THE AUTHOR OF THE SPANISH BROTHERS
"THE girls" — both tall women in height — left Frankfield for Dublin with Dora on Debbie’s thirteenth birthday, before the Pastor’s last sermon was preached, when the church was crowded. On the next day, his people gave him a parting gift of £130, — a very seasonable help, for though his stipend at St. Barnabas would be £300 a year, the greater cost of living in Douglas, with house-rent also to pay, made the change a loss, financially.
It was indeed a great change from the sweet green solitudes of Frankfield to a seaport town, with many holiday visitors, especially from Ireland, during the "summer" half of the year. The church was a large, plain building in the midst of narrow and crooked streets. The centre aisle and large galleries were well filled with the neighbouring gentry and the shopkeepers of the town, whilst the side aisles were crowded with the poor. The people had been most eager to have Mr. Alcock as Dr. Carpenter’s successor, and gave him and his family a hearty welcome. Unfortunately "the girls" (there were three, as Miss Annie Gore was again of the party) had to begin the new life there before the father could finally settle in. Poor Debbie, being dressed more in accord with her height than with her years, was supposed to be seventeen. Her intense shyness took the form of extra dignity, and she labouriously strove to live up to what seemed expected of her. Miss Gore remembers her own amusement at the child’s answer to a caller who inquired if she had heard from her father. "Oh, yes," she answered eagerly, quite naturally; then, checking herself, said stiffly, "I had that pleasure this morning." When at last he came to stay, he plunged at once into the usual round of visiting, and they saw less of him than before. He was sore beset, too, by the depression to which he was always liable, after an uprooting. Save for this, "Life in Mona" began cheerily for the girls, the young duenna being liveliest of all. Her uncle valued having her to go about with him, and hospitality was returned by pleasant little tea-parties, quite informal, at the Pastor’s house. But when the elders were out, callers fell to Debbie’s share, and she made the great mistake of thinking that loyalty to Ireland required her to praise up the Emerald Isle at the expense of the Isle of Man. Her health was then very delicate: Mr. Alcock might well feel painfully the need of motherly guidance for his "children." Mary was now almost seventeen — simplicity itself, without a thought of seeking admiration, but fair enough to attract it unawares; her elder sister was very dear to him, but only a girl herself; and his own gifted, ill-balanced child, so old in some things, in others was an infant. His own position, too, was far more difficult in this mixed community than in the long idyll of Frankfield.
Among his many labours connected with the Famine, he had sought help for the families of Irish clergymen who were themselves reduced to great poverty by the failure of their glebes, added to the general distress. Among other efforts, he exerted himself to get their daughters received and educated at the well known Casterton School for the daughters of clergy. This had brought him into correspondence with a Miss McKenny — well connected, and an intimate friend of Mr. Carus Wilson of Casterton — who had since come to live at Kilkenny. She had a Bible-class for girls there, attended by the Gore nieces, who were devoted to her. One day, in the height of the holiday season, when a third niece had come over, the whole tribe came in, crying out in great excitement, "Miss McKenny is here! We have seen her, and saw where she went in."
"Oh, we must call upon her," said Uncle John, and at once set off, taking them all with him. They found the lady and her cousin within. Miss McKenny was a little younger than Mr. Alcock, but looked at least ten years older. She was somewhat lame, walked feebly and stooped; and her dress would have suited a woman of sixty or seventy. But she was excellent company — racy, warm-hearted, very genial to the young folks, and straight as a Roman road. It was truly said, "You always knew exactly where you were with her." Her cousin, Miss Callwell, was even more beloved by the Kilkenny girls, and had more of personal attraction. Their lodgings had proved uncomfortable, and Mr. Alcock was asked if he knew of any others.
"The best I know of are in the house next door to my own house. Shall I inquire if they can be had?" he answered.
They were vacant, and the ladies, with two other friends who joined them, took the rooms, and remained there for the rest of their holiday. The nieces went in and out all day long — Debbie, not so much, but often enough to make good friends with the visitors. No courtship took place then. No one seems to have thought of it in connection with this old-looking, plain, and terribly plain-spoken Miss McKenny. But when she had gone — not back to Ireland then, but to stay with relatives in England — Mr. Alcock followed her to ask her hand, and it was given, with the love of her whole heart. But it was not a love that ever grudged his child her own share.
She had been brought up "for the world," as she said — a respectable, church-going "world," but with only surface religion, and full of gaieties; and she went in for its pleasures with all the energy of her nature. In the heyday of her youthful prime, her heart was touched: she passed through a very definite conversion, and thenceforward threw over all that she called "worldly" as completely as she had flung herself into it before. This meant, for her, the severance of many ties; but her sister Sarah was in sympathy with her, and the parents seem to have given her full liberty to obey her own conscience. Her greatest joy was to tell others of the Saviour she had found: she would walk miles and miles to lonely hamlets to have cottage readings for the few Protestants there, and teach the children. For years this life of active service went on, then she broke down, and it was found that she had so over-taxed her walking powers that she would never again be able to walk any distance. Having her share in the use of horses and carriages, however, at the large country house that was her home, she could still keep up a part of her work. When she first corresponded with Mr. Alcock, she was watching her widowed mother through a long lingering illness which ended in death. Then the daughters had to leave the old family home, and went together to a pleasant house on the outskirts of Kilkenny town.
Debbie had never had a thought that her father could seek another wife. And for some time before the betrothal she must have been mainly occupied by an affair of the heart on her own account. The old custom of reading history with "Annie" was kept up, and one day, in Russell’s History of Modern Europe, Miss Gore read aloud the account of the death of Montrose. "I had just gone under the table to pick up something I had let fall," Miss Alcock said, "when she came to that part; and there I stayed, transfixed, till she came to the end of it; then I got up, thrilled with a new passion." She added presently, "I think in those days we made too much of being able to die bravely. Bad men have done it — even weak men have found their courage at the last. But though it was his death that seized me first, Montrose was a man to love!"
As usual, she plunged into research for every scrap of knowledge she could hunt up about him. The actual life around her must have been quite parenthetical, when, like a thunder-clap, came a letter from her father — the first he wrote after his betrothal — to tell the news. In the first shock she wrote off a letter, pouring out her agonized sense of the loss that this would mean to her. Happily she showed it to her cousin, who gently pointed out that this would hurt her father’s feelings sorely. At once she suppressed it, and having let off the first grief, wrote another letter, "more natural — more childlike," her cousin said; but it was the style of the first letter that came naturally to Debbie. She was childlike in language only by self-repression — too shy to talk as she thought, unless deeply moved. Her second letter was one of acceptance, not rebellion ; and that same day she faced the facts like a woman. She said to me, "I settled it with myself, that day ‘Now I shall not be first with him any more, and it will be quite right.’ "From that she never swerved. Whatever else she had to suffer, her strong sense of justice, combined with her utter loyalty, spared her the pangs of jealousy. Another resolution taken at the same time was that never, happen what might, would she go behind her stepmother to her father. "I very seldom had cause to wish to do so," she said; but if that was true, she must have severely restrained herself from rebellious wishes.
Poor Dora did not bear the shock so well. She rose up in arms, and had to learn that her indulgent master could rebuke even her! Then she meekened, but tried to find a vent for her grief in talking to his daughter, who must have amazed her, for at once the child rose into the mistress, and stopped her mouth. The strain of it all must have been very great, and probably had much to do with bringing on Debbie’s first attack of haemorrhage from the lungs — a severe one which occurred after a bad cold on the chest, while her father was again absent in England. A lady friend, who had come on a long visit to take charge of the household in his absence, decided not to alarm him: he was not told of the attack until his return, at which he was very gravely displeased.
Miss McKenny kept all his love-letters, and they are chiefly occupied with the fluctuations of Debbie’s convalescence at this time. There is something very pathetic in the craving they show for someone to lean upon — in him on whom all others leaned! Full of quiet affection, there is yet no trace of any revival of youthful spirits — much less than in the letters — as truly love-letters and as carefully preserved — which he wrote after marriage, when a touch of the old buoyancy returns.
"Uncle John could not have married anyone young," his niece said. "His first wife was so sweet — and he loved her so! He never could have given the same kind of love to anyone else."
Clearly, he never did. These are the letters of a man heavily burdened who needs a helpmeet; and though many wondered at his choice, he had found one.
The only touch of general interest in this correspondence relates to the Casterton school. It seems worth preserving, in justice to Charlotte Brontë, on account of the measure of justification it gives to what she wrote of "Lowood" in Jane Eyre, — allowing of course for the additions permitted in a work of fiction. She was not alone, evidently, in seeing grave need of alteration in the school management at that time. How thoroughly it was reformed afterwards, a long line of happy schoolgirls have testified. Mr. Alcock’s letter appears to refer to a pupil maintained at Casterton by Miss McKenny with unsatisfactory results.
As to Mr. W., your most straightforward course appears to me to be a simple statement of truth — which most honourably exonerates you from continuing so serious a responsibility as he expects from you. It is indeed sad to think that all your labour and anxiety should have benefited the subject of it so little. Yet do not suppose that it has been in vain — no, not even though it may have been done most imperfectly, and blemished with many faults — you shall hereafter see fruits. It is a pity that such benevolent minds as Mr. W.’s mar their good deeds by some fatal defects. The fruits we have been allowed to witness of Casterton training speak little for its character.
This was written near the end of 1848. It must have been within about seven years of that date that Miss Helen Taylor, niece of Ann, Jane and Isaac Taylor — the Isaac Taylor who wrote The Natural History of Enthusiasm — became headmistress of Casterton; and from her own lips I have heard how beautifully the strong man had then learned to curb himself and give a fair hearing to the views of those who had to work under him. "He was difficult, sometimes. I have had to stand out against him myself," she said; but she maintained that he was a noble and generous leader. He had to learn his work at first — in an age of bad precedents, when school-keeping as a whole needed much reform. What he himself had to contend against in some of his co-workers may be guessed from a letter written to Mrs. Alcock by a lady who for some reason would have to be considered. She was in much distress at the innovations of a new head-mistress, who might possibly have been Miss Taylor herself. Among other delinquencies, "She is mad about ventilation. Oh, my dear friend, think of the Prince of the power of the air!" Miss Alcock actually saw this letter.
This is a long digression, but it would not have been fair to give Mr. Alcock’s confidential letter without this qualification.
On January 10, 1849, Mr. Alcock was "married in St. George’s Church, Dublin, to Miss Jane McKenny, eldest daughter of the late John McKenny, Esq., and niece of Sir Thos. McKenny, Bart."
Miss Alcock adds: "This union contributed in an incalculable degree to his domestic comfort and happiness, and through these to his ministerial usefulness." This was true indeed, subject to certain deductions. The new wife was a woman to be loved and trusted — as she truly was, from the first, by her tall, childish stepdaughter, but she was very human, and what is called "a character." Miss Alcock described her in one of her first letters to me as "a mother in love though not in blood." It seemed to me that that was just what she was not. A true, kind, loving woman, even tender — "Mama had a great deal of tenderness, for which neither she herself nor anyone else gave her credit," Miss Alcock once said — but without one spark of motherly instinct in her — nothing to make her know, without telling, when a child was cold, hungry, tired, frightened or bewildered. She was a born teacher, and had the natural virtues and vices of a headmistress, only with none of the caution acquired by those who work for salaries, and are responsible to somebody. One of the nieces described her as "masterful, but a most good-natured woman. If she knew anything would please anyone, she would not stop till she got it for them." That is, if she approved the taste. She quite ignored the principle Sir Arthur Helps lays down for the domestic ruler: "He must not attempt to regulate the pleasures of others by his own tastes." In food, recreation and domestic managements, she expected the family to enjoy what she thought good for them. Accustomed to a large household, she did not understand how comfortable a small one might be made on very small means. With her own income of £200 a year added to her husband’s salary and his tiny patrimony, and with a further addition from her sister, Miss Sarah McKenny, who joined the family party, there was no need for pinching — although nearly half the £200 was needed for the carriage Mrs. Alcock had to keep, on account of her lameness, and which was a real help to her husband also. But seeing how her husband loved to give, she set herself to retrench expenses in a way Debbie always admired, in one accustomed to abundance: only unfortunately, besides wise economies, her conscience required her to introduce various small discomforts and privations which saved very little money, and, with Debbie at any rate, did lasting injury to health.
However, she had the supreme virtue of making her husband happy. The change in the tone of his diary after the marriage is very marked. And when she saw a fault in his daughter, she would take Debbie alone and tell her of it, kindly and wisely. "I liked that," Miss Alcock said. "It was Mama who first made me see that it was a duty to talk in company, whether I felt inclined to or not, instead of wandering away to my dreams." In many other points Mrs. Alcock cultivated what her daughter called "the minor moralities" of daily life. Only, on one occasion she had the misfortune to misapply a text. The child said not a word, of course, but in her heart she thought, "That’s bad theology. I don’t like being lectured in bad theology."
"I see as I look back," she said, "what a good thing it was that Mama was so entirely a ruler that I saw it at once, and gave in."
"Was it not often hard?" I asked.
"Sometimes. But always, behind everything was the thought — if a shadow came between Mama and me, it would hurt my father. That bound me."
Cost what it might, she yielded — more than she need have done, for if Mrs. Alcock had understood, she would often have done differently; but Debbie could not speak. The one misunderstanding which cost her real and long agony came wholly from silence. She was accused of having allowed Dora to talk as she ought not. Her rebellion against the marriage had been only scotched, not killed, and one day she was overheard speaking of the master himself in such terms that she was very properly reported at once. Investigations brought out that these outrageous remarks had been made to Debbie, who said nothing to stop them. Amazed and shocked, Mrs. Alcock sent for her, and charged her with it in her father’s presence. Debbie, even more astonished than she was, vainly tried to recollect anything about it. She could not deny what other people had heard with their own ears, neither could she own to it: the bare idea of having allowed such things to be said would be horrible. Her father needed no words from her — the sight of her distress was enough. He held out his arms and she rushed into them, sobbed and was forgiven. But what was there to forgive? What could it all mean? At last the truth dawned upon her. She never felt bound to listen to Dora’s pattering: she must have been out with Montrose, or some other cavalier of hers, and had not heard a word.
"And then, the fool of a child, not to go back directly to Mama and tell her!" she said. But she could not. It cut too deep that it should ever have been possible for anyone to think such a thing of her. She could not get over the wound to her own self-respect. What must she be, for anyone to have believed it! For more than a year this trifle remained an agony to her — one of those acute miseries which so often befall the young, when the feelings of womanhood are developing, while the judgment is still that of a child. And this child bore it all alone. She could not even speak of it to Mary. Close though their hearts and lives were joined, "like to a double cherry," beneath a certain point they were "strangers yet" — sealed to each other by the impenetrable reserve of near relations constantly together.
This catastrophe had one good result in causing arrangements to be made for Dora to go and live with her brother. Well if she had gone sooner, leaving only the memory of her long faithfulness. She was loyal at heart still, but the new conditions were too hard for her.
In June came Mrs. Alcock’s sister, "Aunt Sally," as she was called. When first her hand was asked, Miss Jane McKenny had made this a stipulation. Mr. Alcock responded with an Irish welcome. Now that there is no one left living who can be hurt by it, it seems allowable to own this lady’s limitations. It was said of her, "She was very good, and very good-natured, but she was narrow," and as masterful as her sister, in a much more trying way. Debbie had accepted the duty of being under orders from "Mama," but she did not think herself bound to obey Aunt Sally. One day, however, Mrs. Alcock took her apart and said, "You know the saying, ‘Love me, love my dog.’ If you love me, you must love Aunt Sally too."
For once, Debbie’s soul rebelled. The point in question was whether Aunt Sally had a right to interfere with her and order her about when the stepmother would have let her alone; and she felt dimly that justice required that Mrs. Alcock should gently have taken her part. "But I was not a free agent," she said, fast bound by the thongs of love, for her father’s sake. So she bowed her shoulder to bear, and as time went on she did much more. Carefully she did her duty by Aunt Sally, not only putting up with her, but studying her tastes, and showing her special attentions, that she might not feel herself left out of the family counsels. But she never quite got the length of really loving her; and in the last year of her own life, when she lived so much in retrospect, this was one of the few things she could find to reproach herself with. — "It used to make me so angry for Mama to be always saying how unselfish she was, and really she was a great deal more unselfish herself. But" — and there her look and voice softened — "I might have given more love, into that poor, narrow life — when I had so much — oh, such a wealth, compared with hers! — instead of only duty."
"Do you think she felt the want of it?" I asked.
"I hope not: she never spoke as if she did. And she used to thank me often for things I did. She always liked to know what was going on, and going to be done — not for her to hear it first from anyone outside. And when we three had been together, talking over things, as soon as anything was ready to be spoken of, I was very careful to tell her about it, and she felt that I considered her. But it was not love."
The old fable of the Traveller’s Cloak came true: by yielding in trifles and thus avoiding petty friction, Deborah won the full confidence which gave her liberty at last. But the first years were hard. Against some things she did protest, chiefly if any difference was to be made between herself and Mary. This she thought treason: they were to be sisters, and have all things in common, and be dressed alike. But Mary had no such wish, she did not always like the same things as Debbie, and rightly felt it was better to allow some variety. This agreed with Mrs. Alcock’s own view. She was a great believer in "vocations." Seeing Debbie so clever at her books, and stupid at handiwork, she decided that her vocation was to study, and cultivate her mind, while Mary — whose mental powers, if not extraordinary, were excellent — was to leave her books, and be her own right hand in the house. In those days girls were not supposed to continue their studies after reaching the age of seventeen. Debbie once announced that she would not go an excursion with visitors, unless Mary went too. "You are not going to please yourself — you are going to entertain the T—‘s," said the stepmother. Another good lesson. "Mama taught me the duty of doing what I did not like."
The girls had to take it in turn to attend Mrs. Alcock at her morning toilet now that she had no maid, "She used to talk to us then," Miss Alcock said, "about people — not always wisely. And, naughty! I used to remember what she said, and repeat it to her again. She had forgotten having said it herself, and would tell people what wonderfully mature judgment Deb had for her years!"
The next change was that Mary was suddenly sent back to Ireland, ostensibly on the ground of health, but really for fear of a premature love-affair — a young suitor having asked her uncle’s leave to visit the house in hope of winning her. The match would have been a good one as this world goes, but Mr. Alcock was not sure that the two would be quite equally yoked, and Mary was only seventeen. So she went away, never suspecting the reason, and very willingly. Dearly though she loved her uncle and Debbie, the depths of her heart were with her own people, and she was glad to have a long time with them. The love between the cousins could never be quite equal. To Debbie, Mary was all in all, in her own generation. Mary had her own sisters and brother, passionately loved — she often hungered silently for them.
In her place came her youngest sister Barbara, a sweet and highly gifted child whose early death Deborah counted among the great losses of her life, though only the loss of a "Might-have-been." "I am sure we should have been a great deal to each other," she used to say. But in the Douglas days the difference in age — when one was nine or ten, and the other a most precocious girl of fourteen or fifteen — kept them more or less apart.
Then came a time when, instead of resenting orders, Debbie longed for more to be given, and sighed, even begged, to be sent to school as a boarder. "To go to school" was one of the great desires of her girlhood — never to have gone, one of her regrets in after life. How she could have revelled in a college course, had she entered the world thirty or forty years later! But scholarship must be a terrible stopper to imagination. One thing it would have given her, the want of which she mourned all her life long — more power to concentrate her thoughts against their will. Her concentration was absolute, when a subject seized her; but when interest flagged, she lacked the mechanical power of control gained, for instance, in a course of mathematics.
At this time Mrs. Alcock enjoined on her to spend half an hour every morning in private prayer, and another half-hour in Bible study. Miss Alcock writes: —
God forgive me — I say it in all seriousness — for the waste of all those precious hours! On my knees, or with my Bible open before me, I used to dream, and dream, and dream. It was "Wrong and sad and mad and bad"; but how could I keep my thoughts? I should have been given some definite directions as to how to occupy the time which to a child, or very young person, seems so long. I do not say that the habit of allowing thoughts to wander which has followed me all my life began with me then, but it was certainly fostered.
Thus, her hour of devotion brought constant self-reproach. One wonders how anyone could lay such a burden upon a child. Probably Mrs. Alcock thought of Debbie as mentally equal to many a grown woman; and she had no conception what it is to have the creative imagination that speaks unbidden.
Has anyone, who does not know it by experience? Can anyone else understand the utter impossibility of silencing it by force of will? You can no more do it than you could forcibly close the mouth of another person, out of your reach, who persisted in speaking. Nay, much less, for words take some time to be uttered — thoughts come like lightning. A whole scene flashes before you and takes place, words and all, in the twinkling of an eye; and yet it is not gone as quickly — it holds you, feeling it and working out what has to follow. You can no more stop its way to you than you could stop the lightning, except by inserting a non-conductor, i.e. some other occupation or interest that absorbs the mind. And even that will not always succeed. A new incident, which gives the key to a long-pondered critical situation in a story, may dart upon the mind in the act of jumping into a railway carriage or fomenting a sick man’s head, if the merest trifle should set up a chain of connecting links.
Very literal is the expression, "At the mercy of one’s thoughts": yet even thoughts can be met with a drawn sword, if their mercies are cruel. Not so Imaginations: a Higher than I must "draw out the spear and stop the way against them that persecute me," if they are evil — "casting down Imagination, that exalteth itself against HIM." Not such was Deborah Alcock’s trouble. In all the stream of memories poured from her lips, with many a confession among them, there was never a trace of her having been even tempted to dwell in thought on things ignoble or impure. The horrible corruptions of which she had to read in history, never seem to have haunted her, even with loathing. The cruelties did, and caused her extreme suffering; sensuality could never, by any stretch of imagination, be real to her.
So was this child prepared and guarded in her own nature against one of the most painful exigencies of her calling. But the ever throbbing inward life, so real and yet unreal, made her very lonely. "The Game" went with Mary. Barbara was at school all day, besides being too young to take a part in it. Debbie had lessons at the same school but not nearly enough to fill up her time. Mrs. Alcock had wisely stopped her music-lessons, finding that she had no idea whether she played right or wrong, except by the eye! Drawing she would have enjoyed, I believe, but she never wished for it. The French teacher was charming, and besides teaching the language well, she inspired her pupil with a love for French history, which stood her in good stead when she wrote of the Vaudois, and the terrible "dragonnades" after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
The master for English composition had the excellent plan of always giving his pupils a short talk on the subject he chose for their weekly essay — enough to suggest thoughts which they were expected to work out, and work into it — not merely to write an abstract of what he said. These were the only set lessons in composition that Debbie ever had, and she much enjoyed them, only wishing that the master would criticize her productions more closely: she was eager for perfection.
She also had lessons in Hebrew from a converted Jew whom Mr. Alcock wished to help. He was a good teacher, mechanically, but the number of meanings laid on the back of a single word in a primitive language awoke new perplexities in her questioning mind. I once asked her if she would think it allowable, when the version of the Psalms in Bible and Prayer-book differed, to assume that the Hebrew word would cover both renderings, since in a language of few words each one must have several meanings.
"They have," she answered, "as I knew to my cost when I had to learn Hebrew at the age of about fourteen. It very nearly took away my faith in the Old Testament. It seemed to me that the translators could make the texts come out anything they liked."
No one seems to have led her into the intensely interesting study of tracing these various meanings to their one root in primitive life, and showing how, with this clue, the context guides selection. She went on with Hebrew for two or three years — "But it never laid hold on me," she said.
Thus from fourteen, in the years 1849-51, she was wrestling with the problems which laid hold on the Christian world forty years later — the inspiration of the Old Testament, and the great Hereafter. Had she but known then that her father would not consign her beloved classic heroes to perdition, life would have been very different to her.
Strangely left to herself, she took refuge in scribbling. She writes:
In these years, the passion for self-expression laid strong hold on me. I had always been making stories — now, I wanted to write them. But verse I loved even better. At nine or ten I wrote hymns — at thirteen I tried a tragedy — and later, other follies not worth recording. I had common sense enough to know that God had not given me the supreme gift of poetry: my cherished dream was but to tell out the things which daily and nightly I saw and heard in the wonderful world of imagination. This, as I grew older, somewhat overbore my theological conflicts. Other books occupied me more than the Bible; and the admiration and adoration I poured forth at the feet of my chosen heroes became, I fear, a genuine idolatry. Of this, in spasms, I was conscious. I had occasional seasons of depression, of penitence. In them I knew myself to be a backslider. I longed to return — I prayed, I agonized — I sometimes thought I had recovered the lost ground and regained the vanished peace; but alas! ere I knew it I would find myself back again with my dream and in a condition of painful anxiety as to my spiritual state and my eternal prospects — when I thought about them. As a Calvinist I supposed that if I ever had been a child of God, I was so still, and would be to the end. But was I? Might I not be deceiving myself?
The only abstract and impersonal religious question I remember having much in my mind at that time was one which somehow occurred to me in about my fourteenth year: "Did God make right and wrong, or did they exist independently of Him?" I need not say that I never found a satisfactory answer.
Through this long conflict, Deborah’s faith never really left her. The horror of great darkness might overwhelm her for a time, but it passed away. It belonged to the intellect, not the heart. Whether in light or darkness, God was, in all her thoughts.
She was suffering painfully from those "Unused powers" which, according to a saying she often quoted, "themselves become out of order, and breed diseases." A new life began for her, when, during her last years in the Isle of Man, her power of teaching found scope, as she herself describes.
My passion for teaching found its first vent in a curious way. I was a Sunday School teacher at fourteen. According to the usual plan, the very young teacher got the very young children. I did not understand them, and if they at all understood me I am sure it was a wonder. Later, in my sixteenth year, when the teacher of the head class of girls was leaving home, she asked that I would take her class in her absence. She was my friend — the first I ever made outside my own family. The girls were mostly pupil teachers in the large and excellent day school, and were just my own age, or a few months older or younger. I loved that class — and I have loved the work of teaching from that day to this.
VI. EARLY YEARS IN DUBLIN
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Last modified: June 27, 2016