Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet : An Autobiography, by Charles Kingsley

Chapter 41.

Freedom, Equality, and Brotherhood.

Before the same Father, the same King, crucified for all alike, we had partaken of the same bread and wine, we had prayed for the same spirit. Side by side, around the chair on which I lay propped up with pillows, coughing my span of life away, had knelt the high-born countess, the cultivated philosopher, the repentant rebel, the wild Irish girl, her slavish and exclusive creed exchanged for one more free and all-embracing; and that no extremest type of human condition might be wanting, the reclaimed Magdalene was there — two pale worn girls from Eleanor’s asylum, in whom I recognized the needlewomen to whom Mackaye had taken me, on a memorable night, seven years before. Thus — and how better? — had God rewarded their loving care of that poor dying fellow-slave.

Yes — we had knelt together: and I had felt that we were one — that there was a bond between us, real, eternal, independent of ourselves, knit not by man, but God; and the peace of God, which passes understanding, came over me like the clear sunshine after weary rain.

One by one they shook me by the hand, and quitted the room; and Eleanor and I were left alone.

“See!” she said, “Freedom, Equality, and Brotherhood are come; but not as you expected.”

Blissful, repentant tears blinded my eyes, as I replied, not to her, but to Him who spoke by her —

“Lord! not as I will, but as thou wilt!”

“Yes,” she continued, “Freedom, Equality, and Brotherhood are here. Realize them in thine own self, and so alone thou helpest to make them realities for all. Not from without, from Charters and Republics, but from within, from the Spirit working in each; not by wrath and haste, but by patience made perfect through suffering, canst thou proclaim their good news to the groaning masses, and deliver them, as thy Master did before thee, by the cross, and not the sword. Divine paradox! — Folly to the rich and mighty — the watchword of the weak, in whose weakness is God’s strength made perfect. ‘In your patience possess ye your souls, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.’ Yes — He came then, and the Babel-tyranny of Rome fell, even as the more fearful, more subtle, and more diabolic tyranny of Mammon shall fall ere long — suicidal, even now crumbling by its innate decay. Yes — Babylon the Great — the commercial world of selfish competition, drunken with the blood of God’s people, whose merchandise is the bodies and souls of men — her doom is gone forth. And then — then — when they, the tyrants of the earth, who lived delicately with her, rejoicing in her sins, the plutocrats and bureaucrats, the money-changers and devourers of labour, are crying to the rocks to hide them, and to the hills to cover them, from the wrath of Him that sitteth on the throne — then labour shall be free at last, and the poor shall eat and be satisfied, with things that eye hath not seen nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, but which God has prepared for those who love Him. Then the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea, and mankind at last shall own their King — Him. in whom they are all redeemed into the glorious liberty of the Sons of God, and He shall reign indeed on earth, and none but His saints shall rule beside Him. And then shall this sacrament be an everlasting sign to all the nations of the world, as it has been to you this day, of freedom, equality, brotherhood, of Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good-will toward men. Do you believe?”

Again I answered, not her, but Him who sent her —

“Lord, I believe! Help thou mine unbelief!”

“And now farewell. I shall not see you again before you start — and ere you return — My health has been fast declining lately.”

I started — I had not dared to confess to myself how thin her features had become of late. I had tried not to hear the dry and hectic cough, or see the burning spot on either cheek — but it was too true; and with a broken voice I cried:

“Oh that I might die, and join you!”

“Not so — I trust that you have still a work to do. But if not, promise me that, whatever be the event of your voyage, you will publish, in good time, an honest history of your life; extenuating nothing, exaggerating nothing, ashamed to confess or too proclaim nothing. It may perhaps awaken some rich man to look down and take pity on the brains and hearts more noble than his own, which lie struggling in poverty and misguidance among these foul sties, which civilization rears — and calls them cities. Now, once again, farewell!”

She held out her hand — I would have fallen at her feet, but the thought of that common sacrament withheld me. I seized her hand, covered it with adoring kisses — Slowly she withdrew it, and glided from the room —

What need of more words? I obeyed her — sailed — and here I am.

 

Yes! I have seen the land! Like a purple fringe upon the golden sea, “while parting day dies like the dolphin,” there it lay upon the fair horizon — the great young free new world! and every tree, and flower, and insect on it new! — a wonder and a joy — which I shall never see. . . .

No — I shall never reach the land. I felt it all along. Weaker and weaker, day by day, with bleeding lungs and failing limbs, I have travelled the ocean paths. The iron has entered too deeply into my soul. . . .

Hark! Merry voices on deck are welcoming their future home. Laugh on, happy ones! — come out of Egypt and the house of bondage, and the waste and howling wilderness of slavery and competition, workhouses and prisons, into a good land and large, a land flowing with milk and honey, where you will sit every one under his own vine and his own fig-tree, and look into the faces of your rosy children — and see in them a blessing and not a curse! Oh, England! stern mother-land, when wilt thou renew thy youth? — Thou wilderness of man’s making, not God’s! . . . Is it not written, that the days shall come when the forest shall break forth into singing, and the wilderness shall blossom like the rose?

Hark! again, sweet and clear, across the still night sea, ring out the notes of Crossthwaite’s bugle — the first luxury, poor fellow, he ever allowed himself; and yet not a selfish one, for music, like mercy, is twice blessed —

“It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

There is the spirit-stirring marching air of the German workmen students

Thou, thou, thou, and thou,

Sir Master, fare thee well. —

Perhaps a half reproachful hint to the poor old England he is leaving. What a glorious metre! warming one’s whole heart into life and energy! If I could but write in such a metre one true people’s song, that should embody all my sorrow, indignation, hope — fitting last words for a poet of the people — for they will be my last words — Well — thank God! at least I shall not be buried in a London churchyard! It may be a foolish fancy — but I have made them promise to lay me up among the virgin woods, where, if the soul ever visits the place of its body’s rest, I may snatch glimpses of that natural beauty from which I was barred out in life, and watch the gorgeous flowers that bloom above my dust, and hear the forest birds sing around the Poet’s grave.

Hark to the grand lilt of the “Good Time Coming!”— Song which has cheered ten thousand hearts; which has already taken root, that it may live and grow for ever — fitting melody to soothe my dying ears! Ah! how should there not be A Good Time Coming? — Hope, and trust, and infinite deliverance! — a time such as eye hath not seen nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive! — coming surely, soon or late, to those for whom a God did not disdain to die!

 

Our only remaining duty is to give an extract from a letter written by John Crossthwaite, and dated

“GALVESTON, TEXAS, October, 1848.

. . . “I am happy. Katie is happy, There is peace among us here, like ‘the clear downshining after rain.’ But I thirst and long already for the expiration of my seven years’ exile, wholesome as I believe it to be. My only wish is to return and assist in the Emancipation of Labour, and give my small aid in that fraternal union of all classes which I hear is surely, though slowly, spreading in my mother-land.

“And now for my poor friend, whose papers, according to my promise to him, I transmit to you. On the very night on which he seems to have concluded them — an hour after we had made the land — we found him in his cabin, dead, his head resting on the table as peacefully as if he had slumbered. On a sheet of paper by him were written the following verses; the ink was not yet dry:

“‘My Last Words.

1.

“‘Weep, weep, weep, and weep,

For pauper, dolt, and slave;

Hark! from wasted moor and fen,

Feverous alley, workhouse den,

Swells the wail of Englishmen:

“Work! or the grave!”

2.

“‘Down, down, down, and down,

With idler, knave, and tyrant;

Why for sluggards stint and moil

He that will not live by toil

Has no right on English soil;

God’s word’s our warrant!

3.

“‘Up, up, up, and up,

Face your game, and play it!

The night is past — behold the sun! —

The cup is full, the web is spun,

The Judge is set, the doom begun;

Who shall stay it?’”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 21:44