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My Days and My Ways

An Autobiography

Robert Roberts



CHAPTER SIX:  Huddersfield and Halifax


Almost immediately after I had made the comfortable arrangement referred to at the close of the last chapter, there was a rough jolt in the hitherto smooth and pleasant course of events.  In fact, the train went off the line, and landed me in the blackness of night for a short time.  I received a sudden discharge from my place on the staff of The Caledonian Mercury.  The reason was I had made a mistake in copying a legal document, from which the editor had to quote from my copy, and happened to quote from the part in which I had blundered.  The parties on the other side (as I understood) came up next day and pointed out the mistake.  The editor, who was an Irishman, felt thoroughly vexed, and at once wrote me my discharge.


The serious aspect of the affair for me lay here, that my employment on The Caledonian Mercury was somewhat in the nature of a trial trip, and here it had ended in failure.  How could I hope to get another situation after being discharged for incompetency?  It was my first real calamity.  My chief distress was the fear that it might end the sweet and (as it was considered) rash arrangement I had established with a true daughter of Sarah.  The idea of having to return to Aberdeen and resume the compounding of pills behind a mahogany counter was depressing indeed.  I wrote a despairing appeal to my employer for another trial, but without effect.


In the midst of my gloom, the light suddenly broke – as suddenly as the darkness had come.  Before my notice had half expired, a gentleman walked into the reporter’s room, where I was sitting, and asked me cheerily if I would like to go to Yorkshire?  I had never seen him before that I knew of.  He was the sub-editor of one of the other Edinburgh papers, and said he had heard I was leaving, and understood something of the insufficiency of the cause, and he had just received a letter from an old employer of his at Huddersfield, in Yorkshire, asking him to recommend a Scotch reporter, and if I was willing to go, he was willing to recommend me.  I said I was willing to go anywhere.  He told me something of the terms, which were far superior to those of my Edinburgh appointment, and then took his departure, leaving me I a state of indescribable relief and elevation.


I was not long in communicating the good news where I knew it would be most appreciated.  We got a map and looked out Huddersfield together, and rejoiced at the prospect of going to England.  It seemed a  prospect of emancipation and enlargement, much more so than the event proved, as is the common lot of human prospects.  England, in our ignorance, seemed synonymous with everything that was genial and intellectual and superior.  Alas!  It has much to redeem it from the barbarism that prevails in nine-tenths of the habitable glove; but in the light of the ideal we had formed from reading, Yorkshire and the Midland counties, where we have spent 30 years of our life, are as the desert through which the panting and almost despairing traveller has to trudge his way to a hoped-for city beyond.  We did not know this at the time, which was well.  We drew all the consolation from the prospect that our ignorance allowed, and we agreed that if all went well, I should return in twelve months to fetch my companion to the fair land of promise.


I left Edinburgh on the 8th of August, 1858, and arrived next day at Huddersfield, which I found to be a small, but clean and beautiful Yorkshire town, picturesquely situated in a hill-surrounded valley, which reached almost all the way to Manchester.  The aspect of the town was an agreeable contrast to the dismal, smoky, manufacturing districts through which I had to pass on the way, e.g., Wigan, Manchester, Stalybrigde, etc.  The railway station was a palatial structure, standing in a spacious square, and the buildings in the principal street seemed equal to anything  I had seen in Edinburgh.  But on closer acquaintance I found the town petty by comparison with the large ways of the Scotch metropolis.  The population at that time was a little over 20,000, who were governed by a Board of Improvement Commissioners.


There were two newspapers, The Chronicle and The Examiner, both weekly; the former the organ of the local Tory party, and the latter of the Liberals.  It was by the latter I had been engaged, the editor of which I found to be a bland, agreeable, handsome English gentleman, with a lady quite suited to him in all respects.  Their names were no index to their nature; their heads were not wooden.  Both received me very cordially, but were a little taken aback at my extreme youth.  They afterwards told me that they thought at first I would not be equal to the duties of the post, but that they changed their minds in a few days.  They had just received a foreman in the case department from Scotland, a Mr.


Watson, who being a stranger and a Scotchman, took kindly to me, and proposed I should lodge at his house, which was very suitable under the circumstances.


I quickly settled into the routine of my work, and then began to look round and consider my circumstances with regard to the truth.  There was no meeting in Huddersfield, nor a single soul that had any interest in the truth, or knowledge of it.  I had learnt before leaving Edinburgh that there was a small company of brethren at Halifax, about seven miles from Huddersfield.  To this place I accordingly paid my first visit on the Sunday following my arrival from Scotland.  There was a railway, but I preferred the road, which I understood was through a pleasant country.  I found this to be the case.  The morning was fine and allowed of my seeing it to the best advantage.  The road skirted the side of a wooded ridge for the first two miles, gradually ascending till it emerged on a hill-crest over the splendid valley of Elland, of which I had not heard, and which burst upon my view with very impressive effect.  Descending gradually to the valley, the road passes through Elland, crosses a river, and then goes along by the side of a wood, and through one or two lovely bits of valley, till it ascends the elevated hill on which Halifax stands.


I found Halifax to be a town of the same general type as Huddersfield, except that it stood on the side of an abrupt hill, and was more thickly clustered together.  It was not the town, however, that I was interested in.  There is nothing particularly interesting in monotonous rows of small houses, interspersed with gigantic factories and towering chimneys.  I came to see the brethren.  I had an address which took me to the house of an old man who answered to the name I asked for, but when I told my business, he said, with a languid disgusted smile, that it was his son I wanted – indicating that he had no sympathy with his vagaries.  To him I was referred, and found him a diminutive cripple.  I was not disappointed at this, as it was the truth that was my attraction, and this attraction found its full affinity in the feeble, but scripturally-enlightened young man in whose company I was soon at home (from whom, in after years, I have to regret separation, through disagreement in important principles).  I accompanied him to the meeting, which was held in a schoolroom rented at a few shillings a week.


The meeting was a very limited affair.  The schoolroom was large enough to have held perhaps 200, but there were only about a dozen persons present when all were mustered.  They gathered round a narrow table at one end, to which two benches were drawn up.  The proceedings, however, were deeply interesting to me.  This meeting was the beginning of a connection with Halifax which lasted some time.  I walked to Halifax every Sunday morning, and back late in the evening, and sometimes on Monday morning.  I found the society of the brethren very agreeable  and profitable, more so than perhaps any community at any subsequent time.  This would probably be due to my own youth and freshness of the circumstances.  The brethren, a feeble company in all natural senses, were in simple hearty love with the truth on its own merits, which was a bond, and an attraction, and a benefit.


Among them was brother F.R. Shuttleworth, who has ever since filled a foremost place in the work.  I think I owe something to this feeble company for getting so quickly into harness myself.  They enthusiastically responded to my suggestions about the duty of doing the best we could in the way of a public testimony for the truth, and entered most readily into practical co-operation in measures having this object.  We got out a bill inviting the public to our Sunday evening meetings to hear lectures on the Kingdom of God and the nature of man, which to our raw spiritualities seemed the essence and sum total of the truth.  It was not a regular lecture bill, such as afterwards came to be issued, but a general sweeping proclamation that the popular creeds were wrong, and that the Scriptures “of Moses, the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles,” when properly understood, were capable of putting them right.


I do not remember the wording of the bill, but when a copy of it went to Edinburgh, the criticism came back (needless to say, it was not the criticism of my correspondent), that there was too much about immortality in it, and that in fact, it was not quite an apostolic performance, as the apostles did not put out bills!  This criticism was symptomatic of the spiritual divergence that afterwards led to rupture with what was called “Dowieism,” for want of a better name.  Very little came of our effort.  A few came to the meetings at first, but gradually fell off, leaving us, I think but one, as the result.  We, however, continued the meetings with benefit to ourselves.  I began to feel a decided improvement in the ability to lecture, and the conversational controversies that were generated by our activity increased our familiarity with the Scriptures, and our knowledge of the truth.


 We availed ourselves of whatever promising opportunities in other directions presented themselves.  There was open-air speaking at a bridge in the centre of the town, and once or twice, when our own meeting was over, we repaired to this spot, and made an attempt to harangue the people. To do this, on one occasion, I got on to the tope of a big barrel, but the rowdies commenced to push it about, and I had to descend.  Our proceedings must have appeared very ridiculous, and our communications utterly unintelligible, as well as conceited.  It was the only thing that weakness could do in chaos.  One Sunday, one of the brethren got into tow with a Unitarian preacher on the street.  After conversation the preacher was walking off.  The brethren suggested that a debate would be a good thing for the truth, and recommended that I should go after him and challenge him.  Most ludicrous, but I did it!  The gentleman, good-naturedly turning on the stripling not yet twenty, quickly extinguished him by remarking that when he debated, it would have to be with somebody of his own calibre.


Another time there was a public lecture by an anti-infidel lecturing doctor, who invited questions, or remarks.  He was to prove the immortality of the soul from nature.  The brethren thought it was too good and opportunity to lose.  They put me forward to say as much as I could on behalf of the truth in the short space of time allowed.  I did so, evidently with no other effect than of evoking the commiseration of the lecturer and his chairman (the “Rev.” E. Mellor, who afterwards became a “great” man).  It was foolish of me to come forward at an invitation only intended for infidels.  But things are not seen in their relations and proportions by zealous inexperience.



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