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My Days and My Ways

An Autobiography

by Robert Roberts


CHAPTER NINETEEN:  Dr. Thomas’s Visit in 1862.


Once a fortnight, the succeeding lectures came out in penny numbers.  They were nearly all disposed of, and the printer’s bill duly liquidated, and so far as my impression was concerned, the publishing episode was closed.  It did not seem to me possible there could be anything more in that line.  Many who had purchased the penny numbers had taken more than they required, for the sake of floating the thing.  The circle of those who would care to have anything to do with lectures advocating such views was extremely limited.  Consequently, any further demand was not to be looked for, and without further demand, there could be no further printing and no further supply.


This view might have proved correct but for the circumstance of a Capt. Brown, of the Indian service, arriving in the country, and hearing of the lectures and applying to me for a set, which I was unable to supply.  He enquired if there was to be no re-publication.  I explained the position, which he quickly discerned.  He enquired the sum that would  be needed to bring out a second edition.  I told him.  He then said he had about such a sum of money lying idle which he would hand over to me to have a second edition of Twelve Lectures brought out.  If the sale brought back the money, I was to return it to him; if not, he would not consider it a debt.


With this understanding, I set the printer to work, and a second edition of 1,000 copies was in due time produced (this time stitched together as one volume in pink glazed paper covers).  Gradually, this edition was disposed of, and I was able to return the money without very long delay, and without any balance over from the sale of the books.  The idea of making a profit never entered into my head.  Years after, it was put upon me in spite of myself in a very peculiar way by the force of circumstances, and as well as earnestly enjoined by prudent friends who saw that the whole of my time was required for the work, and that I never could give myself wholly to it unless my printing work was placed on a commercial basis.


About this time the American Civil War was getting into full swing, and a notice appeared on the back of the Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come to the effect that as the outbreak of war had cut off the bulk of the subscribers of that periodical from postal communication, Dr. Thomas would be under the necessity of suspending publication, and would be open to an invitation to visit Britain.  This was exciting and joyful news.  A number of us instantly got into communication on the subject, with a view to arranging the question of mean.  Meanwhile, I posted the following letter:


                “DEAR BROTHER THOMAS,  --I have just heard that you contemplate paying a visit to this country, and I write this hasty line to urge you by all means to come.  The prospect has filled us with great joy.  We can conceive of no event in this mortal life of ours that would give us so much real, unmingled delight.  On the other hand it is our strong conviction that you would be able to do a great deal of good in this country, much more than you can have the chance of doing in America in its present unsettled condition.  Huddersfield, at any rate, is a field prepared in which your labours would be almost certain of great success.


                “I think I informed you in my last that the truth, recommended in the first instance by my own humble efforts, and afterwards more effectually ministered by your invaluable Elpis Israel, had made a favourable impression.  I am now happy to tell you that we have now a little church in Huddersfield as the consequence of those labours – very little. Still, it is a lgihtstand from which precious light is constantly irradiating,.  I ought to say, however, that the prospect is favourable for several additions.  Since our return to Huddersfield, I have lectured twice every Sunday, once in the Market Place, and once indoors in the room in which we hold our meetings.  They have on the whole been well attended, and considerable interest has been aroused. You visit here would, therefore, I am sure, be highly calculated to have a favouragle result.  I may also say that it, along with Halifax, would naturally be first on the list of places to be visited, as it is nearer to Liverpool (your place of landing ) by a hundred miles than any other place where there is an ecclesia.


                “Dear Brother Thomas, our hearts yearn most fervently towards you, and the more so because you have detractors.  One thing is to be said, however, that among the really hearty and intelligent believers of the glorious gospel you are held in reputation.  Come then to England.  Let nothing hinder you.  Your visit will dissipate much of the existing aversion, and will galvanize the British brotherhood as a whole, of which they have much need.  O brother, be assured of our strongest and holiest affection; and be persuaded to come and visit us at this favourable opportunity!


                “Meanwhile, believe us to be your most devoted brother and sister, longing for the Lord, and longing to see your face.


      Huddersfield, England,      Oct. 8, 1861.”




Arrangements having been made, a collective invitation was in due time forwarded to Dr. Thomas to come and spend the best part of a year in lecturing in various places in Britain.  The invitation was accepted, and we joyfully expected the event.  About this time, or just before, a newspaper report was sent to us that “Dr. Thomas, of New York,” who favoured the Southern cause in the Civil War, which had just broken out, had been murdered  by Northern sympathisers.  Knowing that the Doctor’s leanings were with the  South, and that his domicile was in the neighbourhood of New York, we could not be conclude that it was the author of Elpis Israel who had fallen by mob violence, especially as the paper had evidently been sent to us under that impression.  We mourned sorely over the event.  There was no inroad made on the larder that day; but the cloud soon passed.  We discovered our sorrow had no foundation.  A letter from Dr. Thomas himself told us to heed no reports of his death unless they came from his family.


The time drew on for him to land.  I was greatly exercised at the prospect of seeing him.  It entered into my dreams, and my dreams were always disappointing: the Doctor was always black.  A photograph sent on in advance did not much reassure me; for whereas I only knew the Doctor’s personal aspect from the steel engraving appearing in Elpis Israel, which showed him with a black beard and full head of hair, this showed his head bald and white, and in an inclination that gave a very poor idea of its noble contour.  However, all our fears fled when he arrived.


I forget the name of the steamer he came by.  I could have told easily within, say, ten years of the event: for it was burnt into my brain at the time.  The Doctor sent us no sailing letter, or indication of the time of his arrival.  We were consequently kept on the watch.  I eagerly scanned the papers from day to day.  At last  the arrival of the steamer was telegraphed, and in The Manchester Guardian appeared a list of passengers, in which far down appeared the simple name of “John Thomas.”  To my ardent mind, this name stood out in letters of fire.  What was the cause of my intense interest?  Nothing but the ideas I had drunk in from the Scriptures by his aid.  Like causes produce like effects.  I have always found that wherever the Bible is clearly understood and fervently appreciated, as such themes are to be appreciated both by the nature of things and the express injunction of scripture, that there Dr. Thomas is loved and esteemed.  This result is quite apart from the personal peculiarities of the man.  What mortal is without blemish?  But what covers blemish like intelligent attachment to divine things?   Who could surpass Dr. Thomas in his towering reverence for the oracles of God and his uncompromising loyalty to their authority as opposed to all tradition?  Some had become haters of him through his brusque treatment of crotchets.  I had, myself, by and by, an opportunity of feeling the weight and sharpness of that steely executive mind which qualified him for the part he performed in tearing aside the webs of error woven by merely human sympathy; but that I could be separated from him was impossible with the discernment I had of his mastery of divine truth and his faithfulness to Christ in all its bearings.


Eureka, Vol. I, after long anticipation, had issued from the press a few months previously; and the reading of this had greatly intensified the zest of our anticipations of his coming.  Having noticed the arrival of the steamer, the next question was, when would he turn up in Huddersfield?  In the ardour and inexperience of youth, I had proposed to him before his sailing that I should await him at the place of landing at Liverpool, but he had written to me advising me to save this expense and to leave him to find his own way to Huddersfield. He sent us no further word; consequently, we could only wait and watch.  I watched every train from Liverpool for a certain length of time.


At last, a quiet, firmly-set, square-shouldered, literary looking gentleman, in frock coat and chimney-pot hat, with ruddy countenance and white beard, emerged from one of the carriages, and began to pick his way in the crowd, with one valise in his hand.  I was quite timid about saluting him, because it might not be Dr. Thomas after all.  After following him a little, I said to him with a palpitation heart, “Mr. Thomas?”  He said, “Yes.”  We then exchanged greetings, and I led him out of the station to a cab, and conveyed him to our apartments (by that time changed to 25, Albion Street, the house of brother Rhodes), where my sister companion awaited him in a state of excitement, which soon changed to comfort and joy, in the presence of the cordial and social dignity of a mature and venerable man whom we found so much more interested, if possible, than ourselves in the sublime matters that had engaged our efforts and attention for some years.


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