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

Chapter 1.

A Poet’s Childhood.

I am a Cockney among Cockneys. Italy and the Tropics, the Highlands and Devonshire, I know only in dreams. Even the Surrey Hills, of whose loveliness I have heard so much, are to me a distant fairy-land, whose gleaming ridges I am worthy only to behold afar. With the exception of two journeys, never to be forgotten, my knowledge of England is bounded by the horizon which encircles Richmond Hill.

My earliest recollections are of a suburban street; of its jumble of little shops and little terraces, each exhibiting some fresh variety of capricious ugliness; the little scraps of garden before the doors, with their dusty, stunted lilacs and balsam poplars, were my only forests; my only wild animals, the dingy, merry sparrows, who quarrelled fearlessly on my window-sill, ignorant of trap or gun. From my earliest childhood, through long nights of sleepless pain, as the midnight brightened into dawn, and the glaring lamps grew pale, I used to listen, with pleasant awe, to the ceaseless roll of the market-waggons, bringing up to the great city the treasures of the gay green country, the land of fruits and flowers, for which I have yearned all my life in vain. They seemed to my boyish fancy mysterious messengers from another world: the silent, lonely night, in which they were the only moving things, added to the wonder. I used to get out of bed to gaze at them, and envy the coarse men and sluttish women who attended them, their labour among verdant plants and rich brown mould, on breezy slopes, under God’s own clear sky. I fancied that they learnt what I knew I should have learnt there; I knew not then that “the eye only sees that which it brings with it the power of seeing.” When will their eyes be opened? When will priests go forth into the highways and the hedges, and preach to the ploughman and the gipsy the blessed news, that there too, in every thicket and fallow-field, is the house of God — there, too, the gate of Heaven?

I do not complain that I am a Cockney. That, too, is God’s gift. He made me one, that I might learn to feel for poor wretches who sit stifled in reeking garrets and workrooms, drinking in disease with every breath — bound in their prison-house of brick and iron, with their own funeral pall hanging over them, in that canopy of fog and poisonous smoke, from their cradle to their grave. I have drunk of the cup of which they drink. And so I have learnt — if, indeed, I have learnt — to be a poet — a poet of the people. That honour, surely, was worth buying with asthma, and rickets, and consumption, and weakness, and — worst of all to me — with ugliness. It was God’s purpose about me; and, therefore, all circumstances combined to imprison me in London. I used once, when I worshipped circumstance, to fancy it my curse, Fate’s injustice to me, which kept me from developing my genius, asserting my rank among poets. I longed to escape to glorious Italy, or some other southern climate, where natural beauty would have become the very element which I breathed; and yet, what would have come of that? Should I not, as nobler spirits than I have done, have idled away my life in Elysian dreams, singing out like a bird into the air, inarticulately, purposeless, for mere joy and fulness of heart; and taking no share in the terrible questionings, the terrible strugglings of this great, awful, blessed time — feeling no more the pulse of the great heart of England stirring me? I used, as I said, to call it the curse of circumstance that I was a sickly, decrepit Cockney. My mother used to tell me that it was the cross which God had given me to bear. I know now that she was right there. She used to say that my disease was God’s will. I do not think, though, that she spoke right there also. I think that it was the will of the world and of the devil, of man’s avarice and laziness and ignorance. And so would my readers, perhaps, had they seen the shop in the city where I was born and nursed, with its little garrets reeking with human breath, its kitchens and areas with noisome sewers. A sanitary reformer would not be long in guessing the cause of my unhealthiness. He would not rebuke me — nor would she, sweet soul! now that she is at rest and bliss — for my wild longings to escape, for my envying the very flies and sparrows their wings that I might flee miles away into the country, and breathe the air of heaven once, and die. I have had my wish. I have made two journeys far away into the country, and they have been enough for me.

My mother was a widow. My father, whom I cannot recollect, was a small retail tradesman in the city. He was unfortunate; and when he died, my mother came down, and lived penuriously enough, I knew not how till I grew older, down in that same suburban street. She had been brought up an Independent. After my father’s death she became a Baptist, from conscientious scruples. She considered the Baptists, as I do, as the only sect who thoroughly embody the Calvinistic doctrines. She held it, as I do, an absurd and impious thing for those who believe mankind to be children of the devil till they have been consciously “converted,” to baptise unconscious infants and give them the sign of God’s mercy on the mere chance of that mercy being intended for them. When God had proved by converting them, that they were not reprobate and doomed to hell by His absolute and eternal will, then, and not till then, dare man baptise them into His name. She dared not palm a presumptuous fiction on herself, and call it “charity.” So, though we had both been christened during my father’s lifetime, she purposed to have us rebaptised, if ever that happened — which, in her sense of the word, never happened, I am afraid, to me.

She gloried in her dissent; for she was sprung from old Puritan blood, which had flowed again and again beneath the knife of Star–Chamber butchers, and on the battle-fields of Naseby and Sedgemoor. And on winter evenings she used to sit with her Bible on her knee, while I and my little sister Susan stood beside her and listened to the stories of Gideon and Barak, and Samson and Jephthah, till her eye kindled up, and her thoughts passed forth from that old Hebrew time home into those English times which she fancied, and not untruly, like them. And we used to shudder, and yet listen with a strange fascination, as she told us how her ancestor called his seven sons off their small Cambridge farm, and horsed and armed them himself to follow behind Cromwell, and smite kings and prelates with “the sword of the Lord and of Gideon.” Whether she were right or wrong, what is it to me? What is it now to her, thank God? But those stories, and the strict, stern Puritan education, learnt from the Independents and not the Baptists, which accompanied them, had their effect on me, for good and ill.

My mother moved by rule and method; by God’s law, as she considered, and that only. She seldom smiled. Her word was absolute. She never commanded twice, without punishing. And yet there were abysses of unspoken tenderness in her, as well as clear, sound, womanly sense and insight. But she thought herself as much bound to keep down all tenderness as if she had been some ascetic of the middle ages — so do extremes meet! It was “carnal,” she considered. She had as yet no right to have any “spiritual affection” for us. We were still “children of wrath and of the devil,”— not yet “convinced of sin,” “converted, born again.” She had no more spiritual bond with us, she thought, than she had with a heathen or a Papist. She dared not even pray for our conversion, earnestly as she prayed on every other subject. For though the majority of her sect would have done so, her clear logical sense would yield to no such tender inconsistency. Had it not been decided from all eternity? We were elect, or we were reprobate. Could her prayers alter that? If He had chosen us, He would call us in His own good time: and, if not — . Only again and again, as I afterwards discovered from a journal of hers, she used to beseech God with agonized tears to set her mind at rest by revealing to her His will towards us. For that comfort she could at least rationally pray. But she received no answer. Poor, beloved mother! If thou couldst not read the answer, written in every flower and every sunbeam, written in the very fact of our existence here at all, what answer would have sufficed thee.

And yet, with all this, she kept the strictest watch over our morality. Fear, of course, was the only motive she employed; for how could our still carnal understandings be affected with love to God? And love to herself was too paltry and temporary to be urged by one who knew that her life was uncertain, and who was always trying to go down to the deepest eternal ground and reason of everything, and take her stand upon that. So our god, or gods rather, till we were twelve years old, were hell, the rod, the ten commandments, and public opinion. Yet under them, not they, but something deeper far, both in her and us, preserved us pure. Call it natural character, conformation of the spirit — conformation of the brain, if you like, if you are a scientific man and a phrenologist. I never yet could dissect and map out my own being, or my neighbour’s, as you analysts do. To me, I myself, ay, and each person round me, seem one inexplicable whole; to take away a single faculty whereof, is to destroy the harmony, the meaning, the life of all the rest. That there is a duality in us — a lifelong battle between flesh and spirit — we all, alas! know well enough; but which is flesh and which is spirit, what philosophers in these days can tell us? Still less bad we two found out any such duality or discord in ourselves; for we were gentle and obedient children. The pleasures of the world did not tempt us. We did not know of their existence; and no foundlings educated in a nunnery ever grew up in a more virginal and spotless innocence — if ignorance be such — than did Susan and I.

The narrowness of my sphere of observation only concentrated the faculty into greater strength. The few natural objects which I met — and they, of course, constituted my whole outer world (for art and poetry were tabooed both by my rank and my mother’s sectarianism, and the study of human beings only develops itself as the boy grows into the man)— these few natural objects, I say, I studied with intense keenness. I knew every leaf and flower in the little front garden; every cabbage and rhubarb plant in Battersea fields was wonderful and beautiful to me. Clouds and water I learned to delight in, from my occasional lingerings on Battersea bridge, and yearning westward looks toward the sun setting above rich meadows and wooded gardens, to me a forbidden El Dorado.

I brought home wild-flowers and chance beetles and butterflies, and pored over them, not in the spirit of a naturalist, but of a poet. They were to me God’s angels shining in coats of mail and fairy masquerading dresses. I envied them their beauty, their freedom. At last I made up my mind, in the simple tenderness of a child’s conscience, that it was wrong to rob them of the liberty for which I pined — to take them away from the beautiful broad country whither I longed to follow them; and I used to keep them a day or two, and then, regretfully, carry them back, and set them loose on the first opportunity, with many compunctions of heart, when, as generally happened, they had been starved to death in the mean time.

They were my only recreations after the hours of the small day-school at the neighbouring chapel, where I learnt to read, write, and sum; except, now and then, a London walk, with my mother holding my hand tight the whole way. She would have hoodwinked me, stopped my ears with cotton, and led me in a string — kind, careful soul! — if it had been reasonably safe on a crowded pavement, so fearful was she lest I should be polluted by some chance sight or sound of the Babylon which she feared and hated — almost as much as she did the Bishops.

The only books which I knew were the Pilgrim’s Progress and the Bible. The former was my Shakespeare, my Dante, my Vedas, by which I explained every fact and phenomenon of life. London was the City of Destruction, from which I was to flee; I was Christian; the Wicket of the Way of Life I had strangely identified with the turnpike at Battersea-bridge end; and the rising ground of Mortlake and Wimbledon was the Land of Beulah — the Enchanted Mountains of the Shepherds. If I could once get there I was saved: a carnal view, perhaps, and a childish one; but there was a dim meaning and human reality in it nevertheless.

As for the Bible, I knew nothing of it really, beyond the Old Testament. Indeed, the life of Christ had little chance of becoming interesting to me. My mother had given me formally to understand that it spoke of matters too deep for me; that “till converted, the natural man could not understand the things of God”: and I obtained little more explanation of it from the two unintelligible, dreary sermons to which I listened every dreary Sunday, in terror lest a chance shuffle of my feet, or a hint of drowsiness — natural result of the stifling gallery and glaring windows and gas lights — should bring down a lecture and a punishment when I returned home. Oh, those “sabbaths!”— days, not of rest, but utter weariness, when the beetles and the flowers were put by, and there was nothing to fill up the long vacuity but books of which I could not understand a word: when play, laughter, or even a stare out of window at the sinful, merry, sabbath-breaking promenaders, were all forbidden, as if the commandment had run, “In it thou shalt take no manner of amusement, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter.” By what strange ascetic perversion has that got to mean “keeping holy the sabbath-day”?

Yet there was an hour’s relief in the evening, when either my mother told us Old Testament stories, or some preacher or two came in to supper after meeting; and I used to sit in the corner and listen to their talk; not that I understood a word, but the mere struggle to understand — the mere watching my mother’s earnest face — my pride in the reverent flattery with which the worthy men addressed her as “a mother in Israel,” were enough to fill up the blank for me till bed-time.

Of “vital Christianity” I heard much; but, with all my efforts, could find out nothing. Indeed, it did not seem interesting enough to tempt me to find out much. It seemed a set of doctrines, believing in which was to have a magical effect on people, by saving them from the everlasting torture due to sins and temptations which I had never felt. Now and then, believing, in obedience to my mother’s assurances, and the solemn prayers of the ministers about me, that I was a child of hell, and a lost and miserable sinner, I used to have accesses of terror, and fancy that I should surely wake next morning in everlasting flames. Once I put my finger a moment into the fire, as certain Papists, and Protestants too, have done, not only to themselves, but to their disciples, to see if it would be so very dreadfully painful; with what conclusions the reader may judge. . . . Still, I could not keep up the excitement. Why should I? The fear of pain is not the fear of sin, that I know of; and, indeed, the thing was unreal altogether in my case, and my heart, my common sense, rebelled against it again and again; till at last I got a terrible whipping for taking my little sister’s part, and saying that if she was to die — so gentle, and obedient, and affectionate as she was — God would be very unjust in sending her to hell-fire, and that I was quite certain He would do no such thing — unless He were the Devil: an opinion which I have since seen no reason to change. The confusion between the King of Hell and the King of Heaven has cleared up, thank God, since then!

So I was whipped and put to bed — the whipping altering my secret heart just about as much as the dread of hell-fire did.

I speak as a Christian man — an orthodox Churchman (if you require that shibboleth). Was I so very wrong? What was there in the idea of religion which was represented to me at home to captivate me? What was the use of a child’s hearing of “God’s great love manifested in the scheme of redemption,” when he heard, in the same breath, that the effects of that redemption were practically confined only to one human being out of a thousand, and that the other nine hundred and ninety-nine were lost and damned from their birth-hour to all eternity — not only by the absolute will and reprobation of God (though that infernal blasphemy I heard often enough), but also, putting that out of the question, by the mere fact of being born of Adam’s race? And this to a generation to whom God’s love shines out in every tree and flower and hedge-side bird; to whom the daily discoveries of science are revealing that love in every microscopic animalcule which peoples the stagnant pool! This to working men, whose craving is only for some idea which shall give equal hopes, claims, and deliverances, to all mankind alike! This to working men, who, in the smiles of their innocent children, see the heaven which they have lost — the messages of baby-cherubs, made in God’s own image! This to me, to whom every butterfly, every look at my little sister, contradicted the lie! You may say that such thoughts were too deep for a child; that I am ascribing to my boyhood the scepticism of my manhood; but it is not so; and what went on in my mind goes on in the minds of thousands. It is the cause of the contempt into which not merely sectarian Protestantism, but Christianity altogether, has fallen in the minds of the thinking workmen. Clergymen, who anathematize us for wandering into Unitarianism — you, you have driven us thither. You must find some explanation of the facts of Christianity more in accordance with the truths which we do know, and will live and die for, or you can never hope to make us Christians; or, if we do return to the true fold, it will be as I returned, after long, miserable years of darkling error, to a higher truth than most of you have yet learned to preach.

But those old Jewish heroes did fill my whole heart and soul. I learnt from them lessons which I never wish to unlearn. Whatever else I saw about them, this I saw — that they were patriots, deliverers from that tyranny and injustice from which the child’s heart — “child of the devil” though you may call him — instinctively, and, as I believe, by a divine inspiration, revolts. Moses leading his people out of Egypt; Gideon, Barak, and Samson, slaying their oppressors; David, hiding in the mountains from the tyrant, with his little band of those who had fled from the oppressions of an aristocracy of Nabals; Jehu, executing God’s vengeance on the kings — they were my heroes, my models; they mixed themselves up with the dim legends about the Reformation martyrs, Cromwell and Hampden, Sidney and Monmouth, which I had heard at my mother’s knee. Not that the perennial oppression of the masses, in all ages and countries, had yet risen on me as an awful, torturing, fixed idea. I fancied, poor fool! that tyranny was the exception, and not the rule. But it was the mere sense of abstract pity and justice which was delighted in me. I thought that these were old fairy tales, such as never need be realized again. I learnt otherwise in after years.

I have often wondered since, why all cannot read the same lesson as I did in those old Hebrew Scriptures — that they, of all books in the world, have been wrested into proofs of the divine right of kings, the eternal necessity of slavery! But the eye only sees what it brings with it the power of seeing. The upper classes, from their first day at school, to their last day at college, read of nothing but the glories of Salamis and Marathon, of freedom and of the old republics. And what comes of it? No more than their tutors know will come of it, when they thrust into the boys’ hands books which give the lie in every page to their own political superstitions.

But when I was just turned of thirteen, an altogether new fairy-land was opened to me by some missionary tracts and journals, which were lent to my mother by the ministers. Pacific coral islands and volcanoes, cocoa-nut groves and bananas, graceful savages with paint and feathers — what an El Dorado! How I devoured them and dreamt of them, and went there in fancy, and preached small sermons as I lay in my bed at night to Tahitians and New Zealanders, though I confess my spiritual eyes were, just as my physical eyes would have been, far more busy with the scenery than with the souls of my audience. However, that was the place for me, I saw clearly. And one day, I recollect it well, in the little dingy, foul, reeking, twelve foot square back-yard, where huge smoky party-walls shut out every breath of air and almost all the light of heaven, I had climbed up between the water-butt and the angle of the wall for the purpose of fishing out of the dirty fluid which lay there, crusted with soot and alive with insects, to be renewed only three times in the seven days, some of the great larvæ and kicking monsters which made up a large item in my list of wonders: all of a sudden the horror of the place came over me; those grim prison-walls above, with their canopy of lurid smoke; the dreary, sloppy, broken pavement; the horrible stench of the stagnant cesspools; the utter want of form, colour, life, in the whole place, crushed me down, without my being able to analyse my feelings as I can now; and then came over me that dream of Pacific Islands, and the free, open sea; and I slid down from my perch, and bursting into tears threw myself upon my knees in the court, and prayed aloud to God to let me be a missionary.

Half fearfully I let out my wishes to my mother when she came home. She gave me no answer; but, as I found out afterwards — too late, alas! for her, if not for me — she, like Mary, had “laid up all these things, and treasured them in her heart.”

You may guess, then, my delight when, a few days afterwards, I heard that a real live missionary was coming to take tea with us. A man who had actually been in New Zealand! — the thought was rapture. I painted him to myself over and over again; and when, after the first burst of fancy, I recollected that he might possibly not have adopted the native costume of that island, or, if he had, that perhaps it would look too strange for him to wear it about London, I settled within myself that he was to be a tall, venerable-looking man, like the portraits of old Puritan divines which adorned our day-room; and as I had heard that “he was powerful in prayer,” I adorned his right hand with that mystic weapon “all-prayer,” with which Christian, when all other means have failed, finally vanquishes the fiend — which instrument, in my mind, was somewhat after the model of an infernal sort of bill or halbert — all hooks, edges, spikes, and crescents — which I had passed, shuddering, once, in the hand of an old suit of armour in Wardour Street.

He came — and with him the two ministers who often drank tea with my mother; both of whom, as they played some small part in the drama of my after-life, I may as well describe here. The elder was a little, sleek, silver-haired old man, with a blank, weak face, just like a white rabbit. He loved me, and I loved him too, for there were always lollipops in his pocket for me and Susan. Had his head been equal to his heart! — but what has been was to be-and the dissenting clergy, with a few noble exceptions among the Independents, are not the strong men of the day — none know that better than the workmen. The old man’s name was Bowyer. The other, Mr. Wigginton, was a younger man; tall, grim, dark, bilious, with a narrow forehead, retreating suddenly from his eyebrows up to a conical peak of black hair over his ears. He preached “higher doctrine,” i.e., more fatalist and antinomian than his gentler colleague — and, having also a stentorian voice, was much the greater favourite at the chapel. I hated him — and if any man ever deserved hatred, he did.

Well, they came. My heart was in my mouth as I opened the door to them, and sank back again to the very lowest depths of my inner man when my eyes fell on the face and figure of the missionary — a squat, red-faced, pig-eyed, low-browed man, with great soft lips that opened back to his very ears: sensuality, conceit, and cunning marked on every feature — an innate vulgarity, from which the artisan and the child recoil with an instinct as true, perhaps truer, than that of the courtier, showing itself in every tone and motion — I shrank into a corner, so crestfallen that I could not even exert myself to hand round the bread and butter, for which I got duly scolded afterwards. Oh! that man! — how he bawled and contradicted, and laid down the law, and spoke to my mother in a fondling, patronizing way, which made me, I knew not why, boil over with jealousy and indignation. How he filled his teacup half full of the white sugar to buy which my mother had curtailed her yesterday’s dinner — how he drained the few remaining drops of the threepennyworth of cream, with which Susan was stealing off to keep it as an unexpected treat for my mother at breakfast the next morning — how he talked of the natives, not as St. Paul might of his converts, but as a planter might of his slaves; overlaying all his unintentional confessions of his own greed and prosperity, with cant, flimsy enough for even a boy to see through, while his eyes were not blinded with the superstition that a man must be pious who sufficiently interlards his speech with a jumble of old English picked out of our translation of the New Testament. Such was the man I saw. I don’t deny that all are not like him. I believe there are noble men of all denominations, doing their best according to their light, all over the world; but such was the one I saw — and the men who were sent home to plead the missionary cause, whatever the men may be like who stay behind and work, are, from my small experience, too often such. It appears to me to be the rule that many of those who go abroad as missionaries, go simply because they are men of such inferior powers and attainments that if they stayed in England they would starve.

Three parts of his conversation, after all, was made up of abuse of the missionaries of the Church of England, not for doing nothing, but for being so much more successful than his own sect; accusing them, in the same breath, of being just of the inferior type of which he was himself, and also of being mere University fine gentlemen. Really, I do not wonder, upon his own showing, at the savages preferring them to him; and I was pleased to hear the old white-headed minister gently interpose at the end of one of his tirades —“We must not be jealous, my brother, if the Establishment has discovered what we, I hope, shall find out some day, that it is not wise to draft our missionaries from the offscouring of the ministry, and serve God with that which costs us nothing except the expense of providing for them beyond seas.”

There was somewhat of a roguish twinkle in the old man’s eye as he said it, which emboldened me to whisper a question to him.

“Why is it, Sir, that in olden times the heathens used to crucify the missionaries and burn them, and now they give them beautiful farms, and build them houses, and carry them about on their backs?”

The old man seemed a little puzzled, and so did the company, to whom he smilingly retailed my question.

As nobody seemed inclined to offer a solution, I ventured one myself.

“Perhaps the heathens are grown better than they used to be?”

“The heart of man,” answered the tall, dark minister, “is, and ever was, equally at enmity with God.”

“Then, perhaps,” I ventured again, “what the missionaries preach now is not quite the same as what the missionaries used to preach in St. Paul’s time, and so the heathens are not so angry at it?”

My mother looked thunder at me, and so did all except my white-headed friend, who said, gently enough,

“It may be that the child’s words come from God.”

Whether they did or not, the child took very good care to speak no more words till he was alone with his mother; and then finished off that disastrous evening by a punishment for the indecency of saying, before his little sister, that he thought it “a great pity the missionaries taught black people to wear ugly coats and trousers; they must have looked so much handsomer running about with nothing on but feathers and strings of shells.”

So the missionary dream died out of me, by a foolish and illogical antipathy enough; though, after all, it was a child of my imagination only, not of my heart; and the fancy, having bred it, was able to kill it also. And David became my ideal. To be a shepherd-boy, and sit among beautiful mountains, and sing hymns of my own making, and kill lions and bears, with now and then the chance of a stray giant — what a glorious life! And if David slew giants with a sling and a stone, why should not I? — at all events, one ought to know how; so I made a sling out of an old garter and some string, and began to practise in the little back-yard. But my first shot broke a neighbour’s window, value sevenpence, and the next flew back in my face, and cut my head open; so I was sent supperless to bed for a week, till the sevenpence had been duly saved out of my hungry stomach — and, on the whole, I found the hymn-writing side of David’s character the more feasible; so I tried, and with much brains-beating, committed the following lines to a scrap of dirty paper. And it was strangely significant, that in this, my first attempt, there was an instinctive denial of the very doctrine of “particular redemption,” which I had been hearing all my life, and an instinctive yearning after the very Being in whom I had been told I had “no part nor lot” till I was “converted.” Here they are. I am not ashamed to call them — doggerel though they be-an inspiration from Him of whom they speak. If not from Him, good readers, from whom?

Jesus, He loves one and all;

Jesus, He loves children small;

Their souls are sitting round His feet,

On high, before His mercy-seat.

When on earth He walked in shame,

Children small unto Him came;

At His feet they knelt and prayed,

On their heads His hands He laid.

Came a spirit on them then,

Greater than of mighty men;

A spirit gentle, meek, and mild,

A spirit good for king and child.

Oh! that spirit give to me,

Jesus, Lord, where’er I be!

So —

But I did not finish them, not seeing very clearly what to do with that spirit when I obtained it; for, indeed, it seemed a much finer thing to fight material Apollyons with material swords of iron, like my friend Christian, or to go bear and lion hunting with David, than to convert heathens by meekness — at least, if true meekness was at all like that of the missionary whom I had lately seen.

I showed the verses in secret to my little sister. My mother heard us singing them together, and extorted, grimly enough, a confession of the authorship. I expected to be punished for them (I was accustomed weekly to be punished for all sorts of deeds and words, of the harmfulness of which I had not a notion). It was, therefore, an agreeable surprise when the old minister, the next Sunday evening, patted my head, and praised me for them.

“A hopeful sign of young grace, brother,” said he to the dark tall man. “May we behold here an infant Timothy!”

“Bad doctrine, brother, in that first line — bad doctrine, which I am sure he did not learn from our excellent sister here. Remember, my boy, henceforth, that Jesus does not love one and all — not that I am angry with you. The carnal mind cannot be expected to understand divine things, any more than the beasts that perish. Nevertheless, the blessed message of the Gospel stands true, that Christ loves none but His Bride, the Church. His merits, my poor child, extend to none but the elect. Ah! my dear sister Locke, how delightful to think of the narrow way of discriminating grace! How it enhances the believer’s view of his own exceeding privileges, to remember that there be few that be saved!”

I said nothing. I thought myself only too lucky to escape so well from the danger of having done anything out of my own head. But somehow Susan and I never altered it when we sang it to ourselves.


I thought it necessary, for the sake of those who might read my story, to string together these few scattered recollections of my boyhood — to give, as it were, some sample of the cotyledon leaves of my young life-plant, and of the soil in which it took root, ere it was transplanted — but I will not forestall my sorrows. After all, they have been but types of the woes of thousands who “die and give no sign.” Those to whom the struggles of every, even the meanest, human being are scenes of an awful drama, every incident of which is to be noted with reverent interest, will not find them void of meaning; while the life which opens in my next chapter is, perhaps, full enough of mere dramatic interest (and whose life is not, were it but truly written?) to amuse merely as a novel. Ay, grim and real is the action and suffering which begins with my next page — as you yourself would have found, high-born reader (if such chance to light upon this story), had you found yourself at fifteen, after a youth of convent-like seclusion, settled, apparently for life — in a tailor’s workshop.

Ay — laugh! — we tailors can quote poetry as well as make your court-dresses:

You sit in a cloud and sing, like pictured angels,

And say the world runs smooth — while right below

Welters the black fermenting heap of griefs

Whereon your state is built. . . .

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56