The Autobiography and Other Memorials of Mrs Gilbert, Formerly Ann Taylor,
by Ann Taylor (1782-1866), edited by Josiah Gilbert.
Henry S. King & Co. 65 Cornhill, London, 1874.
Volume I and Volume II.
Affectionately yours, Ann Gilbert.
At the age of 73.
FROM A PAINTING BY HER SON.
Published by Henry S. King & Co. 65 Cornhill, London.
AUTHOR OF "CADORE;OR, TITIAN'S COUNTRY," ETC., AND JOINT-AUTHOR
OF "THE DOLOMITE MOUNTAINS."
" Life, I repeat, is energy of Love,
All rights reserved.
Salome's Marriage–Anxiety for her Sister–A Poetic Effusion–Death of the Princess Charlotte–Politics–Summer Days at Ongar–Visit of her Father and Mother–Her eldest boy at Ongar–Letter to Mrs Laurie–Miss Greaves–The Greenland Fishery–Supposed Fatal illness of her Father. 1-26
The "Peaked Farm" and its Inmates–Letters to her Husband, Father, and Sister–Cleethorpes–Death of Jane Taylor–Letter of Consolation to her Mother–Perplexity at Home–Departure from Hull, 27-56
Arrival at Nottingham–The Castle, and a New Home–The Boy at Ongar–Lectures on Infidelity and Atheism–Miss Chambers–Address to Wives and Mothers–"The Prisoner Infidel," 57-82
The "Paul and Apollos" Spirit–Death of Her Son Edward–Isaac Taylor at Stanford Rivers–Servants, Bad and Good–Her Father at Nottingham–The "Natural History of Enthusiasm"–Death of Her Father–Death of Her Mother–Signs of the Times, 83-112
Letter from a Friend–Riots and Destruction of the Castle–A Son beginning Life–Church Establishments–Isaac Taylor and Joseph Gilbert–Danger of early Mental Expenditure–Pilgrims' Hatch–Mr Gilbert's Lectures on the Atonement–Derbyshire Tour–Morals and Romanism–Skegness and its Storms–The "Convalescent"–Anti-Slavery Contest, 113-163
Song of the Tea-Kettle–Market-Day in Nottingham–Corn-Law Controversy–King Potato–National Fasting–Free Churchism–Letter upon the Rights of Women–Pet Children–Providence and Life–Letter from Isaac Taylor, 165-194
A near Sorrow–Pupils in the House–A Begging Expedition–The Leifchild Hymns–Harpenden and Marden Ash–Church Membership–Trouble, 195-224
Forebodings–Failing Energy–The Palace Tree–The Father's Last Christmas–The Meadow Crocuses–Farewells–Death of her Husband, 225-244
Memoir of her Husband–Dispersion of the Household–Death of Jefferys Taylor–Winter at Stanford Rivers–College Hill–Passages from Correspondence–Summer Journies–Wales and Scotland–Christmas Gatherings, 245-281
Thankfulness and Trust–Italy and America–Home Scenes–Illness and Death of her Youngest Son–Edinburgh and Ilfracombe–Last Correspondence with Isaac Taylor–His Death–Last Visit to Lavenham–A Hint of the End, 283-311
A Leaflet Message–Sunday Evening–Last Letter–The Last Sleep–The Graves of the Taylors, 313-320
|MRS GILBERT AT THE AGE OF 73, from a Drawing by her Son.||Frontispiece.|
|THE "PEAKED FARM," from a Drawing by Mr Taylor, Senr.||Page 34|
|ISAAC TAYLOR'S HOUSE AT STANFORD RIVERS, from a Sketch by Himself,||132|
|COLLEGE HILL,||facing p. 260|
|WINDOW OF THE ROOM AT LAVENHAM WHERE ISAAC TAYLOR WAS BORN,–Church and Grammar School beyond,||307|
Salome's Marriage–Anxiety for her Sister–A poetic Effusion–Death of the Princess Charlotte–Politics–Summer Days at Ongar–Visit of her Father and Mother–Her eldest boy at Ongar–Letter to Mrs Laurie–Miss Greaves–The Greenland Fishery–Supposed fatal illness of her Father.
"But little know they of the toils of thought,
"Many an evening by the waters did we watch the stately ships."
"EIGHT happy and successful, though truly laborious years" were, as Mrs Gilbert wrote long afterwards, spent by her husband in Hull, as pastor of the large congregation at Fish Street Chapel. During those years six more children were added to the household; and she herself was not less active and laborious in her sphere, and certainly not less happy, than her husband. But in dealing with this, as with other busy periods of her life, it will be necessary to compress the narrative much more than hitherto.
Three weeks after they had entered their new home, her third child, a son, was born.
"He wants nothing but a name," she writes, "which we are quite at a loss about. I should like to call him 'Isaac,' but Mr [Page 4] Gilbert does not like it, and nobody thinks it pretty. Indeed, I cannot deny there is nothing but association in its favour."
Her husband's lively niece Salome was at this time absent for a few months, and an allusion to this in a letter home reveals that with all her interest in the orphan girl, she had proved some check to the happy freedom of domestic intercourse, as the addition of a third in the home of any newly married couple was likely to be.
"The last three months, I believe, we have had more confidential conversation than for three years before; and this is about the only cause of regret to me that Salome is with us. It is almost impossible for three to converse so freely as two, even if all were equally intimate; but I am so persuaded that it is duty to keep her here, and when I look at my own dear children, I feel too so deeply how strong are the claims of an orphan, that if holding up my finger in the dark would remove her, I would not do it. It is a little crook in a happy lot, and I dare not ask to have everything my own way."
This "little crook" did not last long. Richard Cecil, a son of her old friend, and a student at Rotherham College, had now confided to Mr Gilbert his attachment to Salome. Some delay to make up her own mind was all that remained, "and," said his wife, "if I am anything of a conjuror, I can prognosticate the event." Perhaps this prognostication did not require a conjuror. It was soon a settled thing, as we find by the following reference:–
"Salome does not allow that she shall marry for many a year, but if he should be settled soon, I conclude it would not be long, and I cannot help smiling at the little domestic observations [Page 5] which she, unlike her wont, now occasionally makes–of course, quite in a casual way–such as, 'dear, how was this made?' or, 'Was that rabbit's head quite right?' But the smile is quite in my sleeve. Oh, it is a real blessing to have had a little practice in the minutiæ of housekeeping before one is called to perform in the eye of the world, and what is worse, of his wife. When I see the splendid dinners which all the merchants give here, I wonder what I should have done had I settled at —, and in a situation where I must have given, as well as received; for verily in this instance, it is not more blessed to give than to receive."
The "crook" was succeeded by a real anxiety. Allusions presently occur to indications in her sister's health, which after some years ended in her death, the first sorrow of the kind since childhood, that entered this loving family circle. The trial to such a nature was poignant, yet she says–
"I cannot but admire the goodness of God in the many mitigating circumstances with which this affliction is accompanied. How merciful it is that she had not to brood over it during her retirement in Cornwall; that Isaac does not now need her attention; that she is able to feel so much pecuniary ease without continued writing; and that her own mind should have been so previously strengthened and girded for the trial."
In bearing this trouble, too, the elder sister, however prone to dwell in imagination upon dark possibilities, was helped by a characteristic energy of practical hopefulness. She was unwearied in suggesting and investigating all remedies that came to her knowledge, and always sanguine about them. And, then, there was ever the bright domestic duty at hand. [Page 6]
"This is the first evening for weeks I have been able to sit down alone and at home, and now I am enjoying myself. The house is got nicely in order at last; I have just finished a three weeks' wash, and I am every moment expecting Mr Gilbert from Leeds. I have a comfortable parlour, with a neat, brisk fire to greet him, and in the kitchen a little chicken roasting for his supper, added to which all the three children are quiet and in bed."
It may have been observed that, in all her references to her husband, he is termed "Mr Gilbert" or "Mr G." This formal style, which continued almost to the last, was, it need hardly be said, no indication of coldness, but took its rise from early shyness at any exhibition of affection before Salome's sarcastic glances; a proof that the constraint of which she speaks existed in no small degree. The deep and tender devotion of her heart was poured forth whenever it was confided to the pen. His absences, on ministerial duties among the Yorkshire churches, were now very frequent. During one of them she writes:–
"If we look round at other families, we may easily persuade ourselves that ours are light afflictions, dealt out with a sparing and tender hand. If we may be still indulged in this respect, I shall enjoy the thought of your finding a little more rest at home than for a long time you could have had there. There is no thought more delightful to me than that of making your fireside both rest and recreation. It grieves me to think that, with family cares, you should ever find it otherwise, but sometimes you know I am lawfully too tired for the latter. Ah! if I could but plead that at others, I was lawfully too cross for the former, I should have less reason to say, forgive me! . . . I have attended to your study plants with a direct and affectionate [Page 7] reference to their owner,–also with no disrespectful feeling towards themselves."
In the midst of incessant occupation, her pen, if used at all, was devoted to thoroughly homely matters of correspondence, but the receipt of a poetic effusion of her husband's and a breath of country air at the little village of Welton, where she had taken lodgings for her children, seem to have revived the old inspiration. She writes,–
"January 19, 1818.–Why describe the loveliness of one still the idol of your fancy, but whose slightest outline I dare not appropriate? Was it to make me jealous? If I can help it, it shall only make me emulous. But, however, if you had any ill design, I have meditated a sort of revenge in sending you, on the following page, the praises of my first love,–of one who still holds a wide empire in my heart. On receiving your beautiful, inappropriate verses, I longed very much for leisure to reply in kind; but when yesterday, in my solitary ride from Welton, the spirit came over me, it did not flow in that direction. I found my mind carried out towards another object, so I did not check its flight, but gave myself up without reserve to the passing impression. If you can, love it for my sake, as I must endeavour to gaze on the beauties of your mistress for yours, and if I can grow more like the charming original I will. But remember there will always be a painful difference between the seen and the unseen. The visible Helen, I will venture to say, was not so enchanting as the invisible personification which poetry has given to her loveliness. The 'seen,' in this case, is mere mortal clay, drest in a cap and gown; and though I am not intimating that, if you did not see me, and did but know it, I am a Helen, or even a distant relation of that lady, yet I would meet the dis- [Page 8] appointment half way, and assist you to remember that material substance cannot–do what it will, or be what it may–possess the poetic attraction of ethereal essence.
"O beautiful nature, how lovely thou art
In thy bonnet of blue and thy mantle of green!
Love, early and pure, it was thine to impart,
My bosom's soft soother, my fancy's fair queen!
Does life seem a labour, perchance for a while,
Its promise a cheat, by no pleasure repaid?
One glance of thine eye, and one glimpse of thy smile,
Rekindle its brightness, thou beautiful maid! *
. . . .
"But now for news from that homely scene, where your muse takes her rest with resigned cheerfulness–that good red brick messuage known by the name of No. 8, Nile Street, Hull. . . . The house is now perfect neatness and order; silence and solitude reign throughout (all the children away in the country), interrupted only by the occasional singing of the mangle, or the swing of the oven door; if you would but add the postman's ring, it would be all the music I wish for."
In November 1817, came the shock of the Princess Charlotte's death.
"O," she says to her sister, "this mournful mourning! Before I begin with anything else, I cannot help expressing my interest and grief in the event which has clothed us all in the garments of genuine sorrow. Night and day it has scarcely been out of my thoughts, so deeply melancholy is every view we can take of it; and I confess, though I feel for the public, it is the private part of the story that affects me most. [Page 9] realise every aggravating particular till I can hardly bear to think of it. How it enhances the mercies of our own firesides! I look at dear little H— now as a double favour."
The general grief on the day of the funeral called forth a sermon from every pulpit, that by Robert Hall achieving a wide celebrity. Mr Gilbert chose for his text Jer. xxii. 29, "O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord!"
"Read it," she says, in writing home, "but be sure you do not look at the following verse! ('Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days,' &c.) It was deeply affecting; the place crowded, the pulpit hung with black, and every eye in tears. O it was most mournful, in the quiet moonlight of that melancholy night, to hear the dumb peals from the churches, chiming till past twelve; and to think that the same sad music was sweeping over the whole land from north to south. We went in the evening to one of the churches, and during the performance on a fine organ of the 'Dead March in Saul,' I gave myself up to the full power of imagination, and I saw the scene then passing in the Chapel Royal like reality."
A lively interest in public events always distinguished her; and she warmly embraced the cause of "the Queen," which became so curiously mixed up with political feeling. At a later period, when "the Manchester Massacre," a charge of Yeomanry upon the people, was in all mouths, she writes,–
"We were at a large party last week, and got so deep into Manchester politics that we were obliged to conclude with a chorus of 'God save the King' called for by the Low party. What do you think of the signs of the times? Mr Gilbert can hardly rest in his bed for interest and anxiety. He is afraid [Page 10] there are fetters forging for his children. I heard there a neat characteristic story of Mr Parsons of Leeds.* He was at a dinner where a very high Tory gave 'Church and King,' supposing Mr Parsons would not drink it. Mr P. drank it, however, very cheerfully; but when his turn came proposed the 'Queen and the Dissenters.' Did you see a reply of Hunt's as he passed in procession through Manchester?–you know, perhaps, that he is separated from his wife–a man as he passed called out–'Hunt, who sent away his wife?'–'The Prince Regent,' my man, 'but hush, we don't talk about that, you know.'"
With the first Spring time in Hull came longings that the dear ones at Ongar might see something of her new home,–nay, if possible, the father and mother, who had never taken so long a journey in their lives, and to whom there was now the special obstacle opposed, of that six miles of water between Barton and Hull, to be traversed only in a precarious sailing boat, for, as yet, no paddle-wheel beat the surface of the Humber. So early as January 1818 she introduces the subject–
"I make one enquiry with all imaginable earnestness. Is it possible that my dear father and mother could visit Hull this year? The journey from London to Barton is about from evening to evening, fare £2, 16s.; and if you were to see the Barton packets coming in every day, as we do, you would begin to think the danger small. There has never been one lost since the days of Andrew Marvell, whose father perished in a very stormy passage; but when the weather is so rough as to be dangerous, they do not sail. The coach passengers always rest at Barton the night, and cross in the morning. When the wind is favourable the passage is made in half-an-hour, and the vessel, [Page 11] though called a boat, is a sloop with mast and deck. Now do, my dear parents, try and think that you will come in the course of the-summer."
The same letter notices her father's recently published, and perhaps in its day, best known work, "Self-Cultivation."
"It appeared to us to make a great improvement in style about the middle of the third chapter, and several parts, especially some chaste but striking figures, we have marked with pencil notes of admiration:–that of the 'echoes among the mountains' is extremely beautiful.* But I do not mention the figures because we think them the best parts either, the whole stream of thought is excellent, and as far as books,–poor quiet books, are ever likely really to improve that stubborn material human nature, I should say that it must be useful."
Of course, her mother, timid with all her courage, was quick enough to see her advantage in the Andrew Marvell accident. "I foresaw," says her daughter, "your ill use of Andrew Marvell, and therefore added what you seem to have overlooked, that when it is so rough as to be dangerous, the boats do not sail." The pleasant thought was not to be fulfilled that year, but in its stead there came the happy prospect of a visit to that dear Ongar, to think only of which, in its rural peace, was she said, "a [Page 12] constant rest to her spirit." Yet there was always now a secret anxiety.
"It grieves me," she says, in writing to her sister, "that you should be obliged to carry daily in your mind even a 'bearable anxiety,' but in this world we shall have tribulation, and it were vain, and perhaps foolish, to wish to evade the universal sentence, either in our own persons, or in those that are dear to us; and soon, even at the longest, the trials we have passed through will appear indeed unworthy to be remembered, but for the peaceable fruit they shall have produced. Oh, woe to those who suffer under barren sorrows!–who get no nearer heaven by the rendings and wounds that detach them from earth."
April 17, 1818.–"Here I am in the study. It is a beautiful afternoon, the wind is blowing the Humber into foam; a number of little vessels are labouring down the stream; the pretty gardens all round us are just coming into bud, and the only green field we can see is looking like spring on a holiday, Oh, how I wish, not that you were just coming over, as I often do, but that you had just got safely in, and were admiring the beautiful prospect now before me! But alas! alas! when and where are we to meet again? If it were possible for father, mother, and Jemima!–but I am afraid you will think me teasing."
The visit of her parents was not yet to be, but the happy day came instead, when she and her husband and child set off for Ongar. It is amusing to contrast the journey with one by the Great Northern Express of these days: how, leaving Hull at four in the afternoon, on May 4, they supped at Lincoln, breakfasted at Peterboro, dined at Baldock, and got into London at half-past ten at night! [Page 13] A few days later they went down to Ongar, and thence she and her husband, and her sister Jane made a delightful four days' excursion to Colchester, driving all the way, and sleeping on the road, both going and returning. It was the first visit to those loved scenes,–The High woods, Mile End, Lexden springs, the Balkerne hill–since the whole family drove away from Colchester nearly seven years before.
At Ongar, in the old house a mile away in the fields, her diary and letters show how happily and characteristically the days passed,–the walks and talks in the well known lanes and meadows, and teas on the grass plot, or in the vine-covered porch; the visits of her brothers Isaac and Martin, coming down to supper on Saturday night, and off on the Monday morning; even her uncle Charles, the "learned" editor, who always treated her father as decidedly the younger brother, driving down in a post-chaise one Sunday. She records her father's preachings in the neighbouring hamlets; her mother's birthday (sixty-one), with its little festival; the family work going on;–"mother with a tale completely written, the production of three weeks' mental fever; father just in receipt of £70 for another book." And then, after five weeks' stay, the sorrowful departure, though with the happiness of taking her youngest sister, Jemima, back with her to Hull. An extract or two from letters to her husband, who had returned to Hull before her, may be permitted.
"Ongar, June 12, 1818.– . . . When will you remember that in order to enjoy a complete sympathy with those I love I like to know the exact times at which anything interesting befalls them? On Wednesday evening, when I believed you would be [Page 14] leaving London, I thought of you incessantly, and spoke the same full often enough; we were drinking tea under the pear tree on the front grass plot, and should have enjoyed ourselves completely, but for the oft-repeated wish that you were with us, and for the recollection that instead of enjoying that Italian sky and balmy air, and beautiful country, you were sitting to be tarred and feathered with heat and dust on a stage coach. On Sunday we expect Martin, and then, if all should be well, we shall once more assemble an entire family at our father's table, and with one pretty sample of a third generation; how I wish that you and the two dear children at home could complete the circle! but let us hope we all may meet one day in a higher house and a fuller company! . . . Dear little J. is much engaged in watching the gardener, and the carpenter, and the bricklayer who has been paving the Hermitage in the shrubbery; and "Master Wood," who has been clearing out the pond; and the sheep-shearers, who have been busy in the farm-yard. I hope he will return to Hull rich in health and knowledge. I am also quite well myself, only half baked and half broiled with incessant sunshine; but I have had two falls, one down the stony declivity towards the pump in the kitchen, and the other down stairs with Jane's beautiful desk in my hand, which fell on its face, and bears my signature at every corner, which I am very sorry for. I am quite unhurt, except a few picturesque bruises. Isaac came on Tuesday, and has begun my portrait. Your likeness I think perfect of the kind, but you know it is the wrong side, and has the wrong expression. It is like you when you wish to be pleasant, but wish still more that you need not be.
. . . The thought of Nile Street and the spring-tide of comforts I have there, is so sweet, that sometimes I feel in a strait betwixt two; yet the thought of leaving this dear peaceful, beautiful spot, with all its living interests, is almost more than I dare [Page 15] indulge,–how impossible it will be to take one more look when I have once turned the corner of the road! But then Hull and all that is dear to me there, will rise like a sun over the distance."
She returned home on the 27th of June in a brisk gale, which she inadvertently admitted laid the vessel "gunwale to." The young Jemima was a bright addition to the household. "Ah," said one of their Hull friends, "I have seen your sister, I have seen the lady that is famous;" "Yes," she replied, "and now, Sir, you see the lady that is not famous."
Her husband's health gave way under his laborious duties, and the unhealthy atmosphere of Hull. Her children (she had eight of them about her before she left Nile Street) and her servants, were continually suffering from illness; visitors were incessantly coming and going, and if any of them were needy or troubled, their stay was only the more prolonged in the hospitable home. In the societies and charities of a large town she took her part; but a brave spirit and unflagging energy bore her through it all; only when anxiety for dear ones touched her, then for the moment, as she expressed it, she "became weak as water," till faith and hope, those "angel helpers," came to her aid.
Her long letters to her family, or to her husband, during the absences which his impaired health now made necessary, are little else than domestic journals, enlivened with little gems of tenderness, or here and there sparkles of fun. A bundle of them in 1818 is chiefly concerned with negotiations for a new arrangement with the publishers of the various works in which herself and her sister were [Page 16] jointly interested. Some difficulty was experienced in obtaining terms, which, under the large sale and increasing popularity of the poems, were considered "just," but that they should be just was her only wish. Characteristically she observes:–
"In order to maintain firm ground, we must ourselves feel convinced that it is reasonable. . . . Martin deems it wise to come forward with 'large and bold demands,' but to our feelings, the path of wisdom, to say nothing of honesty, seems to be somewhat diverse from this. We feel, or fancy, that we can never make a stand to a bold demand till we have ascertained, as well as we can, that it is a just one,–that to use decided language when our own minds hesitate, would be both wrong and foolish; and that the sinking below an extravagant demand (which if it were extravagant must be done), would place us in a more humble situation than the most scrupulous care betrayed to them, lest in the first instance we should ask too much."
Her sister Jemima left Hull for the long journey home on the 30th of March 1819, threatening "to cry all the way to Lincoln, six and thirty miles." Writing to her afterwards, she says,–
"On Friday, while some people were drinking tea with us, I indulged myself with a few minutes' coze with my eyes shut, in order to realise your arrival at Ongar,–hoping to join your circle as well as a separate spirit can. Is father at work on Boydell yet? How we admire Isaac's article on Madame de Stael! he has a magical use of words that gives the beauty and expressiveness of a new language."
But this year was made a very happy one by its fulfilling the great wish of her heart, a visit from her father and [Page 17] mother. Her father, who had suffered latterly from repeated attacks of illness, had been recommended to try sea air and bathing, and the opportunity was taken for the whole family to remove to Hornsea. She herself, too, was very unwell, and though suffering plainly from exhaustion, had, according to the practice of the day, been frequently cupped till the symptoms became alarming. On the 11th of August, avoiding the possible fate of Andrew Marvell by travelling through Doncaster, her father and mother reached Hull. They had timed their journey so as to meet Robert Hall there, and to hear him preach on the Sunday at Fish Street. On the 17th, her brother Isaac's birthday, they all removed to Hornsea, a little fishing village, then so out of the way that letters arrived only three times a week by carrier.
Her mother's penetrating eye and practical good sense soon led her to distrust the effect of the cupping treatment, and low diet, upon so delicate and emaciated a frame. In a shrewd and racy letter home, which gives a glimpse of the life at Hornsea, she says,–
"I remain nearly as sceptical as ever respecting Ann's disorder, notwithstanding ye long list of symptoms with which you were entertained in ye last letter. And I am sure, though I cannot get her to own it yet, that her looks are improved here, and her spirits are better. We all enjoy ourselves very much. You may think of us from ten to one every day walking or riding; and again in afternoon or evening, when the tide is up. I ride on a donkey almost every day, and am become so good a horsewoman as to keep my seat when the animal is sinking in the sand, struggling, and kicking. We have, too, a donkey-cart, which carries the whole party, your father excepted. This all [Page 18] adds to the expense, and extorts from me many a sigh and groan, and I fear when the fun is over, like ye children, I shall cry for my money again: yet we are willing to avail ourselves of such an opportunity, and not to spoil a ship for a halfpenny-worth of tar. Plunging headlong, however, into the sea, does not well suit my nerves. 'Take your time, ma'am,' the women say, when I am clambering up the ladder from the waves, but you can guess how it is, I daresay, as well as if you saw me. Yet I had rather bathe in the sea ten times, than once seethe and roll about on the surface of a warm bath like a bottle! We hope to hear from you now,–no, not every post, but every errand-cart. Let me hear how you all are in plain truth, and no lies. Also how the maid goes on, whether she is gone, or going, and what else is gone, stolen, or strayed.
"On Monday at Hull we are to drink tea at Mrs Carlill's to meet Robert Hall and several more, but all this does not prevent my waking sorely ill this morning."
After some stay in Hull, on leaving Hornsea, her father and mother returned home, taking with them their eldest grandchild, then nearly five years old,–an event to both families, since, with exception of one or two visits home, he remained at Ongar till the death of his grandfather, ten years later.
Her mother became very ill on the journey.
"Little did I think," writes the daughter, "how you, my dear mother, were suffering! How often, during that day, did I wish I could see you for one five minutes; and how distressed I should have been if I had! O, I can hardly believe that the pleasure I have been anticipating and feasting on in many a pleasant reverie, for almost these six years, is gone!–gone so swiftly! How often I think of that dark and dreary morning [Page 19] when I stood crying at the corner of the market place, watching till the coach turned down Silver Street, and the rattle of the wheels died away! I shall never forget it,–nor that pleasant evening when I first caught a glance of the 'Rodney' and dear mother's bonnet, as it drove down the market. These, with the stopping of the chaise at Masbro', with dear Jane and Isaac, are seasons written on my heart.
"If it were possible you could be here when we are quiet, or rather, if we could possibly be quiet when you are here, how glad I should be! I reproach myself now for many things, but I try to put the thought aside. I think I may safely say, that since we have been in Hull, no minister has preached at Fish Street of whom so much has been said by everybody, as of dear father. His praise is, at least, in all this church. I was much pleased to hear that when he rose to speak at the Tract Society, he was clapped up; this is a testimony to general estimation, very different from the rattle of a few sticks at a piece of wit, perhaps hardly worth saying. . . . I thought of you all, on Friday evening at six, very satisfactorily, but was sadly puzzled to decide on which side of the coach Isaac would stand, when he came to meet you at the corner, and whereabouts they would catch the first glimpse of J— ."
Of course the absence now of her eldest child drew forth, from time to time, many a tender thought and word.
"I perceived," she says, "when last at Ongar, that without indulgence, he was yet sensibly injured by being the sole object of attention. This is almost unavoidable, but as far as it can be prevented, I rely upon your joint care. Bless his little heart! How I enjoy the thought of his many privileges and comforts, ghostly and bodily, especially his gardening. . . . Yet I regret very much that there is a portion of his life–a stage of [Page 20] his growth, which I shall never remember; my little boy of five years old, I shall never see, though I may find eventually a better one of six."
Dec. 31, 1819.–"As to dear mother's anxious feeling of responsibility, I wish I could remove it by assuring her how completely my own mind feels at ease respecting him. Not,– O do not suppose it, that I feel any confidence in having him spared to us. I feel rather as if all my comforts were exposed on the brink of a precipice, with a loose and crumbling soil. Disease and accident have keys for every door, and I feel no persuasion that our dear child will not meet with them, even at Ongar."
To Mrs Laurie, Feb. 8, 1820, she writes–
"Whether or not your hands are full, I assure you that mine are; and this alone is the reason that the friends of my youth–they whose names are associated with most that is dear and interesting in that interesting period, are all as nearly forsaken as they can be, while my affections remain faithful to their trust. You ask many particulars relative to my present circumstances, and were I to enter into the detail of my days and weeks, and years, you would believe that my time for correspondence was very small–small enough, pretty nearly, to justify the long intervals I allow in it. . . . I could wish for a little more leisure, or more properly, for a little more time for necessary duty; but far, far, do I prefer this constant pressure to the busy trifling of a life of leisure. I heard a married lady, described, the other day, by a morning caller, as being well, and well dressed, in a well-furnished room, at twelve in the day, sorting seals! O, I felt the privilege of having more work than I can accomplish, compared with the inanity of such occupations! Our dear children, of whom you inquire so kindly and specially, are all (as we [Page 21] think) nice children. . . . Dear J— is altogether a Gilbert; A— is a genuine Taylor–thought a beauty by some, and plain by others; I take a middle opinion. H— is a rough, fat, rosy, honest fellow, with as good-natured a face as ever smiled,–when he is not roaring under some affliction, that makes it look more like a door-knocker, or the lion-faced spout on a church steeple. 'Edward Williams'* improves upon all of us, in one respect, in having beautiful soft curling hair, which his mother turns round her fingers sometimes, with no little pleasure. I think he will be pensive; he is a delicate, elegant, little creature, and wins upon papa amazingly. . . .
"With regard to their dress, it is as plain as can be for many reasons: first, we find it necessary to pursue a strict economy, and think it highly advantageous to them to be educated in similar habits. It always grieves me to see a child with the air of style and fashion about its dress; it seems to be doing it the unkind office of just setting it in at the wide gate, to take its own course on the broad way; besides, it seems to me to spoil the simplicity which should characterise childhood. Secondly, I cannot afford the time, either in work or washing, which would be necessary to keep them in the 'mode,' even if I were to set them in; and thirdly, I am sure that a minister's family rather loses than gains respect, by any assumption of style. You are not to suppose, however, that we distinguish ourselves by an affected and obvious plainness, that would, of itself, attract attention; but I wish my own dress, and that of the children, to be such, that if anyone takes the trouble to cast an investigating look at it, it may be evidently plain, neat, and economical. One thing has long prevented them from looking 'fashionable,' however nicely they might be dressed; I never would suffer the exhibition of their little shoulders, its look of [Page 22] uncomfortableness, and its direct tendency to inure a girl to future exposure, are quite sufficient objections."
Her sense of responsibility in the management of a family and her means of meeting it, are shown in the following extract.
"It is frightful to contemplate the long descent of evil and suffering, resulting from the mistakes, the prejudices, the ignorance, the ill tempers, the want of self-control, the indolence, or the unavoidable hurry of occupation of one individual mother; herself, perhaps, a half-educated girl, and yet entrusted with a freight of incalculable, of eternal value! To such an one, how needful is heart religion, a daily sense of dependence, and yet a cheerful courage, resulting from the assurance that all who lack wisdom, are invited to ask it of God. None can know till they make the experiment, how much of strength and direction for secular duty may be derived from this source. I am myself disposed to believe that nothing which it is right to do, and therefore to do well, is beneath the range, the warrant of prayer. The privilege may be abused by bringing the humbler necessities of life into social prayer, but, between ourselves and Him, to whom the final account must be rendered of work He has given us to do, nothing is mean that requires more wisdom than we have; and in the daily exercise of this emergent communion, 'whoso is wise, and will observe these things, shall see of the loving kindness of the Lord.'"
February 17, 1820–To Ongar.–"I suppose we have all been feeling pretty much alike about the good old King, but I confess that after the death of the Princess I am almost impenetrable. Nothing can be so touching as that, and it is too recent to be forgotten. I try to make the children remember the death of the King, because such an event often supplies a date to the [Page 23] recollections of childhood; but Anne, when I tell her King George is dead, always corrects me with 'George King'–it seems to her that I put the cart before the horse! As we are glad, I suppose you will be glad, to hear that Miss Greaves has just purchased the house next door to us, and has decided upon giving up Greystones. Everybody is pleased to see her settle amongst us, and we are not sorry, I assure you."
The lady here alluded to was a friend at whose hospitable mansion, near Sheffield, they had frequently visited, and it was the value she set upon Mr Gilbert's preaching that induced her to remove to the very inferior situation at Hull. Eventually, by turning two houses into one, and purchasing adjoining gardens, she obtained a roomy and comfortable residence, the delights of which with boundless generosity she threw open to the family of the minister, for whom she had sacrificed so much. The faithful and solicitous friendship of this lady during many years, not only requires grateful acknowledgement, but was too important an element in the happiness of the household with whose fortunes we are concerned, not to receive a passing notice. When the garden ground was purchased, Mrs Gilbert turned her father's garden lore to account, and spent much time in laying it out for her friend; and along those gravel walks the children romped and screamed many a day, always without rebuke from the gentle face that watched them from the window.
A sea-port town offered interests very different from those of the inland places to which the wife, at least, had only been accustomed. A branch of her husband's family had for several generations been connected with the Royal Navy. One member of it, accompanying Captain [Page 24] Cook in his first voyage, gave his name to a group of islands in the Pacific; another, then a midshipman on board, but who afterwards became post captain in the service, was present at Captain Cook's death, and brought home his watch, which, bequeathed to him by the great navigator's widow, remains still as an heirloom. These associations gave Mr Gilbert great interest in the sea, and he himself was always a favourite with sailors. He was concerned in the establishment of a floating chapel at Hull, and once a year the departure of the Greenland whaling fleet gave occasion to a striking service, when Fish Street Chapel was crowded with sailors, and a special sermon was addressed to them. During their absence in the frozen seas, prayer-meetings were held on their behalf at some private houses, at which the minister and his wife were always present; and from the study window, which then commanded a view of the Humber, the returning ice-battered vessels were eagerly watched for. Many of them belonged to friends deeply interested in the results, and news of the number of fish and tons of oil, of this and the other well-known ship in the offing, was brought to the door by hasty footsteps. With yet deeper interest the distant rigging would be searched by the telescope to see whether a coffin suspended from the yard-arm announced a death on board during the voyage. Too often it was so, and the minister departed on a heart-rending errand to some mournful household. For a ship to be reported "clean" might be almost ruin to the owners, and once a famous "captain," whose success was all but unvaried, arrived insane in his cabin from an unusually disappointing season.
Most people of any means in Hull had shares in, if they [Page 25] did not own, a Greenland ship; and Mr Gilbert at one time held a small share, so that for some years his wife's letters to Ongar contain unwonted references to news from the ice, and especially to the fortunes of the Perseverance, sometimes fairly successful, more frequently not, and one unlucky year all but "clean"–a result traced eventually to the circumstance of the "captain" having been drunk most of the voyage. A burden was lifted off the heart of the wife when the share, involving so much uncertainty and anxiety, was sold; and the good folks at Ongar seem never to have considered a "share in a venture "quite a right thing to be concerned in.
The Lincolnshire coast lies opposite Hull, and in May 1820, Mrs Gilbert for the first time made the acquaintance of her husband's Lincolnshire relatives, spending a fortnight among the hospitable farm-houses sprinkled through the Wolds, and with the novel experience of riding on a pillion behind him.
Heavy anxiety rested over the latter part of the year from the dangerous illness of her father. To her mother she writes:–
"I fear that this long and anxious trial will prove very unfavourable both to you and to Isaac. I pray, my dear mother, that you may all be supported, and that as your day your strength may be also. We have the best of all consolations in the full persuasion that even at what we should call the worst, dear father has nothing to fear. The day which should grow darker and darker to us would grow brighter and brighter to him. Dear father is a happy man, whatever may now be before him, and whether you look backward or forward. I greatly enjoy to review his life from his youth up; with all its difficulties, it has [Page 26] been a cheerful ascending path. He has tasted all the best streams of earthly happiness, and enjoyed them all, and there is yet the river of the water of life, clear as crystal, of which he shall one day drink and thirst no more."
When it was possible to remove him, Isaac and Jane accompanied their father to Margate.
"How well," she says, "we can now see it to be that Jane and Isaac did not come into Yorkshire early in the summer, as we wished to contrive! Oh, upon how many things as life proceeds, do we look back and say they were well, though perhaps at first they appeared much otherwise! This day nine years we arrived at the Castle House, Ongar, and how well that has been! Do you remember what a beautiful evening it was?"
When a slow recovery led to thoughts of return, the anxious daughter at Hull writes–"Of course, you will not venture home by steam-packet, except in calm weather. They are perhaps less manageable even than sailing vessels, when the weather is so rough as to leave one wheel out of the water"–a singular apprehension, but no doubt expressing the nautical opinion of Hull at that time.
The "Peaked Farm" and its Inmates–Letters to her Husband, Father, and Sister–Cleethorpes–Death of Jane Taylor–Letter of Consolation to her Mother–Perplexity at Home–Departure from Hull.
"Across its antique portico
"This river has been a terror to many; yea, the thoughts of it also have often frightened me; but now, methinks, I stand easy."
MY mother treasured to the end of her life a thick volume, the gift of a friend at Hull. It was then the days of albums, and this was one; but it was rescued from the common fate of such by the use she made of it as a family record. She immediately appealed to the circle at Ongar for a worthy commencement, soliciting a contribution both in pen and pencil from each. A single withered oak leaf with an acorn, in water-colours, its rich yet pathetic tints of decay exquisitely rendered, was one of two drawings by her sister's hand. It was accompanied by the following sadly significant lines,–
"A faded leaf! and need the hand that drew
Say why from autumn's store it made this choice?
Stranger, the reason would not interest you,
And friends, to you the emblem has a voice.
"I might have plucked from rich October's bower
A fairer thing to grace this chosen spot;
A leaf still verdant, or a lingering flower,
I might have plucked them, but they pleased me not.
"A flower, though drooping, far too gay were found,
A leaf still verdant; Oh! it would not do!
But autumn shed a golden shower around,
And gave me this, and this I give to you.
"But should these tints–these rich autumnal dyes,
Appear too gay to suit the emblem well,
They are but dying tints, the verse replies,
A withered leaf, that faded ere it fell." *
Her brother Isaac, among other contributions, gave one in his favourite manner of firm yet fine outline, drawn with a camel-hair brush, representing a babe and a skull resting upon the surface of the round earth, while above, through a rent in the clouds, is seen the resurrection trumpet. Beneath is the legend,–"Dust! Dust!"
Her father inserted a vigorous water-colour drawing of the "peaked farm," his then residence, to match one in pencil, finished like an etching, of the Castle-House, by Jane. Her father's sketch set his daughter Ann's pen going, and upon the succeeding page she wrote,– [Page 31]
"There's a spot far away, where the distance is blue,
'Tis dear, 'tis delightful to me,
The traveller that passes returns to the view,
Half seen through the arched yew tree.
"There's a low white porch where the vine leaves cling,
And chimnies where fleet swallows play,
And there have they builded, in the merry time of spring,
Through many a good king's day.
"The tall old elm, which the evening light
Tips still, when the day is done,
How long has it creaked in the drear winter's night,
And waved in the summer's sun!
"And many are the feet which have danced in its shade,
When the harvest moon beamed high,
That now 'neath the churchyard trees are laid,
And O, how still they lie!
"But yet sweet spring, with her stir of leaves,
And her primrose breath moves on;
And the tame robin chirps from the vine-clad eaves,
As in years that are past and gone."
. . . .
The poem is too long to be quoted entire.
The "yew tree," the "vine-leaved porch," half the gabled peaks, one of the massive chimney stacks, the surrounding poplars, have all been improved away. The elm tree itself, last remnant of a rookery, has been lopped of its noble arms; and the garden has gone to ruin.
But at the time of our narrative the old house and its inhabitants offered a remarkable spectacle–a literary and artistic workshop. A large, low, wainscotted parlour was the common room for the very lively meals and winter- [Page 32] evening gatherings. At these the father sat in an arm-chair on one side the fire, the mother on the other, leaning with her hand behind her ear to catch the sounds; Isaac, Jane, Jefferys, Jemima, completed the circle. Some one might then read the last composition amidst a running fire of comments,–sarcastic from the mother, genial from the father, acute from Jane, sedate, though not without humour, from Isaac, droll from Jefferys; Jemima, the youngest of the circle, joining in occasionally with quiet little hits that left their mark. When Ann was of the party, pun and repartee abounded more than ever. The writer well remembers hearing his uncle Jefferys read the "Tolling Bell" one winter night, the wind roaring in the chimney, and wailing among the tall poplars outside, so that it became quite impossible to go to bed up the black oak creaking staircase, except well accompanied, and with a candle left in the room till sleep should come.
The father's study, furnished with the best English literature, opened from an adjoining passage, and on the other side of the same passage, what was called the "brown room" was entered. This was used for engraving, and was redolent of oil and asphaltum, of aquafortis and copper-plates, but always warm and cosy, and even picturesque, for it was oak pannelled, and the wide mantle piece displayed elaborate carving. Beyond this, a small room was fitted up as a cabinet for pictures, collected during the long art-life of the father, all of them good, and some carrying well-known names. Upstairs were roomy bedrooms; that of the father and mother opened into a small chamber over the "vine-clad porch," occupied as a study by the latter. Here were collected several family [Page 33] treasures, in the shape of china, books, and miniatures, and here her writing-table stood. Jane's bedroom, smaller than the rest, looked out behind, over the green meadows of the Roding Valley–but she has herself described the view. "Twilight already stealing over the landscape, shades yonder sloping corn field, whence the merry reapers have this day borne away the last sheaf. A party of gleaners have since gathered up the precious fragments. Now all are gone; the harvest moon is up; a low mist rising from the river floats in the valley. There is a gentle stirring amongst the leaves of the tall elm that shades our roof–all besides is still." *
Isaac's study, for he was now residing at home, was a strange remote place, approached by dark and narrow stairs across the kitchen and a dreary lumber-room. Its one window, high up, opened under the spreading branches of the elm tree, and had scarcely any other prospect. This room was not unpleasantly perfumed with Indian ink, his designs for books being always executed in that delicate pigment. Miniatures were also frequently in hand, and shelves were beginning to be laden with vellum-bound editions of the Fathers; but literary work was always carefully hidden away under lock and key. The "sanctum" of Jefferys was still more out of the way. A range of attics at the top of the house was unused; the floors of some were understood to be dangerous, and one of the huge stacks of chimnies was always regarded with anxiety by the inmates in windy weather. One of these attics, looking towards the west, between the waving poplars, and very rarely intruded upon by any but the [Page 34] owner, belonged to Jefferys, and contained, besides a few books, a turning lathe, and numerous odd bits of machinery; for, like his brother Isaac, he possessed a strong mechanical genius, and here invented a machine for ruling such portions of engraving work as required straight and close lines, which at one time was of much pecuniary advantage to him. Here, too, "Harry's Holiday," and "Æsop in Rhyme," were written, with other popular works; fragments of MSS. lay about carelessly enough.
Such was the dear old "rabbit-warren," as somebody called it, never long absent from my mother's thoughts in her distant home. When her husband once visited it without her, she writes to him:–
"I have, as you will believe, accompanied you in spirit along every foot of your road to Ongar–saw the laden coach climb the last woody hill, and heard its wheels grate upon the gravel, as it approached the well-known corner. There I saw Isaac's cheerful but sedate welcome, watched you, unseen, towards the white wicket, and saw the busy lights, thronging, with happy voices, [Page 35] into the porch, as your steps were heard. This, and much more, I have enjoyed in a little private picture gallery, of which I only have the key. It is hung round with many pleasing portraits, and some tender landscapes."
. . . . .
"I need not tell you how my heart has bounded at your account of our dear promising child; but be very cautious to betray to him nothing but affection and kind approval. Never let him read admiration in the corner of your eye. Do not let him hear a single word of his repeated, or have the praise of man substituted in his heart for the pure love of things, good and beautiful. Oh that he may be preserved from that vile pollution–the thirst for admiration, as it differs from approbation."
In the summer of 1821, she was herself at Ongar. From a batch of letters to her husband, we make a few extracts
"MY DEAR HUSBAND,–I cannot begin with an expression which means more to my own heart than this. It includes all that the world can do to make me happy, and it does make me happy indeed. If, by long experience, I had not learned to distrust myself, and to fear, from mischiefs no bigger than a midge's wing, I should look forward to our meeting again with unchastised delight. . . . I would rejoice to be your companion in the highest sense, and towards a still brighter happiness; but I fear that Hamilton gave me the key to many of my religious feelings in that word 'romance.' There is so much that is picturesque and poetic in the idea of travelling hand in hand to heaven, that it is hard to distinguish the false from the true. It is like church music, a dangerous test of devotion. One thing often affords me real consolation, and that is the belief expressed in your letter that it was Providence that united us. When I [Page 36] reflect on your prayers for direction, and remember that I was the answer–brought, as it were, from the ends of the earth, and as unlikely, as bread and water by the ravens, I cannot but believe that it was so. I might, indeed, suppose that I was selected from the world as the most appropriate trial that could be devised for you; but (not to mention that you tell me it is not so) I cannot but think you might have been made miserable, if need were, nearer home. It was sending you to a distant shop, indeed, if it was only to buy a rod."
"Perhaps we had both too much of poetry about us to be entrusted, at the outset, with the romance of love. I was not the vision of your early musings; as if on purpose to destroy that illusion, I was even less so than I might have been, and what I could have felt of enthusiasm, was strangely checked as by a spell. I was in fetters, when it would have been lawful and delightful to unbend, and the streams of affection which had been wandering for years through fields and flowers, seemed unnaturally thwarted, instead of being suffered to expand in the sunbeams which then began first to play upon them. I have often pondered over these circumstances, and have fancied that I could perceive the wisdom and still more the justice of them. But whatever we have lost, it is matter of no small thankfulness that the loss came first, and the gain afterwards."
"I was much pleased, the other day, with three quaint verses I met with, by Dr Donne, addressed to his wife; having nothing better to add, I transcribe them,–
"If we be two, we are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two,
Thy soul–the fixed foot–makes no show
To move, but doth if th'other do.
"And tho' it in the centre sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans and hearkens after it,
And grows erect as that comes home.
"So shalt thou be to me, who must
Like th' other foot eccentric run,
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes an end where I begun."
"An old-fashioned writer, in whom I found it, says that 'true conjugal love, on the part of the woman, is the love of her husband's wisdom; and true conjugal love, on the part of the man, is his love of her love of his wisdom!' Take heed, therefore, that I have wherewithal for this most excellent sorte of affection."
She fell in, at this time, with one of the Sunday school anniversaries–great occasions at Ongar, for there were then no other Sunday schools in the neighbourhood. The children arrived in tilted waggons and carts from outlying villages; an excellent dinner was provided for them and the visitors, in a large barn, decorated with flowers and evergreens, and two of the most eminent ministers of the day preached the sermons. Upon one occasion, Edward Irving, in the zenith of his fame, gave a magnificent oration, two hours long, upon the somewhat unsuitable subject of the battle of Armageddon, the chapel windows being taken out to allow a crowd outside to participate in the service.
"I retire," she writes, "from the pleasures of a very pleasant and busy day, to enjoy a sweeter hour of converse with you. Your welcome letter arrived just as we were beginning the bustle of our anniversary, which has gone off exceedingly well. Mr John Clayton preached in the morning, and Dr Ripon (a worthy [Page 38] fatherly man) in the afternoon, for an hour and twenty minutes, from the gospel of St Parenthesis, a loose paraphrase of which he gave from the first to the fiftieth chapter inclusive! We had beautiful weather, and besides the children, dined a party of a hundred, in the greenly decorated barn."
On the 17th of August 1821, her brother Isaac's birthday (thirty-four), she records in her diary–"Martin left us at four in the afternoon," and adds at a later date, "father, mother, Ann, Jane, Isaac, Martin, Jefferys, and Jemima, met for the last time in this world." On the 3d of September she and her sister Jane walked to the Castle House, returning, through the pleasant meadows which separated the two houses, to the "peaked farm." This was the last walk of the sisters together. The elder left next day for Hull.
In January 1822, writing for her father's birthday, she says–
"As to Ongar, and all that is dear to me in it, I do not know how to think, and, of course, not how to speak of it. It seems to me a sort of dream that you are going to leave the house, and how to think of you in the course of a few months I cannot tell. Yet Providence has always favoured your particular tastes, and allowed you something better than brick and mortar to look at, and I hope you may be equally favoured now. It will be in some respects no disadvantage to have both house and garden on a smaller scale, and if a little more air-tight within doors, so much the better also,–and then there are the chimnies! So that it may happen, as when you left the Castle, that you will not really regret the change, though the parting must be painful. Oh, that 'low white porch where the vine leaves cling'! I shall never forget it." [Page 39]
. . . . . . .
"And so in an hour or two after you receive this, I, if I live, shall be between forty and fifty! Nothing but registers, and almanacks, and pocket-books, and the most authentic traditions, could induce me to believe it! I feel just as young, for anything I can perceive, as ever, only with this difference, that I think of myself twenty years ago as a more disagreeable and foolish personage than I was then aware of. But it seems to me as if Luck, and Susan, and Anna, and Josiah, and Isaac, and Martin, and Jane, and I, were a kind of intermediate order of beings, never intended to grow old like other people in consequence of living long, but only to grow wise, and useful, and sober young people still."
The news about the house was too true. It was required by the landlord, and after much difficulty another was purchased in the outskirts of the town, with some pleasant views from the upper windows, but entirely unpicturesque in itself, and with a sadly small plot of garden attached. Mr Taylor built a study, and a cabinet for his pictures, adapted an outbuilding for his "brown room," and did wonders with the garden. His cheerful spirit conquered everything, but his daughter Jane, declining in health, suffered keenly in the change. Her sister, with much the same practical view of things as her father, speedily conformed to circumstances.
"I want (she writes) exceedingly a catalogue raisonée of your rooms, closets, and conveniences, that I may be able to feel my way pretty well about your new habitation. I have solid satisfaction in thinking of you in it, and airy regrets when I think of the other,–of which, indeed, I do not much like to think." [Page 40]
Her father sent her a drawing of the house, writing under it–
"My house again, my love, I am removed
From scenes so rural, and so well beloved.
One more remove, and then!–Ah, could I give
A sketch of that where next I hope to live!
Beyond my powers to paint, or yours to see,
Yet may I say, come there, and visit me."
Anxieties began to cloud the year of 1822. In the course of it her husband, whose failing health obliged him to spend much time away from Hull, sailed for Hamburg, to take part in an ordination there. A long and stormy passage home delayed his return till the hearts of the waiting ones were well-nigh sick.
"I cannot tell you (she writes), how we, and our friends for us, have watched both winds and tides; nor how many a dead flat of disappointment we have fallen into, when, after tracing vessel after vessel up the Humber, there was not at last the one we wanted. He was off a very dangerous shoal near the Elbe, during thirty-six hours of tremendous storm, and has scarcely been free from anxiety the whole time; but between seven and eight this morning we had one messenger after another to say the vessel was coming up, and most thankful we feel that he is in perfect health and safety, and finds all well. A vessel that left Hamburgh two days before is not in yet. Oh, the anxiety we should have endured if he had come by that, as he was recommended to do! The voyage was rough, but I believe they were borne on the prayers of two large and affectionate congregations–one at Nottingham and one at Hull.* [Page 41]
But the permanent anxiety was now her sister Jane, whose malady took her to Margate for several months, and who was besides deeply troubled by the circumstances of an attachment, to which there seemed little prospect of a happy ending.
"What I fear to hope I dare to pray" (wrote the elder sister), and on another occasion–
"I had felt, dear Jane, almost disposed to write to you, but, on consideration, I preferred leaving the case to better wisdom than either yours or mine. My husband and I, therefore, met for the express purpose on Sabbath evening, of commending you once more to the kind and wise influences of a superintending Providence. We have in seasons of difficult and anxious decision sought and found direction thus, for which we have felt constantly grateful when the event appeared. Few promises are more special than those which undertake to direct those concerns which are humbly placed in His hands. Scripture and experience are alike encouraging–"Is any afflicted let him pray: does any lack wisdom let him ask of God;" "Cast thy burden on the Lord and He will sustain thee; He shall direct thy steps." And there is one text still more express, but I cannot remember the exact words, but they are the words of God."
The following year (1823) she wrote to her sister–
"We must not murmur. The scene through which you have been led has been so evidently providential, so, as we may say, almost singularly contrived to distress you, so knit together by well ordered accidents and coincidences, that we cannot but regard it as a special interference in the course of your spiritual discipline. Though we may look upon every affliction as designed for benefit, yet there are some (and this is one) in which [Page 42] the shaft seems to be more than commonly pointed, and sent with direct almost articulate aim. It is the Lord's doing, and who can feel a doubt that the end will be, you shall come forth as gold? It is, I had almost said, the natural element of our mental constitution to live in spiritual darkness; not to breathe the free air, nor enjoy the clear shining of that grace which is in the gospel. But it is free grace nevertheless; free in the offer, free in the administration, over above, and notwithstanding all our iniquities. . . . Take the consolation, dear Jane, of this distinguishing feature of Christianity, and do not suffer the enemy of your peace to embue you with feelings (for I cannot in your case call them views) less evangelical. I could not and would not endeavour to rest your hope on any review of past usefulness, but when you spoke of a 'life misimproved,' I could not help thinking how few had been able to reach the extent to which you have served religion in your writings, every word of which has a direct Christian bearing, and that with an inviting sweetness and "naiveté," which will give them influence, and make impression, where many a sermon would have failed."
On the 30th of January this year, the family festival, she wrote of her father–
"He and I seem growing nearer and nearer each other every year, though with one and forty years over my head I cannot yet feel myself a middle-aged woman. I cannot believe that 'The Associate Minstrels' are all past the prime of life, not one of them young any longer! In a very few years, if they are spared, J. and A. will take the standing that we once held; may they be wiser and better, and therefore happier. I will not grudge them any improvement on the original pattern. On our wedding-day (Dec. 24) we had our Christmas dinner, and afterwards sat round a blazing Yule clog according to our ages; the [Page 43] baby fastened in his chair by the parlour broom, and a vacant chair being placed by me for dear J— at which a kiss was regularly left as it went round."
The following quotation will explain how what was to her the happy event of that year came about:–
"It has been, I may say, for years our wish to see J— once more among his brothers and sisters at our fireside, that his right to the situation may not be imperceptibly questioned; that that principle which is truly second nature may not be wholly wanting to strengthen the domestic affections between us; that he and we, in short, may feel as well as know our relationship. I have seen lovely children, who, from being long separated from their families in childhood, have never seemed to regain their full relationship, and have been treated more like children-in-law than anything else on their return. To prevent even the possibility of such feelings among us, we have, after long and frequent deliberation, and not without counting the cost, determined that once before his final return our dear boy should come and lay claim to his brothers and sisters, and take up the freedom of his father's house."
He was to meet them all, their friends the Cowies included, at the sea-side, and a small house was taken at Cleethorpes at the mouth of the Humber. It was then a sequestered village, separated from Grimsby by three miles of open common, that charming, but nearly extinct feature of English scenery.
"On Tuesday, June 17, we sailed, as proposed, at one, after such a bustle as you may conceive, if you sit down and shut your eyes, and think about it, but not else. We had a fine [Page 44] passage of two hours and a-half–I terribly sick, Mrs Cowie more terribly frightened, and Ann, Jane, and Edward all ill together, so that I could not help laughing in spite of my own calamity. At Grimsby, having piled up two carts within half a foot of safety, we set off over a pleasant heath with our straggling regiment, and got into very cheerful lodgings to a hearty tea at six."
Here, a week later,–
"From our upper windows, by help of a good telescope, we had the pleasure of seeing the Grimsby packets discharging their passengers, and at half-past nine Mr Gilbert and J— made their appearance, J— having run or danced all the way. Then came a day of complete riot; one and all the children seemed wild. To-day we are all a little soberer, but still enjoying ourselves quite sufficiently."
July 17, they all returned to Hull, on a fine but blowing morning. "I thought if dear mother could have seen us in the boat which conveyed us to the vessel, dancing like a cork on the waves, she would have given all up for lost."
The next night her husband was seized with pleurisy, and had a dangerous relapse a fortnight afterwards. As soon as he was able he was removed to Harrogate, and the family union so long looked forward to, was broken up. However anxious might be the wife at home, she always wrote trustfully and cheerfully:–"I am content to like disagreeable things if I can. It is the only way in my power of making them agreeable, and there are very few things that I have met with that have not something or other about them better than might have been." [Page 45]
But the year closed peacefully. J—, now nine years old, returned to Ongar in November, encountering some peril from extraordinary floods, which carried away bridges, and filled roadside public-houses with the passengers, coachmen, and guards of the long north mails, detained till by aid of many men and horses they could be dragged through the wreck. At one point, in the night, the doors of the coach were set open to allow the free rushing of the water through, while with torches and shouting it was hauled over a water-course.
At the end of the year, his mother, as she often did at that season, reviewed the characters and progress of her children. Of one she says:–
"He is trying hard, as they have all done about his age, to establish the doctrine of Divine right. He is indeed quite a Stuart, but I hope to continue Mrs Cromwell notwithstanding. He has one naughty trick, most amusing to witness, most dangerous to indulge. When accused of a misdemeanour, though caught beyond all contradiction in the very fact, he exclaims, with vehement indignation, 'I didn't! I didn't!' I am sure he does not understand the grammatical meaning, but only perceives it to be an approved mode of justification when it can be maintained."
1824 was the year that severed Ann and Jane for ever in this world, but, though very ill, there seems to have been little expectation that the life of the latter was so soon to close. Less than a month before (March 16), the elder sister, after urging, as so frequently during the last year or two the claims of some new remedy, turns to other subjects, and quotes from a letter recently received [Page 46] from Montgomery, who had been soliciting contributions to the "Climbing Boys' Album," an attempt to interest the public in the miserable condition of the poor red-eyed little fellows.
"'When you write to Jane,' he says, 'pray say that I am yet alive at this date, and alive to all the kind remembrances of former years, when we occasionally met in company or in print. In the latter, I know not when I have seen her, and am sorry that she could not put her beautiful little spirit into three or four stanzas for our poor climbing lads, but I should have been more sorry if she had put that spirit on the poetical rack to please me at any expense of suffering.' 'Should this find her better, it is not yet too late.' Of my contribution he says (if I may be allowed to repeat it), that 'it is truth, nature, humanity, in the mother tongue of all three.' You will see it, if you wish, when the work appears, it being too long to transcribe–more than 150 lines written before night on the day of receiving his application, so my family has not to reproach me with wasting much time over it."
On the 28th of March she writes her last letter to Jane, telling her that as she was about to accompany her husband to Nottingham, where he was engaged to take part in the ordination of Richard Cecil, who, with his wife (Salome), was just settled there, they thought of extending their journey to Ongar:–
"I only wish, dear Jane, there were nothing to abate the pleasure of the visit. I will hope that you may have improved greatly by that time, but, after all, the peace of your mind is a mercy that ought to counterbalance in our feelings all the trial. 'To read your title clear' ought to enable you, and all of us, to [Page 47] say, 'let cares like a wild deluge come.' You have indeed borne a heavy blast of affliction since we last met, but are they not light afflictions compared with the joy that shall be revealed? My dear Jane, may you be supported beyond yourself, your own hopes, your own expectations. It is our daily prayer."
On the 12th of April they left Hull, reached Newark at half-past six the next day, and on a beautiful evening (Tuesday the 13th), as she records in her diary, went over the fine castle ruin, all unknowing that an hour before at Ongar, the father, the mother, the brother, and the sister, had witnessed the last sigh of Jane Taylor. On the 14th, alarmed by the tenor of a letter from her brother Isaac which met her at Nottingham, she writes that if they can obtain places in any of the coaches, they hope to reach Ongar on Friday evening, adding, "Dear Jane, my tenderest love to you." This they did; passing through London, she learned from her brother Martin that she was too late, and at six that evening she and her husband joined the sorrowing circle in the house thus early consecrated by death. The day after the funeral she wrote the following letter to her eldest daughter:–
"My dear child.–As I wish you never to forget your dear aunt Jane, and as my best hope and prayer for you are that you may live and die as she did, I write this letter for you to keep. Often read it over, and think to yourself–'Well, the same God who made dear aunt Jane good and useful, will make me so too if I wish, and pray, and try for it.'
"I am now writing, my dear A— in the room in which she died, and where I have been many times every day to look at her. She looked very pleasant, but so still and cold! They tell me that at first, just after she died, there was a beautiful [Page 48] expression in her face, and about her mouth especially, like the smile that a person has when they feel inwardly very happy–more happy than they could tell you–and this was certainly the look which she gave just as her departing spirit caught sight, as I may say, of heaven. O, my dear child, what a feeling that must have been! Do not you think it worth while denying yourself, and resisting temptation for it? Your dear aunt had been able to sit down stairs every day till that on which she died. Uncle Isaac used to carry her up and down stairs in his arms, and you may be sure it is a great comfort to him, now his sister is gone, to remember how kind he was to her; always think of this, my love, when you are disposed to be unkind to your brothers and sisters, and say to yourself, 'how should I like to think of this if they were dead?' On Tuesday morning he lifted her out of bed to her easy chair, where she sat two or three hours and talked a little, as well as her weakness would let her, about dying. She said, 'How good God is to me to let me die without pain!' She repeated that beautiful verse–Jesus, to thy dear faithful handThis she said very strongly, and repeated, 'My naked soul–my naked soul.' About one or two o'clock she said she was very tired, and begged they would lay her down. She said, 'Put me on a clean cap, and set the room to rights, for I am going.' After this grandpapa asked her how she felt, she replied with a very firm voice, 'Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.' Most of the afternoon she lay quite still, breathing quick, and turning her eyes about as if reading. About a quarter of an hour before she died, uncle [Page 49] Isaac asked her if she felt any pain, and she said, 'No, dear, only a little sleepy.' Those were the last words she said, and about five and twenty minutes before six, she gave one long sigh, and died.
My naked soul I trust,
And my flesh waits for thy command
To drop into the dust.
"Oh, how happy I should be if I could know that you and I, dear A., and your dear papa, and dear J. and H., and E. and J., and Chas. and C., would all die like her, beloved by all who knew us, and carried by angels, as we believe she was, directly to heaven! You see how kindly Jesus conducted her through that deep river which you know Bunyan says was so shallow sometimes that they passed almost dryshod. This was just the case with her. She had often been like 'Much-afraid,' but God was better to her than her fears, and made her death more like falling asleep than dying. Yesterday morning the coffin was brought down into uncle Isaac's study, and after breakfast we all went in to look at her for the last time. Oh, it was such a thought that her eyes would never open till the last trumpet should sound, and the grave should break open, to let her meet the Lord in the air! At twelve o'clock we began to move to the chapel, which is very near. First the coffin, then grandpapa and I, then uncle Isaac and aunt Jemima, then uncle Martin and uncle Jefferys, and then papa and J. She lies close by a tall poplar near the vestry door, and poor grandmamma was at one of the back windows here, and could see her let down into the grave. There is only a garden and one field between. Though we all grieve very much, yet we are all comforted and thankful to think of the goodness of God towards her. She was in her life kind, tender, active, generous, and always anxious to be useful to others. She was willing to deny herself of everything, and was never so happy as when she was doing a kindness to her brothers and sisters. Above all, she feared God from her youth, and did not leave that great work till she came [Page 50] to die. May this be your case, my dear children, and then I shall be your happy, as well as your affectionate mother,
To her friend Mrs Whitty she writes:–
"You will believe that there is not one of us to whom it is a light trial. My father and mother are both deeply affected, and from what I know of the latter I fear the wound will never heal. Dear Isaac has lost his friend, his nurse, his most endeared associate, one with whom he took sweet counsel, and such a loss he feels it. His sweet assiduities during the whole course of her illness were all that affection could desire, and that strength could sustain. Dear Jemima feels most severely bereaved, for her only female companion is gone, one who was always awake to her interests, and active to promote all her pleasures. My heart fails me more than ever at the thought of parting, though I have one less to leave, but I cannot help feeling that sorrows have now begun. But as soon as I set my face fairly northward, I shall feel the glow of what I am going to. It is a mercy to have two such homes, but you see as the old divine says, "though these pleasures have crowns on their heads, they have stings in their tails."
After reaching home she wrote to her mother–
"Most thankful should I be if I knew the balm by which the sufferings of a 'deeply wounded and bleeding heart' might be soothed, and, indeed, there are so many sources of comfort in this cup of affliction that it seems easy and almost trite to point to them. Do, my dear mother, make the strongest daily effort to resist what is doubtless a temptation, too fitly addressed to your natural feeling, and bodily sensibility. O, how many parents would be ready to expend their remaining lives in thankfulness [Page 51] for anything like the consolation in their losses, which you have in yours!"
"For what purpose were you made a mother? not certainly to rear children who should live for ever in this world. What would you have asked, if, at the birth of dear Jane, you could have been offered any lot you might choose for her? Would you not have been ready to say, 'O let her be but a Christian, and if I survive her let me feel an assured hope of her immortal happiness, and I am little anxious about the rest.' But suppose, that having this granted, so much more had been freely added as has been bestowed on her. Suppose you had received the promise that she should be gifted with eminent talents, all of which should be devoted to eminent usefulness; and that after receiving favours from Providence such as is the lot of but here and there a distinguished mind, she should fall asleep in Jesus without one of those pangs, or those fears, that render death terrible, would not your heart have overflowed with gratitude? If the giving of the promise would have been esteemed so great a mercy, why should the fulfilment of it be felt so inconsolable a trail? . . ."
The sorrow at Ongar led in a singular manner to an occasion for joy, in the engagement of Isaac Taylor to the young lady who afterwards became his wife. But her brother's usual reticence drew from his absent sister a characteristic request–
"I am sure I rejoice with those that do rejoice, and hope they are not few, but I sadly want information beyond the bare fact. My mind likes to walk in a defined path, with a close fence of particulars, as I suppose you know. Let anybody who feels disposed give me at least as many as may enable me to find my way without stumbling." [Page 52]
It was from her husband, during a hasty visit to Ongar, that she learnt something of what she wanted, and especially of her brother's new home–
July 21, 1825.–"A most pleasant ride brought me to Stanford Rivers; there I was arrested in my journey by Isaac, Jemima, and J–, and after looking round the delightful domain of your brother, came here by a pleasant footpath to sleep. Isaac is really situated just as I have always thought I should like to be: the house neat, commodious, comfortable, pleasantly surrounded with clean gravel walks, grass plots, roses, fruit–everything that is 'pleasant to the eye and good for food.' It is just what one would like to take a simple-hearted, tender, good tempered, cheerful, kind, contented young bride to. They are to be happy in less than a month."
1825 was one of the marked years of change in the life we are pursuing. The affection of his people had been shown in many ways to their minister, and among the means devised to restore his failing strength had been a journey of several weeks, with a friend, in a travelling carriage all across England, and into Devonshire, when, to the delight of his wife, he visited again Ilfracombe and Linton. He wrote from Dunster:–
"When you were here not even a gig was kept at this place, and now there are four pair of horses at the inn, all worked almost out of their life. Several carriages and four were here yesterday, and many have passed to-day, so that for want of horses we must stay the night. Yet we need not regret it, as we are just under the castle, and have the sweetest mixture of trees, broken hills, valleys, and water, that can be conceived. Yet I feel bereft of what my heart yearns after. I long almost to fainting to have you with me in these sweet places." [Page 53]
Now his frequent illnesses, traceable to the exhausting atmosphere, as well as the exhausting work of Hull, had suggested to all his friends the necessity of a removal, and in the beginning of this year, offers had been made to him, which occasioned much painful indecision. His wife, then visiting the loved scenes and loved friends of Sheffield and Rotherham, writes to him–
"You know that my faith in the bestowment of temporal blessings, even in answer to prayer, is not strong, because I see no promise on which, firmly, to found such a confidence; but there is one temporal mercy for which the promise is, I think, as direct as despondence itself would have framed it, and that is for guidance. Here, I think, we have firm footing, and have only to pray and wait, in a posture of spirit suitable to praying and waiting. 'Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in him, and He shall direct thy steps.' He shall make darkness light before thee, and crooked things straight, &c., are but specimens of the encouragements we have, to seek direction in every important step, under the cheerful persuasion that we shall find it. And I think we can set to our seal that God is true. We have never been left to inextricable perplexities, but have always found that asking wisdom of God, we received, little by little, all that we needed. The next step has always been shone upon by the fiery pillar, and though we could not see the end, we came to it in safety. Do not suffer, my love, your spirit to go to and fro, as if to see through the crevices of the present scene into that which may be beyond, but stand still, rather, and see the salvation of God. It is inexpressible comfort to me to feel something of dependence on such promises, and it is, as you know, almost the only spot on which I can set my foot without trembling. I shall be thankful if my confidence should fill up the solitary gap in yours." [Page 54]
A little later, she writes–
"I have never hitherto seen your spirit in deep waters, and I trust it will not be long before you feel dry land again; but it is, as you know, what I have often feared. You appeared to me, both as a Christian and a minister, to have passed so easily through the scene of your trial, that I always fancied there might be sorrows to come. But you know that God is good, and that He will not lay upon you the punishment of my superstitions–the reward of that spirit of bondage under which I fear I live. His ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts. I know that you rest upon Him as the anchor of your soul. I know that your confidence, however waved in the storm, is firm in its grasp. I know that you lie at His feet, and look to Him alone, for help, happiness, and sufficiency. I only wish I could command my own spirit and yours, into a patient waiting for His appearance; but the great difficulty is not only to hope, but to quietly wait for it."
Mr Gilbert's "Life of Dr Williams" was published this year, and though twelve years after his decease, and dealing largely with the several abstruse controversies in which he had been engaged, proved a complete success, a large edition being sold off in a fortnight. To this work, strong in her desire to take intelligent interest in all that concerned her husband, his wife had given great attention, endeavouring thoroughly to master all its arguments, among which, however, she says, "the only point on which I remain unconvinced, is the subject of 'space;' but you will admit that there is ample room for a difference of opinion there." With its success, greatly unexpected by its author, she endeavours to cheer his despondency, [Page 55] evidently much the result of physical depression, and playfully dismisses a suggestion of retirement to a Lincolnshire farm. "I presume that my opinion, respecting the farm, was not asked in earnest. I believe it would do you good; but I think I should not make good butter, and you would not sell your corn to advantage, nor would you like the sort of 'gentlemen' of the farmers' markets; besides you know you must preach."
Then, with reference to indications which seemed to point towards Nottingham, she writes,–
"I regard — as hectically sanguine, and should not be disposed to form an opinion without more inquiry, or cooler counsel. Nevertheless, I wish you to be and to feel like a cloud in the sky, that is to learn its destination from the winds of heaven, and then distil in fruitfulness on the appointed pasture."
Thus this "true yoke-fellow" did her part through the anxious months, when it was difficult to see the shining of the pillar even upon the next step to be taken. Yet, as she said afterwards, "the way was always so hedged in that but one step at a time seemed possible," and this consoled her, when the outflow of affection from the people of Hull at the bitter time of parting wrung her heart. When too late, propositions were made even to the extent of providing for her husband's absence from his charge for six months every year, if he might be retained for the other six months, which would have made it impossible to leave, if the decisive step had not been taken. At Nottingham, their young friend, Richard Cecil, had entered upon the task of raising a congregation in a large :new chapel, but to the labour of which his health was not [Page 56] equal. It had been proposed, therefore, and warmly urged, that Mr Gilbert should be associated with him in this undertaking, where the fine air and neighbourhood seemed to promise all he required in that respect.
And so it came to pass, that again last looks had to be taken of an endeared home; last visits paid to endeared friends; and on the 15th of November, all the furniture having been sent off by water, they drove out of dear Nile Street, with not a few recollections, and some tears, to be dispersed for a short time among hospitable homes. Stormy weather detained them, but at four o'clock, on a dark but calm morning, November 16, two coaches went round collecting children and servants for the packet to Gainsborough, at which place several friends met them with offers of service, and took care that the large party–eleven in all, and one a baby in arms,–should not stay the night at an inn. Here, midway between the old and the new scene–the new that was to be also the last–we leave them for awhile.
Arrival at Nottingham–The Castle, and a New Home–The Boy at Ongar–Lectures on Infidelity and Atheism–Miss Chambers–Address to Wives and Mothers–"The Prisoner Infidel."
"A castle like a rock upon a rock.
"He woos abettors to his creedless creed,
IN the afternoon of November 16, 1825, the two postchaises conveying the family, that had now become "two bands," began to descend the long hill leading from Sherwood Forest into the town of Nottingham. From the summit it is seen, picturesquely disposed up and down hills of sandstone rock,–the venerable tower of St Mary's occupying one commanding eminence, and the Castle a still prouder one, crested with trees, and rising above the sweet valley of the Trent in bold precipices, somewhat similar to those of Dumbarton.
The party had left Gainsbro' at nine in the morning, and now, by beautiful moonlight, crossing the wide market-place, the largest in the kingdom, they began to ascend the Castle-hill, and passed through the fine old [Page 60] gateway of the Commonwealth wars, up the winding drive, to the foot of the long flight of steps leading to the terrace in front of the Castle itself. Here, under an equestrian figure of the first Duke of Newcastle, the great doorway opened upon spacious halls, and tapestried corridors, whence heavy cedar doors gave entrance to several noble rooms.
The Castle, built in the massive Italian style of Inigo Jones, on the topmost platform of rock, is all a ruin now, the still blackened walls testifying to the fury of the mob in 1830. Of the glorious prospect that the broad-paved terrace surrounding the building once displayed–here of the green undulating park, there of the lovely stretches of meadow spreading from the foot of the castle rock to the silver Trent,–on this side the distant umbrage of Clifton Grove, on that, the masses of wood round Wollaton Hall (of which Queen Elizabeth said, that my Lord of Middleton should put it under a glass case), beyond, in the far distance, the ranges of Charnwood Forest and the remote towers of Belvoir,–of this, little now remains; the meadows are covered with factories and unwholesome streets of tenements; the park is built over with blocks of red and white houses in every variety of architecture; a coal mine disgorges itself at the edge of the Trent; the loveliness of the far distance is smirched, if not totally obscured, by heavy volumes of smoke from the factories below. Alas, for the once beautiful land of England, which must needs turn itself into a sooty workshop!
But so strange a transition from the modest dwelling in Nile Street, Hull, to this palatial residence in Nottingham, requires explanation. It is a simple one; the same [Page 61] generous friend who, for their sakes, had removed to Hull, and throwing two houses into one, had constructed for herself a mansion in Nile Street, had gladly now taken the opportunity to transfer herself to Nottingham where some of her relatives resided; and where, in one of the wings of the Castle, at that time let for private residences, a charming abode was offered her. She had preceded her friends, and since houses at Nottingham were then very difficult to procure, had, with the abundant and yet most delicate generosity that distinguished her, insisted upon receiving for a time the whole Gilbert family as her guests,–a stay which was eventually prolonged to several months.
Mrs Gilbert had paid a visit to Nottingham, to look about her, some months previously, and then it seemed probable that they might reside for a time in the other wing of the Castle. In a letter of that date, July 1, 1825, she says–
"The Castle is indeed a noble place, built on the ancient site of the Keep as a residence for the Duke of Newcastle, to whom it belongs. Mr R—, who does not require it this year, kindly offers us his entire half, if we cannot suit ourselves better. We could thus look about at our leisure, at least till spring, but I would much rather be in a house we could keep in. I should by no means fear cold, though the situation is as much elevated and exposed as you can imagine, for from the extreme thickness of the walls it is, even in the largest rooms, perfectly warm, and as free from damp as possible. But we should look funny with a spoonful of furniture, and a pocket-handkerchief of a carpet, in a room sixty feet long; and sometimes on a winter's evening I might be a little poetical about the tapestry." [Page 62]
After their removal in November, her first letter was to a dear friend–a "special crony," as she called her, in Hull.
"Would that you, dear friend, were still within call of my marketing basket, but that not being the case we must make the best of pen and ink. It cannot, indeed, express to you with how tender a gratitude I shall remember our dear friends at Hull. You know how much I owe to your considerate and gumptious kindness. All indeed that friendship could do, was done to lighten our labours, and remove inconveniences. Accept, my dear friend, the best thanks of me and mine to you and yours; dispose them secundum artem among your rosy household, and assure them that if wishes and prayers in return could serve them, they should all grow up useful, honourable, and happy.–Amen and amen! . . .
"I for one can speak well of Gainsbro' hospitality. Mr T— Mr K— Mr and Mrs C— were waiting at the boats when we arrived, and showed every kindness that houseless pilgrims need. The next day, another fine one, we set forward again, myself, two servants, and three babies wedged into one chaise, and Mr Gilbert with the cheerful and talkative residue in another. After a pleasant journey we were, as you may believe, most thankful to find ourselves, at a quarter before five, safe and sound at the great gates of the Castle lodge. It was something beautifully between moonlight and twilight, as they opened to receive us. The massive outline of the Castle stood finely relieved against the evening sky as we slowly ascended the steep on which it rests; and a fine moment it was for emotion if now could ever feel like then. I would give something to take such another journey with heart and hands sufficiently unencumbered to enter into all the interest and poetry of the occasion. But I was too busy with my babies to feel all that you and I can fancy about [Page 63] such an arrival. Yet I was not insensible to the comfort, the mercy, the happiness, of finding our anxious journey safely over, and all that kindness could do or contrive, to give us at once the repose of home."
In this new scene the children revelled. From the mud shores of Hull to the summit of a lofty rock was change enough; still more from the common-places of a small street house, to the mysteries of this great building, where the flat leaden roof with its wonderful prospect was a sufficient playground; or where for wet weather the state bedroom of Queen Ann, empty but for the delightful addition of the railing that had once enclosed the bedstead, now lent itself to innumerable devices of childhood. Beneath, again, passages and chambers in the living rock were known to extend to unknown depths; and were sometimes with sufficient escort, and a plentiful supply of candles, partially explored. The cawing of the jack-daws outside among the trees; the strange recesses in the crags festooned with ivy; more than all, the curious stair-case winding round the face of the precipice, and that formerly used as a concealed passage way, bore the name of "Mortimer's hole," from a circumstance belonging to English history,–all this added to the delight; and an ineffaceable impression was made upon minds with hereditary tendencies to the romantic.
Yet it was characteristic of their mother that she gave herself here to no poetic reveries, or none that for an hour interfered with immediate duty. All the "castle building," of which, at Colchester, she used to complain, was long since dispersed to the winds, and the real castle conjured none of them back. With hands full of practical business, and heart full of practical kindness, and practical [Page 64] religion, she spent her busy days; and the letters already quoted are the only ones that bear a trace of the poetical influences surrounding her.
After five months stay at the castle, the pleasure of which was greatly diminished by a remarkable amount of sickness in the family, they removed to a comfortable house, at that time on the outskirts of the town. Writing to Ongar, May 9, 1826, and dating from "my own pretty closet in my own pleasant house," she says–
"My design was to have written on the first or second evening of our residence here, but pots and pans, chairs and tables, to say nothing of socks and stockings, rose up in utter rebellion, and I was obliged to make a retreat as I could; so pray excuse all neglects both of you and of myself. As yet, with all my efforts, I have got but two closets to rights in the house, and sometimes I go into ill humour with despair, but I do not find that it materially assists me.
"On Monday we began carting our goods from the castle, and on Tuesday, just in the middle of it, a sagacious waggoner with a bouncing knock at our new door, presented your welcome parcel, the opening and reading of which pretty nearly carried away my intellects for that morning, for I sat myself down in the study and stopped not till I had done. Thank you, dear people, for it all; there was not a line uninteresting, nor a thread unserviceable. . . . I might give you a romantic idea of our situation by saying that we abut immediately on the southern border of Sherwood Forest, and stand exactly between 'Woodland Place' and the 'Lark Dales;' our position, however, is in a wide, dusty, irregular street of considerable traffic, which forms the northern boundary of the town; but there is nothing between us and very pleasant fields behind. The only thing I want is playground for the children, having no garden but a piece like Peter Hitch- [Page 65] cock's* in front, and a mere passage of a yard. But there is a stable in which the boys do their carpentry, and they have a much larger range within, than they ever had before.
"With respect to the Chapel we have entire cordiality between the ministers, and agreeable activity in the people. There is a sort of stirring which makes preaching more hopeful than in the dead pool of an old sleepy congregation, † and we hope there is the seed of prosperity sowing. I never attend in the evening, but prefer sowing on a smaller plot at home, where and when, I enjoy many a happy hopeful hour, which I would not give up for all the gas-lighted chapels and crowded congregations you could muster. My service usually concludes with such a throng of kisses that I am often obliged to take my clean frill out of arms way."
She did not soon master the arrears caused by the long interruption to settled household work; her correspondence is much curtailed; this is the sort of life it describes–
". . . The boys are at home for the holidays, my governess is out for a fortnight; nurse is disabled, and with the baby still in arms I have only been able to procure a little girl to help, who bends like an & when she nurses him. I might also mention that I have, by previous appointment, two dress-makers at work in one room, and a tailor making clothes for the boys in another, who are perpetually wanting thread, or tape, or trimmings, or orders, so that I am as much like a weaver's shuttle as anything–saving the regularity of its movements.
"Do not suppose," she writes to her husband, during a short absence, "that I have a very merry life of it, if you should hear that I talk all day and sing all night,–and do not be afraid of [Page 66] having to share in my merriment on your return. I shall betake myself to another room till it is over."
But her boy at Ongar was never forgotten. His future destination became now, an increasing and anxious topic in her letters. At this time, his tastes seemed to incline towards sculpture, and an occasional bas-relief, in clay, was forwarded to his parents. Upon one such arrival, she writes–
"We have, this morning, received your parcel, the first appearance of which excited as much surprise, and as many ingenious guesses, and the disclosure, as much satisfaction and delight, as even dear J— himself could have wished. My own secret conjecture, whilst unpacking it was, that it was a whole-length portrait of him; but I was, by no means, disappointed to find it the impress of his mind, rather than of his body. . . . . . We should hardly be worth calling his father and mother, if we had not now, for some length of time, felt anxious respecting his present circumstances and future prospects, and considering the long separation from his natural home, we should most certainly, if only our own feelings had been concerned, have wished to have him amongst us once more; but the thought of dear mother always sent us to sea again, whenever we seemed to approach any certain shore. . . .
"Latin and Greek are so intimately connected with the arts, that, if only in that point of view, he ought to acquire a competent knowledge of both, and we hope that under a sense of this, which he is now old enough to understand and feel, he will set himself manfully to the foundation-drudgery. Nothing, under the circumstances, appears so important as a thorough grounding in Latin, which is, according to the learned, not the work of a day. . . . But to the end of our, and I think I may promise of [Page 67] his life, the time, trouble, and affection expended by you, dear father, on his education, will be held in grateful and lively remembrance."
In further correspondence respecting an art education for her son, she wisely returns, again and again, to the importance of a classical training, in the first place.
"He must be a classic, let him be what he may, even if he means to be nothing more than his own father's son. What ultimately he is to be, we have yet to learn, but 'Mary ponders many things in her heart.' We leave him, at present, under the same care which his father and mother, and their father and mother, have found so wise and wonderful, strewing manna on many an unexpected path, and leading water from the rock, beside all their wanderings."
My mother used to say that she made a point of regretting nothing that was not anybody's fault, her own especially; and above all things, in the different crises of life, she desired her way to be so distinctly fenced in by providence, that it could not be mistaken, when, whatever the event, she accepted it cheerfully. "I would rather move between stone walls than break a road for myself over a heath," was her expression. In removing to Nottingham, she had felt, as she believed, the unmistakable guiding Hand; not, it should be observed, through any mental impression, such she would have distrusted, but through a series of circumstances which seemed, at the time, to leave no other course fairly open. Accordingly, she expressed her firm conviction that the change must be for good, and that here was her husband's appointed [Page 68] sphere of labour. For good, it certainly was, but not of the kind or extent that the estimation to which he had risen, would seem to promise.
Overtures were now made to him, from time to time, by some of the most important of the provincial churches, such as those at Manchester and Liverpool, and from the reputation acquired by his life of Dr Williams, a leading position for its author might have been expected. But this, his settlement at Nottingham, was found, at last, to have effectually denied. He was never more to be the minister of a large and flourishing congregation. Yet, did this woman, of strong faith, ever doubt the guidance of that Hand which led her husband into a path which, in some of its aspects, seemed only to baffle and restrict the exercise of his powers? Certainly not. For one peculiar and interesting, though limited work, her husband was brought to Nottingham; she saw it, and was grateful for that one work, in a small corner of the vineyard.
Early in her letters, after reaching Nottingham, she remarks upon the strange difference between a crowded place like Fish Street, where a couple of hundred people, or more, would be waiting for sittings, and the, at present, thinly attended chapel in St James' Street.
"To us," she says, "who have been accustomed to go with the multitude to keep holy day, and to join in the 'great congregation' . . . . it is, at present, the day of small things, and though our friends are sanguine as to eventual increase, yet it is a thought from which I resolutely turn my mind, and say rather, when it presents itself, 'get thee behind me.' Should it be granted, I hope we should be thankful, but we followed, as we [Page 69] trust, the dictate of Providence, irrespective of consequences; and the posture now most suitable, seems to be to stand still, and see the ways of God. May it please Him to bless the change, and we shall be blessed."
These thin congregations did not last, but they were recruited in a singular manner. It began in this way–
"There have lately been," she writes, "impudent efforts made here to spread infidel opinions, and a shop has been opened for the sale of such works, where the woman who keeps it harangues to large and delighted auditories, and answers all theological doubts, to the great satisfaction of her hearers. In consequence of this, Mr Gilbert has been requested to preach a course of lectures on the 'Evidences of Christianity,' of which he has already given three; and the attention excited is very great indeed. The chapel overflows; people of all sorts, high and low, attend, and with a degree of interest as for life and death. Many avowed infidels come; two have written letters in reply; but some, we are told, profess to be staggered. I have broken through my rule of staying at home on Sunday evenings, and think myself justified in doing so from the importance of the object. I therefore take the four eldest children, and mean to attend the whole course."
Again, December 7, 1826–
"The lectures, which are not yet concluded, have been admirably attended throughout. They are seldom less than an hour and a half, and sometimes more, but they are heard with deathlike stillness, and are the subject of conversation in every party we enter. For many weeks now, not a word of objection has come from any one, and a very striking difference is observable in the manner in which the infidels attend. At first there [Page 70] were nods, winks, grins, rustling, and whispering; and large knots of them held noisy confabs at coming out; but now each seems to hear for himself, and the same persons sit with perfect seriousness, and go out without speaking to their neighbours. We are assured also that several who have scoffed at the Bible for years are now reading it. One gentleman, who heard the first two or three lectures, comes over every Sabbath from Derby, where he now resides, till the course is concluded."
At a later date she writes–
"We heard last night a very encouraging instance of good effected by the lectures. About the second or third Sabbath from the commencement of them, a very notorious man, a public-house keeper, was spending the afternoon with six others in a garden near the town, and, sitting in a summer-house, was extolling Richard Carlile.* A person in the next garden heard them, and called over the hedge–'Aye, aye; I could send you to a champion in Nottingham who would be more than a match for twenty Carliles.' 'Who's that?' was asked; and, telling them of Mr Gilbert, he advised them to hear the lectures. All but one agreed to do so, and the first mentioned went to another public-house, where a party of fourteen more were assembled, and tried to persuade them also, but only one consented. These seven, therefore, came that evening, and have done so ever since. They profess themselves beat out of their holds, and yesterday the public-house keeper sent to take a seat for himself and all his family. . . .
"Yet the good people of Nottingham–the payers of mint and anise in other churches–shake their heads, think it a sad profanation of the Sabbath, say that these contemptible fellows are beneath a minister's notice, that they ought to be let alone, [Page 71] &c., &c., and because it is the Sabbath day (or because the pit is not in their own field), would refuse to help out the poor sheep floundering in the mire at the bottom."
Circumstances presently to be mentioned led to the services being conducted, for a time, in the large room of the Exchange, but this not being sufficient to contain the crowds, a second room adjoining, was opened, which, with the lobbies, still did not suffice, and sometimes hundreds could not obtain admittance. In a chapel afterwards erected for him, he, in his wife's words, "conducted manfully that strange argument, sometimes required by the created to prove the exist of a Creator." Equal or greater numbers followed him here. He gave public notice that he would receive and discuss any objections that might be presented to him, and devoted three of the lectures to reading and replying to the letters received, while he opened his own house on Wednesday evenings for conversations. These were often of the greatest interest. On one occasion Richard Carlile came down from London, and with some of his friends presented himself at a Wednesday evening séance; "but in a discussion that followed, he went off into evasions that gave little hope of ingenuous impression, or indication of an honest search for truth." A public discussion was then proposed, and accepted by Mr Gilbert, but at the last moment permission to use the Exchange Room was revoked by the authorities, and no other could be obtained in time.
"You will have supposed," she writes, "that the business chiefly on our minds lately has been Mr Gilbert's encounter with Carlile. Innumerable misrepresentations have appeared, and it [Page 72] is industriously stated that Mr G. never really intended to meet him, and wilfully slunk at the last. A triumphant article of this kind appeared last week in the Catholic Journal. A newspaper correspondence ensued, and for one of Mr Gilbert's letters, which Carlile chose to regard as a libel, he prosecuted the publishers."
After a long and anxious suspense the trial came on; the verdict, in Mr Gilbert's favour, threw the costs upon the plaintiff, who was imprisoned in default of payment till a sufficient sum was raised by Mr Gilbert and his friends to set him at liberty, a kindness which the unhappy man suitably acknowledged.
The two boys, Henry and Edward, were, at Nottingham sent to their first school. It was kept by a blind lady, whose mental history was remarkably affected by these lectures. Mrs Gilbert afterwards wrote this account of her:–
"She was a lady blind from her infancy, whose mental improvement had on that account been greatly neglected; nor was the education of the blind attended to in her youth as it has since been. But the vigour of her mind surmounted impediments, and she would be taught. She acquired a creditable acquaintance with arithmetic, grammar, geography, the Latin language–everything, in fact, required for teaching an elementary school, to which, during many years, numbers of respectable families sent their sons for early education.* When Mr Gilbert came to Nottingham she had made some considerable acquaintance with the Greek language. She had been accustomed from her childhood to hear an evangelical ministry, but by degrees it lost hold upon her belief; she became an avowed deist, and abandoned public worship entirely. A member of Mr Gilbert's [Page 73] church at Hull, who knew both her and her state of mind, wrote to request she would once hear the minister they had just parted with. Her aversion to appear again in a place of worship was extreme. For some time she could not overcome it; set out again and again for the chapel, and returned unable to enter it. At length, these lectures being announced, she resolved to hear the first, and though, with observable uneasiness, contrived to listen, and found, as she said afterwards, she could not help it. She heard the whole course, and obtained frequent interviews with the preacher (always willing to give a reason for the hope that was in him). In these she fought every inch of ground, yielding not a particle but on entire conviction. It was surely providential that just previously she had acquired sufficient acquaintance with the language to read the Greek Testament herself. Of course, when it is said she read, the meaning is it was read to her; youths who had been under her training were now employed in succession every spare hour of the day to do so, while with intense interest, her fingers meanwhile plying the knitting needles with lightning speed, she listened to the inartificial narratives of the Gospels, or the clear explanations found in the Epistles. At length the light of Heaven penetrated where the light of day had been excluded. . . . She became one of the most devoted and consistent members of our Church, and continued such till her death, about five years before that of her pastor. It was to instances such as these that his mind often reverted when reflecting on his removal from Hull. Among many instances of individuals reclaimed or preserved by these lectures, the name of Miss Chambers may descend with his own, his 'joy and crown.'"
The source of the remarkable influence of Mr Gilbert over sceptical minds at this time may be traced in the following description of his preaching from the pen of [Page 74] his brother-in-law, Isaac Taylor. After speaking of his "eminent faculty for clear, continuous, and sustained abstract thought," he says, "but, as a preacher and writer, Mr Gilbert earnestly desired to be useful. This desire manifestly was always paramount to the ambition to shine or to win popular applause. He scorned not to be intelligible to every one. He would leave nothing untried that might avail to bring him close home to the convictions of his hearers–educated and uneducated. Far from him was the arrogance that might make him content to be wondered at as a philosopher by a gaping crowd. He loved his hearers, he earnestly desired to promote their highest welfare, and he perfectly knew that, a very few excepted, those who fill pews on a Sunday are unapt to think, and are unable to think. So it was that when a great doctrinal subject stood out full in his view in its genuine proportions as a truth eternal, so it was that he wrestled and laboured like a very Titan–a most loving Titan–to bring it down to a level within range of a congregation. For this purpose how did he reiterate, how exhaust the stores of illustrative argument, how turn himself about in quest of the intelligible, so that by any means he might convince, and enlighten, and persuade his hearers."
Of these lectures, extending to two courses (the second, devoted to the atheistic argument), no trace in writing remains. My father, who had hitherto used but scanty notes for his sermons, now, and to the conclusion of his ministry, very seldom put pen to paper in preparation for the pulpit. Pacing a secluded field by the side of the Trent, not far from the soft shades of Clifton Grove, he [Page 75] worked into his mind the order and shape of his thoughts, and when his well-known tramp was heard in his study, it was understood that the same process was being repeated there. In the case of these lectures he took care to prepare himself for meeting the precise objections in his hearers' minds, by purchasing and studying every infidel book or tract in circulation at the time, and a closet in his study was entirely filled with these.
But that no record exists of the lectures is probably of not much moment now, since the form of objection or difficulty is always changing. That which seemed so cogent and damaging, to one generation, has either been efficiently answered, or more commonly, from various concurrent influences, has lost its applicability. A new form of doubt, adapted to a new phase of philosophy, or new positions in science, takes its place, which again, whether at the time satisfactorily disposed of or not, is pretty sure to pass into limbo in its turn. Difficulties of one sort or another will no doubt always exist. It must always be possible to say of a revelation given through human agency, and material phenomena, that it is no Revelation at all. To the simple and unsophisticated the answer of the heart is a guide to its truth; to the wide-thoughted, and widely read, a large induction of facts, and a comprehensive survey of the great problem, will aid its acceptance; to all must come the grace of a pure desire to know and do the will of God.
The first course of lectures closed with one impressive discourse upon the single word "Peradventure,"–peradventure true!–how great then the responsibility of rejection! The remarkable result of the whole was that out of [Page 76] the casual and incongruous collection of doubters of all shades that listened to him, he formed the small but interesting church to which the later years of his ministry were devoted.
This was the work for which he had been brought to Nottingham, at that time the headquarters of the infidelity prevalent among intelligent artizans, though not confined to them. He thus built up a body of believers from among those who previously had no knowledge of the character or functions of a Christian Church, a difficult task; and as these gradually passed away to the upper sanctuary, his work was done. An old man then, among a new generation, it was fit that other hands should minister to its needs; but when the aged pastor was borne to his last resting-place, a crowd of worn grey-haired men unexpectedly appeared at his grave to do honour to the memory of one whom they respected and loved, though they might not have followed his counsels.
Whenever Mrs Gilbert was interested in a public matter, she found moments, as only those find them whose moments are precious, to employ her pen in prose or verse, which frequently found a way into print. At the time when Carlile was in the town she wrote an address–whether printed or not is uncertain,–of which an extract or two will show the character. It was headed–
"TO THE INDUSTRIOUS WIVES AND MOTHERS OF NOTTINGHAM.
"Dear Friends and Neighbours"–(after referring to the interest their husbands were taking in Carlile's doctrines, she says)–"However, my business at present is not with the men, but with the women, the stay-at-home, hard-working women of this [Page 77] large town; and I believe that they will not object to a word of advice from a neighbour, who has a neighbourly heart, both towards them and their children. My own judgment indeed is that you, and the thoughts you have on the subject, are of more consequence now than many think for, and for this simple reason, that as are the mothers, so to a certainty almost, are the children.
A Christian Mother, . . Christian Children.
An Infidel Mother, . . Infidel Children.
I do not know how it may sound to you, but to me the words, 'infidel children' seem too shocking almost to write. Can you look at the babes you have borne, and nourished many a weary day at your breast, and think it has all been for this? . . . . You may work hard, and fare hard, and lie hard, and sleep little, and have an aching head, and an aching back, and an aching arm; but all put together, these are nothing to the aching heart that is to be, if you have infidel children."
Then, after a striking picture of girls growing up without religion, and of boys who, if taught that there is no hereafter, will try to take the shortest cut to everything their stormy passions are set upon, she exclaims–
"And so this is what it is all to come to! . . . And you will not enjoy a spark of hope in all your miseries, for where should it come from? Not from this world, that is clear; and as for the next, a cold grave, and a dark coffin, are all he can promise you,–to be born, and be busy, and wretched, and die! To be born, and be busy, and wretched, and die! This is all, it seems, that men and women are made for!"
But a much more important effort resulted from the wife's intense sympathy with her husband's present [Page 78] labours. She had been shocked with the sentiments with which the discussion made her acquainted, but she was no less shocked that in some cases legal measures had been resorted to against those who, whether honestly or not, held such opinions; and soon backs of letters and of washing bills became covered with lines of remonstrance, now against one, now the other error. As she went her errands in the town, she would turn up an entry, or sit down in a shop, to scribble down the fast-coming thoughts; and the darning needle at home had to yield from minute to minute to the pen. They first took shape in a poem entitled "The Prisoner Infidel," which was afterwards enlarged, but never published. Some thirty years later she wrote on the fly-leaf–
"At the time when these lines were written, I had come much in contact with the then popular, vulgar infidelity–the deism and atheism of workshops and alehouses; and the thoughts expressed, so haunted me, at home or abroad, in domestic duty, or the busy market-place; they were so incessant, that I could not help writing them down. I think nearly three thousand lines were thus forced into verse. It was as suggested by the outbreak of human law against the infidel,* that I began with the title, "The Prisoner Infidel;" after several years, however, the wrong was redressed, and I attempted to suit them to Infidelity, or rather, the Atheist argument generally. I wish, [Page 79] sometimes, that I had opportunity so to arrange the following papers as to fit them for publication."
From this considerable poem, I give a few opening portions–
. . . . .
But still, opinion is man's freehold ground,
Belief by chain of law was never bound;
Conscience, who knows her master, cannot kneel
Or crawl a captive at Power's chariot wheel;
Her day of reckoning cometh, but till then
Leave her, heaven-born, unmanacled of men.
The living soul could never yet be bent
To understand by Act of Parliament;
The free immortal principle to yield
To priest or prince one inch of reason's field;
The high prerogative may be abused,
But who is he by whom it is refused?
No! though she soil her glories in the dust
If she will have it so,–why so she must!
. . . . .
Nor let the Christian tremble for his cause
Thrown on its strength, unpropped by human laws;
Were God left sole to plead his cause with us,
Giving to conscience fair-play, none had heard
Of half the taunts by infidels preferred
Against Religion, as they call the thing,
Miscalled–that gainful league of priest and king!
She imagines the various circumstances or lines of thought that had led to so unhappy a result; and from this passes–the argument always addressed to the Atheist rather than the Infidel–to the suggestions of [Page 80] Nature and Providence–the beauty and the bounty; the instinct of aspiration; the whispers of affection–
Did never love break in upon thy gloom,
Life's tender charities, a flowery bloom?
Have they not sprung and flourished in thy way,
And been like milk and honey to thy day?
And Who, affection's bland provision sent,
The bosom's thirst, and its sweet nutriment?
Fitting with blest beneficence of plan
Man's bliss and duty to the need of man?
Wherever want is found, to place supply,
An eye for light, and light to meet the eye,
A heart to love, and love the heart to bless,
An infant, and maternal tenderness?
Thou sayest, "the Powers of Nature," name a word
Of sounds that ear of man hath never heard,
'Twill as good meaning to the soul advance
As this grand password of pure ignorance,
Which, given when Reason's rampart frowns in view,
Without a reason lets the Atheist thro'.
. . . . .
She appeals to the impossibility of proving a negative–
As when from starless midnight lightnings stray
And give to dreary wilds a moment's day,
And warn the traveller by the fitful spark,
Of dangers undetected in the dark,
Ne'er hast thou felt misgivings that have shown
Glimpses of possibilities unknown?
Gulfs never sounded, rocks, and reefs, and shores,
Where never yet have plied thy venturous oars?
If one such flash hath ever crossed thy mind
'Tis proof, that proof is yet a thing to find;
For demonstration leaves no doubt behind,
And short of demonstration, who would run
Th' amazing hazard of a soul undone?
Hast thou all deepness fathomed with thy line,
Scaled every height with that keen eye of thine?
Each mystery sounded, down to central night,–
Mysteries of darkness–mysteries of light!
Are there no fields of space, no holds of strength,
As yet unmeasured by thy reason's length?
And if there be,–how venture to deny
But God that realm unknown, may occupy?
That there his Being may in glory beam,
Wide as heaven's ocean, not as here a stream!
. . . . .
She paints with vigorous strokes an Atheist-world, left without sense of God or of a future life, in which "peace and virtue find a common grave." But admits a few possible exceptions:–
. . . . .
A few calm souls, with honey in their blood,
Who feel no swellings of the inward flood,
Need not the check of holy fear to quell
Waves which in them are imperturbable;
Mild, gentle, reasonable, sober born,
Without religion, they the folly scorn.
. . . . .
A few beside, of philosophic mould
Espy the peril, and wise parley hold;
Convinced that Nature punishes excess
By joys abridged, or fated wretchedness,
They gather up the energy within,
To ward the danger, not to check the sin;
And nicely calculate, with scale and rule,
Where, and how far, 'twere safe to play the fool.
But, perhaps, the brightest and most ingenious portions of the poem are those in which the writer deals with the various theories of self-evolution. These, and some other passages, will be found in an Appendix. Enough has been given here to show that the mental power which, in the midst of the busiest and most homely occupations, could produce "three thousand lines" of similar quality, was sufficiently remarkable.
Since the poem was written, we have learnt, indeed, to recognise in the doctrine of evolution a possible mode of the Divine action. It is even suggested in the poem itself:–
"If no design, as million ages rolled,
Watched the slow germ, and bade its powers unfold."
But the satire still applies to conceptions of spontaneous, mindless evolution; and curiously, in one portion, it anticipates the most recent form of atheistic speculation,–
"Matter and motion, see you–that's the way."
The wit and point of the poem avail against any doctrine which ignores a divine intelligence and volition; and its appeals to a moral order, and a beneficent purpose, must be always applicable.
The "Paul and Apollos" Spirit–Death of Her Son Edward–Isaac Taylor at Stanford Rivers–Servants, Bad and Good–Her Father at Nottingham–The "Natural History of Enthusiasm"–Death of Her Father–Death of Her Mother–Signs of the Times
"Perhaps the cup was broken here
E. B. BROWNING.
"There at the beacon Poplar's root,
ON first introducing Salome, Mr Gilbert's step-niece, to the reader, and describing the happy relations established between her and the new wife who had come to displace her, reference was made to a time of trial lying in far-off years, but through which the wisdom and affection of the two women safely guided them. That time had now come. Salome is the wife of Richard Cecil, who had received his former tutor as co-pastor over the church of which he was minister. Each of them had declared that with none other would he have consented to such an association; but it was not destined to succeed. My mother, in the brief sketch she published of her husband's life, thus describes the result:–
"When two ministers are associated over one church, it is [Page 86] not always between themselves that inconveniences arise. Frequently, nevertheless, the Paul and Apollos spirit (that ancient troubler) is in some way manifested. Before very long it was apparent in our new position, and it may be sufficient to say that a separation was resolved upon."
This passage gives small hint of a long and painful difficulty. There was a singular contrast between the two ministers. In this case it was the older man who represented the larger, liberal views; while the younger, of a different temperament, belonged to an earlier and more exclusive school. The latter was best fitted to preach to and edify a small body of devout believers; the former to attract and influence varied classes of minds, and especially those of sceptical tendency. It was a conflict between two distinct tendencies of thought, both in the congregation and in a larger sphere beyond; and the sensitive, punctilious honour of the two ministers only rendered the situation more painful.
Naturally, Mr Gilbert thought of retiring to some other field of labour, and again more than one such was offered to him; but the devotion of his friends,* the belief that a separation must under any circumstances ensue, and, above all, the consciousness that a new and peculiar work was opening to his hands, which he dared not neglect for whatever of personal ease or advantage, bound him to the spot. During the progress of affairs the two wives had [Page 87] long interviews, and wrote long letters, but the possible rent between them did not occur, and presently the two hearts drew to each other under still firmer bonds, as the husbands parted in peace and love.
There was noble self-denial in my mother's refusal to tell her own side of the story to her brother Isaac, anxious though she was for his approval, because she knew what weight Salome attached to his opinion, and that if adverse it would deeply distress her. In writing to her family the principal passage relating to the matter is the following:
"Our long and painful Church business has at length terminated. Mr Gilbert and his friends are withdrawing by mutual agreement, and if ground can be procured a new chapel is to be built for him. I have purposely refrained from giving you details of the affair. They are too complicated, and I never think a quarrel tells well, be as clever as you may in telling it. I can, however, honestly assure you, that with an eye not a little jealous of the sins of my own side, I am not conscious that any unkind, unjust, unwise, or hasty step has been taken by any of them, and I think there appears abundant encouragement for attempting a new interest, in the attraction which Mr Gilbert's style of preaching confessedly has to an order of hearers not otherwise met by any preacher in Nottingham. . . . It is the hope that the best good may eventually result from his continuance, which has influenced him to commit himself to the waves, rather than slink into a foreign port. But the end is yet to be seen, and we, I hope, are chiefly anxious to preserve a suitable feeling and spirit in an act, which in its natural tendency might produce much that is unsuitable. Pray for us."
But in the midst of this outward anxiety a sorer trouble struck home, and this mother's heart was, for the first [Page 88] time, pierced by that sword, the sharpness of which none but a mother's heart can know. Of the five boys, one only, Edward Williams, named after his father's venerated friend, seemed to promise the true scholarly mind, answering to his father's longing; while his quaint, thoughtful sweetness endeared him no less to his mother. He was not nine years old, but he already read his Greek Testament, and had made his mark both at school and at home. The stealthy footsteps of the coming sorrow are thus recorded in his mother's diary:–
February 11, 1827.–Sunday, "Dear Edward at home, poorly. . . . 15th, Dear Edward confined to bed. . . . 18th (The following Sunday), at home with dear Edward all day. 21st (Tuesday), our beloved child continued sleepless, but quiet, with more pain; gave him his last medicine a quarter before four. (Wednesday morning), slightly incoherent . . . gradual sinking till two. Mr G. and I alone with him. A pause–a sob–and the sweet child expired at ten minutes past two o'clock."
Such is the short story of a grief so poignant, that for nearly forty years afterwards it was never referred to without tears. To her eldest and absent child she wrote at the time:–
"I should be grieved that such a stroke should pass off without making a deep and solemn impression on every one of us, especially on our dear surviving children. . . . Nothing is like a sight of death and the grave, to impress the familiar neglected lesson, that we must give an account of ourselves at the bar of God. We see how wholly unexpected such a summons may come, and then, if ever, we feel the importance of being also, [Page 89] and always ready. Ah! if you had been awakened from your sleep to see your dear, tender brother die; if you had stood for hours at his bedside, unable to render the slightest assistance in that awful conflict, and uncertain whether the soothing words addressed to him could find their way to his departing spirit, I think your impressions of the awfulness of dying, would have been far deeper than they can be now; and you would feel that to be habitually prepared for such an hour, is greater happiness than anything or everything beside." . . .
"During his illness nothing could exceed his patience, submission, and clear collectedness. His memory was most distinct and accurate, and his fear of occasioning either expense or trouble very engaging. Once, after his medicine, he asked for a raisin, I said, 'Would you not like a fig, my love?' He replied, 'Which is the dearest?' On being told he need not regard that, he said, 'I like figs, but they are a halfpenny a piece.' Once, when offered some nauseous medicine, which he had taken till he could not endure it, he said, 'He could not take any more.' 'My dear child,' I said, 'it is the first time you have disobeyed me,' on which he drank it without a word. . . .
"On Tuesday morning your papa and I drest his coffin with snowdrops and evergreens, and at half-past two, with many kisses, and tears, we all took our last leave of him. Dear, dear child! His memory is like a sweet heavenly flower to us. We all sung round his coffin, 'Peace, 'tis the Lord Jehovah's hand,' and at three he was taken away from his father's house. Mr Cecil prayed over his grave, a deep one, in the solid rock, and there we left our dear, sweet, tender, beloved child."
It has been sufficiently obvious that with all her liveliness there was a vein of morbid anxiety in my mother's mind, and this, with respect to the eternal welfare of her children, naturally took the shape of an intense solicitude [Page 90] even in their earliest years. It was brought out in all its strength, when this first child of hers was called away. In announcing his illness to Ongar she wrote–"I know you will pray for his life, but I earnestly request you to pray more for his salvation; this is what presses most upon me. He is certainly a hopeful one, but it is an anxious age." So she recalls every little indication, and there were many, of religious thoughtfulness. Distrusting always set forms and phrases, she had encouraged her children at an early age to use their own words in "saying their prayers," and she remarks that she "had always perceived in his, a nerve of thought and feeling very different from mere repetition, while, when he read hymns at family worship, which he did frequently, it was with a perfect and beautiful emphasis."* Still she was not satisfied. When is passionate love satisfied of the security of its object? She wanted evidence of faith and holiness, the great tests she sought. The conditions of salvation,–perhaps to her earnest nature too limited in scope–became under this bereavement more stringent still, and it was long before the influence of her husband, and the arguments of Christian friends, restored her to a calmer view.
All this may by many be attributed solely to a narrow school of theology, but neither her father, nor her husband, were led by their creed to such results. And while it is easy to declaim against the narrowness,–easy to say that such views defame the divine character; should we not the rather admire and venerate those who humbly accept conclusions so terrible to them, simply on what they [Page 91] believe to be divine authority, and who say in effect–"Though Thou slay me, yet will I trust in Thee"? Faith such as this is great faith. If we have reached a larger understanding of the divine administration, yet, as every phase of truth has its dangers, we may suffer under a lack of that spiritual intensity and concern for the soul, which distinguished a past generation.
From her brother Isaac she received consolation in these weighty words,–
"My own views, my dear sister, of the nature and extent of the redemption effected by the Saviour of the world, would give me the strongest comfort in such a case as yours. You well know the intention of every obscurity that is thrown around either Providences or Doctrines–to force us to an uninquisitive repose in the general assurances of the Divine Word. In front of every veil is written: 'HAVE FAITH IN GOD;' and as we shall have need to keep our eyes upon that inscription when about ourselves to pass the curtain that hides from us the future life, so, for our comfort, we must continually regard it, when those dear to us pass from our sight."
Her own thoughts presently took shape in the following lines:–
Say, conscience, where does mystery lie,
In comfort,–or calamity?
Most is it strange that pain and ill
Attend my earthly sojourn still?
That death my bosom's peace invades,
And spreads my day with evening shades?
Or, that one beam of joy should shine
To cheer a spirit stained as mine?
Oh, let me not, for aught of pain,
The goodness of my God arraign!
But wonder, as the grace I scan
That mingles mercy in the plan,
The bitter cup with sweet allays,
And sheds some light on darkest days,
Or strangely, from the grief, distils
Balm for the spirit's deeper ills.
My heart, the rebel sigh suppress,
Breathe but m holy thankfulness;
And ever, ever, let me see
In LOVE the only mystery!
In July of this year, 1827, Mrs Gilbert, with two of her boys, paid what was destined to be the last visit to her father and mother at Ongar. She spent a week in and about London on the way, and wrote to her husband–
"Heard Mr Irving at his beautiful Gothic Chapel on Sunday evening. His text was the outpouring of the sixth vial, but whether his sermon was the cork or the bottle, no flesh could tell. It was solely an accumulation of all the prophetic intimations of the future destiny of Ephraim, concluding with something between a prayer for, and a curse upon, all neglecters of the prophetic Scriptures."
A singular circumstance had given her brother Isaac a peculiar interest in the once great orator. His fame rose with a bound from the expressed admiration of Mackintosh, who, going to hear him one evening at Hatton Garden, was struck with the solemnity and grandeur of a prayer in which he committed a family recently deprived of their last remaining parent to "the Fatherhood of God." [Page 93] The second daughter of that family became Isaac Taylor's wife, and it was through this connection that Irving preached one of his great sermons at Ongar on a Sunday School anniversary. Isaac Taylor was very skilful in tracing the profiles of his friends as thrown in shadow upon a wall, and on this occasion took a striking silhouette of Irving. The fine countenance was, as is well known, disfigured by a squint; walking through Ongar with Jane Taylor–"What is that?" he asked; observing the direction of the eye next to her, she demurely replied, "A wheelbarrow, Sir." Unfortunately the other eye was fixed upon a signboard above her head.
This time it was not only at the last hill hiding the view of Ongar that my mother's heart began to beat with happy expectation; for now, two miles earlier on the road, at Stanford Rivers, her brother Isaac and his charming young wife were at their garden gate to welcome her, and the coach, in the leisurely neighbourliness of those days pulled up for a few minutes to accommodate them. He had been married nearly two years, and was settled in the simple old house with its large garden, and no other view than of woods and fields; which has ever since been associated with his name. Here for forty years he accumulated his "Patristic"* folios, and wrote the works which gave him his high place in literature. Here, to seek "the recluse of Stanford Rivers," came one and another of the band of thinkers he had gathered round him in England, Scotland, and America His wife, of an ideal sweetness of form and character, he some years later depicted under the name of Aia, in the singular romance entitled "The Temple of [Page 94] Melekartha," written as relaxation after the labours of a translation of Herodotus. The scenery taken from amidst the "Origines" of nations, was suggested by his recent occupation, and the story was made a vehicle for speculations, philosophical, religious, and political, some of which were expanded in his other writings. But there was one character studied from life, and it was hers who, on this July evening, stood with her husband to greet her new sister, the Ann of his old companionship. For all the years that followed, Stanford Rivers was another heart-centre to that sister's thoughts.
At Ongar, this once more, stood her father's genial portly figure, now touching his 70th year, his cheek ruddy with apple tints; no Jane was at his side, but Ann had once remarked "it is not my custom to bury living pleasures in the grave of dead ones," and so she wrote, "I, just now, feel myself as happy as the scene that surrounds me is beautiful–the little house in trim order, the evening exceedingly fine, and the green slopes and trees, seen from my bed-room window, looking quite lovely." From that chamber, she could see the venerable chimnies of the old "peaked farm," the "chase-way" to the Castle-house of earlier memory, and the white glimmer among the trees of Jane Taylor's tombstone.
In this visit, her facile pen was soon engaged in helping her remaining sister in the editorship of some small periodicals.
"I have often told you," she writes to her husband, "that nothing is so good for me as hard work without any relaxation, and the frequent headaches I have had since I left home, in spite of air, exercise, and idleness, seem to confirm the opinion. For [Page 95] two or three days last week and this, I have sat pretty closely to writing, in order to spare Jemima's eyes, and I have not felt so well, or eaten with so good an appetite, since I came, as during this most heathful exercise. Should I stay another week, I shall hope to get almost fair to look upon, under a continuation of this regimen. Different people have different ways, haven't they?"
It is amusing, but very characteristic, to find her in the same letter, written while the new chapel was building at Nottingham, warning against the possible erection of an organ gallery–
"I am, you do not know how solicitous, that your prosperity should be pure, and of good report,–not attributable to the pomp that charms the eye, or 'pipes adorned with gold.' How could we ever sing without a blush, those proud lines–'How decent and how wise'–if you betray your suspicion of the aid of God's blessing, by praying the good offices of an organ? Do not, pray do not you, be reduced to such 'beggarly elements.'"
There was something of her father's puritan severity in this, but there was more of that intense yearning for reality, which, in other circumstance, might have made her a Santa Chiara. During many years of later life, she listened quietly enough to organ strains, and even said nothing at the introduction of chants. There might have been a sigh for the old ways, but everybody was against her, and in a strife of tongues, she always sheltered herself in silence.
But it is painful to notice what this brave and gifted nature suffered often in Nottingham, from bad servants. This plague of a town, where women are largely employed [Page 96] in factories, was new to her. Writing home, she speaks of a fresh arrival, "who will be the ninth I have had, either as help or hindrance, within the last two months." Another time, she writes of literally "living in the streets, in despairing search after a decent servant;" and again, "I look, as everybody says, very miserably; and if there is any cause beyond natural wear and tear, it must be the perpetual worry of spirit in which my domestic department has kept me for the last year." To her "crony" at Hull, herself the mistress of a large household, she could confide these troubles.
"If my servants would but let me, I could now be almost a lady, but my cooking department has been filled in such a style lately, as never fell to my lot before; bustle, confusion, irregular hours, dirt, disorder, crumbs, and cinders, have formed the olio of my domestic happiness for many weeks; and I think the daily vexation has worn me thinner than a twelvemonth's nursing would have done. I have, however, some hope that my miseries are coming to a close, and begin to dream of comfort again. If it were not to you, I am sure I ought to apologise for all this detail, but we have had it out so often over our muffs, that I do not know why we should not, now and then, call up old times upon paper."
That mistresses of households, when they meet "over their muffs," or a cup of tea, should talk about "servants," provokes a frequent gibe; but who can wonder when the happiness or misery of a household so much depends upon this particular branch of it? That the true honourableness of faithful and efficient service is an idea fading from our civilisation, is a great reproach to it. Yet, it must be confessed, that all mistresses are not like the two excellent [Page 97] specimens with whom–the mother and the daughter–this narrative has been concerned. Nor did the latter fail to secure, and perhaps oftener than some of her neighbours, good servants, and to keep them–sometimes for many years. She writes of a "brisk little cook, fighting the cobwebs as assiduously as ever." And of another, from Derbyshire, "with a face like a raw potato, who is exhibiting, daily, so much good sense and good feeling, as fully compensates to me for the coarse simplicity of the exterior."
Having just quoted from her correspondence with this dear Hull friend, we may take another extract from a letter written after visiting her–
"And now, having just returned from dining out, I do not feel just as I would wish when I set about to remember Hull, and all the endearing associations connected with it; but this is such a busy world, that I seem to be driven at a full trot upon those pleasant winding lanes of feeling and sentiment, along which, in days gone by, it would have been luxury to saunter. If a letter is to be written, I must write it when I can, not when I would–not to a nicety when the frame comes over me, but when, 'humanly speaking,' there are no stockings to mend, or closets to clean, or meat to buy, or maids to scold; or worse still, when one is tired to death with doing all of them. I wish that when enjoying my lonely musings on the top of the coach, I could have fixed them in black and white. The thought of you all, and your unwearied kindness, came over me so sweetly and tenderly, that I longed to get home and tell you all about it; and now you see I am at home, and, homelike, both sleepy and tired! Tell Maria that whatever she may think of it, this is just like life, and for anything I know, 'just like love too.' Though, as I don't wish to make myself disagreeable, you may, [Page 98] if you please, keep that last clause behind the scenes, for the present. I had a pleasant journey home, and was left, as I like to be on such occasions, to spend the day with my own musings. For a short time, however, these were interrupted by a scene threatening an overturn, the coachman having accidentally lost the reins; very providentially an umbrella was at hand, with which he regained them, but we had made something like an ampersand on the road before he could manage it. He assured me that he was 'never noways alarmed,' but unless he had said so, I should certainly not have inferred it from his voice and manner."
In her home letter of Christmas greeting this year–Dec. 21, 1827–she writes–
"I cannot help observing, as I date my letter, that this day fifteen years, at this time, I was sitting in state at Mrs Blackmore's on the Quay, Ilfracombe, Devon, every moment expecting to see the Rev. Joseph Gilbert of Rotherham, Yorkshire, who nevertheless did not make his appearance till to-morrow morning; and now, who, what, and where am I? Oh, how many brighter prospects have been quenched and forgotten between that time and this! How many tales might be told of scenes that have opened and closed, and wholly passed away, all within that period! But I intended this for Christmas gratulation, and was only led into this strain by the date above. . . . Mr Gilbert is going to take a pupil, and we have had in consequence to paper and refurnish the room in which our Edward died, and to do away with every vestige of its late dear inhabitant. Everything will be perfectly different, and I am partly glad, though not without tender and mournful feelings, as I saw the old furniture moved out. I do not often mention the sweet child, but every day has to me some inscription sacred to [Page 99] his memory, and the time approaches in which I shall live it all again. Last Christmas day our own seven, with Mr and Mrs Cecil and theirs, all surrounded a cheerful table at our own house. Oh, what clouds were brooding, to fall on both!"
The year 1828 was marked by the opening of the new chapel built for Mr Gilbert in Friar Lane, an event the more interesting to his wife because her father was prevailed upon to come and preach on the morning of the 17th of April, the first sermon within its walls. His text was significant–"He sprinkled with blood all the vessels of the ministry." In the evening Dr Raffles preached from "I am the way," so that the old and the new dispensations were appropriately represented. In writing to her mother, with the earnest petition that she would spare him for this undertaking she added–"tell my father, if he comes, that, concerning giving and receiving, they need not that he should preach unto them, for they have been ready a year ago." She rejoiced, too, in the nature of the congregation, as "chiefly drawn from the highways and hedges, where no shepherd ever went before," and as "having an unusual proportion of men, and of thinking men." On the Sunday following, her father preached again–"None knoweth the Father but the Son," &c., and in the evening Mr Gilbert took his place for the first time in his own pulpit, and well the text illustrated the mind of the speaker–despondent, yearning, lifting itself to God–"Son of Man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest."
Mr Taylor spent a fortnight at Nottingham, treated with much affectionate reverence wherever he went, and on the 1st of May this short entry in his daughter's diary implies [Page 100] a great deal–"Went with dear father to the coach at six in the morning." Yet she did not know that, as it drove away, she had seen him for the last time!
She always pitied the forlornness of strangers–lecturers, or other stray visitors in the town, who had only an inn to go to, and breakfasts, dinners, and beds, notwithstanding her full and busy house, were freely put at their disposal. Hospitality of this sort she never grudged, but did much object to the expenditure of time and money on "parties," to which sort of entertainment she could rarely be persuaded to consent. Among such visitors were the noted Phrenological lecturer, Dr Spurzheim and his wife, and the doctor repaid the kindness shown to them by carefully examining the heads of such of the children as were then at home. His opinions upon character, and suggestions for education and settlement in life, she always referred to as having been remarkably justified by the event, and especially his dictum respecting one of her sons–"Do not trouble this boy much with Latin and Greek, give him facts, give him facts!" Now, she wrote to her sister, "electricity, arithmetic, and chemistry," are the only pursuits he enjoys. This son she lived to see a vice-president of the Chemical Society, a fellow of the Royal Society, and of European reputation in his particular branch of science. Another stranger in the town, unknown to her except through his connection with an old Suffolk acquaintance, she nursed assiduously at his hotel where he was lying ill, till able to travel.
The year 1829 saw her, for almost the only time in her life, prostrate with a long and dangerous illness. She was taken with rheumatic fever on the 12th of March, and it [Page 101] was two months before she could leave the house. In her first letter home she says:–
"Without one exception I feel that I may say–at least I hope I can–that the whole seven weeks has been but one course of mercy, for I would not have been without the suffering, especially this latter return of it. Excepting the scarlet fever, it is the first personal affliction I have known in seven-and-forty years, and while I feel thankful for such a favour, would not feel less thankful for favour in this less pleasing, but not I trust less salutary form of it."
It was during her recovery that she found time to read one or two of her brother's recent works, then beginning to attract attention, and she expresses the great pleasure that the "Process of Historical Proof" had given her. The "Natural History of Enthusiasm" was published this year, and excited extraordinary interest, enhanced no doubt by the care with which the secret of its authorship was concealed. It had been its author's chief occupation after removing from his father's house at Ongar to Stanford Rivers, but the family at Ongar knew nothing of it. When, however, everybody was talking of the book, and quotations appeared in all periodicals, those who knew him intimately, soon fixed in their own minds upon the writer. Some months after publication, his father hearing that his son was in the house, entered with a review of the book in his hand, and pointing to an extract said–"Isaac, I think I know who wrote this." To which the son replied,–"Well, sir,* if I have not told you, you will believe I [Page 102] thought there were good reasons for it." And the secret was long kept. Intended as the first volume of a series dealing with the manifold perversions of Christianity, this reticence might be advisable, but it was also like him. Two more volumes, "Fanaticism" and "Spiritual Despotism," followed; but, as Sir James Stephen in his singular Essay upon the works of the author of the "Natural History of Enthusiasm" remarked, it was from that book that he derived his "literary peerage."
The following appeal from his sister, received probably a most cautious answer, if any at all.–"We are asked far and near, whether the 'Natural History of Enthusiasm' be not Isaac's? We have seen only extracts in reviews, which bear, we think, strong internal evidence. Mr — and — both sent to inquire of us, having immediately concluded that it was so. We herewith require, therefore, an explicit reply. We greatly admire all we have read, and I for one shall be much disappointed if it be not." Seven years later, when, after at first declining, he was induced to allow his name to be brought forward as a candidate for the chair of Logic and Metaphysics at Edinburgh, it was necessary to make a formal avowal of authorship; this was done through the late Mr Pickering of Chancery Lane, and was thus announced to his sister,–"Married on Friday last, at 57 Chancery Lane, by special license, Isaac Taylor, Esq., of Stanford Rivers, after a long courtship, to 'Natural History of Enthusiasm.' The lady is the eldest of a large family, and is understood, although she has a title, not to have brought a fortune."
The great pile of letters addressed to "My Dear [Page 103] Family," from which so much quotation has been made, comes, with this year, to an end. On December 12, 1829, she wrote a long letter, making arrangements for the return home of her eldest son. She knew the pain it gave to his grand-parents, to part with him; he had now lived for ten years under their roof, and she writes with tender, loving thankfulness for all their care, trying, especially, to soften the parting to her mother. But on the morning of that day, Saturday, at 9 o'clock, her father, after a brief struggle, had entered into rest–or rather into that wider and more blessed activity, for which his life-long industry of love had prepared him. He was a servant, called up higher. The news did not reach his daughter till the Tuesday following, in a short letter from her brother,–
"My dear Sister,–I have no means of preparing you to bear the great sorrow that has fallen suddenly upon us,–the best of fathers has left us! . . . . Would that you could witness the heaven of benignity visibly written upon the face of our departed father! The rare beauty of his character lingers on the cold remains. . . . Jefferys and Martin have come, and have mingled their tears on mother's hollow cheeks.–My dear sister, our weeping is great."
She sat down, and wrote in large broken characters, very unlike herself–
"My dear, dear, mother,–May God bless and sustain you. He is able–and no one else can. O, it is delightful to think of my dear father! not a thought we could wish otherwise. What a mercy! What a life! O that we may follow him! We shall come to you as soon as possible. My head is confused, and I cannot think. I have only this hour received the letter–O, to [Page 104] be such a Christian! Dear brother and sister, and dear mother, and dear child, yours–in grief and affection.–ANN GILBERT."
The following are portions of a long letter, written to her children from Ongar–
". . . . . 'Be ye followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.' Be ye followers of them; in some things you must be. You must, if spared, struggle as they did with the trials of life, and like them, you must, sooner or later, close the struggles and trials of life in the grave. But, O, the difference that may still subsist between you and them! . . . . . I cannot foresee more than this, that what a man soweth, that shall he also reap. If all your efforts are made towards a harvest on earth, from earth only shall you reap. O, be wise, my dear children, and whatever others do, or whatever your own young hearts may incline you to do, 'be ye followers of them who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises. . . . . '
"The only thing we have to wish, that was not granted to us in your dear grandpapa's death is, that he had been sufficiently aware of the nearness of the change to have spoken to those around him, in the immediate view of it. But it is evident that neither he, nor anyone, had any suspicion that it was at hand, even at the door, till voice had failed him. He had preached with great energy on the Sabbath, and though, at the ordinance, he almost took leave of his people, yet he was so habitually in the view of death, and so often referred to it, that it would scarcely be felt as remarkable. On Monday, he was re-elected treasurer, for the year ensuing, of the Book society, and it was observed how much of Christian cheerfulness, and of the truly pastoral character, sat upon him. On the Wednesday, your aunt went, as usual, to meet the working party; but on her return, found him much distressed, and labouring for breath. She had [Page 105] as it were, taken leave of her happy home, when she went out that afternoon (though she little thought so), and was to see it as it had been no more. On Thursday, though very poorly, he wrote a reply to a very kind present he had received, the day before, from the young people of the place, a handsome black cloak, accompanied by this pretty note. "The cloke which Paul left at Troas, might possibly be the gift of several young persons who received the benefit of his instructions, looked up to him as a father, and esteemed him very highly in love, for his works' sake; however that might be, if Mr Taylor will kindly accept of the accompanying trifle, he will gratify similar individuals and similar feelings. He is requested not to regard the smallness of the value so much as the affection with which it is presented." He was just able to try it on on Wednesday evening, but was scarcely able to sustain the weight."
"On Friday night, when your uncle had seen him into bed, he said,–'These are serious times, Isaac, but I have had more enlargement in prayer to-night than I have had for some while.' . . . . . (After describing the discovery, on Saturday morning, that he was sinking fast, the letter proceeds). "The last breath passed from him with his happy spirit, as near as they can remember, about 9 o'clock. He looked sweetly asleep–calm, benignant, peaceful, dignified, and they could hardly believe he would wake no more. Uncle Isaac arrived about ten minutes after.
"During that day, poor grandmamma could not cry, but seemed so stern and strange, that it frightened them. She kept saying, 'I am a widow–a widow, but not a weeping widow, oh no–no tears!' On Sabbath day, however, the sluices of sorrow burst, and she seemed as if she would die away. . . . .
"On the following Saturday, at twelve o'clock, the funeral took place; six ministers attended as pall-bearers. All of the congregation who could leave their homes, all the young people, [Page 106] and the children of the Sunday schools, in black ribbons, followed . . . . . He lies in a new, deep grave, by the side of aunt Jane. Aunt Isaac stayed with grandmamma, who would see the funeral leave the house, and watched it from what was aunt Jane's window, as far as she could see. They then waited to see it in the Meeting-yard, from the other side of the house, but the sun shone so brightly on the mist, that after an hour's waiting, all they could see–and grandmamma did not even see that–was, for one moment, the white edge of the pall, as it was drawn from the coffin."
His life had been passed in the sunshine of righteousness and happy usefulness, and the sun shone brightly on his burial, through the mist of the winter day. On the following Sunday, one of the oldest of the Essex ministers preached from the words, "An abundant entrance," and Mr Gilbert in the evening, from, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord."
On her last visit to Ongar during her father's lifetime, Mrs Gilbert wrote some lines upon "a country garden,"– such a garden as had been her father's life-long delight. The concluding portion of them, prophetic of the end, ran thus:–
Still happier he–the Christian–bent and hoar,
The toils the storm, of changeful labour o'er,
When but one slope of life's long road remains,
Its sorrows numbered, and despised its gains,
Here, in some green seclusion to await
His Master's summons to the crystal gate.
Sweet are his hours of morn,–bright hours of prayer,
Springing to heaven on the healthful air;
Serene his hours of eve, when wakeful praise
Gathers sweet scented flowers from past gone days;
Sweet on that day, the fairest of the seven,
From these green shades to send his hopes to heaven.
And when the garden porch with roses gay,
Ere long shall open for a mute array
Of weeping mourners, and the path which bore
His aged step, shall know that step no more,
Still dear shall be this garden, when 'tis sighed,
"Here lived a Christian,–here a Christian died."
But stroke was to follow stroke. Mrs Gilbert left Ongar on the 6th of January, her mother, she wrote, looking, as she parted from her, "a hundred years old with grief." She took with her the son so long almost a stranger to his father's home, and contemplating a removal to another house where she hoped to retain him for a time, wrote to the two dear ones left at Ongar–her mother and sister–of the arrangements she was making, "but," she adds–
"How long shall poor, weary worldly-mindedness keep fixing and refixing its hold upon the sands?–anchoring for rest on the shifting shallows! 'Blest are the dead who die secure!' Oh, it is peace and happiness to revert for a moment to the safety, the rest, the eternal security of our dear father. No doubt hangs on his memory. He worked the work of Him that sent him with eminent activity and success–made a long day of it, laboured to the last, and is safe for ever. His dear fragrant name is spoken only with affection and blessing. 'Why should we mourn departing friends' under circumstances of such unspeakable mercy! Dear mother, cannot you feel it so? 'Tis but a speck, and to us the days of mourning shall be ended." [Page 108]
To that mother, whose days of mourning were days of anguish, they were indeed to be but as a speck. Five months after her husband's decease, she lay down beside him in the dust of death. Again the daughter took her sorrowful journey to Ongar, and on the 4th of June the family again assembled as before. Round the coffin they read the hymn quoted above, "Why do we mourn?"–while still they mourned. Again they listened to the funeral sermon, with a text as appropriate as the others–"I shall be satisfied when I awake in thy likeness," and then, in the evening, the whole family gathered, "probably for the last time" (as, rendered sensitive by these repeated blows, the eldest of them now wrote in her diary), and read together their mother's powerful chapter in "Maternal Solicitude," entitled, "Man goeth to his long home," where, with too vivid an imagination, she dwells upon the secrets of that prison-house, herself the prisoner!
With that death the household at Ongar was finally broken up. All the memorials of a family life, artistic and literary, of more than fifty years,–furniture of the first home at Islington, relics from Lavenham and Colchester, family portraits, drawings and paintings of home scenes and people, innumerable educational contrivances of the busy, benevolent father,–all were mournfully divided; while the daughter, left without a home, had to choose one either with her brother Isaac or her sister Ann. The latter could scarcely bear the strain of this wrench from Ongar, but she wrote many a tender line of sympathy and consolation to her whom, years before, she had addressed in the lines– [Page 109]
"Dear cherished child, if you should have
To travel far alone,
And weep by turns at many a grave,
Before you reach your own."
For the mournful foreboding seemed likely to be fulfilled.
"Our dear parents (she tells her) always spoke as they felt, that you were the soft and pleasant pillow of their old age. If your own sensitive memory can supply hints of regret, still, dear Jemima, you cannot evade the solid satisfaction of these reflections. And though I would with caution at all times indulge the sentiment of reward, yet how otherwise are we to read such expressions as, 'God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love.' In our domestic connections there is, I think, a peculiar agreement between our dealings with others, and the arrangements of Providence towards us; so that with what measure we mete, it shall be meted to us again."
A pretty attic at Stanford Rivers was fitted up as a temporary residence for this bereaved one, and her sister rejoices that it was so exactly the counterpart of "dear Jane's at Colchester." A country attic, with sloping ceiling, small-paned dormer windows, near neighbourhood of birds and trees, and out-of-the-wayness from the bustle of the house, had always special charms for the members of this family; and each could look back to the particular attic that, at some period of life, had been a much loved refuge.
But these heavy blows were not without their effect upon my mother's susceptible mind. After her father's death she wrote to her sister:–
"I have lately felt disposed to an almost entire infidelity as to [Page 110] the genuineness of personal religion, and often start with the suspicion that we are self-deceived almost universally. It may, or may not be a morbid view, but we cannot err in remembering that 'many of the first shall be last, and the last first.' My pen has carried me where I had no design of going, but the impression has been so strong on my mind for some time, that it is but the expression of prevailing thoughts. But the remembrance of dear father shines like a sun through the gloominess of such reflections, and renders the thought of him, whether in life or in death, a thought of peace, beauty, and happiness. One whom we loved is safe, whoever may miss the way. Thanks be to God who hath given him the victory, and who still offers it to us."
Again to her friend Mrs Cowie,–
"I have been led to believe that religion is a deeper, wider thing than ever before I had seen or felt it; and it makes me more suspicious of the germs and indications of it than once I should have been. . . . What a wonderful, precious thing is true piety! that seed which shall spring, that spark which shall flame, that strife which shall conquer, that light which shall arise, and grow brighter and brighter unto the perfect day I . . . It will be a year to-morrow since I sat down to write to you in unconscious comfort, while my dear father was lying dead! O, it has been a painful year to me in many ways. Stroke upon stroke! and such a variety of confusing, distracting, uprooting, searching, bitter, and trying feelings, has borne down upon me, that my spirit has felt at times breaking, or rather crushing under the pressure. I have been led through a dark scene, into a darker, and the secret chambers of my own heart have been opened up to me. As yet the light does not shine, and I go mourning all the day because of the oppression of the enemy. Of this I am quite convinced, that happiness apart from holiness [Page 111] is not to be found, and yet my soul lies cleaving to the dust! I am hurried under a keen sense of the shortness of life, and when I see the shadows gathering as they now do around me, and evening coming on, I feel that the work of life is yet to do. O that the young could feel as we are compelled to feel, the fleetness, the value, the irrecallableness of time! How actively would they set to the diligent improvement of it! How thankful would they be to feel that the seal of years had not been set on the follies, failings, and sins of their character!–that to them it was still possible to offer to God the fragrance of a flower in the bud."
These deep searchings of spirit, due to the rending of some of the dearest earthly ties, were also not unaffected by an impression very prevalent among Christian people at that time, that the great millennial advent was, in some shape, drawing near. The preaching of Edward Irving was an indication of this current of thought, while it mightily urged its flow; and it influenced Isaac Taylor in writing his series of meditations, entitled, "Saturday Evening," of which he says, "the author does not deny that, in his choice of a title, he had an allusion to the expectation now very generally entertained by Christians, that our own times are precursive of the era of Rest, which the Church has been taught to look for." His sister could not but share in a feeling to which the calm spirit of her brother had yielded; and it was in this strain, and before death had come to darken her soul with repeated strokes, that she wrote to one of her early friends–
"I hope that I feel something like an increasing desire to accomplish faithfully, as a hireling, my day. If we do not mistake the signs of the times, glorious days are approaching, [Page 112] and, at least, by training our children to work in the vineyard, we may humbly aim to augment the vintage. I think the children of the Church should now be regarded as an especial charge. They are probably destined, either to urge on the victory of our Lord and of his Christ, or to perish beneath his chariot wheels; and a spirit of Christian enterprise, Christian heroism, should surely be kept in view, as the great end of their education. I am not saying, altogether, what I do; but what I wish, and pray to do, though from within and from without, many are the obstacles to such a course."
Now, with increased emphasis, she writes, "happy mothers, if our children are to take the right side in the great division, for which all the movements of the nations appear to prepare! My soul faints with longing to see proofs of decision."
The expectations of those days have passed away, or have taken a different shape. "The time was not yet," although strange fulfilments have been coming to pass under the eyes of those who were then but children. In 1830, the first note was, in reality, sounded of changes that have been hurrying on since, with ever-increasing rapidity; and those who have lived to see the extinction of the "crowned priest's" temporal power in the one hemisphere, and the abolition of slavery in the other, both amid seas of blood,–a siege of Paris, a siege of Rome and now, the oldest institutions of society passing away, or brought forward for re-adjustment, may well feel that, whether or no the millennial Rest is near, they have witnessed much of that shaking and judgment, of which their fathers seem to have had prevision.
Letter from a Friend–Riots, and Destruction of the Castle–A Son beginning Life–Church Establishments–Isaac Taylor and Joseph Gilbert–Danger of early Mental Expenditure–Pilgrims' Hatch–Mr Gilbert's Lectures on the Atonement–Derbyshire Tour–Morals and Romanism–Skegness and its Storms–The "Convalescent"–Anti-Slavery Contest.
"Thus, girded for the mortal strife,
"The bold teacher's doctrine, sanctified
THE year 1830, the dark year, which witnessed the final breaking up of the Ongar circle, and the extinction of the warm interests associated with her father's house, while it was the ending amidst sorrow and tears of one large portion of my mother's life, was also the beginning of another–a long and peaceful period of active happiness. The cares of a young family were now gradually ceasing, and though other cares were succeeding, much of daily pressure was removed, and a new set of interests beginning to surround her.
But the reader may perhaps have received from her correspondence an impression of disorder in that earlier household, which was very far from the case. With sometimes bad servants, a crowded nursery, and all [Page 116] the extra occupations of a minister's wife, she may not have reached her ideal of a well-ordered house, but a letter written many years afterwards by a lady who lived under my mother's roof in charge of the education of her children, will show how much there was to admire and imitate, while its accurate appreciation of character makes it all the more valuable.
"You ask me to call up some recollections of your dear mother, and to give you my impressions of her as I knew her then. How easy this would be if it depended simply upon memory! I can never forget the strong, clear, definite outlines of her character, nor the delicate beautiful touches that gave such an indescribable attraction to it. There was a firmness and straightforwardness in her gait that was essentially indicative of her moral strength; while a clear, distinct, sonorous utterance, impressed one with the order, perspicuity, and justice of her ideas. She was a lover of peace and order, and though I lived with her for several years, I never saw her temper ruffled, or heard her say a harsh or unreasonable word. Seldom a day passes now, though at this great distance of time, that I do not recall some feature of her domestic management, wondering often what was the secret of her uniform regularity and order in every department of her sphere of action. Indeed it seems to me, as I look back upon those years, that it was almost impossible for anyone in the house to swerve much from the line marked out for him or her. The kitchen, the nursery, the library, the schoolroom, all felt the gentle restraint of her never-varying propriety.
"Mrs Gilbert was habitually an early riser. When I knew her she rose at six, and was accustomed to do an hour's needlework before the rest of the family were out of bed. She was indefatigable with her needle, and her love for keeping things in repair must often have been at the great sacrifice of her love of [Page 117] reading. Yet I have heard Mr Gilbert good-humouredly remark, 'Though Ann seldom indulges herself in looking into a book, I don't know how it is, she is always up to everything that is going on in the literary world.'
"Her discipline with her children was gentle, yet very firm; and her remonstrances had always a tone of earnest, tender entreaty, that it was difficult to resist, so that force or punishment was seldom resorted to. It was her custom to train the youngest child, at but a year old, to sit quite still on her knee during family worship, and to understand that the toy or biscuit, which might be in the hand, must be laid aside till the conclusion of the service; and this was universally done without a murmur on the part of the little one, from that same restraining influence which, as I before observed, was exercised over the whole house. Her manner was alike easy, affable, and kind to persons of every rank, and her sprightly repartees, interspersed through all her conversation, constantly took you by surprise, and elicited a laugh at the most unexpected moment, while she passed it by with scarce a smile. Her puns were inimitable, so natural, easy, and adroit, that you wondered they had not struck you before she uttered them.
"One of her greatest charms, was her charity, not speaking ill of any one, and always hearing, with regret, anything unfavourable against any person. She was a true friend, and a true woman, not lavish of endearments, but with a wealth of love in her heart, ever ready in the service of all with whom she had to do. Few women, with so elevated a poetic nature, have combined so much practical utilitarianism, and energetic self-abnegation; for a strong and healthy conscientiousness regulated every spring of her actions. I loved her dearly, admired and esteemed her profoundly, and cannot forget that the very last act of her life was one of sweet motherly kindness towards me and the little child that was accompanying me in my visit to Nottingham. She had [Page 118] sent a message, begging me to come and spend a week with her, and to bring my little four-year-old Dagmar too, saying she would so much enjoy this renewal of our old friendship once more. How little did I expect, when I went in the morning, to answer this kind invitation, to find my dear old friend in a state of insensibility, from which she never woke again!"
The new decade, introduced by 1830, was marked by removal to a new residence in Nottingham. Miss Greaves's health could no longer sustain the exposed situation of the castle in winter, for all its thick walls, and she purchased two large houses in Castlegate, close to the tree-shaded little church of St Nicholas, upon whose tower, in the Parliamentary wars, some guns were mounted, it is said, wherewith to annoy the castle. The smaller of the two houses, abutting on the churchyard, she offered, at easy rent, to her pastor. So her friends again, as at Hull, dwelt beside her, losing only the advantage of many an early walk, to breakfast at the "Castle"–many a visit days and weeks long, to the breezy rock. Once more, the subject of our story enjoyed the privilege of a garden, but it lay through the churchyard, a matter somewhat trying to her lively imagination. The proximity, indeed, was not only a sentimental grievance. As usual, with Nottingham houses, there was a rock-hewn cellar, and the particular trending of this had not been noticed till, upon occasion of a deep grave being excavated, in the churchyard, the workmen broke unexpectedly into it. A curious question was then started–"how deep did consecration go?" It was proposed, at first, to lay the corpse in the cellar as ecclesiastical property, but, on reference to the bishop, it [Page 119] was decided to arch it over. Yet, it was never afterwards an agreeable consideration in fetching a bottle of wine, that a coffin was overhead!
To this new home, there came, towards the end of the year, many memorials of early life–"Ann's" portion of the Ongar relics. There were the parlour chairs with which her father fitted up his Islington lodgings on his marriage, half a century before; the tall alarum which, for nearly that period, had roused the busy household; the weather-glass, that those worthy hands had daily set. There was melancholy in these arrivals, but joy in receiving, some months afterwards, her sister Jemima, as a permanent resident. My mother's letters, at this time, tell with what zest she fitted up a room for her. Yet, this arrangement lasted but a year, when her marriage with T. Herbert, Esq., settled her in Nottingham Park, within ten minutes' walk of her elder sister. This most hospitable home, with all its new interests, was, during the remainder of my mother's life (more than thirty years), a constant solace to her cares, her almost daily resort in all weathers.
In the autumn of 1831, occurred the noted Reform riots at Nottingham. The angry excitement of the people on learning the rejection of the Reform Bill by the House of Lords, quickly showed itself in tumultuous assemblies in the market-place, and my father was asked to address them, with the hope of averting the apprehended storm. He spoke from a window, and with effect for the moment; but towards night, the evil element in the mob predominated, and, as darkness fell, the rush of thousands filled the streets leading to the castle, which, as the property of [Page 120] the Duke of Newcastle, a tory of tories, was a tempting object for popular vengeance. The ancient lodge gates were broken in, the lofty terrace was speedily thronged, and to the watchers on the roof of the Castlegate House, well placed for commanding the scene, the dark mass of the great building was speedily lit up with lurid flashes. Lights gleamed from window after window, and presently, tongues of fire leaped out amidst shouts and yells, piercing the air, as the flames did the darkness. Then followed crash after crash, molten lead began to pour from the roof, and the odour of burning cedar-wood penetrated everywhere, lasting, indeed, many days. It was a grievous sight, and to the members of the Castlegate household, especially so, as the memories of happy times seemed departing in the smoke.
Some years afterwards, my mother wrote the following lines–
There on its solitary hill
The shattered castle lingers still,
As if to cast a sullen frown
On it's old enemy–the town,
And telling tales in riven walls,
And molten roof, and weedy halls,
Of lawless days that o'er it broke
And turned it's glory into smoke.
Well I recall the iron roar
That battered in the massy door,
And let the motley bandits through
Their deed of foolishness to do.
Yes, 'twas a stirring sorry sight,
That world of fire, that winter's night,
Spreading a red untimely day
Over lone meadows far away,
And startling from their fireside nooks
With frightened, scarce believing looks,
The rural homesteads, to behold
"Yon" moving clouds of black and gold!
Stirring, and sorry, to descry
That crimson snow-storm in the sky,
Cascades of lead that hotly fell
Among the rioters pell-mell,
And forms like demons from below,
Darkly defined against the glow.
Yes, and one even yet deplores
The fragrance of those cedar doors,
Flinging along the distant street,
Rare incense from the furnace heat!
Pity, of course, such things should be,
But if they must, 'twixt you and me,
I'm glad that I was there to see.
Now sleeps the pile, a cumbrous mass,
Fringed with a ten years' growth of grass,
And waits, or braves, the tempest shock,
To hurl it from its mother rock
In graceless ruin,–yet the site
Of noble deeds and patriot might!
Scarce can I gird the slackened string
Of names like Hutchinson to sing.
O, there was warmth in virtue then,
And truth was truth, and men were men!
Would that my pen with her's could vie,
Who drew against the stormy sky,
That peaceful outline, soft as free,
Bland Christian warrior, of thee!
With what refined and wifely skill,
The gifted woman plied her quill!
Her pencil, how to nature true,
Giving that model man to view,
Such as–old rock and portal arch,–
Ye knew him, or on rest or march;
Breathing at eve the cooling air,
His "ladye" and his children there,
And from those ramparts raising high
Devote affection to the sky,–
Or, when his bleeding land to save,
Compelled the brand of war to wave,
In panoply of truth attired,
With holy strength his arm was fired!
Yes, truth was truth, and men were men,
Thou hero of the castle then,
Though all thy graceless country gave
Were prison walls, and sea-washed grave!
I might–but can I drop the wing,
Old castle, of myself to sing?
Of days erewhile gone by to me,
When there of friends and family
I numbered, kind and pleasant store?
But no! That circle meets no more!
Death, death with iron hand hath been,
Hath felled the sere, the firm, the green;
The youngest,–oh, a mother's pride!
The oldest,–yea, what throngs have died!
Died! sunk away! And there art thou,
Old castle; in thy dotage now,
Yet strong, perchance, till many a blast
Hath o'er the dusty dwellings passed,
Of all who see or sing thee still,
There on thy solitary hill!
Sons began to go out into the world. One, at least, [Page 123] presently took up his residence in London, pursuing his studies in art, though in a different line from that practised by grandfather and great-grandfather. The anxiety of this mother, with her eye fixed upon eternal issues, may be understood,–
"You are now afloat," she writes, "on the great sea, and we can do little to protect you from danger; but there is One who walks on the waves, and rides on the wings of the wind, and to Him we can, and do commend you. Learn proportion–dear J., learn proportion. Never forget the difference between time and eternity. O, they are words absolutely threadbare, but only pause for a moment, and what wonderful, pregnant words they are!"
"Do not splice a feeble hope of heaven with all you can scrape of earthly good, and fancy that you can make a stable happiness between them. Your happiness must come from above and from within. Then all that is without and around will sweetly contribute to it, either in the way of gratitude or submission."
She doubted whether her son attended a sufficiently intelligent ministry, and wrote:–
"It is a very evil habit to go professedly for instruction, without the expectation of being instructed. The Sabbath becomes, in such circumstances, a worse than useless form; the mind habituates itself to inattention, and it is much if the mould thus given to the thoughts is ever wholly recovered. . . . My heart aches over you all. When will one of you subscribe with his hand to the Lord? When, one of you decide openly and promptly, to take the side of right against wrong, happiness against misery, safety against peril, hope against despair–the side of your Maker [Page 124] and Saviour against the seducer and destroyer of your soul? I think that no view is more impressive (if we could but bring ourselves to take it deliberately) than that of the present scene of things, as a field on which two armies are distinctly engaged,–God, the rightful sovereign, on the part of ultimate good; and Satan, a cruel usurper, with only evil for his end and his means. . . . Of your conduct, habits, industry, and temporal prospects we have no ground of complaint; but one thing have we desired of the Lord, and that will we seek after, that our children, no less than ourselves, should dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of their life, to see the beauty of the Lord–the beauty of His nature, His goodness, His ways–to exhibit it in their own lives and character; and so increase the sum of moral beauty in the world."
Later on, when this son was passing through the anxieties belonging to the early years of a profession, she warns against a habit of despondency in terms applicable to many others, and which show how really far removed she was from the morbid melancholy some of her writings might suggest:–
"I think dear J— that you have a little–not a little–of your father and of my mother in you; and it is too soon to exhibit tendencies to depression which may become chronic miseries, not to be shaken off, if long indulged. I say indulged, because strange as it seems to indulge in unhappiness, it is still a folly to which we are all prone. Take advice from the Bible–'There is nothing better for a man than that he enjoy–giving God thanks.' It is a piece of practical wisdom which it is well early to learn, to live by the day. There are few lives in which the great proportion of days are not days of comfort. In most cases they are self-inflictions, either from memory or fear, which make them [Page 125] otherwise. Learn then to take each day as it is. Reckon every one that is free from calamity a positive gain–clear profit. Remember that God entrusts us with a stock of nothing. He keeps the garner closed, but supplies daily need with a vigilance and goodness most wonderful, when we reflect on the number who live on his bounty. Be thankful, my dear child, for all you have, and remember that Christ, in fashioning a prayer for us, puts it exactly in this form–'Give us this day our daily bread.' So be content to receive everything, life, comfort, enjoyment, of every kind, as well as food, and you will find that in so doing you become happy. Extract pleasures from your memory instead of pains; and surely also you may extract hope from it; you and your parents, and their parents, have been the pensioners of Providence, and have been supplied, how far beyond their early expectations! Cast yourself with a cheerful confidence on God, and do not pluck poisons where he has surrounded you with wholesome fruits. Habits of mind that tend to dejection are most carefully to be avoided on every possible ground. Early formed and fixed, they render you, and yours, miserable beyond the effort of a strong mind to counteract. They are, too, deeply ungrateful, and must be very displeasing to Him who gives so much, and inflicts so little. Read the sixth chapter of Matthew,–let me believe that you will find agreeable and profitable employment in this, next Sabbath afternoon. 'Let the morrow take thought for the things of itself, for sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.'
The perils of the great city, of which she sometimes caught a hint from her son's letters, brought tender appeals like this:–
"May your home, my dear child, always be such an one as you return to with pleasure. I love the disposition which in- [Page 126] clines you to love it. Find but your satisfactions in fields, and skies, and brothers and sisters, and a clean hearth, and a bright fire, and how hopefully are you formed for happiness! May your tastes never be vitiated! London is a vile place, but it is possible to escape its pollutions. Affection and intelligence will afford some preservative, but there is no security for any but the Christian, and none for him, any longer than he feels his danger, his weakness, his dependence, and looks to the strong for strength. I feel grateful to Mr S— if his friendship has been the means of defending you from evil influences, but even the expressed possibility gives us pain. . . . We cannot bear to believe that there have been moments of danger–seasons in which our dear child has been on the verge of destruction!–or perhaps not on the verge, on the slope only, with nothing of abruptness to startle him to consideration.
I saw,–'twas but a moment's trance,
A meteor swiftly shot,
But fear and thrill were in the glance,
Nor is it yet forgot;–
I saw a precipice so high,
It seemed to reach from sea to sky!
I saw upon the perilous brow,
Sharp edged, and delving o'er,
A youthful buoyant one, who now
Danced as on even floor,
Then, sprang with light and careless bound
Merrily as to music's sound.
The rocks below, the surge, the deep,
He did not seem to see!
Anon he laid him down to sleep
Fearlessly as could be!
Just on the verge of that strange hill!
It makes my heart's blood curdle still!
Small fragments, broken as he lay,
Dashed, one by one below;
Methought the steep was giving way
And he was sure to go!
I tried to wake him, but it seemed
As if of some sweet sport he dreamed.
And surely, surely, it had been
He on these rocks had died!
But that a silken cord unseen
Was gently round him tied,
Held by a hand as firm as kind,
Hid in a thunder-cloud behind.
I did not stay,–for then it went,
That vision strange and dread,
But much I mused on what it meant
And to myself I said:
"This, sure, is one whom heaven above
Designs to draw with cords of love!"
"Quite unintentionally I have filled my paper as you see, but it expresses so closely my fears and feelings, that you may regard it as part and parcel of a 'mother's letter.'"
Later still the circumstances of an early attachment–too early as she thought–and which for a time did not "run smooth," filled the heart and the letters of this mother of mothers. Even from her diary may be learnt how tenderly she followed the course of it. "Dear J. received his first real letter," is one of the entries, and then a long illness of the motherless loved-one called forth all a mother's tenderness towards her. But sympathising as she might be, she was strenuous in wholesome warnings, not to allow these heart anxieties to unnerve her son in the energetic pursuit of his profession. [Page 128]
"Regard her as at present in the second distance; give the whole vigour of your talents and industry to the means of securing her. Providence says, without the possibility of mistaking its voice, 'wait and work' . . . .
"You will perceive in all my letters that I am very anxious for you to drive at your profession, holding other matters meantime as justly subordinate. The position in which you are compelled to remain so long as you cannot stand upright is to me, and I should think to you, so revolting, that if a gigantic industry could relieve me from it I would be relieved. Papa, I see, can scarcely find in his heart to deny you the satisfaction of returning home to-morrow, but I do not think it wise. It is short sighted. It is a prospect shut out by a woman's hand."
Eventually she received to her arms and heart a daughter, the truest of daughters, and who was destined to follow her at no great distance to the "silent land."
The term "Political Dissenter" took its rise about the year 1834, and my father was one of its first victims. Intended to stamp those to whom it was applied as actuated by mere political motives and sectarian jealousies, to none could it be less appropriate than to him, who ever dwelt among the abstract realities of things, and sought guidance only from the highest spiritual motives. Not but that in opposition to some religionists, he always maintained the right and duty of Christian men, and Christian ministers, to take part in public affairs, and especially when great moral principles were concerned. Though never introducing politics into the pulpit, "he was unwilling," as his wife wrote, "to leave great national interests to the sole management of irreligious men, as must be the case if it be incumbent on Christians to [Page 129] abandon them." But how little congenial to his mind they were, may be gathered from a confession that he never took any interest in politics till after he was forty years old. But this question of Church Establishments was to him a religious question of the deepest importance. He early arrived at the conviction that they inflicted the most serious injury upon Christianity itself, and were entirely inconsistent with its first principles. The reader of these memorials will easily believe that his wife entered keenly into his feelings. She was a warm "Voluntary."
"How singular it is," she writes, "that to give willingly can be thought in any respect worse than to give by compulsion! It appears as if such objectors had never read so far in the dictionary as to find out that 'willing' and voluntary are synonymous. One could have supposed that the single sentence, 'God loveth a cheerful giver,' would have required no comment to place the voluntary, in all good objects, as, beyond a breath of objection, the man in the right. At present this is among the pleasures to come and he must be content (if he can) to be branded as the man in the wrong."
The first public meeting in the kingdom to consider, not the grievances of Dissenters, but the abolition of a church Establishment, was held at Nottingham this year, and Mr Gilbert moved the first resolution, in which he endeavoured to set the tone of the meeting, and to embue it with his own religious spirit. A deputation to Earl Grey was decided upon, a leading member of which was Mr William Howitt, the well-known writer, then a member of the Society of Friends. The blunt straightforwardness, racy English, and ready tact of this gentleman, [Page 130] in his interview with the Premier, tell with quite dramatic effect, even in the dull pages of the "Annual Register." "This petition, I presume," said the Earl, "is to the same purport as the other petitions from Dissenters that have been presented?" "Of that your Lordship will be a better judge than I when you have read it; I can only say that the Nottingham Dissenters did not look about to see what other Dissenters were doing, but thought and acted for themselves." After some further colloquy, the bewildered peer exclaimed,–"What is it you really do wish? Do you want entirely to do away with all Establishments of religion?" "Precisely," was the prompt reply. "Earl Grey said he was sorry for it; the suggestion of such sweeping changes would alarm Parliament and startle the country, and he considered it the sacred duty of every government to maintain an Establishment of religion." "People are not so easily frightened at changes nowadays," replied the sturdy Quaker, and he proceeded to argue, that "to establish one sect in preference to another, was to establish a party and not a religion."
Some months afterwards four hundred deputies met in London, and among them Mr Gilbert and Mr Howitt came from Nottingham. My mother followed the proceedings with eager interest; and she and Mrs Howitt–(the Mary Howitt, whose poems for children she admired as much as anybody) met and compared the letters of their respective husbands. To my father, whose practical despondency she so often cheered, she wrote,–
"You have not now to inquire whether the work be good and needful, and having that persuasion, it is easy to see that to do it comes next. There will be opposition no doubt. Who, ever [Page 131] contemplated such an undertaking without expecting it–and even from those who ought to cheer you on? But private interests and feelings cannot be heard where a great public course has been deliberately chosen. I do from my heart believe it to be a course thus to be conscientiously pursued. I am only solicitous that the right temper should be preserved on the right side. We have every tittle of the argument, most of the clear-headed ones, and a noble result to animate us. All that ought to be feared is the 'stormy spirit.' How very strong will the cause of Dissent become, if all its advocates keep their temper! . . . Your interview with Lord Althorp I think most important. Be very explicit; make him understand distinctions."
In after years she wrote of this period–
"It is not always borne in mind that a second step cannot be taken without a first. It seems needful, in order to gird the courage and give form to the convictions of many, that a first step should always have one preceding it, to fall back upon! A sounder judgment and a braver zeal know better. . . . Great causes seldom fly. They emerge from a few thoughtful minds, possibly from a solitary monk in a solitary cell. By degrees they gather strength; work their way into public notice; move into first this quarter, then into that, for a while it may be, take a long sleep, or hide in prisons–carrying the brand of disloyalty, disturbance, revolution on their foreheads; and for years–it may be many–continue the quiet testimony, the holy remonstrance under as much opprobrium as interest, ignorance, or prejudice can heap upon them; the first movers being always 'men wondered at.'"
"But that the progress of great causes is thus unequal, or for a time, even retrograde, is no proof that they are not good as well as great, and destined to ultimate success; and whenever [Page 132] that day comes, first movers obtain their late honours; history will award them. Her laurels, usually, are planted on the grave."
"Make him understand distinctions," most assuredly, never more necessary than in the discussion of this great question in which an attack upon Establishments is so constantly mistaken for an attack upon the Church. The distinction here, she was strenuous enough in pointing out to her friends.
"You will see," she writes to a friend in the West, "what the dissenters of Nottingham both think and do. I hope you are all true men, and comport yourselves as those who believe in the 'Revelations.' I cannot conceive how it can be that Christians, with their eyes open, can do otherwise than ask till they succeed in severing the Church from her wicked husband, which, indeed, is not her husband, but only the usurper of the rights of one that is. It is not as a dissenter, but as a Christian solely, that I would press the subject home,–press without ceasing till the glorious divorce ensues."
Speaking of the injurious influence of an Establishment upon the character of its ministers, she says,–
"Strange that it should ever have been thought unnecessary to separate from such a system! For of the system this is the natural product, and will be more or less, so long as the Church offers a genteel profession to the younger son, to literary leisure, to the talented, or the untalented son of noble or wealthy families. To this, the original sin of a State religion, we have objected. We object as to a root from which such fruit cannot but grow. When will the evil be seen, felt, acknowledged, and removed–root, and therefore branch?" [Page 133]
Meanwhile, all the "opprobrium that ignorance, interest, or prejudice" could heap upon the first movers, did not fail. In most cases, a very natural ignorance was, no doubt, the chief agent, but the result was cruel to some sensitive minds. Death had already removed, as the wife mournfully said, almost all the inner circle of devoted friends, many of them of singular intelligence and culture, that stood around them in their first years at Nottingham; and now, they found themselves isolated from almost all the intelligent culture of an outer circle, while, at least, one intimate friend silently withdrew. This last stroke, her husband's susceptible nature felt to the end.
Upon this question of "Establishments," the difference of opinion on ecclesiastical subjects, between the two brothers-in-law–Isaac Taylor and Joseph Gilbert–could not fail to be very strongly marked, yet, without any interruption to a cordial admiration and affection for each other. The former still, and for several years more, retained his position as a deacon in the small independent church at Ongar; but this was for the sake of supporting the cause of evangelical piety in the neighbourhood, for which, at the time, this seemed the only means; and also, as he expressed it, for the good of his own soul. For these reasons, he would, as he said, have joined the Wesleyans or any other evangelical body doing the same work, while, apart from individual preference, he considered Nonconformity a vital element in the religious life of England. But he always adhered, in principle, to episcopacy, or personal government in the church,* and was strong for [Page 134] the union of Church and State, principally, as he endeavoured to show in "Spiritual Despotism," to secure lay control over clerical claims, and to check their intolerance,–much too, because he then regarded the Church of England as the great bulwark against the power of Rome. He lived to see the insidious growth of Anti-Protestantism behind this very bulwark, and to discover that it was likely to become a fortress for its foes, instead of a defence against them. He began, mournfully, to predict disestablishment, and a separation of the Episcopal communion into three separate bodies–an Anglican, Evangelical, and Latitudinarian; but this was before the Establishment was lauded, as comprehending Romanist and Rationalist alike, which might have led him to desire, rather than to dread its dissolution. Isaac Taylor, with a strong conservative bias, aimed to be the practical statesman in church affairs, guiding himself more by existing conditions and the lessons of history, than by abstract principles. His brother-in-law's high spiritual notions, he deemed unpractical, who, again, would reply that these, if founded upon irrefragable truth, would justify themselves in the end, as the most soundly practical.
But there was little actual conflict between the two. Minds so different could scarcely find common ground for combat, while they quite understood and appreciated each other's positions. How completely cast in different moulds they were, may be judged from the following description of his friend, written several years later by Isaac Taylor.
"In a very extraordinary degree Mr Gilbert possessed and [Page 135] commanded the abstractive faculty, using that term in the sense in which it stands opposed to the disposition to consider and to deal with things in the concrete, or under the aspect of their individualities. So it was that while he was completely informed in the field of history, ancient and modern, he was prone to draw off from history as a scene of confusion, yielding scarcely and precariously the available fruits of universal or general truth. . . . Man, in his esteem, or considered as an object of science, could claim little regard otherwise than as a finite moral agent, related to the Infinite Being. As to the diverse characteristics of humanity seen in the concrete, they did but constitute the picturesque of a tattered and many-coloured costume. . . . A mind of so much perspicacity and power, if, during the best years of life, it had taken its direction towards the abstruse branches of mathematical philosophy, would not have failed to win honours among those who lead the way on that field. Or, if, instead of this, Mr Gilbert had in some academic cloister given himself to his first loved studies, those embraced in the circle of theological metaphysics, it is not assuming much that is doubtful in his behalf in supposing that he would have taken up the clue of Descartes and. of Leibnitz, and have gone near to reach the impassable boundaries of human speculation concerning the primary problems of the intellectual world."
To Isaac Taylor, "the picturesque of the tattered and many-coloured costume of humanity," presented an irresistible attraction,* and he devoted volume after volume, with a genius all his own, to the philosophy of religious history. It was characteristic of his mind, too, that he [Page 136] should enter into an elaborate argument upon the "Physical Theory of another Life," and again, that he was inclined to dwell upon certain literal fulfilments of prophecy. To Joseph Gilbert, a spiritual interpretation of prophecy seemed more probable; to the physical conditions of future existence he was greatly indifferent ("I can leave all that," he would say), and the chief work from his pen was concerned with the "Principle of Substitution as applied in the Redemption of Man."
But between brother and sister there were perpetual sharp passages of warfare, sharp, but enlivened by bright flashes of wit and satire, yet never to the disturbance of the most affectionate relations; witness the following extract from a letter written by the brother after a visit to Nottingham with his wife in 1833. It contains also an estimate of his sister's powers to which he often gave utterance.
"And now, my dear sister, let me pointedly thank you for the kindness, indefatigable, unlimited, considerate, tender, which we received from you. I know no one like you–so wrong in matters ecclesiastical, so uniformly on the right side in all matters of the heart. You would have been killed long ago with disinterestedness, if Providence, in compassion to all about you, had not by almost miracle kept you alive. May you long, long, be so preserved, you and yours! E— has been every way much benefitted by her visit, and her recollection has been enriched and garnished with sparkling relics of affection, and images of goodness. But I must save a space to reiterate in black and white the injunction I laid upon you to take up your proper part in public instruction. You now incur a treble responsibility if you fail to listen to earnest and wise advice. He that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, &c." [Page 137]
Upon this matter he says in another letter–
"If I had leisure I should say something very pointed on the subject of your pen, and try to cut it for you anew. If I can write, you can a fortiori, and if you would, when the fit comes, compose a 'Sunday Evening,' people would quite forget 'Saturday Evening.'"
In a letter to Mrs Laurie, my mother refers to the above remonstrances.
"Isaac, and others, are importunate with me to turn author again, and almost bind it as a duty on my conscience. But though, if I had anything to say, I should not despair of being able to say it, yet the hard sterility of the thinking district, after so long a fallow, discourages me from attempting to break the clods. You remember the good saying–'We cannot have thoughts without thinking;'* and though to you, who seem essentially motion without matter, it may appear incredible, yet with me it is so much matter without motion, that real thoughts are strange things to me. My mind has indeed suffered paralysis from want of food; but I do not know that the history of my complaints can be either interesting or edifying to others–though so far as this I will add, that it would be a very desirable and serviceable exercise if all who are in any way capable of making a mental registry of such events and causes as operate on individual character, would keep a faithful retrospect of them. Some very slight and almost unobserved circumstances would often be found to have originated the most important and controlling results. But the great difficulty would be to be faithful,–so faithful as to be the precise warning which we might be, to those who are to succeed to our difficulties, and perhaps to suffer from similar mistakes. The exploded experiment of putting old [Page 138] heads upon young shoulders has never been fairly tried, because the old heads have always kept a reserve of hard earned wisdom, of which, for shame's sake, they have not suffered the young shoulders to participate; I must say that I give our children credit for having less folly about them than their mothers had (I am speaking of I by itself I, mind you), but whether this arises from a somewhat better acquaintance with my own heart than with theirs, I cannot determine.
"I think I have not written since the poems were sent me by your two girls. They are very promising, and must afford you no small pleasure. If they do not let their fingers run to seed, as I did mine at their age, I should say to them, 'go on and prosper.' There is good material, but the pleasure of thus giving outlet to the poetry of the young heart is so great that a habit of mental expenditure is too often induced, to the fatal discouragement of the accumulative spirit. They are perhaps favourably placed in the treadmill of imperative daily exertion, and may therefore be saved the peril of perpetual writing As well wear an open blister to give tone to the constitution, as indulge daily in the luxuries of poetic composition if mental vigour be the object. However I am far in all this from applying, or intending to apply a word of discouragement to your dear industrious girls. I am only giving substance to a few of the passing pangs of remorse with which at times I recall my own early history.
"It is a subject of frequent regret to me that so many circumstances of our youthful days are entirely obliterated from my memory which it would have been pleasing, or mournful, or salutary, occasionally to review; and I attribute this loss very greatly to the habit early formed and deeply rooted of imaginative musings (vulgarly called castle-building). If I had twenty voices I would raise them all to warn my children, and young friends against the pernicious luxury. It indisposes to immediate duty, shuts the eye to the living world, renders tasteless the [Page 139] wholesome viands of domestic life, eats out the heart and essence of prayer, and leaves a dense fog to obliterate pages and volumes of useful memory and valuable acquirement."
During the ten years immediately succeeding the death of her parents, my mother paid but two visits to Essex, where Stanford Rivers now took the place of Ongar. The first was in 1834. Edward Irving was then fast sinking in the mire of that strange miracle-worship, which finally suffocated his genius, but she went to hear him as she passed through London.
"It was the saddest nonsense I ever heard; no miracles except of folly. Did you know that the sixty pillars of the tabernacle indicate the sixty evangelists who are to belong to Mr Irving's church; and the five pillars supporting the inner vail, the five–himself the centre–who are to watch over admissions into the church? I will tell you why they were made some of brass, some of wood, some of gold, &c., when I see you, if you cannot find out before." [Page 140]
The following Sunday she spent with her brother at Stanford, and heard him give "a striking address" in conducting the afternoon service at Ongar, for at that time he occasionally assisted the minister in this way, besides taking village services in the evening. But brother and sister had no doubt some lively disagreement upon church matters, for she writes:–
"Did you see that a public meeting has just been held in a church in the Isle of Wight, praying Parliament to dissever them from their iniquitous relationship to the State. If this fashion should be followed the work is done."
But in addition to Stanford Rivers, there was now "Pilgrims' Hatch" to visit. There, upon a picturesque common, a gate once stood to receive the toll of pilgrims on their way by Tilbury to Canterbury, and there her brother Jefferys and his wife had taken up their abode in one of those quaint old houses, set in the midst of an ample garden, that the Taylor family always affected. In front, the common stretched away into a woodland distance, that in varying shades filled a large tract of country, up to the heights of Danbury on the horizon. Behind, another rich woodland sank gradually, some four or five miles, into the valley of the Roding, where Stanford Rivers lay. It was a charming drive between the two seclusions chosen by the brothers. Their households were very different. A large family was gathering round the scholar and philosopher, who passed continually with grave steps from the sanctum of his folios, into the nursery or schoolroom, or out among the merry voices in the garden. No children blessed the other's hearth, [Page 141] though his genial, careless nature seemed intended for such a surrounding, and his literary works were almost all intended for their amusement or instruction. An incorrigible "droll," he poured forth much that young wits could not appreciate, and possessed, too, of a weird imagination, he was apt in turn to chill their young blood. The mysterious treasure vaults in "Ralph Richards," the cave in "The Young Islanders," the ghostly vision in "Tales and Dialogues," witnessed to this faculty. Indeed, his massive head and sparkling grey eye seemed to indicate more of power than the delicate features of his brother Isaac, but it was a power untrained, and fitfully exerted, and the whole aspect of the man, the halting gait, supported by a stick, the burly form, the quizzical features, bespoke the wayward genius he too truly was. Just now, a brief heyday of prosperity, derived partly from mechanical invention, partly from literary strokes of luck and most from a fortunate legacy, had landed him for a time in this congenial spot, and enabled him to exercise his large-hearted hospitality. As usual, he was surrounded by a collection of oddities, in books and bits of machinery; as usual, there was a sacred attic. At another residence he had constructed a staircase into a tree, where, sequestered among the branches, a small platform and seat provided a cosy outlook; here a ladder to the roof reached a nook with a wooden balustrade, among the chimney stacks, commanding all the country round. To this house "Ann" paid several visits in coming years. Jokes and puns roared to the roof-tree, even in presence of his philosophic brother, but all the more when his quick-witted sister was there to cap them. [Page 142]
In the year 1835, she spent several weeks in London and its neighbourhood, during the delivery of her husband's lectures upon the Atonement, at the Congregational Library. It was the third course of the series, in which Dr Wardlaw and Dr Vaughan had preceded him. In the subject of these lectures, and in my father's treatment of them, she took the deepest interest. She was accustomed to close and clear thinking; she had insisted upon understanding the recondite discussions of her husband's earlier writings; she had followed his arguments with atheists and infidels, she was not likely to fail in following this, upon a matter which concerned, as she believed, a vital truth of Christianity. To the position taken, she gave her full assent, and never ceased to regard this work as the crown of her husband's labours. At one time, indeed, she would have liked to think of it as an instalment only of work in a field which she deemed him eminently qualified to cultivate, but it was becoming sadly evident that ill health was sapping the needful energy, and that this would be his closing contribution to theology.
No doubt, if she had held the pen the style of this book, if more diffuse, would have shown more ease and brightness; for here, unlike the preacher, the writer is somewhat rigid and elaborate. But he was dealing with a closely compacted argument, and with such profound things as–"the principles of moral administration," "the function and bearings of substitution," "qualities essential in a valid substitution," and the like, and advancing, with careful steps, through difficult ground, his manner became measured and precise. But there is no lack of clearness, and an entire absence of mysticism. [Page 143]
The argument seeks, on the one hand, to deliver the doctrine of Substitution from the crude and rash modes of statement, degrading to its dignity, which have given ground for much objection; and, on the other, to establish it in the light of first principles, and in relation to the practical ends to be attained. "Substitution, in the view here maintained, is a substitute for penalty," something to answer the same end–namely, "an adequate expression of the divine fixed disapproval of sin some other way." And if it be asked, as it so often is, "to whom is the atonement made?" the answer is–"for the interest of creatures it is, that the sacrifice is made; and to them virtually, but yet only as represented by the Supreme executive power, is the price of atonement paid. Thus, it is rationally and clearly consistent to say that Christ, as a sacrifice, was offered up both to God, and by God." The argument may be represented by opponents, in a favourite phrase, as of too "forensic" a character; but, as the doctrine is essentially concerned with the governmental relations between the Divine Ruler, and the creatures whom he: has gifted with free-will, it may be asked, whether the terms of human judicature are not those which best shadow forth its character and aims? whether such a representation of it be not the only one clear to common minds, and fitted therefore, as every divine doctrine must be, to influence the mass?–whether, further, it is not that which best agrees with the current phraseology of Scripture on the question?–whether, lastly, all that is objectionable in a forensic statement of it, is not guarded against or avoided?
At that time, the school of religious thought, which goes [Page 144] by the name of "Broad," was scarcely established. It was some years later that my mother came into contact with it, and some passages may here be quoted, from a letter to a young minister, with whom circumstances allowed her to take that liberty, which show how she regarded its first approaches.
"In your ministrations, observations of an evangelical character slip in, but even when led by the text to expect something more, they only seem to cross the stage without taking part in the discussion. You know what popularly we mean by the "Gospel"–that which you admit to be the leading doctrine of the Christian ministry–leading, set in the van; but you have appeared to imply, that once known, once seen, it might almost be left to itself, while the practical externalities were deduced and enforced. It seemed legitimate to infer, that though Paul, in dealing with Jews and heathens, was necessitated to announce, explain, and enforce it (yet comparing Paul at Athens, and Paul to the Churches, this could scarcely be substantiated), it was a thing now known in congregations, professedly Christian, and therefore might, with more safety, be less frequently referred to. This would be obviously just, if to know the facts, and subscribe to the creed, were all required. But in Christian congregations, of even the better sort, how many are there–shall we not fear the majority?–who thus know and believe without any personal application of the doctrines, any true peace of conscience resulting from them–any root in themselves? so that the cold knowledge which they do possess, does nothing for them here, and will, we can but suppose, aggravate their condemnation hereafter! Now, to this large class, a warm and frequent explanation, enforcement, appeal, seems needful–a clear exhibition, line upon line, of the way of salvation. . . . . [Page 145]
"You treat your hearers almost always as lax saints–alas, too justly! but more justly still, as I fear, might the many be regarded as needy sinners, more or less sensible to their condition,–some requiring to be aroused, some to be directed and encouraged to come, in all their misery, to Him who calls not the righteous, but sinners to repentance, because, upon Him, has been laid the iniquities of us all. . . . .
"At first, you know, we are obliged to judge of men by their preaching; afterwards, it is generally safe to judge of preaching by the men. . . . I am excepting that part of your sermon in which you appeared–or might be supposed to refer to Evangelical preaching as almost a thing gone by, or belonging to earlier times, or missionary labour–which would have surprised us from anyone."
In 1836 the husband and wife went a tour together in Derbyshire after a fashion they greatly enjoyed, driving in a gig for several weeks about that charming country, then in all the seclusion which preceded the advent of the rail. The pretty fishing inn at Rowsley was their principal centre. Thence she writes to her two young daughters at school one of the very few descriptions of scenery she ever indulged in,–why so few, perhaps the extract itself explains.
"Many a kind thought lately have I sent towards my two dear girls along two hundred miles of hill and dale, rock and meadow, wood and stream; and you cannot think, dear children, how pleasant it has been sometimes to drive up to some strange post-office, and on enquiring, 'any letters, &c.,' to hear that nice little word, 'Yes.'
"It would be vain to try and describe to you the lovely or magnificent scenery which we have travelled through. Nothing, [Page 146] I believe, is more difficult than to convey an impression of such enjoyments. When I tell you that we spent a delightful day walking among the rocks, the crags, the precipices, the green slopes, the grey promontories, the rich woods, the bright, dark, turbulent waters of Dove dale, I can accompany every word with the image by which it was suggested; but to you it affords little more excitement than it would to get by heart the words with their meanings from Johnson's Dictionary: As thus, Promontory, a bold precipitous headland; Rock, a magnificent stony mass, shooting into figures, fantastic, picturesque, or sublime; sometimes partially covered with rich mosses, sometimes with vegetation, variegated from the brightest green to the darkest purple of pine blackness, or with the scarlet, crimson, orange tints of autumnal foliage,–and so forth. . . . Yet I can scarcely help telling you of the hill for four miles out of Buxton, where the wind was so powerful that had it blown against us, I think we could scarcely have made way up it. Yet the piled and laden coaches which we see every evening rattling safely into the White Lion at Nottingham, have all weathered this fearful ascent; and everyone that sets out in the morning for Manchester has to trot, gallop, slip, slidder, scratch, or tumble down it! Yesterday we had one of the most dreary, uninterestingly dreary, drives possible. Oh, so bleak, and bare, and desolate! as if the world had gone to sleep without being tucked up; and got its huge shoulders uncovered in the night."
It was during this excursion that a printed lecture reached them, recently delivered by an eminent Roman Catholic physician at Sheffield, before the Mechanics' Institution of that town. Its subject was "the causes of the greater amount of Intemperance in England, as compared with the Continent," and stress was laid upon the [Page 147] "greater religiousness of the people in Roman Catholic countries," the result of the large amount of display in ceremonial and observance, by which, according to the lecturer, "a high degree of religious excitation is constantly sustained." The friend who sent the pamphlet asked her to undertake a newspaper reply, and the leisure of a few evenings at Rowsley enabled her to do so. It was signed "A Rustic Rambler," but was afterwards published separately with her name, to which she was rather unwilling to consent, having, she said, "purposely adopted several expressions to sound more like boots than slippers, so as to give the idea of a plain commercial traveller just struck enough with the nonsense to give his opinion upon it."
The style of this paper, however, betrays a very different hand from that of an ordinary "commercial traveller." She inquires–
"How far morality as a whole has gained in those countries (Italy and Spain for example), in which ceremony has been substituted for conviction, and perpetual parade for wholesome industry; whether a religion and modes of instruction by which the people generally should be excited to thought and reflection, each man for himself exercising therein the highest faculties of his nature, would not more hopefully conduce to moral improvement in all its branches, than one, the daily ceremonials of which should merely consume the time, while it held the intellect unemployed?"
She traces the intemperance of England to various causes, and proceeds–
"To counteract such facilities to destruction, the thinking [Page 148] power of the country should without doubt be brought into play. Education, in its best sense and noblest bearings, should be diffused; every sort of amusement comporting with habits of decorum and industry, and with the good sense of the people, should be accessible; garden allotments as recommended by the Labourers' Friend Society should be largely made; public walks, rendered attractive by everything that is beautiful in natural scenery, should be provided; such a limitation of the hours of labour, and such a degree of fair recompense for labour should be adopted, as should allow the full advantage resulting from libraries and lectures conducted for the benefit of the working classes and, above all, the Bible, and the religion of the Bible, should be placed in its simplicity, its spirituality, its moral beauty and greatness, in the view of every soul created for its enjoyment. A religion conversant with solemn realities, with the wants, the motives, the hopes of the human heart of whatever class or climate,–a religion which commends itself wherever it is understood or embraced, to the universal yearnings of the bosom, which gives employment, controls passion, regains human nature to order, and bestows upon it, both in possession and in prospect, the most entire happiness of which it is susceptible;–let such a religion be presented, and from living exemplars be impressed upon the public mind; and then, if it be needed,–if the result obviously requires such an addition,–if reasonable men, with this Bible in their hands, concur to advise that the pageantries, the ceremonials,-the toys, the fables, the fancies, the delusions, the mummeries, described as the lecturer describes them, should be superadded, or laid as the basis of public morals,–if they would make us more of men, or more of sober men,–why then let us have them! Let our ships be freighted with rosaries, kissed by his Holiness,* and let us see whether these magicians [Page 149] can do with their enchantments better than the word of God addressed to the conscience and the reason of man, can do without them."
Evangelical religion has not been credited in these days with sufficient attention to the practical welfare of mankind. It has been supposed that its energies were absorbed in care of their souls. That it was Evangelicals who stood prominently forward in the great efforts against, first the slave trade, and then slavery, is enough to confute this opinion, and the above passage shows that at least one Evangelical was not indifferent to the general welfare; while the practical holiness in which alone she recognised the evidence of true religion, should remove another stigma often cast upon the tenets she professed. She was always ready to act upon the advice she gave. Now that she was more free from family cares she readily entered into public work. She was one of the founders of a Refuge for unfortunate women, and gave a great deal of her time to it when established. She was a diligent collector for a town Provident Society. She belonged to a committee for the management of a Free Library, and her diary shows her invariable attendance. Later she took an active part as a visitor to the Blind Asylum; and when advanced in years took her turn with another lady in leading out for a walk the long string of inmates, holding the hand of some timid one.
As to more definite religious work, she for many years superintended a class for young women on Sunday afternoons, and conducted a cottage service for women. At Hull she printed an address to "Collectors," couched in very earnest terms:– [Page 150]
"Your exertions" (she wrote), "present a visible answer to all the prayers of all Christians for the progress of the Gospel. Your weekly walks, slender as they may seem among the resources of Infinite Power, and inefficacious as they may appear to the eye of human wisdom, may be made the means of directing the children of sorrow to the only source of consolation–the desponding to the only hope–and ruined sinners to the only name given under heaven whereby they may be saved."
Isaac Taylor paid one of his rare visits to Nottingham in 1836, on returning from the unsuccessful contest with Sir William Hamilton for the chair of Logic and Metaphysics at Edinburgh, on which he had been persuaded to enter. His sister, before the event, had written;–"if given to me to decide I should say, perhaps, let him lose by one vote, thus attaining the honour, without running the hazards; but it is in better hands than mine." He lost by three votes, and always considered that his rejection in favour of so distinguished an opponent, was fortunate both for the University and himself.
And now sorrow again drew nigh. The dear and faithful friend of many years was sinking to her rest. Miss Greaves, it may be remembered, after leaving the Castle, had secured her pastor and his family as neighbours in an adjoining house. Under her roof the young people were always welcomed with a gracious smile, and found there all the quiet refinement which intellectual tastes, and abundant means could supply; while many a refreshing pause in their busy life was granted to both the minister and his wife, in afternoons or evenings passed in the calm companionship of their old friend. But now, in the sum- [Page 151] mer of 1837, she lay dying, and for many days insensible to sight or sound, so that her two devoted friends could only watch at her bedside.
"You will know (writes my mother) that she is in the deep waters–thankful should we now be to say that she had gained the 'fields of living green' on the opposite shore. We lose the benefit, and she the consolation that might have been derived had the intimations of danger presented themselves to her mind while its powers were in action. Yet it is but for a moment, and the light of eternal happiness shall show to her the deep valley from which she has safely emerged."
She died the next day, June 19. An explanation, which it was thought necessary to make to a friend, it may be desirable to quote here:–
"She was always, as you know, most considerately kind, and appeared to study Mr Gilbert's opinions in everything, and to have the deepest concern for his comfort, but with one or two exceptions her kindness was never costly to her."
This lady left Mr Gilbert executor to her will, and £1000; but that she had not made any provision respecting a large sum lent at the time of the erection of the chapel pressed heavily afterwards upon the resources of the congregation, especially as the commercial condition of the town long continued deplorable, and its minister resigned a portion of his stipend to meet the difficulty. He prepared also to remove to a smaller house, but the circumstance that his wife about this time came in for her share in a bequest of her uncle Josiah Taylor (the only Taylor hitherto, who deserting the precarious ways of Art [Page 152] and Literature had achieved wealth), enabled him to continue the education of his sons, and assist them liberally in the professions they had chosen. Their mother was quick to observe these things, and to see of the loving kindness of the Lord.
Referring to threatenings of illness this year she writes–
"Another such illness as I had eight years ago would at least make an old woman of me–if it left me a woman at all! I dread exceedingly being deprived of the power of active exertion. If it be the will of God, I pray to be spared that trial, but I wonder which of all the trials within His power to inflict we do not wish to be spared! We can look at none and say, 'that is the kind I should like.' I have much pleasure in the thought that after an interval of absence, varying from twenty to forty years, I have, within the last three years, seen again, and under my own roof, the three most beloved friends of my childhood and youth–Anne Watkinson, Anna Forbes, and Luck Conder.* I have inexpressible reason to thank God for my friends. I can reflect on few of my associates who have not in some way or other said to me, 'come up hither.' Thrown into unfavourable association, such as at various periods of my life just glanced by me and moved away, what might I not have been! Give my love to your dear children. I pray that they may endure to the end, and so–be saved! O the unfathomable meaning of that hacknied word! How we do let great things slip from our lips and thoughts, without perceiving their immensity!"
In the summer of 1838 my mother, with two of her [Page 153] children, spent three months at Skegness, a lonely place on the Lincolnshire coast, near the scenes of her husband's early life. This stay was in more than one respect memorable to her. It was on the way thither, at a small village, that she experienced that singular influx of religious peace and joy, described in her Autobiography. Of her first Sunday there, she writes–
"Too unwell for Church in the morning, and I do not know anything else for us but the Ranters in the evening. I do not like seeming ashamed of good people if they are good, but I do not like either, to have my feelings shocked by extravagancies. I have borrowed two vols. of old John Newton's which please me exceedingly, and help on the Sabbath pleasantly and profitably."
Presently there came the prospect of an anxious decision, upon which husband and wife could only correspond He had declined the Presidency of Rotherham College sometime before, from the same sense of duty which had kept him so long at Nottingham, and now another important post was offered to him. She writes–
"We were never separate under circumstances so peculiar as now. And yet I rejoice in, rather than regret my absence from home at such a juncture. It allows us each to form an opinion more independent than we could otherwise do, and leaves you especially to revolve the circumstances without bias of any kind. It is not for the lure of more money that I should wish to accept the offer. I believe that at our time of life we should not lightly uproot ourselves in the expectation of forming more agreeable connections, or of being permanently and daily happier. It [Page 154] would always be a bitter in the cup if we had the consciousness of having wronged an affectionate and willing people."
To her relief the offer did not finally reach the point requiring "aye or no."
But a very different kind of anxiety was associated also with Skegness. Her son, Henry, who, in conformity with Dr Spurzeim's prediction, was showing a marked predilection for science, had suffered for some years from an accident which deprived him of the sight of an eye, and threatened to debar a pursuit demanding such delicate processes as Chemistry. After leaving school he was at Scarborough for his health, when a pistol, carelessly discharged by a companion, left him, as it was at first supposed, blind for life, and his mother, travelling before the days of telegraphs and railways, carried with her the anguish of ignorance as to the extent of the danger. Many weeks of nursing followed, and her letters home, full of those minute and faithful particulars which she desired herself, and always gave, show what she was hourly suffering. Letters from several Christian friends came to cheer her during this weary time, for which she felt very grateful, and "except on dull evenings," when she "took her solitary turn on the sands," she was able to be cheerful herself, in the exercise of that trust of which she possessed so much. The shock long affected the system, and now six years afterwards her son had taken a voyage to St. Petersburg for the benefit of his health; while she at Skegness was expecting his return from day to day; but days and weeks passed, and there came no news. [Page 155]
It is the melancholy shore that our great Lincolnshire poet loves to depict, where the
. . . . "Slow dashing waveNowhere are the "plunging seas" grander than on this coast in a storm,
Heard in dead night along that table shore
Drops flat, and after the great waters break
Whitening for half a league, and thin themselves,
Far over sands marbled with moon and cloud,
From less and less to nothing."
"The hollow ocean ridges roaring into cataracts,"and storm after storm now raged, driving wrecks ashore, while the sad mother writes,–
–"These terrible winds!–to go to bed on a dark night and hear them rave and roar requires an effort to enable one to sleep"–(and a week later)–"my heart sinks within me at this long delay. I give up calculating, I only wait and pray,–pray incessantly for his safety. Last Wednesday we had a terrible gale here, and two vessels were lost with their crews, in sight of shore. The lifeboat went so near as to hear their cries, but could not effect their rescue. You may imagine the heart sickness it gave me! On Sunday another vessel got aground on these dangerous sands, I felt suddenly as if both my knees had been cut away, by hearing that it was a vessel from St. Petersburgh, and though it was immediately added–'a foreign vessel bound for Boston'–I did not soon recover it."
At length she wrote,–
"– last Wednesday, while at tea, I saw the donkey mail winding in, and left the table to meet it, but was disappointed, [Page 156] 'no letters'–'no newspaper.' I went mournfully home, finished my meal, and then set out for a couple of rushlights to help through the night. I had just turned Hutton's corner when I saw a gig far on the road. It was late for company, and I just wondered what it could be. I saw it stop at Baxter's gate, and that they were directing it across the pastures, pointing very rnuch, indeed, towards Mrs Guiley's, but I still went on, and only when quite alongside discovered the well-known blue spectacles! I cannot tell you the delight of that moment–'Henry, my dear Henry! is it you?' He was out of the gig directly, and walked home with me, looking very well. Now, I could not sleep for thinking of it. The lightning that we had seen in the east, too far off for thunder, was a fearful tempest 150 miles out at sea. Henry was in the midst of it, and the captain said it was the most awful he had ever been in." *
At Skegness, and for the last time, she took up her pen with a view to publication. That anxiety for the safety of the soul, paramount to all other anxieties, both for herself and those dear to her, of which her letters show so much, seldom found other expression. She was never ready to utter deep feeling, and especially shrank from personal appeals on so momentous a subject. She not often spoke even with her children on personal religion, though she wrote with tender imploring earnestness. One thing she compelled herself to do–to continue for a time, when childhood was past, the habit of praying with them on Sunday afternoons, commenced when they were children round her knee; but a certain shyness, [Page 157] touching to remember, as she invited them to follow her into her room, a sigh as she knelt down, showed that it was not without cost she kept up the old practice. Once on her knees, her heart poured itself forth without constraint in free and fervent petition. She alludes to her difficulty in conversing upon religious subjects in a letter to a friend:–
"I wish, oh, how often and ardently! that I possessed the gift of improving conversation, and could be to the young people around me what a minister's wife should be. But though, I hope, careful not to do harm, I mourn under a strange inability in this way to do good. I should like to steal pleasantly into a young mind by the side door, but my only chance seems to knock direct at the principal entrance, and this is so formidable that I rarely attempt it. But what would I not give for facility and tact in thus discharging my conscience!"
Just before coming to Skegness the serious illnesses of some young people about her, one of her daughters among the number, seem to have impressed her deeply, and during this unwonted leisure she composed "Twelve letters on Recovery from Sickness." The manuscript was read to her husband on her return, and published the following year under the title of "The Convalescent." A few passages will show the character of the work, and be of some biographic interest. None ever felt more keenly than herself the anxieties of the sick room,–
"A little increase of pain, of fever, or debility, was felt like a cold arrow in our hearts, and with proportionate delight were the indications of returning health hailed by us. Many a wakeful hour of night witnessed the imploring earnestness with which on [Page 158] unquiet beds, or watching till the lamp grew dim, we raised our petitions, brief but frequent, to Him who heareth prayer, that the stroke we feared might be averted. . . . With looks as little dispiriting, as cheerful as we could assume, while our hearts sank in the faintness of anxiety and anguish, we endeavoured to perform the weary, willing service of the sick chamber, commending you incessantly to God, asking–oh, what did we not ask! and with what fervency!"
She depicts the severance of the sufferer from all the ordinary occupations, interruptions, recreations of the world:–
"The frivolous and pleasure-loving among our associates stand aloof from our calamity. We are severed from them as by a great gulf, which we cannot, and they would not pass, . . . so we are left alone. A few indefatigable friends, two or three who have really loved us, remain only to tread gently, and speak in whispers, and share with us the gloom–perhaps more than share in the anxieties of the sick chamber. . . . To exclude the sun and to deaden the sound is our impatient desire. We are shut up by our own consent with darkness, and stillness, and solitude, and whether or not we consent to it, with pain, restlessness, debility, and danger. . . . It is now that the past and the future press in upon us–the foolish past–the unknown, terrible future!"
But it is with the "Convalescent" that she has to do; to deal with that dangerous period when all old influences of seduction or indecision are regaining their power,–
"Trusting to-morrow! to-morrow! which to how many comes but to diminish the sensibility, strengthen the habits, add to the [Page 159] difficulties, break the promises, increase the guilt, lessen the hope, perpetuate the folly, and confirm the ruin of to-day! The thought of to-morrow fans the hopes, and sucks the blood of the soul at the same moment."
"'Will you not pray with me?' Oh, my dear! I cannot express to you the music of that word to us! . . . It was indeed with pleasure that we heard that unusual, feeble, anxious cry,–'Will you not pray with me?' It seemed for the moment as if all we had been wrestling for had been suddenly granted. We thought of you as now seeking, and therefore as finding, life everlasting; and for a short time we had joy and gladness–a feast and a good day. The thought of separation was no longer an agony. We felt it possible to say, 'Thy will be done.'". . .
"The sight of a crowd is at all times affecting to me. How many individual histories, and yet how near a resemblance considered as creatures passing towards the final account! How many in seasons of anxiety have prayed earnestly; have wished, and hoped, and intended to become genuine Christians; have recovered to life, and relaxed in their wishes, and deferred their intentions; have gone through this variety of conflict time after time!–till at length the weighty interests of the world have rolled heavily in upon them. They have become men overwhelmed with business, or women scarcely bearing up under ever-recurring daily pressure. They are urged onwards–they are on the road–they must proceed, or be crushed by the following trains. There is no pause for their spirits." . . .
"I know you may be disposed to say, as while writing, I have not seldom said to myself (or Satan to me), 'lay down the pen, persuasion has no efficiency to change the heart. Affliction itself, that weapon sharper than words, cannot do it. Without the interference of a Power which you cannot command, nothing [Page 160] will touch the conscience, still less convert the soul!' I acknowledge that this is true; but shall I lie down in despair, and you in a just neglect, because it is so? God forbid! I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, that this is not the legitimate inference to which His truth conducts us. . . . .
"Be satisfied that your Maker understands the thing He has made, and commits no mistake in His method of treating it. He can say, let there be light, and there is light; or He impresses on irrational creatures, His own directing wisdom, and constrains the bee to build with mathematical accuracy. But His intelligent creation is differently dealt with,–dealt with according to its different nature. In spiritually affecting the mind, God acts with us, not without us. We do not sleep and wake, and find ourselves converted, a change having been put upon us like a garment. Conversion is a series of acts passing within the mind, and in the use of its natural faculties, but affected towards other objects, and in other ways, than it has been wont."
But our quotations must stop. The last of the "Twelve Letters" deals with that caricature of religion which would represent it as "a system of privations and penances–a hard price paid as an exemption from something harder."
"On the contrary, since the condition of the mind is alike the spring, and the index of enjoyment, should this be described as comprising–love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance–an equal poise of the passions, and a right bent of the affections,–happiness of the highest style, and but lightly affected by temporary and outward circumstances, must be the certain result."
Familiarity with the sick-room and its anxieties, was her's, beyond most women. Not that she experienced an [Page 161] unusual amount of illness in her family, but because her admirable qualities, as a nurse, were well known among her friends, and always freely at their service. Her firm arm was strength to the weak; the order, neatness, and regularity that accompanied her, diffused quietness and comfort. Her ready resource inspired confidence. Her voice was all tenderness, her words full of cheerfulness, and not without little flashes of fun, if the patient could bear it, although her heart might be passing through some of the agonies she has described.
It was matter of course, that my mother should take an eager interest in the anti-slavery contests of her time, and her pen was frequently employed in contributions to current anti-slavery literature. In early years, she had thanked "the goodness and the grace" through which she
"–was not born a little slaveand her fervour, in the cause, was not likely to cool. In 1838, at one of the crises of the long struggle, she thus replies to an application–
To labour in the sun,
And wish I were but in the grave,
And all my labour done."
"If I should be able to comply with your request, I will do it with pleasure; but I have scarcely more command of my own time or faculties than I have of yours, so that I seldom engage for such services. Sometimes a thought will flow, all without my care or payment, so that it is no trouble, and loses no time, to gather as it drops. At others, when, perhaps, much occupied, or [Page 162] bound to a fixed period for its completion, I may spend a day over a single verse, and that without success. I am sadly disabled by the pressure of more than I have time for. This has been my lot through life–always yesterday eating out the comfort of to-day! How very singular it is that, in such a heart as Montgomery's, there should float even a film of hesitation on such a subject! How exceedingly desirable does it appear to secure the mind, of the impressible particularly, from early prejudice, and any association which may render the judgment infirm! One would have thought that his was the last pen for which such a fear could have been entertained. We have no scruple, as to female petitions, in the cause of humanity. Hear Lord Brougham's opinions on the subject."
Upon this occasion–the shortening of the slave apprenticeship period–my father went to London as a member of a deputation to Government. He was in a lobby of the House of Commons on the night of the debate, along with a crowd of delegates, during a division, when there was an unexpected but small majority in their favour. Suddenly O'Connell opened a door, and thrusting out his broad face, shouted, "We have it, we have it" The delegates, most of them "grave and reverend signors," unable to control their exultation, gave way to loud, ringing cheers, and were instantly and ignominiously bundled out of the sacred precincts by the scandalised officials.
She often gave to her husband, during his absence, her shrewd judgment upon sermons preached in his pulpit, such judgment, however, being never confided to the family; criticism there she always promptly checked. On this occasion she wrote:–
"Yesterday, I believe Mr — gave very general satisfaction. [Page 163] He is within an ace of being really somebody. Whether there is not a slight touch of the absurd, which may stand between him and that eminence, I do not quite know; but he certainly did preach extremely well."
December (1839) found her expecting the death of another old and valued Nottingham friend:–
"A slice out of this world anywhere," she wrote, "is generally well coloured with calamity, . . . . how long we are in learning practically the simple lesson, that here is not our rest! Year after year, as we go forward in life, we are constantly making a nest for our hopes in some cherished pleasure, some happy arrangement,–something in which we have forgotten to look for the cankered side. And sometimes after wandering from hope to hope for the best, or rather the longest part of a life, we are brought suddenly to deduce the mournful moral (mournful as far as earthly expectations are concerned), that here truly, not merely as a passage familiar to our memories, but in fact and reality, here is not a rest!" [Page 164]
Song of the Tea-Kettle–Market-Day in Nottingham–Corn-Law Controversy–King Potato–National Fasting–Free Churchism–Letter upon the Rights of Women–Pet Children–Providence and Life–Letter from Isaac Taylor.
"Some honour I would have,
"–Faith that soars on high,
IN the ten years now before us no great sorrow broke in upon the life of which we tell the story, but it was an arduous, and in several respects, an anxious period to a mind so active, a heart so sensitive, a life bound up with so many other lives. Sons settling in different professions and forming homes of their own, pressed hard upon resources, and obliged a frequent drawing upon "Hook, Crook, & Co.," as their mother used to say; while in consequence of her husband's failing health and a laborious occupation in addition to his pastorate which now came to his hands, almost all the correspondence with them fell upon her. Perhaps none made greater use in domestic affairs than herself of "the glorious penny postage" as she called it, which began on the 10th of January 1840. The introduction of envelopes however, so far destroying the [Page 168] integrity of the old-fashioned letter, and causing "an everlasting sub, sub, note writing," was to her detestable.
Not less did she rejoice in the development of the railway system, which during these years took such amazing dimensions. It was rather remarkable that with a temperament dwelling so fondly upon the past, clinging so tenderly to places and associations, and keenly alive to the picturesque, a change so great should have been welcome. But she heartily rejoiced in ail conquests of mind, and in all quickened energies of life. The old coach made part of a picturesqueness she enjoyed, but when she ran to a garden gate to see it pass along a country road, or watched the laden mail with scarlet coat and sound of horn, rattle through the streets of Nottingham, tears came to her eyes, as much from sympathy with the stir and movement of life and business, as from any other feeling. And so with the railway works now pushing everywhere; true, the sod of a sweet pasture was turned up by the ruthless navvy, but it was to make way for that triumph of steam, which conquering time and space, was weaving together all the towns and peoples of the land, and more than all to her, destroying that long and bitter separation of families, from which in earlier days she had suffered so much. The following lines, portions of a poem, first printed in the "London University College Magazine," give expression to this hearty sympathy with the great instrument of modern progress:–
THE SONG OF THE TEA-KETTLE.
Since first began my ominous song,
Slowly have moved the ages long;
There I hung, or there I stood,
Giving what sign my nature could,
Content till man the hint should catch,
To purr to the lift of the cottage latch.
. . . . . .
Fraught with the weal of kingdoms vast,
I sighed as the simpleton man went past;
Vainly I gave significant proof
By thrusting high my prisoning roof,
My lips uncouth their witness bore,
But inarticulate, could no more.
Slow was the world my worth to glean
My visible secret long unseen!
Surly, apart, the nations dwelt,
Nor yet the magical impulse felt,
Nor deemed that Charity, Science, Art,
All that doth honour or wealth impart,
Spell bound, till mind should set them free,
Slumbered and sung, in their sleep in me!
At length the day in its glory rose
And off in its speed the engine goes!
. . . . . .
Ponderous and blind, of rudest force,
A pin and a whisper guide its course;
Around its sinews of iron, play
The viewless bands of a mental sway,
And triumphs the soul in the mighty dower;
To Knowledge, the plighted boon is Power.
Hark! 'tis the din of a thousand wheels,
At play with the fleeces of England's fields;
From its bed upraised, 'tis the flood that roars
To fill little cisterns at cottage doors:
'Tis the many-fingered, intricate, bright machine
With its flowery film of lace I ween.
And see where it rushes with silvery wreath
The span of yon arched cave beneath;
Stupendous, vital, fiery, bright,
Trailing its length in a country's sight!
Riven are the rocks, the hills give way,
The dim valley rises to unfelt day;
And man fitly crowned, with brow sublime,
Conqueror of distance, reigns, and Time!
Lone was the shore where the hero mused,
His soul through the unknown leagues transfused;
His perilous bark on the ocean strayed,
And moon after moon since its anchor weighed,
On the solitude strange and drear did shine–
The untrack'd way of that restless brine;
Till at length, his shattered sail was furl'd
'Mid the golden sands of a western world!
Still centuries pass'd with their measured tread
While winged by the winds the nations sped
And still did the moon as she watch'd that deep,
Her triple task o'er the voyagers keep;
And sore farewell, as they hove from land
Spake of absence long, on a distant strand.
She starts!–wild winds at her bosom rage,–
She laughs in her sport at the war they wage!
In queenly pomp on the surf she treads,
Scarce waking the sea things from their beds.
. . . . . .
A few bright suns; and at rest she lies,
Glittering to transatlantic skies!
Simpleton Man! ye tribes of yore,
Open awhile death's dusty door;
Rise, for a glimpse of victories won,
Busily see the peoples run;
. . . . . .
Mountain and precipice melt away
The mind's high sorcery who can stay?
Who to her necromancy cry,
Hither come up, but pass not by?
No! she has felt her strength, her force,
And springs abroad to a limitless course.
Simpleton man! Why, who would have thought,
To this the song of a Tea-kettle brought!
Easily touched by the "enthusiasm of humanity," any day of public interest in the town stirred her thoroughly, and on such occasions the services of her pen were not seldom asked for:–
"It is the morning (she writes) for opening the Mechanics' Exhibition–a fine holiday-making, bell-ringing Whit-monday, when the poor dressmakers, and warehouse girls, and journeymen breathe the fresh air, and one's heart leaps to look at them. There will be a Corporation procession, headed by a military band, and skirted, as I presume, by the entire ragtailia of the good town of Nottingham, from the Town Hall to the Exchange, where a noble organ, assisted by the band, is to perform the National Anthem, which I was up at six this morning to alter for the occasion."
The last stanza of this new version ran thus–
O Lord our God arise,
Bless every enterprize
Worthy her reign;
Grant her a people free,
Men such as men should be,
Women as fair as she,
God save the Queen!
A fortnight afterwards, arrived one of the first Excursion [Page 172] trains that ever carried its hundreds of holiday makers, and which now brought Leicester to visit its old rival Nottingham. Nothing could suit her better.
"It was a beautiful day and scene. Upwards of a thousand arrived at ten o'clock in thirty-four carriages, with colours flying, and hats and handkerchiefs out of the windows as they swept into the station, where were gentlemen of the town, with a number of flags and a band of music, to welcome their arrival. It was supposed that twenty thousand people were in the meadows to see them, and if they did not count me, there were twenty thousand and one! The town was alive the whole day. It is just the thing that I like."
Again, she was asked, but it was late on a Saturday night, to provide a welcome to be printed for distribution among the Leicester folks. She was not one to refuse her best endeavours, but the piece bears traces of composition at an ungenial moment; for, as she wrote to her sister, "the washerwoman had only just come in with the clothes."
"Loyalty to the Royal" was a passion with her. Descending from the old George the Third days, it had certainly suffered eclipse during the reign of the "first gentleman in Europe," but had revived in that of his honest sailor brother, and broke forth into ardent affection for the young Queen who succeeded him; and when, in June 1840, Oxford attempted her assassination, she, like every other bard in the country, was stirred into an effusion of indignation. But we have not space for its reproduction.
A genuine pleasure to her was "market day." The [Page 173] good old housewifely custom of "marketing" lingers still at Nottingham. Twice a week the ample colonnaded market-place is filled with rows of stalls; the roads are crowded with incoming villagers; quaint vehicles of most antique pattern, and ranging from what she likened to "a stage coach run to seed,"–half van, half omnibus–down to the most ricketty donkey cart, choke the back streets and every available corner. Many a glowing sunset has lighted up the old tower of St Mary's, and gilded the long lines of stalls, that as twilight deepens are each ablaze with flaring lamps. Before this, however, van and cart have moved slowly off climbing the long hills out of the town, each crammed with market people to be dropped at distant cottage doors, in the secluded villages along the vale of Trent, or in the hollows of Sherwood Forest. Such was the inspiration of the following:–
I love to see the country folk come in,
Daughter and dame, on sunny market days,
Laden from field and dairy, barn and bin,
And glorious flowers, whole baskets in a blaze!
The young eye, ranging round the motley scene,
Allured by gorgeous shop or busy throng,
The matron-mother, reckoning, I ween,
Amount of takings, as she jogs along.
Butter she brings in cloth of snowy bleach
"All its own colour," from the fragrant mead,
And store of eggs new laid, transparent each
With pretty pinioned chickens, doomed to bleed.
And herb of every virtue, green or dried,
Gathered in season due, with housewife care
Or culled 'mid morning mists, by greenwood side,
The savoury mushroom, fit for queenly fare.
O, yes! I love to see them crowding by,
From carrier's loaded van or country cart,
Bearing the opulence of earth and sky,
To barter Nature's gifts for wares of art.
But more I love to see them thronging home,
All hampers empty and all bosoms light,
Toward grassy dells, where drowsy cattle roam,
And woods half hushed bespeak the summer night.
How have I gazed! and fancied as they went
The low white homestead hid in sheltering trees
The garden, redolent of bloom and scent.
The roosting poultry, and the clustering bees;
The primrose lanes, o'er-arched with branching sprays,
Through which with measured trot they onward wend,
The tidy "house-place," cleaned on market days
To greet the travellers at their journey's end.
There stands the old arm-chair in chimney nook,
The oaken table there in glory shines,
On decent shelf, good tract, and Holy Book,
And, framed in marking stitch, some poet's lines.
The ancient clock repeats its warning tale
To sons, as heretofore to many a sire,
The glistening tankard tells of home-brewed ale,
And Christmas gathering, and the "yule clog" fire.
The country! O how beautiful, how sweet,
Alike in wintry frost or summer shades!
How longs the weary spirit to retreat
And breathe refreshment in its quiet glades!
These are the touching scenes, on which one dwells
With tender stirrings, from youth's rosy store,
Memory of gipsy days in rural dells,
And evening walks, with dear ones now no more!
For this I love to see them thronging in–
And out,–those homely folk, from near and far,
Waking up moments that in bliss have been,
And gilding, as in sunset, things that are.
A day's "outing" to some village along the Trent, Clifton or Thrumpton especially, was as great a treat as she desired, and a farm-house never lost the charm bestowed by early experiences of Suffolk hospitality at Mr Blackadder's. Hearths as cheery were to be found within pleasant drives of Nottingham, especially just over the Derbyshire border, where, at one such farm, she stayed occasionally with some sickly one of her family, jogging home sometimes, when her host and hostess came to Nottingham on market days, in what, with a droll wink, she would call "a light conveyance"–to wit, a market cart. On the death of the good wife, some time afterwards, she wrote, "It is a real loss to the living world when such a warm spring of taste and feeling is closed to it. How much more of a chasm will she make than many more of higher pretensions!"
Much, too, she delighted in those occasional excursions among her husband's Lincolnshire relatives, in one of which, as has been related, she rode behind him on an ancient pillion. In 1841, when, from long pressure of anxiety, during an illness of my father, she wrote that, "her head was little better than a bonnet-block above her frill (frills Just then, almost rivalling in size and style, [Page 176] those of Queen Elizabeth)–they hired a phaeton for a long Lincolnshire round. From farm to farm, in those fat lands, they went, enjoying all the hospitality that abundant rural wealth could command. The good people were all Wesleyans, but withal, State-churchmen, tories, and protectionists, so that discussions, ranging from the doctrines of Calvin to those of Cobden, were often loud and long, with "Uncle Joseph" and his lively wife. Naturally, they should have been dutiful sons of the Church of England, whose grand church towers ruled all their landscape; but upon a certain occasion, their common ancestor, Mr Gilbert's father, had allowed a barn of his to be used by Mr Wesley, on one of his preaching tours, and was, in consequence, dragged through a pond by a mob, the rector, it was said, surveying the sport from the belfry. It ended in the victim building a small chapel for the Wesleyans, and most of his descendants became ardent members of the "Connexion."
Of the bitterness of the Corn-Law controversy in those years, some idea may be formed, by the manner in which a respectable paper spoke of an expected visit "of that Bright" to a northern county. "Should he make his appearance, it is to be hoped there may be found some stalwart yeoman ready to treat the disaffected vagabond as he deserves." That Mrs Gilbert, along with her husband, should take an earnest part on the side of free trade, could only be expected, since, with both, it was no mere political matter, but in their judgment, deeply affected the well-being of the community, and with it, their moral and spiritual welfare. In this, they were not singular among religious people; several eminent clergy- [Page 177] men of the Church of England took the same view; they saw around them, a deep, and wide, and growing distress, which they attributed directly to bad legislation, and they protested against this in the name of interests the most sacred. These points were forcibly put in a memorial to the Queen from the women of Nottingham, which was drawn up by my mother. It is well, sometimes, to recall the real state of mind prevailing at the time of the settlement of great questions, for, when they are settled, it is often entirely lost sight of, to the injury of those concerned in the struggle.
After apologising for approaching the throne upon a public question, but encouraged by the recollection that it is filled by a woman, and limiting the appeal to what it might be consistent with constitutional rights to grant, she justifies it on the ground that–
"The cry of distress has been heard in the land from the length and the breadth of it. It is not a feigned cry. It is not a party cry. It is not a rebellious cry. It is, we are constrained to believe, not a temporary cry. Nor is it a cry unanticipated. It is the compressed groan of multitudes, the result, we believe, of unwise, because shortsighted, legislation."
. . . . . .
"Involving as it does the interests of this mighty empire (for it must no longer be regarded as the depression of a class merely–of a class that might be freighted with its miseries to some distant grave), and being as your memorialists have ground for believing, the slow ebbing out of the strength of the nation, we most solemnly, though with profound respect, urge it upon your Majesty, to divest the momentous inquiry of every consideration extrinsic to its real merits, to set out of view the names [Page 178] and the parties by whom supported or opposed, and to decide, was responsible to the one only Potentate, the vital question; shall your people be permitted to obey the great law of existence–'in the sweat of their brow to eat bread'–or shall they perish–surely perish?"
Upon this matter her brother Isaac wrote–
"I wish I could feel as sure as you do that corn-law repeal would remedy the miseries now endured. I fear not, but having no leisure to make myself master of so difficult a question, can only groan about these sufferings, and let 'the Queen and Parliament' do what they will. Your paper is very pungent."
My mother became an active member of the Ladies' League Committee in Nottingham, which sometimes overwhelmed her with correspondence; and when, in 1842, the Great Anti-Corn-Law Bazaar was started at Manchester, she found herself unable to refuse taking charge, in conjunction with another lady, for whose assistance she stipulated, of the Nottingham stall. But she did not altogether like the scheme.
"I think," she writes, "more explanation respecting the uses of the monies obtained would have been desirable, because ever so much gold in one scale would not necessarily send up the Corn Laws in the other, and the bearings are not immediately visible. Indeed, it does occur to some of us, that if all the sums expended in preparation had been devoted to the object, and all that will be contributed in articles, the trouble might perhaps have been spared, and the money obtained as great. I have never liked bazaars."
The influence of the potato famine in bringing this [Page 179] great social injustice to an end may now be almost forgotten. It was known there were dissensions among the members of the Peel Government, "and if," said Mr Cobden at the Guildhall, "if it be not the potato rot, I want to know what murrain it is that has crept into the Cabinet?" Sir Robert Peel himself afterwards admitted that the immediate cause of the resignation of the Government was, "the great and mysterious calamity which had befallen Europe–the failure of the potato crop." In this circumstance my mother saw the very finger of God. The following lines bear date November 1845, when Lord John Russell had been summoned to the task of the abolition of the Corn Laws.
Beneath the wet sod,
Lay sprouting the rod,
While statesmen the high courts of Parliament trod,
And Potato Augustus,
There mutely nonplussed us,
While the Duke and Sir Robert, so sagely discussed us.
'Tis diverting to see,
King Potato, for thee,
What Cabinet Councils,–what panics there be!
The Chemist, exploring
With quick-lime and chlorine,
In vain seeks a nostrum thy health for restoring:
The League, with its riot,
May grin and be quiet,
Now Nature takes up the great question of diet!
The landed Esquire
With the Knights of the shire,
And the Lords of the counties, in impotent ire,
Cry, "what shall we do!
Vile root! is it you
That venture both Commons and Lords to eschew!
O who would have thought,
That we both should be brought,
By a simple Potato, to do as we ought!"
. . . . . .
The oppressed, with their groans,
Have not wakened the stones
But have roused the Potato to speak before thrones.
And vain the endeavour
Of wicked, or clever
The righteous result from its pleadings to sever;–
See! breasting the gales,
Come paddle and sails,
Deck-laden to barter their bread for our bales,
And gladsome commotions
Of laughing old oceans.
Proclaim, that Free Trade wins the world to its notions?
A modern Seer,
Appointed Bard to King Potato!
When after ail Sir Robert Peel had the honour, amidst unparalleled obloquy from his party, of carrying the great measure, my mother was quick to recognise the nobleness– "O brave Sir Robert!" she exclaims in one of her letters, but adds–"Is it not nice to see that a soft Potato slung by Providence has killed the giant!" [Page 181]
In March 1847 a general Fast was proclaimed–"On account of the grievous scarcity and dearth of divers articles of sustenance and necessaries of life." Upon this occasion she wrote to a friend that a united service of the Independent Churches in the town would be held,–the different ministers, Mr Gilbert included, giving addresses–
"Exactly on what grounds," she says, "I can scarcely say, except that something of the kind may be agreeable to the several congregations. Mr Gilbert is strongly opposed to any acknowledgment that "Cæsar" has a right to interfere in such matters, and he is, moreover, feeling very decidedly, that the present calamity has grown out of bad measures and bad landlords. His own views are too well known to be mistaken, and he will probably state them in the opening address. However, you see they do not prevent him from falling in with the Government suggestion. I believe that the Proclamation only adopts an old form in the mention of penalty. It is to be regretted that this has been done. We cannot act in religious matters under threat–human threat of any kind, but though bound to maintain this as a principle, and even to resist were coercion attempted, there does appear to me a seemliness in the united confessions of a nation, and as no such simultaneous expression could be obtained except by recommendation from head-quarters, I am willing and even pleased to conform to it. And although none of us may have personally shared in the particular crimes to which correction is now addressed, we each contribute a share towards the guilt of the country; and as a country we are assuredly very guilty in many ways. I like the general acknowledgment, and can only hope it may be in many instances the expression of individual feeling.
"To the act of fasting we do not conform. It would greatly [Page 182] impede with most of us the exercises of the mind, but I shall give my family* a plain sufficient dinner, without niceties, or superfluities of any kind, and endeavour to give the juniors an impression that a sense of sin is not out of place. To make it a day of solemnity and privation to them, would be, I think, worse than useless. I should feel no conscientious objection to our usual employments, but should scarcely violate the feelings of others by sending the young people to their singing lesson. In case of persons confined to daily labour, I think we are authorised to allow of complete relaxation–so far, 'to break every yoke and let the oppressed go free.'
"I believe there are not many who hold the principles of Independency in matters of conscience more firmly than I do, but I think, in a case like this, they may perhaps be 'honoured more in the breach than the observance.' I would not be too stiff, but these are times in which we are called to speak out and to act vigorously. We are as much alert on the Education question at Nottingham as Nottingham usually is. Mr Gilbert says he could not die in peace leaving such an entail to his family, and he works and speaks vigorously, but generally we are behind other towns."
The last paragraph has reference to the Education scheme of Sir James Graham, of which, in writing of her husband, she afterwards said–
"On the movement towards an education for the masses from the public purse, and under clerical superintendence, his interest was strongly excited, and he concurred with every exertion to negative the proposal. Of course it was not that he undervalued the boon–knowledge with him was the second great good; but he looked anxiously at the channel through which it was to come, [Page 183] the hands by which it was to be doled out. To large ecclesiastical influence he objected, on the firmest principle, and nothing could induce him to sanction the risk. The question is one, doubtless of great difficulty, and likely to perplex even the most honestly liberal of our public men; but so long as there is a petted child in the State, it is scarcely possible that fair play should be shown to the rest. Where such an anomaly, such an injustice does not exist, a system of public education does, it is said, work well–query–would not voluntary activity work better?"
The formation of the Free Church of Scotland taking place in these years, stirred her sympathies to the quick–"That noble step," she called it, "the precursor, too," she was sanguine enough to think, "of others south of the border." Yet she could not but be amused that the great defender of Establishments, Dr Chalmers, should prove the great leader of Disruption, nor did she leave her brother at Stanford Rivers without significant reminders of the progress of events. Her interest in the advancement of certain great questions seemed to grow with years. One of her sons had congratulated her upon retaining such vigorous attachment to what he supposed her early principles, whereupon she thus enlightened him:–
"You talk, dear J—, of the same hearty faith in sect and party with which I started before you were born. Now, be it known to you, and you at least are not qualified to contradict me, I have to the best of my judgment a faith in sect and party a great deal heartier! Before you were born, or while at Colchester, I had no faith of the sort at all, but a kind of mongrel namby-pamby Charitarianism, much to poor father's discomfiture, who seemed to us to go sadly too far in being a Dissenter [Page 184] on principle, and wishing that we were too. The 'great truths,' you know, and Christian love–they were the things–not to contend for, of course, but just to lie down in a nice green place somewhere, and let them fall on us like dew!–that was Christianity. I should be sorry to know less of the doctrines, and I should be glad to feel more of the love. I know that real Christian love is the highest attainment we can make; but of the principles, with which both I believe work best, I think I do understand and feel more than I did then. I believe they are the principles on which the great disruption–the sweep before the setting to rights–will take place, and that what we will not learn in our lessons we shall be taught by the rod before long. It is my duty, dear children, to understand about it as well as I can–it is much more yours. Oh, the young! the buffets they must submit to, if they will not think! And then comes acting, when, and as far as, opportunity offers; but till it offers, at least, do not be ashamed. That is the duty to-day–do it, and you will be better able to do to-morrow's. Have you read Vinet?"*
"Perhaps (she writes) the great work is to be done irrespective of the wisdom and help of man, through his rank absurdities, which form, as it were, a hotbed for a healthier and a nobler tree than could have resulted from his best culture. Look at Scotland, at Ireland, and at England! Are not the roots already in the soil, already breaking the clods, and promising surely to destroy the poisonous vegetation which is rampant on the ground? Oh, yes, we may almost stand still now and see the salvation of the Lord! Principles are in action which will never, I think, sleep again. Can they in Scotland? Will they in Ireland? and what is the prospect entertained by the best of the clergy in England? I hear of such, who, looking at the Scotch Church, are expecting a similar necessity for themselves. [Page 185] And what a relief will free air and unshackled limbs be! No bit in the mouth! One is ready to ask in one's simplicity, Why not now? Is it not pleasanter,–more like men, to walk out, than to be kicked out?"
This was written so far back as 1843. In 1845 she was reading with intense interest the biography of Arnold,–
"What a man he was!" she exclaims, writing to her husband, "yet I should like to have his little 'crookeds' set straight. . . . I read yesterday the closing chapter, including his most mournful death, so in the vigour of life and usefulness! But it gave me great pleasure to see an indication of change of view towards the close of his life, individual conviction looking larger, and national agreement less to him."
But it was not every new movement of which she approved, and she by no means favoured that for admitting women to the franchise, which was then beginning to attract notice. In reply to an application on the subject, she wrote, February 1849, a very characteristic letter–
"To Ann Knight, in reply to several papers advocating the rights of women, particularly to the Elective Franchise:–
"I have looked over the papers forwarded to me this morning, and cannot say that I accord with the views there advocated; On, many grounds I think them untenable.
"I believe that if half every family–observe, not half the community (and there perhaps lies the practical mistake), for that might be a class only; but that, if half of every family is honestly [Page 186] presented, the rights of the whole will be, in fact, as well secured as by any other arrangement. There will be, I think, as much justice, with perhaps less dissension–dissension which might affect domestic happiness–together with a much less cumbrous machine to manage.
"Nature seems to have settled the question à priori. We have not lungs; we have not courage; we have not time for it (to say nothing of interruptions which might happen inconveniently during the sittings of Parliament!). And modern science says further, that the division of labour is the great secret of order and progress. So long as houses have insides as well as outsides, I think that the female head will have enough to do, even, I might almost say, irrespective of the numerous demands now making upon her by benevolent and religious societies. To these she does feel it her duty to attend, but they make a large addition to 'woman's work' as understood by our grandmothers; still, with a warm heart and managing head, much of this sort may be accomplished, but it seems to me to form the boundary line of her out-of-doors business. Indoors she may do much, even politically–that is, I should say, it is her duty to instil principles into her children–principles affecting all the great questions–Freedom; Slavery; Justice; Humanity; War; Monopoly; Private Judgment; Voluntaryism, with as many more as may be thought of–and, supposing she do all this well, wisely, effectively, and see to it at the same time that dinners come secundum artem, that shirts have buttons (and buttons shirts)–that everything, in short, within the homestead is 'done decently and in order'–she will have, to my thinking at least, enough to do!
"You adduce scripture, and, suitably applied, we all bow to its authority, but not misapplied. 'The righteous is bold as a lion,'–certainly, and as a general truth, has no need 'to fear what man can do unto him;' but if applied to women as women, it would be plainly confronted by other passages especially in- [Page 187] tended for our own guidance, in which 'shamefacedness,' 'subjection,' 'a meek and quiet spirit,' the 'inquiring of husbands at home,' and many such like are enumerated, as their virtues; and in describing their sphere, a very different course is assigned to them–'To guide the house;' 'to bring up children;' 'to entertain strangers;' to descend to the humblest kindnesses are marked out for them by apostolic authority. It appears to me, therefore, that whenever Scripture legislates for us specially, it speaks in direct opposition to the views you advocate. I do not think they would comport with the design of our creation, or with actual, undeniable, unevadeable duties; I think they would subvert the wise result of experience in the division of labour, so necessary to the working of all great machineries; and I think after all, that we should not be a whit the better for woman's interference!
"Of course, I believe that there are both wise women and foolish men, but these terms do not divide the sexes. Generally speaking, if wise, we are not the wisest–on a large scale especially,–though perhaps on a small one. But 'the hand cannot say to the foot, I have no need of thee,' each is best about its own business; and unless we could regard ourselves as likely to make, not only able statesmen, but the ablest of the two, all we could plead for would be an admission into their councils, and then, large committees are always, I believe, less effective than small ones. The fewer that can manage a business the better; and as Government do not take upon them to make laws for us as women, but only as 'all one concern' with the men, we may, I think, without anxiety, consent to 'share and share alike' with the law makers.
"These at least are my opinions, and even if incorrect, I have not leisure to remodel, or further to defend them. You have stated yours at length, I mine briefly, and if either is unconvinced, we should not perhaps effect much by saying [Page 188] more. I do (woman though I am) feel a lively interest in great rights and wrongs, and rejoice in the belief that ultimately wrong will have the worst of it! We are going forward, but I should not expect much advantage from taking the other half of every fireside. into the quarrel. My left hand has much to complain of–never either wears a thimble or holds a pen! But I don't find myself injured by this partial arrangement; one has the work, the other the needle, and so I manage between them.
"Will you excuse me for having spoken thus freely? I think yours is a false movement, and thus far I put in my protest against it. Believe me, yours frankly,* ANN GILBERT."
Thoroughly, indeed, the writer carried out in practice her ideal of "woman's work,"–real work of any kind, indeed, as in the old "bib and apron" days, she truly enjoyed. Upon a change of servants she writes–
"This week I am up to my ears–rather above, as the crown of my cap will testify–among pots and pans, and dirt holes unimaginable. In my rummagings I have found the handles of our vanished knives and forks! Oh, it is this, and more of the same, that makes that pitiable compound, a cross old woman!"
Of her overruling concern for the spiritual welfare of all belonging to her, enough has been seen: yet she by no means considered seclusion from the world as wholesome treatment for the young, and speaks thus of a friend's son– [Page 189]
"They feel him too great a treasure to be exposed to the world's winds, and in fact will nurse him up in a bed of solitary prejudices till he will be unfit to deal with men, or encounter anything."
And to a widowed mother whose heart was centred upon an only child, a daughter, she writes–
"Your dear child has possessed advantages, both moral and intellectual, equalled by few, and I have no doubt is the dear and valuable child which such training might be expected to form;–still, as you know, this is a world of compromise. The advantages of all systems will not result from one, though that one be the best, and I do conceive that a change now might be beneficial. We feel disposed to wrap up our children in cambric handkerchiefs (as well we may) to keep them from the taint of a wicked world, and for a time it may be well to do so; but when a safe course has been so long persisted in, and the affections and moral habits are formed, it seems desirable to vary the method, and with all care to place them in different circumstances–a degree of stimulus, activity, expansion, 'manner,' and in some respects a sounder judgment might be the result."
It was now a great pleasure to her to be entrusted occasionally with the young children of her sister, when their mother was absent from home and so to renew, for a short time, the nursery care, which was no longer required at home. Upon one such occasion, Edward, the youngest, spent some weeks with her. It was the foundation of the warmest friendship between the two, but the laying of the foundation was sometimes accompanied by scenes of contest, to which she thus refers– [Page 190]
"But you will like to hear news of the pet lamb which we have to nourish. He is, and has been, quite well, and very generally good, though every now and then we have a pull for it. I endeavour to evade a contest whenever it is possible, and I assure you it costs me not a little thought, to meet the prevailing tendency with all needful wisdom, and in the way most likely to overcome it. I charge you to keep an attentive eye upon him, or he may become unmanageable, sweet and reasonable as he is. My present conclusion is–1st, avoid direct opposition where it can be done honourably and unperceived; 2d, make, when necessary, a speedy and sharp appeal to the body, adding, as soon as convenient, a few reasonable words; and, 3dly, in case of failure, leave him totally unnoticed, as much as if he were not in the room. Let everything go on, and even go out, at the proper time, without reference of any kind to the culprit, and I think it both brings to, and brings down more surely than any method I have yet devised–and I have devised many. But he is so perfectly intentional in his resistance, that in any case of habitual failure–such as crying at going to bed, or getting up, &c.,–I have found it serviceable to converse with him very plainly on the subject beforehand; and it is not very difficult to persuade him in this way to obedience, and what he means, he does generally. You will excuse my speaking to you in this fashion; but I know how easy it is to look over, scarcely to observe, or too long to neglect, the evil tendencies of one among many, and especially of the youngest, whom we are apt to regard as the baby, long after he is fairly in business for himself. I think you have everything to hope or much to fear for him, and that the alternative depends, more than in most cases, on the judiciousness, or otherwise, with which he may be treated."
In this case, "the everything to hope" was fully justified. Edward Gilbert Herbert lived to exhibit talents [Page 191] which always placed him foremost among competitors, and led his friends to expect for him high distinction in more than one pursuit. He was a member of the Chancery Bar, but his death at thirty-two frustrated all hopes. A charming essay on the "Congregationalist character," from his pen, derived much of its inspiration from the portraiture of his grandfather, furnished by his mother and his "Aunt Gilbert." To her, the name he bore in remembrance of her own lost child, would have sufficed to render him especially dear. In some verses addressed to him on first leaving his father's roof for school, occur these lines–
Thy name, dear Edward, to my heart its tenderest thought recalls,
As music of a hymn long past upon the spirit falls.
Fulfil thou but the promise that his early childhood gave,
And nothing would we change for thee–except his early grave.
That one, so industriously careful, and faithfully exact in all details, should be an excellent "woman of business," may be easily believed. All committees upon which she served, felt this; but she was also, for many years, concerned with the management of property for a dear friend who had left the neighbourhood, and her testimony upon this point is valuable.
"The greater part of my correspondence with her, consisted of business letters, and no correspondence I have had with any man of business, was ever so satisfactory; there was never a mistake, and an explanation had never to be asked for; she never disappointed me. . . . .
"I used to be struck with the power she had of entering into the feelings of others, throwing herself into their circumstances, speaking and acting with so much wisdom and discrimination, [Page 192] and often have I felt reproved and humbled by the fair dispassionate views she took of everything; giving their due, even to the most unworthy, never impugning their motives, trying to look at the bright side of every character. Never did I meet with one who, with an eye so quick to detect errors, was possessed of so large a portion of that charity that 'thinketh no evil, but believeth, hopeth, endureth all things.'"
It was to this friend, that upon occasion of an unexpected and disastrous change in her prospects, in which the honour and faithfulness of a relative seemed to be impeached, my mother wrote, striving so far, as might be, to relieve the memory of the departed from blame, but winding up thus–
"It is a quieting thought that whatever may have been the secondary causes, there is One, and He your best friend, who had the entire arrangement within His control, and who, nevertheless, did not interfere to prevent it. It is inexpressibly consoling, and very often are we obliged to resort to the remembrance, that, with perfect ease, everything we had desired might have been granted to us; and that, if disappointed, it is the deliberate decision of the wisest and the kindest, as well as the most powerful of friends, that, for us, it would not have been advantageous. In reference to the long detention of property belonging to our own family, now in Chancery, my brother Isaac lately wrote, 'There is no earthly reason why the distribution should not be made to-morrow, but, perhaps, there is a heavenly one.' By such an assurance, we may be tranquilized under any circumstances, and I desire, in all things, to resort to it as demanding even more than acquiescence."
From the letter of Isaac Taylor just quoted, somewhat beyond date, I will add some further extracts. It was [Page 193] accompanied by the first number of "Ancient Christianity"–
"April 1839.–My dear sister,–Would that our communications were more full and frequent! and that those things for the sake of which life is a good were not, so much as they are, overpowered and put aside by the mere adjuncts and incidentals of life! But so it is–each of us ('if one may speak for another') in our open boat with our precious crew and charge, and our few chattels, the billows running high, and seeming, swell after swell, as if proud with a conscious commission to swallow up our pitiful skiff and all!–each of us with knit brow reading the storm, and a hand convulsively grasping the tiller, can barely afford grace enough, once and again at distant intervals, to hail the dearest companions of the voyage, as they are tossed upon our horizon by the surge. Enough of allegory, but in fact this simile so well typifies the truth that it is frequently in my mind's eye, and when looking round upon my charge, I can actually feel the little leaky boat, tossing, and wrenching, and bulging under my tottering feet. The unconscious urchins are in high glee with the foam! The deep they do not sound.
"Ever since I saw the announcement of your little book,* I have felt as if I ought as well to congratulate you, as to express my particular pleasure in finding that you have at length returned to your vocation, and left (as I heartily hope for ever) the mending of stockings to hands that cannot so well handle the pen. Some of your mended stockings have metaphorically, and perhaps literally, cost more than the silk hose which they say were presented to Queen Bess. That you will go on writing I take as a matter of course; write for grown folks, on the most comprehensive subjects; I will not speak of the little book–the precursor–until I have taken a quiet Sunday evening upon it. . . . [Page 194]
"Never heretofore have I felt in writing, the sort of impulse which in this instance carries me forward. The crisis is great, the movement fatal in its tendency, deep, general, and on no side effectively stemmed. Few are in a position to resist fearlessly and regardless of consequences the wide inundation. All, or almost all, have that to care for which prevents their going straight forward. As to myself–five times in the day Satan walks into my study (unless it be my good angel), and mocks at me aloud for my presumption in thinking that with accomplishments so slender, and means altogether wanting, I should be able to encounter Oxford professors on their own ground. Notwithstanding these jeers, well founded as they are, my persuasion every day increases that I may do some service. I have the ear of a portion of the clergy, some of whom encourage and urge me on; I have the habit of writing; I possess what few out of colleges do, the books which are the text of the controversy; I have the temper and habits of labour and research; and moreover assuredly know that the Nicene Christianity, now obtruded on the Church, was essentially unlike Apostolic Christianity, and essentially identical with the superstitions of the middle ages. This, if spared, I shall place beyond doubt.
"You will easily believe that with such adversaries to encounter; with a parching Sahara of Greek and Latin to traverse in all directions unaided, unrefreshed, and having to carry my bread and water on my shoulder every step of the way, my daily labours are not light."
A near Sorrow–Pupils in the House–A Begging Expedition–The Leifchild Hymns–Harpenden and Marden Ash–Church Membership–Trouble.
"The matter that detains us now may seem
THE last chapter was occupied with the various public questions of the time in which my mother took an interest, and with some miscellaneous matters; the more domestic record of the same period–between 1840 and 1850 will now be dealt with.
In 1840, the death of a young mother, the sister of her daughter-in-law, and very dear to a large circle, came with November gloom. It almost broke some hearts, and her tender, sympathetic nature felt it deeply. To her daughter-in-law she wrote again and again, trying especially to remove painful regret attaching to the suspicion of mistaken treatment.
. . . "Yet, dear S— when we have done our best, acted upon the clearest judgment, or the kindest feelings, or the best advice we could command, it is equally wrong, as unavailing, to [Page 198] indulge regrets and attribute sad results to our own mistakes. Whatever were the circumstances, it is clear now that her death at that time was intended, and always had been intended, by Providence. Had her life been to be prolonged, many events must have been arranged otherwise than they were; but of her mortal existence there was and could have been no more. . . . . You have ever been to her, my dear child, the tenderest sister, and you ought to take the comfort of such a recollection. You did all that love could do under the circumstances, and we are never responsible to-day for tomorrow's light.
"You speak of an impression which you desire never to lose, and I earnestly pray that you may not. I pray that all the hearts broken by this stroke may in this way be bound up, but sorrow itself will not do it. It will deify the past, and the heart will again idolize the present. How soon does it try to make amends to itself for the blight of one dear interest by idolizing another! Do not yield to the delusion. Look while the veil is drawn aside at the great things beyond."
But trouble was soon at her own door, and in one of its most trying forms. For several months in the following year, her husband lay in severe illness, at one time so serious that all his family were sent for. Of the courage, patience, and submissive trust, shown by the wife–though, as she said, "often sickly anxious"–it is needless to speak. The anxiety was aggravated by the necessity of moving to another house, for which his recovery only just allowed time.
"You cannot think how I long to be as strong–as strong as Hercules' wife–at any rate, for the occasion; but I find I can't 'do as I used to could,' and must be content to pull my business [Page 199] behind me, instead of pushing it before. How very few comfortable afflictions there are!"
The house, to which they now removed, was inferior both in itself and in its situation, to that they left, but from the rooms in front, and especially from my father's study, there was a prospect of gardens across the street, in spring rich with lilacs and laburnums, which often drew the now venerable figure to the window, where he would stand for several minutes at a time, lost in abstracted gaze. The room was still large enough to permit of the perambulation so necessary to his thoughts, and to hold his library, as well as the favourite stand for plants. Within these walls his last days were to be spent. The fitting up of a new home had always a charm for my mother, whatever her regrets for the old one, and notwithstanding its disadvantages, comfort soon pervaded this, as every home of hers.
"We can forget (she wrote), so far at least as not to be enduringly unhappy, at parting with scenes long endeared to us, if only other scenes of love, employment, and usefulness are opened to us elsewhere."
And a new element was now introduced into the household. The sons gradually became only visitors at home, but pupils, first one and two, then as many as four, came in their stead. They were not sought, but offered, and at a time when the aid was very acceptable. Two, after reaching manhood, are already dead, the others, men of influence and position, retain, it may be said, an affectionate remembrance of the house in St James' Street, of the [Page 200] kind-hearted tutor, who would blush while he corrected a false quantity, and of his wife–
"Gentle, untiring, tender,as one of them wrote long afterwards. She was solicitous that none should come as schoolboys to a school, but as members of a family. She felt them a great responsibility, and, as always, sought help of God to perform her part. She was not given to serious speech with them, anything serious she would rather entrust to a letter, laid upon a table, or put into the hand at parting for a holiday; but she often administered smart rejoinders and sarcastic, perhaps too sarcastic, hits, which, however, as well as the letters of more earnest moment, were taken in good part. Let him, already quoted, bear his testimony on this point:–
Simple, cheerful, true,"
"Kind ways she had of warning,
For those she thought had erred,
And sparkling wit adorning,
Just barbing, suited word."
Among the "kind ways of warning" may be instanced the following, contained in a letter to one of her daughters; it began:–
"Have you seen the following sad paragraph? We think we know the people,–
FEARFUL LOSS OF LIFE!
"It is our painful duty to record an afflictive circumstance, which will involve, it is feared, a fatal issue to nearly all the younger branches of a family well-known in the vicinity (Not- [Page 201] tingham), but which, for obvious reasons, we do not at present name.
"It appears, that it had been the habit of the senior members, for a great number of years, to assemble for breakfast at eight o'clock A.M., no apparent evil resulting from this arrangement; but for reasons as yet unexplained this desirable custom had for some time past become nearly extinct! The result, as we are assured, by the ablest calculators, is the loss of at least one hour per diem to all the actors in this domestic tragedy; and this, supposing the term of life to be seventy years, and its available working time, exclusive of childhood and rest, about 35 years, will shorten that period by not less than 1672 days–days without night, or clear working time. Of course, though the proportion to a shorter life would be but the same, the value of loss or gain, to such an amount, would be only enhanced. We feel justified, therefore, supposing the present ruinous system to continue, in regarding it, as to all intents and purposes, a needless, an irrecoverable–a fearful loss of life."
Reference has been made to the difficulties in which the people of Mr Gilbert's charge had been involved, through the pressure of a heavy debt. For the extinction of this debt, his wife now privately formed a resolution, which led to one of the most self-denying acts of her life. She would go forth and beg, hoping at least to collect a sum, which might prove "a nest-egg" (a favourite expression) for future additions.
"I have," she writes, "lately taken up a new profession, which has occupied time, thought, strength, not a little, and the more so, as it has been carried on incog.–even papa knowing at present not a word of it. The case is this: I am proposing to attempt in London something towards the reduction of the chapel debt, [Page 202] but I have felt that it would be requisite to any decent appeal to strangers, to be able to say that something had been done at home. So it occurred to me to act on my own responsibility. It cost me much to determine upon, and much to effect, and I am weary of the concealment imposed upon me. . . . I long to know what Papa will say when I display my bank notes which I hope to do in full tale on Monday evening. I have been obliged to let the girls into the secret to account for my continual absences from home–O such trudging!"
But at Nottingham she was amongst friends. In London it was a different affair. She had indeed her son's house there to go to, and she humbly proposed an earlier visit than she feared might be convenient, on the ground of being upon the "King's business." He, and all her family, heartily disliked the errand; her husband, for his part, would rather, he said, "spend seven years at the treadmill;" and there are some who still think remorsefully of the little help or encouragement they gave to their noble mother, in a task as distasteful to herself as to them, and of which, she took without murmuring, all the weariness and painfulness. With a pale anxious face she would start in a morning, and return in the evening, "dog-tired–ready to be carried away in a spoon," as she phrased it but radiant or depressed in spirit, as the result of the day might have been. One generous friend she had in the large-hearted Dr Leifchild. Without his encouragement she would hardly have ventured upon the undertaking. A few passages from letters to her husband will explain how she fared.
"June 1842.–Dr Leifchild introduced me to his deacons; [Page 203] they were very kind; Ann Taylor, and the sister of Jane Taylor, they did not doubt many would assist with pleasure. I am really thankful to find my name everywhere so serviceable to me, for all refer to it as the ground of any success I may meet with . . . .
"One great difficulty has been to make a commencement, which the Dr. would not allow me to do for less than £10. At last I undertook to make my own commencement with Aunt Hooper, to whom I had written a few days before. I lost three hours' sleep that night from anxiety for the result, and set off with something of an aching heart. Nothing could be kinder than my reception. Not a cross word or tone during the visit. She was benevolent and tender, and gave me ten pounds as freely as if they had been so many pence. Indeed, I thanked God and took courage! There I dined (it was at Kensington) and saw the Queen and suite, with the children, going to Ascot Races, but I really saw only her parasol."
The "Aunt Hooper" spoken of was one of that original family of Taylors who, with the exception of their brother Isaac (my mother's father), possessed a deal of grit in the composition of their powerful, rugged, but not unkindly natures. "Aunt Hooper" especially, had so caustic a humour, that nephews and nieces of very mature age were apt to shake in their shoes on approaching her door.
My mother deserved to prosper, for to many a poor minister with a "chapel case" had she given hospitality, and aid often better than money, to the jaded man. His home it might be, was far away among the Welsh hills, but he would find all the comfort of a home for days or weeks under her roof. Her success after six weeks' toil was moderate, yet she considered that her [Page 204] object was sufficiently attained, and then gave herself up "without a twinge, to rest and pleasure in a visit to Stanford Rivers, going down on the top of the coach; everything, except here and there a new cottage, looking precisely as it did thirty-one years ago."
The Cecils were now at Ongar, Mr Cecil having taken the pastorate there. Several missionary students were then under his care for preliminary training, and among them David Livingstone, who showed the future explorer by walking the twenty miles to London on a straight line by compass, over hedge and ditch. Livingstone was sent one Sunday afternoon to officiate on an emergency at the small chapel at Stanford Rivers, when his performance astonished the congregation. He gave out his text, and then, after a pause, descended the pulpit stairs, took up his hat, walked straight out of the chapel, and sped back to Ongar. It could have been little foreseen that the "stickit minister" would one day find a grave in Westminster Abbey.
The bright intelligence and keen discernment of the Rotherham "Salome," disciplined by the trials of life, now found ample scope. "She is," wrote Isaac Taylor at this time, "a miracle of energy and 'au-fait-i-ty.'" He rejoiced, too, at obtaining a man of such elevated piety as her husband for a pastor. "I long for my Sundays," he said. With Salome, my mother now "enjoyed a quiet coze," rejoicing to have regained another home at Ongar
Making the excuse of inquiring whether there was a path across the fields, she knocked at the door of the "Peaked Farm," was asked in, and went through the old rooms, where she "could all but see the dear old inhabitants." Then she "visited the graves," and walked home [Page 205] to Stanford Rivers alone, "on a lovely evening–the quiet hour filled with touching recollections."
The strong friendship subsisting for many years between herself and Dr Leifchild, arose from her having largely assisted him in the publication this year, 1842, of a volume of "Original Hymns" for congregational use. She contributed seventy-six, but they were not among her happiest efforts. Some were too didactic, or even argumentative, for psalmody, others dealt too much with private experience, most of them lacked that spontaneity and ease which belonged to her occasional pieces.
She needed a personal interest, and one of the hymns included in the collection owes its superiority to this. It was written for the funeral of a lady who, during the early years of my father's ministry at Nottingham, was familiarly called "the Deaconess," from her untiring unobtrusive labours. There had been excavated in the solid rock under the chapel, vaults in the fashion of Roman catacombs, and the scene was very striking, when, after a service in the chapel above, the dead were borne with lights along the rough-hewn aisles below, and the mourning group, half hidden in the darkness, gathered round the spot, where the loved remains were to be sealed in their rocky tomb. Several of the honoured founders of "Friar Lane" lay there already, when this "young saint" was brought to join them, and the effect of the following lines, sung around the bier in those subterranean corridors, will not be forgotten by any who heard them:–
He comes! the Saviour comes!
His mourning Church to thin,
The faithful few, to peaceful tombs,
How thickly gathered in!
Here fast the ransomed dead
Are sheltered from the strife,
Each slumbering in a quiet bed,
Till death is lost in life.
Here mothers sink to rest,
Unheeding infant cries,
Here in his labours richly blest,
The Christian veteran lies.
And still with happy tears,
Another saint we bring!
How old in faith! how young in years!
This gem of Christ our King!
Stir, stir thee, O my soul!
T'await the trumpet call;
His chariot wheels how near they roll!
His shafts how quickly fall!
E'en now thy lamp to trim,
Turn thee from earth away,
And follow those who followed Him,
Through darkness into day.
For a great number of years after leaving Hull, she wrote the hymns to be sung by children and teachers at the anniversary services. These too often, like so much of her poetry after the death of her loved Edward, when writing for the young, "took the tone in which a mourner sings."
Yet, of the hymns contributed by one of her sons to Dr Leifchild's collection, she curiously makes this very complaint–"why do you write hymns for a mournful imagination only? Try something that shall fall like sunshine [Page 207] on the heart–something that Plato could not have written."
With her great love of country scenes, it was no small pleasure to her, that two of her sons finally settled down in country places. Her son Henry, however grievously disadvantaged by the accident to his sight, had now, in association with J. B. Lawes, Esq., of Rothamsted, entered upon that career of scientific investigation in relation to agriculture, which has made their names so widely known. In that ideal of an English village, Harpenden, he took up his abode, or rather on the borders of its village green, which, shaded with fine elms, spreads out from a grey church tower, upward into an extensive common, bright with gorse, and traversed by tempting footpaths. On one side, the noble trees of Rothamsted lead up to the antique manor-house; on the other, amidst a labyrinth of sequestered lanes, is hidden the "Mackery End" of Elia. Not much further off is Gorhambury, and the tomb of Bacon, who, of all men, would have rejoiced in the true Baconian methods pursued at Rothamsted. Here, in his first year of tentative experiment, came father and mother to see their son, the first, of nearly annual visits henceforward, to the country homes of their children.
It was a journey of many changes in those days, for it was long before any railway approached the spot, and traffic, even on the great lines, was interrupted by long delays. In writing to her sister of the delights of arrival, a notice of the primitive laboratory in the fields, whose successor has been styled the "Greenwich Observatory of Agriculture," is now of some interest.
"It was half past eight in the evening when we were left with [Page 208] our luggage on the platform at Boxmoor. There was an hotel close by, and Mr G—, who was thoroughly chilled, thought nothing could be nicer than a warm, and a bed, but I thought that to get to Harpenden, and not disappoint poor Henry, would be nicer still; so after a good warm at the fire, and spirited inquiry on my part, a conveyance was produced, which, with a brisk little nag, brought us to the next stage, Hemel Hempstead, and there, under a bright and beautiful moonlight, we took a post-chaise for the rest of the journey, through a fine hill and dale, and woody country. It was sweetly calm and pleasant, and I did enjoy it. Just as we crossed the pretty Common, at the entrance of Harpenden, a voice called, ho! stop! The man, I believe, thought we had fallen among thieves, for he whipped forward immediately; but, on looking out, I joined the hue and cry, and dear Henry was on the box in a moment, so that we drove direct to the lodgings he had taken for us. It was half-past ten, the door opened into our sitting-room, bright with candles and comfort, the very beau-ideal of snugness; even that night, papa could not help expressing gratuitous approbation; and the next morning, after a sound rest, when we awoke to our snow-white furniture, a beautiful day, and the very pretty village–trees, houses, cottages, roses, and green, visible from the window, he could not but break out into expressions of unqualified pleasure. Three times during breakfast, he uttered various "eulogia," not a little gratifying to me, who had been the guilty suggester and perpetrator of the journey And now, while I have been writing, he has put down his Greek book, and said, 'This is calm! this is really calm! this does seem the place to come to!' Isn't it a comfort?
"Yesterday, we walked twice up to the Laboratory. Henry has, indeed, an arduous employment, or rather, employments, for there are various and distinct departments; but he is interested in both the processes and the result. He has [Page 209] frequently, and had yesterday, to remain there till eleven at night, then walk a solitary mile home, and be there again at four, not returning to breakfast till near ten; and worse than this, he is, during the evenings and mornings, entirely alone, in order to let the man sleep who watches when he is away. It is a process attended with some danger, and we neither of us liked leaving him yesterday evening (we stayed till nearly nine) alone in that solitary spot, not a soul within call (at least, not a body, the other we could not answer for), in a wild, rambling laboratory, surrounded, or rather crammed, with implements and objects, that looked more like the fossil remains of extinct species than anything else. Before we left, he closed all the doors but one, a large barn door entrance, which would have admitted a gang of gipsies very well, stuck three lighted candles, in some sort of putty or other, about the walls, and then took leave of us for two hours of dismal, and rather nervous-looking solitude, with just the possibility of an explosion before he had done." *
But perhaps the removal of her eldest son from London to the country was even more interesting to her, for it was to Ongar that he came. Near the "three wants-way," where visitors for the old Peaked Farm used to leave the coach, and which, marked by an ash tree in the middle, was named Marden Ash, stood a house well bowered in trees. There he made his home, and it became a favourite haunt of hers for many years. Nor was the cause of the removal less interesting to her, since it was the association of her son with her brother Isaac, in the artistic management of his remarkable invention, for [Page 210] applying mechanism to the delicate and complex processes of line-engraving.
The decision to join in this matter, however, and to remove from London, had been an anxious one, and many letters had been written by both father and mother on the subject. The mother's were tinctured strongly with hope, and with the delight of seeing him located between Ongar and Stanford.
"I do not love London–its habits, tastes, hours, or anything–and could not therefore regret for you the change. And oh, the beauty of the real country! and the quiet of a life uninterrupted by wheels and knockers! But this, of course, 'is as folks think, uncle.' . . . It is, I think, mercifully arranged that your decision may come piecemeal; all we need, as I say often enough, is the sight of the next stepping-stone, and if that be but afforded, and the stone itself is tolerably smooth and dry, we may not only be satisfied, but thankful.
"My thoughts, when free from the anxiety of indecision, and dwelling only on your present, and, to me, pleasant location, feel to breathe a freer air, and to be tinted with brighter colours than when they hovered over you in London; and to you, whose early and happy home it was, I should think it must be full of delightful interest. But, oh, the final yea or nay! I do dread it.
"Do not be afraid of death from suffocation from those beautiful trees. You will get to love them; and how sweet they are, with the winds and the birds, and the flowers, and the grass plots, and all the lovely items of a country garden–that one earthly good which I have coveted all my life, and do not possess! Think of turning out on to your own gravel walks before breakfast, and bringing in a fresh radish to help your appetite, if then heeding help! But these radishes will make me poetical, and I must forbear. I cannot express my astonishment [Page 211] and admiration, knowing as I do what engraving is, at the effects you describe. Nothing in modern invention seems to me more marvellous."
When the change was completed, she did not let the occasion pass without urging a step still more serious.
"It is not a favourable thing to be lost in the multitude of a large London congregation. Whatever may be the pulpit, there are too many pews to form a home. A mass of strangers, many of them exhibiting anything but a lovely phase of Christianity, is not a soil in which Christian sympathies readily expand. It is not a brotherhood. How much happier and more improving to form one in the bosom of a smaller, but compact assembly, where each knows and is known, loves and is loved. Long and anxiously, dear children, have I watched for your progress; but you have appeared to me to yield to unfavourable influences, and to fritter your hopes among everlasting cavils, forgetful that, after all, neither your own cavils nor those of other folks, will afford an available excuse for continuing stragglers without the fold.
"I know you have objected to the scrutiny to which a more direct course would subject you, but see whether it is a reasonable objection. Could you feel the Christian brotherhood of a church whose admissions were indiscriminate? or would it be possible for such a church to bear honourable witness for Christ in the world? Would you like to make one of such a compound? or could you read the Epistles to Colosse, Philippi, and Thessalonica, as addressed to you, being one of their number? And, if not–if in order to preserve the character and the uses of a Christian church, it is necessary that some candid judgment should be formed respecting those who wish to unite with it–how could you devise that it should be effected in a way less [Page 212] objectionable than that usually adopted? Be reasonable, my dear children; and if, after looking seriously at the circumstances, you still feel that there are disagreeables to be encountered, still decide honestly whether they are such as would justify you, related as you both are to 'the household of faith,' in holding a solitary course, and refusing both the honour and the happiness of naming the name of Christ according to His will. Perhaps the circumstances you object to, may form the very cross which dispositions like yours maybe required–might do well to carry–a test of humility and sincerity even wisely adapted–the rough angle of the strait gate, which, nevertheless, you are required to enter. Would you have shrunk back when Jesus spat on the ground and made clay?"
She had greatly rejoiced in her son and daughter living now near to her own "Salome," but this was not long to be. The following year, 1844, Mrs Cecil died, a loss deeply felt by her old friend,–
"I have (she writes) a very nice letter from her, written only on the 15th of April. Of you she says: 'J— is gone to London, and S— is coming to tea alone. You can scarcely long more for their obvious salvation than I do. The Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.' These were the last words she ever addressed to me; and deeply, dear children, do I feel her loss for, and with, you. I had regarded her as a kind Christian friend, affectionately watching over you, and that such an one should be thus suddenly taken away is a loss very great, and not easily replaced. . . . Be solicitous to fill up the ranks thus broken. Surely it is time. Life is getting on even with you There is a little 'cause' at hand, which to you, dear J—, is as your Fatherland, needing help, needing countenance, needing the young to fill up the places of the old. But still more do [Page 213] you need a name and a place among the people of God. How would it. comfort the heart of Mr Cecil to find fruit springing from the withered branch of his happiness!"
The letter, from which the following extracts are taken, was addressed to S—, the daughter above referred to:–
. . ."By-the-bye, while we are closeted together, I remember being asked a little time since–'Mamma, is J— the favourite?' My prompt and honest reply was–'No, dear, I have no favourites among you; and hope I never shall have.' I found, however, that the question was grounded on a suspicion existing at — (what it can live on, poor skeleton, I cannot imagine), that he is not the favourite! So innocent was I, that this, as the meaning never crossed my mind. No one, I conclude, has a grown up family, without entertaining a sort of distinct anxiety for each of them. They have separate individual dangers attaching either to their characters, or circumstances, and these impart, in some degree, a separate individual feeling to a mother's solicitude. One is thought of, feared for, loved in one way, another in another, and no wish have I, if I could, to balance the differences, and ascertain if there is any preponderance. . . . In truth, there is not one that I love better than dear J—, let this, therefore, remain as a question settled with whomsoever it may concern. With regard to dangers surrounding him, they are of the pleasantest kind–not, therefore, the less dangers. We are thought to differ in some respects as to our views of personal religion, and the lines of demarcation safe to draw. . . . Mixing with people of all religions, or of none, (and very agreeable notwithstanding,) without close conscientious watching, important points will be placed among the minor differences, and minor differences, though real and scriptural, will go for nothing, or be labelled 'bigotry.' Let him take care of this–especially that sort of care that says, 'Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.' [Page 214]
"Whether or not my own religion is worth a straw (and I will not express my anxieties, I know I am thought to be extra strict at least. Perhaps I am, and yet it seems in this day of laxity, to be erring on the safe side. I know the habits in which I was educated, and they seem to me to be safe habits; such as partake of the nature of a fence. The Sabbath especially, I would preserve for spiritual purposes; on the mere ground of living a busy life, in which to labour for six days is indispensable, I should appropriate the seventh to those purposes for which we have confessedly, and often unavoidably, so little time in the six. This, independently of Jewish observances, or commands, I should judge to be happily equitable to ourselves. When, therefore, I object to irrelevant reading–reading which, though not light, is yet not instructive, or stimulating, believe that it is under such convictions that I make the objection. We need time and thought for our eternal interests; we are not so all awake to them as to require cooling down. Constant, real stimulus is not more than our mental sloth and indisposition call for. To do otherwise is, as if, when stopping in a long journey at a railway station for refreshments, we were to employ our ten minutes in counting the people or the dishes –not wrong in itself, but very foolish, for we shall find no food elsewhere. . . .
"When I reflect on the hazards of being afloat on the real concerns of life, without having made distinct surrender of yourselves to Christ–at least to his cause (which is certainly one fearful condition–'he that confesses me not before men'–you know the remainder) I do feel anxious. . . . But do not think of me, or my opinions, think of, and for yourselves. Be persuaded in your own minds, and when persuaded, ask counsel of God, and avow your convictions. I am not your judge, my dear children, if ever you have thought me hard or unwise, remember that 'to your own master you stand or fall.'" [Page 215]
When the step so long looked for was at last taken, by both son and daughter together, she felt it, as her sister Jane had said on a similar occasion, a joyful token of "true family prosperity." It was pleasant to her to think, that they were officially introduced to the church by Isaac Taylor, and that it was Richard Cecil who gave them "the right hand of fellowship;" yet she was far from insensible to the dangers even of church membership. To a daughter who had recently entered upon it, she wrote:–
"There is, as we think, in the ceremony of Confirmation, a tendency to deceive into the belief that all is now safe, and in becoming a member of a Nonconformist church there is a portion of the same danger. True that more care is previously taken to ascertain the genuineness of professed piety, and that more watchfulness and supervision are exercised afterwards by the society to which a young member is introduced, but still the danger exists. Many, I fear, sink down satisfied with supposed safety, and make little advance if they do not retrograde. But a dependence thus resulting from one act, and one charitable judgment, is anything but secure. Growth, vigour, fruit, must evidence life; and for these, my dear child, earnestly and continuously labour, maintaining the daily conflict in the hidden field."
Upon this point she also wrote upon another occasion–
"Though rejoicing when the young make an early and open profession of Christianity, it is rarely I can rejoice without trembling. The difficulty of ascertaining the genuineness of it after so short a trial, at an age when emotion is so easily excited, casts a shade which checks my gratulation. Not that there is conscious insincerity, very far otherwise, but that this early [Page 216] piety, like the early flower, and the morning dew, is so often to pass away. If the good seed be really sown in the heart, then great are the advantages of this public surrender. It opens a spring of internal comfort, and places around the young disciple an external defence of unspeakable value. But if the impression has been only superficial, the effect of circumstances, of tenderness, of terror on the young heart, then, how even injurious both to the individual and the church may such a step become! To the former, the 'name to live,' may continue to disguise the fact of spiritual death, and the soul deceived, and let alone in its position, may never awake to a sense of its danger; while to the church is added only a dead weight, as is the case in every body without a soul. With many such members, its spiritual activity becomes only party zeal, and its function as the 'pillar and ground of the truth' is impaired or ceases. I would not willingly increase the difficulties of any who contemplate this early surrender. Many, the most genuine, entertain the most fear, and need the warm pressure of the right hand of fellowship to give assurance of cheerful welcome. But I would say, let those whose names have stood perhaps for many a long year on the church books, sometimes ask the questions,–'How came I there? ought I to be there? could I now propose myself?'–and not be easily satisfied with the answers."
It was in 1844 that with her youngest son, who had lain for months near to death, she made a long stay at Broadstairs, afterwards a favourite retreat, and a place of large family gatherings. Eventually her brother Jefferys removed to its neighbourhood. Charles Dickens was often there in those years. His letters describe some gorgeous sea effects at Broadstairs, and here is one they may have looked at unknowingly together. She writes– [Page 217]
"Yesterday, at tea, we had a severe storm of thunder and lightning. The appearance of sea and sky as it subsided, was most striking; the sea, at first one with the sky in heavy mist, so that scarcely a sail could be discovered, gradually cleared to a dead, leaden, immoveable plain; the vessels, one by one, like stars in twilight, became brightly visible, the sun shining upon them splendidly under the gloom, so as to make their full array of white sails, reflected again from the perfectly still sea, look like polished silver, while one which had brown sails, seemed from deck to masthead in flames. A splendid and perfect rainbow spanned the whole, and after continuing a long time, as it faded from above, looked like a stream of flame from a volcano just beyond the horizon."
During this absence from home she wrote to her husband–
"Earnestly seeking for our dear children, 'first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,' I am willing to hope that the closing encouragement shall be fulfilled. I know, indeed, and feel, that it is easier to maintain what shall look like faith and dependence in the sun than in the shade, but real faith and dependence are, I suppose, better grown, and better tested in the shade than in the sun. Perhaps the trials and threatenings we have lately encountered are intended to excite more genuine hope and trust in you, and to deprive me of all that is not genuine–all that runs only in the blood."
Her letters to her old friend Mrs Laurie, always recalling so much of the past, begin now to sound like the toll of passing years.
"A thousand dear, bright, tender regrets will cling about past life, but whether we are disposed to admit it or not, quiet and rest, [Page 218] life in small compass, are the elements of comfort as we get far into it. . . . I hope now that your plans are decided, that the trials, which have threatened in several quarters, will gradually clear away, and leave you a bright evening of enjoyment, tranquility, and hope. How strange it seems, my dear friend, that you and I should have to talk now only of bright evenings! I suppose that other people have felt it as strange themselves, but to the young, old people look like a race by themselves, who never were, and had never any right to be, anything but old. For ourselves it appears almost as if we never could be anything but young, and as if it were very good of us to consent to be otherwise. My husband is often now threatening that he will give up and find some quiet resting place in the country. He pines for more quiet than can be had in a country town in these stirring times. And sometimes, the prevalence of errors too wide almost to check, and yet too foolish almost to reason with, makes one all but sick of life, and cowardly under its responsibilities. I hope and pray, that a race may spring up armed for the conflict. But what a conflict it will be! and how little present appearance is there of such a phalanx."
To the same friend she wrote in 1845–
"I happened the other day to take up a sermon of Mr Burnett's on 'Errors in Prayer,' and greatly did it disturb me. It is true that much may pass for prayer, which is not prayer, but who shall say that distress shall not cry? Who could wait to be sensible of faith before he could feel a warrant to pray? My spontaneous feeling was,–'Well, right or wrong I must pray, and if I perish, I perish.' And most thankful was I to call to mind one (and who needs more?) direct apostolical command to a wicked man to pray,–'If so be the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee, for I perceive thou art in the gall of bitterness and the bond [Page 219] of iniquity,'–not neutralised by the associated term 'repent,' for both were enjoined as immediate duties; and if at the moment he had exclaimed, 'God be merciful to me a sinner,' you cannot imagine Peter as interrupting him with the information that he should not have begun that so soon! No, it is well to arouse the formalist, but surely not well to cast a straw of impediment in the way of one only anxious, much less such a beam as seems the fair result of that sermon."
In the following year, giving her usual family chronicle to this friend, she says–
"You know I was taken with an attack of sixty-four in January, and do not think I have altogether recovered yet. Take care you do not catch the infection. I never saw it in any case completely got over."
Four years had passed, during which the thought of her son's residence near Ongar and association with her brother was a daily joy to her heart; but then came disaster. The adaptation of complicated machinery to so complicated and beautiful a process as line-engraving required much time and capital. Eventual success seemed to be secured by the workmanship of the plates executed for Dr Traill's translation of "Josephus," edited by Isaac Taylor, when the sudden death of the translator, who had embarked large sums in the venture, brought everything to a standstill, and some of those concerned to the verge of ruin. But for this failure, a branch of art, of which England has supplied some of the finest specimens, might have been preserved from extinction. The time and labour required, when executed by hand alone, are too great in this age of quick production, and Line-engraving is almost a lost art. [Page 220]
How keenly my mother felt this crisis in the affairs of brother and son, how bravely she met it, a few extracts from her letters will show. When the first number of the "Josephus" was on the point of issue there had come ready congratulation–
Dec. 1846.–"Nothing, I hope, will prevent your enjoying up to the safe side, a merry Christmas, and a happy new year–happier than usual, I should suppose, if Josephus really looks at daylight on New Year's morning. May that be the prelude to much honourable — (word misspelt and lined out)–Only see!–the word prosperity would not allow itself to be spelt! So, suppose we say success, which will do as well."
The omen was too soon justified. When the following year things were darkening, she wrote, after a family meeting, where every one of her children gathered for a few days under their father's roof–
"I am very glad–thankful, that you have all been at home with us once more; but it was a short, hurried, and in several ways, anxious visit, such as we should not have cut out for ourselves; very much the colour of the world it grew upon. How long it is before we learn that this is just what life is intended to be!"
In the midst of the trouble she wrote her usual birthday letter to her son–
"Hitherto life has been a safe and pleasant course to you. Tenderly do I wish, hope, and pray that it may so continue, though more of cloud and anxiety hangs over it now. It breaks our hearts to look at the position of the whole affair. I have often wondered that your uncle retains his elasticity for constant action. But how I grieve for his haggard looks and grey [Page 221] hair! Last night he, and your father, and Mr Herbert, sat till past twelve discussing the matter, and your uncle said that the additional weight of a feather seemed sometimes as if it would be too much for him. However, you have the satisfaction of feeling that hitherto you have scarcely taken one avoidable step, and if only you feel where Providence has placed, or even pushed you, it is abundantly tranquilizing. Besides, I entirely concur with — in thinking that the change from London habits, society, and vexations has been obviously beneficial to you; and if instead of growing a richer, you have become a better man,–if you have made four years of mental and moral progress in the right direction, why, looking at life as a course, and a whole, it has not been ill spent time. They have not in themselves been painful years, but day by day pleasant ones. Take care now to burden your day with no more than its share."
Again, to her daughter-in-law–
"I do not remember that I have ever felt thoroughly anxious about such things till lately. It has not been my forte; but the perils of two of my brothers,* and the degree to which you are involved with one, seem now to prey upon me. For J— I say as you do, that once unencumbered he would soon right himself, and though blank loss is an ugly thing to look at, yet, when you are not obliged to look at it, it may be forgotten. But my brother! How I yearn over his anxieties!
"After all, dark and trying as things appear, it is to me a comfort to reflect on the struggles and anxieties through which, during the greater part of their lives, my dear father and mother passed to an old age of comfort, and (I speak now of my father, for my poor mother was all nerve, body and mind), never dis- [Page 222] trusting or upbraiding Providence, and verily he had his reward. Always cheerful, thankful, hopeful, and trusting! My mother, too, gained something of the like tranquil dependence towards the close of life, and now they rest from their labours! May we, my dear children, be chiefly concerned to follow them whither they have gone."
But the stress was heavy upon her. "How I groan about you every time I wake in the night!" "O my heavy heart!"–show what she was enduring In 1848 things mended a little. The engraving apparatus was taken to Manchester, and there applied with considerable success in the end, to engraving the rollers for calico printing, though the inventor gained little permanent advantage. In the summer of this year father and mother visited Marden Ash together, when the latter enjoyed at least one very happy day in an excursion to Colchester, where she took her son and daughter all round the familiar scenes of her youth. Returning home she wrote–
"Interest after interest, scene after scene, and memory after memory, have chased each other so swiftly over our hearts, that I could hardly feel all that was, or might be, included in our parting with you, and perhaps it may be as well, at our age especially, to take the present and leave the future, thankful for now, and humbly leaving then. Oh, that the storm may blow over, and skies clear for all who are now in shade!"
The skies did clear at last, and towards the close of 1849, she was able to write a cheerful greeting to her son–
"I think there are some advantages in a Sunday birthday succeeded by a Monday's festival. There are two sets of thought [Page 223] and feeling so diverse, to which a birthday gives rise, but though diverse, not opposite, or destructive of each other. How many glad, and cheerful, even gay feelings, will befit the Monday! . . . Yes, a light-hearted festivity may, and I hope will, render it a red-letter day. Nothing, I trust, will be wanting, certainly not the persuasion of warm sympathy over the hills and far away.
And for the Sunday, how much there is in the inscription on one of these mile-stones that is emphatically 'Sunday reading.' If I have a pleasant thought about you, my dear child, it is that you have now taken a voluntary stand among the friends of Christ, and that by singular providences, you assist to sustain his cause in the spot so dear to us. It is, I know, an anxious post, implying no small burden, still I rejoice in your bearing it, and do hope your courage, faith, and patience will not fail."
My mother saw worth, where some are apt to see only "Philistinism." Her testimony to the virtues of that lower middle class with which her position brought her much in contact, may here find a place. It is extracted from a poem of some length upon the experiences of a minister–
—"the folks in trade,"
Our pastor knew them, often gathered thence,
Lessons of self-denial, patience, sense;
The trust in Providence, the worth of prayer,
The energy of manly bearing there;
Sore struggle 'twixt the dangers of the day,
A ruined prospect, or a crooked way!
. . . . .
Yes, and the growth of Christian knowledge, too.
Reaped from his labours, in the humbler pew;
The listener, faint, and waiting to be fed,
Hungry and thankful for the living bread;
The Sunday dinner was not seasoned there
With cavils at his sermon, or his prayer,
But treasured for the week, they gave supply
To toiling souls, who lived that they might die.
Not all were such, 'tis owned, but more were found
There of such Christians, than on higher ground,
And freely as the glorious message fell,
Year after year, he saw the number swell:
Not many noble yet, that message prize,
And more repugnant still, not many wise!
Forebodings–Failing Energy–The Palace Tree–The Father's Last Christmas–The Meadow Crocuses–Farewells–Death of her Husband.
"And darkly pondering on their youth,
THE years were now approaching, and they were not few, in which the loving wife was to live a widow. The shadow of the coming sorrow was cast long before. In the brief diary, every returning attack of illness that visited her husband, is now carefully noted, disclosing the secret thought that it might prove the last; and in every mention of him, there is pathos in the ever-recurring phrase, "my dear husband." Always on the 20th of March, his birthday, a walk together in the level meadows, purple with crocuses,* between the town and the Trent and usually a visit to a secret hedge side, where the first [Page 228] violets were to be found, marked the day. Gathered by his own hand, violet and crocus were taken home and treasured. But these anniversaries became trembling joys, and after one of them, she wrote–
To the meadows, to the meadows, love, the birds are on the trees,
And the scent of springing violets comes stealthy on the breeze,
And the pulse of early love is warm, on the cheek and in the eye,
And the heart is beating tunefully,–it cannot tell thee why.
And we are young, my well-beloved, and life is yet to be,
And many a spring has birthdays yet, to decorate for thee,
Then let us to the meadows, love, the woodlands and the vale,
And when we've found the "white thorn bush," I'll listen to thy tale.
I wakened from the pleasant dream–a dream of vanished years!
And time upon my cheek had traced a pathway for the tears,
And silver were the locks, my love, that o'er thy forehead strayed,
And thou a staff hadst chosen thee, from out the hazel shade.
Yet let us to the meadows, love, e'en altered though we go,
For still, to all things beautiful, the mellowed heart can glow,
And few and brief the summer-tides that yet to us remain,
And when we've taken leave of them, we see them not again.
E'en now, in some green churchyard way, the dews of night may lave
A daisy root, like that we bore from thy young mother's grave,
Which ere some pleasant spring or two hath made its leafy stir,
Shall blossom over us, my love, as that did over her.
Then let us to the meadows, to the woodlands, to the vale,
Ere the golden bowl be broken, and the silver cord shall fail;
Green earth shall still be beautiful, when closed our little day,
And we'll enjoy her loveliness, as twilight sinks away.
A page from the album, family record as it was, opens thus its summary of the events of 1850– [Page 229]
"Another Christmas! and after an eventful, and a shaking year; yet here are we again,–living to welcome it! From successive illnesses, the dear father has been much threatened, and much reduced since its commencement, and compelled almost entirely to recede from public duty, his last sermon during the year having been preached on Sunday, Sept. 29, from words selected without design, which had been also the text of his first sermon–'Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me." Up to the present time, he has continued to administer the Lord's Supper to his Church; but he has tendered to the deacons the resignation of his pastoral office, having been twenty-five years in Nottingham on the 16th of November last. This, for a time, he has been requested to suspend, but he is anxious now to withdraw from duties which he can only so partially fulfil. On the 1st of August last, our dear Henry was married to Eliza Forbes Laurie, fourth daughter of a friend with whom I have been in intimate and affectionate correspondence, from the age of fifteen. . . . On Tuesday evening, December 21, on which day we had been married thirty-seven years, our children began to arrive. . . . On Christmas day, their dear father, though unwell, formed one of the party at table, but early retired to his study, and did not return during the evening. Of such lights and shadows are the years composed, and we do not look for much brighter days when the leaves are falling. God of our fathers! Be thou the God of their children, and of ours. 'Guide us by thy counsel, and afterwards receive us to thy glory.'"
But the end was not yet. Several indications occur in these years to show the strain upon the wife's spirit, and that the wonderful elasticity of her nature was greatly impaired. [Page 230]
"I cannot," she wrote, "trundle my soul before me, and run after it quite so alertly as I used to do." Again,–"The world is indeed thinning around us; so many with whom we have been long familiar being removed, that we feel ourselves on the brink also, and almost hurried in spirit (at least, I do) under the feeling of much imperfect or undone. There is no time to spare out of a soon-told seventy years."
"Your father must have change of air, and therefore I shall, though to be surrounded by daily business, and bolstered up as you may say by things imperative, seems necessary to keep up my elasticity. I am, in fact, too indolent to be safely treated with leisure, and therefore always fancy I am best at home."
Another letter of this year, 1850, alludes to the characteristic tendency of her mind, which cheerful spirits so much concealed:–
"I cannot write even for a wedding-day without something doleful in it; much less for a birthday, of course! I remember when a girl, papa saying to me, after reading something I had written, 'One would suppose, child, you were the most miserable creature living!' Yet I never was, and why I so invariably slip into the melancholy I cannot tell. I think in order to avoid it just now I will only say how sincerely, my dear child, I wish you all motherly wishes, all variety of happiness–of the best sorts you know–and throwing up the recollection of a birthday entirely, give you just the few scraps of intelligence which I can call to mind. These, after all, are the parts of a letter often most interesting. Occasions that arise every year, with just the same sort of light upon them, it is very difficult to make much of after the first dozen or twenty. All the saws have been sharpened, all the advice administered, all the good wishes exhausted. A little genuine love and real interest, such as may be trusted pure from [Page 231] a mother's pen, and then the few family matters in which we feel a mutual concern, are for the most part the grain of gold in the compound."
In 1851 the continued ill health and uncertain prospects of her youngest son, together with the approaching retirement of her husband from the ministry, and the anxieties belonging to the choice of a successor, preyed much upon her spirits:–
"The prospect before me," she writes, August 15, "presses upon me sadly, and occasions that doleful, indescribable gnawing distress in what poets call the heart, but which is certainly the stomach, of which, on first waking, my poor mother (who had more causes than I have) used to complain. . . . I was going to say 'all these things are against me,' but I desire to withdraw that foolish word. I desire 'to trust and not be afraid,' but when my elasticity yields I am sadly weak. Faith is better than elasticity. I wish I had more of the right sort!"
"B— has been to me with a 'case of conscience.' My reply was, 'Woe to the man who is not keeper of his own.'"
One bright fortnight occurred towards the close of the year, when she was tempted to combine with a circuit among all the dear homes of the south, a visit to the Great Exhibition of 1851. Of this she writes:–
"At eleven we found ourselves amidst the wonders! A wonder it is! but so impossible without weeks of time to look specially at anything, that it is the beauty of the thought, and thoughts suggested by it, that made on me the chief impression. The peacefulness, the industry, the amazing skill, the art and science of the whole world (Naples excepted), all in magnificent union, together with the most minute and extensive accom- [Page 232] modation, provided for every want of millions of visitors–these were the essence of the delight which one must have been dead not to have enjoyed!"
But there was one thought more–
Amid the glassy halls,
Bedight with gold and gem,
Where the light fountain falls,
Behold a stately stem–
A noble, graceful, living tree,
Caged in that gay variety.
Its birthplace was the field,
Pure skies its native air;
There sun and showers yield
Fair food to growth so fair,
And, still for open Heaven designed,
It flourished, e'en in winter's wind.
Now, wherefore droops the leaf,
Surcharged with dust of earth?
Alas! this pageant brief
Befits not such a birth;
From realms where purest ether played,
How can it here but pine and fade!
Dwells not beneath the veil
Of that fair prisoned tree,
A monitory tale
About the world and me!
A spirit clad with angel wings,
Tethered to earth by golden strings!
Oh! not till brittle walls,
Till life's gay glittering show,
Till each, in ruin falls,
Shall the freed spirit know,
Its growth, its strength, its native skies!
Poor captive soul, awake, arise!
Christmas-day 1851 was the last at which their father sat down with sons and daughters at the family feast. Their mother thus describes it:–
"Never before, nor can we ever again, enjoy one so memorable, so complete, so without drawback of any kind. The beloved parent was for those few hours in firmer health than usual. Before dinner, the whole of my own and my sister's family, eighteen in number, assembled to an interesting service, the baptism of our first grandchild. Interrupted by frequent emotion, my husband went through it very beautifully, addressing all, suitably and tenderly, as a Christian father about to lay down his earthly oversight. After dinner he addressed them again, warning them against the religious perils of the day, exhorting them not to regard truth as scarcely existing, or, at least, not to be found, but to search for it as treasure, even if for a time hidden treasure; to be ever pressing forward to discover, not with the vain fancy of making it for themselves; and then, so much as remained undiscovered here, would await them in Eternity. Truth would there shine out upon them, both to stimulate and reward perpetual progress. For himself he hoped to be even a better mathematician in heaven than he could be on earth."
One more happy circumstance closed the year. On the 29th of December, the church and congregation met to present their late Pastor with a testimonial of their esteem, in the shape of a secretary for his study, and a purse of 220 sovereigns. He could not be present himself, but sent a letter, from which the following passage may be quoted– [Page 234]
"I have no need to envy those who repose on a State provision, nor to feel distrust of what is called, sometimes in derision, the 'Voluntary Principle.' For while it is clear that it is consecrated by the Scriptures, the old as well as the new, it is also clear, that those who, like you, take occasion practically to illustrate its excellence, and to adorn its exercise, do amply vindicate it from such ignorant censure. Let us, therefore, unite in commending it to the guardianship of God, its author, and to that of all good men, His loyal subjects and faithful servants. I rejoice, that in what you are now purposing to do, I should be the favoured instrument through whom you discharge that high function."
His wife, in quoting this, adds–
"It was a beautiful moment when his children, then ten in number (his own and others united to his own) returned, and stood with their mother in a large circle round the venerable minister and beloved parent, to congratulate, and report to him the proceedings as above. He received the account with humble, tearful, delighted thankfulness, and after hearing as much as he could bear, sent them away and begged to be left alone."
On the 30th of January 1852, her 70th birth-day, she wrote a letter to each of her seven children. It was unusually cheerful–
"It is just as a memorial of my being seventy, not to be burnt, but kept. Presumptuous, isn't it? But if you have a place in which to keep letters, put this there, and if not, make one; it is one of mamma's fancies, so excuse it; and just like her too."
. . . . . .
"I have a long letter from Mrs Laurie, whose heart has beaten true to times and seasons, to my certain knowledge, for more [Page 235] than fifty years. Dear children, I wish you, in return for all your kindness, a life as long as mine, as happy as mine in all outward circumstances, and, dear friends, as true and warm as mine. . . . O seek till you find the right sort of happiness, and let the thought of future regrets be ever at hand, to aid and corroborate present duty, whether in the outward world, the home circle, or the little theatre within, where all the great battles have to be fought."
On the 20th of March, her husband's birth-day, once more, and only by help of a cab, they got down together to the blooming Crocus meadows for the time-honoured handful. Already these charming lakes of purple colour were invaded by inclosure, and she had uttered this lament–
THE LAST DYING SPEECH OF THE CROCUSES.
Ye tender-hearted gentle-folk of Nottingham's fair town,
And you who long have loved us, from the Poet to the clown,
Attend our sore complainings, while with one accord we weep,
From mossy beds uprising, where we sought our summer sleep!
How many a pleasant spring-tide, ere a blossom peeped of May,
Nor yet a stealthy violet its dwelling did betray
And scarce the winter flood had left the lowlands to the sky,
We came in thronging multitudes to gladden every eye!
We came–a simple people, in our little hoods of blue,
And a blush of living purple, o'er earth's green bosom threw,
All faces smiled a welcome, as they gaily passed along,
And "have you seen the Crocuses?" was everybody's song.
Forth came the happy children, to their revel in the flowers–
Forth came the weary working-man, to that sweet show of ours:
Forth came the lace-girl cheerily, the common joy to share;
And e'en the stately gentle-folks were pleased to see us there.
But oh! 'twas dreary midnight, when we heard the winds bewail–
Deep strange Eolian whisperings, came sighing on the gale;
Anon, with hammer, wheel, and blast, the welkin rang around,
And each a deadly shiver felt, beneath us on the ground.
Awakened in the solemn gloom of that untimely hour,
The little spectre started up, of each ill-omened flower
While o'er its head, a coming spring, in brick red trance was seen,
As factory, mill, and wharf, besoiled our home of meadow green.
One gentle shriek the silence broke, one quiver of despair,
"Our fatherland, farewell!" we cried, "farewell, ye meadows fair!"
"Dear children, born of yester spring–dear children, yet to be–
Ye shall but read of Crocuses–no more, alas! to see."
"Spirit of giant trade! We go; on wings of night we fly,
Some far sequestered spot to seek, where loom may never ply.
Come line and rule–come board and brick–all dismal things in one–
Dread spirit of Inclosure come–thy wretched will be done!"
To a friend this year she writes,–
"Rest and quiet are the natural luxuries of age. But how far are they, or ought they to form, luxuries to those in youth or middle life? The gracious curse of labour is an incalculable blessing; and among the special mercies of my life, I have always regarded the regular confinement to daily work. . . . . . Your account of — is very touching. There was an expression in a Prayer Book used by my mother at home, which always struck me,–'Without Thee, in the fulness of all mortal sufficiency, we are in straits.' And how true is it! A vigorous high tone of piety would supply the craving of the spirit, and find both enjoyment and employment in either the lack or the abundance of this world's good. To a medium class of mind, married life with its duties and pleasures, would for a time be sufficient; or to a [Page 237] character naturally strong, ways would open which it would be exhilarating to pursue; but which of these conditions can we command? Or how deal with the want of them? Indeed, I cannot advise. When the mind is not strong enough to move itself, what can be applied as sufficient stimulus? For myself I have been thankful never to have been left to choice or opportunity, but always to find a groove before me, and quick trains behind."
In June a little incident cheered the wife's heart,–
"At the Public Missionary Breakfast of the year, the Exchange Hall was densely crowded. Mr Gilbert had for a long time ceased attendance at any meeting of the kind, but 'midway in the proceedings his white head was observed, as he made his way through the assembly. The speaker paused,–a warm, heart-gladdening cheer ran through the meeting; he was assisted to the platform, and then, though interrupted by frequent emotion, he acceded to the request of his brethren, to return thanks to the ministers deputed to visit us; this he did with nice adaptation to each.' . . . Few more anxious, or yet happier moments have I enjoyed. I must confess to the satisfaction with which, on being inquired of by a lady next me, who it was whose entrance had so interrupted the meeting, I was able to reply–my husband."
In October she wrote,–
. . . "Even in early autumn the leaves begin to fall around us, and should we ourselves chance to be evergreens, we may be left bleakly standing. We, indeed, are among the fading or falling trees, and it is a strange feeling (or strange, perhaps, that it did not impress us sooner) to know, that the blast, or the woodman must now be near at hand!" [Page 238]
Yet during these last months the husband and wife together, were able to correct for the press, a new and cheaper edition of his Lectures upon the Atonement, she sedulously assisting, except when, as she laments, "a proof sheet of thirty-two closely printed pages arrives, with so much Latin and Greek in it, that I can be of little use." Mr Gilbert put a short preface to this edition, concluding with these words:–
"Verging as I now am on the limit of mortal life, the great inquiry of human nature–the great inquiry presented in the New Testament–'What shall I do to be saved?' assumes an unspeakable importance. There I find the one answer–'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.' That this simple reply involved, and intended the Divine scheme of substitution, I cannot question; and I rejoice once more to attest my reliance upon it, my earnest, cordial recommendation of it, as the sole, solid dependence, the only consolation left to the spirit, in the prospect of its final account."
Later in the year a work, published anonymously in numbers, "The Restoration of Belief," afterwards acknowledged by Isaac Taylor, attracted general attention. My mother writes of this and another very different work,–
"We have read two numbers of the 'Restoration of Belief' with great interest and admiration. It rises as it proceeds. There is the Hall mark upon it, indubitably. Nobody could question the authorship. Papa is especially delighted with it. By-the-bye, is it a sheer insult at this time of day, to ask if you have read 'Uncle Tom'? Strange if you have, and yet have not mentioned it! O, what a book it is! My admiration is simply inexpressible! that is, say what I will, I ache to say more, [Page 239] but cannot find words, which is, I suppose, what people mean by inexpressible." . . .
This was the last bright passage in my mother's letters for many a day. On the 25th of November the dear father was assisted from his study to his bedroom. She writes,–
"He left the scene of thought, labour, enjoyment; endeared to him, notwithstanding continual pain, by the associations of many years, and he saw it no more. He expressed satisfaction at the comfort of a small dressing-room, used during the day for a short time longer, but added significantly,–'We know what it means.'"
Later she says,–
"It distresses me to advert to it, but the alteration in your dear father I cannot shut my eyes to, though I would fain not open my lips."
In the first week of December his sons from a distance began to arrive in sorrowful expectation that the end could not be far off; and on the morning of Sunday the 5th, after sending his love to the church, to be delivered at the Lord's Table, he addressed two of his sons at some length, "preaching to them," as he said, his "last sermon." During a few following days he spoke to friends visiting him, in short sentences, but with collected and continuous thought. He was tenderly grateful and affectionate to every one around him, and his reliance was humble, cheerful, and unwavering on his "Blessed Redeemer," the term he most frequently employed.
"By the middle of the week he became silent, but a brief 'I [Page 240] love you all,' and 'bless you,' expressed his undying affection, and still later the pressure of our hands to his lips. The last two days he fell into lethargetic slumber, and we did not expect any further sign from his exhausted frame; but at noon on Saturday, when we thought every hour might be his last, he suddenly lifted up his head and searched us each out earnestly with his eyes, striving in vain to shape his lips to speak, for no sound issued, but we understood him to mean 'bless you' by the motion of them. Soon, with a sweet smile, he laid his head down again upon the pillow, and dozed off into his last sleep."
This from a letter by one of his sons. The last scene of all shall be told in my mother's words:–
"About three o'clock on Sunday morning, December 12, the audible breathing gradually subsided, and sank at last into the quietest calm. We were all assembled round his bed, and at about twenty minutes before four, we concluded that he had left us, though so gently, that for nearly half an hour we remained uncertain whether he were indeed gone. None but those who witnessed, could conceive the beautiful expression which for some time rested on his countenance. Not a movement had passed over his features–not a gasp, not a sigh was drawn–and from that which he had always dreaded, 'the unknown pang of dying,' be was, we feel sure, entirely saved."
It was the anniversary of the death of our grandfather at Ongar twenty-three years before; and it was Sunday morning, once the day of our dear father's honourable labour, but now of his sacred rest. When our mother turned from her long, fixed, silent gaze upon the countenance of exquisite placidity, where the cold shade of death was gradually settling, her eyes were full of tears, [Page 241] but a smile was upon her lips as she murmured, "beautiful, beautiful."
The funeral took place on the following Sunday afternoon, not in the catacombs which have been described, but in the general cemetery. The principal service, however, was held in the chapel, where the coffin was placed in front of the pulpit. When the time came to bear it away, our mother stood up, and, stretching out her hand, rested it a moment on the lid–a final farewell. She did not accompany the funeral to the burial ground. There several thousands were assembled; the grave was reached with difficulty, and the scene justified the opening words of an address by one of his brother ministers:–"To-day the gates of this cemetery open to receive one, who is followed to his resting-place with the eyes of multitudes, and with the respectful regrets of the churches of Christ."
In the evening the large family circle, with Isaac Taylor and his widowed sister in their midst, sat late into the winter's night listening to the talk between them–he expatiating upon great themes in meditative strains, that recalled now the rich utterances of a "Saturday Evening," and now the far flights of a "Physical Theory of Another Life," she questioning or assenting. For a time the thoughts of all were lifted to those things which are "unseen and are eternal."
Too soon, as we are apt to think, the claims of life arise to draw mourners from the grave at which they would fain linger. Especially it was so now, when immediate arrangements were necessary for leaving the house, for disposing of the library, and providing another home for the widow and her daughters. To a friend she wrote:– [Page 242]
"January 14, 1853.– . . . It is indeed a strange, incongruous mixture, which the world, as it moves on irrespective of our sorrows, introduces into our hearts and hands. But such are the terms on which we survive even the dearest. We must go on! We are permitted to weep only for a time, and even that with interruptions, which may be salutary, but which we should not have chosen for ourselves. The interval since my dear husband's death has been one of unresting business–coming and going of my children–and only a few quiet hours in which to look at either the past or the future with its continued bereavement! It seems so strange that this will not alter–cannot improve, except by a gradual 'reviving of the spirits,' which, though kindly aimed at by our friends, it seems cruel to wish for. How often do I long to see him, as even lately, coming down from the study in his gown, his candle lighted, and his white hair almost on his shoulders! But it will never be again! That word never we do not at first realize. Continually the thought crosses me for the moment, 'Oh, I will tell him!' as things occur that would once have interested him. How far he knows now, without telling, who shall say?
"We are obliged to plan and act for ourselves, and that I do feel. His children come and go, and we arrange for future comfort without his advice, or a kind look or word of acquiescence. For some length of time he had desired that we should do so; but we always felt that we could ask an opinion if we would. Now we have just to make ourselves comfortable, and please ourselves! A sad change to get used to!"
The change was so great that her own birthday, occurring a few weeks later, passed unnoticed. Being her father's also, it had always been a family festival. She wrote to a daughter.–
"I had intended a birthday visit to the cemetery, but I just [Page 243] went through the rain to the Refuge. I feel with you, dear C—, how much of a dream was that sad season! I could not feel as I would fain have done what was passing over me; and thankful should I now be to recall a vivid recollection of every day. But so it is. Life is a vapour we cannot grasp. It escapes us, whether as yesterday, to-day, or to-morrow–though of yesterday, we have the firmest hold of the three. I have many a quiet cry which nobody knows of, and yet I feel a constant deep thankfulness, a very touching blending of sorrow with gratitude."
One evening, shortly after her husband's death, she read to her children, what not long before, she had read to him, a poem, entitled "The Minister's Widow," from which a single quotation will now be given. Although not at all biographical in the portions which might be supposed to describe herself, but which had a purpose of their own, it is evident that in "the minister," she drew from life.
There was in him a restless bent of soul,
Of every questioned point to grasp the whole,
And if it gained a bias from his pride,
It was to doubt against his party's side.
. . . . .
He could not think in grooves, but took his flight
Far, deep, and wide, and high, as mortal might,
Till what he gained was his by noblest right.
And forth to noblest use such gains he gave,
His life's one object now, was souls to save.
He owned One master, and to him he brought
Each gathered fruit of toil, of prayer, of thought,
And if he much enjoyed the kindling ray
Of human learning, as the holiest may;
Or felt the generous glow at honour won–
The public plaudit in a race well run,
For higher ends was each acquirement stored,
Strength, knowledge, fact from every realm explored.
Talents, to him, were loans of solemn weight,
Fields not his own, except to cultivate,
And ever and anon he kept in view,
The reckoning day when interest would be due;
O! to be owned a faithful servant then,
With praise of Heaven! what now were praise of men?
Memoir of her Husband–Dispersion of the Household–Death of Jefferys Taylor–Winter at Stanford Rivers–College Hill–Passages from Correspondence–Summer Journies–Wales and Scotland–Christmas Gatherings.
"King of Comforts! King of Life!
"Thus would I double my life's fading space.
TOWARDS the end of the Pilgrim's journey, Bunyan describes his entrance upon the pleasant land of Beulah, "whose air was very sweet and pleasant,"–"a country where the sun shineth night and day," a land where "they had more rejoicing than in parts more remote from the kingdom to which they were bound, and drawing near to the city, they had yet a more perfect view thereof." Our Pilgrim was now in her seventy-first year. The demand for great and strenuous exertion had in various ways ceased. The great sorrow of her life, which had long darkened it with foreboding, was passed; more than all, the Christian's hope grew brighter and more peaceful. These days were her best days. She recovered health and spirits. Within the bounds of her own country she travelled far and near, enjoying nature and art with a keen [Page 248] relish, and with a youthful enthusiasm which her children envied.
But there must first be a great break up of old and sacred ties. The disposal of her husband's library was an immediate care. After each of his sons had made choice of a portion, the rest was sold in London, and it cost her much to strip the study walls of the treasures of many years. But she was very brave about such things. Yet one little sentence shows what she felt.
"The three beautifully bound volumes of Leibnitz (they had been bought by him abroad, but were bound only during the last year of his life as a final mark of his regard) were purchased for Rotherham for 7s. 6d.! I cried, though nobody saw it, and my expressed regret induced Mr H. to reserve them for T—. I wonder some of you did not secure them; the outside and the sentiment are not in Latin, if the inside is."
Then came the surrender of the house, waiting the building of another, undertaken by one of her sons; and the dismantling, and the warehousing of furniture for the year during which herself and daughters were to be homeless. With wonderful energy she superintended all this; and in the midst of it, hunted from room to room by the incursions of workmen, called off every moment, she composed a memoir of her husband, to accompany "Recollections of the Discourses of his closing Years."
"I have no idea," she writes to a friend, "how it will sound, but I trust at least we may be thought to have done something like justice. It has been written so much against time, and interrupted by so much uncongenial business, that I have been [Page 249] compelled rather to work than to feel. It does, however, come over me with constant satisfaction, that I have been spared to pay at least a genuine tribute to his beloved memory. On Friday, the 13th, I do hope to start for our long, homeless, journey. I say hope, not because it is pleasant to leave the scene of so many dear associations, but because it is time we should be on the move."
Respecting the memoir she afterwards wrote–
"I have heard it regretted that the memoir is so distinctly that of a dissenter. Now, it appears to me that to have blinked such a feature in the convictions of a clear inquiring intellect, and the conduct of an active Christian life, would have betrayed a cowardly surrender of things which he, and we, held to be great truths, and shifted from under him the platform on which he stood. I could not have written with such a tether. But such a regret appears to me one of the collateral evils inseparable from an Establishment. Some moral delinquency it might have been well to veil, or with such a difficulty, to have let his history die with his life; but on what ground, but on that unjustly assumed, could it have been even desirable to screen his theological and ecclesiastical preferences from the public eye? On none, but on the assumption we are right, and therefore you are wrong, and occupy a disgraceful position. Why cannot we occupy even ground? In reading the lives of Cecil, Scott, and Arnold, I perceive not the slightest attempt to screen the fact of their being clergymen,–nothing like saying in a tone of apology–'You see what men they were, and yet they belonged to the Establishment.' But if not for them, why for my husband? From what did he dissent? Assuredly from nothing obviously scriptural, not even now from the law of the land. When such a man forsakes the communion in which he was born and trained, to the obvious disadvantage of his secular prospects, and against the persuasion of [Page 250] esteemed men, it is surely due, both to him and the views he embraced, to state the grounds of such a decision. His history could not have been given without the facts. His entire life and usefulness were traceable to his position as a dissenter, and I should have deemed myself cowardly, even for a woman, to have done other than I did."
On the 5th of April, she "took hasty leave of the dear old rooms–the study, the bed-rooms,–the garden where, on so many Sunday evenings of late, dear papa and I have walked! But it is all over? Now, what shall be the next change?" One circumstance connected with this removal, was not known till long afterwards. The death day of her Edward was always marked in her diary with a broad black stroke, and his age, had he lived, was noted. It was now twenty-six years since his death, but in a locked drawer were the child's clothes he had worn. She would not carry these to any new house, and alone, at dusk, one evening, buried them in the garden, along with other sad memorials. A fresh leaf in her life was turning over, and she would accept it as such.
But the first year of this new era was twice touched with sorrow. Early in the spring, the beloved wife of her second son died, and in August, at St Peter's, near Broadstairs, her brother Jefferys passed from his changeful life. His sister, with energies seemingly unimpaired, being, as she said, "single-handed but able-bodied," sat up with him, night after night, through a prolonged and solemn scene of death, daily described in her letters. The large brain could now only prompt short exclamations of "bitter, bitter." The deft hands were only thrown out towards her whenever she entered the room, pressing hers, [Page 251] or drawing her down for prayer; while the nurse, with weird, old-wife notions, teased her with–"when you take hold of his hand so, it just prevents his going when he would." His long-tried, faithful wife lay in another room.
"It is, indeed (writes the sister), a trial of patience to lie blind, helpless, feeble, dependent, hearing without being able to assist her poor husband. Sometimes she mourns that she is so useless, but I tell her she is doing more honour to Christianity by such utter passiveness, than she could have done by the most strenuous labour. We all know how much easier it is to work than to bear. . . . I think, sometimes, of your large and pleasant circle, when I sit down to my solitary meal, not that I would change places; I rejoice to be here."
It was at this bed-side that she heard of the death of her oldest friend, Mrs Mackintosh.
"She was (she wrote) quite the earliest living of my friends; the last remain of Colchester. And you know how I have enjoyed the latter years of her friendship–the gathering of the last ripe figs, here and there, one on the topmost bough! Just fancy yourselves, children, standing alone among the graves of a generation! Not one left to whom you could say, 'don't you remember that?'"
She settled for the winter of this year, 1853, under her brother Isaac's roof, at Stanford Rivers, though he was generally absent at Manchester, carrying out the application of his prolific mechanical ideas, not only to the engraving of calico patterns, but to the costly processes of calico printing.
He wrote to bid her welcome to his home, and in tender remembrance of the death day of their father, though now nearly five-and-twenty years had passed. [Page 252]
"You will not have failed to recollect this 12th of December 1829. The weather here, to-day, is very much of the sort it was that day, and it has aided me in bringing back all the circumstances. I cherish these recollections, and when occasion arises, I feel pleasure in transmitting them to my children. You, perhaps, do the same It is getting late, and I ought to wind up for the night. What unlikely things come about,–in your journey!–in mine! Four-and-twenty years ago, nothing could have seemed more strangely improbable than the facts of the present–at Manchester, living apart from wife and children, and spending my days in the rumbling intestines of this world of machinery!
"But now, at this late hour, when H— takes his candle, it is my practice to invite calming meditations, and to cherish the best thoughts."
This winter, in a country seclusion, hallowed by so many sacred associations, was very pleasant to her.
"How beautiful everything looks! it is hard to decide between winter and summer under a bright sun; each has its loveliness. Stripped as the trees now are, there is so much variety of pencilling–so much evergreen, such sweeps, and fingers of gold and brown, and such brilliancy in the white frosts, that on the whole, we have beauty everywhere, even now. You cannot think how much I enjoy my temporary residence once more, near Ongar. The pretty little town is, almost to a brick, the same as it was forty years ago. Door-plates are altered, and there are a few new buildings, but the general appearance is the same. . . . "
On the day before Christmas, her wedding day, she contrived, at seventy-two, to walk to Ongar alone, and to do a memorable thing. [Page 253]
"I made my way to the Castle House, then to the church, up one lane, and down the other, and finding the church-door open for Christmas decorations, I went in and stood at the Altar! Very, very strange! sad, and yet merciful, at the end of forty years, to stand on the same spot, and see everything just as it looked then! to feel myself embosomed in the love of a new generation, near and distant, and to visit the many dear graves, at that time, little thought of . . . . God finds sorrow for us, we make regrets for ourselves, and may those who are young enough to profit by experience, take care that the sorrows are kept pure."
Of her brother, who had returned home for a time, she gives this picture–
"He is indomitably active, has an eye, an ear, a thought, a contrivance for everything, and with all the pressure, a father's heart, overflowing as human heart can be. He looks to me as if he had lived among the steam engines, till the whole tone of character was marked by high pressure. I believe the solitude of his condition at Manchester, which he bitterly feels, is yet highly advantageous, if not necessary, for the work he has to originate. J. M— says his inventive faculty is wonderful, and except perpetual motion, which seems a property of his own nature, it appears as if all machineries were within compass of his powers. The variety of lines in which he has excelled, astonishes me. Many of his early drawings, designs, and miniatures, are beautifully executed, his domestic poetry is touching, we know his works, and we see his machines. Yesterday, he went to London to arrange for a very important adjudication in conjunction with Henry Rogers, and Professor Baden Powell of Oxford.* Two [Page 254] hundred and thirty essays were sent in, several in German, which they discarded as not intended by the testator. Eighty they disposed of as below par. One considerable volume was blank paper, ruled, with only this at the beginning–'The fool hath said, in his heart, there is no God,'–'if there be a greater fool, it is he who sets about to prove that there is'!–witty and wise too."
At a later date–" Isaac is all day at mechanics; at every meal one of the MS. vols., on which he has to adjudicate, is laid on the table; at ten, when we go to bed, he sits closely at them till twelve, and the third part of 'Restoration of Belief' is just advertised! It is killing work."
To this picture may be added a portrait of the wife, a year or two afterwards, and then staying with her husband at Manchester.
"Your remarks, as to the love and loveableness of E— exactly express my own feelings. The very continuity of interest which wearies, perhaps, us commoner or busier people, is the outflow of an universal love and sympathy not often met with. But I think also that a few months at Manchester have opened sluices long nearly stopped by the leaves and flowers of thirty summers in the country. Her short youth was one of admiration and homage, her maturity, of maternal seclusion; and now an almost second youth has gleamed across her. She has struck me as the most of woman in simply womanly attributes, of any that I know."
Many years before she had expressed her surprise at the amount of work her brother could accomplish, and his reply includes a curious reference to the way in which one of his most noted books had been received in certain quarters– [Page 255]
"There is no real mystery in getting through with a good deal in the year; or if there be, one Taylor need not explain it to another. Only observe the simple rule of staying at home, and sitting so many hours every day, to the business in hand, and the thing is done. If free from care, and well in health, I should not scruple to undertake getting out two bouncing octavos per annum, and all original! Thank you for your favourable opinion of 'Saturday Evening,' but you have not near so sharp a sight as some folks, who have discovered that the author is a 'Neologist,' &c. . . . who contributes his help to distress and bewilder believers."
At another time, however, he confessed to the strain of this continual brain work–
"I am compelled to use my cranial machinery very cautiously, and if I could, would take a year's rest. But who can do as he would? I have some doubts whether Gabriel can."
Her now only other brother, Martin, living at Welling, Kent, was also visited during this year of wandering. His fondness for animals was as marked, as a certain antipathy towards them in Isaac Taylor. The latter was annoyed to see human nature reflected in so low a sphere.
"So the months fly along, about as quickly as I do from one scene to another. . . . I greatly enjoyed my visit to Welling, though all my visits now partake much of the farewell feeling. They are as happy there as care will let them be, and Martin can throw that off pretty well for his wife's smile, Fury's bark, and Minnie and Fay's (the cats) affectionate importunity. Which they love best, him or his supper, I will not say, but he thinks it is 'him'! . . . It has been sadly dark and dreary for Martin's late rides from town. How anxiously we listen for his horse's foot, [Page 256] sometimes at almost ten; and how gladly we feel assured by Fury's unmistakeable, and never mistaken welcome! When he happens to be out of doors he will distinguish 'Tom's' sober trot at a considerable distance. It is pleasant to see the happy home which our brother enjoys, cheered by all this live stock. They are, I confess, pretty creatures, with winning ways, and I am surprised and amused to see how three successive dogs have worked their cold noses into my cordial regard. But what a wife he has! last and not least, so exactly and admirably suited. . . .
"I am glad to see immense importations of foreign corn, so that housekeeping will be a little better for us all. But I am anxious about the war (with Russia), are not you?–though fully approving it as unavoidable, and greatly admiring the modern patience and caution with which it has been entered upon, so different from the word and blow system–blow first–of our forefathers."
Three years later, visiting Welling, she writes–
"I was surprised and thankful to find Martin a warm admirer of Spurgeon, about the last preacher in the world with whom it seemed likely he should coalesce. He now rises at six on Sunday morning, rides ten miles to the Surrey Gardens, and sits there from a quarter-past nine till eleven before the service begins. He does not reach home again till late in the afternoon. But he seems to labour for language to express his conviction of the genuine simplicity, earnestness and power of the preacher."
In the spring she was staying at her son's house, near Ongar, and there heard of the death of her old friend Montgomery. She writes–
"May 15, 1854.–Few have lived so honoured, so beloved, as our dear departed friend. It was, indeed, merciful that the [Page 257] bitterness of death was so entirely removed, a favour granted to many of the children of God, within my own knowledge, to whom the physical act had always been an object of nervous dread. My sister Jane, my dear husband, whose peaceful departure is so nearly described in that of Montgomery, and our friend, Miss Chambers, had all suffered from the apprehension, which in much mercy to them was never fulfilled. They knew nothing of dying till its blessed result broke upon them.
"The past year has been one of much mercy, and the continual change has been beneficial to my health, for though I was not sensible that it required improvement I find in increased strength, and other indications, that the scenes of many previous months had impaired it. . . . My winter's home (Stanford Rivers) was a kind, loving, soothing retreat, and though leaving it for one as happy here, with my dear children, I felt the parting very much. I should think, my dear friend, that you can sympathise in one sad feeling belonging to widowhood–the liberty to go where I please, and do as I prefer, without leave or reference. It has cast a shade of sorrow over even the kindest arrangements for my comfort, and soon now I must furnish a home for myself! Of course, the comfort and wishes of my three dear girls will be part of the plan, but there will be no study. O how does the world seem thinning of all with whom we have lived as of our own day! It speaks of sparing mercy to ourselves, but it is a new sad feeling which the young cannot in the least realise–one of the sure sorrows of time:–
"Live to be ninety! So my friends predict,
Ambiguous blessing! What does it imply?
That stroke on stroke my lonely heart afflict,
That one by one I see the dearest die!"
To her sister,–
"Some of these beautiful days I enjoy exceedingly. Every- [Page 258] thing is so lovely, within and without,–everything is so soothing, so that sometimes I am surprised at the almost young flow of delight which, at seventy-two and with all that I have to remember, comes over me. The last year has been advantageous to me in many ways, and interesting in every portion of it. Very shortly, now, I must set forward into life again, and I partially dread it. A new home and new plans, at my age, carry suspicion on the front. And I am afraid, after a life of stimulus, of mental subsidence,–unless I become too much interested in these temporary arrangements. From so many changes, so long continued, I may have acquired desultory habits. I am anxious to see how I turn out after such a probation. At such times, and at all times, I can only say, 'Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.'"
But she was "beginning to feel impatient of a large slice of life without an object," and longed to be doing something. In September 1854, she rejoiced in moving all her furniture into the new built house, and entering vigorously upon reducing to order "the absolute insurrection of chairs, tables, sofas, and every thing which we ought to keep under."
"It is," she afterwards wrote, "a pleasant spot to call home. I do so enjoy it daily and hourly, often opening a door, or looking out of my window, for the simple pleasure of seeing how pleasant it is! Certainly the one half was not told me of the addition which the kind thought, so beautifully executed, has made to my regular enjoyment. Really the children think I am getting gay."
At seventy-three she never thought of long enjoyment [Page 259] of her new home, but yet twelve more years were to be added to her life, and during which she dated from "College Hill." A small garden attached to the house gave its mistress great delight. Hither she removed some favourite Ongar flowers, and especially lilies from Stanford Rivers–both father and brother delighted in their purity and elegance.
"I am told," she writes, "that they are not now fashionable flowers! a monstrous absurdity. There cannot be any sweeter or more beautiful, and to me they breathe the sweetest recollections. I enjoy the thought of tasting their fragrance in the drawing-room on some pleasant July evening. Yes, to me they are sweeter than the most fashionable novelty with the hardest name!"
The house nearly adjoined the "People's College," a public lower-class school, and opposite were the blank walls of a nunnery. The occasional noise of the outpouring children was a pleasant sound to her, and she did not fail to note the contrast afforded by the convent.
"There stand the buildings; face to face,
In harmless brick and stone;
But, O, the spirit of each place
Remote as zone from zone!
"One shines upon the hopeful poor,
With learning's morning ray,
A manly people to secure
For England's coming day.
"The other–even Nature's light,
Heaven's air and sun, denies,
The young, the fair, the warm, the bright,
Shut hopeless from her skies!"
. . . . .
"Aunt Mary says it is a house fit for anybody!" This is a name very frequent henceforth in my mother's correspondence. It is that of a dear friend, Mrs Forbes, of Denmark Hill–no real aunt, but known in the family by that endearing title. The widow of Mrs Laurie's brother, she knew intimately all the "byegones;" and with her, Ann Gilbert became almost Ann Taylor again, renewing her youth in constant summer journies, arranged by the sisterly affection and generosity of her friend. In 1855, the first of these was devoted to Colchester, Lavenham, and Sudbury, where the two old ladies, young in heart, enjoyed together a honeymoon of delight.
These excursions, with now frequent visits to the homes of her sons, took her away summer after summer. She signalised a visit to Harpenden in 1857, by resuming her long-abandoned pencil. The old Barn-Laboratory of 1842 was now superseded by a large, well-appointed building (of which her third son had been the architect), and occupied by an ample staff of assistants. Important papers had for some time been issuing under the joint names of Lawes and Gilbert, and when at Harpenden she frequently took her part as one of her son's amanuenses; amusing herself during pauses in dictation by writing charades upon words of frequent occurrence, among the dry scientific details with which her pen was occupied.[Facing Page 260]
Vol. II., p. 260.
But now a series of careful coloured drawings of wheat and other plants–"nat.-size"–was wanted to illustrate a paper to be read at the British Association, meeting that year in Dublin.
"I devote to them," she says, "every morning, and all the light after tea; but we have company enough for perpetual interruption. Scarcely a foreign chemist of any note comes to England without running down to see what is doing. One of them told Henry, the other day, 'that he ought to feel himself the happiest chemist in the world,' and so he well may. While I was drawing the plants out of doors, I had at command one of the boys from the British School to help me in counting the stems, which were often much entangled. He is a clever lad resolved, I fancy, to work his way up; and I was much amused on one occasion, when I was carrying a line too far, to be stopped by 'whoo!' That was making me work like a horse, wasn't it?" *
Among her excursions she never had much fancy for the sea, unless associated with scenery. From Blackpool she writes,–
"There are no walks except on the Terrace, a sort of Cheapside or Regent Street, and scarcely a drive! It is Blackpool and people–people and Blackpool, and that only. Shall I confess to you, too, that the astronomical punctuality of the tides is a monotony which always wearies me! Not that I complain of it as peculiar to Blackpool, but as just the one disadvantage which the beautiful sea obliges us to put up with. I have the same [Page 262] complaint to make of a fountain,–always playing! Up and down, up and down! always playing! It tires me."
But, if much from home, returning to it was ever a delight as well for its own sake, as from her power of making the most of small pleasures, and the day's comfort. On this point she felt constrained to write many a lecture:–
"Why be so constantly diving into a future which we cannot penetrate, even the real colour of which may be wholly different from that with which we tint or shade our horizon. To live by the day is the secret of cheerful living, always remembering that our times are in God's hand, and always aiming to leave them there. How useless long plannings may be! I am sorely sensible of having injured myself, expending thought and interest to worse than no purpose in perpetual forecastings. Even my mind has been debilitated by the unprofitable habit. There are turns in Providence on which we are called to deliberate and choose; but otherwise we do but exhaust strength and spirits by endeavouring to act out paths which we may find at right angles with those we have to tread."
"I try to convince M— of the practical wisdom of that admonition, 'sufficient to the day is the evil thereof,' but she is willing to load both shoulders, one with the ills of to-day and the other, of to-morrow."
"Yet now I am obliged to confess, that true and wise as I believe it to be, I do not feel myself in circumstances to put my belief to the test. God in his providence has for seventy years been so gracious to me, given me from humble beginnings such a goodly heritage, that I am not tried by the necessity at present for so much confidence. [Page 263]
"To-morrow is a lecture on a 'Special Providence,' of which I do not need to be convinced. But it is not from particulars that I would argue it. There could not, as it appears to me, be a general without a special providence. A single pin wanting would derange the machine, a pebble turn it off the line. The interweavings of Providence are to me more wonderful than the miracles of Creation. Oh, the mercy of being able to believe that we are under a system of wisdom, goodness, and power which can make all things work together for good to us! But there is a great previous question to be ascertained, Who are we?"
To a friend whose reverses had obliged her to open a school:–
"Whenever painful recollections of things harassing to account for force themselves on your mind, endeavour to regard the otherwise strange dealings of Providence as intended to shine on those around you, if dark in your own history. This is the light in which I have viewed them. How many families may now perpetuate the advantages derived from yours? . . . You see, my dear friend, that Providence was not asleep when the wrong was done, but that a course of usefulness was in store for you, which otherwise you would not have chosen.
"You speak very justly of leisure as a rare possession. I believe I am now regarded as a lady having time almost to waste on my hands, but it is far from true. Every season, every day, brings its appropriate work in some form or other, and I feel unable to economize time so as to do all or half I should like to do.
"There is a satisfaction in the special circumstances by which sometimes our hopes are frustrated, so that we more readily read the will of Providence in such allotments. We see it was not to be, and that in some way it will be better otherwise. I think the children of God may freely and in all cases take this con- [Page 264] solation. Sometimes the only resource is to say, 'This is the finger of God!' Yet it has cut me sorely."
One of her daughters had reported some strange occurrences at Harpenden, for which the "science" there had been unable to account. After suggesting some ingenious explanations, and observing that on the same night a very remarkable aurora had been seen, she adds:–
"You know, after all, that what is termed superstition never appeared to me so unphilosophical as it is assumed to be. Of course, many supposed supernaturalisms have originated in accident, in fear, in imagination, in unconnected coincidences; but my suspicion has always been that from time to time interferences have been permitted which, whether immediately significant or not, keep up in the popular mind in all ages and countries the belief, at least the impression, of a spiritual world. This I conceive may be a worthy end when the immediate cause may appear to have scarcely a meaning. Whether there is anything in philosophy, in history, or in religion, to prove such a view absurd or impossible, I do not know. It does not appear to me that there is. . . . It is a singular circumstance that human nature cannot rid itself of the conviction that we inhabit a borderland.
"Now that I am over seventy, I often think of the nearness of that 'bourne,' and I tremble for myself and those most dear to me. To be 'cumbered with much serving'–the fatal danger of man and woman, of young and old–each in a line that seems to us duty–is a greater temptation than more obvious sins, against which both conscience and society would warn us.
"It troubles me, dear —, that I make you sorrowful by being able to enjoy for a time entire solitude; but you are by no means to conclude that I like it, except for a change, and then I do. Oh, no!– [Page 265]'That solitude is blank and drearand I, at least, have no desire for it. I may confess to you what has often struck me as a mistake in my life and habits, that I have been too independent; not, if I know myself, from being proudly above assistance, but from a dislike, unwise when carried to excess, of giving trouble. And I have carried it to excess, depriving both my husband and children of fitting opportunities for showing their love. . . . I have long seen this, and felt that I had fallen into an evil track. Oh, my love! if we did but set out with the wisdom we may end with, what happy lives we might lead!
Which still is solitude throughout the year'–
"I forget whether you have heard that — became a Plymouth brother? But his mind, or at least his judgments, have so much of the pendulum in them, that I should never confide in their permanence for either wrong or right. The singular artfulness of the votaries of that system is almost Popish. On being convinced that the Brethren were right, he at once said he must avow the change. 'No,' was their reply, 'do not avow it and you will the more easily instil your sentiments. Return to your people, and do so-and-so.' Protestant Jesuits!"
Upon a proposal to warn Sunday scholars against Romanism, she wrote, 1854–
"I have not thought very deeply about it, but I do think that real efforts to counteract Popery are called for by the times. If we could be sure that Sunday School teaching aimed simply at conversion, and would always convert, I should say that is nearly enough. But it is the few only who are thus benefitted, and the majority leave school to enter factories, or low associations, where some general knowledge of popish sophistries might be essentially valuable. Possibly, simple lectures from qualified [Page 266] persons addressed to schools, teachers and all, would be better than to make universal disputants. But we have so long looked at Popery as a maimed foe, whose limping we need now only laugh at, that we are hardly awake to its new vigour.
"There is a modern cant which says, 'I hate controversy.' I wonder in what way we are to 'strive earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints' without it! I wish people would define the meaning of controversy. It is a man of straw to throw stones at as they fancy. I do not accuse you of this cant, but my stomach is sometimes turned by it. . . . People who see things from different points are apt to see them differently, even if not given to squint."
"If — and — could see eye to eye by this time, I should be glad. I believe both to be as honest as honest, but if both are as particular as particular, it may be difficult to adjust the eyeglass. I hold my tongue like a good girl."
"Yesterday's proceedings (the celebration of peace with Russia) were well worth seeing, and with all related thoughts, too full for poetry. It was in fact continually an effort to keep the tears within doors. We had a perfect view, servants, children, and all. The procession was an hour and a quarter passing us, clergymen, ministers, &c., heading their respective schools. All windows, ledges, housetops, crowded, and waving with flags and handkerchiefs. A halt was made for a time when the Friar Lane schools were exactly opposite; they greeted us with a cheer, which we returned with white handkerchiefs, and then they attempted to sing one of my hymns–Many voices seem to say,But some stronger voices in the rear interrupted, and cut it short. At the school the plates of beef devoured were scarcely credible, mashed potatoes in untold abundance, twenty-six plum-puddings of 6 lb. each, and pitchers of melted butter! The puddings came after a slightly anxious interval in a washing basket, by horse and cart, each warm in its bag. It would have done you good to hear the cheering! And to see the ignorance of the gentlemen as to the method of getting a hot pudding out of the bag! How they ran about it burning their fingers!"
Hither children,–here's the way,
Haste along, and nothing fear,
Every pleasant thing is here. [Page 267]
Oct 7, 1857.–The Fast Day for the Indian Mutinies.
"I cannot help fearing that gloomy times are before us as a country, and that with India at the end of a long arm, and Ireland almost at our elbow, we may find it hard work to hold upright. We have certainly prided ourselves full enough on our position and character, and all that is excessive, selfish rather than grateful, may have to come down! England has not of late been used to humiliation, but if needed, we would say if we dared to stipulate–'Let us fall into the hands of God, and not into the hands of man,'–which means, I fear, being interpreted, 'Do not humble us quite so much as might be.' Well, God will do with us wisely and justly, and above all will, I trust, shed down on us generally a deep spirit of prayer, and of supplication, with especially a sense personally, of personal sin,–good at all times."
"He that is down need fear no fall, and I think we all feel just now that blessed are the snug. Happy they who cannot lose much money, and will not lose any character, which is fearfully threatened in some cases! I had a talk with— yesterday, who seems to think trouble is not over yet, that it is rather the beginning than the ending in the provinces, and I fear, or hope, that many may be settling down from extravagance to a much [Page 268] humbler style of things. Well, if it eradicates the gigantic folly of speculation! We were needing a lesson. Talk of gigantic,–the poor Leviathan!* I wish it would wag its tail and be off some night all out of its own head! What will become of the engineers?"
These glances at public events mark the years that were passing. Among the circumstances of private interest were the entrance upon the ministry of a nephew.
"I can well understand that dear T— should feel the responsibility of his undertaking–a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord, whose business henceforth must be to beckon in from the crowd of wanderers. He is not the first who has said, 'Who is sufficient for these things?' The old Adam and the young Melancthon have kept up the warfare, and Another, as he knows, must step in to secure the victory. I could not help remembering some thoughts in my folio, which he may find on the next page.The Christian life is conflict all the way,
An onward pressing through a deadly fray;
No Reverend status, rest, or respite claims,
Dangers but thicken round distinguished names;
And while enamoured audiences conclude
All ghostly strife in such a soul subdued,
It may be, faith and prayer sustain a brunt
In the heart's field, as in the battle's front.
How hard, how hopeless, save as helped of heaven,
To keep all motive pure from earthly leaven! †
. . . . .
The marriages of a daughter and a son, both in 1856, [Page 269] came nearer to her still. "But, dear me! what strange things have happened to us all within the last month!–the entire future of both our families altered by a few words spoken–I hope for much good."
To one of the couples on their wedding-tour, she wrote–
— "May the short journey before you, and the long journey on which you have but entered, continue as kindly prosperous as they have commenced. To think of you as almost without a care in such scenes, such circumstances, and such weather, is a bright thought at any hour of the twenty-four, busy or solitary, or whatever may be the bill of fare at home. But do not suppose me unhappy. I am much otherwise, though my happiness is not exactly like yours. I do not profess to endorse Burns on all subjects, but I have always thought him pretty true in those beautiful lines–"If Heaven one draught of heavenly pleasure spare,'Milk white thorns' are now in season, I hope you enjoy them, and I was going to say may they be the only thorns in your path! But how foolish, impossible, unkind even, to frame, really to frame such a wish! No safe path is ever without them. It is well not to plant them for ourselves, which how many,–perhaps how often we all–do! I sometimes look with regret upon my own gardening, and would fain open your eyes to the wilds where the twigs are grown, which, in our folly or ignorance, we transplant into our otherwise pleasant enclosures. But personal experience, and heart religion, are the only defences. Very little efficient wisdom is gained from the experience–that is, the sins [Page 270] and sorrows–of others, however wisely they may expostulate with those who succeed them; but heart religion, a constant conviction of need and weakness; a faithful inspection of our own tendencies and daily, hourly, habitual application for help from God, these are securities. . . . You will learn, dear children, the value of such appeals even on small occasions. No room is too noisy, no work too urgent, no occasion too small, to allow of a look for assistance, and you may sometimes be surprised to find how truly and timely it comes."
One cordial in this melancholy vale,
'Tis when a youthful, loving, modest pair,
In other's arms breathe out the tender tale,
Beneath the milk white thorn that scents the evening gale."
With her grandchildren (at whose advent she was always chief minister) she often resumed the practice of her old art and mystery of discipline. Of one little body, she wrote–
"Yesterday, before he was brought as usual into my room, he indulged in a long continued, violent, thoroughly manufactured scream. Hitherto I have greeted his arrival with truly grandmotherly demonstrations of love and joy, but on this occasion I felt it wise to wear the calm appearance of deep silent sorrow, not bestowing a word or a smile! I do wish that you, or any unprejudiced person, could have seen the sad, motionless, enquiring, or rather conscious gaze which he fixed on me. It was strangely touching, but by dint of great self-sacrifice I maintained the same imperturbable wisdom till my own toilet was ended and I could leave the room. He knew perfectly well what was meant. This morning I made myself as agreeable as possible, proving to him the difference between a bad boy and a good one. I am still active enough to be a very harlequin of a grandmama.
"Tell M— that books, and especially library books, should never be within reach of mischievous fingers. My mother's boast was that she never allowed a child to have anything it ought not to play with. Are there better fashions now?" [Page 271]
To another she wrote–
"'Little pet,' you call her, but my dread is making her a pet. It is the bane of only one–or of the youngest–sets of pets are harmless things."
To the young she was always young; to an expected youthful visitor she promised "to do as much as in us lies to keep a young heart beating cheerily," which, young or old, her own heart seldom failed in.
A name long absent from these pages–Mrs Cowie–is recalled in the following quotation–
"July 1857,–Friend of my busiest days!–in Birkenhead? no, it is in Hull that you always live to me. How well I remember your first call on the new Pastor–even the chair on which you sat! But I remember you further back than that; I am quite sure that at Union Chapel, Islington, I sat with the Cecils in the next seat to you. I had then no special reason for remembering it, but the happy young couple I saw, left a picture in my memory, which must have been you and your dear husband soon after your marriage. It is not often that we pick up a pebble, and find it so long afterwards a gem."
The happy journeys with Mrs Forbes were now becoming more and more a feature in the years. In 1858 they went the round of Derbyshire together by carriage, and from one of its quiet inns she sent to her "children" what she called "a few nuts to crack from the bushes of Derbyshire." They were charades upon the names of various places visited. Two or three may be given as specimens of what she flung out constantly with abundant ease. [Page 272]
Unambitious my first but to lie at your feet!
What palace, what cottage, what cell were complete
Unless with my second supplied?
My third,–why! 'twould puzzle or painter or poet
To draw it, to sketch it, to tell it, to show it,
And therefore in truth I've not tried.
Pharaoh of old engaged a man
My humble first to do;
Of course the royal contract ran,
T'include my second too.
My third,–whate'er may be its charms,
Put us poor travellers up in "Arms!"
My first implies the dying out
Of winter's cozy fire
Or else it hangs its arms about
In graceful green attire.
My next's a goal, but not a gaol,
And so you need not fear it
My third, if not itself a dale,
Is really very near it.*
In 1859 the two dear ladies explored South Wales, starting in September, and remaining to be dug out of the snow:–
"At Chepstow the weather did not allow of a drive to Tintern Abbey, which those who have seen it greatly regret. I who have not, am satisfied with the conviction that 'out of sight out of mind,' or rather 'that what the eye does not see, the heart does not rue,' which last, expresses my meaning incomparably better than the other, which indeed wholly contradicts it, as I hope you will believe. I can do very well without seeing anything, but, having seen, am not happy till other people see it too. [Page 273]
"An immense hotel, belonging to the 'Company,' deluded us into the belief that we were at the veritable Milford Haven, when at dusk we found ourselves at a sort of Land's End station–no flys, no lodgings! and through wind and rain we had to traipse up the road to that monster home, bright with lights, busy with waiters–no sitting-room at liberty!–twelve new bedrooms just built, scarcely finished, the mortar mixed with salt water, so that every wall was oozing with water and salt! I never slept among so much wetness. However, I did sleep well, and got no harm. . . . Next morning we were taken back one station towards the only habitable Milford Haven. It was still raining when we were turned into a diminutive omnibus, to be carried four miles down to the shore, where we were taken to the back door of the 'Lord Nelson,' large, lofty, and, storm-battered outside, but within most perfectly comfortable. It is the real Milford Haven, a fine arm of the sea or enclosed gulf, with a good deal of shipping, a fine long street, with a single row of houses, facing the water, and a wide, dry pleasant walk; but the houses look almost all of them defaced or weather-eaten.
"After more than a week we left it with high expectation for Swansea. But, though I am very glad to have been, I am at least as glad to have got away! The queerest place I ever set eye upon! I shall never forget (as the presumptuous saying is) the first appearance of it–an immense housey valley, and beyond, an enormous bank of mountain, stretching far and wide, studded with cottages bright in the sun, but with such a pother of smoking furnaces at the foot as I never beheld; a viaduct at either end, almost sky high, and ships, if we may judge from the masts, but no coast! I wanted sadly to get where I could see over to Ilfracombe, because I know that from Ilfracombe we could see over to Swansea, but there is no such spot that I can hear of." [Page 274]
They posted sixty miles from Kington to Aberystwith–
"Rewarded by many miles of noble scenery, but with much discomfort from the miserable vehicles, which were all we could procure–lumbering machines, which seem indigenous to the country–and provoking delays in changing–at one time sitting for an hour in a carriage without horses and so forth. . . . At last we did reach Aberystwith, and in dusk and rain, housed ourselves in the best hotel. But on the following morning (October 20, 1859) there set in an intense cold. No efforts could give us the feeling of warmth. In vain we load on coats and clothing–nothing will do. The weather is wild with rain, wind, hail, lightning, and thunder. . . .
"October 26, a perfect hurricane, rain, wind, and sea.* How we are to return becomes an anxious question. We are all getting almost dismal, except when occasionally we burst out a laughing at the thought of our misery. Oh, dear me! oh, dear us!–and then all the doors have bells, and not knockers, so that we never hear the post coming.
"On the first fine morning we commenced our posting homewards. We had for several days observed streaks of snow on the hills, but did not expect to find any obstruction, and set off under beautiful sunshine, taking the Devil's Bridge on our way. Towards this we ascended for about ten miles, when the most richly magnificent scene opened upon us that I have ever beheld. I commenced the wild descent, but having taken the guide's arm down a flight of shattered stairs at the top, I saw immediately that, with my nervous horror of the precipitous, I could not proceed–narrow, shelving, defenceless, winding paths, strewed with fallen leaves to slip upon, were the only means of descent!
"The noble views from the road, however, satisfied me that [Page 275] even that was worth coming for. Then we had continual ascent for several miles, rounding knoll after knoll of those winding roads–hill and heaven on one side, precipice with a mere sham of defence on the other. At length we began to understand the streaks of snow we had seen from our windows. Large blocks had already been cut, and lay heaped on the road side, and it did not look nice to see the steep slippery ascent still covered with it. After a slow drag, we came to a standstill in the midst, and the driver came round to say, that if we 'would just get out and walk on the top of the wall,' he thought he could pull through–a wall with deep snow on one side, and a fearful depth on the other! Mrs Forbes said at once she could not, and would not stir, and preferred the expectation of sitting till another pair of horses could be got from the Devil's Bridge. M—, after considerable demur, entrusted herself to the man; and, as soon as their backs were turned, I jumped into the snow, preferring to wade through any depth, to the possible depths on the other side. The carriage was up to the axle-tree, and still in statu quo, when, after walking till far out of sight, we returned, and found the driver and a man he had called from the deeps digging away at it. . . . Further on we found snow in many parts, but not impassable. It happened to be a cattle market at a small town on the way, and we were amused at the difficulties encountered by the poor beasts, plunging so deep that, as M— said, we might have had iced cream, cheap."
She was then seventy-eight, but had several more happy expeditions before her. The following year, 1860 (August 9), found her crossing the Border for the first time:–
"We were alone; and you may judge of the health and spirits of the dear Auntie by her rising to dance in the carriage to welcome [Page 276] me to Scotland as soon as we passed the Tweed, and again on entering Edinburgh; and none of us a bit the worse for a four hundred miles travelling this morning! O that blessed Stephenson! How kindly I thought of him all the way, but at Newcastle especially, the cradle of his greatness. And what a place it is! the most singular spot in our journey; only who ever can exist in such a smoke? We drove into this noble city at 8.30, and to an hotel in one of the finest sites in Edinbro', where we were well content to stop, as apparently were some scores of travellers besides ourselves. The bedroom provided for me proved to be a sitting-room on the ground floor, with a bed and mattress 'pro tem.,' and lest I should exceed the exact truth, I will not say how many miles away from the rest of the party,–but there I did sleep.
"If only the weather would really smile upon us summer fashion, it would add much to the pleasure, but though for the last few days we have not had rain, yet every morning we have had to wonder what the fog would do with itself, and sometimes it has wrapt us about, a cheap shepherd's plaid all day!
"Edinbro' itself is a sight, and a site so magnificent that many additional sights are not needed. And we have seen about all that is special, Salisbury Crags, Arthur's Seat, the Castle, Calton Hill, Holyrood, and, almost as fine as anything, that which we cannot help seeing, and pay nothing for, the beautiful view from Princes Street, with the Old Town, and intervening gardens. We have had the unexpected pleasure of meeting —; it is very pleasant to fall in with these fragments of old times, especially as we agreed that it was only by a process of logic that we understood ourselves to be 'old folks.'
"Then we have made a beautiful day to Hawthornden and Roslyn, as lovely as anything we have seen; and since that, another to Melrose and Abbotsford. In returning from the latter, we were advised to drive through the Tweed at the [Page 277] 'Abbot's-ford,' from which Sir Walter named his residence. It is there a broad stream, though not quite deep enough to reach the floor of the carriage, and the current running very strong, we jolted along for some time, not liking the amusement; but in the midst of it, we came to a stand-still,–one of the traces had broken! The driver made every effort to repair it, but at length jumped into the water, and with Payne's help, contrived to botch it up so as to pull through. There was no assistance within reach, and I began to fear that we should have to wade also."
. . . "We have just had a great treat in the return of the Queen and family from Balmoral. The Auntie and I contented ourselves with watching in the exquisite gardens of Princes Street, through which the train runs. It went very slowly to favour spectators, and as soon as it reached Holyrood, a salute of twenty-one guns was fired from the Castle, close in front of us. It was nearly dusk, and the lightning and thunder reverberating from every peak, hill, and building, in and around the glorious old city, were enchanting. It made one loyal to the bottom of one's heart, and the top of one's poetry–though it did not require making for the occasion–it was ready made."
. . . "My letter has just been interrupted by a call from Dr John Brown, author of 'Rab and his Friends,' so I have seen one of the pleasantest looking men I ever did see. He says, too, that his father had known me, which I was obliged to confess myself old enough to forget! Very unpolite, but I cannot help it. I often commit such mistakes now."
These holiday times gave her more opportunity for reading than she had ever had before. The following explains her interest in Newcastle.
"I have been reading till almost crazed with interest, the Life of George Stephenson. How many novels it is worth!–the very [Page 278] best of them! I do not remember being so absorbed since the days of the 'Scottish Chiefs.'
"Then there is that clever old fashioned book, 'The Caxtons,' in which one of the leading characters so much resembles Mr Gilbert."
To her brother Isaac she writes–
"My wish for several weeks has been to thank you for the pleasure I have enjoyed in reading your last volume, 'The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry,'–not exactly expressed in the title. It grows upon reading, and is as valuable as beautiful, and beautiful as valuable. It opens a new door of thought. If you really intended it to be a final production, you could not have finished more nobly." . . .
"I received lately by post, without note or comment, a small volume entitled, 'Thoughts for the Heart, addressed to Women, by a Woman.' Do you happen to know by whom? It is closely printed, and I have yet read not more than a third. The first part seems to have some queer crotchets about Adam and Eve, and Eden, but I fancy the object of the book is to establish as scripture truth the annihilation of the soul instead of eternal punishment. Several years ago I read White's volume on that subject, and thought it appeared a probable view, as this does also. Have you so far encountered the reasoning as to have a fixed opinion? On many grounds it seems to me both reasonable and scriptural. Human nature shrinks almost, if not quite as much, from non-existence as from suffering."
To the question put, the only reply was the following–
"I know nothing of the volume you mention. Many such are sent to me, which I acknowledge before reading them. Specula- [Page 279] tions are now rife of a sort that will greatly trouble the religious world, and lead to changes. But I must have done."
When a Government pension was granted to her brother, she wrote:
"It is a lasting; satisfaction to think of such an acknowledgement to a life of no common labour and usefulness. Yes, you earned, shall we say, the first instalment against the parlour mantlepiece in Angel Lane.* How very wrong for a fee to be required in such circumstances. I wish Dickens would hoot it out of fashion."
Some of the "sure sorrows of Time" descended upon 1861. Early in that year Stanford Rivers lost its sweetest charm by the death of Mrs Isaac Taylor, and by mid August Mrs Laurie had passed away.
As rose leaves in a china jar,These lines had been sent from "Ann to Anna" not long before. The latter was now living near Manchester, and Mrs Forbes and my mother being in Derbyshire this summer, went over to see her. The bright mind was failing, but looking up gaily into her friend's face, she said, "Yes, I used to call you Nanny," and then repeated with perfect memory five or six verses addressed to her by Ann in the early Colchester days. Less than a fortnight after, the shades of death closed softly round her. [Page 280]
Breathe still of blooming seasons past,
E'en so, old women as they are,
Still doth the young affection last.
The day after Christmas-day 1861, my mother wrote a long letter to her brother:–
"There are remembrances we can scarcely touch, sad thoughts which might cast their shadow, but once a year we try, if we can, to evade them. . . . And I do feel it a great, I am disposed to think it, an uncommon privilege, to remain so long within a family circle which, whether near or distant, is, without exception, a loving one, 'neither screw nor cratchel wrong.' Happily there has been no great Will case to disturb us, and we are not sorry for that! Never yet has the wedge of gold made entry amongst us, or who knows how many screws would have been cracked by this time!"
At these Christmas gatherings, when now from twenty to thirty of sons and daughters, nephews, nieces, and grandchildren surrounded the hospitable board, my mother for several years enjoyed a little ceremony that came with dessert, when a casket of letters was brought in, these directed with her own hand, and each containing a few verses of wise and witty appropriateness, were distributed to the guests; often they were so slyly appropriate as to set the table in a roar, in which the victim could always heartily join. They ceased with the Christmas of 1862, when the writer, then just eighty-one, thought it well to close the series, which she did with the following:–
"Oh yes! oh yes! The Bellman said,
Oh yes! oh yes! say I,
Take notice that the muse is dead,
Which this doth certify.
"Long I've been knocking at her door,
Long pulling at her bell,
But what I thought kind looks before,
Meant but a kind farewell!
"And if sometimes she threw me scraps,
My craving hands to fill,
'Twere simple greed, to think, perhaps,
She'd name me in her will!
"Then fare thee well, fair Patroness,
In classic shades interred,
Such loss, 'twere hopeless to express,
Without thy helping word.
"So know it all, both great and small,
That 'Muse and Co.' have parted;
And sunk the slender capital
With which poor 'Co.' had started!"
Thankfulness and Trust–Italy and America–Home Scenes–Illness and Death of her Youngest Son–Edinburgh and Ilfracombe–Last Correspondence with Isaac Taylor–His Death–Last Visit to Lavenham–A Hint of the End.
Yes, eighty years! They did not crawl,
"Christiana, the bitter is before the sweet. Thou must through troubles, as did he that went before thee, enter this celestial city."
"A STREAM of comfort has flowed up hill from the low levels of Lavenham:" so wrote our dear mother as she looked back on the long course now nearly closed. "Giving thanks always for all things" might have been her motto through life, and in the bright evening of her days thankfulness, amid some sore trials yet befalling her, was always on her lips. This grateful spirit illuminates every page of the letters now before me. In writing to her brother Isaac, who had remarked, inter alia, "my father was a man of talent, but my mother was a woman of genius," she says–
"I rejoice in your full and warm acknowledgement of obligation to our dear parents. When I reflect on their mutual disad- [Page 286] vantages, I wonder! They extracted good out of much evil,–taught by contraries; and I own most thankfully how much of any right views I have, is due to them. It is very nice to feel a stream of benefit flowing over us, so long and so widely, from that modest source. I do love and revere their memories."
In similar strain she wrote the following–
My father! Well the name he bore,
For never man was father more;
Gentle but firm, his loving eye
Looked with no grudge as by and bye
His quiver filling to the brim
(St Malthus was no saint to him)
Around his frugal table met
Of Olive plants a goodly set.
Shallow the soil, but little doubt
Had he that heaven would eke it out,
And by its blessing, timely showered,
Bring to fair fruit what there had flowered,
Nor any worthy good deny,
To prayer, and faith, and industry.
. . . . .
So 'twas with him,–through many a day
He and my mother toiled away,
She fearing lest the cruse should dry,
He drawing out with upward eye,
And feeling that his prayer was said,
When he had asked for daily bread
And owning that his prayer was heard,
If daily answered that one word."
"Petitions in detail," she wrote to her daughter, "I scarcely dare to offer, for I may just ask that which would not conduce to your happiness, and as God knows well that that is my object, I am thankful to leave the direction in His hands. I could mark [Page 287] out a course for you, my love, which would appear delightful, but I would rather not. . . . I am rejoiced to see you able and willing to live usefully, which, as far as this life is concerned, is the real secret of happiness. Occupation, not only in fancy work, but in doing good both at home and abroad, fulfilling as a hireling your day, is the sweet smile worn by the original curse.
"There is nothing in my own history for which I have felt more thankful than the sort of workboard life provided for me, almost from one end to the other. If Providence do for you, as successively it has done for me,–lift up a corner of the curtain, and say–'Look here!'–I shall, I think, be willing, almost willing, to leave the rest; or that, at the least, is the wisest way."
This, the father's trustfulness, never forsook the daughter, and grew with years; nor was she ever weary of pointing out the wonderful ways of Providence, and the often visibly happy result. Referring to an instance of the sort, she wrote–
"I compare it to walking up inside a church tower, so walled in that you could not miss your way, and yet so dark that you cannot see the steps; but, oh, the prospect at the top!"
And so again–
"A marvellous development of marvellous providences woven for many years behind a dark cloud." . . . "I felt sure that good was on the road, but the night was too dark to see, and the storm too loud to hear."
Trust was strong, however dark the cloud–
"He who deals the stroke can pour in such influences, sustain by such thoughts, and even bestow such calm unreasoning submission, as shall almost seem like a quiet happiness–reposing [Page 288] under the ancient question, still held to by so many hearts, 'Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?'"
But trust has other fields for its exercise–
"It does me good to think, I at any time say a word in season, but I have great faith in truths; they are standing benefits,– never get mouldy or out of fashion, and for medicine I wish to give nothing else."
"There are reasons sometimes for avoiding ecclesiastical collision, otherwise it is good occasionally to have one's recollections refreshed, or instructed as the case may be. Truth will take the throne it is heir to, and it is no discredit to any who may assist at the ceremony. All kinds of truth will come right in time."
Yet, meanwhile, she would not omit clearly to express what she believed to be truth–considering, no doubt, that she did thereby "assist at the ceremony." She more than once quoted with satisfaction from a letter of her brother's his trenchant criticism upon a volume of Broad Church sermons,–
"Very nice and silky, a swansdown Christianity; no such thing as Paul preached. Take my firm testimony that this flimsy stuff is not the Gospel. Let it be advertised as court-plaster for pimples, not thus are deep wounds to be treated. Out and out Romanism is a better thing. But there will be a reaction; you will see it in its time."
And, again, his description of the theology of an American work, popular in England, to which she had drawn his attention–"German beer that has been carried twice across the Atlantic with the cork out." Of any new views which came before her, she seldom said much at the [Page 289] time, but, as in the following instance, her letters frequently showed that she had been pondering them:–
"1864.–It is not to be regretted that Mr — thinks for himself, but one of his views disturbs me–the third class passengers that he books for heaven–or rather for the portico, for I do not see any opening for them from the terminus–do you? It is not the first time that the inquiry has been made. It was once put to One who could well have answered, but when it was asked, 'Are there few that shall be saved?' His only reply was, 'Strive to enter in at the strait gate, for strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.' It does look, if not like an answer, yet as much as to suggest that more than that is not needful, perhaps not desirable for us to know. And I could not help feeling that the easy inference from this new definite doctrine would be with very many, 'Oh, then, I need not mind so much, I shall do somehow after all.' It opens at least to such a conclusion. I only hope Mr — will put the same question himself to Christ before he expresses his present views too largely. He explained his argument to me by the 'ninety-and-nine righteous who need no repentance.' Do you think that is anything but an illustration? One thing pleased me, Mr — said he always studied from the Greek Testament; if so, he will come right in time."
With still lively interest she followed public events, in spite of her more than eighty years still keeping step with the century. She watched the struggles of both Italy and America as scenes in the great drama of Providence. Her view, indeed, of the contest in America, with her strong attachment to anti-slavery principles and liberal policy, was not what might have been expected; [Page 290] but she was at this period a daily reader of the Times, provided by a friend, and this may account for some colouring matter in her generally clear, and always honest, judgments. She was ever ready to be convinced. June 4, 1861, she wrote:–
"To-night, Dr Cheever, from New York, lectures in the Mechanics' Hall upon the American Crisis, and I mean to go to hear him, if I can get in. I should like to be set right, if he can do it."
"June 7.–How very sorry I am to hear this morning of the death of Cavour! It was posted in our market-place last night. Oh! what a pity to lose calm wisdom at such a crisis–as much wanted as bravery. I think I told you that we were to hear Dr Cheever on Tuesday, and a treat it was. Such a voice I never heard, and he is a very interesting man. It was not on the American Crisis, except as it bears upon slavery, but his object is to awaken the country to the claim of the South to be recognised as an independent State. If this is done unconditionally, slavery exists as before, and the only condition upon which it should be granted must be, that every slave born after that recognition should be declared free. I do hope the country will be unanimous in this requirement. He and Mrs Cheever very kindly called upon me–of course, as the sister of Jane Taylor–nobody suspecting that I am my own sister, too! I asked if he knew the disposition of our Government on the subject. He said he knew only individually the opinions of some, which were the same as his own."
"You have witnessed," she wrote to a friend, "the wonderful changes going on in Italy–poor down-trodden, uprising Italy! It has always appeared to me one of the most God-like expressions of the Divine nature to be so slow to work. If we had the [Page 291] power, should we not have made quick work of it? Not so He whose work it is. But when will eyes be open as well as limbs be free?"
"July 21, 1862.–What do you say to American news? I wonder whether the thought ever occurs to the North that the South has as much right to separate from them as they all had to separate from us?–within my own memory too, for I distinct]y recollect standing at the best parlour window in Red Lion Street, Holborn, to witness rejoicings on the proclamation of peace with America! and I think it was on the 23d of September 1783, the day on which Aunt Jane was born, but this I do not say on my oath."*
"All kinds of truth will come right in time," and so has the truth about the great American conflict. The comments of my mother upon the successive phases of it are only interesting as showing how difficult it was for contemporary and distant observers to appreciate its character, and how general was the impression that prevailed in England irrespective of political party.
Most of these comments occurred in furnishing reports of public affairs to her son and his wife abroad. Their yearly wanderings in the Dolomite regions of the Eastern Alps were to her a yearly source more of anxiety than pleasure. Light and active as she was herself, she had always a nervous horror of an edge or a height, and when, to the risks she pictured of Alpine travelling, were added those of unknown and distant mountains, it was as much as she could bear. "Now, don't tumble over precipices for the prettiest sight in the world, for then you will never [Page 292] see another," she urged. And when the first far flight was arranged, she wrote:–
"Where you are going, I have no notion. I daresay it is somewhere not in the maps, or at least not christened when I learnt geography. I had much rather you were not going at all. It is a pleasure with so many slips and slides in it, that I should prefer to think of it as over, not to come. But write as often and as fully as you can, remembering that if you take 'slip and slide and gulf and rock,' I claim my share in–'The Postman's knock.'"
The fulfilment of this injunction led to the accumulation of a mass of material which afterwards formed the foundation of a volume published in 1864. She expressed her approbation of the book in a few terse terms of praise, but, like her father before her, strongly deprecated "a life of writing." "You have secured enough of literary credit to append to your watch-chain, and if you let that suffice it will be no small physical advantage. People die now of standing on their heads."
Mountains did not suit her, but with ever young delight she welcomed the home-landscapes of England. "There go the beautiful harvest waggons! I do so enjoy to see them–picturesque, bountiful, and how merciful," she would exclaim in the middle of a letter.
"It is exactly half a century since I first knew and began to love Ongar, little surmising the large part of my history to be written on its green pages."
It was the real country seclusion there that made much of the charm; and of Harpenden, not so rich in memories, but rich in trees and lanes, she writes– [Page 293]
"Everything around is so beautiful–trees, flowers, haymaking in perfection, and every day a drive through the beautiful wriggles of the tree'd-up lanes. I do not know when I have enjoyed a country holiday so much."
And this at eighty-two! But she retained other sympathies also.
"I met — in the market this morning,–yes, dear S—, it was in the market I met him. Wasn't it nice? For hereby I confess I do like the 'Market Place, Nottingham.' I like to go there for several reasons, one being that it always implies something to be done, which is as you know a constitutional disease of mine, I believe inherited from both parents, whose revered names I do not wish to vilify. Again, and still more astonishing, there is something to me almost of poetry in a large scene of business! The clatter of a factory has music in it, and suggests, if one does but listen with the right ear, not simply pounds, shillings, and pence! Do give me credit for this if you can. Yesterday I chanced to meet your friend Mrs T., who broke out, much to my satisfaction, in praise of the town, the old town! without a single caveat against the market-place, so that I felt quite thankful–under shelter as one may say. Yes, the good old town! in which, strange to say, I have already spent very nearly half my long life!"
But this happy life was not to close without one more bitter pang. "Fully ripe" as she seemed, she had yet to be made perfect through suffering. In the autumn of 1863, her youngest son, "James Montgomery," his name bearing testimony to an ancient friendship, began to show symptoms which, for a long time mysterious, declared themselves at last as a mortal and terrible disease. In [Page 294] him she had possessed a son of bright intellectual gifts, and who was all she wished in early piety and purity of mind and heart. A young wife and four children graced his pleasant home at Bowdon, in Cheshire. His long illness was a long anguish to those who loved him, and a few passages from her letters, following the melancholy dates, will suffice to show how his mother bore herself in this valley of the shadow of death.
Aug. 17.–"It has been as much as I could do to wait for this morning's letters, and in order to bear the suspense, I, as it were, quench myself–put all my thoughts and feelings into a stupid oblivion as far as I can. Of course you think all sorts of thoughts. I cannot say more than repeat the injunction so timely, 'pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks.'"
Sept. 11.–"So, dear children, our anxiety keeps alive, and I fear it has yet long to run. Oh, that our united prayers may be graciously answered! This they will be, but how apt we are to feel–'Yes, but let it be in our own way!'"
Sept. 28.–"I cannot feel much cheered by the report this morning;–instead of immediate danger, I look forward to months, years, perhaps a life of disablement! It is sent. We dare not complain. 'Can a living man complain?' We would at least try not, but to us it does seem mournful to see a young, active, useful, and promising life so stricken down! However, that it is, and has been, a Christian life is an unspeakable consolation. ''Tis but a speck, and we and they, the happy port shall gain,' and we do hope as well as pray for strength equal to the day of trial. Many are the mercies, great as many, by which its severity is mitigated. I have always looked upon the word friendless as almost the most bitter word in the language, but how far, dear child, is he from that! [Page 295]
"My heart is heavy. Do not say this at Bowdon. I will do as well as I can."
Oct. 22. "Very thankful were we this morning for your letter of faithful detail. Sad enough, but yet we all feel disposed to hope, and Oh, how thankful shall we feel if the result should justify the hope? We do endeavour to wait, to rest, to pray, and with as much patient submission as we can. It is a sorrow so unlooked for, that we cannot yet feel quite equal to it."
She went to Bowdon, but at this time she began to be troubled with deafness, which she touchingly laments, now that she is continually in the sick-room.
"Though constantly assured that he only says what it is neither needful nor interesting for me to hear–just to move his pillows, stir the fire, or such like, still I do not hear, and can only fall into the conviction that it is one of those uninteresting remarks; and in the course of time, should time be allowed me, I shall, I hope, accept the inevitables of age as such, and therefore to be borne patiently, as all trials should be."
"December 1.–For myself I am up and down continually. If I wake in the night I give him up almost entirely; if I see him in the morning cheery and speaking with a natural voice and manner, I think–'O, no certainly,' and so I waver. . . . If the back is not quite fitted to the burden, how nearly and mercifully is the burden to the back!"
"December 26.–It has not been such an anniversary as we would have chosen, not by many, such as we have enjoyed. Our Christmases have been allowed to slide, they have not been wrenched away, and sad as recollections might be, if we chose to indulge them, we are not compelled to feel only grief. I think [Page 296] the rattling of the arrival wheels (hitherto so musical to me) on Christmas Eve, is the thing which I miss nearly most! What different lives we should lead if we would but take things by the minute–60 of them would make many a pleasant hour for us."
In January 1864 the end was near, and she regretted that, through his continued wandering, it had become too late to converse, as she would have wished, upon the great things from which the veil to him was soon to be lifted. "Something like a prepared expectation is desirable for even the most advanced Christian," she wrote, "we would have liked to see a bright sunset." She lived in lodgings at a little distance, and every night through the dreary winter moonlight of this month, her slight and silent figure, accompanied by son or daughter, passed to and from, the house of watching. On the night of the 16th a messenger presently followed her home, and told, with a tearful smile, that the "dear fellow was at last at rest." A few days afterwards she wrote to her friend, Mrs Forbes–
"You know what sorrow means; and if you had known more of my precious child you would know more of what ours must be. And yet for him we cannot mourn. A life of love and usefulness, and now a home of eternal happiness, cannot be overbalanced by a few months of intense anguish, or weeks of sad unconsciousness. But you know for whom we must and do feel –dear M—! the sight of her and of the four dear children, all under six years old, is the bitterest of all. But for the widow and the fatherless there are such special consolations stored up, that seem to say–'Yes, I know they are the greatest sorrows that you will have to bear, and here am I,' ready to help according to the need!"
"He will lie in the beautiful churchyard here–beautiful from [Page 297] the fine old building, and the lovely view that it commands, and catching the light of every setting sun."
"It has always seemed to me a mistake to deprive children of a sight and share in the last scenes. Dear tender Herbert especially, I feel as if he had been deprived of his birthright not to have had his hand in J—s at that sad time. He should have attended as chief mourner, as, in fact, he must ultimately be, but everyone was against me, and I withdrew the suggestion. Instead of false and unhealthy influence I think that the real difference between soul and body might have been explained and impressed by it. He understands fully that 'dear papa is gone to heaven,' but before long it will render the churchyard a strange enigma, which will probably be explained to him by some one not wise in such explanations. He asked nurse if she had seen Jesus when He took dear papa away? and, under the circumstances, she gave, I think, a very nice answer–'No,' she said, 'He was in the room, but I did not see Him.'"
Some lines, written a few years previously, express the feeling to which she again gave utterance as she turned away from Bowdon Churchyard.
Oh, the first night-fall on a precious grave,
Remote, deserted e'en of those most dear!
No effort now the tender one to save!
No anxious wakeful fondness watching near!
But there the cold moon sleeps upon his bed,
Dear child! Just parted from our warm embrace;
And spring's first dews their chilly drops will shed
Unheeded, on his lonely resting-place.
Around the hearth,–returned again, convenes
The wonted household,–saving one away!
Oh, the strange sadness of those altered scenes,
That mute assembling, and the dark array!
Perhaps they listen to the falling rain,
Perhaps they chide the starlit evening sky,–
Brightness or gloom brings each its gush of pain
The throb of memory, and the brimming eye.
. . . . .
For months afterwards expressions well up in her letters which show how the sorrow was working in her soul.
"I feel the moonlight like a touching reminder, we used to depend on it so. . . . As far as we are right in calling any arrangement of Providence mysterious, I think we may regard this as such. But how do a very few years close such views!"
"It is not till God applies consolation Himself that it really reaches us. Affliction I believe does not effect its purpose till we take both it, and its consolations, as direct from Him."
"Oh, those dear ones! But God knows all about it, and He is the real Executor. . . . If Providence lays down a line, we may be thankful for direction so far, and venture to travel with our little all upon it. To dear M— I have neither spoken nor written! The great sorrow has lived in our hearts in silence, but there it is!""Can trouble live with April days,
Or sadness in the summer moons?"
Yes, indeed, they may; but yet that sorrowing heart could not be insensible to the touch of spring. She was suffering from a new infirmity in a troublesome lameness:–
"My knee does not in the least improve, and now that spring says, 'just step out and shake hands with me,' I feel it the more trying. . . . But what right have I, in my eighty-third year, to [Page 299] wonder at anything, or to expect much improvement? The earthly house of this tabernacle must dissolve, and at present it is doing it gently,"
"One thing I am, or ought to be, very thankful for, that the rheumatism does not trouble me in the night. Very generally when a chronic rheumatism attacks old people, it makes its headquarters between the blankets."
Her dear old friend did not fail her in this stress, and arranged one journey after another as summer advanced, while she responded cheerfully to such efforts. Again they started for Scotland, this time by a different route:–
"The new line was to me especially interesting, through so much of dear, green, smoky Yorkshire–just as I left it (railways excepted) almost fifty years ago! I knew it by its tall red brick chimnies; then its bordering meadows–with bright streams twisting about like the border of a carpet–and fenced in by noble shoulders of wood, rich in foliage. It was beautiful in the present, and touchingly eloquent of the past, saying many things to me that other people could not hear!
"To be deaf and lame, since my last visit to Edinburgh, is not an improvement, but how much worse it might have been! On Sunday morning M— and I heard Dr Candlish; that is, she heard, and I saw him–a short man, with broad shoulders and a head large enough for his diploma. But O, such nervous varieties! If I were his wife, I would make his waistcoat and his gown fit better–they were never doing their duty to his satisfaction."
Returned from Scotland, she was presently tempted away–a device of affection–to visit, of all places, Ilfra- [Page 300] combe again! Resting at Harpenden on the way, she glories in "the summer moons."
"The lanes, the fields, the woods, so beautiful that it is a treat, go which way we will, and an early tea, leaves us a pleasant evening till dark–and the harvest is magnificent. It is wonderful to see the sickles at work on one side the hedge, and the steam-engine on the other, threshing away into sacks, in total neglect of either barn or stack! It will soon be, I should think, a plough at one end, and a loaf at the other!"
August 29, Lynnmouth.–"For how many ages has 'good news from a far country' been held as a blessing? We have been trundling about for some days, and at last are here. A beautiful drive, and beautiful weather, but O such a road! You might as well drive down a corkscrew! At last we left the carriage and luggage to fend for themselves, and accomplished the last few twirls on foot. On the 1st of October 1812, I slept at Barnstaple before, and now, 1864, I slept there again! How large and full a life has passed in that interval! A letter from J—. He and Churchill took a walk of twenty-five miles with a girl of seventeen as porter; she bore it well till the last hour, and then said–'Well, we must laugh while we can, and cry when we must.' A remark well worth remembering.
"Exactly opposite to our windows here, hanging like a strip of yellow ribband from the summit of a fine wooded hill, is the coach road to Minehead, and the two lamps of the coach we see sparkling down at nine every evening. It is now nearly sixty-three years since, early one fine morning in May, Isaac, and Jane, and I, with a man, and our luggage carried on a pack-horse, walked over the bridge to climb that hill, from the top of which we could just descry on the hill beyond, the chaise, like a speck of gold, which we had ordered to meet us from Minehead. There was no coach then, and that any coach now should venture, in [Page 301] either dark or daylight, down the fearful hill, on which we trace it nightly, is scarcely credible, but seeing is believing.
"At Lynton, where we lunched, my object was to realise old recollections, but it was difficult. We found ourselves in a long handsome hotel, wholly different from the small white house with bay windows on each side. I was determined, however, to make it out if I could, and walking nearly the length of the premises I did find the veritable spot, known by its old-fashioned windows, now, alas! converted into a coach-house. You cannot think (though perhaps you can) how much I enjoyed these reminiscences."
September 14, Ilfracombe–"It is so altered that I recognise scarcely anything but the sea, the rocks, and the Capstan Hill. Houses, terraces, everything, new since we left it; the old chapel pulled down, and two new ones built. By chance, however, we drove to the Britannia, the inn where your father stayed during his short visit. And I have sought out our veritable house on the Quay. Several houses looked like it, and I went into one, but though like, it was not it; so seeing an old man who might, I thought, have known it fifty years ago, I made up to him, found he had lived all his life there, remembered Mrs Blackmore's, to which he took me, and to be sure there was the veritable room–its two windows, fireplace, and closet, like enough to be sworn to, together with our back bedroom, and uncle's small one in front–all to the life! And I have now a correct photograph of the Quay, gave a shilling to the good woman, and sixpence to the old man, and so feel myself cheaply satisfied."
"And I did get too an introduction to one of the young women known to us through Mr Gunn, and sure enough she was identified by a smile of welcome recognition as soon as she found who I was. She replied to questions respecting us from [Page 302] J— and C— with amusing correctness, even to the dresses we wore. A nice old creature we all thought her. She and one sister are in lodgings together, the church paying their rent, and I had the pleasure of slipping something into her hand as I left."
So summer and autumn wore away, and after a visit to the dear Essex homes, she returned for the winter to College Hill, whence she wrote:–
"I did not like leaving you, however thankful that I had been spared to see homes and faces so dear once more, though with every year increasing probabilities against another such enjoyment. But this I desire to leave, 'meet for the inheritance,' being the only suitable thought."
Her brother Isaac and herself in these last years exchanged several loving little greetings. Thus he wrote:–
"It should not be so, my dear sister, and I often feel it, that our correspondence should be so infrequent as it is–we travelling on so far toward the end of a long journey! But you know that penny post has ended the dispensation of letters, bringing in the dispensation of scores of notes, each as brief as Saxon may make it. The locust swarm of scraps in an envelope, has eaten up almost every green thing in the fields and gardens of soul-land. This is what we have come to under Whig administration!"
He asked at this time for her photograph, which had been applied for by a friend in America, and added:–
"You are in high regard throughout the Northern States. In truth, my dear sister, it is true of each of us, that for one reader in England we have ten or twenty in America. Among all sorts of regrets in looking back through years past, we may be thank- [Page 303] ful thus far that we have not been allowed to spend seventy or eighty years in filling cabinets with coins, moths, botanic samples. Something has been done which has gone far, and already effected good. Something which may speak when we are gone. NOTHING to be proud of, something to be thankful for. Is it not so?"
She took leave of the year in a letter to Stanford Rivers:–
"MY DEAR BROTHER,–for I conclude the last time, till 1864 has done its duty! It will ever be to both of us a year of sorrowful memories.* I trust that to the two deepest sufferers real and enduring consolation will be afforded. The best of all consolations came with the stroke, one that will increase in comfort as life proceeds, and end at last in undying satisfaction. . .
"Dr M— writes to me that 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star,' has been translated well into both Greek and Latin. How little did such a possibility enter Jane's head in writing it! We have had really cold weather, but I have been able to brave the outer world better than might have been. I have felt also much relieved in walking–quite able to walk from Marden Ash to Stanford Rivers without inconvenience, and to say so at eighty-three, is it not a mercy?
"I form no plans; for me a plan was formed in January 1782, which I have learned to trust to."
To this, in the beginning of the year 1865 (his last of life), came the following reply from Isaac Taylor:–
"So it is, my dear sister, that I have now two of your loving letters in hand, unacknowledged; true, also, that I have an envelope directed to College Hill, which has been a fortnight [Page 304] or more in readiness for a note to be written the first open moment; true, also, that such moments are rare, except at the end of a morning when any more work would do me harm. . . It is ground of thankfulness to each of us that we are spared so long, held up in body and mind, so as to be serviceable to those dear to us, and not a burden–this is indeed a mercy; able to comfort, and perhaps to help and advise as parents, not able or wishing to do as heretofore what our children can much better do than we can. And so it is, as we may say, that gently, and step by step; we recede descendingly from our places, and at the same time have more or less of space granted to us to call in our thoughts as to the past, and to muse upon the future."
Some little time before, he had written:–
"My answer very lately to a kind invitation was this,–Whoever asks me must invite me and my infirmities, which invitation includes more than it did twelve months ago. So it is, my dear sister, that the pins are taking out, and screw heads losing their hold. I distinctly know this, and think of it daily–hourly."
She in similar strain replies to him:–
"You and I my dear brother are each under a certainly fatal disease. At present I am mercifully spared severe indications, though much in advance of you as to time. May we both be found maturing for the inheritance. I seem to have been very long under treatment, with how little benefit!"
To her old friend, Mrs Cowie, she sends a message–
"Tell her I can now better sympathise with her deafness than when I last saw her. It is like living in a house with the blinds always down; so cut off from the world we have lived in. . . . But spring seems a new thing, old as it is, it never comes amiss." [Page 305]
Yet spring was bringing sorrow. The accounts from Stanford Rivers grew worse. In April her brother wrote that he was "only just crawling about." In May she herself had not any hope of him. But trouble fell upon a calm spirit now, she had entered into that blessed condition of which her brother, in a recent Christmas letter, had spoken–
"Happy are those whose habits of thought are such as to make the blending of the sorrowful and the joyous an easy and natural process–a harmony of the soul in which the sorrowful is joyous, and the joyous, if not sorrowful, yet thereto tending, and nearly allied."
She was dwelling in "the pleasant land of Beulah where the sun shineth night and day;" and so when at last the news came that, on the 18th of June, sitting upon his couch, in the room that had been his first, and after a long interval his latest, study at Stanford Rivers, her brother had breathed his last,* she only wrote–
"How can we mourn? There is no further suffering, there is no more death, neither crying nor tears. What a life! laborious, anxious, but loving and useful how far beyond most! May we, as far as equal to the lesson, 'follow those who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises.' And again–'Where is the room for bitter grief?' My dear James, and my dear brother, one mysteriously early, the other venerably late, have been taken, but infinitely happy for them!"
"Yes, so it is," she wrote to another friend–"So– [Page 306]
—'One by one I see the dearest die;It is a tax always paid by eighty and ninety for the boon of survivance."
Father and mother half-a-century gone,
No features of past time to gaze upon.'
Again, her old friend gave herself sedulously to provide change of scene, and this time bethought herself of Lavenham and Colchester. The experience of Ilfracombe had shown that nothing gave her companion so much pleasure as revisiting old scenes. They travelled leisurely the sixty miles from London by carriage. At Colchester–my mother writing to her sister, lamented–"you know what it is now; almost every house new fronted, so that just set down in the midst, I could not have said where I was." But at Lavenham it was different.
"Well, by six o'clock on Thursday evening, we drove into dear quaint old Lavenham, called in passing at Mr Meeking's to enquire about the 'Swan,' drove there and found we could all four be accommodated. It is where, in the olden time, stylish assemblies used to be held, and Jane and I learned to dance. Then after tea, to lose no time, I set off down Water Street, on to the Common, up Shilling Street, and happily gained a friendly admittance to both houses, and gardens. The next morning the horses were put to, and under my direction the coachman commenced a slow drive, down Water Street, the Common, and to both houses again. It was most kind of Mrs Forbes to contrive such a treat for me, but her interest and sympathy almost rival my own, so that it is a real pleasure to say–'Look here, or look there!' The lady who lived in our first house told us that an old man, still living, when he saw Uncle Isaac's death in the paper, said, 'why, he was born in that house.'". . .
All sorts of recollections crowded upon her, and amongst them, this–
"A farthing a week each was granted to Jane and me as weekly allowance, early at Lavenham, and of this we were at liberty to dispose as we thought proper. Sometimes when it happened that two farthings were not at hand, we had to divide a halfpenny, always in that case taking it over to the variously diversified shop of our friend Mr Meeking, by whom it was exchanged for the smaller coin, and then having each possessed herself of her private share, it was not seldom laid out again in a farthing cake for each. Once, I remember buying a farthing's worth of pins at Michaelmas to be in readiness for dressing our dolls at Christmas. You know I always like to be in time!"
A visit to Hoddesdon, where her only surviving brother, Martin, lived, concluded a round among the southern homes. "He was himself to a nicety," she declared, and spoke of this meeting as one of the happiest days of her long life. Then, before the autumn was over, there was Edinburgh again, where the effects of a fall, detained her some time. "But," she wrote, "what a feast it is! [Page 308] Everything grand or beautiful to see, and everything historic to give it interest." You cannot think how often the dear old family feeling comes over me for a moment–"dear me! we ought to tell papa and mamma!"–
"But say; has no 'Physical Theory' been wrought,And now, the last of the long roll of years had come; before the close of 1866 she had joined the blessed company, "so thickly gathered in" during these latter days. January the 30th, her last birth-day, she was eighty-four. "Oh what a length of mercy," was entered in her diary. All her family assembled to spend the evening with her, and there was little perceptible failing, except from the deafness, peculiarly trying to one who took so bright an interest in every passing matter, but which she bore with perfect patience.
By which happy spirits, still nigh, but unseen,
May listen, and learn in the stillness of thought,
Of the homes and the hearts, where those histories have been?"
"But, dear Aunt Mary, my deafness does not improve. I do not expect that at my age it will, and it gives me a sort of isolation, not pleasant to sustain. The daily interests of life are small matters, not absorbingly great things, and these are lost to the deaf–things too small to repeat, yet leaving a gap of silence between them, and the running interests of the day."
In the summer she visited, for the last time, Ongar and Stanford Rivers, and drew up an inscription for her brother's grave in the sequestered churchyard of the latter. In July she explored the Lake scenery for the first and only time. "Magnificent and beautiful at every turn," [Page 309] she described it, "do not trouble yourselves, whoever you may be, to go out of England till you have been to the Lakes. It is a shame to risk half-a-dozen necks in Switzerland while this is unexplored." Later in the year, at the conclusion of the "seven weeks' war," she wrote to her son abroad–"I am enough of a politician to rejoice in the present unwonted condition of Europe. Will it continue? Is it an approach to millennial blessedness? Prussia gives a noble programme of her constitutional changes, and you, I conclude, will all but hear the grasp, as Austria and Italy shake hands."
Almost all her family were abroad at this time, and she, though staying with her friend, felt alone in England. Just in the midst of it some slight but significant attacks of a paralytic nature made her anxious for the return of all dear to her, but she would not allow "a shade to be cast over the holidays," by communicating what had occurred, and she appeared presently to regain her usual health. It happened, however, that the severe inundations of North Italy that year, delayed not only the travellers but correspondence, and she suffered an anxiety the acuteness of which was not understood till afterwards, when joy, relief, thankfulness burst from her heart and lips. Going to Denmark Hill after my return, I saw her, as soon as the hospitable door was opened, standing alone in the middle of the wide, well lighted hall–the slight figure, the pale tender countenance–watching intently the opening door for the arrival she was expecting. It is my last vivid impression of her, alive and conscious.
She returned to College Hill and wrote cheerfully, yet with frequent reference to what had occurred. [Page 310]
"October 29.–At present I do not feel that to resign all home duties would be a relief to me; habits of ancient date could not be broken without feeling the rupture. I am thankful that I am not disabled; the time cannot be very distant, I do feel that, and earnestly hope to stand prepared for the change. The more than hint conveyed by my late queer illness, could not, and ought not to be misunderstood. . . . The last few months have given me many lessons, may they well accomplish their mission! but we all forget too much the solemn, yet certain future."
In December she wrote, explaining a longer silence than usual–
"It is long since I wrote to you, yet I have been, I might almost say, writing ever since. You cannot think what a green sprig of laurel has lately sprung over my grey hairs, for it has been with no small surprise that I am heard of as still without a monument! . . . .
"You remember that in May last, there was a discussion in the 'Athenæum' on my poem, 'My Mother,' which surprised everybody as an announcement and advertisement–(or producing one from me) of my continued existence, so that the Post-Office has gained all but a revenue from letters addressed to me, which kindly complimentary as they are, I have, of course, had to answer. Some ask for, '"My Mother" in your hand;' some, 'your veritable autograph;' some,–but I need not go on. Several want to know whether there is an engraved portrait of me in existence, for they have enquired in vain (certainly).
. . . . "So you write still! I could wish you were more like a gentleman of fortune, but if launched in the ink-bottle I am afraid of your being connected with the female part of that family–misfortune! for will your health stand it long? [Page 311] It is with reluctance that I give up the Christmas party. I have long delighted in it. The last fell on a Sunday, most happily obliterating the recollection, and I cannot say that I wish it restored. O, the changes that time and Providence make!"
She was always cheerful, but the following lines from a poem, addressed to her now only surviving brother Martin, suggest the thoughts of her heart.
. . . . .
I breathed a sigh that spake of tears
At thought of life's departing years!
Well! Speed they must, but O, to stand
Equipped for that near–distant land!
My soul stands trembling but to think
Of that unseen, that awful brink,
And for herself, and all, she prays–
"Lord search our thoughts, and try our ways,
And see in that vain world within,
Or error's blight, or hidden sin."
A Leaflet Message–Sunday Evening–Last Letter–The Last Sleep–The Graves of the Taylors.
"Now when they were come up to the gate, there was written over it in letters of gold–'Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the Tree of Life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.'"–BUNYAN.
ABOUT a week before the end, my mother received one of those little leaflets which some are in the habit of enclosing in their letters. She had been reading it to herself, and then, evidently touched with its appropriateness, brought it to her daughters, saying, "I rather like this." It contained these two verses, the full significance of which a few more days revealed:–
The way is long, my Father! and my soul
Longs for the rest and quiet of the goal;
While yet I journey through this weary land,
Keep me from wandering. Father! take my hand,
Quickly and straight
Lead to heaven's gate
The way is long, my child! but it shall be
Not one step longer than is best for thee;
And thou shalt know, at last, when thou shalt stand
Close to the gate, how I did take thy hand,
And quick and straight
Lead to heaven's gate
My child. [Page 316]
On Sunday, December 16, she did not feel very well, and remained at home all day. In the evening one of her daughters read from Raleigh's "Quiet Resting Places" the sermon that came in course, that noble one, the "Kingdom and the Keys," and my mother, leaning forward, listened intently to the words of peace:–
"Fear not for thyself. I will console thee in trouble, strengthen thee for duty, open a way for thee amidst life's perplexities, pitch thy tent in safe places, and be around thy tabernacle with my sheltering presence until it is taken down, and thou art called to the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Thy path may seem rugged and cheerless; but it is open and onward; and I will pass with thee myself along all its length, nor leave thee in the shades which hang over its close. I will be with thee in the dark valley to support thy trembling steps, with my rod and staff; I will softly unlock the awful door, and usher thee into Hades, where a thousand sights of beauty will fill thy delighted eye, and a thousand voices of welcome will hail thy coming."
On Monday she said, with a bright smile, "I am quite well again," and in the evening wrote her last letter. To serve all who fell in her way had been her constant practice, and this last effort of her pen was to me in behalf of a young lady who desired by copying pictures to do something for a livelihood. "I always feel for such cases," she said. From other portions of this now precious letter I quote a few passages:–
"December 17.–My very dear J—, I believe that I told you how much I was engaged in writing to my complimentary [Page 317] correspondents, so as to occupy all the time allowed for writing. Happily this demand was completed on Friday last, and I now am allowed to feel that I have a family. Many things I know I had to say, though how many I may now recollect I cannot be sure of, for my memory–oh, you do not know what a vagabond it is! . . . .
"I had so very poor a night on Saturday, that yesterday I was unable to go out at all–so much disabled; but, though with much apprehension, I enjoyed a delightful night after it–not once conscious till this morning. Oh, what a merciful mercy sleep is! and for how many years did I enjoy it, I fear with scarcely a sense of it, except as just going to bed–and who feels they have to be thankful for that? . . . I cannot say that, bereft as we now are, I regret your absence at Christmas, though I should be very sorry to lose a family meeting entirely, so am thankful to have been born as early as January 30, which affords a reason for meeting then. . . . I am summoned to reading down stairs, and wish I had anything to say just now, in order to use the ink in my pen (which you see I had not), but I never waste any if I can help it. . . . I have reached the end of both time and subject, so now, dear child, one more good-bye from your affectionate old mother,
That evening she wrote up her diary, settled her accounts to a halfpenny, as she delighted to do, and then took up her reading of Froude's history, in which she was greatly interested. She was very cheerful that night, and in no melancholy tone, looking round the room, said to her two daughters: "I should like to think of you, dears, as remaining here with all these things about you after I am gone. I wonder how it could be managed." Before supper, according to lifelong custom, she retired for her [Page 318] sacred half hour of private devotion, her last utterance, in this world, of "praise and prayer." On going to bed, one of her daughters assisted in arranging her silver hair, as had been needful ever since the accident at Edinburgh, which had injured one arm. Her mother kissed her, saying "that's for thank you," and then a second time, with "that's for good night."
I was reading my mother's letter the following day, when a boy passed the window, and a telegraphic message was brought in–"Mrs Gilbert very ill, come directly." That morning she had seemed to be sleeping soundly at her usual hour for rising, and she was left therefore undisturbed. Time went on, and still she slept, breathing calmly. At ten o'clock an attempt was made to rouse her; but no loving voice could reach her–no passionate appeal; still she slept! Every doctor was out on his rounds, help was long delayed, and when, one after another, they came in haste, still nothing availed to break the slumber. By evening, all her children had come from their several homes, but the arriving wheels brought no throb to her heart. They gathered round her, and still, still, she slept!
So it went on. It had been thought that in the course of the following day, Wednesday, she might, perhaps, wake naturally, and that this should be without shock of any kind, those about her were advised not to disturb her with speaking. Once she seemed to notice a remark uttered louder than was intended, and once, as I touched her hand–that honest and good hand! she grasped mine firmly in return. She even took a little food, but never opened her [Page 319] eyes upon those who gave it. By the evening all hope was gone. The breathing became quick and heavy, and towards morning gradually subsided. Her six surviving children stood round her bed, and just as the neighbouring convent bell sounded for matins at dawn in the winter morning, December 20, a single sigh closed the long life.
O tender and most loving mother! the cold daylight opened upon a forlorn world to us her children, but she had been taken–
Quick and straight
To Heaven's gate.
All sadly fell our Christmas Eve, and on the day of happy festival the house was dark and silent, for our mother lay dead in her chamber. On the 27th she was carried to the grave that fourteen years before had received her husband. In addition to the lines quoted on the first page of this work, there was inscribed over her remains–
"In Psalms and Hymns and spiritual songs,"
"She being dead yet speaketh."
In her will, she disposed of her little property, chiefly copyrights which are now extinct, with "a poor mother's love," and the last words of it were–"May you share largely, and for ever, in an enduring inheritance. See that ye fail not of the grace of God; to His everlasting love I commend you."
The one life has been twined with other lives, for the family bond woven at Lavenham and Colchester was a [Page 320] very strong one. They are now all at rest save one. The father and mother, with their daughter Jane, "the first to die, the first to live," lie at Ongar, but their graves have been enclosed within the enlarged buildings of the chapel; the vestry floor is above them, and close to the honoured dust, the children of the Sunday school, so dear to them in life, assemble. It is no desecration. At Stanford Rivers, in a churchyard surrounded by trees, and in the midst of the fields, rest Isaac Taylor and his wife, with two daughters who preceded them, "waiting for the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." "My only claim," said Isaac Taylor in his humility, "is that I am one of those who love His appearing." Across the sweet valley of the Roding, amidst the woods, is the secluded Church of Navestock; the bells of Stanford and Navestock "answer each other through the mist." There, close to the church porch, lie Martin Taylor and his wife. Jefferys is buried at St. Peter's, near Broadstairs.
To Ann Gilbert and her husband, the general Cemetery at Nottingham affords no such quiet resting-place; but it is on the scene of his twenty-five years of faithful ministry, and in the midst of the old town she loved.
"I have been dwelling on enchanted ground,
Looking on thee, and dreaming of the past;
A spell of shrouded faces, and lost sound
Thou hast around me cast."
MRS GILBERT sometimes regretted that she had not revised and rearranged this poem, so as to fit it for publication. No more is now attempted than to give selections, which will show its character and scope.
Opening with a doleful picture of the prisoner for unbelief, who cries–
"At sound of lock, and bolt, and bar,she dwells upon the absolute immunity of religious, or irreligious belief from human authority. A brief quotation from this portion of the poem has been given in the text,–
These Christian arguments, how strong they are!"
"But still opinion is man's freehold ground,
Belief by chain of law was never bound," &c.
Nor would, she urges, religion suffer from this freedom, for "who," she exclaims–
–Who the living truth shall long withstand?
Who, in the face of common sense aver
That man were better, if deprived of her?
Nor take some lonely hermit for your test,
But see such truth extend from breast to breast
Courts with their councils, cities with their wealth,
Towns with their business, hamlets with their health,
Men of all classes, characters, pursuits,
Thus bringing forth Religion's native fruits;
Miss not a grace that Scripture doth enforce,
Nor add one virtue drawn from other source;
Let the twelfth chapter of the "Romans" stand
For common law and statute of the land,
Not a dead letter, but a living code,
The rule of shop and market, field and road,
So as in figure did the seer foretell–
"Holiness written on the horse's bell."
We ask no fetters for such Truth to plead,
She stands alone, and scorns the broken reed:
Ye who cry–"murder! help!" to human laws,
Thus live, thus love, and fear not for your cause!
. . . . . .
From the next section of the poem, a personal appeal to the solitary atheist soul, a quotation has also been given. One or two more may be added.
Yes, when I view thee as a brother born
My pity melts and mourns thee, most forlorn!
Yes, blood for blood the same, we own thee man,
Created brethren when the race began,
All nature's sympathies, in each the same,
One mortal fabric, one immortal frame,
Up from the moment when we lay at rest
Infants and helpless on a mother's breast,
Thro' life's ten thousand changes, till we thread
The great enigma, known but to the dead!
Then why this dissonance?–This breach immense?
Spirit with spirit has like exigence,
In fear, in hope, in destiny allied–
Brother! this gulf! whence comes it? deep and wide?
Dwelling on the common sense of need, and of dependence, she asks–
O why this strange discordance! Light my wayand endeavours to trace the circumstances or the reasonings that have led the Atheist to–
To that dark path that led thee thus astray–
This thy sole hope,–that hope will soon be gone![Page 325]
Then follows an appeal to the happier and purer intuitions of youth.
Call back that hour when thought was glad and young,
When skies, and stars, and woods, and silent plains
Shot thrilling voices thro' thy answering veins,
And whispers met thee on the mountain wind,
Fraught with high meanings to thy opening mind;
Did then the thought come o'er thee to refuse
A boundless scope, and bind thy dusty views
Down to an atom? When thou wouldst have flown
Athirst, attracted towards a Great Unknown,
Did Nature frown thee backward, and aver
The yearnings of thy soul were not from her?
. . . . . .
O tell me not, that nature, feeling, thought–
Fair virtue's instinct,–in thy bosom wrought
This change from hope to gloom, from sky to clod,
From life to death,–to idiot chance, from God!
. . . . . .
Some spot with green grass covered, does it hold
Nothing thou lovest in its bosom cold?
. . . . . .
O if thou art a brother, art a man,
Thou must have known, consoling as it ran
Thro' thy heart's wounds, with healing in its scope,
The sovereign virtue of immortal hope!
And whence the cry of nature in her need
Of joy or anguish? Whence this living creed
Wrought in thy bosom as a finer sense,
And quick to spring in deepest exigence?
Spontaneous growth of innermost distress,
Spontaneous flow of grateful happiness,
Spontaneous striving of our beings bent,
To seek, to find, the One Omnipotent!
. . . . . .
Where else appears a craving unsupplied?
For meaner thirst breaks out the sparkling tide,
For gasping lungs expands the vital air,
For mental taste, the beautiful and fair,
For the heart's loneliness, around, above,
The exquisite varieties of Love!
. . . . . .
–The Being whose thou art
Hath stamped His conscious presence in thine heart,
Given thee the clue, inwoven with thy frame
By which to track, and trace, and find his name;
And placed a guard of strong emotions near,
To pour th' incessant wisdom on thine ear.
After a picture of the social disorganisation of an Atheist world, she anticipates the retort–
"But these," exclaims the Infidel, "are crimes
Of Christian countries, and religious times,
Point out enormities that are not found
To stalk or creep on consecrated ground;
The Holy office, with St Peter's keys,
And 'kings by grace of God' can wink at these.
A world of infidels has yet to be,
Why call them fruits then of an Atheist tree?"
Yes, infidelity is yet unknown
As legal occupier of the throne;
Laws, titles, seemings, compliments, and names,
With decent look, allow to God His claims;
But while in heart denied him, all the fruit
Springs black and cankered from this evil root.
Hearts may be atheist, where the man is drest
In God's own livery, with the cross His crest;
And deeds like these are ever streams that flow
Forth from a spring of atheist thought below.
Give unobstructed passage to the wave,
And peace and virtue find a common grave.
. . . . . .
I know thy boast, that thus it needs not be,
The wary atheist dares not so be free;
Tho' safe from dread of future ill severe,
Yet nature holds her child in wholesome fear,
Her laws avenging wisely all offence,
And chiming in with happiness and sense.
If any venture from her laws to stray
She rolls the rock of fate athwart his way,
And in her blindness, blest with vision keen,
Crushes that rebel 'neath her vast machine.
Good, good, my friend! for more I scarcely ask,
It saves my labouring logic half her task,
Mark how our God and all His works agree,
His word but well interprets things we see,
No arbitrary rule His laws impose,
'Tis truth and fitness for the frame he knows,
And lest our heedless passions miss the way,
He sets His beacon where we else might stray.
Had there been strange discordances to blend,
Had God and nature each a different end,–
Spoke languages that had no common root,–
It might have opened passage for dispute.
After admitting exceptions in the
"Few calm souls with honey in their blood,"and the "few beside of philosophic mould," she asks for a creed–
Not picked to please and fit, a one in ten,
Or in ten thousand, but for common men;
A faith that holds for better or for worse,
Dull labour's solace, and affliction's nurse;
A bond that girds the young, supports in age,
With power the master passions to engage,
And where but in the Bible shall we find
A scheme thus ample as the human kind?
Look with calm eye, the lucid story read,
'Tis no inexplicable depth of creed!
Beheld aright, the reasoner dare not carp,
It breaks in music from th' angelic harp,
Pealing one song from earth and heaven above,
"O height, and depth, and breadth, and length, of Love!"
In dealing explicitly with the Atheist argument, she first points out the distinctive character of nature's work and means, and their adaptation to the human function, as suggestive of an intelligent adapter.
'Tis odd, for instance, in her ample range,
Wide, various, full, she never dreams of change.
From one fixed line no power can make her stir,
She'll trench no more on man, than he on her!
'Tis wonder she confines her cunning art
To things where he, with all his boasts, must pause,
Helps him so far, then slips behind her laws!
'Tis not more difficult to rear a shed,
Than weave upon its walls the ivy's thread,
And wherefore never, or in work or play,
Doth nature exercise herself that way?
She might, one would suppose, to prove her skill,
Just now and then erect a house, a mill,
Or leave a watch in blossom on some bush,
To show what she can manage at a push.
But no,–no never,–since the world began,
She frames the stuff, but leaves the work to man;
He for the raw material must defer
With humble, hopeless impotence to her,
But where his wisdom can the rest fulfil,
She keeps her ground, and leaves him to his skill.
So nice a bargain, one would think, should show
Some drawn agreement marked, where each should go;
Tho' ages would suffice not to intrigue
The million articles of that great league.
Sure neither chance nor fate could fit to man
The very dovetails of this curious plan!
And though to such conclusion one were loth,
There seems at least some power beyond them both,
Some "Great first cause," benevolent as wise,
Who warp and woof of this great scene supplies.
Then follow sketches of five or six theories to which great philosophic names–ancient and modern–might be attached.
Yes, it is only motion! Good, my friend,
Thou really then hast reached thy journey's end!
Motion, with matter, are the clear beginning
(Save some odd push or so, to set them spinning,
Just not worth mentioning). Beyond a doubt
They need no God who do so well without.
I only wish they'd let me peep to see
How such amazing miracles can be.
Man with his powers of intellect, refined,
The vast resources of reflecting mind,
Has not the skill with every art he knows
To frame the humblest blade of grass that grows;
Much less his incantations hope to raise
The clod of being to its vital blaze;
Yet (so at least by sages we've been taught),
Matter is but the stepping stone to thought!
'Tis monstrous mortifying to be beat
By blind brute substance, in so wise a feat.
Yet, if 'tis so, why then, with one consent,
Let us urge on the rare experiment;
Some process yet to learn may give the clue,
And make the creature man, creator too,
Till, in the march of science, we may hope
To form both molecule and microscope.
May we?–I do not–but I think we might
If only the hypothesis were right.
But now to business,–bring thy tools and try
Mechanics press to serve, and chemistry,
The task commence with philosophic zeal,
Galvanic pile, and multiplying wheel;
Beat well about thee,–drive poor matter on
Till its old vis inertiæ be gone
Something will come, if not a perfect thing
At least a rudiment, some leg or wing,
If but a feather, or a film come o'er,
"Thankful for little," looks we know, for more.
And who in this dark state of things can tell
What forms may linger in thy crucible?
Well, I'll reduce my challenge to a straw,
And all I ask is just to see the law:
Have perfect proof that this one simple thing
From such or such a power did solely spring.
I'll not be told that atoms in their glee
Kicked up a rout, and so it came to be;
But if they do it dancing, I'll be there,
And see as well as thou,–it is but fair.
Believe a thing I've neither seen nor heard!
Nay,–leave to Christians to be so absurd.
'Tis true the wits have differed now and then
About that puzzling job, the making men;
How first they came, and more, as there were two,
Both male and female,–twice the work to do!
However, each accounted for should be,
And that by them, and therefore let us see.
Some think, that on the ocean rose a scum,
Of course at first insensate, deaf and dumb
But after age on age had rolled along,
It grew so thick, attenuate, and strong,
That, — there's the point it seems so hard to drive,
But somehow it began to be alive!
Well, 'twas at first mere life, an abstract thing;
Then grew, perchance an ear, perchance a wing,–
Or fin more likely, for they seem to wish
To prove this miracle at first a fish.
And fish it might be, but it did not stay
Above some centuries, less or more, they say
Before its slumbering energies began
To push this way and that, to make a man.
Nobody saw it,–that of course we know,
But no one can deny it then, if so;
And thus 'tis fairly proved, since none refute,
That man emerged from this amphibious brute.
Still there's the question, whence the woman springs
But–never mind–we'll talk of other things.
And yet 'tis odd that products each so rare,
Should thus be timed so nicely as they were.
If no design, as million ages rolled,
Watched the slow germ, and bade its powers unfold,
But so it happened, that to life it grew,
What strange coincidence produced the two?
Methinks our worthy grandsire had been dead
Before his finny mate had shown her head,
If wild fortuity alone had wrought
The finished product, up to life and thought.
That simultaneously they sprang to birth,
Appears the luckiest accident on earth.
But some then think, that floating in the skies
Or on the earth, or else some other wise,
Were ever living filaments, that strayed
This way and that, as favouring zephyrs played;
Threads, finer, thinner, than–we know not what
But when to some entanglement they got,
Caught, hooked, inwoven, they began to frame
Life to some shape, and win themselves a name.
From moss to herb, from herb to shrub and tree,
From thence, a leap both down and up must be
From mountain oak to animalcule.
But so it happened seemingly, and then
The thing went forward till it came to men.
The various steps 'twere needless to rehearse
One can but get the outline into verse,
And show how reasonable, wise and just,
These people-makers are, that people trust.
One point, however, one can scarce rebuff,
Their minds can be but matter sure enough.
But other geniuses new truths unfold
They were not filaments, as some would hold,
No, for they think (the difference is but small)
That life was first a microscopic ball,
A globule, quick, significant, and fraught
With such a cargo–organism and thought!
Millions of these, eternally at play,
(Matter and motion see you–that's the way)
Attracted strangely, and to concourse driven
Had, as time rolled, a gradual figure given,
And each, with something of a Roman soul,
Gave up his single rights to form a whole.
Life, long content within a mote to reign,
Now framed a league to widen his domain
And as the conscious grains together ran,
The million parts agreed to make one man.
It puzzles simple intellects to tell
How, with no head, they managed it so well,
And ranged in order so remarkable.
'Tis true that others think, as centuries ran
Innumerous, ere they perfected a man,
And matter all that time was on the twist,
Wreathed in all shapes, that none could thus be missed;
Sooner or later, from the teeming mass
Would start the varied forms of every class;
Some monsters doubtless,–though we wonder why
Monsters should find they were but such, and die;
For so it seems they did, and nothing stood
Perpetuate, but the beautiful and good.
One feels at times with such a scheme as this
But little wiser than with Genesis!
Well, but if form and organism rise
'Mid these eternal possibilities,–
The goodly frame, the instrument entire,–
Yet whence originates the vital fire?
Another tells us,–but the tale's so long,
'Tis difficult to weave it in my song;
And philosophic too, with words so fine
I scarce can bend or break them to my line,
But not to be outwitted, let me try,–
This other thinks then (though a simple "why"
Might sorely pose his ingenuity),
But then he thinks, that thus the case is clear,–
"Intense excitement of the atmosphere,"
Produced by divers motions of the earth,
To heat, and then to life, has given birth.
The energetic atoms of the air
Fixed in the lungs, become quiescent there,
But motion, ever in its mass the same,
Lost to the atom, lodges in the frame,
Sets the blood running up to summer heat,
While certain muscular dilations meet
With rarefactions, and contractile touch
Mechanical disturbances, and such;
Till, from this transfer of atomic force,
What think you comes? Vitality of course,–
Life, with its wondrous process, and effect–
Heat, motion, consciousness, and intellect;
And so the veil is rent, and nature sits
Exposed in open daylight to the wits!
But others think, that first, they never came,
"You see the world it always was the same;"
From son to sire continuous, they ascend
Through millions, billions, trillions, without end,
Infinite series,–not in thought, but fact.
Was ever proven logic more exact?
"It seems so natural–what we daily find.
Sceptic, believe your eyes, and never mind,
There's not a word of truth in what we hear."
(Well, when I read such nonsense, so I fear.)
. . . . . .
Vain pilots, steering in a stormy night,
And sending rockets up for polar light;
While dim, but steady to the watchful eye,
Beams truth's benignant beacon in the sky!
Though many keen sarcastic touches enliven this portion of the poem, yet pity and earnest warning predominate throughout all appeals to the Atheist himself, and a scathing indignation is reserved for Christians who are such in name only–
–the men whose lives with silent force[Page 334]
Obstruct the blessed gospel in its course;
Win none to love the truth they so abuse,
And fix the shaken sceptic to refuse.
Ye men of hollow heart who cringe and bend
With holy seemings for some earthly end,
Call God your Father, and with saintly eye,
"Our blessed Saviour" as your watchword cry,
Yet live as they, or worse than they who own
No power above them save on nature's throne;
Sinners in Zion, doff your coward shame,
And if in Satan's service, wear his name,
Step boldly forth, and rank with him confest
Who bears the Atheist brand upon his breast;
Nor leave to Infidels that polished blade
Which he has furbished who makes truth his trade.
. . . . . .
And you, ye Christian born, at church baptized,
Confirmed, and by the holy rite apprised
That you the Holy Spirit doth create
Anew in Jesus, and regenerate,
Who take the solemn compliment for truth,
And safe beneath it give to sin your youth;–
Who nursed in frightful confidence can die
Without once trembling for eternity,
Absolved upon its threshold, and conveyed
By prayer-book promise safe into the shade;
Who never saw the utterness of need
In which ye stand, and fled to Christ indeed,
And look no more, compared with Christian law,
Like a true Christian than a man of straw,–
How great the scandal which the truth endures
From this sham Christianity of yours!
Call yourselves Bell-men, Steeple-men, or ought,
You best may please, but set not Christ at naught.
True to her Nonconformist creed, and long before the phrase "political dissenter," was devised, she denounces as part of the great scandal of the Church, its union with the State.
But where's the hope to which, deceived ye cling,
That time shall make the Church a purer thing?
That so it will, no Christian feels a doubt,
But not by turning a few errors out.
No, He, the jealous God, to new create,
Will first divorce the adultress from the State,
Then clothe her with that raiment, white and clean,
On which nor spot nor wrinkle shall be seen.
Fair morn of happiness for which we gaze!
For which the unsuspecting Churchman prays,
When oft, with other meanings, or with none,
He cries, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done."
Imbibe the spirit of the heavenly plea,
And add a pure amen, "so let it be."
. . . . . .
Still do not say, with narrow view confined,
I seize the dross, and leave the ore behind,
Forget your holy doctrine, Scripture creed,
And large proportion of the precious seed
Or close the gates of charity on all
Who keep the other side my party wall.
No, God has owned, and surely so may we,
The thread of gold in each community.
Hay, straw, and stubble, men in folly mix,
But Heaven makes use of all to burn her bricks,
And fair the temple that shall hence arise,
Though reared on earth, the topstone in the skies!
The poem ends with an appeal to all Christians, in deed and in truth,–that all who–
Live by His power, His pity, and His death,
Should consecrate their being and their breath,
Health, reason, vigour, influence, and days,
His will to work, and spread His worthy praise.
Some verses under the above title (a few lines of which have been already quoted in the text), written by one who lived under her roof for several years as a private pupil of her husband's, contain so true a portraiture of the subject of these memorials, that they may be allowed to form their final word.
Gentle, untiring, tender,
Simple, cheerful, true;
Genius beneath, to lend her
Brightness and varied hue:
A slender, active figure,
A straight, unconscious gait;
A mien from which the rigour
Of age could scarce abate:
All things in her fresh thought,
Oft from a large heart sighing,
While busy fingers wrought:
Child–wise and sage–wise, loyal
Flushed by a noble deed;
Royalist to the Royal,
Scornful to pride and greed;
And ever mostly leaning
To some the world despised,
She thought her Master's meaning–
Such lowly ones He prized:
With kindly ways of warning
For those she thought had erred,
And sparkling wit, adorning,
Just barbing, suited word;
The force of Genius yielded
To force of Love in her;
The unresting pen, she wielded,
Knew not ambition's spur.
Affection only guided,
Lent the lustre arid the grace
And most of wealth confided
Where dearest eyes would trace.
Through gloom and brightness changing,
We felt how unchanged she,
Her faith-borne spirit ranging,
Humble and strong and free.
Gentle, untiring, tender,
Simple, cheerful, true;
Sleep unto death did lend her,
And the great morning grew!
E. C. H.
* I have inserted one stanza only of a rather long poem.
* Father of Rev. James Parsons of York.
* "The culprit finds that blasting rumour has been before him and prepared the suspicious or malignant to do him injury long after he had supposed scandal herself was tired with the monotonous repetition. He will meet the report again and again, as the lingering echoes among the mountains return, after long intervals of gloomy silence."
* Lost by an early death.
* At sight of the beautiful drawing to which these lines refer, Montgomery pencilled under it the following impromptu,–"It faded ere it fell to earth,
But 'twas the weight of fruit
That brought it down; to second birth
The acorn soon will shoot,
And ages shall rejoice to see
The glory of the future tree."
* Contributions of Q. Q., "The Moth."
* Mr Gilbert's colleague on this service was the Rev. Mr Alliott of Castlegate Chapel, Nottingham.
* One of the quaint characters at Lavenham.
† The allusion was not to Hull.
* A noted champion of Infidelity at the time, and a publisher of Infidel books.
* An eminent clerical dignitary of the present day was one of her scholars.
* John Stuart Mill, in his autobiography, refers to this as attracting much attention at the time, and adds "that freedom of discussion, even in politics, much more in religion, was, at that time far from being the conceded point which it, at least, seems to be now." The passage quoted from the poem shows that, on that point, my mother was as "advanced a thinker" as himself.
* Upon mentioning to his friends the applications he had received from important churches–"Sir," said one of them, "we would rather, if it were needful, alter the style of our living–live in smaller houses, and deny ourselves what we are accustomed to, than part with you."–FROM A LETTER BY MRS GILBERT.
* The precocity he had shown no doubt increased her sense of his responsibility.
* One of his coined words.
* The father and mother were always addressed by their sons as "sir" and "ma'am."
* Not, of course, on the ground of a so-called "Apostolical sucession," for he spoke of his own father as a true "bishop."
* "I have cared intensely for whatever may be found to bear upon the history of our human nature as it has played its part upon this arena of mysteries–the field of religious development, ancient and modern."–PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS, by ISAAC TAYLOR.
* Jane Taylor in Q. Q.
* The Doctor had quoted a passage in Sir H. Davy's "Last Days of a Philosopher" in which he spoke of the interest attaching to such a rosary.
* An entry in Mrs Gilbert's diary, March 26, 1836, is to this effect–This day died in Hartford, Connecticut, my earliest friend Mrs Wells, once Anne Watkinson. We parted in the year 1795, met once more, 1834, parted finally in July 16, that year.
* A mining engineer from Siberia who had shared with her son the terrible five weeks passage from Cronstadt, perished with his family immediately after arrival in the wreck of the "Forfarshire."
* At that time including two or three private pupils of Mr Gilbert.
* Vinet's able work on "Personal Religious Conviction."
* It will be seen that this letter does not apply to the aspects of the question at present mooted. When a woman is sole head of a household, the family is entirely unrepresented; and voting for members of Parliament is a widely different thing from sitting as a member.
* "The Convalescent."
* This was before the investigations were exclusively confined to the chemistry of agriculture.
* Her brother Jefferys had at this time his own difficulties, which led to his leaving the pleasant house at Pilgrim's Hatch.
* "In the neighbourhood of Nottingham, the vernal crocus presents a most beautiful appearance, covering many acres of meadow with its bloom, rivalling whatever has been sung of the fields of Enna showing, at a distance like a perfect flood of lilac, and tempting every merry little heart, and many graver ones also, to go out and gather."–William Howitt.
* The Burnet Prize Essays on the "Testimony of Reason and Revelation to the Existence and Character of the Supreme Being," are here referred to. The first prize was adjudged to Rev. R. A. Thomson, and the second to the present Principal Tulloch.
* These drawings afterwards went to America.
* The name given to the "Great Eastern," then stranded on its slips.
† From the unpublished poem, "The Minister's Widow."
* Matlock, Bakewell, Ashbourne.
* The morning that the Royal Charter was lost on the Welsh coast.
* See p. 167.
* Peace was signed at Paris, September 3, 1783.
* His eldest daughter had become a widow in the course of it.
* True to his father's memory, her brother's constant companion during the months of his last illness was the hymn book, the purchase of which had led to his father's early rising, and out of which he had daily sung his morning hymn.
Size and placement of figures may vary from the originals.