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AN AFTERNOON IN ST. ALBAN'S PARISH
THE present writer's "private views," of course, are not of the
slightest public importance, save as they may affect his character as a faithful
reporter. For that reason only, I may mention that I have no sympathy with
"Ritualism," beyond an occasional liking for its pictorial effects and
beautiful music, just as one likes to go now and then to the opera. At the same
time, it is impossible to withhold respect from men of a palpably "aeesthetic"
turn of mind, who, for religious reasons, plant themselves in a district in
which every sense, artistic, moral, and physical, is constantly shocked, and
live in it day and night, earnestly labouring, to the best of their belief and
ability, for its amelioration. I had heard that the Anglican priests of St.
Alban's, Holborn, were such men, and that the district was one in which even a
mosque might have been welcomed as an ethical agency; and, being of a truantly
inquisitive disposition, fond of ascertaining at first-hand the various manners
of various men, I took the liberty of applying to Mr. Mackonochie for facilities
to inspect his parish, and they were granted with obliging promptness, although
I had plainly [-357-] written myself down a non-ritualist.
I shall try to make my report as purely narrative as possible - of what I saw
and heard, nothing extenuating, and setting down naught in malice.
On my way to the Clergy House (a gabled, somewhat convent-like building of red-streaked yellow brick, with an iron-gated porch, adjoining the "house of prayer," which Mr. Hubbard has erected on the site of a "den of thieves," the once notorious Gray's Inn "Kitchen "), in order to call upon the clerical coadjutor to whose guidance I had been consigned, the first objects that attracted my attention, as I drew near the end of Brooke Street, were placards pasted high up on the walls within eyeshot of the Clergy House, defiantly announcing the "Triumphant Election of a Protestant Churchwarden." Whilst I was looking up at these a begrimed little cockney Irishman fastened himself upon me as a cicerone, with a confidently alternative inquiry of, "Is it the chur-ruch, sir, or the Clargy House that ye're wanthin' ?" At the gate of the Clergy House another smutty small boy, in a trochaic pair of trousers, and a shirt with hiatus valde deflendi, sprang sideways at the bell-pull, like a trout leaping at a fly, and rang a lusty peal. The black-coated servitor who answered it, apparently under the impression that I was a recent convert come for the first time to con-[-358-]fession, speedily ushered me up a stone staircase to a study on the second floor. A whimsical recollection of Giant Pope's Cave in "Pilgrim s Progress" occurred to me as I went in, but what I saw was not an "old man, crazy and stiff in his joints, grinning and biting his nails," but a tall, active, earnest, and intelligent-looking young "Father Clement," holding out his hand with a smile of courteous welcome. "Father Clement" was clad in a silk cassock, a cloth cape something like a horse-soldier's (I am not up in the nomenclature of ecclesiastical dress), and a vandyked cloth cap, that suggested a just-budding mitre. There was medieval furniture in the book-lined room, candlesticks of ecclesiastical type, a picture of the Holy Family, another of the Virgin, an image of the robin, with its sacredly-stained breast, and such-like; but the mildly-thoughtful bust of the Bishop of London, loyally placed in a post of honour, looked with pensive forbearance on it all; and I soon found that my animated interlocutor was no mere dreamy or dilettante admirer of an ecclesiastical past galvanised into spasmodic seeming vitality in the present, but firmly convinced that his form of Christianity was the only one that could get a real practical grip on living men. and women,-especially on the degraded ones swarming around the Clergy House. The basis of Ritualism, he said, was a belief that all human flesh was lovable and [-359-] venerable, because Christ had worn the human form, and, therefore, the most depraved ought to be looked on, and looked, after, as saintly brethren in obstructed embryo. Confession, this politely, but unflinchingly, outspeaking young priest did not apologize for, but championed as the only means by which a spiritual director could give individual guidance to his people: "mere preaching was like talking to a flock of sheep." A dread of confession was felt at first, but those who once resorted to it soon thought it an inestimable privilege. Just before the Easter and Whitsuntide communions, it was as much as four priests, sitting all day long at the Clergy House, could do to get through the confessions. This struck me as very startling, and I was still more astonished to hear of the class of people who resorted to the confessional; as I had fancied that Ritualism, like forced peas or pineapples, was a dainty in which only the wealthy indulged. The poorest parishioners of St. Alban's, it seems, contribute the largest quota to the number of its local communicants; and Ritualistic "missions" have been highly successful amongst soldiers, colliers, and, of all people in the world, jockeys!
My "Father Clement," unlike Miss Grace Kennedy's, had a considerable sense of humour. He described with great gusto the response which his appeal to the "unrespectable classes" evoked, when he addressed them as being him-[-360-]self quite unrespectable, a "sad scamp," who, in. ratepayers' estimation, had "lost his character ever so long ago"- finishing off with "birds of a feather," &c. He seemed to find more amusement than annoyance in the efforts made by the emissaries of what he called "the Protestant party" to thwart the tenants of the Clergy House in their parochial labours, flocking after them in their visitations to uproot the just-sown wicked tares, openly calling them "Jesuits," and placarding the parish with posters, from whose small type stood out in bloated capitals-
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Another device of these zealous Reformers was the
distribution of cards, like concert tickets, bearing the inscription "ST.
ALBAN'S, HOLBORN.-Admit the bearer to see the Winking Virgin and the Bleeding
Saint. The Virgin will commence to wink at five o'clock. The Saint will begin to
bleed at half-past." Several of these tickets were presented at the church-
door by expectant sight-seers. "Father Clement," as a High Churchman,
was, of course, [-361-] shocked by the profanity of
this satire: but I fancied I saw a twinkle in his eye as he recited its coarse
jocosity. Altogether he was so different from the prim, pompous being a
"High Church parson" is often supposed to be, that I could not help
remarking to him how widely he differed from the popular notion. "Oh, yes,
I know," he said, with a laugh. "They fancy that we have faces always
as long as that!" (putting his hands about a yard apart). I was no more of
a Ritualist at the end, than I had been at the beginning, of our interview; but
I had certainly got a new idea of a Ritualistic clergyman. Instead of a
dogmatist, as stiff as starch, - a somewhat spooney spectre, "walking ever
with reverted eyes," fixed on its beloved Middle Ages,- I had found a
genial quick-witted man, of nineteenth century flesh and blood, able to laugh
with all his lungs, and, whilst fixedly (however funnily) of opinion that his
own theological system is by far the best adapted to the wants of the Present,
willing (at any rate, in word) to make wide allowances for diversity of views, -
even to bid God-speed to the worthy city missionary who dogs him on his rounds,
under the conscientious conviction that he must be somewhere visibly branded
with the mark of the Beast. When Charles Lamb was told that if he really knew
certain people he was abusing, he would not speak so harshly of them, he [-362-]
naively retorted that he didn't want to know them, because then he
"couldn't ha-ha-hate 'em." If High Churchmen and Low Churchmen
foregathered with one another a little more, there might perhaps be a good deal
less mutual rancour.
To give me an idea of the dwellings and characters of the poorer parishioners of St. .Alban's, the priest I speak of kindly offered to take me with him on his rounds, on any afternoon I liked to choose - making his visits, of course, on the occasion, chiefly friendly instead of spiritual. Four priests and one deacon reside in the St. Alban's Clergy House; the clerical staff being completed by a sixth clergyman, who is there less frequently. The parish is divided into districts, visited by benevolent ladies from the West-end, who make out lists of the cases most urgently calling for clerical care, relieve the poor themselves, and furnish them with tickets entitling them to receive wine, brandy, beef-tea, arrow-root, &c., at the Clergy House. Every evening, at six o'clock, from thirty to forty applicants are thus relieved.
St. Alban's - reputed, by those most likely to speak well of it, in proof of the success of their labours, to be one of the most immoral parishes in London - is an irregularly oblong block, cut out of the overgrown St. Andrew's, Holborn. According to the map, it is rather [-363-] less than a quarter-of-a-mile long, where longest, and about two hundred yards wide, where widest. Within these narrow limits some seven or eight thousand people are huddled together. The parish is bounded on the south by Holborn, and the passer along that broad thoroughfare by daylight may see, at the mouths of the courts which give on it, lurking specimens of the boy and hobbledehoy thieves who burrow in the parish's inner warren of lanes and courts-dirty, heavy, hang-dog visaged young fellows, with a glance half furtive, half ferocious-most unlike Mr. Dickens' astute "Artful Dodger," or lively "Charley Bates." Liquorpond Street, with its lofty breweries, sacks dangling from cranes-like a bobbing Titian's baits for whales - warm gushes of steam, saccharine scent of grains, block of drays, and huge glossy drayhorses, is the northern boundary of the parish. The lower part of Gray's Inn Lane bounds it on the west: a quaint thoroughfare, with the high, dingy old Inn of Court on one side,- its sombre gateway, its wired and rusty-barred windows, and its fantastically-holed, sun-blistered shutters, all bedimmed with smoke, furred with dust, and splashed with mud; and, on the other side, old weather-board houses, with projecting stories supported on the shoulders of grotesquely-grinning wooden figures; cavernous furniture-shops, choked with damp or [-364-] dusty second-hand office tables, music-stools, and marble-topped wash-hand-stands; old book shops, with mildewed classics and law books, and fly-spitten prints of forgotten celebrities; and "miscellaneous dealers," where you can get change for Irish or Scotch bank-notes, and buy a china vase, a picture, amber through age or varnish, a yellow roll of songs once famous at Vauxhall, a guitar whose strings have not been strummed since its now direly tarnished gilt tracery was bright, or, if you have a taste for eccentric curiosities, a battered Chinese gong. But a still queerer locality is the parish's eastern limit, long, narrow Leather Lane. So very narrow is its cleft-like Holborn end, that when, owing to diversion of traffic, an omnibus gets there, it seems as if it must necessarily stick, like a fat man in an arm-chair, between the forward-leaning walls. On either hand there is a shop with an Italian name on the lintel, Italian images in plaster and terra-cotta in the windows, and plaster "roses" hung like shields upon the door-posts. Beyond, in an avenue, a street market brawls all day long, and far into the night. Where no street-stall is pitched, the shopkeepers expose their wares upon the pavement, and thus the oddest imaginable "assortment of goods" is set out in parallel lines. This man, with specimens of his stock stuck in his hat-band, as if they were a wreath of roses, is selling [-365-] shrimps at a penny a pint. The next, out of curiously muffled vessels that seem to be made of molten gas-pipes, is dispensing penny and half-penny ices.
A penny will buy a good many things in Leather Lane. It will buy a glass of sherbet, or from three to four windfall oranges arranged in pyramids, and with skins as discoloured as more than a couple of the vendors' cheeks beneath the eyes; and here, where a constant tinkling is being kept up on an earthen pan, you can take your pick out of a box of stone-ware, "all at one penny." "Mackereel all alive, all alive, oh! fine silver mackereel, six a shillin'," shouts one coster; "All a blowin', all a growin'," hoarsely croaks his neighbour over his eye-and-nose refreshing trap of flowering spring plants. Eels and eggs; tin-pots and gown-pieces; crabs and combs; hardbake and bonnet-shapes; dates conglomerated into a mass that looks as if it would need a hatchet to split it; and buttons, bugles, and other trimmings set out daintily on blue cards; potatoes and periwinkles; cabbages and cocoa- nuts, whole or fractional; great wenned lemons and brass-tagged boot-laces; boots and shoes, and beds and bedsteads; onions and old iron; plaice and photograph frames; radishes and rhubarb, and glass beads and bottles; red herrings and money boxes; smoked haddocks and Dutch dolls; whelks, watercress, almond-[-366-] rock and monkey-checked apples; brass-headed nails and curious little slabs of bacon; all these are only some of the things which are sold al fresco in Leather Lane. Meantime, roughs loaf about; stray soldiers spangle the squalid throng with their bright uniforms; some indignant mother is always doing battle by fist or tongue, with man or woman on behalf of her howling offspring, unrighteously kicked or cuffed; a rich infusion of Milesian brogue mellows the strident hubbub; and high over all, caged larks pour out their pathetically joyous songs.
From Leather Lane to Gray's Inn Lane runs the cramped thoroughfare in which St. Alban's Church stands-Baldwin's Gardens. Architecturally speaking, and with (considering the locality) an excusably Hibernian choice of metaphor, the handsome modern church - handsome in spite of smoke-stains and merely brick material - looks the only wholesome plant that has sprung from the gardens since Baldwin plucked roses in them. (I say nothing about the plant's "odour of sanctity," since that is a moot question; or of its literal fragrance, since that has been stopped as illegal-except, in reference to the latter, that the incense-fumes, if they floated outside, might, perhaps, have been useful in a sanitary point of view.) Architectural considerations apart, there is another oasis (to make use of another muddled metaphor) in the present wilderness of Baldwin's Gardens, [-367-] a national school, under the patronage of the plaintiff in the famous suit of "Martin v. Mackonochie," stated, even on Ritualistic authority, to be a most admirable one. I may add that the same authority (although he seemed to think that it was something like seething a kid in its mother's milk to have had the "office" of the beloved bishop by whom he was ordained "promoted" against his beloved immediate superior) spoke in the highest terms of the personal character of the "promoter." As a whole, Baldwin's Gardens have a very blighted look. Beginning at Leather Lane as a narrow street, with poor shops and dismal upper floors let off to poverty-stricken tenants, they dwindle, before they reach the cramped archway that gives upon Gray's Inn Lane, into a still narrower flagged alley, hemmed in by a shut-up public-house; shops in which children's second - hand frocks, the rustiest and apparently most useless of old metal, and dusty, broken furniture, which seems to have been exhumed from the ruins of an earthquake-buried city, are offered for sale; and houses of no patent profession, whose darkened windows may be blinds for more than one kind of darkness-loving deeds. "Bad houses," regular or occasional, are deplorably abundant in St. Alban's. In one of its streets-bearing the synonymous name of one of the brightest lights of English philosophy and Elizabethan litera-[-368-]ture - there is a row of brothels. The clergy, albeit Ritualists, are men of common sense; and, considering it next to miraculous for the poor - the young especially - to lead a moral life in a place so built and crowded that feelings of decency must necessarily be blunted, they encourage those of their poorer parishioners who have come under their influence to flit to localities in which virtue stands a better chance. However we may talk about the omnipotence of spiritual agencies, there is indubitably great moral, or immoral, force in the arrangement of brick and mortar. Brooke's Market, hard by the Clergy house, is another locality that deserves a word of description. In the middle of its quadrangle there is a row of weather- board hovels, daubed with rusty tar, of almost as primitive construction as Canadian log-huts. Some of them are close shuttered and padlocked, but one is tenanted by a chimney-sweep, who has stuck up his brush outside as a sign of his profession. Both sweeps and scavengers affect St. Alban's parish. One of the scavengers is a Ritualist, and to show his gratitude to the spiritual father who converted him, brings - guess as long as you like, you must give it up - nosegays to the Clergy House.
St. Alban's district was broiling like rancid bacon - a strange contrast to the umbrageous avenue and verdant grass of Gray's Inn Gardens, from which I had just turned -on the [-369-] bright May afternoon on which I joined my clerical guide for a parochial ramble. I had half expected to find him still in his cassock, but that was doffed, and he wore the dress, clerical "dog-collar" included, in which Roman Catholic priests usually take their walks abroad. It did not seem, however, to win him much reverence from the Romanists amongst his parishioners. They glanced at him suspiciously, as if they could not exactly make him out - somewhat as young swallows might at a bat zigzagging past their nest. He was very much like the parent bird, but still he was not the real thing. Some of the shopkeepers, too, silently scowled at him, but he made charitable allowance for their hostility. They disliked his views, and even if they were inclined to come to their parish church on Sunday, the chances were that they might be crowded out of it in the morning by the fashionable folk who flocked to its services; "but what can we do? - the seats are free, and the first comer is first served." The poorer parishioners, too, he said, were but sparsely represented at the forenoon services. "They had their Sunday dinner to cook-an important item in the poor man's economy." A good-natured excuse to be made by one who leads the abstemious life with which, not in Lent only, the inmates of the Clergy House are credited. The great majority of the poor amongst whom we passed, however, were [-370-] perfectly respectful to their pastor. It is something like calling on a rabbit in a warren to find out a tenant of a particular room in St. Alban's. We now and then had to stop to inquire which of several common stairs was the right one to go up, and in every instance the loungers appealed to answered "the parson's" questions with civility, some of them with smiling cheerfulness and welcome. The only thing approaching to a personal insult which he received was a very innocuous one. An exceedingly small boy, not yet promoted to the dignity of breeches, and vague in his notions of ecclesiastical polity, shrilly shouted, "Theer goes hold S---- o' the Hirish church!" and then took to his heels as if such caustic satire must necessarily provoke the most vindictive vengeance. My guide certainly merited civility, for nothing could be more courteous than his manner to the poor. There was not the slightest trace of Mrs. Pardiggle-ism in it. He chatted with the old women, and joked with the little ones, far more like an eldest son and a big brother than the conventional "proud priest." He took off his hat to bobbing apple-women, and shook hands with any of his "children "he met in the street, however dirty might be their paws. One of these "children" was a stout young man, labour-stained and perspiring. Another was a grey-haired old man who sold lettuces and watercresses, and when asked [-371-] whether the fine weather did not spoil his market by making vegetables too plentiful, answered that he "didn't care how cheap green stuff got, for then the poor could buy the more on it." The spectacular nature of its services may, perhaps, partly account for the favour which Ritualism is said to find amongst the poor, but I am inclined to think that affability of the kind just described, if generally practised, has far more to do with it. When the Reform Leaguers marched with their banners from Clerkenwell Green to St. Alban's Church, the only reason they could assign for their procession was, that they believed Mr. Mackonochie to be "a friend of the people." Before visiting the sick we looked in at the church school, held on three floors of an old warehouse; the average attendance being about 140 daily. The rooms are rather low, and the beamed ceilings made them look something like tween decks; but the children seemed to be bright, interested, and well-behaved, and, considering the nature of the homes from which a good many of them must come, they were wonderfully clean. The teachers appeared to be intel1igent persons, working with a will. The mistress of the Infants' School looked very disappointed because we had not time to see her little army of infantry go through any other general evolution than a salute, which they performed with military precision. Besides these schools, the [-372-] church has another in Mecklenburgh Square, where the choristers are educated.
Stumbling up a low, narrow, crooked, wooden staircase, one flight of which had just been scrubbed, but most of the steps of which were very dirty, we reached, at the top of the house, what was far more like a triangular manger than a human habitation. It was simply a corner boarded off from the landing. A patched sack was the only door, and within, in the dark- lay a moaning old woman, a sad drunkard.
In a somewhat larger and lighted room in another house-larger, but almost filled by a small bedstead, whose posts had been truncated to suit the lowness of the ceiling - a stifling-hot fire was burning. Two tiny earthenware teapots stood upon the bobs. A tea-tray was upon the floor. There were only two chairs in the room. Propped up in one sat a poor creature, wheezing for breath, whose husband had recently stabbed her, and broken three of her ribs. The other chair was given up to me as a stranger, whilst the clergyman, and the sick woman's sister, who had come to take tea with her (bringing her own teapot), seated themselves on the two ends of the bed. When the pastor spoke gently to the sufferer of the peace to be derived from resigning our wills to that of "the good God," whether for life or death, the poor creature burst into a flood of frightened tears. The idea of death was awful to her. To soothe [-373-] her, she was told that even the most holy men had thought it a solemn thing to die; but here the sister, accustomed to the often deadly brawls of Holborn courts, struck in, scouting such feeling as cowardly. "Oh, come now, Mr. S----, I don't see that. Do the best you can, you know, and then I don't see as it matters when or how you dies. That's my way o' lookin' at it."
Our next visit was to a bed-ridden old woman, sitting up in bed in a pretty good-sized room, which, amongst a little other furniture, held a sheet-covered sofa. Her pale face lighted up when she saw who had come in.
".Yes, indeed, Mr. S----, I am glad to see you. It's so lonesome lying here without a soul to speak to. Oh, yes, the dear lady called, and most kind to me she's been. She's given me stuff for two beautiful bed-gowns, and the money to get 'em made up. Of course, I'm glad to see any friends of yours - can't the gentleman find a seat?" So the old soul cheerfully ran on at first, but she soon modulated into a minor key. Her "lodgers," late occupants of the covered sofa, for whom she had done "ever so much," had left "ever so much" in her debt, and she feared that she should lose what she called her "pension" from the parish, for bringing such people into it. "However, the Almighty 'ill make it up to me where I'm going," she remarked in. a tone of somewhat constrained [-374-] resignation, as if she would have preferred the bird in the hand. Whilst she talked, she went on stitching strips of grey squirrel's fur into a child's boa. Sho had done this work for the same house for I forget how many years; making, when she had paid for her thread, about three farthings on each boa.
I saw so many poor creatures in bed on that bright, and, in the suburbs, balmy, afternoon, that I cannot exactly remember the order in which I saw them; hut the next, I think, was a little woman literally wasted to skin and bone. She was so pale and pinched, her chin stood up so sharp, that, when she ceased to speak, I could scarcely believe that she was not already a corpse. Because she was ill, her husband had deserted her - left her to lie alone in a dreary closet, November-dim, though the streets blazed in. the May sunshine. She spoke hopefully of being able to get into an hospital as soon as she was strong enough to go before a board of gentlemen in Piccadilly; but she looked far more likely to go, let us hope, to Paradise. Ill as she was, she could think of others. The son of a lodger in the same house, who sometimes visited her, was ailing, she thought, and the mother would like to see the priest. This mother was a hearty Yorkshire woman, seated at tea in a room better furnished than any we bad yet visited. A great bedstead, with heavy hangings, stood in one corner; and, on a little [-375-] chiffonnière, there was a display of glass and crockery, and a tiny fern under a cage. The room was very close, but, for her children's sake, the good woman said, she could not open the window. The lodger above was a " verra wrathful wummun," and her language was downright awful. For her part, she fain wearied to get back to York. She was diffusely communicative on her domestic concerns. One of her boys was to be taken next day - at least not to be taken, for they'd made him pay three shillings for it - to a school treat at-what was the name of that hill where the young gentleman that got twenty years jobbed his young woman ?- that the calves saved, you know, sir? -ah, yes, Buckhurst Hill - that was the name. At this point, Bill, the boy on whose behalf we had called, came in,-a chubby, clean, rosy, neatly- dressed little urchin, whose ailment turned out to be nothing more serious than an ear-ache. Bill blushed through bashfulness when his mother informed the priest of his ambition to become a "singing-boy," and with delight, when the priest took him on his knee, and held out hopes of the chorister's cassock and surplice being within Bill's reach. The Yorkshirewoman was one of the faithful. She expatiated on the comparative beauty of the church's appearances on different past festivals, listened delighted to a forecast of the eclipsing splendours it would display on the approaching St. Alban's Day, [-376-] and proudly showed a little engraving of Christ on the cross, which one of the clergy bad given her, and which her husband was going to frame and glaze for her.
The next good soul we visited was a still Higher Churchwoman, "although," said my guide, with some pride, "she came from a Low-Church parish, and at first was most bigotedly opposed to us." "I'm going to take you to our West-end now," he added, with a laugh, as we turned into the quadrangle of the Model Buildings. Although hemmed in by other buildings, they certainly did look refreshingly light and airy after the holes in which we had been burrowing; and the room we entered was not only spotlessly clean, but had even an elegant appearance. Illuminated texts ran round the walls, which bore also a crucifix, Scripture prints, red-crossed devotional bills of some kind, and a "St. Alban's, Holborn, Parochial Almanac." A striped scarf, the gift of one of the ladies, made a pretty cover for a side-table, and on it, in a glass sugar-basin, stood a bouquet "from Devonshire this morning," the gift of the same kind lady. The occupant of the room, an invalid middle-aged woman, who sat, neatly dressed, upon her bed, said that she had not seen a single violet this spring, and expressed a hope that flowers would be more plentiful this year than they were last. "I know there were not many then," she said, [-377-] "because I did not get as many as usual from the church." She looked very pleased when her clergyman told her that he had tried hard to find her some cowslips, when he was on his last "mission" in the country, and that be meant to try every now and then to get a special hamper of flowers for distribution amongst the parishioners. The conversation turned from cowslips to auricular confession. I listened astonished, whilst the good woman talked glibly about the "octave" of this and the "octave" of that, and named a day on which she would feel obliged if the priest would call to confess her.
We went into another comparatively cheerful scene. In the midst of the dirt and noise of St. Alban's there is a clean, quiet, little paved quadrangle, bordered by low, old-fashioned little tenements of the almshouse order of architecture. A few children of a tidier class than elsewhere were skipping and trundling their hoops on the hot-grey stones; the neat, squat little houses seemed to be nodding in the sunlight. In one of these cottages, my guide met with the heartiest welcome he had yet received; but it seemed to be due to his kindness of heart rather than his clerical character. He had been in the habit of visiting there daily whilst the children of the house were ill. "Oh, I am glad to see you, Mr. S----," said the mother; "you as used to come so horfen. I was sorry [-378-] a'most to see you every day, cos why you came and in course I'm glad my boys is better; but it's lonely like not seeing you now. It's so nice to talk to a gen'l'man as takes a hinterest in a party. I likes all our clergies, but I'm used to you, you know, sir."
One more sample of parishioners' welcome will suffice. At the bottom of. a narrow court, we had knocked so long at the door of a little cottage, jammed up in a corner, without getting an answer, that we were just turning away, under the impression that it must be empty, when the door was opened. by an unshorn, lame old man. "Good day, sir," he said, not looking over-pleased. "My wife's gone to the horse-spittle to git my physic; but walk in and set down." He hobbled before us into a little room, whose air smelt strong enough of tobacco to explain the secret of the old man's crustiness. We had, no doubt, disturbed the poor old fellow whilst he was smoking, and, whilst we had been knocking he had been puffing away at his pipe like a locomotive, to finish it before he let us in. The conversation somehow turned on Ascension Day. The lame old man made a most lame attempt to appear interested in an assertion of its equal right with Christmas Day to be kept as a general holiday, and in the announcement that. there would be four early communions at St. Alban's on that day, for the convenience of workmen who wished to com-[-379-]municate before proceeding to their work. The epochs of the Christian year had a very faint hold on the old man's mind, save as associated with personal material benefit. If he could have been told that Ascension Day would bring him roast beef and plum-pudding and a pot of beer, his appreciation of its claims to respect would have been marvellously stimulated. His stolidity changed into attentive listening, with droll suddenness, when he was informed that henceforth he would be allowed a weekly dole out of the offertory.
I have kept the visit that struck me most for my last record. At the top of a squalid house lay two small-pox patients, in the same room with a corpse, disfigured by the same dreadful disease. I started back with a sick shudder when I ascertained who and what were the occupants of that room; but my companion entered it as calmly, to all appearance, as he had entered any other. Whilst he was in that awful chamber, with the dying and the dead, I stood at an open window on the landing below. At a workshop on the other side of a dirty little yard, in which the sunshine seemed to stagnate, carpenters were whistling music-hall tunes over their planes and up-curling shavings; up the staircase every minute came the filthy, blasphemous language of a knot of sluttish~ women, squatting on the step of the open door, uttered with as little malice propenae as when the [-380-] decently-bred use "the" or "and." The London poor die under dreariest, most repulsive circumstances; and honour, I say, to the brave men, whether City Missionaries or Ritualistic Clergymen, who risk life to solace their last moments.
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