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My Days and My Ways

An Autobiography

by Robert Roberts


CHAPTER  TWENTY-FOUR:  “The Birmingham Daily Post”.


Just before leaving Huddersfield, while attending a political meeting in my capacity as reporter, a young gentleman from Leeds, with whom I had no acquaintance, and whose name I have now forgotten, addressed himself to me with the remark that he had heard I was leaving Huddersfield and going to Birmingham; and if I liked he would give me a note of introduction to a friend he had there –Jack Lovell, of The Birmingham Daily Post.  I thanked him, and accepted it, and put it in my pocket, not realising that it could be of any service to me.  When I got to Birmingham, I carried it about in my pocket for some weeks, never thinking anything about it.  At last one day, after walking about with a feeling that I was absolutely outside of everything, though in the midst of a great and busy town, I was passing the Daily Post office, and suddenly I remembered my note of introduction.  I thought it could be of no use to me, as I had nothing to be introduced for.  It would be foolish to present a note of introduction, and then have no request to make or proposal to submit.  Then I thought again, “It will do no harm; it may lead to something.”  I finally made up my mind to go in and ask for Mr. Lovell.


I found he was the manager of the reporting staff, consisting of six members.  He was a curly-headed, dark, rather boyish-looking young man, of exceedingly pleasant manners.  He took my note and read it, and then asked me into his own room, and chatted freely with me about reporting and the particular prospects of my enterprise.  He thought there was room for a general reporting agency, and if I was the man for the post no doubt I would succeed.  He was particularly interested in the fact of my principal object in coming to Birmingham being connected with Sunday work.  I discovered afterwards that he was an Irvingite, and had had some ideas of becoming an Irvingite preacher.  He looked at my testimonials, with which he was please, especially with the brief note from Mr. John Bright, who was member for Birmingham.  He concluded by telling me that he had on hand a large reporting job, outside of his work on the Daily Post, and that I might help him in it, as he was finding it rather more than he could do with his own work.


It was an investigation that was going on into the working of the Birmingham General Hospital.  A committee sat once a week and took the evidence of professional gentlemen, which had to be taken down and written out, question and answer.  Several meetings had taken place; but there was a greater number yet to come, and if I felt myself equal to it, he would get me to do the remaining meetings, on which he would be content with a royalty, leaving to me the bulk of the remuneration that would be paid.  I was, of course, only too glad to fall in with such a handsome proposal, and expressed confidence in my ability to give satisfaction as regarded the execution of the work.  His employer, the proprietor of the Daily Post, was a member of the committee; and it would be necessary to obtain his sanction before he could make any final arrangement: but if I would call again, he would let me know. 


I called again and was informed that Mr. Lovell’s employer was willing that I should do one sitting of the Investigation Committee by way of trial.  I duly attended said sitting, which was held in the boardroom of the General Hospital, Summer Lane, on a Wednesday afternoon (I think).  Mr. Lovell’s employer was present at the meeting.  Without loss of time, I transcribed my notes, and delivered my manuscript to Mr. Lovell, who submitted the same to his employer, by whom they were inspected and declared to be satisfactory.  Mr. Lovell informed me that I might go on with the rest of the meetings –which proved a very important event for us.  It placed us above all anxiety for months to come: it introduced me to a certain far-off acquaintance with the leading men of the town, who were members of the committee, and who were examined as witnesses, and it ended with an offer from Mr. Lovell’s employer of a place on the reporting staff of The Birmingham Daily Post, which I accepted.


Poor Mr. Lovell!  I saw his death reported some time ago.  He had risen to a position of public influence in Liverpool, where he was editor of the Daily Mercury, before which he had been successively manager of Cassell’s Publishing firm and of the London Press Agency.  He was a genial and capable young man of the sort that was sure to rise: but there was a slight rot in the apple.  He had a hankering after spiritual things, but was not strong enough to follow them in a decided way.  I had a long conversation with him one night, in the days when I was one of his colleagues on the Daily Post.  It was after midnight when work was done (for daily newspaper work is late work).  He told me of his birth, and of his indecisions and vacillations with regard to whether the pulpit of the press was the best sphere for the exercise of spiritual influence.  I told him I thought neither one nor the other was the place where Christ could be served in any effectual way; and that as the world was in our day, the only way was to come out and operate individually and independently of both.  He said things concerning my own course which it would sound egotistical in me to repeat; but said he hoped he might be able, without going so far as I went, to serve God acceptably in his day and generation.  His own friends were pressing him to remain on the press, and he was inclined to take their advice.  At the same time, it was manifest he was full of misgiving.


He tried to foster a close personal intimacy, and I was willing to encourage it: but the conditions for it did not exist, and it was a failure.  He knew very little of the Bible and very much of Shakespeare, and he was full of pretty quotations from that epigrammatic writer and of humorous airy nothings in general.  My preface for treating life rationally, and giving the Bible the serious place which his own admission of its character entitled it to, was distasteful to him.  Consequently, we quietly dropped apart and went our several ways.


Getting the Daily Post appointment in the way I did led to one convenient arrangement which was highly favourable to the objects with which I had come to Birmingham.  In ordinary circumstances, a reporter of the Daily Post would have had to attend the office regularly and consort with the other reporters in the reporting room, which would have been highly distasteful and would have interfered with work in other directions.  But having an office of my own –(which, as it happened, was close to the Daily Post office) –and the proprietor of the paper being aware of that circumstance and of the quasi-independent footing on which I had accepted staff employment, I was at liberty to use that office, and thus to promote spiritual enterprises during the intervals when I was not wanted for police court or public meeting work.


Thus proved of the utmost value to me; for the publication of the penny numbers of the Twelve Lectures had put me into communication with many correspondents, and developed the existence of various matters in connection with the truth requiring attention.  Among other things, the idea of starting a monthly magazine began to be agitated.  Dr. Thomas had suspended the Herald of the Kingdom some two years previously; and there was nothing in the field in the way of an adequate periodical representation of the truth.  There were two magazine, but they lacked vigour or certainty in the sound they gave out, and received but a very feeble attention.  Dr. Thomas advised me to start a magazine, but said it was better there should be no magazine at all if there was to be nothing better than the twaddling  incoherencies and feeble uncertainties that some professors of the truth were prepared to be content with.  I shared the Doctor’s feelings on this head, but doubted my own ability to provide what was needful after the clear-eyed and trenchant vigour to which Dr. Thomas’s Herald had accustomed us all.  In the presence of this, I felt bloodless and tongue-tied in a literary sense.  At the same time, I felt sure I would be able to improve upon the weak and adulterated article with which some were disposed to be content; so after a period of indecision, I decided to make a plunge, with this consolation ahead that if, as I verily believed, I should be pumped out at the end of twelve months, I could stop, seeing that nothing would depend on the continuance of a publication which I should supply to readers at the price charged by the printer.


After turning the matter over, I decided to call the new magazine The Ambassador of the Coming Age, which I now see was an absurdity; for an age cannot have an ambassador, still less an age not yet come.  The idea was to have a name that was new and at the same time expressive of the character of the publication, and the strength of the desire somewhat blunted the discernment that might have detected the unfitness of the title.  The next thing was to find a motto.  One with the word “Ambassador” in it was a sine  qua non.  Proverbs supplied “A faithful ambassador is health.”  The very thing, thought I, and adopted the verse in which the words occurred, without noticing the first part of it, which declared that “a wicked messenger falleth into mischief.”  Now, the “messenger” was the name of one of the aforesaid weak and uncertain publications.  The new motto was, therefore, an impeachment of the work already in the field, as well as an assertion of the character it was desirable to attain; but I did not observe this till the magazine actually appeared.  The friends of the Messenger were of course quick to pounce down upon the motto.  Some even declared their belief that I had adopted the name Ambassador because it fitted a verse in which the Messenger was condemned.  This was as far from the truth as possible.  My eye was wholly filled with “faithful ambassador”.  The “wicked messenger” was invisible to me till the magazine was in the hands of the readers.


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