Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 4

Sunday Morning — Tares and Wheat — Teetotalism — Hearsay — Irish Family — What Profession? — Sabbath Evening — Priest or Minister — Give us God.

ON the Sunday morning, as we sat at breakfast, we heard the noise of singing in the street; running to the window, we saw a number of people, bareheaded, from whose mouths the singing or psalmody proceeded. These, on inquiry, we were informed, were Methodists, going about to raise recruits for a grand camp-meeting, which was to be held a little way out of the town. We finished our breakfast, and at eleven attended divine service at the Cathedral. The interior of this holy edifice was smooth and neat, strangely contrasting with its exterior, which was rough and weather-beaten. We had decent places found us by a civil verger, who probably took us for what we were — decent country people. We heard much fine chanting by the choir, and an admirable sermon, preached by a venerable prebend, on “Tares and Wheat.” The congregation was numerous and attentive. After service we returned to our inn, and at two o’clock dined. During dinner our conversation ran almost entirely on the sermon, which we all agreed was one of the best sermons we had ever heard, and most singularly adapted to country people like ourselves, being on “Wheat and Tares.” When dinner was over my wife and daughter repaired to the neighbouring church, and I went in quest of the camp-meeting, having a mighty desire to know what kind of a thing Methodism at Chester was.

I found about two thousand people gathered together in a field near the railroad station; a waggon stood under some green elms at one end of the field, in which were ten or a dozen men with the look of Methodist preachers; one of these was holding forth to the multitude when I arrived, but he presently sat down, I having, as I suppose, only come in time to hear the fag-end of his sermon. Another succeeded him, who, after speaking for about half an hour, was succeeded by another. All the discourses were vulgar and fanatical, and in some instances unintelligible at least to my ears. There was plenty of vociferation, but not one single burst of eloquence. Some of the assembly appeared to take considerable interest in what was said, and every now and then showed they did by devout hums and groans; but the generality evidently took little or none, staring about listlessly, or talking to one another. Sometimes, when anything particularly low escaped from the mouth of the speaker, I heard exclamations of “how low! well, I think I could preach better than that,” and the like. At length a man of about fifty, pock-broken and somewhat bald, began to speak: unlike the others who screamed, shouted, and seemed in earnest, he spoke in a dry, waggish style, which had all the coarseness and nothing of the cleverness of that of old Rowland Hill, whom I once heard. After a great many jokes, some of them very poor, and others exceedingly thread-bare, on the folly of those who sell themselves to the Devil for a little temporary enjoyment, he introduced the subject of drunkenness, or rather drinking fermented liquors, which he seemed to consider the same thing; and many a sorry joke on the folly of drinking them did he crack, which some half-dozen amidst the concourse applauded. At length he said:-

“After all, brethren, such drinking is no joking matter, for it is the root of all evil. Now, brethren, if you would all get to heaven, and cheat the enemy of your souls, never go into a public-house to drink, and never fetch any drink from a public-house. Let nothing pass your lips, in the shape of drink, stronger than water or tea. Brethren, if you would cheat the Devil, take the pledge and become teetotalers. I am a teetotaller myself, thank God — though once I was a regular lushington.”

Here ensued a burst of laughter in which I joined, though not at the wretched joke, but at the absurdity of the argument; for, according to that argument, I thought my old friends the Spaniards and Portuguese must be the most moral people in the world, being almost all water-drinkers. As the speaker was proceeding with his nonsense, I heard some one say behind me — “a pretty fellow that, to speak against drinking and public-houses: he pretends to be reformed, but he is still as fond of the lush as ever. It was only the other day I saw him reeling out of a gin-shop.”

Now that speech I did not like, for I saw at once that it could not be true, so I turned quickly round and said — “Old chap, I can scarcely credit that!”

The man, whom I addressed, a rough-and-ready-looking fellow of the lower class, seemed half disposed to return me a savage answer; but an Englishman of the lower class, though you call his word in question, is never savage with you, provided you call him old chap, and he considers you by your dress to be his superior in station. Now I, who had called the word of this man in question, had called him old chap, and was considerably better dressed than himself; so, after a little hesitation, he became quite gentle, and something more, for he said in a half-apologetic tone — “Well, sir, I did not exactly see him myself, but a particular friend of mine heer’d a man say, that he heer’d another man say, that he was told that a man heer’d that that fellow — ”

“Come, come!” said I, “a man must not be convicted on evidence like that; no man has more contempt for the doctrine which that man endeavours to inculcate than myself, for I consider it to have been got up partly for fanatical, partly for political purposes; but I will never believe that he was lately seen coming out of a gin-shop; he is too wise, or rather too cunning, for that.”

I stayed listening to these people till evening was at hand. I then left them, and without returning to the inn strolled over the bridge to the green, where the tents stood. I went up to them: two women sat at the entrance of one; a man stood by them, and the children, whom I had before seen, were gambolling near at hand. One of the women was about forty, the other some twenty years younger; both were ugly. The younger was a rude, stupid-looking creature, with red cheeks and redder hair, but there was a dash of intelligence and likewise of wildness in the countenance of the elder female, whose complexion and hair were rather dark. The man was about the same age as the elder woman; he had rather a sharp look, and was dressed in hat, white frock-coat, corduroy breeches, long stockings and shoes. I gave them the seal of the evening.

“Good evening to your haner,” said the man — “Good evening to you, sir,” said the woman; whilst the younger mumbled something, probably to the same effect, but which I did not catch.

“Fine weather,” said I.

“Very, sir,” said the elder female. “Won’t you please to sit down?” and reaching back into the tent, she pulled out a stool which she placed near me.

I sat down on the stool. “You are not from these parts?” said I, addressing myself to the man.

“We are not, your haner,” said the man; “we are from Ireland.”

“And this lady,” said I, motioning with my head to the elder female, “is, I suppose, your wife.”

“She is, your haner, and the children which your haner sees are my children.”

“And who is this young lady?” said I, motioning to the uncouth-looking girl.

“The young lady, as your haner is pleased to call her, is a daughter of a sister of mine who is now dead, along with her husband. We have her with us, your haner, because if we did not she would be alone in the world.”

“And what trade or profession do you follow?” said I.

“We do a bit in the tinkering line, your haner.”

“Do you find tinkering a very profitable profession?” said I.

“Not very, your haner; but we contrive to get a crust and a drink by it.”

“That’s more than I ever could,” said I.

“Has your haner then ever followed tinkering?” said the man.

“Yes,” said I, “but I soon left off.”

“And became a minister,” said the elder female, “Well, your honour is not the first indifferent tinker that’s turned out a shining minister.”

“Why do you think me a minister?”

“Because your honour has the very look and voice of one. Oh, it was kind in your honour to come to us here in the Sabbath evening, in order that you might bring us God.”

“What do you mean by bringing you God?” said I.

“Talking to us about good things, sir, and instructing us out of the Holy Book.”

“I am no minister,” said I.

“Then you are a priest; I am sure you are either a minister or a priest; and now that I look on you, sir, I think you look more like a priest than a minister. Yes, I see you are a priest. Oh, your Reverence, give us God! Pull out the crucifix from your bosom, and let us kiss the face of God!”

“Of what religion are you?” said I.

“Catholics, your Reverence, Catholics are we all.”

“I am no priest.”

“Then you are a minister; I am sure you are either a priest or a minister. Oh sir, pull out the Holy Book, and instruct us from it this blessed Sabbath evening. Give us God, sir, give us God!”

“And would you, who are Catholics, listen to the voice of a minister?”

“That would we, sir; at least I would. If you are a minister, and a good minister, I would as soon listen to your words as those of Father Toban himself.”

“And who is Father Toban?”

“A powerful priest in these parts, sir, who has more than once eased me of my sins, and given me God upon the cross. Oh, a powerful and comfortable priest is Father Toban.”

“And what would he say if he were to know that you asked for God from a minister?”

“I do not know, and do not much care; if I get God, I do not care whether I get Him from a minister or a priest; both have Him, no doubt, only give Him in different ways. Oh sir, do give us God; we need Him sir, for we are sinful people; we call ourselves tinkers, but many is the sinful thing — ”

“Bi-do-hosd;” said the man: Irish words tantamount to “Be silent!”

“I will not be hushed,” said the woman, speaking English. “The man is a good man, and he will do us no harm. We are tinkers, sir; but we do many things besides tinkering, many sinful things, especially in Wales, whither we are soon going again. Oh, I want to be eased of some of my sins before I go into Wales again, and so do you, Tourlough, for you know how you are sometimes haunted by devils at night in those dreary Welsh hills. Oh sir, give us comfort in some shape or other, either as priest or minister; give us God! Give us God!”

“I am neither priest nor minister,” said, I, “and can only say: Lord have mercy upon you!” Then getting up I flung the children some money and departed.

“We do not want your money, sir,” screamed the woman after me; “we have plenty of money. Give us God! Give us God!”

“Yes, your haner,” said the man, “give us God! we do not want money;” and the uncouth girl said something, which sounded much like Give us God! but I hastened across the meadow, which was now quite dusky, and was presently in the inn with my wife and daughter.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 14:50