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My Days and My Ways

An Autobiography

by Robert Roberts




Mr. King responded to my remarks in a tone of extreme asperity and bitterness, which was not to be wondered at considering his high development of personal dignity.  A man of the Nazarene type would have discerned the sincerity underlying our literary eccentricities, and have made some effort to demolish the arguments associated with them.  Instead of this, he railed on personal questions.  I replied in a series of scripturally-fortified propositions respecting Campbellism, inviting him to deal with these and leave alone the personalities.  This invitation he ignored, but it was not without effect.


A letter from the north of Scotland informed me that one of King’s co-religionists in the granite city “disapproved of King’s conduct in the affair,” and was prepared himself to take up the challenge on the propositions that had been advanced, and to conduct a regular written discussion in The Ambassador, and not only so, but to pay the cost of the extra pages that might be required.


This was too good a proposal to be declined, and accordingly The Ambassador for March 1865, as the result of correspondence, the following announcement by Mr. Dougall (the gentleman’s name), appeared: --

                “An arrangement having been come to between the editor and myself, whereby four pages of The Ambassador shall be specially devoted to the discussion of Christadelphian principles, I propose (D.V.) to open in the April number by an article on some of the more glaring sophisms which Christadelphians palm upon themselves and others as scriptural truths, with a view to the refutation of the errors upon which the principles of their community are built.”  An additional statement was made to the effect that “The discussion would be simultaneous in each number as long as it continues, and article on each side appearing in the same number.”


The written discussion did not extend beyond three numbers; it was in fact only just beginning to deal with the real question when it was suddenly snuffed out by some sort of legal proceedings against Mr. Dougall, which eclipsed him from view as completely as if he had fallen down dead in the street.  What the proceedings were I never knew exactly or have forgotten.  A newspaper was sent to me some time afterwards with particulars of some sort of trial, but the whole thing is now in a haze.  I have never heard anything of him since (27 years ago).  He was my first formal antagonist.  I never saw him, and have no idea what sort of a looking man he was, but the impression made by his polemical essay during those three months was far from favourable.


There was a spirit of pepperish emphasis and vituperative satire that  are inconsistent with the candour of mind that seeks either to find or to set forth truth.  A man may have a positive and forcible way of setting forth what he knows or believes to be the truth, but this is not incompatible with the childlike sincerity that looks at all the facts, while insisting upon the conclusion to which they lead.  Mr. Dougall seemed to lack capacity in this direction.  He was dogmatic enough, but either he did not see all the facts of did not possess the power to deal with them, or else lacked the candour to acknowledge them.  From whatever cause, his efforts were shallow while smart, and weak while declamatory in the forcible-feeble style.  They promised nothing satisfactory in the way of a logical tourney; so perhaps it was well it was nipped in the bud.


An episode of a very different description was introduced by the receipt from Dr. Thomas of the prospectus for the publication of the second volume of Eureka (his exposition of the Apocalypse).  The first volume had appeared four years preciously, and had imparted one of those zestful gratifications which one can only experience once or twice in a lifetime.  The Apocalypse was at once so important and so difficult to understand, and the Doctor’s first volume of explanation at once so lucid as an exposition and so brilliant as a literary performance that no words can exaggerate the sweet invigoration of intellect and cordial comfort of heart imparted by the reading of it at the time of its appearance, and continued more or less all the time since its first perusal.


The first volume only came down to the end of the third chapter.  It may be imagined with what satisfaction the statement was now received that the second volume (bringing the exposition down to the end of the eleventh chapter) was all written and ready for the printer, and awaited only the subscription of a sufficient number of copies to secure publication.  The only drawback was the fact that publication would depend upon the provision of the needful funds by subscription.  The first volume extended to between 400 and 500 pages; the second volume would be as much as 800 pages, with price correspondingly enhanced.  500 copies would have to be subscribed for at 14s. 6d. per copy before the sum required by the printer would be provided. With the very limited and very poor circle of those who had received and appreciated the first volume, there was but a poor prospect of getting 500 subscribers at 14s. 6d.


Still, there was no feeling of despair.  We hoped and felt that somehow the means would be provided.  There was nothing for it, at all events, but to go to work and do the best we could.  While we were looking and considering how this was to be done, a letter was received from the Doctor in which, referring to the unfavourable state of things created by the war which was then raging in America, he said: --


                “About the success of the attempt to publish Vol. II under existing circumstances, I am not sanguine ….  I doubt very much if there will be time to write the third volume before the Lord comes.  I earnestly hope there will not.  But if I cannot publish the second, it will be no use writing the third.  So I shall wait and see before I shall begin.  I cannot say certainly just now what I shall determine on.  I think, however, that the crisis requires me if possible to publish in Britain ….  Before I could come over to Britain, I must visit Baltimore, Richmond, Kentucky, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Canada to stir up their faith and co-operation ….  I cannot get through this in less than four months from current date.  This will bring me to the end of August.  You will in that time have done all that is possible in my absence.  If I come over, it will likely be in that month or the next.”


The prospect of a possible visit from the Doctor, over and above the publication of the second volume, was inexpressibly gratifying,  and imparted much zest to our endeavours to swell the subscription list.  I appealed through The Ambassador to every friend of the truth to do his utmost.  In the end, over 200 copies were subscribed for in Britain.  Would the friends in America make up the other 300?  We almost hoped not from a fear that in that case the Doctor would judge it unnecessary to come over to Britain.  Our fears on this head were realised in an unexpected way.  A letter arrived from the Doctor, who had set out on his journey to the various neighbourhoods enumerated above.  He had got as far as Ogle, Co. Illinois, when the whole means for the accomplishment of the work were unexpectedly placed in his hands in the way detailed in the following extract:

                “I had not been long in the house before Samuel W. Coffman desired to know the prospects of Eureka.  I told him I had received 262 subscriptions, which I thought was about as many as I could calculate upon in this country (the States),  As to Britain, I had received no definite information at the time of leaving home, but I did not calculate on more than 75 copies being required, considering the efforts three as here to put me theo-logically to death.  On the assumption that 75 copies would be taken there, a deficit would still be left of eleven hundred and fifteen dollars to make up the amount necessary to pay the printer his demand of 2,800 dollars for printing the work.  On learning the facts, brother Coffman enquired if he raised 1,115 dollars, would I return to New York and proceed at once with the publication of the work there?  I told him that nothing would afford me greater satisfaction in the premises, for that it would relieve me of much labour, anxiety and personal inconvenience that must be met in the event of going to Britain to raise the deficiency by lecturing, and to publish there.  ‘Well, then,’ said he, ‘the money shall be raised if I have to give it all myself.’  And these were not vain words.  He had sent me an order for 30 copies for the subscribers in Ogle, which are included in the 262.  He therefore undertook to furnish me with a ‘time, times and a half time’ of dollars, or 1,260 dollars in subscriptions and extra donations.


                “Accordingly, on the Sunday following, after the meeting for breaking bread was concluded, he detained the brethren, and made the statement I had given him, and told them the work must be opublished for their benefit, and that they must enable it to be done according to their ability.  In this they readily acquiesced, and requested him to say how much he thought each of them ought to give; and whatever he said they would do.  Thus authorised, he proceeded to apportion to himself the sum of 545 dollars, to another 220, to another 125, to another 90, to two other 80 each, to another 55, to another 25, and to two other 5 each –in all 1,260 dollars.  He submitted whether that were a just apportionment according to their circumstances: they said it was.  And the night before I left, the amount was handed over to me in trust for the printer, and with the earnest request that I would publish the second volume as soon as possible after my return to New York, and proceed forthwith with the writing of the third.


                “So you see,” said the Doctor, “when the Divine Inventor and the Proprietor of the Apocalypse requires its exposition, He has the means at hand.  The heaven-sent document is His.  He sent it for a purpose, no mean element in which is the warning of His servants of the generation concurrent with His appearing and His kingdom.  But these servants do not understand it.  How they can they use it according to His purpose?  The work therefore of making it intelligible must be His ….  The truth develops its own instrumentality.  It has opened the hearts of a few to print what it has enlightened the head of another to write.  The circumstances which the advocacy of the truth has created, are the providence of the truth.  This providence has pitched upon the most obnoxious man of his age, and on a few obscure ones in a remote part of the earth, to do what the ‘wise and prudent’, the rich and noble, and all of that genus, with all the appliances at their command, could in no wise accomplish.    When I consider my own weakness, and the weakness of the brethren, I cannot but accept our success in this whole matter as of God.”


In accordance with these arrangements, the Doctor returned to New York, and occupied himself for the next three or four months in getting Eureka II through the press.  On December 11th, 1865, he wrote a long letter to me, in which he said:  “I am happy to inform you that Eureka II is all in type and the paper obtained.  It will now consume two weeks in printing, and two weeks more in binding.  When bound 250 copies will be shipped to you, and I think a few of volume I, which you can supply to those who want them, if they subscribe for volume II.”  In the same letter he said: --


                “You have entered upon a very arduous enterprise.  If I understand you right, you are where I was some twenty-five or thirty years ago.  You are now more intelligent in the faith that I was then.  I was seeking for it with no one to help me to find it; but many ready to mislead or misdirect me.  You have found it, with many ready and rejoiced to help you to walk in the way of the kingdom; and therefore you have more power for immediate usefulness than I had. Yet, in some sort, our situation is similar.  I was one and nearly alone against the world, and the world against me, as soon as it discovered that I was for the truth whatever that my be, and wherever found, on Christian or on heathen ground; and that too without regard to the dogmata of sects, Romish or Protestant, or mere human authority.  This discovery brought down their anathemas upon me thick and heavy.  Power was upon the side of the oppressor, and they would have swallowed me up if God had permitted them to triumph.


                “Now, if you are courageous, faithful, and valiant for the truth; if you are really a good and useful man in your day and generation, you may lay your account with being misrepresented, slandered and abused in various ways; but if you turn traitor in faith or practice, or in both, you will become popular, and obtain the applause of the ignorant and hypocrites.  This is my experience, and it will certainly be yours ….  We have a great many speculators in the faith on this side the Atlantic –mere theorists who are a sort of amalgam, made up of a little Storrism, a little Adventism, a little Campbellism, and a hodge-podge of traditions of which water, pork, alcohol, tobacco, salt, raisin, and ‘the everlasting nigger’ are the  prolific head centres.  But of believers, intelligent in ‘the unadulterated milk of the word’ by which they have grown into young men and fathers in Christ, we have very, very few.  There are very few in whom ‘the Word of Christ  dwells richly in all wisdom,’ and in whom this Word rules so as to induce them ‘to deny themselves of all ungodliness  and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, and righteously, and godly in the present world.


                “These are the exceptions to the rule: the generality do not seem to allow what they call ‘their faith’ to stand in the way of trade, money making, convenience, or enjoyment.  Conscious of their own hypocrisy or worldly-mindedness, they zealously assail those whose opposite course is a standing through silent rebuke to them …  He that can see a Pope in everyone at all useful to his generation is most ready to become the biggest and grandest of Popes; and pines in envy and vexation if no one will come to worship him.  I fear the Greeks bringing presents.  They are mere  Greeks, and their presents the horse on which they propose to ride themselves into notoriety.  They would rather be notorious for abomination than not notorious at all.  Not to be noticed or talked about nor worshipped is death to these ignoble creatures.  They cannot exalt themselves by any service they have done to any others than their own selfishness.  What then are these envious sinner to do?  They are mere insignificant nobodies; and they are dying to be considered somebodies.  How shall they become somebodies in their own conceit at least?  The rule of the hypocritical knave is ‘Deprecate the excellent, and you thereby exalt the worthless.’  This is their invariable practice, but ofttimes so bunglingly executed that the cloven foot is revealed and they defeat themselves to the righteous justification of the victim they designed to immolate upon the altar of their unhallowed and mean ambition.”


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