THE AUTHOR OF THE SPANISH BROTHERS
THE LONG SHADOW OP DEATH
THE shadow of ill-health falls darker and closer as the years go on, but with spaces of sunshine between. It would only be wearisome to chronicle the fluctuations, especially in Mr. Alcock’s health, and the little changes of place that were tried. Miss Alcock’s letters give something of the inner history; but of one period there is no record — a time of which she would often speak as one of the most painful in her life, though outwardly she had a respite from acute anxiety. Every one knows that the watcher’s heart is more apt to fail when the tension is relaxed than while every cord is stretched. And this year brought her a great agony. Since 1876 the "Bulgarian Atrocities" had come before the world from time to time. Many could not believe them, but Deborah, with her long practice in sifting the records of history, saw at once the hall-mark of truth in the reports. How terribly true they were is now a matter of history; and a host of noble Englishmen, who then felt differently, would now understand the agony that the Treaty of Berlin had cost her — when the suffering Christian races were handed back to the cruel mercies of the Turk. Miss Alcock had followed Mr. Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign with the most intense interest — shuddering at the horrors revealed, yet thrilling with joy and unutterable relief that a great voice ringing through the whole world was saying what her own soul had burned to utter. "I very nearly had a fever for Gladstone then," she said. And now every one around her, except her father, was ridiculing and denouncing him! Mr. Alcock withheld his opinion of the rights of the case, but, as ever, he trusted Gladstone — not his judgment, but his sincerity. Still, the days were gone by when he could have taken a side in any battle; not only his wife but nearly all the relatives and friends took the other side. Deborah held her peace. She would not argue, but she felt the more; and her silence committed her to some extent.
I would gladly leave out this part of her life if I honestly could, as the cleavage it made in opinion, (never in affection), between her and some who were very dear to her, must have caused pain to both sides; but the position she took then, and ever after, was so much a part of herself — it could not be ignored without deliberate untruth.
At the same time, the spirit for creative work seemed to die away; and when that happened, Deborah was always tempted to think it would never return. Something she must have had in her mind, as, since her last tale was written, her diary had said, "I rather think I have laid an egg"; but probably the impulse subsided, and she supposed the egg was addled. In May — but whether this year or the next is not shown — she writes to Miss Moncrieff —
. . . I wonder do you enjoy "mending things broken, cleaning things soiled," etc.? I sometimes think I should, rather, if I had the opportunity of trying. As to making new things (which you lovingly give me credit for being able to do), I sometimes ask myself, shall I ever again? and long for a gush of the old passion, the "Historical Fever" as I call it. The anxieties of the past two years seem to have used up a great deal of my thinking and feeling power.
In 1879 prospects brightened, though Deborah’s own health was still very frail, as her letters show.
To Miss Scott Moncrieff.
I went to Dr. Williams in London about my chest, and his report was not particularly reassuring — "great enlargement of the bronchiF, and some congestion of the right lung." I fear for the winter I shall have to lead a semi-invalid life and abstain from the teaching and other work I love so dearly. My pen is not put under restrictions, however, and has plenty of occupation just now, as I promised while in London to write a tale for the Sunday Magazine. It is the old Renaissance story I have been playing with for so long, and it is baptized, for the present, "On the Wings of the Morning." I feel rather like the sick boy who said when they offered him jelly, ‘Why can’t you give me these good things when I can enjoy them?’ having had a tempting offer from the Editor of the Family Treasury.
I saw Dr. Macaulay in London, and I hope to give him more "Etchings," as soon as my present piece of work is finished. London was a treat! I had such a happy afternoon with dear Mrs. Charles. She seemed full of the Spirit of Christ, scarcely able to talk of anything except the joy and peace of living continually in His presence. I also spent a delightful day with Mr. Stock (of the Lessons in the Life of our Lord). He is so good, clever, and unassuming; and I made the acquaintance of his nice invalid sister, known as "Sarah Geraldine." We heard Dean Stanley at Westminster Abbey, and thoroughly enjoyed the dear, beautiful old building, where indeed we went so often as we could. The Dean’s sermon made me feel very sad, however; it was eloquent, full of noble feeling, every word the best word and every word in its place; but it was all about the great needs of man, and not about the wonderful works of God. If such preaching becomes the fashion — and we had a weak imitation of it from a young man in another church the same day — alas, for the Church of England! Another day we went to Mildmay, and heard Mrs. Pennefather’s Quarterly address to the Christian Workers ("Looking back, Looking on, Looking up"). It was admirable, in matter, arrangement, and language. . . My dear cousin has not returned with me; she is gone to her northern home, where she is so useful and beloved, but one of her sisters is staying with us now for a little while, and has brought with her her dear little girl, eight years old, so good, and so pretty. . .
Miss Alcock’s next letter refers to the poem on Jonathan, called "Uncrowned," and often mentioned before. It was laid aside, but it haunted her, and she also tried to follow out Miss Moncrieff’s suggestion and think of other heirs to thrones, "Uncrowned," who would make good subjects for historical sketches, or verses, under that title. But like some other projects, the "Uncrowned," as a series, never appeared. I must add that, for one who always made writing secondary to every home duty or fixed engagement, the small proportion of her projects not fulfilled is remarkable, and says much for her dogged resolution and punctuality. She never dawdled over a task.
To Miss Scott Moncrieff.
I more and more perceive the wisdom of all your suggestions, only one proves, just at present, rather impracticable — to lay the thing aside. Out of my hands, I can lay it, to be sure, but not out of my head and heart; this is my infirmity.
May 12. Here, dear friend, I was interrupted yesterday in the midst of a sigh over the old trouble that I do not possess my thoughts, but rather they possess me. The awkward reiteration of the words "Son of Saul," which so justly offends your ear, is partly due also to a curious propensity of mine to avoid the use or utterance of a favourite hero’s name, even when it is not in itself ugly or ungraceful — and I am quite losing the sense that "Jonathan" is either. I wonder if a poem is more intimately oneself than even the dearest prose composition, and if one’s little idiosyncrasies get stamped on it more inevitably? . . .
I owe some of my thoughts to mama’s teaching, when I was too young to appreciate the grandeur of "Duty," and thought David, stealing in at midnight through the sleeping foes and sparing his enemy’s life, a far more interesting figure than his self-forgetting friend, who "was ready not to do!" There are some moral ideas one has to grow up to; or at least, I had. . .
Your friend, Dr. Macaulay, has behaved very well to me. Instead of being vexed at my declining the "Tract Society" offer for the volume In the Desert, he wrote at once to say he was glad for my own sake I had done so."
On the Wings of the Morning was struggled through with rather a leaden touch. "I don’t in the least know what to think of it myself, and sometimes feel quite to hate it — a feeling I never had about the others," she writes. It came out in the Sunday Magazine as arranged, but was not reprinted, owing, I believe, to technical difficulties about the copyright; and the author did not regret this. She was seized with another fever — a real and great one this time — for no less a person than Alexander, Czar of all the Russias; and for setting, she had the advance of Napoleon on Moscow, the defence, the Retreat from Moscow, and Paris when the Allies met there. The difficulties of the Council of Constance were small compared with those of handling this crowd of figures on so huge a canvas, but she keeps every thread clear, and weaves them all into one centre-piece when the Allies are in Paris. She had to allow herself two subordinate heroes — a young Russian noble on one side, a young French officer on the other — the Czar himself being the central figure. In the great scene, where the Allies enter Paris in procession, Henri, the young Frenchman, shrills through the storm of voices, "Vive l’Aide-de-camp de St. Priest" — the name under which the Czar had gone with his physician, St. Priest, to visit the French prisoners, (Henri being one,) in their horrible confinement, and place them under good care. "He hears! He understands! He is bowing to us," cried Henri.
This story is the boys’ favourite of Miss Alcock’s books, unless her last book, Done and Dared in Old France, has surpassed it.
It was no small trial that, just as she had begin to write this story for the Family Treasury, another attack of haemorrhage came on quite suddenly in church, and she was laid aside for weeks. She writes of this, long after, to a young friend (referring to the trial of illness):
The worst time was near the Christmas of 1880, when I was in full work, very busy and very happy, and a sudden attack of haemorrhage changed my life in a few minutes. I have never been quite the same since, though I am sure the mischief had really begun long before. It was some years before, when also in full work, that I had a sharp attack of inflammation of the lungs, and was very ill. I had just been writing for The Family Treasury "The Story of a Prince," the Prince being the elector, John Frederick, of whom I told in the Romance of Protestantism. His words when a prisoner came back to me, to my great comfort, "Living or dying, imprisoned or free, I am still His," especially that word "I am still His." I used to say it over and over to myself in the German, Ich bin ja sein; and in the realization of that thought, all was peace. The rest it gave was good.
To Miss Scott Moncrieff.
If you meet a little book, Work Amongst Working Men, by Ellice Hopkins, it will interest you, I think; she was (what all true-hearted workers are not) wise to win souls. We are also much interested in "Memorials of Mrs. Gilbert" (Ann Taylor). Such a true, loving, wise, noble-hearted woman! The Taylors of Ongar were all a remarkable family, but Isaac has the strongest attraction for me.
The air of weariness you noticed in my last letter was just the nervousness which, strange to say, after all my years of teaching, nearly always comes over me just before taking a class. The work itself I thoroughly enjoy, but I usually go through what the French call "un mauvais quart d’heure," before it, and feel this the more now, on account of my long suspension of work . . .
She sometimes said she was like her father, who used to say that he never entered the pulpit without trembling, but had never been forsaken when there.
Deborah’s next letter to Miss Kift is written while on a visit to the Bishop and Mrs. Day.
. . . Dan says half my right lung is consolidated, and that I have in fact only a lung and a half; but I don’t feel anything different from what I have always done, except that I cough, and my breath is short, and I am rather soon tired. I think I am much better now, however, but it is a pity I cannot get myself examined, as Dan has been for the last two months quite too ill to do any work at all, though I am thankful to say he is now much improved and going away for change of air. Dear friend, it is most trying for you, to see your brother suffering so much. The "dread mystery of pain" is one of the dreadest and saddest of earth’s many mysteries. . . I have just finished writing "On the Wings of the Morning," but it will probably not appear for some months as I could not have it ready to begin with the year.
The improvement in Dr. Alcock’s health was short-lived. Two days before Christmas he died, and a career full of promise ended. This was a personal sorrow to Deborah and her father, besides the sympathetic pain for the widow and fatherless. This year was full of small illnesses in one or other of the family, or all at once; but the glow of inspiration carried Deborah through triumphantly, and lent a glory to the whole year "Not Us," a smaller story, was finished in April; through the rest of the year "The Czar" was written, or copied from hand to mouth, for the Treasury. When it came out as a book, it took its place as second only to The Spanish Brothers in popularity. One reader wrote, "I feel as if I had gained two friends for Eternity — the Emperor Alexander and the writer, who, in making him known to me, has also made me acquainted with herself! "Another letter, which must be of later date, congratulated her on the Russian translation having passed the censor untouched, spite of a few passages about the externals of the Greek Church which might have been "blacked out." It was also translated into German, Dutch and French.
The year 1882 had the same tale of ill-health, accentuated, without the majestic company of 1881; but Deborah was generally able to have her class; and besides the daily drives with "a girl," her girls came to see her more freely, now she was less occupied.
With November came "the beginning of the end." Mr. Alcock had a most serious illness, from which he never really recovered, though "slowly and gradually he was brought back, or ‘loved back, to life,’ as we used to say," his daughter writes, "but only the shadowed, twilight life of a chronic invalid"; and it was not till near the middle of 1883 that even this respite came. In the end of June Deborah writes, "At church again. Thank God." Soon after, "Class again. Thank God." There had been many fluctuations up and down. While the patient was ill enough to require a nurse, she took the nights. The hardest time in Deborah’s life was when, for three months — somewhere in this year, I think — Mrs. Alcock was ill too, and the Archdeacon not ill enough to have a nurse, but liable to wander in mind at night, as so many old people do when very weak; and then, if not watched, he would get up and go downstairs at imminent risk of falling. Through those months his daughter occupied a bed in his room, supposed to sleep, but always watching. His step was so soft, it would never have waked her had she allowed herself really to sleep. All day she was in request, save for the hour of driving out. How she lived through it, one cannot tell, but she came out of that period a wreck, so changed, her loving "girls" say that no one who had not seen her before it could guess what she was then.
This terrible three months ended when Mrs. Alcock ceased to need watching herself at nights, and came back to her own place. The same thing was never allowed again, but the harm was done.
Then came a time, which must be described in Miss Alcock’s own words:
For three sad, but beautiful years he was left with us. We cannot fail to think as we retrace their record with tearful eyes and a trembling hand, of that beloved disciple whom in so many ways he strikingly resembled. If He, who for our sakes "passed through the grave and gate of death," did not pass Himself through the feebleness and infirmity of age, as He had done through that of infancy, we feel all the more that it was not without a deep purpose that "the beloved disciple," — the man He loved best, — was left on earth to drink the cup of exhausted nature’s weakness and weariness to the very dregs. In that weakness, as surely as in conflict or in martyrdom, His sympathy was proved, His strength was made manifest; and, in an especial manner, His word was tried and found faithful, "Even to old age I am He, and even to hoar hairs I will carry you."
"St. John has been such a comfort to me," Miss Alcock said. She writes again of her father:
The bright keen intellect of earlier days, though still clear, and often shining out in unexpected ways, was rendered almost unavailing by physical and nervous debility. It was like a blade of fine temper, made practically useless by the shattering of its hilt. But not in vain, through a long life, had he followed after such things as are pure, lovely, and of good report. These, and these alone, now filled his heart and mind. We, who watched him lovingly by day and night, never heard a murmur. His patience and sweetness, his gentleness and courtesy, impressed all who came near him. He would apologize for giving trouble, and when assured he was not doing so, would sometimes say, "No trouble to you, because you love me so." He would suppress with the greatest care, the physical irritability of weakness; or if for a moment he raised his voice, would instantly add "I am very impatient, pardon me." His only fear was the fear of doing wrong. "Tell me if I have done wrong." " Have I done anything wrong?" "I would not willingly offend." "I desire to be without blame before Him," were words often on his lips . . .
. . . If any need was mentioned in his presence, "What shall I give?" was always his word. No beggar could be sent away without an alms if he were within hearing!
As long as he was able, he always tried to kneel during family prayer; and even when very feeble, before each meal he would rise from his seat with difficulty, remove the little cap he used to wear, and with faltering lips, clasped hands and uplifted eyes, ask a blessing on it.
He would sometimes repeat long Scripture passages and portions of hymns. The hymn beginning "Quiet, Lord, my froward heart," was a great favourite of his. If told of any wrong or wickedness or any suffering he could not prevent or alleviate, he used to say with deep feeling, "Thy Kingdom come." Latterly, however, these things affected him so painfully that we learned to avoid mentioning them in his presence; and for this reason we almost gave up reading the newspaper to him. His submission to the wishes of those around him, and his trust in them, were most touching.
No shadow, not even the lightest, ever dimmed his communion with his Lord. No doubt ever troubled him, even in seasons of utmost weakness and greatest physical depression. He said, "I trust myself, and all I have and am, in His hands Who died for me. My work here is done, except to be with you who love me." If we told him of anything we were doing, he would say, "The Lord accept it"; if we went anywhere, "The Lord go with you." The Lord, in His loving-kindness, gave a sure answer to that pathetic prayer: "O Lord, forsake me not when my strength faileth." "Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness," were graces cultivated diligently by this man of God all his life long, and when other lights had faded they shed the light of their spiritual beauty over his hours of weakness and weariness, even to the end.
One entry in the Diary is very touching, in connection with what is said of Mr. Alcock’s readiness to give. What the occasion was is not told, but for once he refused. "Oh, Deb, I can’t give away any, anything that you have given me."
The tale of Miss Alcock’s own work during these years is amazing. Besides writing some of her best short stories, she wrote in 1884 The King’s Service, another favourite of boys — the hero being a very young volunteer who served under Gustavus Adolphus. In the following year she wrote The Cross and the Crown, and in 1886 one of the sweetest of all her stories, GéneviPve — a name afterwards changed to that of The Friends of Pascal — hardly as attractive to the young, one would think. For once, she really cared about the love-making in this — for reasons shown in one of her letters — and very beautifully has she touched upon it. This book was written between the hours of 6:15 and 8:30 a.m. She rose at half-past five; if the weather were cold, her fire would be ready laid; she boiled water on a spirit-lamp to make a cup of coffee with coffee essence, read, prayed, and then worked — at the pace, she could go! — till the stroke of half-past eight sent her to attend to her father. From 1883 Miss Grayden, a cousin of Mrs. Alcock, had been always in the house, and helped to take care of its mistress and of Aunt Sally, who gradually became too stiff and feeble to rise from her chair without assistance. And all through these sad years, we find continually the names of Gore cousins coming. to and fro to help and cheer. Mary, too, would make a special effort to come, if "Deb" was writing.
The writing, though physically a heavy tax, was a great help to the mind — unless the stress of trouble was too severe, as it seems to have been while The King’s Service was in progress.
There was one other time of recreation. When not rising at half-past five, and sometimes even then, Miss Alcock had the evening hour, from nine or a little after, when the three old people were in bed, Miss Grayden in charge, and she sat down to read what she called "thought-stoppers," — light, easy stories. She also regularly read the Spectator, and for a long time a friend sent her the weekly Pall Mall Gazette, then edited by W. T. Stead. In the years 1881-6 Home Rule was a burning question. The Spectator was against it, the Pall Mall for. Deborah was wholly against it, and also against some other opinions of the Pall Mall; but she valued all the more being able to see that side. "I was completely shut up for ten years," she said; "but after reading those two papers all the time, when I came out into the world again, and expected to feel myself out of everything, I found I knew what people were talking about!"
One other outlet she had at intervals, thanks to the Y.W.C.A., — a long drive to some centre for a gathering of the Association, an address to give, a hearty meeting, and a long drive back next morning, with heart and memory full of precious testimonies received as to what her books had done and been.
The letters following will show the variety she still enjoyed in thought.
To J. D.
May 20, 1884.
Oh, my dearest J., it’s a clear comfort I can write to you about what happens to be in my head, not what ought to be there, or what people ought to think is there! Two things are possessing me just now . . . one is that book about Mrs. Carlyle. If ever a book might be described in one expressive Yankee word as a "caution," that might! — a caution against want of reticence, want of loving-kindness, want of faith. The old French lady who said sadly, "Le Respect s’en va," would certainly, if she lived now, lament the extinction of another kind of respect — respect for the silences and sanctities of domestic life, and indeed of one’s own soul. No place is sacred now. Of old it was the Great who could not "weep behind a cloud." Now it shall be you and me, if our nearest and dearest happens to hurt our feelings . . . Nothing on the one hand too intimate and sacred, on the other, too trivial and unsavoury, to be dragged before the public. Not only "what you have spoken in the ear in closets," but what you ought never to have spoken, even to your own soul. Love seems not to have been lacking to that singular pair, and indeed it is this fact that makes "the pity of it," but loving-kindness was. Oh, how sad the wreck they made of life for the want of it!
It ought to speak in a voice of thunder to the many who seem to keep their love for their nearest and dearest until they need it no longer.
Do you remember Mrs. Charles’ poem, "How does Death speak of our Beloved"? But saddest of all, of course, the want of faith; that indeed lay at the root of all other wants in more ways than I can go into now. For I ought not to be writing about Mr. Carlyle, or indeed perhaps reading the book. I have all that horrid thing to write and copy now [The King’s Service]. "Didn’t ought to have" begun it. I’ve got my poor boy (August) killed, however, and his death cost me more tears than it is likely to cost any of my readers.
To the same.
You ask me about Professor Drummond’s remarkable book, which at long last I have read. I like it very much. His theory of Law seems to me to be a true one. I think I have held his main principle for a long time now. It seems to me to be a commentary on that text "He hath magnified Law and made it honourable." N.B. "the" is in italics and may be omitted. Most of the lines into which he draws out his leading thought seem to be good and true, though there are just a few subsidiary ones to which I object, as crossing other lines and thus showing both cannot be right. But these are only a question of details.
I have also read Maurice’s Life, since Christmas, and with great interest. Of his personal godliness there can be as little doubt as of that of his favourite apostle [Kingsley]; but he was a mystic, and I am no more in love with his "views" than I was before reading his life.
Drummond’s book is a good corrective, bringing out the great reality of the new birth and the new life by which we become, in a high and precious sense — certainly not true of all — children of God, and members of Christ. His (Maurice’s) view of the meaning of the word "eternal" seems to me just a valuable half of a truth. Certainly "eternal life" means not merely life that shall last for ever, but the holy, divine, spiritual life which Christ gives to all who receive Him; but does it not contain the farther thought that that life shall last for ever?
I had such a loving affectionate letter from dear Annie Plunkett [née Guinness], in answer to my few words of congratulation. (Footnote: On her husband’s becoming Archbishop of Dublin.) She does seem to remember the old times wonderfully. She speaks so nicely of Lord Plunkett "holding the hand of Jesus," and getting strength from Him for his work.
I must stop now, for the paper is being read, and it is scarcely civil (! ), to say the least of it, to go on writing, beside the danger of writing nonsense . . .
The last passage refers to Lord Plunkett’s appointment to the archbishopric of Dublin.
To J. D.
February, 1885. Dearest, my heart is full for you, and that poor lonely daughter. Oh, tell her to thank God he was taken first. She has got the pain, and he the joy and rest. Can she not be glad of that? It is what I desire for myself; yes, sad and terrible as it is, I had rather — far rather — be left alone in the world than that dear aged ones should be left to mourn the one that ought to mourn for them and close their eyes.
I write myself with a troubled heart. Dearest Mama is ill with bronchitis. I am pulled two ways at once, trying to be both with her and with my dear father, who is so dependent on us, and used to having either her or me always at his side.
To the same.
The Sunday class is all the regular work I dare undertake. "The Cross and the Crown" [a Huguenot story] has gone to the editor, and been by him graciously and even gratefully received. Although not definitely in love with any special hero, I have the profoundest feeling about the time, and the Persecution, which seems to me definitely the most dreadful to which any branch of the Church of Christ was ever exposed. That of Diocletian even is dwarfed beside it. And to think that these things were done and suffered only 200 years ago! Since the Czar, I have not written anything with such ease and such earnestness.
All goes with us as usual here, my dear father very frail. It is just with us now living from day to day, and trying to do each day’s and hour’s work as it comes. And somehow the days and hours go by, not all empty of joys and blessings.
The young people here show me much love, and often cheer me by their visits, as well as by their warm appreciation.
This story is now bound in one volume with "The King’s Service."
To Miss Kift.
Two of my dearest friends have left Waterford since I wrote to you last, and I have been a good deal troubled about it. Two young, bright girls named Cherry — Maude and Louie Cherry — regular Waterford people, who lived here all their lives, and their father and mother before them. They have almost decided on taking a house in Waterloo Road [Dublin]. I suppose they will be about settled when you return from the country, and I should be glad to think you would know them. I am sure you would like them, they are such nice bright, loving girls, full of heart. I used to talk with them almost as you and I and dear — used to talk in the old days. But is anything quite what it used to be then?
To J. D.
. . . My dear father will be eighty-one on the twenty-third of next month, and though he does not suffer much pain, indeed very little, thank God, there is constant weakness and weariness; and the patient sigh "I’m tired," or "Oh, rest — rest — rest!" hushes every prayer except "Thy will be done."
To the same.
After alluding to the work of Miss Ellice Hopkins and others — I rejoice in the effort, now being made, to set morality before party, and induce voters at the coming election to think of moral questions before political, and especially to choose candidates of pure life and high character.
To J. D.
On the death of a friend.
It is beautiful to see how often the Shepherd takes the timid ones in His arms and carries them across the river so that their feet are not even wet — nor, pillowed on His shoulder, do they so much as see the tide that rolls beneath. Oh, but I should like those I love to go thus, if it were His will . . . As to desire to go, I think God gives that as He wills; and it is often hindered not by the absence of heavenly, but by the presence of very strong earthly affections, which are precious gifts of His also. There are differences of temperament too; those whose vitality is naturally strong, cling instinctively to life, and I should think that in this case there was what one might call a many-tendrilled mind, which clasped itself round many sources of interest and pleasure, such as friends, music, art, poetry, etc.
To the same.
"That is a very touching story you tell of your patient "Coe." Surely you need not distress yourself because you could not say to him as much as another might have done. I feel just the same responsibility with regard to personal appeals, and I think that if I were to do violence to myself, and speak from a mere feeling that I ought to do so, no blessing would follow. I would be going where I was not sent. It is a special gift, and a gift that goes usually with certain organizations, perhaps not so well fitted for some other kinds of work.
To the same.
Don’t get the "abuses" on your brain, my friend — there is no use. "The world is out of joint," and we are not "born to set it right." [Alluding to her letter on Home Rule.] My letter to the Spectator has been republished in two local papers here, so there appears to be some danger of my getting "Home Rule" if not "abuses" on the brain. For any little thing I may have been enabled to do in this matter, I feel I have chiefly you to thank, as, by making me a reader of The Spectator, you gave me an interest and a training in public questions I would not otherwise have had, — the daily papers are so different, with their unscrupulous party exaggerations and mis-statements. I tremble to think of the fate of poor Protestants in Workhouses, Hospitals, Lunatic Asylums etc. [i.e. should Home Rule become the law]. Or, I would tremble, only that "He that is higher than the Highest regardeth, and there be higher than they." I do not think He will let England do this thing. But the articles in the Spectator make me feel how little the English know of the true facts of the case.
But what is Gladstone about? I cannot talk of him to anyone here, because prejudice is so strong that nothing but evil would be believed. The Spectator remarked some time ago, that a "Gordon mythos" was fast growing up amongst us. Certainly there is a "Gladstone mythos" full grown; and horns and hoofs, metaphorically speaking, play a large part therein. So it is idle to say you think a man wrong, to those who think him never by any chance anything else.
To the same.
Very many thanks for that most interesting account of your work in the Hospital. "Shop talk" is sometimes the very cream of conversation. Yet one longs for more intimate, personal details, — though your little word "so well" is more than most welcome, and worth a whole oration.
All is better with us also; my dear father as usual, mama escaping cold, and I am cold-free. But the weather is unusually severe, and we can’t get out even in the brougham. I have only been out twice during the past month, and with my cousin gone, no leave to resume teaching, and I fear no chance of it for some time, and very few friends able to come and see me, you may fancy I feel just a wee bit stranded and forlorn. The obvious course for me under the circumstances would be to go and write something; and tho’ I am seldom alone, I could really make the time, if only I had books and an inspiration!
Oh the difficulty about books, when I can no longer go about and seek for myself! The trouble is to find out what I really want. I believe I am "going in" for Pascal and the Port Royalists, in spite of a great difficulty I find in being fair to Roman Catholic saints; they generally have about them a most provoking want of common-sense, highly irritating to a practical Protestant mind! Besides they are not generally strictly truthful, because it is the fatal tendency of their creed to rob them of that precious "power of seeing and repeating truly," which George Eliot says is so easily lost. Nevertheless the Port Royalists were truly of the excellent of the earth and Pascal a grand, noble solitary figure, whom to welcome assuredly: —
The heritors of unfulfilled renown
Rose from their thrones, built beyond mortal thought,
Far in the unapparent.
To Pascal, at least, truth was the breath of life.
Well, I have these to think about — the contemporary Huguenots also; and last, but not least, the state of France at the time, from Doctors down to Smugglers of Salt. Here’s a pretty "kettle of fish" for you!
If you meet anything in any of your wanderings on any of these subjects "pity the sorrows" of a solitary author who is trying hard to make bricks without straw, and in much danger of being obliged, according to a well-known precedent, to draw on her imagination for her facts.
How small this will all look to you in the midst of suffering humanity.
To the same.
I don’t know in the least if what I have been doing will come to anything. Every morning from about 6:15 to 8:15 I am so engrossed in it that the hours fly, like so many minutes; but I hardly think of it during the rest of the day, and can’t get the books I want.
Should you, while in London, happen on anything about the History of France 1650-70, specially about dress, manners or customs, or about Pascal — pray remember the poor! Mademoiselle de Roanniez, whom it is more than suggested Pascal loved and was beloved by, is one of my characters, but I think I do know all there is to know on that subject. It’s a very pathetic little story, and I don’t feel equal to doing justice to it. Shall I give it up? Did you ever feel as if it would be a relief to your mind to draw lots, or to toss up half-a-crown? Old, time-honoured devices for evading what we cannot evade, the responsibility of making a choice.
To the same.
. . . Kingsley’s Two Years Ago is not without the charm all his writings have for me, but perhaps I like it among the least of them. Hypatia and Westward Ho! are my favourites, the former for genius, the latter for nobleness and healthiness of tone.
. . . If you get hold of In the Golden Days, do read it. As a general thing I eschew historical fiction, being "the sort of sugar-plum I make myself," but this is an exception. It is by the author of Donovan.
. . . About the nurse, I am sorry to say she has had to leave. However, I cannot regret her coming, even for a few weeks, as she has taught me many things I did not know before, and made many suggestions which I feel to be very valuable . . .
My unfortunate story got four chapters copied, but when another line is to be done I don’t know. I can hardly get a minute now, even to write a letter. I did care for it, more really and intensely than for anything since the dear Czar; — that was because Pascal was in it. My dear, I could have loved that man, if I had been Charlotte Gouffier de Roanniez! And I am persuaded she did love him too, — and that the happiness of both was sacrificed either to worldly prejudices, or to their distorted religious ideas. They thought the natural affections sinful (as belonging to the "old man") and Pascal — the great, good, wise Pascal, calls marriage "a homicide and almost a deicide"!
Is not this a survival from the old Stoic philosophy, despising all human affections save friendship?
Through this year, although the same sad watch continues and every fluctuation is recorded, it is evident that habit had done something to lessen the sharpness of anxiety. The story of GéneviPve was finished, and came out afterwards in The Sunday at Home.
No marked change took place in the patient’s condition, but slowly the precious life was wearing out. Miss Alcock writes —
The end came, as it so often does, just when it was least expected. On Sunday, September 5, 1886, he seemed better than usual, and talked a good deal, speaking with thankfulness, as he very often did, of his long ministry: "I preached the Gospel for over fifty years. I had fruit."
At three o’clock on the morning after he seemed to lose consciousness, and it was found that one side was partially paralysed. From that time to the end he never unclosed his eyes, and never showed any sign of distress or suffering. Sometimes, at the sound of a well-loved voice, he would press the hand of the speaker. That was all. It was as if his loving Lord had put him to sleep, and was carrying him thus in His arms over the dark river, to awaken first in the light and joy of His Presence. About three o’clock p.m., on Tuesday September 14, he gently passed away to the rest he longed for.
"Thou hast dealt well with Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word."
With every token of love and reverence, all that was mortal was laid to rest in the cemetery at Waterford — "Until the day break, and the shadows flee away."
XIV. THE SHADOW AND THE EVENING STAR
Special Package Sets at 15-20% discount
Send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments about this web site.
Last modified: June 27, 2016