheme of redemption from
beginning to end.

So it came to pass that about the Bible, as I have already said, we
were in darkness. It was a magazine of texts, and those portions of it
which contributed nothing in the shape of texts, or formed no part of
the scheme, were neglected. Worse still, not a word was ever spoken to
us telling us in what manner to strengthen the reason, to subdue the
senses, or in what way to deal with all the varied diseases of that
soul of man which we were to set ourselves to save. All its failings,
infinitely more complicated than those of the body, were grouped as
"sin," and for these there was one quack remedy. If the patient did
not like the remedy, or got no good from it, the fault was his.

It is remarkable that the scheme was never of the slightest service to
me in repressing one solitary evil inclination; at no point did it come
into contact with me. At the time it seemed right and proper that I
should learn it, and I had no doubt of its efficacy; but when the
stress of temptation was upon me, it never occurred to me, nor when I
became a minister did I find it sufficiently powerful to mend the most
trifling fault. In after years, but not till I had strayed far away
from the President and his creed, the Bible was really opened to me,
and became to me, what it now is, the most precious of books.

There were several small chapels scattered in the villages near the
college, and these chapels were "supplied," as the phrase is, by the
students. Those who were near the end of their course were also
employed as substitutes for regular ministers when they were
temporarily absent. Sometimes a senior was even sent up to London to
take the place, on a sudden emergency, of a great London minister, and
when he came back he was an object almost of adoration. The
congregation, on the other hand, consisting in some part of country
people spending a Sunday in town and anxious to hear a celebrated
preacher, were not at all disposed to adore, when, instead of the great
man, they saw "only a student."

By the time I was nineteen I took my turn in "supplying" the villages,
and set forth with the utmost confidence what appeared to me to be the
indubitable gospel. No shadow of a suspicion of its truth ever crossed
my mind, and yet I had not spent an hour in comprehending, much less in
answering, one objection to it. The objections, in fact, had never met
me; they were over my horizon altogether. It is wonderful to think how
I could take so much for granted; and not merely take it to myself and
for myself, but proclaim it as a message to other people. It would be
a mistake, however, to suppose that theological youths are the only
class who are guilty of such presumption. Our gregarious instinct is
so strong that it is the most difficult thing for us to be satisfied
with suspended judgment. Men must join a party, and have a cry, and
they generally take up their party and their cry from the most
indifferent motives.

For my own part I cannot be enthusiastic about politics, except on rare
occasions when the issue is a very narrow one. There is so much that
requires profound examination, and it disgusts me to get upon a
platform and dispute with ardent Radicals or Conservatives who know
nothing about even the rudiments of history, political economy, or
political philosophy, without which it is as absurd to have an opinion
upon what are called politics as it would be to have an opinion upon an
astronomical problem without having learned Euclid.

The more incapable we are of thorough investigations, the wider and
deeper are the subjects upon which we busy ourselves, and still more
strange, the more bigoted do we become in our conclusions about them;
and yet it is not strange, for he who by painful processes has found
yes and no alternate for so long that he is not sure which is final, is
the last man in the world, if he for the present is resting in yes, to
crucify another who can get no further than no. The bigot is he to
whom no such painful processes have ever been permitted.

The society amongst the students was very poor. Not a single
friendship formed then has remained with me. They were mostly young
men of no education, who had been taken from the counter, and their
spiritual life was not very deep. In many of them it did not even
exist, and their whole attention was absorbed upon their chances of
getting wealthy congregations or of making desirable matches. It was a
time in which the world outside was seething with the ferment which had
been cast into it by Germany and by those in England whom Germany had
influenced, but not a fragment of it had dropped within our walls. I
cannot call to mind a single conversation upon any but the most trivial
topics, nor did our talk ever turn even upon our religion, so far as it
was a thing affecting the soul, but upon it as something subsidiary to
chapels, "causes," deacons, and the like.

The emptiness of some of my colleagues, and their worldliness, too,
were almost incredible. There was one who was particularly silly. He
was a blond youth with greyish eyes, a mouth not quite shut, and an
eternal simper upon his face. He never had an idea in his head, and
never read anything except the denominational newspapers and a few
well-known aids to sermonising. He was a great man at all tea-
meetings, anniversaries, and parties. He was facile in public
speaking, and he dwelt much upon the joys of heaven and upon such
topics as the possibility of our recognising one another there. I have
known him describe for twenty minutes, in a kind of watery rhetoric,
the passage of the soul to bliss through death, and its meeting in the
next world with those who had gone before.

With all his weakness he was close and mean in money matters, and when
he left college, the first thing he did was to marry a widow with a
fortune. Before long he became one of the most popular of ministers in
a town much visited by sick persons, with whom he was an especial
favourite. I disliked him--and specially disliked his unpleasant
behaviour to women. If I had been a woman, I should have spurned him
for his perpetual insult of inane compliments. He was always dawdling
after "the sex," which was one of his sweet phrases, and yet he was not
passionate. Passion does not dawdle and compliment, nor is it nasty,
as this fellow was. Passion may burn like a devouring flame; and in a
few moments, like flame, may bring down a temple to dust and ashes, but
it is earnest as flame, and essentially pure.

During the first two years at college my life was entirely external.
My heart was altogether untouched by anything I heard, read, or did,
although I myself supposed that I took an interest in them. But one
day in my third year, a day I remember as well as Paul must have
remembered afterwards the day on which he went to Damascus, I happened
to find amongst a parcel of books a volume of poems in paper boards.
It was called Lyrical Ballads, and I read first one and then the whole
book. It conveyed to me no new doctrine, and yet the change it wrought
in me could only be compared with that which is said to have been
wrought on Paul himself by the Divine apparition.

Looking over the Lyrical Ballads again, as I have looked over it a
dozen times since then, I can hardly see what it was which stirred me
so powerfully, nor do I believe that it communicated much to me which
could be put in words. But it excited a movement and a growth which
went on till, by degrees, all the systems which enveloped me like a
body gradually decayed from me and fell away into nothing. Of more
importance, too, than the decay of systems was the birth of a habit of
inner reference and a dislike to occupy myself with anything which did
not in some way or other touch the soul, or was not the illustration or
embodiment of some spiritual law.

There is, of course, a definite explanation to be given of one effect
produced by the Lyrical Ballads. God is nowhere formally deposed, and
Wordsworth would have been the last man to say that he had lost his
faith in the God of his fathers. But his real God is not the God of
the Church, but the God of the hills, the abstraction Nature, and to
this my reverence was transferred. Instead of an object of worship
which was altogether artificial, remote, never coming into genuine
contact with me, I had now one which I thought to be real, one in which
literally I could live and move and have my being, an actual fact
present before my eyes. God was brought from that heaven of the books,
and dwelt on the downs in the far-away distances, and in every cloud-
shadow which wandered across the valley. Wordsworth unconsciously did
for me what every religious reformer has done--he re-created my Supreme
Divinity; substituting a new and living spirit for the old deity, once
alive, but gradually hardened into an idol.

What days were those of the next few years before increasing age had
presented preciser problems and demanded preciser answers; before all
joy was darkened by the shadow of on-coming death, and when life seemed
infinite! Those were the days when through the whole long summer's
morning I wanted no companion but myself, provided only I was in the
country, and when books were read with tears in the eyes. Those were
the days when mere life, apart from anything which it brings, was

In my own college I found no sympathy, but we were in the habit of
meeting occasionally the students from other colleges, and amongst them
I met with one or two, especially one who had undergone experiences
similar to my own. The friendships formed with these young men have
lasted till now, and have been the most permanent of all the
relationships of my existence. I wish not to judge others, but the
persons who to me have proved themselves most attractive, have been
those who have passed through such a process as that through which I
myself passed; those who have had in some form or other an enthusiastic
stage in their history, when the story of Genesis and of the Gospels
has been rewritten, when God has visibly walked in the garden, and the
Son of God has drawn men away from their daily occupations into the
divinest of dreams.

I have known men--most interesting men with far greater powers than any
which I have possessed, men who have never been trammelled by a false
creed, who have devoted themselves to science and acquired a great
reputation, who have somehow never laid hold upon me like the man I
have just mentioned. He failed altogether as a minister, and went back
to his shop, but the old glow of his youth burns, and will burn, for
ever. When I am with him our conversation naturally turns on matters
which are of profoundest importance: with others it may be
instructive, but I leave them unmoved, and I trace the difference
distinctly to that visitation, for it was nothing else, which came to
him in his youth.

The effect which was produced upon my preaching and daily conversation
by this change was immediate. It became gradually impossible for me to
talk about subjects which had not some genuine connection with me, or
to desire to hear others talk about them. The artificial, the merely
miraculous, the event which had no inner meaning, no matter how large
externally it might be, I did not care for. A little Greek
mythological story was of more importance to me than a war which filled
the newspapers. What, then, could I do with my theological treatises?

It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that I immediately became
formally heretical. Nearly every doctrine in the college creed had
once had a natural origin in the necessities of human nature, and might
therefore be so interpreted as to become a necessity again. To reach
through to that original necessity; to explain the atonement as I
believed it appeared to Paul, and the sinfulness of man as it appeared
to the prophets, was my object. But it was precisely this reaching
after a meaning which constituted heresy. The distinctive essence of
our orthodoxy was not this or that dogma, but the acceptance of dogmas
as communications from without, and not as born from within.

Heresy began, and in fact was altogether present, when I said to myself
that a mere statement of the atonement as taught in class was
impossible for me, and that I must go back to Paul and his century,
place myself in his position, and connect the atonement through him
with something which I felt. I thus continued to use all the terms
which I had hitherto used; but an uneasy feeling began to develop
itself about me in the minds of the professors, because I did not rest
in the "simplicity" of the gospel. To me this meant its

I remember, for example, discoursing about the death of Christ. There
was not a single word which was ordinarily used in the pulpit which I
did not use--satisfaction for sin, penalty, redeeming blood, they were
all there--but I began by saying that in this world there was no
redemption for man but by blood; furthermore, the innocent had
everywhere and in all time to suffer for the guilty. It had been
objected that it was contrary to our notion of an all-loving Being that
He should demand such a sacrifice; but, contrary or not, in this world
it was true, quite apart from Jesus, that virtue was martyred every
day, unknown and unconsoled, in order that the wicked might somehow be
saved. This was part of the scheme of the world, and we might dislike
it or not, we could not get rid of it. The consequences of my sin,
moreover, are rendered less terrible by virtues not my own. I am
literally saved from penalties because another pays the penalty for me.
The atonement, and what it accomplished for man, were therefore a
sublime summing up as it were of what sublime men have to do for their
race; an exemplification, rather than a contradiction, of Nature
herself, as we know her in our own experience.

Now, all this was really intended as a defence of the atonement; but
the President heard me that Sunday, and on the Monday he called me into
his room. He said that my sermon was marked by considerable ability,
but he should have been better satisfied if I had confined myself to
setting forth as plainly as I could the "way of salvation" as revealed
in Christ Jesus. What I had urged might perhaps have possessed some
interest for cultivated people; in fact, he had himself urged pretty
much the same thing many years ago, when he was a young man, in a
sermon he had preached at the Union meeting; but I must recollect that
in all probability my sphere of usefulness would lie amongst humble
hearers, perhaps in an agricultural village or a small town, and that
he did not think people of this sort would understand me if I talked
over their heads as I had done the day before. What they wanted on a
Sunday, after all the cares of the week, was not anything to perplex
and disturb them; not anything which demanded any exercise of thought;
but a repetition of the "old story of which, Mr. Rutherford, you know,
we never ought to get weary; an exhibition of our exceeding sinfulness;
of our safety in the Rock of Ages, and there only; of the joys of the
saints and the sufferings of those who do not believe."

His words fell on me like the hand of a corpse, and I went away much
depressed. My sermon had excited me, and the man who of all men ought
to have welcomed me, had not a word of warmth or encouragement for me,
nothing but the coldest indifference, and even repulse.

It occurs to me here to offer an explanation of a failing of which I
have been accused in later years, and that is secrecy and reserve. The
real truth is, that nobody more than myself could desire self-
revelation; but owing to peculiar tendencies in me, and peculiarity of
education, I was always prone to say things in conversation which I
found produced blank silence in the majority of those who listened to
me, and immediate opportunity was taken by my hearers to turn to
something trivial. Hence it came to pass that only when tempted by
unmistakable sympathy could I be induced to express my real self on any
topic of importance.

It is a curious instance of the difficulty of diagnosing (to use a
doctor's word) any spiritual disease, if disease this shyness may be
called. People would ordinarily set it down to self-reliance, with no
healthy need of intercourse. It was nothing of the kind. It was an
excess of communicativeness, an eagerness to show what was most at my
heart, and to ascertain what was at the heart of those to whom I
talked, which made me incapable of mere fencing and trifling, and so
often caused me to retreat into myself when I found absolute absense of

I am also reminded here of a dream which I had in these years of a
perfect friendship. I always felt that, talk with whom I would, I left
something unsaid which was precisely what I most wished to say. I
wanted a friend who would sacrifice himself to me utterly, and to whom
I might offer a similar sacrifice. I found companions for whom I
cared, and who professed to care for me; but I was thirsting for deeper
draughts of love than any which they had to offer; and I said to myself
that if I were to die, not one of them would remember me for more than
a week. This was not selfishness, for I longed to prove my devotion as
well as to receive that of another. How this ideal haunted me! It
made me restless and anxious at the sight of every new face, wondering
whether at last I had found that for which I searched as if for the
kingdom of heaven.

It is superfluous to say that a friend of the kind I wanted never
appeared, and disappointment after disappointment at last produced in
me a cynicism which repelled people from me, and brought upon me a good
deal of suffering. I tried men by my standard, and if they did not
come up to it I rejected them; thus I prodigally wasted a good deal of
the affection which the world would have given me. Only when I got
much older did I discern the duty of accepting life as God has made it,
and thankfully receiving any scrap of love offered to me, however
imperfect it might be.

I don't know any mistake which I have made which has cost me more than
this; but at the same time I must record that it was a mistake for
which, considering everything, I cannot much blame myself. I hope it
is amended now. Now when it is getting late I recognise a higher
obligation, brought home to me by a closer study of the New Testament.
Sympathy or no sympathy, a man's love should no more fail towards his
fellows than that love which spent itself on disciples who altogether
misunderstood it, like the rain which falls on just and unjust alike.


I had now reached the end of my fourth year at college, and it was time
for me to leave. I was sent down into the eastern counties to a
congregation which had lost its minister, and was there "on probation"
for a month. I was naturally a good speaker, and as the "cause" had
got very low, the attendance at the chapel increased during the month I
was there. The deacons thought they had a prospect of returning
prosperity, and in the end I received a nearly unanimous invitation,
which, after some hesitation, I accepted. One of the deacons, a Mr.
Snale, was against me; he thought I was not "quite sound"; but he was
overruled. We shall hear more of him presently. After a short holiday
I entered on my new duties.

The town was one of those which are not uncommon in that part of the
world. It had a population of about seven or eight thousand, and was a
sort of condensation of the agricultural country round. There was one
main street, consisting principally of very decent, respectable shops.
Generally speaking, there were two shops of each trade; one which was
patronised by the Church and Tories, and another by the Dissenters and
Whigs. The inhabitants were divided into two distinct camps--of the
Church and Tory camp the other camp knew nothing. On the other hand,
the knowledge which each member of the Dissenting camp had of every
other member was most intimate.

The Dissenters were further split up into two or three different sects,
but the main sect was that of the Independents. They, in fact,
dominated every other. There was a small Baptist community, and the
Wesleyans had a new red-brick chapel in the outskirts; but for some
reason or other the Independents were really the Dissenters, and until
the "cause" had dwindled, as before observed, all the Dissenters of any
note were to be found on Sunday in their meeting-house in Water Lane.

My predecessor had died in harness at the age of seventy-five. I never
knew him, but from all I could hear he must have been a man of some
power. As he got older, however, he became feeble; and after a course
of three sermons on a Sunday for fifty years, what he had to say was so
entirely anticipated by his congregation, that although they all
maintained that the gospel, or, in other words, the doctrine of the
fall, the atonement, and so forth, should continually be presented, and
their minister also believed and acted implicitly upon the same theory,
they fell away--some to the Baptists, some to the neighbouring
Independents about two miles off, and some to the Church, while a few
"went nowhere."

When I came I found that the deacons still remained true. They were
the skeleton; but the flesh was so woefully emaciated, that on my first
Sunday there were not above fifty persons in a building which would
hold seven hundred. These deacons were four in number. One was an old
farmer who lived in a village three miles distant. Ever since he was a
boy he had driven over to Water Lane on Sunday. He and his family
brought their dinner with them, and ate it in the vestry; but they
never stopped till the evening, because of the difficulty of getting
home on dark nights, and because they all went to bed in winter-time at
eight o'clock.

Morning and afternoon Mr. Catfield--for that was his name--gave out the
hymns. He was a plain, honest man, very kind, very ignorant, never
reading any book except the Bible, and barely a newspaper save Bell's
Weekly Messenger. Even about the Bible he knew little or nothing
beyond a few favourite chapters; and I am bound to say that, so far as
my experience goes, the character so frequently drawn in romances of
intense Bible students in Dissenting congregations is very rare. At
the same time Mr. Catfield believed himself to be very orthodox, and in
his way was very pious. I could never call him a hypocrite. He was as
sincere as he could be, and yet no religious expression of his was ever
so sincere as the most ordinary expression of the most trifling
pleasure or pain.

The second deacon, Mr. Weeley, was, as he described himself, a builder
and undertaker; more properly an undertaker and carpenter. He was a
thin, tall man, with a tenor voice, and he set the tunes. He was
entirely without energy of any kind, and always seemed oppressed by a
world which was too much for him. He had depended a good deal for
custom upon his chapel connection; and when the attendance at the
chapel fell off, his trade fell off likewise, so that he had to
compound with his creditors. He was a mere shadow, a man of whom
nothing could be said either good or evil.

The third deacon was Mr. Snale, the draper. When I first knew him he
was about thirty-five. He was slim, small, and small-faced, closely
shaven, excepting a pair of little curly whiskers, and he was extremely
neat. He had a little voice too, rather squeaky, and the marked
peculiarity that he hardly ever said anything, no matter how
disagreeable it might be, without stretching as if in a smile his thin
little lips. He kept the principal draper's shop in the town, and even
Church people spent their money with him, because he was so very
genteel compared with the other draper, who was a great red man, and
hung things outside his window. Mr. Snale was married, had children,
and was strictly proper. But his way of talking to women and about
them was more odious than the way of a debauchee. He invariably called
them "the ladies," or more exactly, "the leedies"; and he hardly ever
spoke to a "leedy" without a smirk and some faint attempt at a joke.

One of the customs of the chapel was what were called Dorcas meetings.
Once a month the wives and daughters drank tea with each other; the
evening being ostensibly devoted to making clothes for the poor. The
husband of the lady who gave the entertainment for the month had to
wait upon the company, and the minister was expected to read to them
while they worked.

It was my lot to be Mr. Snale's guest two or three times when Mrs.
Snale was the Dorcas hostess. We met in the drawing-room, which was
over the shop, and looked out into the town market-place. There was a
round table in the middle of the room, at which Mrs. Snale sat and made
the tea. Abundance of hot buttered toast and muffins were provided,
which Mr. Snale and a maid handed round to the party.

Four pictures decorated the walls. One hung over the mantelpiece. It
was a portrait in oils of Mr. Snale, and opposite to it, on the other
side, was a portrait of Mrs. Snale. Both were daubs, but curiously
faithful in depicting what was most offensive in the character of both
the originals, Mr. Snale's simper being preserved; together with the
peculiarly hard, heavy sensuality of the eye in Mrs. Snale, who was
large and full-faced, correct like Mr. Snale, a member of the church, a
woman whom I never saw moved to any generosity, and cruel not with the
ferocity of the tiger, but with the dull insensibility of a cartwheel,
which will roll over a man's neck as easily as over a flint. The third
picture represented the descent of the Holy Ghost; a number of persons
sitting in a chamber, and each one with the flame of a candle on his
head. The fourth represented the last day. The Son of God was in a
chair surrounded by clouds, and beside Him was a flying figure blowing
a long mail-coach horn. The dead were coming up out of their graves;
some were half out of the earth, others three-parts out--the whole of
the bottom part of the picture being filled with bodies emerging from
the ground, a few looking happy, but most of them very wretched; all of
them being naked.

The first time I went to Mrs. Snale's Dorcas gathering Mr. Snale was
reader, on the ground that I was a novice; and I was very glad to
resign the task to him. As the business in hand was week-day and
secular, it was not considered necessary that the selected subjects
should be religious; but as it was distinctly connected with the
chapel, it was also considered that they should have a religious
flavour. Consequently the Bible was excluded, and so were books on
topics altogether worldly. Dorcas meetings were generally, therefore,
shut up to the denominational journal and to magazines. Towards the
end of the evening Mr. Snale read the births, deaths, and marriages in
this journal. It would not have been thought right to read them from
any other newspaper, but it was agreed, with a fineness of tact which
was very remarkable, that it was quite right to read them in one which
was "serious." During the whole time that the reading was going on
conversation was not arrested, but was conducted in a kind of half
whisper; and this was another reason why I exceedingly disliked to
read, for I could never endure to speak if people did not listen.

At half-past eight the work was put away, and Mrs. Snale went to the
piano and played a hymn tune, the minister having first of all selected
the hymn. Singing over, he offered a short prayer, and the company
separated. Supper was not served, as it was found to be too great an
expense. The husbands of the ladies generally came to escort them
home, but did not come upstairs. Some of the gentlemen waited below in
the dining-room, but most of them preferred the shop, for, although it
was shut, the gas was burning to enable the assistants to put away the
goods which had been got out during the day.

When it first became my turn to read I proposed the Vicar of Wakefield;
but although no objection was raised at the time, Mr. Snale took an
opportunity of telling me, after I had got through a chapter or two,
that he thought it would be better if it were discontinued. "Because,
you know, Mr. Rutherford," he said, with his smirk, "the company is
mixed; there are young leedies present, and perhaps, Mr. Rutherford, a
book with a more requisite tone might be more suitable on such an
occasion." What he meant I did not know, and how to find a book with a
more requisite tone I did not know.

However, the next time, in my folly, I tried a selection from George
Fox's Journal. Mr. Snale objected to this too. It was "hardly of a
character adapted for social intercourse," he thought; and furthermore,
"although Mr. Fox might be a very good man, and was a converted
character, yet he did not, you know, Mr. Rutherford, belong to us." So
I was reduced to that class of literature which of all others I most
abominated, and which always seemed to me the most profane--religious
and sectarian gossip, religious novels designed to make religion
attractive, and other slip-slop of this kind. I could not endure it,
and was frequently unwell on Dorcas evenings.

The rest of the small congregation was of no particular note. As I
have said before, it had greatly fallen away, and all who remained
clung to the chapel rather by force of habit than from any other
reason. The only exception was an old maiden lady and her sister, who
lived in a little cottage about a mile out of the town. They were
pious in the purest sense of the word, suffering much from ill-health,
but perfectly resigned, and with a kind of tempered cheerfulness always
apparent on their faces, like the cheerfulness of a white sky with a
sun veiled by light and lofty clouds. They were the daughters of a
carriage-builder, who had left them a small annuity.

Their house was one of the sweetest which I ever entered. The moment I
found myself inside it, I became conscious of perfect repose.
Everything was at rest; books, pictures, furniture, all breathed the
same peace. Nothing in the house was new, but everything had been
preserved with such care that nothing looked old. Yet the owners were
not what is called old-maidish; that is to say, they were not
superstitious worshippers of order and neatness.

I remember Mrs. Snale's children coming in one afternoon when I was
there. They were rough and ill-mannered, and left traces of dirty
footmarks all over the carpet, which the two ladies noticed at once.
But it made no difference to the treatment of the children, who had
some cake and currant wine given to them, and were sent away rejoicing.
Directly they had gone, the elder of my friends asked me if I would
excuse her; she would gather up the dirt before it was trodden about.
So she brought a dust-pan and brush (the little servant was out) and
patiently swept the floor. That was the way with them. Did any
mischief befall them or those whom they knew, without blaming anybody,
they immediately and noiselessly set about repairing it with that
silent promptitude of nature which rebels not against a wound, but the
very next instant begins her work of protection and recovery.

The Misses Arbour (for that was their name) mixed but little in the
society of the town. They explained to me that their health would not
permit it. They read books--a few--but they were not books about which
I knew very much, and they belonged altogether to an age preceding
mine. Of the names which had moved me, and of all the thoughts
stirring in the time, they had heard nothing. They greatly admired
Cowper, a poet who then did not much attract me.

The country near me was rather level, but towards the west it rose into
soft swelling hills, between which were pleasant lanes. At about ten
miles distant eastward was the sea. A small river ran across the High
Street under a stone bridge; for about two miles below us it was locked
up for the sake of the mills, but at the end of the two miles it became
tidal and flowed between deep and muddy banks through marshes to the
ocean. Almost all my walks were by the river-bank down to these
marshes, and as far on as possible till the open water was visible.
Not that I did not like inland scenery: nobody could like it more, but
the sea was a corrective to the littleness all round me. With the
ships on it sailing to the other end of the earth it seemed to connect
me with the great world outside the parochialism of the society in
which I lived.

Such was the town of C-, and such the company amidst which I found
myself. After my probation it was arranged that I should begin my new
duties at once, and accordingly I took lodgings--two rooms over the
shop of a tailor who acted as chapel-keeper, pew-opener, and sexton.
There was a small endowment on the chapel of fifty pounds a year, and
the rest of my income was derived from the pew-rents, which at the time
I took charge did not exceed another seventy.

The first Sunday on which I preached after being accepted was a dull
day in November, but there was no dullness in me. The congregation had
increased a good deal during the past four weeks, and I was stimulated
by the prospect of the new life before me. It seemed to be a fit
opportunity to say something generally about Christianity and its
special peculiarities. I began by pointing out that each philosophy
and religion which had arisen in the world was the answer to a question
earnestly asked at the time; it was a remedy proposed to meet some
extreme pressure. Religions and philosophies were not created by idle
people who sat down and said, "Let us build up a system of beliefs upon
the universe; what shall we say about immortality, about sin?" and so
on. Unless there had been antecedent necessity there could have been
no religion; and no problem of life or death could be solved except
under the weight of that necessity. The stoical morality arose out of
the condition of Rome when the scholar and the pious man could do
nothing but simply strengthen his knees and back to bear an inevitable
burden. He was forced to find some counterpoise for the misery of
poverty and persecution, and he found it in the denial of their power
to touch him. So with Christianity.

Jesus was a poor solitary thinker, confronted by two enormous and
overpowering organisations--the Jewish hierarchy and the Roman State.
He taught the doctrine of the kingdom of heaven; He trained Himself to
have faith in the absolute monarchy of the soul, the absolute monarchy
of His own; He tells us that each man should learn to find peace in his
own thoughts, his own visions. It is a most difficult thing to do;
most difficult to believe that my highest happiness consists in my
perception of whatever is beautiful. If I by myself watch the sun
rise, or the stars come out in the evening, or feel the love of man or
woman,--I ought to say to myself, "There is nothing beyond this." But
people will not rest there; they are not content, and they are for ever
chasing a shadow which flies before them, a something external which
never brings what it promises.

I said that Christianity was essentially the religion of the unknown
and of the lonely; of those who are not a success. It was the religion
of the man who goes through life thinking much, but who makes few
friends and sees nothing come of his thoughts. I said a good deal more
upon the same theme which I have forgotten.

After the service was over I went down into the vestry. Nobody came
near me but my landlord, the chapel-keeper, who said it was raining,
and immediately went away to put out the lights and shut up the
building. I had no umbrella, and there was nothing to be done but to
walk out in the wet. When I got home I found that my supper,
consisting of bread and cheese with a pint of beer, was on the table,
but apparently it had been thought unnecessary to light the fire again
at that time of night. I was overwrought, and paced about for hours in
hysterics. All that I had been preaching seemed the merest vanity when
I was brought face to face with the fact itself; and I reproached
myself bitterly that my own creed would not stand the stress of an
hour's actual trial.

Towards morning I got into bed, but not to sleep; and when the dull
daylight of Monday came, all support had vanished, and I seemed to be
sinking into a bottomless abyss. I became gradually worse week by
week, and my melancholy took a fixed form. I got a notion into my head
that my brain was failing, and this was my first acquaintance with that
most awful malady hypochondria. I did not know then what I know now,
although I only half believe it practically, that this fixity of form
is a frequent symptom of the disease, and that the general weakness
manifests itself in a determinate horror, which gradually fades with
returning health.

For months--many months--this dreadful conviction of coming idiocy or
insanity lay upon me like some poisonous reptile with its fangs driven
into my very marrow, so that I could not shake it off. It went with me
wherever I went, it got up with me in the morning, walked about with me
all day, and lay down with me at night. I managed, somehow or other,
to do my work, but I prayed incessantly for death; and to such a state
was I reduced that I could not even make the commonest appointment for
a day beforehand. The mere knowledge that something had to be done
agitated me and prevented my doing it.

In June next year my holiday came, and I went away home to my father's
house. Father and mother were going, for the first time in their
lives, to spend a few days by the seaside together, and I went with
them to Ilfracombe. I had been there about a week, when on one
memorable morning, on the top of one of those Devonshire hills, I
became aware of a kind of flush in the brain and a momentary relief
such as I had not known since that November night. I seemed, far away
on the horizon, to see just a rim of olive light low down under the
edge of the leaden cloud that hung over my head, a prophecy of the
restoration of the sun, or at least a witness that somewhere it shone.
It was not permanent, and perhaps the gloom was never more profound,
nor the agony more intense, than it was for long after my Ilfracombe
visit. But the light broadened, and gradually the darkness was
mitigated. I have never been thoroughly restored. Often, with no
warning, I am plunged in the Valley of the Shadow, and no outlet seems
possible; but I contrive to traverse it, or to wait in calmness for
access of strength.

When I was at my worst I went to see a doctor. He recommended me
stimulants. I had always been rather abstemious, and he thought I was
suffering from physical weakness. At first wine gave me relief, and
such marked relief that whenever I felt my misery insupportable I
turned to the bottle. At no time in my life was I ever the worse for
liquor, but I soon found the craving for it was getting the better of
me. I resolved never to touch it except at night, and kept my vow; but
the consequence was, that I looked forward to the night, and waited for
it with such eagerness that the day seemed to exist only for the sake
of the evening, when I might hope at least for rest. For the wine as
wine I cared nothing; anything that would have dulled my senses would
have done just as well.

But now a new terror developed itself. I began to be afraid that I was
becoming a slave to alcohol; that the passion for it would grow upon
me, and that I should disgrace myself, and die the most contemptible of
all deaths. To a certain extent my fears were just. The dose which
was necessary to procure temporary forgetfulness of my trouble had to
be increased, and might have increased dangerously.

But one day, feeling more than usual the tyranny of my master, I
received strength to make a sudden resolution to cast him off utterly.
Whatever be the consequence, I said, I will not be the victim of this
shame. If I am to go down to the grave, it shall be as a man, and I
will bear what I have to bear honestly and without resort to the base
evasion of stupefaction. So that night I went to bed having drunk
nothing but water. The struggle was not felt just then. It came
later, when the first enthusiasm of a new purpose had faded away, and I
had to fall back on mere force of will. I don't think anybody but
those who have gone through such a crisis can comprehend what it is. I
never understood the maniacal craving which is begotten by ardent
spirits, but I understood enough to be convinced that the man who has
once rescued himself from the domination even of half a bottle, or
three-parts of a bottle of claret daily, may assure himself that there
is nothing more in life to be done which he need dread.

Two or three remarks begotten of experience in this matter deserve
record. One is, that the most powerful inducement to abstinence, in my
case, was the interference of wine with liberty, and above all things
its interference with what I really loved best, and the transference of
desire from what was most desirable to what was sensual and base. The
morning, instead of being spent in quiet contemplation and quiet
pleasures, was spent in degrading anticipations. What enabled me to
conquer, was not so much heroism as a susceptibility to nobler joys,
and the difficulty which a man must encounter who is not susceptible to
them must be enormous and almost insuperable. Pity, profound pity, is
his due, and especially if he happen to possess a nervous, emotional
organisation. If we want to make men water-drinkers, we must first of
all awaken in them a capacity for being tempted by delights which
water-drinking intensifies. The mere preaching of self-denial will do
little or no good.

Another observation is, that there is no danger in stopping at once,
and suddenly, the habit of drinking. The prisons and asylums furnish
ample evidence upon that point, but there will be many an hour of
exhaustion in which this danger will be simulated and wine will appear
the proper remedy. No man, or at least very few men, would ever feel
any desire for it soon after sleep. This shows the power of repose,
and I would advise anybody who may be in earnest in this matter to be
specially on guard during moments of physical fatigue, and to try the
effect of eating and rest. Do not persist in a blind, obstinate
wrestle. Simply take food, drink water, go to bed, and so conquer not
by brute strength, but by strategy.

Going back to hypochondria and its countless forms of agony, let it be
borne in mind that the first thing to be aimed at is patience--not to
get excited with fears, not to dread the evil which most probably will
never arrive, but to sit down quietly and WAIT. The simpler and less
stimulating the diet, the more likely it is that the sufferer will be
able to watch through the wakeful hours without delirium, and the less
likely is it that the general health will be impaired. Upon this point
of health too much stress cannot be laid. It is difficult for the
victim to believe that his digestion has anything to do with a disease
which seems so purely spiritual, but frequently the misery will break
up and yield, if it do not altogether disappear, by a little attention
to physiology and by a change of air. As time wears on, too, mere
duration will be a relief; for it familiarises with what at first was
strange and insupportable, it shows the groundlessness of fears, and it
enables us to say with each new paroxysm, that we have surmounted one
like it before, and probably a worse.


I had now been "settled," to use a Dissenting phrase, for nearly
eighteen months. While I was ill I had no heart in my work, and the
sermons I preached were very poor and excited no particular suspicion.
But with gradually returning energy my love of reading revived, and
questions which had slumbered again presented themselves. I continued
for some time to deal with them as I had dealt with the atonement at
college. I said that Jesus was the true Paschal Lamb, for that by His
death men were saved from their sins, and from the consequences of
them; I said that belief in Christ, that is to say, a love for Him, was
more powerful to redeem men than the works of the law. All this may
have been true, but truth lies in relation. It was not true when I,
understanding what I understood by it, taught it to men who professed
to believe in the Westminster Confession. The preacher who preaches it
uses a vocabulary which has a certain definite meaning, and has had
this meaning for centuries. He cannot stay to put his own
interpretation upon it whenever it is upon his lips, and so his hearers
are in a false position, and imagine him to be much more orthodox than
he really is.

For some time I fell into this snare, until one day I happened to be
reading the story of Balaam. Balaam, though most desirous to prophesy
smooth things for Balak, had nevertheless a word put into his mouth by
God. When he came to Balak he was unable to curse, and could do
nothing but bless. Balak, much dissatisfied, thought that a change of
position might alter Balaam's temper, and he brought him away from the
high places of Baal to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah. But
Balaam could do nothing better even on Pisgah. Not even a compromise
was possible, and the second blessing was more emphatic than the first.
"God," cried the prophet, pressed sorely by his message, "is not a man,
that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent:
hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He
not make it good? Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and
He hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it."

This was very unsatisfactory, and Balaam was asked, if he could not
curse, at least to refrain from benediction. The answer was still the
same. "Told not I thee, saying, All that the Lord speaketh, that I
must do?" A third shift was tried, and Balaam went to the top of Peor.
This was worse than ever. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he
broke out into triumphal anticipation of the future glories of Israel.
Balak remonstrated in wrath, but Balaam was altogether inaccessible.
"If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go
beyond the commandment of the Lord, to do either good or bad of mine
own mind; but what the Lord saith, that will I speak."

This story greatly impressed me, and I date from it a distinct
disinclination to tamper with myself, or to deliver what I had to
deliver in phrases which, though they might be conciliatory, were

About this time there was a movement in the town to obtain a better
supply of water. The soil was gravelly and full of cesspools, side by
side with which were sunk the wells. A public meeting was held, and I
attended and spoke on behalf of the scheme. There was much opposition,
mainly on the score that the rates would be increased, and on the
Saturday after the meeting the following letter appeared in the
Sentinel, the local paper:

"Sir,--It is not my desire to enter into the controversy now raging
about the water-supply of this town, but I must say I was much
surprised that a minister of religion should interfere in politics.
Sir, I cannot help thinking that if the said minister would devote
himself to the Water of Life -

'that gentle fount
Progressing from Immanuel's mount,' -

it would be much more harmonious with his function as a follower of him
who knew nothing save Christ crucified. Sir, I have no wish to
introduce controversial topics upon a subject like religion into your
columns, which are allotted to a different line, but I must be
permitted to observe that I fail to see how a minister's usefulness can
be stimulated if he sets class against class. Like the widows in
affliction of old, he should keep himself pure and unspotted from the
world. How can many of us accept the glorious gospel on the Sabbath
from a man who will incur spots during the week by arguing about
cesspools like any other man? Sir, I will say nothing, moreover, about
a minister of the gospel assisting to bind burdens--that is to say,
rates and taxation--upon the shoulders of men grievous to be borne.
Surely, sir, a minister of the Lamb of God, who was shed for the
remission of sins, should be AGAINST burdens.--I am sir, your obedient


I had not the least doubt as to the authorship of this precious
epistle. Mr. Snale's hand was apparent in every word. He was fond of
making religious verses, and once we were compelled to hear the Sunday-
school children sing a hymn which he had composed. The two lines of
poetry were undoubtedly his. Furthermore, although he had been a
chapel-goer all his life, he muddled, invariably, passages from the
Bible. They had no definite meaning for him, and there was nothing,
consequently, to prevent his tacking the end of one verse to the
beginning of another. Mr. Snale, too, continually "failed to see."
Where he got the phrase I do not know, but he liked it, and was always
repeating it. However, I had no external evidence that it was he who
was my enemy, and I held my peace. I was supported at the public
meeting by a speaker from the body of the hall whom I had never seen
before. He spoke remarkably well, was evidently educated, and I was
rather curious about him.

It was my custom on Saturdays to go out for the whole of the day by the
river, seawards, to prepare for the Sunday. I was coming home rather
tired, when I met this same man against a stile. He bade me good-
evening, and then proceeded to thank me for my speech, saying many
complimentary things about it. I asked who it was to whom I had the
honour of talking, and he told me he was Edward Gibbon Mardon. "It was
Edward Gibson Mardon once, sir," he said, smilingly. "Gibson was the
name of a rich old aunt who was expected to do something for me, but I
disliked her, and never went near her. I did not see why I should be
ticketed with her label, and as Edward Gibson was very much like Edward
Gibbon, the immortal author of the Decline and Fall, I dropped the 's'
and stuck in a 'b.' I am nothing but a compositor on the Sentinel, and
Saturday afternoon, after the paper is out, is a holiday for me, unless
there is any reporting to do, for I have to turn my attention to that

Mr. Edward Gibbon Mardon, I observed, was slightly built, rather short,
and had scanty whiskers which developed into a little thicker tuft on
his chin. His eyes were pure blue, like the blue of the speedwell.
They were not piercing, but perfectly transparent, indicative of a
character which, if it possessed no particular creative power, would
not permit self-deception. They were not the eyes of a prophet, but of
a man who would not be satisfied with letting a half-known thing alone
and saying he believed it. His lips were thin, but not compressed into
bitterness; and above everything there was in his face a perfectly
legible frankness, contrasting pleasantly with the doubtfulness of most
of the faces I knew. I expressed my gratitude to him for his kind
opinion, and as we loitered he said:

"Sorry to see that attack upon you in the Sentinel. I suppose you are
aware it was Snale's. Everybody could tell that who knows the man."

"If it is Mr. Snale's, I am very sorry."

"It is Snale's. He is a contemptible cur and yet it is not his fault.
He has heard sermons about all sorts of supernatural subjects for
thirty years, and he has never once been warned against meanness, so of
course he supposes that supernatural subjects are everything and
meanness is nothing. But I will not detain you any longer now, for you
are busy. Good-night, sir."

This was rather abrupt and disappointing. However, I was much absorbed
in the morrow, and passed on.

Although I despised Snale, his letter was the beginning of a great
trouble to me. I had now been preaching for many months, and had met
with no response whatever. Occasionally a stranger or two visited the
chapel, and with what eager eyes did I not watch for them on the next
Sunday, but none of them came twice. It was amazing to me that I could
pour out myself as I did--poor although I knew that self to be--and yet
make so little impression. Not one man or woman seemed any different
because of anything I had said or done, and not a soul kindled at any
word of mine, no matter with what earnestness it might be charged. How
I groaned over my incapacity to stir in my people any participation in
my thoughts or care for them!

Looking at the history of those days now from a distance of years,
everything assumes its proper proportion. I was at work, it is true,
amongst those who were exceptionally hard and worldly, but I was
seeking amongst men (to put it in orthodox language) what I ought to
have sought with God alone. In other, and perhaps plainer phrase, I
was expecting from men a sympathy which proceeds from the Invisible
only. Sometimes, indeed, it manifests itself in the long-postponed
justice of time, but more frequently it is nothing more and nothing
less than a consciousness of approval by the Unseen, a peace
unspeakable, which is bestowed on us when self is suppressed.

I did not know then how little one man can change another, and what
immense and persistent efforts are necessary--efforts which seldom
succeed except in childhood--to accomplish anything but the most
superficial alteration of character. Stories are told of sudden
conversions, and of course if a poor simple creature can be brought to
believe that hell-fire awaits him as the certain penalty of his
misdeeds, he will cease to do them; but this is no real conversion, for
essentially he remains pretty much the same kind of being that he was

I remember while this mood was on me, that I was much struck with the
absolute loneliness of Jesus, and with His horror of that death upon
the cross. He was young and full of enthusiastic hope, but when He
died He had found hardly anything but misunderstanding. He had written
nothing, so that He could not expect that His life would live after
Him. Nevertheless His confidence in His own errand had risen so high,
that He had not hesitated to proclaim Himself the Messiah: not the
Messiah the Jews were expecting, but still the Messiah. I dreamed over
His walks by the lake, over the deeper solitude of His last visit to
Jerusalem, and over the gloom of that awful Friday afternoon.

The hold which He has upon us is easily explained, apart from the
dignity of His recorded sayings and the purity of His life. There is
no Saviour for us like the hero who has passed triumphantly through the
distress which troubles US. Salvation is the spectacle of a victory by
another over foes like our own. The story of Jesus is the story of the
poor and forgotten. He is not the Saviour for the rich and prosperous,
for they want no Saviour. The healthy, active, and well-to-do need Him
not, and require nothing more than is given by their own health and
prosperity. But every one who has walked in sadness because his
destiny has not fitted his aspirations; every one who, having no
opportunity to lift himself out of his little narrow town or village
circle of acquaintances, has thirsted for something beyond what they
could give him; everybody who, with nothing but a dull, daily round of
mechanical routine before him, would welcome death, if it were
martyrdom for a cause; every humblest creature, in the obscurity of
great cities or remote hamlets, who silently does his or her duty
without recognition--all these turn to Jesus, and find themselves in
Him. He died, faithful to the end, with infinitely higher hopes,
purposes, and capacity than mine, and with almost no promise of
anything to come of them.

Something of this kind I preached one Sunday, more as a relief to
myself than for any other reason. Mardon was there, and with him a
girl whom I had not seen before. My sight is rather short, and I could
not very well tell what she was like. After the service was over he
waited for me, and said he had done so to ask me if I would pay him a
visit on Monday evening. I promised to do so, and accordingly went.

I found him living in a small brick-built cottage near the outskirts of
the town, the rental of which I should suppose would be about seven or
eight pounds a year. There was a patch of ground in front and a little
garden behind--a kind of narrow strip about fifty feet long, separated
from the other little strips by iron hurdles. Mardon had tried to keep
his garden in order, and had succeeded, but his neighbour was
disorderly, and had allowed weeds to grow, blacking bottles and old tin
cans to accumulate, so that whatever pleasure Mardon's labours might
have afforded was somewhat spoiled.

He himself came to the door when I knocked, and I was shown into a kind
of sitting-room with a round table in the middle and furnished with
Windsor chairs, two arm-chairs of the same kind standing on either side
the fireplace. Against the window was a smaller table with a green
baize tablecloth, and about half-a-dozen plants stood on the window-
sill, serving as a screen. In the recess on one side of the fireplace
was a cupboard, upon the top of which stood a tea-caddy, a workbox,
some tumblers, and a decanter full of water; the other side being
filled with a bookcase and books. There were two or three pictures on
the walls; one was a portrait of Voltaire, another of Lord Bacon, and a
third was Albert Durer's St. Jerome. This latter was an heirloom, and
greatly prized I could perceive, as it was hung in the place of honour
over the mantelpiece.

After some little introductory talk, the same girl whom I had noticed
with Mardon at the chapel came in, and I was introduced to her as his
only daughter Mary. She began to busy herself at once in getting the
tea. She was under the average height for a woman, and delicately
built. Her head was small, but the neck was long. Her hair was brown,
of a peculiarly lustrous tint, partly due to nature, but also to a
looseness of arrangement and a most diligent use of the brush, so that
the light fell not upon a dead compact mass, but upon myriads of
individual hairs, each of which reflected the light. Her eyes, so far
as I could make out, were a kind of greenish grey, but the eyelashes
were long, so that it was difficult exactly to discover what was
underneath them. The hands were small, and the whole figure
exquisitely graceful; the plain black dress, which she wore fastened
right up to the throat, suiting her to perfection. Her face, as I
first thought, did not seem indicative of strength. The lips were
thin, but not straight, the upper lip showing a remarkable curve in it.
Nor was it a handsome face. The complexion was not sufficiently
transparent, nor were the features regular.

During tea she spoke very little, but I noticed one peculiarity about
her manner of talking, and that was its perfect simplicity. There was
no sort of effort or strain in anything she said, no attempt by
emphasis of words to make up for the weakness of thought, and no
compliance with that vulgar and most disagreeable habit of using
intense language to describe what is not intense in itself. Her yea
was yea, and her no, no. I observed also that she spoke without
disguise, although she was not rude. The manners of the cultivated
classes are sometimes very charming, and more particularly their
courtesy, which puts the guest so much at his ease, and constrains him
to believe that an almost personal interest is taken in his affairs,
but after a time it becomes wearisome. It is felt to be nothing but
courtesy, the result of a rule of conduct uniform for all, and verging
very closely upon hypocrisy. We long rather for plainness of speech,
for some intimation of the person with whom we are talking, and that
the mask and gloves may be laid aside.

Tea being over, Miss Mardon cleared away the tea-things, and presently
came back again. She took one of the arm-chairs by the side of the
fireplace, which her father had reserved for her, and while he and I
were talking, she sat with her head leaning a little sideways on the
back of the chair. I could just discern that her feet, which rested on
the stool, were very diminutive, like her hands.

The talk with Mardon turned upon the chapel. I had begun it by saying
that I had noticed him there on the Sunday just mentioned. He then
explained why he never went to any place of worship. A purely orthodox
preacher it was, of course, impossible for him to hear, but he doubted
also the efficacy of preaching. What could be the use of it, supposing
the preacher no longer to be a believer in the common creeds? If he
turns himself into a mere lecturer on all sorts of topics, he does
nothing more than books do, and they do it much better. He must base
himself upon the Bible, and above all upon Christ, and how can he base
himself upon a myth? We do not know that Christ ever lived, or that if
He lived His life was anything like what is attributed to Him. A mere
juxtaposition of the Gospels shows how the accounts of His words and
deeds differ according to the tradition followed by each of His

I interrupted Mardon at this point by saying that it did not matter
whether Christ actually existed or not. What the four evangelists
recorded was eternally true, and the Christ-idea was true whether it
was ever incarnated or not in a being bearing His name.

"Pardon me," said Mardon, "but it does very much matter. It is all the
matter whether we are dealing with a dream or with reality. I can
dream about a man's dying on the cross in homage to what he believed,
but I would not perhaps die there myself; and when I suffer from
hesitation whether I ought to sacrifice myself for the truth, it is of
immense assistance to me to know that a greater sacrifice has been made
before me--that a greater sacrifice is possible. To know that somebody
has poetically imagined that it is possible, and has very likely been
altogether incapable of its achievement, is no help. Moreover, the
commonplaces which even the most freethinking of Unitarians seem to
consider as axiomatic, are to me far from certain, and even
unthinkable. For example, they are always talking about the
omnipotence of God. But power even of the supremest kind necessarily
implies an object--that is to say, resistance. Without an object which
resists it, it would be a blank, and what, then, is the meaning of
omnipotence? It is not that it is merely inconceivable; it is
nonsense, and so are all these abstract, illimitable, self-annihilative
attributes of which God is made up."

This negative criticism, in which Mardon greatly excelled, was all new
to me, and I had no reply to make. He had a sledge-hammer way of
expressing himself, while I, on the contrary, always required time to
bring into shape what I saw. Just then I saw nothing; I was stunned,
bewildered, out of the sphere of my own thoughts, and pained at the
roughness with which he treated what I had cherished.

I was presently relieved, however, of further reflection by Mardon's
asking his daughter whether her face was better. It turned out that
all the afternoon and evening she had suffered greatly from neuralgia.
She had said nothing about it while I was there, but had behaved with
cheerfulness and freedom. Mentally I had accused her of slightness,
and inability to talk upon the subjects which interested Mardon and
myself; but when I knew she had been in torture all the time, my
opinion was altered. I thought how rash I had been in judging her as I
continually judged other people, without being aware of everything they
had to pass through; and I thought, too, that if I had a fit of
neuralgia, everybody near me would know it, and be almost as much
annoyed by me as I myself should be by the pain.

It is curious, also, that when thus proclaiming my troubles I often
considered. my eloquence meritorious, or, at least, a kind of talent
for which I ought to praise God, contemning rather my silent friends as
something nearer than myself to the expressionless animals. To parade
my toothache, describing it with unusual adjectives, making it felt by
all the company in which I might happen to be, was to me an assertion
of my superior nature. But, looking at Mary, and thinking about her as
I walked home, I perceived that her ability to be quiet, to subdue
herself, to resist the temptation for a whole evening of drawing
attention to herself by telling us what she was enduring, was heroism,
and that my contrary tendency was pitiful vanity. I perceived that
such virtues as patience and self-denial--which, clad in russet dress,
I had often passed by unnoticed when I had found them amongst the poor
or the humble--were more precious and more ennobling to their possessor
than poetic yearnings, or the power to propound rhetorically to the
world my grievances or agonies.

Miss Mardon's face was getting worse, and as by this time it was late,
I stayed but a little while longer.


For some months I continued without much change in my monotonous
existence. I did not see Mardon often, for I rather dreaded him. I
could not resist him, and I shrank from what I saw to be inevitably
true when I talked to him. I can hardly say it was cowardice. Those
may call it cowardice to whom all associations are nothing, and to whom
beliefs are no more than matters of indifferent research; but as for
me, Mardon's talk darkened my days and nights. I never could
understand the light manner in which people will discuss the gravest
questions, such as God and the immortality of the soul. They gossip
about them over their tea, write and read review articles about them,
and seem to consider affirmation or negation of no more practical
importance than the conformation of a beetle. With me the struggle to
retain as much as I could of my creed was tremendous. The dissolution
of Jesus into mythologic vapour was nothing less than the death of a
friend dearer to me then than any other friend whom I knew.

But the worst stroke of all was that which fell upon the doctrine of a
life beyond the grave. In theory I had long despised the notion that
we should govern our conduct here by hope of reward or fear of
punishment hereafter. But under Mardon's remorseless criticism, when
he insisted on asking for the where and how, and pointed out that all
attempts to say where and how ended in nonsense, my hope began to fail,
and I was surprised to find myself incapable of living with proper
serenity if there was nothing but blank darkness before me at the end
of a few years.

As I got older I became aware of the folly of this perpetual reaching
after the future, and of drawing from to-morrow, and from to-morrow
only, a reason for the joyfulness of to-day. I learned, when, alas! it
was almost too late, to live in each moment as it passed over my head,
believing that the sun as it is now rising is as good as it will ever
be, and blinding myself as much as possible to what may follow. But
when I was young I was the victim of that illusion, implanted for some
purpose or other in us by Nature, which causes us, on the brightest
morning in June, to think immediately of a brighter morning which is to
come in July. I say nothing, now, for or against the doctrine of
immortality. All I say is, that men have been happy without it, even
under the pressure of disaster, and that to make immortality a sole
spring of action here is an exaggeration of the folly which deludes us
all through life with endless expectation, and leaves us at death
without the thorough enjoyment of a single hour.

So I shrank from Mardon, but none the less did the process of
excavation go on. It often happens that a man loses faith without
knowing it. Silently the foundation is sapped while the building
stands fronting the sun, as solid to all appearance as when it was
first turned out of the builder's hands, but at last it falls suddenly
with a crash. It was so at this time with a personal relationship of
mine, about which I have hitherto said nothing.

Years ago, before I went to college, and when I was a teacher in the
Sunday-school, I had fallen in love with one of my fellow-teachers, and
we became engaged. She was the daughter of one of the deacons. She
had a smiling, pretty, vivacious face; was always somehow foremost in
school treats, picnics, and chapel-work, and she had a kind of piquant
manner, which to many men is more ensnaring than beauty. She never
read anything; she was too restless and fond of outward activity for
that, and no questions about orthodoxy or heresy ever troubled her
head. We continued our correspondence regularly after my appointment
as minister, and her friends, I knew, were looking to me to fix a day
for marriage. But although we had been writing to one another as
affectionately as usual, a revolution had taken place. I was quite
unconscious of it, for we had been betrothed for so long that I never
once considered the possibility of any rupture.

One Monday morning, however, I had a letter from her. It was not often
that she wrote on Sunday, as she had a religious prejudice against
writing letters on that day. However, this was urgent, for it was to
tell me that an aunt of hers who was staying at her father's was just
dead, and that her uncle wanted her to go and live with him for some
time, to look after the little children who were left behind. She said
that her dear aunt died a beautiful death, trusting in the merits of
the Redeemer. She also added, in a very delicate way, that she would
have agreed to go to her uncle's at once, but she had understood that
we were to be married soon, and she did not like to leave home for
long. She was evidently anxious for me to tell her what to do.

This letter, as I have said, came to me on Monday, when I was exhausted
by a more than usually desolate Sunday. I became at once aware that my
affection for her, if it ever really existed, had departed. I saw
before me the long days of wedded life with no sympathy, and I
shuddered when I thought what I should do with such a wife. How could
I take her to Mardon? How could I ask him to come to me? Strange to
say, my pride suffered most. I could have endured, I believe, even
discord at home, if only I could have had a woman whom I could present
to my friends, and whom they would admire. I was never unselfish in
the way in which women are, and yet I have always been more anxious
that people should respect my wife than respect me, and at any time
would withdraw myself into the shade if only she might be brought into
the light. This is nothing noble. It is an obscure form of egotism
probably, but anyhow, such always was my case.

It took but a very few hours to excite me to distraction. I had gone
on for years without realising what I saw now, and although in the
situation itself the change had been only gradual, it instantaneously
became intolerable. Yet I never was more incapable of acting. What
could I do? After such a long betrothal, to break loose from her would
be cruel and shameful. I could never hold up my head again, and in the
narrow circle of Independency, the whole affair would be known and my
prospects ruined.

Then other and subtler reasons presented themselves. No men can expect
ideal attachments. We must be satisfied with ordinary humanity.
Doubtless my friend with a lofty imagination would be better matched
with some Antigone who exists somewhere and whom he does not know. But
he wisely does not spend his life in vain search after her, but settles
down with the first decently sensible woman he finds in his own street,
and makes the best of his bargain. Besides, there was the power of use
and wont to be considered. Ellen had no vice of temper, no meanness,
and it was not improbable that she would be just as good a helpmeet for
me in time as I had a right to ask. Living together, we should mould
one another, and at last like one another. Marrying her, I should be
relieved from the insufferable solitude which was depressing me to
death, and should have a home.

So it has always been with me. When there has been the sternest need
of promptitude, I have seen such multitudes of arguments for and
against every course that I have despaired. I have at my command any
number of maxims, all of them good, but I am powerless to select the
one which ought to be applied.

A general principle, a fine saying, is nothing but a tool, and the wit
of man is shown not in possession of a well-furnished tool-chest, but
in the ability to pick out the proper instrument and use it.

I remained in this miserable condition for days, not venturing to
answer Ellen's letter, until at last I turned out for a walk. I have
often found that motion and change will bring light and resolution when
thinking will not. I started off in the morning down by the river, and
towards the sea, my favourite stroll. I went on and on under a leaden
sky, through the level, solitary, marshy meadows, where the river began
to lose itself in the ocean, and I wandered about there, struggling for
guidance. In my distress I actually knelt down and prayed, but the
heavens remained impassive as before, and I was half ashamed of what I
had done, as if it were a piece of hypocrisy.

At last, wearied out, I turned homeward, and diverging from the direct
road, I was led past the house where the Misses Arbour lived. I was
faint, and some beneficent inspiration prompted me to call. I went in,
and found that the younger of the two sisters was out. A sudden
tendency to hysterics overcame me, and I asked for a glass of water.
Miss Arbour, having given it to me, sat down by the side of the
fireplace opposite to the one at which I was sitting, and for a few
moments there was silence. I made some commonplace observation, but
instead of answering me she said quietly, "Mr. Rutherford, you have
been upset; I hope you have met with no accident."

How it came about I do not know, but my whole story rushed to my lips,
and I told her all of it with quivering voice. I cannot imagine what
possessed me to make her my confidante. Shy, reserved, and proud, I
would have died rather than have breathed a syllable of my secret if I
had been in my ordinary humour, but her soft, sweet face altogether
overpowered me.

As I proceeded with my tale, the change that came over her was most
remarkable. When I began she was leaning back placidly in her large
chair, with her handkerchief upon her lap; but gradually her face
kindled, she sat upright, and she was transformed with a completeness
and suddenness which I could not have conceived possible. At last,
when I had finished, she put both her hands to her forehead, and almost
shrieked out, "Shall I tell him?--O my God, shall I tell him?--may God
have mercy on him!" I was amazed beyond measure at the altogether
unsuspected depth of passion which was revealed in her whom I had never
before seen disturbed by more than a ripple of emotion. She drew her
chair nearer to mine, put both her hands on my knees, looked right into
my eyes, and said, "Listen." She then moved back a little, and spoke
as follows:

"It is forty-five years ago this month since I was married. You are
surprised; you have always known me under my maiden name, and you
thought I had always been single. It is forty-six years ago this month
since the man who afterwards became my husband first saw me. He was a
partner in a cloth firm. At that time it was the duty of one member of
a firm to travel, and he came to our town, where my father was a well-
to-do carriage-builder. My father was an old customer of his house,
and the relationship between the customer and the wholesale merchant
was then very different from what it is now. Consequently, Mr. Hexton-
-for that was my husband's name--was continually asked to stay with us
so long as he remained in the town. He was what might be called a
singularly handsome man--that is to say, he was upright, well-made,
with a straight nose, black hair, dark eyes, and a good complexion. He
dressed with perfect neatness and good taste, and had the reputation of
being a most temperate and most moral man, much respected--amongst the
sect to which both of us belonged.

"When he first came our way I was about nineteen and he about three-
and-twenty. My father and his had long been acquainted, and he was of
course received even with cordiality. I was excitable, a lover of
poetry, a reader of all sorts of books, and much given to enthusiasm.
Ah! you do not think so, you do not see how that can have been, but you
do not know how unaccountable is the development of the soul, and what
is the meaning of any given form of character which presents itself to
you. You see nothing but the peaceful, long since settled result, but
how it came there, what its history has been, you cannot tell. It may
always have been there, or have gradually grown so, in gradual progress
from seed to flower, or it may be the final repose of tremendous

"I will show you what I was like at nineteen," and she got up and
turned to a desk, from which she took a little ivory miniature.
"That," she said, "was given to Mr. Hexton when we were engaged. I
thought he would have locked it up, but he used to leave it about, and
one day I found it in the dressing-table drawer, with some brushes and
combs, and two or three letters of mine. I withdrew it, and burnt the
letters. He never asked for it, and here it is."

The head was small and set upon the neck like a flower, but not bending
pensively. It was rather thrown back with a kind of firmness, and with
a peculiarly open air, as if it had nothing to conceal and wished the
world to conceal nothing. The body was shown down to the waist, and
was slim and graceful. But what was most noteworthy about the picture
was its solemn seriousness, a seriousness capable of infinite
affection, and of infinite abandonment, not sensuous abandonment--
everything was too severe, too much controlled by the arch of the top
of the head for that--but of an abandonment to spiritual aims."

Miss Arbour continued: "Mr. Hexton after a while gave me to understand
that he was my admirer, and before six months of acquaintanceship had
passed my mother told me that he had requested formally that he might
be considered as my suitor. She put no pressure upon me, nor did my
father, excepting that they said that if I would accept Mr. Hexton they
would be content, as they knew him to be a very well-conducted young
man, a member of the church, and prosperous in his business. My first,
and for a time my sovereign, impulse was to reject him, because I
thought him mean, and because I felt he lacked sympathy with me.

"Unhappily I did not trust that impulse. I looked for something more
authoritative, but I was mistaken, for the voice of God, to me at
least, hardly ever comes in thunder, but I have to listen with perfect
stillness to make it out. It spoke to me, told me what to do, but I
argued with it and was lost. I was guiltless of any base motive, but I
found the wrong name for what displeased me in Mr. Hexton, and so I
deluded myself. I reasoned that his meanness was justifiable economy,
and that his dissimilarity from me was perhaps the very thing which
ought to induce me to marry him, because he would correct my failings.
I knew I was too inconsiderate, too rash, too flighty, and I said to
myself that his soberness would be a good thing for me.

"Oh, if I had but the power to write a book which should go to the ends
of the world, and warn young men and women not to be led away by any
sophistry when choosing their partners for life! It may be asked, How
are we to distinguish heavenly instigation from hellish temptation? I
say, that neither you nor I, sitting here, can tell how to do it. We
can lay down no law by which infallibly to recognise the messenger from
God. But what I do say is, that when the moment comes, it is perfectly
easy for us to recognise him. Whether we listen to his message or not
is another matter. If we do not--if we stop to dispute with him, we
are undone, for we shall very soon learn to discredit him.

"So I was married, and I went to live in a dark manufacturing town,
away from all my friends. I awoke to my misery by degrees, but still
rapidly. I had my books sent down to me. I unpacked them in Mr.
Hexton's presence, and I kindled at the thought of ranging my old
favourites in my sitting-room. He saw my delight as I put them on some
empty shelves, but the next day he said that he wanted a stuffed dog
there, and that he thought my books, especially as they were shabby,
had better go upstairs.

"We had to give some entertainments soon afterwards. The minister and
his wife, with some other friends, came to tea, and the conversation
turned on parties and the dullness of winter evenings if no amusements
were provided. I maintained that rational human beings ought not to be
dependent upon childish games, but ought to be able to occupy
themselves and interest themselves with talk. Talk, I said--not
gossip, but talk--pleases me better than chess or forfeits; and the
lines of Cowper occurred to me -

'When one, that holds communion with the skies,
Has filled his urn where these pure waters rise,
And once more mingles with us meaner things,
'Tis even as if an angel shook his wings;
Immortal fragrance fills the circuit wide,
That tells us whence his treasures are supplied.'

I ventured to repeat this verse, and when I had finished, there was a
pause for a moment, which was broken by my husband's saying to the
minister's wife who sat next to him, 'Oh, Mrs. Cook, I quite forgot to
express my sympathy with you; I heard that you had lost your cat.' The
blow was deliberately administered, and I felt it as an insult. I was
wrong, I know. I was ignorant of the ways of the world, and I ought to
have been aware of the folly of placing myself above the level of my
guests, and of the extreme unwisdom of revealing myself in that
unguarded way to strangers. Two or three more experiences of that kind
taught me to close myself carefully to all the world, and to beware how
I uttered anything more than commonplace. But I was young, and ought
to have been pardoned. I felt the sting of self-humiliation far into
the night, as I lay and silently cried, while Mr. Hexton slept beside

"I soon found that he was entirely insensible to everything for which I
most cared. Before our marriage he had affected a sort of interest in
my pursuits, but in reality he was indifferent to them. He was cold,
hard, and impenetrable. His habits were precise and methodical, beyond
what is natural for a man of his years. I remember one evening--
strange that these small events should so burn themselves into me--that
some friends were at our house at tea. A tradesman in the town was
mentioned, a member of our congregation, who had become bankrupt, and
everybody began to abuse him. It was said that he had been
extravagant; that he had chosen to send his children to the grammar-
school, where the children of gentlefolk went; and finally, that only
last year he had let his wife go to the seaside.

"I knew what the real state of affairs was. He had perhaps been living
a little beyond his means, but as to the school, he had rather refined
tastes, and he longed to teach his children something more than the
ciphering, as it was called, and bookkeeping which they would have
learned at the academy at which men in his position usually educated
their boys; and as to the seaside, his wife was ill, and he could not
bear to see her suffering in the smoky street, when he knew that a
little fresh air and change of scene would restore her.

"So I said that I was sorry to hear the poor man attacked; that he had
done wrong, no doubt, but so had the woman who was brought before
Jesus; and that with me, charity or a large heart covered a multitude
of sins. I added that there was something dreadful in the way in which
everybody always seemed to agree in deserting the unfortunate. I was a
little moved, and unluckily upset a teacup. No harm was done; and if
my husband, who sat next to me, had chosen to take no notice, there
need have been no disturbance whatever. But he made a great fuss,
crying, 'Oh, my dear, pray mind! Ring the bell instantly, or it will
all be through the tablecloth.' In getting up hastily to obey him, I
happened to drag the cloth, as it lay on my lap; a plate fell down and
was broken; everything was in confusion; I was ashamed and degraded.

"I do not believe there was a single point in Mr. Hexton's character in
which he touched the universal; not a single chink, however narrow,
through which his soul looked out of itself upon the great world
around. If he had kept bees, or collected butterflies or beetles, I
could have found some avenue of approach.--But he had no taste for
anything of the kind. He had his breakfast at eight regularly every
morning, and read his letters at breakfast. He came home to dinner at
two, looked at the newspaper for a little while after dinner, and then
went to sleep. At six he had his tea, and in half-an-hour went back to
his counting-house, which he did not leave till eight. Supper at nine,
and bed at ten, closed the day.

"It was a habit of mine to read a little after supper, and occasionally
I read aloud to him passages which struck me, but I soon gave it up,
for once or twice he said to me, 'Now you've got to the bottom of that
page, I think you had better go to bed,' although perhaps the page did
not end a sentence. But why weary you with all this? I pass over all
the rest of the hateful details which made life insupportable to me.
Suffice to say, that one wet Sunday evening, when we could not go to
chapel and were in the dining-room alone, the climax was reached. My
husband had a religious magazine before him, and I sat still, doing
nothing. At last, after an hour had passed without a word, I could
bear it no longer, and I broke out -

"'James, I am wretched beyond description!"

"He slowly shut the magazine, tearing a piece of paper from a letter
and putting it in as a mark, and then said -

"'What is the matter?'

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