My Days and My Ways
My employer started a second paper at Dewsbury, a town of about 20,000 inhabitants, about eight miles distant from Huddersfield. The population of Dewsbury was mostly composed of factory people, employed in the lower kinds of woollen manufacture, including “shoddy.” The place was like the business – rough and raw, and a newspaper of their own was a novelty among them. In the starting of this paper I had to lend considerable help, and so became acquainted with what little life there was in the place.
I found it a very nest of atheism. There was a particular temperance hotel where “freethinkers” congregated. This hotel had a hall connected with it, and in this hall the proprietor encouraged meetings every Sunday, at which papers were read, lectures given, or discussions held. These were mostly of an “infidel” complexion, but addresses on any subject were welcomed, debate usually following. It was suggested to me that I should give a lecture in the place. It was a poor place at which to present the Gospel of the Kingdom. Still, as there was no door of utterance anywhere, and I strongly recognised the obligation to make the truth known, I consented after a while, and wrote a lecture, which I delivered on a certain Sunday afternoon, in 1858, to this audience of unbelievers.
It was gloomy work in a gloomy place; for the hall was not large, the seats were rough, and the hearers were of that heavy, lack-lustre aspect which seems to belong to atheism. One of the chief speakers had a coarse, nasal voice, that gurgled out of his throat in a repulsive manner. The repulsiveness to me, perhaps, lay more in the steady, self-confident scorn of religion in which he aped the style of candour, while discoursing on his “soobjaict.” It was a horrible memory for a long time. The chairman, who seemed to have a leaning in faviyr if the Bible, but with a sort of patronising manner that seemed to say, “I wish I could believe. I am sorry it is all nonsense.” If I recollect, it was at his request that I gave the lecture. He opened the meeting by reading the second chapter of Titus, which he pronounced as fine a piece of moral teaching as they could find anywhere. He then called upon their friend to let him hear what he had to say, which the chairman understood was something new. I have the lecture now which I had got ready for them – at least, I had it some time ago. The members of the Birmingham Christadelphian Young Men’s Improvement Society, hearing of it some years ago, obtained possession of the manuscript, and I have not seen it since.
The criticisms passed upon it were not very definite. They mostly took the shape of expressing inability to know what the speaker had been driving at. That anything came of it I never heard. I had to be satisfied in having employed an opportunity which I never felt encouraged to use again.
On another occasion, in the same town, in another temperance hotel, by the importunity of an old man, who had become interested in the truth, I consented to hold debate with an Irishman on the immortality of the soul. The meeting took place in the public room of the hotel. The Irishman was brimming with the buffoonery that seems native to the principal portion of his race. He had nothing in the way of argument except appeals to the “fahther-rs,” by which he by no means meant Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the prophets, but certain ecclesiastic drivellers, whose names at the time were more or less new to me – Origen, Tertullian, Justin Martyr, and the rest. He had nothing to say to the scriptural argument. At the same time he did not like it, and told the chairman (the old man before referred to, who was known to them all as the promoter of the meeting), that they were not particularly obliged to him. He (the old man) could not argue the question himself, but, like Balaam, had brought his ass to do the speaking for him – a sally that of course pleased the low auditory that crowded the room.
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