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My Days and My Ways

An Autobiography

by Robert Roberts


CHAPTER  THIRTY-FIVE:  “Eureka,” Vol. III. –Dr. Thomas’s Last Visit.


About this time, viz., 1867, an old brother, who was a character in his way, removed from Yorkshire to Birmingham.  His name was Isaac Clissett.  He had been a Chartist, and had suffered imprisonment for the part he took in the Chartist rising; after which he threw himself heartily into the Temperance movement.  He was working hard in this line when the truth was introduced to his notice, and enlisted the enthusiasm which he was bootlessly extending in other directions.  He was a natural demagogue of the better sort –full of natural health, voluble speech, but lacking in culture and general information.  He was a kindly man, of the highest honesty, and possessing a child-like simplicity of character strangely mixed with personal dignity, bordering on egotism.  He was an ideal stump orator.  He threw himself heartily into public speaking, and worked himself up into an ardour which carried him away and left him under the impression that he had carried the audience away –which was quite another thing.  He was in poor circumstances, but had a wonderful knack of making shift.  If one thing failed, he would turn cheerily to another, with the certainty that the new affair was going to be a success.  His last experiment in Yorkshire was the selling of toys on a stall in the Market Place of Heckmondwike.  This ultimately failed him, and, on his wife dying, he wrote to me that if I could afford him the least bit of help, he thought he could get along in Birmingham.


I told him to come along, and I gave him jobs to do in the office.  He managed to get hold of some kind of a truckle bed on which he used to sleep in the ante-room of the Athenaeum Hall, with which the office was connected –getting his meals during the day in cookshops.  This arrangement did not last very long.  The awful solitude of the place at night and the activity of the rats and mice compelled him to make a change.  He took refuge in the attic of a cookshop which had been opened in Snow Hill by a newly-married brother and sister of the name of Blount.  Here he remained till the place was given up, and then he was taken in by an elderly person (who was alone like himself), with whom he remained till cancer in the face carried him off.  He was a cheery, lovable old man, notwithstanding some peculiarities, and was quite missed when he died.


The newly-married couple referred to had become associated with the truth during the previous twelve months, under circumstances that were felt to be above the usual level of interest, and which had a somewhat tragic ending.  The young lady belonged to a well-to-do family in the suburbs of Birmingham.  She had had the truth brought to her notice through the sewing visits to the house of one of the sisters.  Becoming deeply interested in it herself, she introduced it to her sweetheart, who lived in another part of the country.  He also embraced it, and both, in the course of time, were immersed, to the great sorrow of the young lady’s mother and brothers.  (Her father had died some years previously.)  The young man, failing in business at this time, the mother and brothers objected to the continuance of their connection: but the young people were not to be deterred, and married without consent, in consequence of which they were disowned, and had to shift for themselves as best they could –which at first was no shift at all.


It seemed a case of “I was a stranger,” and sister Roberts and I could see no escape from the duty of taking them in.  They stayed with us five months, delighting us with the avidity with which they engaged in Scripture studies with us.  At the end of that time, they ventured upon the experiment of the cookshop, in which brother Clissett found refuge.  In course of time the young lady’s mother died, and under her father’s will she came into a sum of money, with part of which they embarked upon an iron bedstead making business in Dudley.  In a few years the business came to grief, and the young man died.  The young lady became affected in her mind, and to this day has had to be taken care of.  Her brothers were members of a great manufacturing firm in Birmingham, whose factory was said to embrace a mile of shopping.  One of them was a manager, and a leading Birmingham man.  The business was turned into a company.  Certain relatives of Lord Salisbury invested heavily in shares.  In a few year, the business began to shrink.  The Salisbury relatives took fright.  The brother was turned out of the management.  Litigation was commenced for the recovery of invested money, and the brother died in a few months broken-hearted –deserted of all the friends who had hovered round him in the day of prosperity.  He called upon me a few weeks before his death –a young man in his prime, but looking utterly haggard and careworn.  I had told him I would help him if certain prospects were realised, which, alas, were much not so.  I was shocked when I heard of his death.  He had had the truth offered to him –God’s glorious gift, “without money and without price” –but he not only refused the offer, but tried to deter his sister from embracing it, and this was the end!


About this time we are still in 1867, though the last few sentences have taken the narrative forward a little), the reporting of the “Sunday Morning” addresses was commenced.  It was due to the conjunction of two circumstances –the high appreciation of them by our most pleasant friend of last chapter, and the advent in our midst of a shorthand writing brother from Yorkshire – the same whose help in my reporting work in Huddersfield had enabled me to write Twelve Lectures in the first instance.  Between the suggestion of the one and the willing help of the other, the Sunday Morning Addresses began to be a feature of The Christadelphian (at first named The Ambassador) in December, 1867.  Over 250 have appeared since that time (writing now in March, 1894).  About a hundred of them have been published in two separate volumes, containing 52 each, under the name of Seasons of Comfort.  They would have ceased being reported long ago were it not for the decided emphasis with which their suspension has from time to time been objected to.  They are read in many little communities of believers in various parts of the world where there are no brethren in various parts of the world where there are no brethren of speaking ability.  They are an entirely unpremeditated development, like a good many other things connected with the truth, and the end is not yet.


Before the finish of the year (1867) a movement was set on foot which resulted in the third and last visit of Dr. Thomas to Britain.  I had heard in some way –I now forget how –that the Doctor would not refuse an invitation, and therefore inserted a notice in the December number of The Ambassador, page 324, proposing that the friends of the truth should unite in such an invitation and in providing the needful finds.  There was a hearty response to the proposal on  the part of everyone concerned.  The Doctor’s answer was favourable, but not to an immediate visit.  He said he was busy with the writing of the third volume of Eureka, and he said, “I cannot come to you until I get Eureka III off my hands.  I think I may finish the MS. In a month if not interrupted.  I have then to issue prospectus and await returns.  When I find I may venture to publish, I shall then proceed to get it through the press.  This will bring me to the close of 1868.  I shall then be better prepared to say when you may expect me.  In the meantime, you can go on as you are now doing, in preparation of the means to meet the demands of shipmasters.”


In a letter written some weeks later, the Doctor announced the completion of the MS., and intimated that the subscription of 514 copies would be necessary to enable him to publish.  I then appealed to readers to send in orders, with the double view of getting possession of the last installment of an exposition of the Apocalypse, which had already imparted such joyful satisfaction, and of removing the obstacle in the way of the Doctor’s proposed visit to Britain.  But the number required was too great for the feeble resources of the brethren, who were few in those days, and who were already burdening themselves with the provision of the money required for the coming visit.  Orders came in wonderfully well considering: but it was evident there would not be nearly enough for the necessities of the case.


While we were wondering how the matter would turn, a sister in England and a brother in the United States came forward with the sum needed to pay the printer, consenting to be recouped as the book might afterwards sell.  (In the upshot they both released the Doctor from any obligation to refund the money.)  This was a happy release for all.  In September the Doctor wrote that he had put the book into the hands of the printers, and that it was more than half in type.  In a letter dated November 2nd, 1868, he announced the completion of the work, and stated that the same steamer that brought his letter would bring a box containing 350 copies of the work.  This was joyful news.  The book duly arrived, and the experience connected with the receipt of the second volume was repeated.  The reading of it was a prolonged deep draught of pure satisfaction.


In two more months, viz., on February 23rd, 1869, the Doctor wrote me that in a month more, after the completion of a tour in Canada and the States, he would sail for England, accompanied by his daughter, and that he might be expected in the month of May.  The time soon sped.  A subsequent letter said he would sail “about the 1st of May,” but did not mention the name of the vessel of the precise day of sailing.  It afterwards transpired that he purposely kept us in the dark with the idea of stealing into Birmingham and into the meeting without being recognised.  He was fortunately foiled at the last moment in this playful cruelty.  But for more than a week, the brethren in Birmingham –at that time 123 –were kept in a ferment.  The City of Paris sailed from New York on the 1st of May, and as “about the 1st of May” was the only indication of the time of sailing we had, we all thought it likely she contained the expected passengers. But she arrived without them, to our great disappointment.  The daily arrival of the American steamers was intently watched –with no results.  Brethren were calling at the office all day long: “Any word of the Doctor?”  As day after day went by the answer “No” became painful.  At last, on May 18th, I received a brief pencilled note from the Doctor, asking me to send a copy of Eureka  and Elpis Israel to Captain Cutting of the Idahoe –not a word more.


The Doctor was in the country then, but where?  I examined the envelope for the post-mark, but found that in my haste to open the letter, I had torn off a fragment on which probably the post-mark was.  Didn’t I earnestly search for that missing fragment?  Wouldn’t I have rejoiced to find it?  While engaged in the search I thought, “Now, supposing Dr. Thomas, who is at the door, were to walk in, would you continue to look for that bit of paper? No; it would instantly lose all value in my eyes.  Just so, “I thought, “is it with the signs of the times –the events and the movements among the nations that indicate the near approach of the Lord.  They are very interesting and challenge research while we are waiting; but let him appear, and that instant we shall cease all care about the drying of the Turco-Euphrates, the increasing aggrandisement of Russia, etc.”


The consideration of the pencil scribble yielded the conclusion that the Doctor had arrived in Liverpool by the Idahoe.  I telegraphed to the company there and received a reply that the Idahoe had arrived, that Doctor Thomas and daughter were among the passengers, but that the passengers had landed and dispersed, and that the persons enquired for were not at any of the hotels.  Their arrival at Birmingham, therefore, became an hourly expectation.  I awaited the arrival of every Liverpool train for about two days –without result.  It was getting tiresome work.  I thought, “I will just wait one more, and if the Doctor is not in that, we must give it up and take him when he comes.”  When the train drew up at the New Street platform, a white-bearded, military looking gentleman, accompanied by a slim lady in black, became visible among the crowd that stepped out of the carriages.  I quickly saluted Dr. Thomas, who was playfully disappointed.  He said he had thought of going aside to an hotel, and not letting us know till he walked into the meeting on Sunday –which he hoped he might do, unrecognised, as a listener!  I told him he had no idea of the state of feeling among the brethren, or he would never have dreamt of such a thing.  However, I had caught him, and should stick to him.  Piling his boxes on to a cab, we quickly drove to Belgrave Road, where sister Roberts had given up expecting us.  She had been ready two days before as regards table preparation for the visitors, but was now off guard.  She has often said, “It will be so with the Lord’s coming.”  She soon forgot her embarrassments in the joy of receiving her most welcome visitors.

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