THE AUTHOR OF THE SPANISH BROTHERS
ARCHDEACON GORE came from Bowden, Manchester, to his sister’s funeral, and Deborah gratefully remembered the special consideration he showed her, as though he realized that, though less than a sister in blood to Mary, she had given her, through life, an only sister’s love.
As soon as might be, I went to Deborah. I was then sharing the watch over my mother’s sister, eighty-two years old, and laid on her bed by a stroke of paralysis. She and Miss Alcock had met at our house, and found affinities. "I was tired out when I first saw her," Deborah said to me, "and very down, and frightened of a stranger; and you were not there. But such is your Aunt Ellen’s vitality, before we had been talking a quarter of an hour, my fatigue was gone, and I was all alive." Which showed her vitality. I asked this dear aunt, "Have you any message to send to Deborah?"
She lay silent, thinking. At last she said, "Miss Alcock has done a great deal against sacerdotalism. That has been the message of her books. She has made a great impression." And again, "Tell her I can think what it is to miss someone from the home." Still she seemed to be feeling after words that would not come. Another silence — then, with a sudden flash in her eyes, she said with all her energy —
"Charge, Chester, charge — on, Stanley, on,
Were the last words of . . ."
She stopped short before "Marmion" and said, "That’s my message to Miss Alcock."
I found the stricken ones sad, but self-controlled, Mrs. Ashe was with Deborah, and the sisters close by.
Deborah was coughing much, and looked very ill. Next day she developed one of her sharp turns of bronchitis. The weather was very fine, and so warm that as soon as the worst was over, the doctor ordered her to dress and sit in the garden. She and I were left there together. Deborah was very feeble still, but she spoke of her work and her desire not to waste what might remain to her of life. I repeated the message, "Charge, Chester, charge, On, Stanley, on" — and we set to work to think of a title for her story. After nearly two hours it was named Done and Dared in Old France.
As soon as able, she went back to Ireland with Mrs. Ashe, and spent the winter there with Miss Kift, surprised to find how pleasant life could still be. Like her stepmother, she was feeling the amazing peace of having nothing more to fear. By the very anxiety and dread for Mary, God had "persuaded her to give her up." And she exemplified the saying that "Very unselfish people can’t have an incurable sorrow." She was in the midst of friends who were overjoyed to have her, and felt the sweetness of living in their dear lives once more.
I had said to her at Parkstone, when she spoke of the blank future, "If I were free, I would come to you." In November, my dear aunt died. I was free, and Deborah claimed the promise. Then came the grave question — ought not she, in her weakness, to have someone younger, stronger, much better able to help her, and less likely to cause her anxiety than I? But the reasons on the other side carried the day, and we made our paction, in faith that good and faithful servants would be sent us to make up for any want of strength.
No change could be made until the spring. The winter was very mild, and Deborah passed through it unusually well.
She could not go back to Bournemouth without Mary, and she was drawn to St. Leonards by the climate, which she knew suited her, and still more by the dear Mortimers. I also had attractions there. In March she came over to stay with them. Only two sisters now remained: one, long an invalid, had lately passed away. How these dear friends welcomed her, and how the stronger sister took her about house-hunting, taking the lion’s share of fatigue upon herself, would take too long to tell. Finally Miss Alcock fixed on a detached house at the junction of the London and Bohemia Roads, with sunny front rooms, parlour and study — bedrooms over them, and three large rooms, one over the other, at the back, besides the attics. As in so many houses in that hilly place, the parlour floor was level with the ground in front, and sixteen steps above it at the back. The great attraction was that, in winter, we could both live entirely on the sunny side of the house. This was enough to compensate for the noise of the trams, which probably accounted for the very moderate rent asked. And we had good reason to thank our heavenly Father for having led us there.
The house was taken, and while the workmen were in it, I joined Miss Alcock at Worthing, and we plunged into the MS. of Done and Dared in Old France. Alas, it bore traces of the divided mind with which part of it had been copied. Patiently the writer set herself to amend them: they were only surface blemishes; but she had such a first-rate, odious, thorough-paced villain in it, I ventured to suggest that the last parts of all might be wrought up to a splendid climax of adventure, if she put him on his mettle. But she could not: to her, the story was too deep inwrought with marks of sorrow. Besides, after the martyrdom of Brousson, she wished to leave off on that keynote — not to strike another.
She was then close upon seventy-two and completely broken in health; but she has never written anything quite so light in touch as that story, or allowed as much play to her genuine wit and humour as in the scenes between Philippe, the villain, and Tardif the robber, who is not a villain at all. I sent this book to a mother of four great boys, and received her glowing thanks: "The boys are getting very critical of books for reading aloud on Sunday afternoon, but they all declare this is ‘a ripping book.’ "
Miss Mortimer gave it to a mother whose daughter said the same.
Mr. Ashe wrote from India —
I have just finished Done and Dared, which I’ve been reading in the intervals of packing. I began as a critic, and read on for interest. I certainly see no signs of failing power or weakening memory; as to the story I think you get into your stride admirably soon and keep it up well till Claude Brousson passes out of it; but I rather think your heart goes with him. I would have liked a little more episode about Gaspard’s escape — treachery on Philippe’s part, discovered by Babette who, after a fine struggle between jealousy and love, reveals the plot (to ElPne for choice); said plot summarily dealt with by Tardif to considerable detriment of P.’s body, and benefit of his soul, etc. I am inclined to think this happened, though I admit your Philippe and Babette are really more convincing and natural.
Miss Alcock wrote in reply that it was a pity not to have made more use of "so much good villainy."
The book did not come out until the proper season for 1908, but I give these opinions here before dismissing it.
Early in June Miss Alcock and Mrs. Ashe, who had been staying in lodgings hard by, entered the new house, "Frankfield"; and just within the hall-door was hung the motto:
Enter, dear Lord, mine house with me,
Until I enter Thine with Thee.
I arrived a day or two later. The house was Miss Alcock’s; in the eye of the law I was only a "paying guest," but she always called it "ours," and wished it to be so. And so it was, in a sense; but we all felt that she must learn that she was the mistress, and the household hers to command; and she did, but it took time. She had been under tutelage almost the whole of her life, and it was most difficult for her to find her level anywhere else. She made valiant resolutions to undertake the housekeeping, though she had never kept house in her life: Mrs. Alcock held the ropes to the last, with Miss Grayden for aide-de-camp; and Mary was housekeeper when the cousins were together. But after a few days of only watching Mrs. Ashe do it, her courage failed her entirely, and I agreed to take the active part, if she would keep the accounts. Figures, I knew, were a recreation to her; she enjoyed the sense of certainty that belongs to calculations — when you get them right. But though the petty details she did not understand distracted her, let any real difficulty arise in judgment or duty — in a flash she saw it all, and cut through to the heart of it. Just as in Waterford she was always consulted, so in the second Frankfield she ruled, not only because it was her house, but because she knew best. Even in minor things, when it was worth while for her to attend to them — given the necessary information, her judgment was excellent. One of her friends said truly, "Her generosity was princely," but she kept the sense of proportion — unless, indeed, she went out of all bounds to show her love in time of any trouble. Her formula, if she suggested any exceptional indulgence, was to ask "whether we might run to such excess of riot" as to do so-and-so — generally something very delightful in the way of hospitality or gifts.
We began with a trial of faith: after all our petitions, we had only a stopgap cook, and the other maid had to be sent away in disgrace. This just kept the place open till we learned that Martha Orchard was seeking another situation. She came, and a sister with her; and then Miss Alcock felt at home indeed. All the burden of the house seemed to pass from her, and she was free to enjoy to the full the liberty and space and power that an own house gives.
And we both had our own things about us. I brought most of the ornamental — she had the fine old rosewood furniture of her childhood, beautifully polished, just suiting the large drawing-room. Her father’s likeness hung over the mantelpiece — beneath it a beautiful Indian model which "Dan" had brought home. On the wall opposite was a large engraving from a picture of Huss before the Council of Constance; on the side wall, another Protestant engraving, about the same size, which was mine — the Presentation of the Protest at the Diet of Spires — as if the two had been made to match on purpose.
St. Matthew’s Church was only seven minutes’ walk from the house, and from the first Miss Alcock loved the service there, and greatly valued the preaching and friendship of the Rector — Mr. Foster Pegg. Miss Mortimer’s circle of friends, and others too, all called to welcome her: the only trouble was that her strength gave out, and the winter captivity came upon us both, before all the calls were returned.
Among the visitors came Miss Payne, Secretary of the National Church League, who asked Miss Alcock to give a course of six lectures for the League that winter. She consented, and chose for her subject "The Romance of Protestantism." But then came the doctor, and forbade her making any engagements outside the house in winter.
"Then we must fit up the room below for meetings," said Miss Alcock. By putting forms along the walls, and chairs as close as possible, it would just hold seventy; and it was more than full when the first lecture was given. The room opened by a French window on the little flat from which the garden went down steeply. There were steps down to it from the front garden, so that the audience could enter by the window without going through the house at all.
Mrs. Synge was then staying at St. Leonards. We had had the pleasure of a long visit from her daughter Frances in the summer, but she was now away on a sea voyage. Mrs. Synge suggested that there should be a shorthand writer to take down the lectures, unknown to Miss Alcock. Two came, and did their work well.
Miss Alcock was extremely nervous beforehand. She was out of practice in speaking, and had never had anything so ceremonious before — with a printed programme and a series of influential men to take the chair. Also, this subject had possessed her intensely. I had heard her lecture at Streatham, and those meetings were keenly enjoyed and long remembered; but I doubt if they quite reached the level of those on "The Romance of Protestantism."
"What is Romance?" she asked, and showed how Romance is distinguished from mere sensation by the moral qualities engaged.
All high deeds that make the heart to quiver,
Courage, high endurance, generous deed.
And one thing more — love. Not only that one form of human love that is accounted supreme, but all true and deep affection. Then came instances — told, as Mrs. Hare so graphically describes, with all the fervour of her nature thrilling in her deep, rich voice; and with — I can use no other word — the majesty of her bearing as she stood there, herself no longer: she stood as representing all the heroism of those who suffered, and the greatness of their cause. And then — the intense stillness of the listening!
It was over. She went out by the room door into the house. The audience left by the window and stood in groups, outside or in, letting out the pent-up feeling of the hour. The Rector stood on the gravel, wrought up to enthusiasm. "It is what I have been praying for," he said, "someone to put Protestant truth in a way that will attract and not repel . . ." as, unhappily, some people’s advocacy does. I may give one story told that day.
For an example of high endurance I will not ask you to look at the rack or the stake — only at a quiet room where a pale woman sits sewing. I do not think she is weeping: I think her tears will come later.
What is she sewing? Only a shirt —
Seam and gusset and band, band and gusset and seam.
Ah! but this shirt she is making is for a singular purpose. She makes it by her husband’s request. He lies in prison, awaiting death for Christ’s sake; and now the sentence has come and the day is named. In the terrible days of the Marian persecution, there came into use what has been called "The uniform of the martyrs" — the long white shirt down to the feet which many of them wore at the stake; and Lawrence Saunders had written to his true wife — "My wife, I would that thou wouldest send me that shirt whereof thou knowest the destination." And she did it!
That was high endurance indeed. Think with what feelings she worked at her task, knowing — knowing all the time, "its destination," yet "content" like the wife of another martyr, John Frith, to whom Tyndale wrote: "Your wife is quite content with the will of God." I think the endurance of these women was even greater than that of the men who faced the fire.
The original programme was for six lectures, but was extended to eight, to complete the subject.
The audience kept up well. Miss Alcock soon discovered the reporters, but having got over the first effort of beginning, she was less nervous, and did not mind them. To their presence we owe the lifelike, speaking power of the reproduction of those lectures under the same name, The Romance of Protestantism. The book can now be had for 1s. net, 1s. 3d. post free, from Sydney Kiek, 17, Paternoster Row.
To return to the private life. In the autumn of 1907 Mr. Robert Ashe came over from Ireland to see Miss Alcock — a great joy for her They sat in the study and talked and talked for hours. He was going back to India, and both felt it might be their last meeting, but we did not think that he would be the first to go up higher.
There are no other events to chronicle. Many visitors came to tea, and some for days, or nights, or weeks. Almost all the Irish friends came over at different times, and some came every year. In 1908, for the only time, Deborah carried out her plan of spending the summer in Ireland, and much enjoyed her visits, but the effort was too great. She came back so tired — evidently so ill, though the malady was not acute, that the doctor was sent for, and pronounced that henceforth "It must never be said that anything must be done": the question must be, "Can it?"
We settled down on reduced lines. When once the limits were accepted, much peace and relief came with them; efforts which had cost her dear ceased to be a duty. I am reminded of one call we had paid on the side of a hill — not far down, and we went to the top of the road by tram. The lady visited was by no means a good Protestant, and, not fully knowing Miss Alcock’s views, expressed her own strongly. Deborah would not get into an argument on first acquaintance, and steered away from the subject. When we came out, I was surprised to see at how good a pace she went up the ascent, but of course kept silence, not to tempt her to speak. At the top she turned to me and said: "Indignation carried me up the hill splendidly." That was the explanation! Her bottled-up wrath, like steam, propelled her. But there were to be no more such exploits: she must drive, not walk, except on a level. It was very pleasant that she was able to have anything really needful, though, with her great love of giving, she grudged the shillings for herself. When it was a clear duty to spend them, she was content, and very much enjoyed the rest.
In October, The Romance of Protestantism came out, and had some excellent reviews. One said that it "bore the mark of the trained historian." Deborah said slowly: "Seeing I have been at these things from me cradle, I won’t say that may not be true."
About this time she wrote down "Seven Precepts for Seventy Years."
1. Watch your habits.
2. Never lose "the Divine Art of Learning."
3. Use your memory, but do not trust it.
4. Keep up your interests, but abate your claims, including your claims upon yourself.
5. Never hurry, and never work against time.
6. Talk little of yourself.
7. Always remember that "The best is yet to be," and that, however old you may be, you are still God’s Child.
Good rules: but it would have been a terrible loss to me if she had kept No. 6, when we were alone together. She thought aloud then, living again through the phases of her life — especially on wet Sundays. We read the Psalms and Lessons together morning and evening, and then talked. I often wrote down what I could remember. Once, when the First Lesson was Ecclesiastes xii., my notes say —
Speaking of the words, "The years draw nigh when man shall say, I have no pleasure in them —" I said how different it was for us, for Christians; and D. said, "My days have more pleasure in them than they have had in many parts of my life — certainly more than in my youth. And so much more than I expected! I always looked forward to failures and disappointments. I always feared life!"
She spoke of the real want it was to her work as a writer that she should not only have never experienced the woman’s normal life, but all sense of it was left out of her. That might have spared her much pain, but it left her ignorant "of a great, huge piece of life." I said it was pretty well made up by her numerous passions for her heroes.
"But there was one thing I never got from them," she said. "That was, return."
I said that came from her scholars, when she began to teach, "Yes, what that was to me!" she said — "beginning in Dublin, but far more in Waterford."
"That was the blossom season of your life."
"Oh, yes. In every way Waterford was a time of happiness. For the first few years there, my father was so well, and enjoying his work. We were friends and companions as never before."
Her words recall a letter from one of those much-loved girls.
I am glad you think anything I told you of our dear Miss Alcock was a help. I felt how hard it was to put into words the way she laid hold of a lonely child’s heart, and changed all life for her, making her Master so real that it was impossible to do anything but follow Him. I wish anyone could give you an idea of what those years in Waterford were, and how she loved us into the Kingdom, and yet never sought to draw us to herself, only to Christ."
Miss Alcock’s life could never have been complete without some young life in it. Even this was given her, and through the Protestant lectures. A young girl, just beginning to use her pen for the press, came to hear, and was so thrilled, Miss Mortimer, who knew her mother, gave them an introduction to Miss Alcock, with the result that another friendship, highly valued, was formed with the mother, and in the daughter Deborah found the "child of her old age." In the autumn of 1908 came another link with the young. One of our young neighbours asked Miss Alcock to lead a Reading Circle she wished to start among her friends. Miss Alcock not only consented, but offered her house for a meeting-place, and of course gave them all tea after the Circle. The young secretary brought specimens of the Home Reading Union’s magazines, but their programme was more than we could manage. Most of those likely to be members were anything but unoccupied girls, being busy with work in home and parish. One book a month was all we could attempt, and quite as much as we could profitably discuss in a single hour. We got valuable hints from the Home Reading Union, but had to be a law unto ourselves. The secretary describes the result: —
"The Frankfield Reading Circle" was started, with Miss Alcock as leader and Miss Boyd Bayly as her aide-de-camp.
It was indeed a privilege and delight to attend these Readings.
We began with six or seven members, but the number soon doubled. Once a month we met at Miss Alcock’s house to discuss the book we had read. At our first meeting, when our plans were arranged, a number of books were suggested; a list of suitable ones was made, and we chose the Life of Kingsley for the next time. Our Readings always opened with one of Miss Alcock’s "talks" on the book chosen for discussion — so full of information, illustrated by anecdote, and always flavoured with her delicious Irish humour. She had a keen sense of the ludicrous, and just loved a bit of fun. I remember when asked to name her favourite character in the Odyssey, she replied with her dear, merry twinkle, "The dog!"
All the Readings were delightful. It is difficult to specialize, but I know the Browning ones were very much enjoyed — Christmas Eve and Easter Day, and Mrs. Browning’s Drama of Exile. I am sure none of us will forget hearing Miss Alcock read some of the finest passages, and her helpful teaching on them. Christmas Eve was her favourite of all poems. She gave us "Christ to save" as the keynote for "Christmas Eve"; and for "Easter Day," "Christ the only One who satisfies."
Then, how beautifully she spoke on "Clothes" in Sartor Resartus:
Clothes: — They reveal and conceal.
Words are the clothing of thoughts.
The body is the clothing of the spirit.
The Universe is the clothing of God.
Creeds are the clothing of religion.
Manners are the clothing of morals.
Reticence is the garment of purity.
One of the members of the Reading Circle writes to the Secretary: "The last Circle but one stands out specially in my memory. It was on Lockhart’s Life of Scott. She always loved to dwell on anything which had to do with her own beloved art; and, speaking of fiction generally, she told us that it was never complete without ‘A window opening on the Infinite.’ Jane Austen had no such window. Maria Edgeworth kept it studiously bolted and barred. Scott had it. He did not use it very much, but it was always there.
"Certainly that was what she gave our Reading Circles — ‘a window opening on the Infinite.’ Was there one in which some word did not show her intense personal devotion to Christ? I don’t think so. Not that she was ever preachy, ever missed any scrap of fun; and I think — don’t you? — she liked a little bit of wicked fun (innocently wicked, of course!) as well as any girl among us. But always, somehow, she would bring Him in. She dwelt so beautifully and characteristically on Scott’s relation to our Lord — not the relation of a child to his father so much as of a clansman to his chief — not very intimate or familiar, but reverent, staunch, and loyal to the death. But in all the readings her wide charity came out, as well as her wise, illuminating judgment.
"How perfect she was in her relations to each one of us, never leaving one out, listening respectfully (yes, I must use that word, incongruous as it sounds!) to every remark and opinion, catching at one’s meaning, however badly expressed — bringing out the best in each one."
Another Reading which was especially interesting was on the Life of Charles Kingsley. . . One felt how true and whole-hearted she was. We do miss her, but her influence and teaching can never be taken from us. "She being dead, yet speaketh."
Among our first books was the Life of Kingsley, which took us two months, and then was not half discussed. In those early days it was not easy to get the girls themselves to talk. We agreed that every member should be asked to name the character she most liked in a story, the one most disliked, and her favourite passage; also, in some of the books, the passage she most disliked or objected to. These definite lines laid down obliged every member to contribute to the discussion in turn; but in choosing favourite people we had to rule out the central figure, if a strong one — whether hero or heroine — lest every one should choose the same.
In choosing books, we named several, the members suggesting them — picked out a few, and then voted aye or nay for one at a time.
The following additional notes of the talk on Sir Walter Scott may give an idea of Miss Alcock’s method: —
She began by saying, "What is fiction?" Literally the word means "Something made up." You may talk of making poetry or of making a pudding: either is fiction in the derivative sense of the word.
Its office is to reflect life, that we may see a bit of it framed, as it were, in a mirror.
First, the writer must choose the right bit to frame. Artists know that only about one-sixth or one-eighth of the circle of the horizon can be seen at once by the human eye. In photography, in painting, the first point is to choose aright. Authors’ text should be, "Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are pure," etc.
But the choice must include evil too, or it will not be true to life.
In every story there should be an outlook on the Infinite. This Sir Walter had, unlike Miss Edgeworth. She shut the window. He kept it open, but did not greatly use it. Still, you feel the Infinite behind his words. "That was my father’s testimony of him," she said. Someone mentioned loyalty among the noble qualities that he brought out — loyalty to a chieftain (Fergus MacIvor’s clansmen offering to die in his stead).
The fiction of the time was horribly low. He raised it immensely. High topics were chosen. Then she mentioned his own qualities which shone out in his writings. Justice — she noted how, though a Cavalier, he went out of his way to do justice to Cromwell, to show up his good qualities, and put him in a good light. Then, his entire purity and refinement, and his chivalry. Talking of loyalty, she said, "He appreciated loyalty more than he did liberty; he was a born Cavalier."
Reverting to what Fiction is: — We have seen that it is making. It is something more, it is creating. We talk of making Poetry.
God Himself is the true Poet,
And the Real is His song.
A little child making up a story creates, and as a child imitates the craft of his father, so does a man his Father when he makes a story.
The letter that follows, on a totally different subject, was found among Miss Alcock’s papers, on loose sheets of paper, with no inscription, nothing to indicate to whom it was addressed. Apparently she had set down her thoughts as they came (it was very roughly written) before writing carefully a letter which had evidently cost her much thought. It holds the germ of her argument in The Silence and the Word, and so confirms what our young "Readers" have said of her love for Christ. It seems fittingly to close this chapter.
March 14, 1909.
. . . For me life only deepens the conviction that all hope (for the great world as well as for ourselves as individuals) centres "on the Man Christ," or as I should say, on the God-man Christ. He is the keynote of the Universe, the one thing that makes it comprehensible and makes it GOOD.
I don’t know in what book I got the sentence, "So and so was one of those who have never got to the edge of the world and looked over it." But I know you and I are not "So and so," and that we have looked over the edge of the world. And what a mighty, terrible, incomprehensible, unfathomable mystery! Well might Pascal say (and very little he knew about it, too), "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me." Well, it seems reason, and thought, and science, and all the rest of it are disposed nowadays to concede that there was — or is — a First Cause for it all, which we may call "God" if we please. But how am I the better for that? There is He, in the heart of the Great Mystery, the Unknown — perhaps also the Unknowable. And here am I — alone, a morsel, a speck, in perhaps one of the least of innumerable worlds. Still, I AM; I think, I feel, I love, I suffer, I long, I am capable of knowing Him. I want to know Him. Especially I want to know if He cares about me, loves me, will take care of and perfect this being of mine, so manifestly capable of much, and promising much, which it has no chance of fulfilling here and now. That awful chasm between Him and me — how bridge it over? silence — how break it?
There comes in the Christ, the Bridge over the chasm — the WORD of God that has broken the silence for evermore.
A great mystery. But are we not encompassed with mystery? How I move my hand to write this letter is a mystery. Everything, great and small, is rooted in mystery.
What ought we to do with a mystery when we meet it? Ask how shall we explain it? No; ask what does it explain to us. It seems to me that this is the way Science always proceeds, and by means of which she makes discoveries, and makes progress. No one tries to explain the law of Gravitation. We accept it, and find that it explains to us the facts of the world around us.
So with the Fact of Christ. It — He, I should say — is indeed "a mystery of mysteries"; and yet —
I say that Christ accepted solves for thee
All mysteries in the earth and out of it.
. . . This Christ who links us with the otherwise Unknown God, proves His mission to Humanity by answering all the claims Humanity makes upon Him. This has been proved over and over again through the ages — is proved every day in the life history of thousands upon thousands. One really can’t give instances — one would never stop.
XX. SAYINGS AND LETTERS
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