My Days and My Ways
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Returns to Newspaper at Huddersfield.
From Derby we went to Sheffield, a large town, well known throughout the world for its cutlery manufacture. It struck us as being a gloomy place of belching chimney stacks, grimy houses, and smoke-laden atmosphere; but it has since improved greatly, like all other English places. The population seemed worse than the place – all gone after a low-form sectarianism or the most vulgar and rabid atheism. “Iconoclast,” as Bradlaugh used to be called in those days, had a large and enthusiastic following; so had Fidler Joss, or some such hell-fire mountebank. There was, of course, a middle class of the better sort, the frequenters and supporters of religious “causes” and educational movements, but having no Scriptural knowledge of any moment, and no understanding of the hope of Israel, or the wonder purpose and work of Israel’s God as declared by the prophets and the apostles. It was a doleful place for pilgrims of Zion. However, in this resoect aksim a great change for the better has taken place. There is now an intelligent and thriving ecclesia in Sheffield, so that, spiritually, the place presents the same contrast of tidiness to its former state that it does in the state of its atmosphere and the aspect of its streets.
How delighted we should have been in 1861 to have found such an ecclesia as exists in 1891. The time had not come. It was phrenology then, which is poor stuff to feed on. A melancholy spectacle is a human being in the state of maudlin self-contemplation induced by the exclusive study of the cranial science. However, it is better than the absolute self-ignorance that is usual; and there is a time for it, which the intelligent will survive, coming out at last into the clear light of intellectual equilibrium, in which the mind is a sort of mirror of the universe – reflecting all truth in just proportion. A little phrenological knowledge would do the world’s “lights’ a deal of good sometimes. It would save Mrs. Besant, for example, from finding in the mental diversities of the human species an evidence of previous existence. (By the way, Mrs. Besant, why should the blacks, as a mass, be so far below the Europeans as a mass, if your ideal of a previous existence is needful to account for the diversities of individual “souls”? But we will leave that.)
The phrenological lectures and examinations took very well in Sheffield – the lecturers being careful, with pole-balancing agility, to offend neither the infidels nor the sectarians. To the one, they spoke of the brain being the instrument of the soul, and to the other – well (with a wink), no one knew much about it, and it was as well not to burst the boilers in getting to heaven. The only distinct impression we took away from Sheffield was that the world, with its energy and clever wrong-headedness, was a much more difficult problem than we had any idea of; also that its sorrows were deep and incurable. We lodged with a widow whose type was new to us in those days, but which we have since found is not scarce: glib, shallow, effusive, highly retrospective and responsive to sympathy, but having no affinity for thoughts or ways or questions relating to wisdom. They can entertain you by the hour with recitals that are of no moment to a human being under the sun. Yet what can you say? There they are, with their scanty natures, their empty purses, and their harrowed feelings. It is part of the nightmare of the world. You can only drop a word of groan. Portionless widows ought to be taken charge of by the State – occupation afforded, maintenance allowed. Dear me! how many “oughts” there are. Well, nightmares only last for the night. The day will break and the shadows flee. Our widow wept when we said good-bye; we have not seen her since. She has probably passed off the scene.
Our next place of call was York. When I arrived at the hall that had been engaged, a letter was placed in my hands, imploring me not to stay at York, as an evil person known to the writer had designs on my wife, and would not scruple to make short work with me if I stood in his way, or something to that effect. I had had a note of similar purport concerning York before leaving Sheffield. I knew there could be no truth in the allegations, but that some one must be trying to play a practical joke. The note I had at York was specially handed to me by Burnham – afterwards the astronomer – the others looking gleefully on. It bore all the marks of having come through the post; but on closely scanning it, I found the stamp and post marks were all clever imitations, so that I was at no loss in finding the culprit among those merry Americans. They were sorry to see the joke explode so quickly. They had a least hoped to see me apprehensive, casting quick glances at the opening doors, etc.
In the evening, Mr. Wells opened the ceremony. “We have come,” said he, “all the way from New York to have a look at you in old York. We consider ourselves missionaries: we bring you knowledge of a special kind which it will be good for you to know,” etc. There were wicked winks among the subordinates at this way of putting the phrenological enterprise, seeing that nothing but the imperious necessities of business would have brought busts and skulls and pictures to a York platform. There was a certain amount of truth in the statement, but it was sadly diluted and watered down with grosser facts. The great aim was to please men that they might be induced to part with a little of the circulation gold into phrenological pockets (in a perfectly legitimate way, of course; but still, there it was).
I asked Mr. Fowler at a quiet moment in the examination room, while at this place, why he did not delineate inferior characters in language that could be understood by them. (He would say, for example, to a man villainously deficient in conscientiousness: “You are characterised for a moderate degree of circumspection; it would be well for you to cultivate this quality for the sake of proper balance of your powers.” The initiated understood the meaning of the hint, but the man himself went away with a gratified sense of moral proficiency.) Mr. Fowler said it would not do to tell just the naked truth; that people would resent it, and it would do them no good, whereas by suggesting that they were good and only required to be a little better, they were kept on good terms with themselves, and stood a better chance of any improvement their case was susceptible of – to all of which, of course, no exception could be taken from the phrenology could be no fitting calling for one who desired to be led and guided alone by the issues of truth, and above all,, who wished to be identified with the work of God among men.
This feeling, combined with new family prospects, and the unsatisfactory nature of our irregular ways, led me to reconsider our course. Was it wise or otherwise for us to remain connected with a travelling phrenological firm? The problem grew so strongly on me as to unfit me for meals. At York, we were nearer Huddersfield than we should be again for a long time to come. What would it be to run through and see how my former employer was situated? Resolved. We had now been about five months on the wing. Phrenological business was not very brisk in a cathedral town. I easily obtained permission to pay a visit to Huddersfield. The editor of The Examiner was glad to see me. I found he was badly suited with the man that had come in my place. When I ventilated the idea of my returning, he readily fell in with it, and it was arranged that he would give notice to his reporter, and that I should give notice to Fowler and Wells. On my return to York I told Mr. Wells what I was thinking of. He took it very kindly, and I think the proposal to leave them was not altogether unwelcome, as the throng of business had begun to ease off considerably, and the stoppage of my salary would be a welcome retrenchment. Perhaps also my strong Bible preferences interfered with my perfect suitability for their service on all points. At all events, it was easily arranged that at the expiry of a month’s notice I should be at liberty to leave them. From York we went to Durham, then to Newcastle-on-Tyne, then to Sunderland, and from Sunderland we returned to Huddersfield, to resume the jog-trot life of a provincial weekly newspaper reportership.
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