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Title: From the Bottom Up
The Life Story of Alexander Irvine
Author: Alexander Irvine
Release Date: February 27, 2006 [eBook #17881]
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK FROM THE BOTTOM UP***
A number of obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text.
For a complete list, please see the bottom of this document.
Photograph by Vanderweyde
Alexander Irvine, 1909ToList
|I.||Boyhood in Ireland||3|
|II.||The Beginning of an Education||24|
|III.||On Board a Man o' War||40|
|IV.||Problems and Places||53|
|V.||The Gordon Relief Expedition||63|
|VI.||Beginnings in the New World||82|
|VII.||Fishing for Men on the Bowery||90|
|VIII.||A Bunk-house and Some Bunk-house Men||105|
|IX.||The Waif's Story||119|
|X.||I Meet Some Outcasts||126|
|XI.||A Church in the Ghetto||144|
|XII.||Working Way Down||156|
|XIII.||Life and Doubt on the Bottoms||166|
|XIV.||My Fight in New Haven||183|
|XV.||A Visit Home||193[viii]|
|XVI.||New Haven Again—and a Fight||207|
|XVII.||I Join a Labour Union and Have Something to Do with Strikes||213|
|XVIII.||I Become a Socialist||235|
|XIX.||I Introduce Jack London to Yale||250|
|XX.||My Experiences as a Labourer in the Muscle Market of the South||256|
|XXI.||At the Church of the Ascension||274|
|XXII.||My Socialism, My Religion and My Home||285|
|Alexander Irvine, 1909||Frontispiece|
|Mr. Irvine's Birthplace||4|
|Where Irvine Spent His Boyhood||8|
|Alexander Irvine as a Marine||38|
|Officers of H.M.S. "Alexandra" Ashore at Cattaro||50|
|A Page from Mr. Irvine's Diary||54|
|Dowling, Tinker and Colporter||110|
|Alexander Irvine. From a sketch by Juliet Thompson||146|
|State Convention of the Socialist Party of Connecticut||238|
|The Lunch Hour in an Interborough Shop||248|
|Alexander Irvine and Jack London||252|
|In Muckers' Camp in Alabama||258|
|Irvine and Three Other Muckers as They Left Greenwich Street for the South||258[x]|
|Irvine, Punching Logs in the Gulf of Mexico, 1907||270|
|The Church of the Ascension||276|
|"Happy Hollow," Mr. Irvine's Present Home Near Peekskill, New York||294|
|Happy Hollow in the Winter, Looking from the House||298|
The world in which I first found myself was a world of hungry people.
My earliest sufferings were the sufferings of hunger—physical hunger. It was not an unusual sight to see the children of our neighbourhood scratching the offal in the dunghills and the gutterways for scraps of meat, vegetables, and refuse. Many times I have done it myself.
My father was a shoemaker; but something had gone wrong with the making of shoes. Improvements in machinery are pushed out into the commercial world, and explanations follow. A new shoemaker had arrived—a machine—and my father had to content himself with the mending of the work that the machine produced. It took him about ten years to find out what had happened to him.
There were twelve children in our family, five of whom died in childhood. Those of us who were left were sent out to work as soon as we were able. I began at the age of nine. My first work was peddling newspapers. I remember my first night in the streets. Food was scarce in the home, and I begged to be allowed to do what other boys were doing. But I was not quite so well prepared. I began in the winter. I was shoeless, hatless, and in rags. My contribution to the family treasury amounted to about fifty cents a week; but it looked very large to me then. It was my first earning.
Our home was a two-room cottage. Over one room was a little loft, my bedroom for fourteen years. The cottage floor was hard, dried mud. There was a wide, open fireplace. Several holes made in the wall by displacing of bricks here and there contained my father's old pipes. A few ornaments, yellow with the smoke of years, adorned the mantelpiece. At the front window sat my father, and around him his shoemaking tools. Beside the window hung a large cage, made by his own hands, and in which singing thrushes had succeeded one another for twenty years. The walls were whitewashed. There was a little partition that screened the work-bench from the door. It was made of newspapers, and plastered all over it were pictures from the illustrated weeklies. Two or three small dressers contained the crockery ware. A long bench set against the wall, a table, several stools, and two or three creepies constituted the furniture. There was not a chair in the place.
Mr. Irvine's Birthplace
There are four different houses in the picture. The third door from the left is that of the house in which he was born.ToList
There was a fascination about the winter evenings in that cottage. Scarcely a night passed that did not see some man or woman sitting in the corner waiting for shoes. A candlestick about three feet high, in which burned a large tallow candle, was set in front of my father. My mother was the only one in the house who could read, and she used to read aloud from a story paper called The Weekly Budget. We were never interested in the news. The outside world was shut off from us, and the news consisted of whatever was brought by word of mouth by the folks who had their shoes cobbled; that was interesting. In those long winter evenings, I sat in the corner among the shoes and lasts. On scraps of leather I used to imitate writing, and often I would quietly steal up to my mother and show her these scratchings, and ask her whether they meant anything or not. I thought somehow by accident I would surely get something. My mother merely shook her head and smiled. She taught me many letters of the alphabet, but it took me years to string them together.
My mother had acquired a taste, indeed, it was a craving, for strong drink; and, even from the very small earnings of my father, managed to satisfy it in a small measure, every day, except Sunday. On Sunday there was a change. The cobbler's bench was cleared away, and my mother's beautiful face was surrounded with a halo of spotless, frilled linen.
My father's Sunday mornings were spent in giving the thrush an outing and in cleaning his cage. Neither my father nor mother made any pretensions to religion; but they were strict Sabbatarians. My father never consciously swore, but, within even the limitations of his small vocabulary, he was unfortunate in his selection of phrases. I bounced into the alley one Sunday morning, whistling a Moody and Sankey hymn.
"Shut up yer mouth!" said my father.
"It's a hymn tune," I replied.
"I don't care a damn," replied my father. "It's the Lord's day, and if I hear you whistlin' in it I'll whale the hell out o' ye!"
That was his philosophy, and he lived it. Saturday nights when the town clock struck the hour of midnight, he removed his leather apron, pushed his bench back in the corner, and the work of the week was over—and if any one was waiting for his shoes, so much the worse for him. He would wait until the midnight clock struck twelve the next night or take them as they were.
The first tragedy in my life was the death of a pet pigeon. I grieved for days over its disappearance; but one Sunday morning the secret slipped out. Around that neighbourhood there was a custom among the very poor of exchanging samples of their Sunday broth. Three or four samples came to our cottage every Sunday morning. We had meat once a week, and then it was either the hoofs or part of the head of a cow, or the same parts of a sheep or a calf. On this particular occasion, I knew that there was something in our broth that was unusual, and I did not rest until I learned the truth. They had grown tired of nettle broth, and made a change on the pigeon.
There was a pigsty at the end of our alley against the gable of our house; but we never were rich enough to own a pig. One of my earliest recollections is of extemporizing out of the pigsty one of the most familiar institutions in our town—a pawn shop. If anything was missing in the house, they could usually find it in pawn.
At the age of ten, I entered the parochial school of the Episcopal Church; but the pedagogue of that period delegated his pedagogy to a monitor, and the monitor to one of the biggest boys, and the school ran itself. The only thing I remember about it is the daily rushes over the benches and seats, and the number of boys about my size I was pitted against in fistic battles. At the close of my first school day I came home with one of my eyes discoloured and one sleeve torn out of my jacket, as a result of an encounter not down on the programme. The ignominy of such a spectacle irritated my father, and I was thoroughly whipped for my inability to defend myself better. It was an ex parte judgment which a look at the other fellow might have modified.
After a few weeks at school I begged my father to allow me to devote my mornings as well as my evenings to the selling of newspapers. The extra work added a little to my income and preserved my looks. If there was any misery in my life at this time I neither knew nor felt it. I was living the life of the average boy of my neighbourhood, and had nothing to complain of. Of course, I was in a chronic condition of hunger, but so was every other boy in the alley and on the street. It was quite an event for me occasionally to go bird-nesting with the son of the chief baker of the town. He usually brought a loaf along as toll. My knowledge of the woods was better than his, for necessity took me there for fuel for our hearth. Sometimes the baker's son brought a companion of his class. These boys were well-fed and well-clothed, and it was when we spent whole days together that I noticed the disparity. They were "quality"—the baker was called "Mr.," wore a tall hat on Sundays, and led the psalm singing in the Presbyterian Church. In the summer time, when the church windows were open, the leader's voice could be heard a mile away. My childish misgivings about the distribution of the good things of life were quieted in the Sunday School by the dictum: "It is the will of God." My first knowledge of God was that He was a big man in the skies who dealt out to the church people good things and to others experiences to make them good. The Bible was to me God's book, and a thing to be handled reverently. We had a copy, but it was coverless, loose and incomplete. Every morning I used to take it tenderly in my hands and pretend to read some of it, "just for luck!" My Sunday School teacher informed me that work was a curse that God had put upon the world and from what I saw around me I naturally concluded that life was more of a curse than a blessing—that was the theory. My father, however, never seemed to be able to get enough of the curse to appease our hunger.
Where Mr. Irvine Spent His Boyhood
and the pig-sty that never had a pigToList
The lack of class-conscious envy did not prevent an occasional questioning of God's arrangement of the universe; occasionally, in the winter time, when my feet were bleeding, cut by the frozen pavements, I wondered why God somehow or other could not help me to a pair of shoes. Nevertheless, I reverently worshipped the God who had consigned me to such pitiless and poorly paid labour, and believed that, being the will of God, it was surely for my best good.
My first hero worship came to me while a newsboy. A former resident of the town had returned from America with a modicum of fame. He had left a labourer, and returned a "Mr." He delivered a lecture in the town hall, and, out of curiosity, the town turned out to hear him. I was at the door with my papers. It was a very cold night, and I was shivering as I stood on one foot leaning against the door post, the sole of the other foot resting upon my bare leg. But nobody wanted papers at a lecture. The doorkeeper took pity upon me, and, to my astonishment, invited me inside. There on a bench, with my back to the wall and my feet dangling six inches from the floor, I listened to a lecture about a "rail-splitter." It took me many years to find out what a rail-splitter was; but the rail-splitter's name was Lincoln, and he became my first hero.
From the selling of papers on the streets of Antrim, I went to work on a farm, the owner of which was a Member of Parliament for our county, one James Chaine by name. My first work on the farm was the keeping of crows off the potato crop. Technically speaking, I was a scarecrow. It was in the autumn, and the potatoes were ripe. I was permitted to help myself to them, so three times a day I made a fire at the edge of the wood and roasted as many potatoes as I could eat, and for the first time in my life I enjoyed the pleasure of a full meal.
In the solitude of the potato field came my first vision. I was a firm believer in the "wee people," but my visions were not entirely peopled with fairies. The life of the woods was very fascinating to me. I enjoyed the birds and the wild flowers, and the sportive rabbits, of which the woods were full. The bell which closed the labourer's day was always an unwelcome sound to me.
After the ingathering of the potato crop, I was given work in the farmyard, attending to horses and cattle, as jack of all jobs. In the spring of the following year, I went again to work in the potato field, and later to care for the crop as before. It was during my second autumn as a scarecrow that I had an experience which changed the current of my life. It was on a Monday, and during the entire day I kept humming over and over two lines of a hymn I had heard in the Sunday School. Nothing ever happened to me that remains quite so vividly in my mind as that experience.
I was sitting on the fence at the close of the day, a very happy day. I must have been moved by the colour of the sky, or by the emotion produced by the lines of the hymn. It may have been both. But, as I sat on the fence and watched the sun set over the trees, an emotion swept over me, and the tears began to flow. My body seemed to change as by the pouring into it of some strange, life-giving fluid. I wanted to shout, to scream aloud; but instead, I went rapidly over the hill into the woods, dropped on my knees, and began to pray.
It was getting dark, but the woods were filled with light. Perhaps it was the light of my vision or the light of my mind—I know not. But when I came back into the open, I felt as though I were walking on air. As I passed through the farmyard, I came in contact with some of the men; and their questions led me to believe that some of the experience remained on my face; but I naïvely set aside their questions and passed on down the country road to the town.
That night as I climbed to the little loft, I realized for the first time in my life that I had never slept in a bed, but on a pallet of straw. My bed covering was composed of old gunny sacks sewed together; and automatically, when I took my clothes off, I made a pillow of them. Many a night I had been kept awake by the gnawing pangs of hunger; but this night I was kept awake for a different reason. It was an indescribable ecstasy, a new-born joy. As I lay there with my head about a foot from the thatched roof, I hummed over and over again the two lines of the hymn, sometimes breaking the continuity in giving way to tears.
The second revelation came to me the following morning. I realized the condition of my body. I was in rags and dirty. I shook my mother out of her slumber and begged her to help me sew up the rents in my clothes. I had no shoes, but I carefully washed my feet, combed my tousled, unkempt hair, and took great pains in the washing of my face. All of this was a mystery to my mother. She wanted to know what had happened to me, and a very unusual thing ended the preparations for the day. My mother said I looked "purty," and kissed me as I went out of the door.
As I walked up the street that morning, I shared my joy with the first living thing I met—the saloon-keeper's old dog, Rover. I shook his paw and said, "Morrow, Rover." Everything looked beautiful. The world was full of joy. I was perfectly sure that the birds were sharing it, for they sang that morning as I had never heard them sing before. I resolved to let at least one person into the secret. I was sure that my sister would understand me. She used to visit me every noon hour, on the pretence of bringing my dinner. We had a secret compact that, whether there was any dinner to bring or not, she should come with a bowl wrapped in a piece of cloth, as was the custom with other men's sisters and wives.
There was a straight stretch of road a mile long, and, as I sat on the roadside watching for her, I could tell a mile off whether she had any dinner or not. When there was anything in the bowl, she carried it steadily; when empty, she would swing it like a censer.
When I told my sister about these strange happenings of the heart, she looked very anxiously into my eyes, and said:
"'Deed, I just think ye're goin' mad."
Before leaving the farm, I experienced an incident which, although of a different character, equalled in its intensity and beauty my awakening to what, for lack of a better term, I called a religious life.
A young lady from the city was visiting at the home of the land steward, and, as I knew more about the woods and the inhabitants thereof than anybody else on the farm, I was often ordered to take visitors around. The land steward's daughter accompanied the young lady on her first visit to the roads; but afterward she came alone, and we traversed the ravine from one end to the other. We collected flowers and specimens, and watched the wild animals.
I had never seen such a beautiful human being. Her voice was soft and musical. She wore her hair loosely down her back, and was a perfect picture of health and beauty.
One day I lay at full length on my back, asleep by the edge of the wood. When I awoke, this city girl was standing at my side. I jumped to my feet and stood erect, and I remember distinctly the emotions that swept through me. I was startled at first, startled as I had been on a previous occasion when, at a sharp turn in the footpath in the ravine, I met a fawn. I remembered my first impulse then was for a word, a word of conciliation, for I was fascinated by the beauty of the graceful beast. Graceful as a nymph it stood there, nerves strained like a bow bent for the discharge of an arrow, its head poised in air, fire shooting from its eyes. It remained only for an instant, and then with a frightened plunge it cleared the clump of laurel bushes and disappeared.
When I stood before this beautiful city girl, I remembered the fawn, and expected the girl instantly to vanish out of my sight. There was something of the fawn in her graceful form, some of the fire in her blue eyes, and in her girlish laugh a suggestion of the freedom of the mountain and glen. I think it was in that moment of intensity that I crossed the bridge which separates the boy from the man. An impassable gulf was fixed between this girl's station in life and mine. She was the daughter of a florist, and I was the son of a cobbler.
She returned home shortly after this, and I was promoted from the potato field to be a groom's helper in the stables of "the master." We called his residence the "big house." It was like a castle on the Rhine. A very wonderful man was this Member of Parliament to the labourers around on his demesne. Not the least part of this wonder consisted in the tradition that he had a different suit of clothes for every day in the year. He was very fond of fine horses, and gloried in the fact that he owned a winner of the Derby. He kept a large stable of racing, hunting, and carriage horses.
This was the advent of a new life to me. I was taken in hand by the head groom and fitted out with two suits of clothes, and in this change the first great ambition of my life was satisfied. I became the possessor of a hard hat. For two years, I had instinctively longed for something on my head that I could politely remove to a lady. The first night I marched down that village street, shoes well polished, starched linen, and hard hat, I expected the whole town to be there to see me. I had made several attempts at this hat business before. They organized a flute band in the town and I joined it for the sake of the hat. But it was too nice a thing to be lying around when people were hungry, and, as it was in pawn most of the time, I finally redeemed it, returned it, and quit. But this time the hat had come to stay.
With my new vision still warm in my heart, I became very active in the parish Sunday School. My inability to read relegated me to the children's class; but I had a retentive memory, and before I was able to read, I memorized about three hundred texts from the Bible.
The first outworking of my vision was on a drunken stone mason of our town. His family, relatives, and friends had all given him up. He had given himself up. I went after him every night for weeks; talked to him, pleaded with him, prayed for him, and was rewarded by seeing him make a new start. Together we organized a temperance society. I think it was the first temperance society in that town. I was much more at home in this kind of work than in the Sunday School; for, while I could be neither secretary, treasurer, nor president of the temperance society I had organized, my inability to read or write did not prevent me from hustling after such men as my first convert.
In the Sunday School, I felt keenly the fact that I was outclassed by boys half my age; but I persevered and went from one class to another, until I had gone through the grades, and was then given the opportunity to organize a class of my own. This I did with the material on the streets, children unconnected with any school or institution. I taught them the Bible stories and helped them to memorize the texts that I had learned myself.
Despite the fact that I was now clean and well groomed, I could not help comparing my life to the life of the horses I was attending, especially with regard to their sleeping accommodations. The slightest speck of dirt of any kind around their bedding was an indictment of the grooming. The stables were beautifully flagged and sprinkled with fine, white sand. The mangers were kept cleaner than anything in the houses of the poor, and, when I trotted a mount out into the yard, the master would take out his white silk handkerchief, run it along the horse's side, and then examine it. If the handkerchief was soiled in the slightest degree, the horse was sent back. Probably not once in a year was a horse returned under such circumstances. The regularity of meals was another point of comparison, and the daily washings, brushings, groomings.
It meant something to be a horse in that stable—much more than it meant to be a groom. When these points of comparison arose, I pushed them back as evil and discontent with the will of God. This master man used to talk to his horses, but he seldom talked to his grooms. Sometimes I was permitted the luxury of a look at the great dining-hall, or the drawing-rooms. That also was another world to me, a world of beauty for God's good people. Even the butlers, footmen, and other flunkies were superior people, and I envied them, not only the uniform of their servitude but their intimate touch with that inner world of beautiful things.
I spent one winter at the big house, and then the shame of my ignorance drove me forever from the haunts of my childhood. I entered the city of Belfast, seventeen miles distant, and became coachman and groom to a man who, by the selling of clothes, had reached the economic status of owning a horse. In adapting himself to this new condition, he dressed me in livery, and, after I had taught him to drive, I sat beside him in the buggy with folded arms, arrayed in a tall hat with a cockade. The wages in this new position were so small that when I had paid for my room and meagre board, I had nothing left for the support of my brothers and sisters, who were still in dire poverty.
The young lady I had met on the farm lived in this city and in my neighbourhood; but I would have considered it a matter of gross discourtesy to call on her, or, indeed, do anything save lift my hat if I met her on the street, our social stations were so far apart. But she had told me the name of the church she attended, and, as I was thinking more about her at that time than about anybody else, I stole quietly into the church as soon as the doors were opened, and, ensconcing myself in a corner under the gallery, I scanned the faces eagerly as they came in. From that obscure point I saw the young lady once a week. At the end of three months, her family came without her. The third Sunday of her absence I was almost on the point of asking about her; but I mastered the desire, held my station, and went to Scotland, where I entered a coal-pit as a helper to one of my brothers. My pay for twelve hours a day was a dollar and fifty cents a week. If I had not been living in the same house with my brother, this would not have sustained me in physical efficiency.
The contrast between my life as a groom and this blackened underworld was very marked, and I did not at all relish it. We were all, men and boys and sometimes girls, reduced to the common level of blackened humans, with about two garments each. The coal dust covered my skin like a tight-fitting garment, and coal was part of every mouthful of food I ate in that fetid atmosphere. I had a powerful body that defied the dangers of the pit; but the labour was exhausting, and my face was blistered every day with the hot oil dripping from the lamp on my brow.
Sometimes I lay flat on my back and worked with a pick-axe at the coal overhead. Sometimes I pushed long distances a thing called "a hutch," filled with coal.
I left my brother's pit with the hope of getting a larger wage; but there was very little difference between the pits. Everywhere I went, labour and wages were about the same. Everywhere life had the same dull, monotonous round. It was a writhing, squirming mass of blackened humanity struggling for a mere physical existence, a bare living.
The desire to learn to read and write returned to me with renewed intensity, and gave me keen discontent with the life in the pits. At the same time, the spiritual ideal sustained me in the upward look. There was just ahead of me a to-morrow, and my to-morrow was bringing an escape from this drudgery. I exulted in the thought of the future. I could sing and laugh in anticipation of it, even though I lived and worked like a beast. I was conscious that in me resided a power that would ultimately take me to a life that I had had a little taste of—a life where people had time to think, and to live a clean, normal, human life.
I do not remember anything about labour unions in that coal region. If there were any, I did not know of them—I was not asked to join. In those same pits and at that same time worked Keir Hardie, and "wee Keir" was just beginning to move the sluggish souls of his fellow labourers to improve their condition by collective effort. My ideal did not lead me in that direction. I was struggling to get into the other world for another reason. I wanted to live a religious life. I wanted to move men's souls as I had moved the soul of the drunken stone mason in my home town.
I made various attempts to learn to read, but each of them failed. I was so exhausted at the close of the day's work that I usually lay down in the corner without even washing. Sometimes I pulled myself together and went out into the village, praying as I went, that by some miracle or other I should find a teacher. Sometimes I made excursions into the city of Glasgow. One night I wandered accidentally into a mission in Possilpark, where a congregation of miners was listening to a tall, fine-looking young preacher. I had not sufficient energy to keep awake, so promptly went to sleep. I awoke at a gentle shake from the hand of the teacher. I returned, but succeeded no better in keeping awake. I returned again, and the teacher when he learned of my ambition, advised me to leave the pits entirely and seek for something else to do. There was something magnetic in that strong right hand, something musical and inspiring in that wonderful voice. And just when I was about to sink back in despair, and resign myself, perhaps for years, to the inevitable, this man's influence pushed me out into a new venture. The teacher was Professor Henry Drummond.
Trusting to luck, or God, or the power of my hands, I entered the great, smoky, dirty city of Glasgow to look for a job. I considered it a great shame to be without one, and a crime to be prowling the city at night, homeless and workless. God at this time was a very real Person to me and I spent the greater part of many a night on my knees, in some alley, or down by the docks, praying for a chance to work—to be clean—to learn to read.
I slept one night in a large dry-goods box on one of the docks, and, in searching for a place in the box to lay my head, I laid my hand on another human, and at daylight discovered him to be a youth of about my own age. We exchanged experiences, and in a few minutes he outlined a programme; and, having none of my own, I dropped naturally into his. He conducted me to a quarter of the city where the recruiting officers parade the streets, gayly attired in their attractive uniforms. We accosted one man, who had the special attraction of a large bunch of gay ribbons flying from his Glengarry cap. We passed the physical examination, "took the shilling," and were drafted, first to London, then to a training depot in the south of Kent.
The first discovery I made in the training depot was that I had not, as I supposed, joined the army at all, but the navy. I was a marine. But there was no disappointment in the discovery, for I saw in the marine service a better opportunity to see the world. Here at last was my school, and schooling was a part of the daily routine. In the daily exercises of the gymnasium, I was made to feel very keenly by the instructors the awkwardness of my body; but I was so thrilled with the joy of the class-room, that it took a good deal of forcing to interest me in the handling of guns, bayonets, the swinging of clubs, vaulting of horses, and other gymnasium exercises. I could think only in the terms of the education I most keenly desired. This was my first source of trouble. Whatever else a soldier may be, he is a soldier first. His chief business in life is to be a killer—a strong, intelligent, professional killer; and nearly all energies of instruction are bent to give him that kind of power.
The depot is on the edge of the sea, and the sea breezes with six hours a day of drill, gave me, as it gives all recruits at that stage, an abnormal appetite, so that the most of the Queen's pay went for additional rations. I made rapid progress in school, and I attended all lectures, prayer meetings, religious assemblies and social gatherings, to exercise a talent which I already possessed, of giving voice to my religious beliefs. But my Irish dialect was badly out of place, and it took a good deal of courage to take part in these things.
But more embarrassing than my attempts at public speech were my attempts to keep up with my squad in the gymnasium and on the parade ground. My fellow recruits were thinking in the terms of drill only, and I was thinking in the terms of my new-found opportunity for an education. My awkwardness made me the subject of much ridicule and good-natured jest. It also earned for me a brief sojourn in the awkward squad. The gymnasium was open every evening for exercise and amusement. The first time I ventured in to get a little extra drill on my own account, I had an experience of a kind that one is not likely to forget. My drill sergeant happened to be there. I saw him engaged in a whispered conference with one of the gymnasium instructors. A few minutes later the instructor came to me and urged me to enter the boxing contest which was going on in the middle of the floor, and which was the favourite amusement of the evening. I had no desire for such amusement, and frankly told him so; but he was not to be put off.
He said, "There is a rule of the gym, that men who come here in the evening, who are very largely given their own way, are nevertheless obliged to do what they are told; and you may escape serious trouble by attending to my orders."
I still demurred, but was forced to the ring side, a roped enclosure, with a pair of boxing gloves and an instructor to take care of the proceedings. When the gloves were fastened on my hands, I noticed that my opponent was one of the assistant instructors, and it occurred to me that I was in for a thrashing; and I certainly was.
They must have made up their minds that a good thrashing would wake me up from the point of view of the parade ground, and the assistant instructor proceeded to administer it. I knew nothing whatever of boxing, and could put up but a weak defence. I was knocked down several times, one of my eyes partly closed, and my nose smashed, and one of my arms rendered almost useless.
When away from the gymnasium at my barrack-room that night, I did some hard thinking. A room-mate whose cot was next to mine, was something of a boxer. He possessed two pairs of gloves. He had often urged me to accommodate him as an opponent, but I had steadily refused.
On learning of my plight, he laughed loudly. So did my other room-mates as they learned of it. That night, before "taps," I bound myself to an arrangement by which I was to pay my room-mate two-thirds of my regimental pay per week for instruction in handling the gloves. He gave me an hour each night for six weeks. At the end of the first week, I had gained an advantage over him. I had a very long reach, and a body as lithe as a panther. I gave up prayer meetings, lectures, and socials, and devoted my self religiously to what is called "the noble art of self-defence."
If my drill sergeant imagined that a thrashing would wake me up, he was a very good judge. It did. Incidentally, it woke others up, too. It woke my new instructor up, and half a dozen of my room-mates. At the end of my six weeks' training, by dint of perseverance and application to the thing in hand, I had succeeded in this new type of education thrust upon me.
During all this time, I had not visited the gymnasium in the evening, but was remembered there by all who had noticed the process of my awakening. One night, I modestly approached the chief instructor and asked him if I might not have another lesson by the man who had taught me the first. He remembered the occasion and laughed, laughed at the memory of it, and laughed at the brogue and what he supposed to be the temerity of my asking. In asking, I had made my brogue just a little thicker, and my manner just as diffident and modest as possible.
"Oh, certainly," he replied, chuckling to himself.
The man who gave me my first lesson, a man of my own build and height, appeared, also laughing as he noticed who the applicant for another lesson was. My barrack-room instructor was on hand also, for I had confidentially communicated to him that evening my intention to try again.
There is something fiendish in the Celtic nature, some beast in the blood, which, when aroused, is exceedingly helpful in matters of this kind. In less than sixty seconds, I had demonstrated to the onlookers, and particularly to my opponent, that I had been to school since last meeting him. I had not been particular about fancy touches, or the pointless, gingerbread style of showing off before a crowd. There was a positive viciousness in my attack, which was perfectly legitimate in such circumstances; but it was the first time I had ever felt the beast in my blood, and I turned him loose; and if I had been made Prime Minister of England by a miracle, I could not have felt one-hundredth part of the pride that I did, when, inside of the first thirty seconds, I had stretched my instructor on his back at my feet, and in the absolute joyfulness and ecstasy of my soul, I yelled at the top of my voice, "Hurry up, ye blind-therin' spalpeen, till I knock yez down again!"
The man got up, and was somewhat more cautious, but utterly unprepared to be completely mastered at his own game in five minutes; and, when the chief instructor interfered and ordered his assistant out of the ring, I begged for more; and so a fresh man was put in, and another, and another, until six men had failed to tire me, or to disturb me in the least. After the first two I laughed, laughed loudly, in the midst of my aggressive work, and enjoyed it every moment of the time, and, when occasionally I was the recipient of a stinging blow, it merely added to my zest.
Next morning I found myself a hero. In the course of the night, I had become famous in a small circle as a bruiser. In accomplishing this, I had thrown aside for the time being my religious scruples on the question of boxing, not only on boxing, but fighting, and I had set aside a good deal of my prejudice in my struggle for an education, and my success in the thing I started out to do almost unbalanced me.
I had for the first few days after this encounter a terrific struggle, a struggle of the human soul, between my character and my reputation. Only about one hundred and fifty men saw the encounter, but, before parade time next morning, fifteen hundred men were acquainted with it. It had reached the officers' mess, and, as I went back and forth, I was pointed out as the new discovery. I finally reached a state of mind that filled me with disgust, and I took an afternoon stroll down the road to Walmer Castle; and just opposite the window of the room in which the Duke of Wellington died—on the sands of Deal beach I knelt on my knees and promised God that I "wudn't put th' dhirty gloves on again," and I kept the promise—while in the training depot.
Early in 1882 I was drafted to headquarters near London—a trained soldier. My forenoons were spent in parades, drills, fatigue and other duties. In the afternoons I continued my studies. I entered into religious work with renewed vigour, connecting myself with a small independent church not far from the barracks. My thick Irish brogue militated against my usefulness in the church, and in expressing myself with warmth, I usually made it worse. In the barrack-room, my brogue brought me several Irish nicknames which irritated me. They were names usually attached to the Roman Catholic Irish, and having been brought up in an Ulster community, where part of a boy's education is to hate Roman Catholics, I naturally resented these names. A Protestant Irishman will tolerate "Pat," but "Mick" will put him in a fighting attitude in a moment. The only way out of the difficulty was to rid myself of the brogue, and this I proceeded to do.
All around me were cockney Englishmen, murdering the Queen's English, and Scotchmen who were doing worse. I had not yet become the possessor of a dictionary, and my chief instructors in language, and particularly pronunciation and enunciation, were preachers and lecturers.
With regard to literature, I was like a man lost in a forest. I had no guide. One night I attended a lecture by Dr. J.W. Kirton, the author of a tract called, "Buy Your Own Cherries." This tract my mother had read to me when a boy, and it had made a very profound impression upon me. The author was very kind, gave me an interview, and advised me to read as my first novel, "John Halifax, Gentleman." Inside of a week I had read the book twice, the second time with dictionary, and pencil. The story fascinated me, and the way in which it was told opened up new channels of improvement. I memorized whole pages of it, and even took long walks by the seaside repeating over and over what I had memorized.
The enlargement of my opportunities in garrison life revealed to me something of the amount of work required to accomplish my purpose. In the midst of people who had merely an ordinary grammar school education, I felt like a child. When discouragement came, I took refuge in the fact that several avenues of usefulness were open to me in army life. I had shown some proficiency in gunnery. For a steady plodder who attends strictly to business there is always promotion. As a flunky, there was the incentive of double pay, the wearing of plain clothes, and some intimate touch with the aristocracy. Many a time one of these avenues seemed the only career open for me. I hardly knew what an education meant; but, whatever it meant, it was a long way off and almost out of reach. One day in going over my well-marked "John Halifax," I came across this passage:
"'What would you do, John, if you were shut up here, and had to get over the yew hedge? You could not climb it.'
"'I know that, and therefore I should not waste time in trying.'
"'Would you give up, then?'
"He smiled: there was no 'giving up' in that smile of his. 'I'll tell you what I'd do: I'd begin and break it, twig by twig, till I forced my way through, and got out safe at the other side.'"
This was a new inspiration. The difficulty was not lessened by the inspiration, but a new method appealed to me. It was the patient plodding method of "twig by twig." The quotation from "John Halifax" was reinforced by one of the first things I ever read of Browning:
The most powerful speaker I ever heard was Charles Bradlaugh. I attended one of his lectures one Sunday afternoon in a large auditorium in Portsmouth. I shall never forget that wonderful voice as it thrilled an audience of four thousand people. Bradlaugh was engaged in one of his favourite themes, demolishing God and the theologians. It was the most daring thing I had ever heard, and my mind and soul were in revolt. When the time for questions came, I pushed my way to the front, was recognized by the chairman, and mounted the platform. My lips were parched and I could scarcely utter a word. The big man with the homely face saw my embarrassment, and said, "Take your time, my boy; don't be in a hurry."
He had been a soldier himself, and, I supposed, as I stood there in my scarlet tunic, Glengarry cap in hand, Bradlaugh became reminiscent.
When I got command of my voice, I said: "I want to ask Mr. Bradlaugh a question. I have very little education and little opportunity to get more, but I have a peace in my heart; I call it 'Belief in God.' I don't know what else to call it and I want to ask Mr. Bradlaugh whether he is willing to take that away from me and deprive me of the biggest pleasure in my life, and leave nothing in its place?"
He rose from his chair, came forward, laid his hand on my shoulder, and amid a most impressive silence, said:
"No, my lad, Charles Bradlaugh will be the last man on the face of the earth to take a pleasure from a soldier boy, even though it be a 'belief in God!'"
The crowd wildly cheered, and I went out grateful and strengthened. This incident had a very unusual effect upon me—an intense desire to tell others of that belief possessed me. I was already doing this in a small way, but I became bolder and sought larger opportunities.
About ten days later I was ordered to London as the personal bearer of a Government dispatch. I made requisition for seven days' leave of absence. My mission was to the Horse Guards, and after its accomplishment I went to Whitechapel and rented a small room for a week. I had with me a suit of plain clothes that I wore during the daytime, but the scarlet uniform was conspicuous and soldier Evangelists very rare, so in the mission halls and on the street corners with the Salvation Army and other open-air preachers, I exercised my one talent, and told the story of what I had now found a name for—my conversion.
In the daytime I talked to costermongers, street venders, the unemployed, and the corner loafers. One night I put my plain clothes on and spent the night with the "wharf rats" on the banks of the Thames.
For seven days and for seven nights I continuously told that simple story—told it in few words, closing always with an appeal for a change of life. I had spoken to the officer of the Horse Guards with whom I had business of my intention, and he told me of a brother officer who was very much interested in religious work among soldiers, and directed me to his quarters.
The interview resulted in an invitation to a Sunday afternoon meeting at the town house of a duke. It was the most gorgeous place I had ever been in, and the audience was composed of the most aristocratic people in London. I felt very much out of place and conspicuous because of my uniform and station in life.
The first part of the meeting partook of the nature of a reception. I watched the proceedings from the most obscure corner I could find. Somebody rapped on the table. The hum of voices ceased, and there stepped out, as the speaker of the afternoon, my friend of the Possilpark Mission, Professor Drummond.
Up to that hour my theology related largely to another world, but his explanation of a portion of Scripture was so clear and so convincing to my simple mind, that I could neither miss its meaning nor avoid its application. The professor was telling us that religion must be related to life. Many years afterward I came across the treatise in printed form. It was entitled, "The Programme of Christianity." The officer of the Horse Guards by whose invitation I enjoyed this privilege, introduced me to the lecturer and this personal touch, though very slight, marked a distinct period in my development. Drummond had pushed me out of one stage, and, by inviting me to render an account of myself to him, inspired me into another.
My Bible studies had given me a longing to see the Holy Land. Perhaps the longing was super-induced by the possibility of being drafted to the Mediterranean Squadron. On inquiry I learned that the flagship of that squadron—the Alexandra—had a library and a school on board, so I made this kind of a proposition to the Almighty. I did it, of course, with a humble spirit and a devout mind; but I did it in a very clear and positive manner: "Give me the flagship for the sake of the schooling I will get there, and I will give you my life!"
I prayed daily and nightly, for nearly six months for that object, and in my anxiety over the matter I made a dicker with a man who was to embark at the same time—that, if he should be lucky enough to get the flagship and I should be appointed to some other ship, I would give him a money consideration and request the commander to permit us to exchange. This was a break in my faith, and I quickly corrected it, leaving the entire matter in supernatural hands.
There came a time when I was sure in my mind that I would get that ship—a time when there was no longer zest in praying for it; and there entered into my praying phrases of gratitude instead of request. There came also a time when I confided this assurance to my closest friend, to whom it was all moonshine. He laughed and poked fun at the idea. It became a barrack-room joke and I was hurt and chagrined.
The eventful morning arrived. Those for embarkation were called out for parade in full marching order, and the roll was called. The universe seemed to hang in the balance that morning. Finally the moment arrived. My name was called. I took one pace to the front, ported my arms and awaited the verdict. My name and company were called, and this assignment: "To Her Majesty's ship Condor!"
My comrades giggled and were sharply rebuked: I gave vent to an inarticulate guttural sound and was also rebuked. After parade I went to my barrack-room, changed my uniform, and disappeared to escape ridicule.
"What cheer, Condor?" were the first words that greeted me at reveille next morning, and my room-mates kept it up. Sometimes the ridicule worked overtime. Often I was on the edge of a wild outburst of passion and resentment, but I mastered these things and went on with my duties. At eleven o'clock in the forenoon of the day following my assignment, we "mustered kits." This is the ordinary pre-embarkation inspection. After inspection we packed our kits and were stood to attention. Several corrections were made in the instructions of the previous day. My heart almost stopped beating when my name was called a second time.
"A mistake was made——"
The officer got no farther.
"I knew it, begorra!" I exclaimed, with flushed face and beating heart.
The officer came close to me, looked straight into my face, and said, "I have a good mind to put you in the guard room."
I stood still, motionless, silent.
"A mistake was made yesterday," he continued, "in appointing you to the Condor. You are to go, instead, with a detachment to the Alexandra, flagship of the Mediterranean Squadron."
Parade was dismissed. I went to the officer, saluted him, and begged the privilege of an explanation. In a few words I told him my story and of the hope of my life, and asked him to forgive me for the interruption. He looked astonished and replied very quietly, "I am glad you told me, Irvine. I shall be interested in your future."
On the way to the barrack-room, the spirit of exuberant merriment took possession of me. I wanted to do something ludicrous or desperate. I threw my pack into a corner, quickly divested myself of my tunic, rolled up my shirt sleeves, and struck the table such a blow with my clinched fist as to make the dishes jump off. Everybody looked around. My face must have been a picture of facial latitude.
Alexander Irvine as a Marine, at the Age of NineteenToList
"Boys," I said, "here's yer last chance to oblige an Irishman!"
"What is it, Pat?" half a dozen shouted in unison.
"I want to box any three blinderin' idiots in the room, and all together, begorra! Come on now, ye spalpeens, and show the stuff yer made of!"
The only answer was a loud outburst of applause and laughter.
In my exuberance, I danced an Irish hornpipe, and my career in the barrack-room was over.
In January, 1883, the big troop-ship bearing reinforcements for the Mediterranean Squadron steamed into Malta Harbour and we were transferred to our respective ships. The Alexandra was supposed to be the most powerful ship in Victoria's navy at that time. She carried the flag of Admiral Lord John Hay. She was a little city of the sea with her divisions of labour, her social distinctions, her alleys and her avenues. She had a population of about one thousand inhabitants. These were divided into officers, petty officers, bluejackets and marines. Around the flagship lay half a dozen other ships of the fleet. I was fascinated with the variety of things around me in that little city, and for the first few days on board spent all my leisure time in exploring this mysterious underwater world. Her guns were of the heaviest calibre. Her steel walls were decorated with ponderous Pallasier shot and shell. I was struck with the marvellous cleanliness. Her decks were white. Every inch of brasswork was shining; everything in order; everything trim and neat; neither slovenly men nor slovenly conditions.
Malta Harbour is one of the finest in the world. The old City of La Vallette looks like an immense fortress, which it really is, and the next thing to explore was the Island.
It seemed as if I had entered an entirely new world. My heart was full of joy, my mind full of hope, and my uniform for the time being was more the uniform of a student than of a fighter. My first great discovery on the ship was the thing I had prayed for—a school. I hid myself behind a stanchion out of sight of the instructors and took my bearings. Later, I found a place where I could sit within hearing distance, but was discovered and forced to explain. The chief instructor was interested in my explanation and in my story, and gave me valuable advice as to how to proceed in my studies. Once again my brogue militated against my advancement. Being the only Irishman in the mess, I had to bear more than my share of its humour. I made application to be employed as a waiter in the officers' wardroom, so that I might improve my pronunciation and add to my vocabulary. I had a little pad arranged on the inside of my jacket with a pencil attached, and every new word I heard I jotted down; and every night I gathered together these new friends, looked up their origin, meaning, and pronunciation. I was appointed bodyservant to the paymaster of the ship, a bucolic old Bourbon of the most pronounced aristocracy. This excused me from military and naval duty, and I was privileged to wear plain clothes. I attached myself to a small group of pietists called Plymouth Brethren, orthodox theologians, literalists in interpretation of the Scriptures and exceedingly straight-laced in their morality. They were fine Bible students, indeed, Bible experts. This was a great joy to me at first, but the atmosphere to a red-blooded, jubilant nature like mine was rather stifling after a while. I was fond of a good story and was full of Irish folklore and fairy stories, and I noticed my brethren did not relish my outbursts of laughter. It was explosive, spontaneous and hearty, but not contagious among them. Their faces assumed a rather pained expression, a kind of notice of emotion that a sense of humour and religious beliefs occupied different compartments in the human mind. It was intimated to me that such "frivolousness" was out of kelter with the profession of a Christian. It was merely by accident that I pulled out of a shelf in the library "Adam Bede" by George Eliot. When I was discovered eagerly devouring its contents under the glare of the fighting lamp one night after the crew had "piped down," I was upbraided for spending such precious time on such "worldly trash."
"Suppose the Lord should come now and find you reading that; what would you say to Him?"
My reply added to their sorrow.
"I should say, 'Begorra, Yer Honour, it's a bully good story!'"
The judgment of my brethren was that there was good stuff in me for a Christian if I had only been born somewhere else, a judgment I could not be expected to agree with. My disagreement with these men on various lines was no barrier to my participation in their propaganda. There was only one thing in the world to do—get men converted. Each man in this small group picked out another man as a subject of prayer and solicitation and persuasion. At our weekly meetings we reported on our work. Then we worked for each other. Of course, I was a subject of prayer myself. When these men shook hands in parting, they usually said, "If the Lord tarry," for the Lord was expected to come at any moment. This they could not get into my speech or mind. As I looked around me, I got the idea that there was a good deal of work to be done before the Lord came, and I put emphasis rather on the work than on the expectation. The ship was a beehive of activity, not merely the activity of warlike discipline or preparation, but social activity. Of course, this activity was largely for the officers. We had to go ashore for most of ours, and the social activity of the rank and file was rather of a questionable character ashore, but the officers had their dinners, their dances, and their afternoon receptions.
The social centre for a portion of the rank and file was a sailors' institute. As this was a temperance institution, it was only patronized by a small percentage of them. Here we had frequent receptions, afternoon teas, lectures, and religious meetings. Here the secret societies met—the Free Masons, Odd Fellows, Foresters, Orangemen, etc. Thursday afternoons we had a half-holiday on board. It was called "Make-and-Mend-Clothes Day." The upper decks belonged to the crew that afternoon, and every conceivable kind of activity was in operation. It looked something like an Irish fair. It was a day on which most men wrote home; but there were sewing, boxing, fencing, and on this afternoon at least almost every man on the ship worked at his hobby. My hobby at this time was mathematics and I could not do that in the crowd, but on Thursday afternoons I rather enjoyed watching the boxing and fencing. My experience in the game had given me at least a permanent interest in it, and as I stood by the ropes the blood tingled in my veins. I was anxious many a time for a rough and tumble, but my religious friends saved me from this indulgence. There were sixteen men in my mess. It was in a corner of the main gun battery alongside one of the big "stern-chasers." We had a table that could be lowered from the roof of the gun battery, and eating three times a day with these men, I knew them fairly well and they knew me. Each man-of-war's man is allowed a daily portion of rum, and I was advised by the small group of Christians to follow their example and refuse to permit anybody else to drink my portion. It took me a long time to make up my mind to follow their advice. It was, of course, considered an old-womanish thing to do, but I finally came to the point when I asked the commissariat department to give me, as was the custom, tea, coffee, and sugar instead. I took very good care, however, not to indulge myself in these things. I handed them over to men on the night watches. This did not save me from the penalty for such an offence. It brought down on my head the curses of a good many men in the mess, but especially of one man who was a sort of a ship's bruiser. It came his turn to be cook about once in ten days. The cook of the mess had as his perquisite a little of each man's ration of rum. With the others, the abuse was mixed with good-humour, for on the whole I managed to lead a fairly agreeable life with my messmates. They looked upon me as a religious fanatic, but my laughter, my funny stories, and my willingness to oblige offset with most of them my temperance principles and religious fanaticism. The insults of the bruiser I usually met with a smile and passed off with a joke; but when they were long continued, they irritated me.
There is a monotony in the life of the average soldier or sailor which has a very deadening effect upon character—seeing the same faces, hearing the same things, performing the same routine in the same kind of way every day, year in and year out, makes him a sort of automaton. Kipling has told us something of the effect of this thing in "Soldiers Three." There came a time when I broke under the strain of this man's continued insults. For nearly a year I got comfort from the advice of the brethren. We had a weekly meeting where our difficulties were considered and prayed over, but the consolation of my brethren finally refused to suffice, and, being a healthy, normal, vigorous animal with some little experience of looking after myself, I began to resent the insults and make some show of defence. This change of front incensed the bully, and one day he hurled an exceedingly nasty epithet at me—one of those vulgar but usual epithets current in army speech. The reference in it to my mother stirred me with indignation and I announced in a fit of anger my willingness to be thrashed or thrash him if the thing was repeated. It was not only repeated at once, but seizing a lump of dough, he hurled it at my head. I ducked my head and it hit another man on the jaw, but the gauntlet was on the floor and an hour afterward the port side of the gun deck was a mass of solidly packed sailors and marines. My brethren came to me one after another. They quoted scores of texts to make me uncomfortable. I tried to joke, but my lips were parched and my tongue unwilling to act. I was pale and trembling. I knew what I was up against, but determined to see it through. One text only I could remember in this exigency and I quoted it to Lanky Lawrence, the big sailmaker who was the leader of our sect. "Lanky, m' boy," I said to him, "I'm goin' to hing m' hat on one text fur the space of a good thrashin'."
"What is it?" asked the sailmaker.
"'As much as lieth in ye, live peaceably wid all men.' Now I have done that same, and bedad, I have done it to the limit and I'm goin' to jump into this physical continshun so that of out it I will bring pace!"
"Ye're all wrong!" said the sailmaker.
"I know it, but from the straight-lacedness of your theology I want a vacation, Lanky, just for the space that it takes to get a lickin' wan way or th' other." So the thing began. My chief endeavour was to escape punishment, but the space was exceedingly small between the two big guns and I didn't succeed very well. During the first five minutes I was very badly bruised and beaten. One of my ribs was broken and both eyes almost closed. Half the time I could not see the bully at all. In one of the breathing spells, the sailmaker, who, despite his quotations of Scripture, had remained to see the proceedings, whispered something in my ear. It was a point of advice. He told me that if I could stand that five minutes longer, my opponent would be outclassed. The support of Lanky was a great encouragement to me, and a good deal of my fear disappeared. I began to think harder, to plan, and to plant blows as well as to avoid them. This excited the crowd and it became frenzied.
Up to that point it was a one-sided thing. Now, I was not only taking but giving; and not only giving, but giving with laughter and ejaculations. Our Bible study for that month was the memorizing of the names of the minor prophets; and once when I managed to toss my opponent's head to one side with a blow on the point of the chin, I shouted full of glee, "Take that, you cross-eyed son of a seacook—take it in the name of Hosea!" The crowd laughed, but above the roar of laughter rang out the voice of a Scotchman who was one of our best Bible students: "Gie him brimstone, Sandy!" A few minutes later I ejaculated, "And, bedad, that's for Joel!" In this new spirit and in this jocular way, I pounded the twelve minor prophets into him one after another, while the rafters of the ship rang with the cheers of the crew. By the time I had exhausted the minor prophets, I was much the stronger man of the two. My opponent was wobbling around in pretty bad shape. Once he was on his knees, and while waiting, I shouted, "I want to be yer friend, Billy Creedan. Shake hands now, you idiot, and behave yourself!"
The only answer I got was a string of vile oaths as he staggered to his feet. I pleaded with him to quit, but that is not the way that such fights end. Men fight while their senses last, while their legs keep under them, and at such a moment a blood-thirsty crowd becomes crazed for the accomplishment of something that looks like murder. The injection of the minor prophets made a ludicrous ending of a thing that had at the beginning almost paralyzed me with fear. So the thing ended with the bully of the mess lying prostrate on his back. I was not presentable as a waiter for several days, but inside of an hour everybody on the ship knew what had happened, and for the second time in my life I was hailed as a bruiser.
To impress a thousand men in such a manner creates an egotism which is very likely to be lasting. I had not accomplished very much in my studies. I was nothing in particular among my religious brethren. My general reputation up to this moment in the ship was that of a simple-minded Irish lad, who was a religious fanatic, a sort of sky pilot or "Holy Joe." I became flushed with the only victory worth while in the army or navy, and the second experience lasted twice as long as the first.
The next thing to be done, of course, by my friends and admirers, was to pit me against the bruisers of other ships. Two of the officers wanted to know my plans. This recognition heightened my vanity. Prayer-meeting night came along, and I was ashamed to attend. A committee was sent to help me out, and the following week the prodigal returned. The proper thing to do on my return was to confess my sin and ask the brethren to pray for me; but when I failed to do this, I became a subject of deep concern and solicitude. I tried to cultivate a sense of conviction, but succeeded indifferently. The deference paid me by the men of the mess was not calculated to help me out. I felt very keenly the suspicion of my brethren, but it was compensated for by the fact that among the ordinary men I had now a hearing on matters of religious interest. I was rather diffident in approaching them on this subject, since, from the viewpoint of the pietists, I had fallen from grace. At the end of a month, a loathing of this cheap reputation began to manifest itself. The man I had beaten became one of my closest friends. I wrote his letters home to his mother. A few weeks later, he entrusted me with a more sacred mission—the writing of his love letters also.
Creedan was a Lancashire man, as angular in speech as in body, and lacking utterly a sense of humour. As we became acquainted, I began to suggest some improvements, not only in his manner of writing, but in the matter also. I could not understand how a man could make love with that kind of nature. One day I suggested the idea of rewriting the entire epistle. The effect of it was a huge joke to Creedan. He laughed at the change—laughed loud and heartily. The letter, of course, was plastered all over with Irish blarney. It was such a huge success that Creedan used to come to me and say:
Officers of H.M.S. Alexandra, Ashore at CattaroToList
"Hey, Sandy, shoot off one of them things to Mary, will ye?"
And the thing was done.
The summer cruise of 1883 was up the Adriatic. All the Greek islands were visited. I knew the historical significance of the places, which made that summer cruise a fairyland to me.
There were incidents in that summer cruise of more than ordinary interest. One morning, while our ship was anchored in the harbour of Chios, the rock on which our anchor lay was moved by a sudden convulsion: the mighty cable was snapped, and the ship tossed like a cork by the strain. The guns were torn from their gearing and the shot and shell torn from their racks. Men on their feet were flung prostrate, and everything loose scattered over the decks. The shrill blast of the bugle sounded the "still." Such a sound is very seldom blown from the bugles, but when it is, every man stops absolutely still and awaits orders. The boatswain blew his whistle which was followed with the Captain's order, "Port watch on deck; every other man to his post!" Five minutes later, on the port side of the ship, I saw the British Consul's house roll down the side of the hill. I saw the people flock around a priest who swung his censer and called upon God. The yawning gulf was there into which a part of the little town had sunk. A detachment of marines and bluejackets went ashore, not knowing the moment when the earth would open up and swallow them. The boats were lowered, and orders were given to stand ready to pack the ship to the last item of capacity and carry away the refugees from what we supposed to be a "sinking island." Of course, in a crisis like this, the sentiment of religion becomes dominant. Some of my comrades at once jumped to the conclusion that it was the coming of the Lord, and in the solemnity of the moment I could not resist the suggestion for which I was derided for months:
"Gee, but isn't He coming with a bang!"
In 1884 I kept a diary—kept it the entire year. It was written in the straggling characters of a child of ten. As I peruse it now, twenty-five years afterward, I am struck not so much with what it records, as with what it leaves unrecorded. The great places visited and the names of great men are chronicled, Bible studies and religious observations find a place—but of the fierce struggle of the human soul with destructive and corrupting influences, not a word!
The itinerary of the year included Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Syria, Asia Minor, Cyprus, Crete and Sicily. Of these Syria was of the greatest interest to me. Of the men whose pathway crossed mine, General Gordon was of the most importance; of the others, the King of Greece and the second son of Victoria were unique, but not interesting. One in my position could only meet them as a flunky meets his master, anyway.
Gordon, on his way to his doom in the Soudan, disembarked at Alexandria. It was early in January. There was no parade, no reception of any kind. Gordon was dressed in plain clothes with a cane in his hand. Gladstone had sent him thus to bring order out of chaos in the Land of the Mad Mullah. Officers with a penchant for religious propaganda are scarce either in the army or navy, but into whatever part of the world Gordon went, he was known and recognized and sought after by men engaged in religious work. It was an officer of the Royal Naval Temperance Society, who was at the same time a naval petty officer, who said to me on the wharf at Alexandria—"That's Chinese Gordon!"
"Where is he going?" I asked.
"Down the Nile to civilize niggers who are dressed in palm oil and mosquitoes," was the answer. A year later Gladstone sent an army and spent millions of money to bring him back, but it was too late.
While lying off Piræus, the seaport of Athens, I was doing guard duty on deck in the first watch. I was substitute for a comrade who had gone to visit the ancient city. There had been an informal dinner, and there were whispers among the men that some high mogul was in the Admiral's cabin. Toward the close of the first watch I was joined on my beat by a man in plain clothes, who, with a lighted cigar in his mouth, marched fore and aft the star-board side of the ship with me. In anticipation of entering Greek waters, I had read for months, and this stranger was astonished to find a common soldier so well informed on the history of Greece. I had not yet been ashore, but I had arranged to go the following day. The gentleman, on leaving, handed me a card on which he had pencilled what I think was an introduction. I had only time to ask him his name, and he said, "George—just George." Next day I discovered I had been pow-wowing with a king. The effect on me was almost as bad as a successful go with the gloves. The Channel Squadron, flying the flag of the Duke of Edinburgh, entered Malta Harbour that year, and for some weeks the combined fleets lay moored alongside each other. The Royal Admiral was a frequent visitor to our ship. On one of these visits I had the experience of serving him with luncheon. He was the guest of our skipper. During the luncheon I handed him a note from his Flag Lieutenant. A dealer in mummies had come aboard with some samples. They were spread out on the quarter-deck. The note related the facts, but the Queen's son was not impressed, and said so.
A Page from Mr. Irvine's Diary
Kept while serving on H.M.S. AlexandraToList
"Tell him," said he, "to go to —— Oh, wait a moment"; then he pencilled his reply on the back of a note and handed it to me. When the Flag Lieutenant read it, he laughed, tore it up and handed the pieces to me. The Duke's reply read—"He may go to the D—— with the whole boiling. A."
Right off the coast of Sicily, we encountered a bit of rough water, and Commander Campbell, a seaman of the old school, took advantage of it for sail drill.
"Strike lower yards and top masts," was the order, "and clear the decks for action!"
"Away aloft!" he roared, as the wind soughed through the rigging, and a moment later I heard—"Bear out on the yard-arm!"
Something went wrong in the foretop that day, and its captain fell to the hatchway grating below. I was standing a few feet from the spot, and it took me the best part of the day to sponge his blood out of my clothing. We stopped the evolution for a day, and the following day another man was killed performing the same drill, and we buried them both that afternoon in the old cemetery at the base of Mt. Etna. At noon on the third day the ship was ordered to go through the same evolution. Meantime a petty officer named Hicks had been promoted captain of the foretop. He was one of the finest men in the ship. He could dance a hornpipe, sing a good song, make a splendid showing with the gloves or single-sticks; was something of a wag, and when he laughed the deck trembled. His promotion was not wholly a thing of joy, for the superstition of the sea gripped him tight. He was the third man, and to most of us the number had an evil omen. Within an hour after his promotion, the red flush had gone from his cheeks. He was silent and managed to be alone most of the afternoon and evening of that day. He had been a signal boy and was an expert in the language of flags and in flashing the electric light. He was unable to sleep and passed most of the night on deck with the sentries. It was noticed that he begged permission to "monkey" with the electric-light signalling apparatus aft on the poop. When we began the sail drill the following day, the attention of every man on the ship was focused on the captain of the foretop, and at the order—"Away aloft!" he sprang at the rigging like a cat. We stood from under. There was a breathless hush as the second order was given—"Bear out on the yard-arm!" It was the fatal order at which the other men had lost their nerve and their lives! As it rang out over the old ship, we gulped down our lumps and secretly thanked Him in the hollow of whose hand lie the seas. The evolution was completed, and when the man of the foretop descended to the deck, half a dozen men gripped Hicks, and hugged him and kissed him with tears in their eyes.
Something really did happen in the foretop that day—something happened to its captain, though nobody knew just what it was. He came to the deck a changed man, and those who knew him best, felt it most. We could not analyze it—he could not himself. I got into the secret by accident. Some weeks later, it may have been months, an officer from another ship was lunching with a friend in our wardroom. I served the lunch and overheard the following conversation:
"Have you a signal man by the name of Hicks—Billy Hicks—on board?"
"Yes, what about him?"
"Well," the officer said, smiling, "we were ten miles out at sea a few weeks ago when I noticed the signals flashing all over the heavens. I was officer of the deck. It was about seven bells in the first watch. I called my signal officer, told him to take down what he read." He pulled out his notebook, still smiling and, spelling out the words, read:
"God this is Billy Hicks. I ain't afraid of no bloomin' man nor devil. I ain't afraid of no Davey Jones bleedin' locker neither. I ain't like a bawlin baby afussin' at his dad for sweeties. I doant ask you for no favours but just one. This is it—when I strike the foretop to-morrow let me do it with the guts of a man what is clean and God dear God from this here day on giv me the feeling I use to have long ago when I nelt at my mother's knee an said Our Father. Good night dear God."
I went out into the pantry of the wardroom, jotted down as much of this as I could remember, and it gave me a splendid introduction to the captain of the foretop.
The greatest problem of my life, and perhaps of any life at the age of twenty-one, was the problem of sex instinct. I have often wondered why that problem is discussed so meagrely. I have often wondered why, for instance, Kipling and Frank Bullen and W. Clark Russell, in discussing the life of soldiers and sailors with whom this is a specialized problem, have not frankly discussed the terrific battle that every full-blooded man must fight on this question.
The moment I arrived in that foreign port I was overwhelmed with a sense of personal freedom. There I was, with a splendid physical organization that had just come into its own, and around me in the mess and on the ship's deck and on the streets of the cities—everywhere—I heard nothing else but conversation on this problem. To nine out of every ten men it was a joke. It was laughed at, played with, and I knew, of course, that young men of my own age were being smashed on the rocks of this problem.
The British Navy serves out once or twice a week a ration, which is one of the biggest jokes of naval life. It is a small ration of lime juice, and the rumoured purpose of it is to modify in some degree this tremendous natural sex instinct. To most of us it was like spitting on a burning building—the battle went on fiercer every day of life! I tackled it from two points of view; first, the moral point of view. My religion demanded purity, continence and self-mastery. The other point of view—I don't think this was clear to me at the time; I don't believe that I intentionally pursued this course with the object in view that it actually accomplished; nevertheless, whether intentional or unintentional, planned or unplanned, the effect was produced. The physical work required of me was light, very light, and all my leisure time was spent in study. I studied so hard and so conscientiously that I tired not only my mind, but my body. There came a time when I was dimly conscious, however, that I was doing two things by hard study: I was preserving my body, conserving my vital energy, and at the same time training my mind, gathering information and equipping myself intellectually. At the present moment my body is as lithe, as powerful and as enduring as the body of a youth of twenty, and I attribute this wealth of health to the fact that twenty-five years ago, I tackled this problem of self-mastery and laid the foundations for my present strength.
Who will give the world a novel or a book dealing with this terrific problem? Who will tell millions of young men around the age of twenty that they cannot burn their candle at both ends? With the ordinary man in civil life the temptation is a negligible quantity compared to the life of a soldier or sailor. In the army and navy it is talked incessantly so that a man has a double battle to fight. He fights the thing and he fights a multitude of suggestions that come to him every day of his life.
The most revolting, disgusting and degrading thing I ever heard talked about on a man o' war was the perversion of the sex instinct—the unnatural use of it! This, too, is a joke and laughed at and talked lightly about; but the records of the British Navy, and I think of other navies, would reveal something along this line that would shock civilization. I did not believe this possible, but the first six months on board changed my mind.
To the great credit of the British Navy, be it said that this crime is held almost equal to murder, and when an officer is convicted of it, the trial is in camera, and the findings kept secret; but no matter how high his rank, he is stripped of his standing and marched over the side of the ship as a degraded criminal and an outcast. A man of the ranks convicted of it usually spends the rest of his natural life in prison.
The two things responsible for such perversion in the navy are: first, the herding of the male sex together and for long periods; second, the mode of dress in which little boys begin their sea life. These are the problems before which all others sink into utter insignificance. The army and navy of Great Britain, is recruited very largely from the slums of great cities. The most ignorant, the most brutal and most immoral of mankind are drafted by the incentive of a better life than they have ever known; but they are only changed outwardly. Their nature, their habits of life, their mental make-up, does not change; or, if it changes to the automatic action by which they become part of a war machine they lose that individual freedom that is the boast of the Anglo-Saxon race.
On the other hand, I must say that in all my contact with life, I have never met nor been associated with a group of men more gentlemanly, better educated, or whose total sum of right thinking and right living was higher than that group of officers on that ship. I certainly attribute a great deal of my quickening of mind to contact with them.
The incarceration of Gordon in Khartoum was a matter of deep concern to every soldier and sailor in the British Empire, particularly to those of us who were in and around Egypt at the time. It has not always been plain to the British soldier in Egypt, why he was there; but he seldom asks why he is anywhere. In the matter of Gordon, however, the case was different. They all knew that Gladstone had sent him and refused to relieve him; at least, the relief was so long-drawn-out, so dilatory, that it was practically useless.
I had made application for my discharge from the service by purchase—a matter of one hundred dollars—and had my plans made out for further study; but the plight of Gordon gripped me as it gripped others, and I determined to throw every other consideration aside, and get to the front. There was one chance in a thousand, and I took it. A marine officer of the ship was called for and his valet was a man who had almost served his time; had seen much service and was not at all anxious for any more. I went after him, bank-book in hand:
"I will give you all I possess if you will let me go in your place."
"It's a go," said this man as a gleam of joy overspread his face. The officer himself was glad, and the whole thing was arranged; and in forty-eight hours, I was on board the Peninsula and Oriental steamship Bokhara bound for the Red Sea. The officer was the most brutal cad I have ever met. He strutted like a peacock, and seemed to take delight in humiliating, when an opportunity would present itself, anybody and everybody beneath him in rank—he was a captain.
The trip through the Suez Canal might be considered a new stage of development, for I travelled as a second-class passenger. To be consulted as to what I should eat or to have any choice whatever, was not only new, but startling. In turning a curve in the Canal, we encountered a sunken, water-logged ship which stopped the traffic. We were there four or five days, and the life of ease and luxury, with opportunity for reading and social intercourse with well-gowned people, was so enjoyable that, had it not been for the fact that Gordon was in danger in Khartoum, and I wanted to have a hand in his relief, I should have enjoyed staying there a month. We disembarked at Suakim on the Red Sea, and we were—the officer and myself—immediately attached to the staff of General Sir Gerald Graham in the desert.
The seven months in the desert were months of waiting—monotonous, deadening waiting. The greatest difficulty of that period of waiting was the water supply. We were served out with a pint of water a day. Water for washing was out of the question. Our laundry method was a kind of optical illusion. We took our flannel shirts, rolled them up as tightly as possible, tied them with strings, and then thumped them laboriously with the butt end of a rifle; then they were untied, shaken out, brushed, and they were ready for use. Most of this was a make-believe laundry, but the brushing was real. Being attached to the General Staff, I had a little more leeway in the comforts of life, but it was mighty little.
Off in the hills, ten miles distant, was encamped the black horde under Osman Digna, and every night of the seven months the Arabs kept up small-arm firing upon us. Sometimes they were bold enough to make an approach in a body in the darkness, but we had powerful electric lights that could search the desert for miles. We got accustomed to this after a while, and would simply lie prostrate while the light was turned on them. Of course, the searching of the desert with the electric lights was always accompanied with the levelling of our artillery on whatever the light revealed. Not very much destruction was accomplished on either side, however. Occasionally a stray bullet would carry off one of our men in his sleep. Sometimes these naked savages would stealthily creep in upon our sentries and with their sharp knives would overpower them and mutilate them in an indescribable manner.
To prevent this, we laid dynamite mines in front of our encampments. I watched, late one afternoon, the young engineer officer as he connected the wires for the night—perhaps his hand trembled as he made connections, or perhaps some mistake was made. Anyway, there was an explosion. Great masses of desert sand shot into the air like a cloud, and when it fell again, the mangled body of the engineer fell with it; but the mines were laid, connections made for the night, just the same, by another engineer.
At other places we had broken bottles fixed in the sand, for the black men came barefooted, and they were more seared by broken bottles in the sand than they were by the musketry fire.
A night of great excitement was that of the capturing of some of our mounted scouts in a sortie near the hills. That night we saw half a dozen immense bon-fires on the hilltops, and the impression we got was that our comrades were being burned alive. There were half a dozen brushes or skirmishes with the natives during my stay in the desert, but I did not experience what might be called a decisive battle. There had been decisive battles of one sort or another, but I was not present. They were before my time.
They began the laying of a railway from Suakim to Berber, but afterward they pulled the rails up. The soldiers cursed Gladstone for the laxity of his foreign policy. Gordon, we knew, was in Khartoum, and hard pressed, and outside were the Mahdi and his multitude; and why the Government should hold us back, we could not understand. The desert life was so deadening that any kind of a change would have been welcome. Every man would have been glad of even a repetition of the charge at Balaklava, though only few men would come out. Anything was preferable to rotting in the desert!
The sun was striking dead one out of every two men. I thought my time had come when I had a sunstroke. Being the only man on the General's staff stricken, I was well looked after. The General had ice, and I was privileged to have the luxury of it. I was also given a glass of the finest French brandy. I asked the attendant to put it by my side, and when he disappeared out of my tent—my tent was so small that it barely covered my body—I went through a fierce battle with my prejudices. I was a fanatic on the drink question. I had sworn eternal hostility to it, and with good reason. The use of it was partly responsible for my lack of early schooling. It had robbed me of a great deal of the life of my kind-hearted old mother, and I had determined to put up a tremendous fight against it. Here the thing was in my hands, ordered by the doctor; but I tipped it into the sand and made them believe that I had drunk it. I had seen so many stricken men with sunstroke die during the same day, that I had little hope of my own recovery; but inside of twelve hours, I was on my feet again, and, though weak, at work.
It was recorded that we lost fifty per cent. of our strength by sunstroke and enteric fever. It was very noticeable that the men of intemperate habits were the first to go. They dropped like sheep in the heat of the day, and by sundown they lay beneath a winding sheet of desert sand. The actual conflict of civilized with savage forces was responsible for the loss of very few men. The sun was our arch enemy!
To break the monotony, we tried whatever sport was possible in the sand. The national game, cricket, came in for a trial, but was more laughter-provoking than recreative: a bundle of rags tightly rolled up in a sphere served as a ball, and pieces of boards of old packing-cases served as bats and wickets. Leapfrog and the three-cornered game of "cat" were favourite pastimes, but nothing broke the monotony. It was depressing, and it was not an unusual sight to see men weeping from homesickness—utterly unable to keep back the tears. There were attempts at suicide also, and men eagerly sought opportunity to endanger themselves. Actual fighting on the desert was to us the greatest possible godsend, for it meant either death or relief from the game of waiting.
Despite the fact that the love of Gordon had brought me there, I was not enamoured of the way in which the campaign was carried on. Of course, when in actual conflict, I wanted this black horde wiped off the face of the earth; but when I saw boys and girls, ranging from six to ten years of age, approaching the phalanx of British bayonets with their little assagais ready to do battle, I was thrilled with admiration for them. Some of our officers described this as fanaticism, and I remember a discussion that took place between two of them as to whether it was fanaticism or courage, and a unique experiment was tried. We had with us always a contingent of friendly natives, and in order to test the question, one of them was to bare his back (for a shilling) and an officer applied to it, with all his strength, a horsewhip. I saw the black man's body writhe for an instant as he puckered his mouth; but it was only for an instant—then he smiled and asked for another stroke for another shilling. This seemed to indicate to the officers that there was something more than fanaticism in the Soudanese. Their warriors were tall, powerfully built men—we used to say they were dressed in palm oil and mosquitoes. Their hair stood straight up, and their bodies were greased. I think it was the general opinion of our officers that if these men could be disciplined and drilled as European soldiers are, they would make the finest fighters in the world. Perhaps Kipling has described this opinion better than anybody else when he says:
There was somewhat of a mixture of my sentiment and feeling on this war. I wanted Gordon released, I wanted the war ended and the Soudanese beaten; but when I contrasted the spirit of the campaign with the spirit of Jesus, I often wished that I could lend my assistance to these black men of the desert who were fighting for the thing under their feet, and the home life of their tribe. But it was not until I was completely out of the desert that I was possessed of a loathing and disgust for the game of war, as such. This disgust grew until I had completely ridden myself not only of the war spirit, but of the paraphernalia of the soldier. The officer whose servant I was, was so hated by everybody who knew him that if he had ever gotten in front of the ranks, as was the ancient custom in war, he would have been the first man to drop, and he would have dropped by a bullet from one of his own men. But leaders no longer lead on the field of battle—they follow!
I had some books with me, but the power to interest myself in them had almost completely vanished. I occupied my mind very largely with military tactics. On a large sheet of brown paper I outlined the plan of campaign. On it I had the position of every regiment in our army. The dynamite mines, the region of broken glass, the furze bushes, fort and redoubts were all minutely detailed, and one night an exigency arose in which this paper plan of campaign was called into evidence. Tired of waiting, and very restive and discontented under the privations of the desert, Graham determined to move. The electric-light apparatus was out of order, and the advance forts were too far away to be touched with any less powerful signal of the night. A non-commissioned officer was ordered to take a corporal's guard and deliver marching orders to the advanced forts. When questioned as to the route he was not quite certain as to the exact location of the dynamite mines or broken glass, and as I overheard the entire conversation, I produced my brown-paper map and begged the honour of carrying the dispatch. This was not granted me until several others had been questioned and failed. I was so sure of every inch of the ground, that I was commissioned to take two men with me and deliver the orders. This made my heart leap with joy—it was a relief, an excitement, an opportunity!
Osman Digna's men were stealthy. They hid behind the furze bushes in the darkness so often, and so many of our men had been hamstrung, that, of course, we were on the alert; but every furze bush we approached covered an imaginery "Fuzzy-Wuzzy," and this, often repeated, created an unutterable fear, so that by the time we reached our destination, our khaki clothing was black with sweat, and we were literally drenched with fear. Of course, we put on a brave front and smiled complacently as we delivered the orders, and when it was suggested that we remain overnight in the fort, I nonchalantly refused the offer under the pretence that we were expected back. The same thing happened on the return journey, and when the thing was over, we were the most pitiful-looking objects—fear-stricken soldiers!
Some months later when it was announced to me that we had been mentioned in dispatches, the absurdity of the thing became for the first time fully apparent. According to the ethics of military life, I had done a brave thing—something worth mentioning; but to my own soul, I had been panic-stricken with physical fear, and, turn it over as I might, I could not discover a vestige of either courage or fortitude in the entire transaction.
The phrase, "Everything is fair in love and war," covers a multitude of sins in both departments. We had a unique way of finding out whether the wells in the desert were poisoned. We led up to each well a small detachment of captives and made them drink. If they drank, we could drink also; if they refused, we took it for granted the wells were poisoned, and we hanged them. Sometimes this extreme sentence was mitigated, and we flogged them. Whatever we touched, we destroyed. What the bullet could not accomplish, the torch could. It was a campaign of annihilation!
The news of Gordon's death cast a gloom over the entire army. This, of course, meant relief and return home, but no man wanted to return. We were seized with a fiendish impulse to proceed at all hazards to Khartoum to his relief. That, from the point of view of the Government was, of course, out of the question, and we were ordered home. Transport ships were lying in Suakim harbour ready for the journey across the sea, but this could not be accomplished with dispatch. A garrison had to be left to watch the seaboard. The detachment of which I was a part was returned to the town of Suakim, and the officers were quartered in an unfinished building by the seaside at the edge of the water. The officers' servants lived in tents pitched on the roof. We were permitted to bathe as often as we wished. The harbour was full of sharks and rather dangerous for bathing, but the Soudanese seemed to be not over-careful as they skimmed over the water in their "dug-outs."
The journey home on a transport was a continuation of the misery of the desert. What the desert had left undone to weakened men, the rough voyage accomplished. The ship was overcrowded and almost every day dead bodies lashed to planks were pitched over the side. The sight (below decks) of scores of men crawling around in a dying condition, struck terror to the hearts of the strong. The smells were nauseating and the food was vile. No man knew when his turn would come. The few doctors were utterly unable to cope with this physical collapse of so many men.
The condition of the ship and of the men furnished me with the best opportunity I had had up to that time for evangelistic work. I spent twenty hours of each twenty-four preaching the gospel to the men. The absence of a chaplain on board made the work comparatively easy. My work was done so quietly and unobtrusively, that it was practically unknown save to the sick and the dying until an incident happened that brought me somewhat into the light.
We were in the Bay of Biscay, and those who were well were fighting off the atmosphere of disease. It was toward evening and four men were playing cards for money. I stood watching them with my hands behind my back. I must have been there half an hour when the man directly in front of me, looking around and staring me in the face, said:
"Get t'ell out of 'ere! I 'aven't won a penny since you've been watching us."
The other men laughed and I moved away, excusing myself as I departed; but before I was out of hearing, one of the men addressed the speaker and said:
"Don't be too sure of what you could do to that fellow Irvine—his looks belie him. He's got more steam in his elbow than you have."
That was all I heard, but as I was looking over the side a minute or two later, a hand was laid on my shoulder. I looked around. It was the man who had threatened me.
"Say, pal," he said, "I didn't mean no 'arm. These 'ere blokes tell me as yer name's Irvine. Is that so?" I nodded an assent. "Did yer ever 'ave a chum 'oose name was Creedan?" Again I nodded assent. "D'ye know what became ov 'im?"
"He was missing on the field," I replied.
"'E's dead," said the man.
Then he described to me the last moments of my friend. It appeared that Creedan and this man fell together on the field, Creedan shot through the abdomen; this man, through the shoulder. An officer came along and offered Creedan a mouthful of water, but he refused, saying he was all in, but that he wanted to send a message to his chum, and this is the message he gave to the man who had threatened to punch my head:
"Tell Irvine the anchor holds!"
I was moved, of course, by the recital of this story; so was the man who told it.
"What in 'ell did 'e mean by th' anchor 'oldin'?" the man asked.
"Old man," I said, "I had been trying for a long time to lead Creedan to a religious life, and the story you tell is the only evidence that I ever had that he took me seriously."
The man looked as if he were going to weep, and in a quivering voice he asked if I could help him. He was going home to marry a maiden in Kent whom he described as "a pure good girl." He felt unworthy, for he was a gambler and a periodical drunkard, and he thought that if a man like Creedan could be helped, he could.
I struck the iron while it was hot, and said: "There is a good deal to be done for you, but you have to do it yourself! If you've got the grit in you to face these fellows and make a confession of religion right here and now, I will guarantee to you that you'll land on the shores of England a new man."
He looked at me for a moment with a stern, hard face, then he said:
"By God, I'll do it!" There was no profanity in this assertion. It was the strongest way he could put it; and we dropped on our knees on the deck and began to pray. In a minute or two half a dozen others joined us. Then it seemed as if everybody around us was on his knees; and then, when I felt the atmosphere of the crowd and the reverence of it, I called on others to pray; half a dozen others responded, and then this man, above the roar of the wind through the sails and the creaking of the boats' davits, prayed to God to make him a new man.
Creedan had been drafted from the ship in a detachment for the front, and when we met on the desert, we entered into a compact which stipulated that if either of us fell on the field of battle, the survivor was to take charge of the deceased's effects, and visit his people.
The arrival of the troops in England was the occasion for an unusual demonstration. We were banqueted and paraded, and all kinds of honours were showered upon us. As we marched through the streets in our sand-coloured uniforms, we were supposed to be heroes—heroes every one. What a farce the whole thing seemed to me! Nevertheless, I was inconsistent enough to actually enjoy whatever the others were getting.
Having purchased my discharge by the payment of £20 I was at liberty to leave at my pleasure; I was offered a lucrative position in the officers' mess which was one of the best in the British Army. This I accepted and held for a year.
My furlough, after a short visit to Ireland, I spent in Oxford. The University and its colleges and the town had a wonderful fascination for me, but I think, as I look back at it and try to sum up its influence upon me, that the personality of the "Master of Balliol"—Benjamin Jowett—was the greatest and the most permanent thing I received.
I had been striving for years to slough off from my tongue a thick Irish brogue, and had not succeeded very well. The elegance and the chasteness of Jowett's English did more for me in this respect than my years of pruning. I have never heard such English, and behind this master language of a master mind, there was a man, a gentleman! I wrote Dr. Jowett a note one day, asking for an interview. It may have been the execrable handwriting that interested him; but I had a most polite note in return, stating the hour at which he would be glad to see me. I remember attempting in a very awkward, childish way to explain to him something of my ambition to make progress in my studies, and how poorly prepared I was and how handicapped in various ways. He rose from his seat, took down a book from a shelf, consulted it and put it back, and then he told me in a few words of a Spanish soldier who had entered the University of Paris at the age of thirty-three and became an influence that was world-wide. This, by way of encouragement. The model held up had very little effect upon me, but this personal interview, this close touch with the man who himself was a model, was a great inspiration to me, and remains with me one of the most pleasant memories of my life.
My first lecture was given in the town hall at my home town in Ireland during the first week of my after-campaign furlough. The townspeople filled the hall, more out of curiosity than to hear the lecture, for when the cobbler's son had left the town a few years before he couldn't read his own name.
The Vicar presided. Ministers of other denominations were present. The Young Men's Christian Association was very much in evidence at the lecture. School teachers of the Sunday School where I taught, were present. The class of little boys I had gathered off the streets was there; but personally I had gone after the newsboys of the town, and I had arranged that they should sit in a row of front seats. Indeed, I bribed some of them to be present.
My lecture was on Gordon and Khartoum. I described our life on the desert and told something of the war-game as I had seen it played. At the close of the lecture, the usual perfunctory vote of thanks was moved, and several prominent men of the town made the seconding of the vote an excuse for a speech. Curiously enough, I had had an experience with one of these men when I was a newsboy, and in my reply to this vote of thanks I told the story:
"One winter's night when I was selling papers on these streets—I think I was about twelve years of age—I knocked at a man's door and asked if he wanted a paper. The streets were covered with snow and slush, and I was shoeless and very cold. The man of the house opened the door himself, and something must have disturbed him mentally, for when he saw it was a newsboy, he took me by the collar and threw me into the gutter. My papers were spoiled and my rags soaked with slush and water.
"I picked myself up and came back to the window through which I saw a bright fire on an open hearth, and around it the man's family. I don't think I said any bad words, nor do I think I was very angry; but I certainly was sad and I made up my mind at the window that that man would some day be sorry for an unnecessary act of cruelty. I am glad that the gentleman is present to-night"—a deep silence and breathlessness pervaded the audience—"for I am sure that he is sorry. But here are the newsboys of the town. They are my invited guests to-night. I want to say to the townspeople that the only kindly hand ever laid on my head was the Vicar's. It is too late now to help me—I am beyond your reach: but these boys are here, and they are serving you with papers and earning a few pennies to appease hunger or to clothe their bodies, and I want you to be kind to them."
After the lecture the man who had thrown me in the gutter came to me. Of course, he had forgotten it. He had not the slightest idea he was the man, but he said:
"What a dastardly shame!"
I gripped him by the hands, and said, "You, my brother, are the man who did it." I tightened my grip, and said, "And I forgive you as fully and freely as I possibly can. You are sorry, and I am satisfied."
I studied in the military schools for a first-class military certification of education, and got my promotion; but no sooner had the studies ceased and promotion come than the disgust with military life and its restrictions increased with such force that it became unbearable. So I left the service.
I came to the United States in September, 1888. I came as a steerage passenger. My first lodging on American soil was with one of the earth's saints, a little old Irish woman who lived on East 106th Street, New York City. I had served in Egypt with her son, and I was her guest.
I had come here with the usual idea that coming was the only problem—that everybody had work; that there were no poor people in this country, that there was no problem of the unemployed. I was disillusioned in the first few weeks, for I tramped the streets night and day. I ran the gamut of the employment agencies and the "Help Wanted" columns of the papers. It was while looking for work that I first became acquainted with the Bowery. It was in the current of the unemployed that I was swept there first. It was there that I first discovered the dimensions of the problem of the unemployed, and my first great surprise in the country was to find thousands of men in what I supposed to be the most wonderful Eldorado on earth, workless, and many of them homeless.
An advertisement in the morning paper calling for a "bed-hand"—whatever that might mean—led me to a big lodging-house on the Bowery. They wanted a man to wash the floors and make the beds up, and the pay was one dollar a day. I got in line with the applicants. I was about the forty-fifth man. Many a time I have wished that I could understand what was passing in the clerk's mind when he dismissed me with a wave of the hand. I thought, perhaps, that my dismissal meant that he had engaged a man, but that was not the case. A man two or three files behind me got the job.
My next attempt led me to a public school on Greenwich Avenue. The janitor wanted an assistant. I was so weary with my inactivity, that any kind of a job at any kind of pay would have been acceptable. The janitor showed me over the school, told me what his work was. Finally, he took me to the cellar where he had piled up in a corner about twenty lots of ashes. That, of course, was the first thing to be done, and though the pile looked rather discouraging, I stripped to the work, and went at it. My task was to get the ashes outside ready for carting away. I was about six hours on the job, when I accidently overheard the janitor say to his wife: "Shut your mouth, I have just got a sucker of a greenhorn to get them out." That was enough. I got my coat and hat, went over to the janitor's door, but before I could open my mouth, his wife said: "What's up?"
"Oh, the job's all right," I replied, "but what I object to is the way you do your whispering!"
The lowest in the scale of all human employments is the art of canvassing for a sewing machine company. I did it for two weeks. My teacher taught me how to canvass a tenement. The janitor is the traditional arch enemy of the canvasser. My teaching consisted largely in how to avoid him, circumvent him, or exploit him. A Mrs. Smith—a mythical Mrs. Smith—always lived on the top floor. I was taught to interview her first; then I canvassed from the top down.
My district was on the East Side from Fourteenth to Forty-Second Street. I encountered some rough work with janitors and janitresses in this region—so rough, indeed, that I considered it a splendid missionary field; and when I found, crushed in the heart of that tenement region, a small Methodist Church, I became interested in its work. I copied its "bill-of-fare" from the board outside the door, and began, as time permitted, to attend its services. As an offset to the discouragements I had experienced, I met in this small church two big men—big, mentally and morally. They were brothers, and during my twenty-one years in the United States, I have not met their superiors. They were Lincoln and Frank Moss, both of them leaders in the church, and although they had moved with the population northward, they remembered the struggles of their childhood, and gave to it some of their best manhood.
Selling sewing machines was a failure, but out of it came the discovery of this splendid field for social and religious activity. I was directed to the Twenty-third Street Y.M.C.A. There, day after day, I inquired at the Employment Department until the secretary seemed tired of the sight of me.
I got ashamed to look at him. One night I sat in a corner, the picture of dejection and despair, when a big, broad-shouldered man sat down beside me.
"You look as if you thought God was dead!" he said, smiling.
"He appears to be," I replied.
He put his big hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes, and drew out of me my story. I forget what he said, it was brief and perhaps commonplace, but I went out to walk the streets that night, full of hope and courage. Before leaving that night I approached the little man at the employment desk.
"Did you see that big fellow in a gray suit?" I asked.
"Who is he?"
"The man whose name is on your letterhead?"
"Great guns! and to think that I've been monkeying all these weeks with a man like you—pardon me, brother!"
Robert R. McBurney was my friend to the day of his death. Many a time, when out of the pit, I reminded him of the incident. It was from the little man at the employment desk of the Twenty-third Street Y.M.C.A. that I got my real introduction to business life—if the vocation of a porter can be called "business."
I became an under-porter in a wholesale house on Broadway at five dollars a week, and spent a winter at the job. The head of the house was a leader of national reputation in his particular denomination. I was sitting on the radiator one winter's morning before the store was opened when the chief clerk came in. It was a Monday morning, and his first words were:
"Well, what did you do yesterday?"
"I taught a Bible Class, led a people's meeting, and preached once," was my reply. He looked dumbfounded.
"Do you do that often?" he asked.
"As often as I get a chance," I answered.
An abiding friendship began that morning between us. This man might have been a member of the firm and a rich man by this time, but he had a conscience, and it would not permit him to dishonestly keep books, which his employers wanted him to do, and he quit.
My next job was running an elevator in an office building on West Twenty-third Street. It was one of the old-fashioned, ice-wagon variety, jerked up and down by a wire cable. It gave me a good opportunity for study. In the side of the cage I had an arrangement for my Greek grammar. This of course, could not escape the notice of the business men, and if I was a few seconds late in answering their bell, they always looked like a thunder-cloud in the direction of my grammar. One of my passengers on that elevator was sympathetic. His name was Bruce Price, an architect; a tall, fine, powerfully built man, who had a kindly word for me every morning, and the only passenger who ever deigned to shake hands with me as if I were a human being.
After that, I mounted a milk-wagon and served milk in the region of West Fifty-seventh Street. This drop into the cellars of the well-to-do gave me contact from another angle with janitors, janitresses, and servants. I started at four o'clock each morning. I did not finish until late in the afternoon, but I had all of Sunday off. I found my way by the touch of the hand, and very soon I seemed to have the eyesight of a cat to find shafts, dumb-waiters, circuitous turnings in the sub-cellars of large apartment houses.
The life of a milkman is a busy one, but I found time to mumble my Greek roots as I trotted in and out of the cellars. My grammar, when weather permitted, was tied open to a bottle in the cart.
From the milk-wagon I went to a publishing house. They had advertised for a man with some literary ability, and I had the effrontery to apply. I drove the milk-cart in front of the publishing-house door, and, with my working clothes bespattered with milk and grease, I applied personally for the job.
"What are your qualifications?" the manager asked.
"What kind of work do you want done?" I asked in reply. I found that they were going to make a new dictionary of the English language, but their method of making it obviated the necessity for scholarship. They had an 1859 edition of Webster and a lot of the newer dictionaries, and Webster was to be the basis of the new one, and we were to crib and transcribe from all the rest. I was the third man employed on the work.
My salary to begin with was ten dollars a week. The word "salary" had a fine sound; it is more refined than "wages," though it was less than my pay as a milkman. After working a month, I had the temerity to outline a plan for a dictionary which would necessitate the most profound scholarship in America. This plan was laughed at, at first, but finally adopted, and it took seven years and millions of dollars, and hundreds of the best scholars in the United States and foreign countries to complete the work. They raised my salary from $10 a week to $100 a month; but when an opening came to work as a missionary among the Bowery lodging houses at $60 a month, I considered it the opportunity of a lifetime, and in 1890 entered my new parish—the Bowery.
The Bowery is one of the most unique thoroughfares of the world. The history of the cheap lodging houses, to which I was commissioned to carry the gospel, is one of the most interesting phases of the Bowery's history. Ex-inspector Thomas Byrnes has described the lodging house of the Bowery as "a breeding place of crime." He probably did not know that the cheap lodging house had its origin in a philanthropic effort. It was in 1872, somewhere on the edge of a financial panic, that the first lodging house of this type was organized by two missionaries—Rev. Dr. A.F. Shauffler and the Rev. John Dooley. The Young Men's Christian Association of the Bowery found a lot of young men attending its meetings who were homeless, and their endeavour to solve this problem resulted in the fitting up of a large dormitory on Spring Street. Somebody—Ex-inspector Byrnes says a Mr. Howe—saw a business opportunity in the philanthropy and copied the dormitory.
There were from sixty to seventy of them on the Bowery when I began my work. These I visited every day of the week. There was a glamour and a fascination about it in the night-time that held me in its grip as tightly as it did others. What a study were the faces—many of them pale, haggard; many of them painted! How sickly they looked under the white glare of the arc lights that fizzled and sputtered overhead! Many of its shops have been "selling out below cost," for over twenty years.
I did not confine myself to the Bowery, but went to the small side streets around Chatham Square. They were also filled with cheap lodging houses. The lowest of these were called "bunk houses." Only one of the bunk houses remains. That is situated at No. 9 Mulberry Street. It is there to-day, little altered from the day I first entered it over twenty years ago. The price for lodging ranges from seven to fifteen cents, but fifteen cents was the more usual price.
My headquarters at first was the City Mission Church on Broome Street, called "The Broome Street Tabernacle," and to it I led thousands of weary feet. The minister at that time was the Rev. C.H. Tyndall, a splendid man with a modern mind; but I filled his tabernacle so full of the "Weary Willies of the Bowery" that Mr. Tyndall revolted, and as I look back at the circumstance now, he was fully justified in his revolt. Mr. Tyndall was doing a more important work than I was, more fundamental and far-reaching. He was touching the family life of the community and he saw what I did not see—that our congregations could not be mixed; that my work was spoiling his. I did not see it then. I see it now. So I betook myself to another church, and this other church got a credit which it did not deserve, for they had no family life to touch. It was a church at Chatham Square, and its usefulness consisted in the fact that it was situated where it could catch the ebb and flow of the "tramp-tide."
I spent my afternoons in the lodging houses, pocket Bible in hand, going from man to man as they sat there, workless, homeless, dejected and in despair. I very soon found that there was one gospel they were looking for and willing to accept—it was the gospel of work; so, in order to meet the emergency, I became an employment agency. I became more than that. They needed clothing and food—and I became a junk store and a soup kitchen.
After six months' experience in the work, I had a story to tell. It was very vivid, and I could always touch the tear glands of a congregation with it, and stir their hearts; so I went from church to church, uptown and out of town and anywhere, and told the story of my congregation on the Bowery. The result was not by any means a solution of my problem, nor of the tramp problem, but carloads of old clothes, and money to pay for lodgings. There was such a terrific tug at my heartstrings all the time that I never had two coats to my own back, or a change of clothing in hardly any department. As for money, I was, as they were, most of the time penniless! Everything I could beg or borrow went into the work.
At the close of the first year, the results were rather discouraging. I got a number of men work, but very few had made good. Hundreds of men had been clothed, fed and lodged, but they had passed out of my reach. I knew not where they had gone. Scarcely one per cent. ever let me know even by a postal card what had become of them, or how they fared, and yet my work was called successful.
Sunday afternoons, with a baby organ on my shoulder and a small group of converts and helpers following closely behind, I went down the Bowery and held meetings in about half a dozen houses. I did most of the speaking, but urged the converts to tell their own stories at each service. I have said that I was never interfered with or molested in the work, and the following incident can hardly be called an exception. A broken-down prize fighter, slightly under the influence of liquor, tried to prevent us from holding a meeting one afternoon. I reasoned with him.
"You don't seem to know who I am," he said. I confessed my ignorance.
"Well," he said, "I'm Connelly, the prize fighter!"
"Then you're what your profession calls a 'bruiser'."
"Sure!" he replied.
"Probably you are not aware, Mr. Connelly, that the Bible has something to say about bruisers."
He explained that, being a Roman Catholic, his Bible was different from mine, and he did not think there were any bruisers in his Bible.
"Oh, you are mistaken, Mr. Connelly. This is your Bible I have with me"—and I produced a small Douey Bible, and turning over the pages in Genesis I read a passage which I thought might appeal to him:
"'The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head.' I suppose you know who the woman was, Connelly."
"The Holy Virgin?" he inquired.
"Yes; and the serpent is the Devil, and he has been pouring firewater into you and has been making you say things you would not otherwise say. As for the seed of the woman, that is Jesus Christ; and this Douey Bible of yours tells you that Jesus Christ is able to bruise the head of the old serpent in you, which is the Devil." That sounded rather reasonable to the retired prize fighter, and he quieted down and we proceeded with the service.
The society for which I worked, occasionally sent down visitors to be shown around the lodging houses, and often I took them in there myself; but the thing grew very distasteful to me, for I never got hardened or calloused to the misery and sorrow of the situation, and it seemed to me eminently unfair to parade them.
About the last man I took around was Sir Walter Besant. I dined with him at the Brevoort House one night, and took him around first to one of the bunk-houses and then to various others, and also into the tenement region around Cherry Street.
"Keep close to me," I told Besant as we entered the bunk house, "don't linger;" so we went to the top floor. The strips of canvas arranged in double tiers were full of lodgers. The floor was strewn with bodies—naked, half naked and fully clothed. We had to step over them to get to the other end. There was a stove in the middle of the room, and beside it, a dirty old lamp shed its yellow rays around, but by no means lighted the dormitory. The plumbing was open, and the odours coming therefrom and from the dirty, sweaty bodies of the lodgers and from the hot air of the stove—windows and doors being tightly closed—made the atmosphere stifling and suffocating.
After stepping over the prostrate bodies from one end of the dormitory to the other, the novelist was almost overcome and when we got back to the door he begged to be taken to the open air. When we got to Chatham Square, he said—"Take me to a drugstore." Besant knew the underworld of London as few men of his generation knew it, but he had never seen anything quite so bestial, so debauched and so low as the bunk-house on Mulberry Street.
It seems strange to me now that after having tramped the streets of New York with the unemployed and after having shared their misery, disappointment and despair, that I should, as a missionary, have entirely forgotten it, and that after years of experience among them, I should still be possessed of the idea that men of this grade were lazy and would not work if they had it. One afternoon in a bunk-house I was so possessed of this idea that I challenged the crowd.
"You men surely do not need any further evidence of my interest in you," I remarked. "All that I have and am belongs to you; but I cannot help telling you of my conviction: that most of you are here because you are lazy. Now, if any man in the house is willing to test the case, I will change clothes with him to-morrow morning and show him how to find work."
The words had scarcely escaped my lips when a man by the name of Tim Grogan stood up and accepted the challenge.
I made an appointment to meet Grogan on Chatham Square at half-past five the next morning. Before I met him, I had done more thinking on the question of the unemployed than I had ever done in my life. I balked on the change of clothing article in the agreement—and furnished my own. Two or three men had enough courage to get up early in the morning and see Tim off—they were sceptical about my intention.
The first thing that we did was to try the piano, soap and other factories on the West Side. From place to place we went, from Fourteenth to Fifty-ninth Street without success. Sometimes under pretence of business and by force of the power to express myself in good English, I gained an entrance to the superintendent; but I always failed to find a job. We crossed the city at Fifty-ninth Street and went down the East Side. Wherever men were working, we applied. We went to the stevedores on the East Side, but they were all "full up." "For God's sake," I said to some of them, but I was brushed aside with a wave of the hand. I never felt so like a beggar in my life. Tim trotted at my heels, encouraging me with whimsical Irish phrases, one of which I remember—
"Begorra, mister, the hardest work for sure is no work at all, at all!"
In the middle of the afternoon, I began to get disturbed; then I decided to try a scheme I had worked over for hours. "Keep close to me, now, Tim," I said, as I led him to a drugstore at the corner of Grand Street and the Bowery.
"Sir," I said to the clerk, "you are unaccustomed to giving credit, I know; but perhaps you might suspend your rule for once and trust us to the amount of five cents?"
"You don't talk like a bum," he said, "but you look like one."
I thanked him for the compliment to my language, but insisted on my request.
"Well, what is it?" asked the clerk with somewhat of a sneer.
"I am hungry and thirsty. I have looked for work all day and have utterly failed to find it. Now I have a scheme and I know it will work. Oxalic acid eats away rust. If I had five cents' worth, I could earn a dollar—I know I could."
He looked curiously at me for a moment, and said with an oath:
"By—! I've been on the Bowery a good many years and haven't been sold once. If you're a skin-game man, I'll throw up my job!"
I got the acid. I played the same game in a tailor-shop for five cents' worth of rags. Then I went to a hardware store on the Square and got credit for about ten cents' worth of brickdust and paste. I took Tim by the arm and led him across the west side of Chatham Square. There used to be a big drygoods store on the east side of the Square, with large plate-glass windows, and underneath the windows, big brass signs.
"Nothing doing," said the floorwalker, as I asked for the job of cleaning them; nevertheless, when he turned his back, I dropped on my knees and cleaned a square foot—did it inside of a minute.
"Say, boss," I said, "look here! I'm desperately hard up. I want to make money, and I want to make it honestly. I will clean that entire sign for a nickle."
It was pity that moved him to give me the job, and when it was completed, I offered to do the other one. "All right," he said; "go ahead."
"But this one," I said, "will cost you a dime."
"Why a nickle for this one and a dime for the other?" he asked.
"Well," I said, "we are just entering business. In the first case I charged you merely for the work done; in the second, I charge you for the idea."
"What idea?" he inquired.
"The idea that cleanliness is part of any business man's capital."
"Well, go ahead."
When both signs were polished I offered to do the big plate-glass windows for ten cents each. This was thirty cents below the regular price, and I was permitted to do the job. Tim, of course, took his cap off, rolled his shirtsleeves up and worked with a will beside me. After that, we swept the sidewalk, earning the total sum of thirty-five cents. We tried to do other stores, but the nationality of most of them was against us; nevertheless, in the course of the afternoon, we made a dollar and a half. I took Tim to "Beefsteak John's," and we had dinner. Then I began to boast of the performance and to warn Tim that on the following Sunday afternoon I should explain my success to the men in the bunk-house.
"Yes, yes, indeed, yer honour," said Tim, "y're a janyus! There's no doubt about that at all, at all! But——"
"Go on," I said.
"I was jist switherin'," said Tim, "what a wontherful thing ut is that a man kin always hev worruk whin he invints ut."
"Well, that's worth knowing, Tim," I said, disappointedly. "Did you learn anything else?"
"There's jist one thing that you forgot, yer honour."
"What is it?" I asked.
"Begorra, you forgot that if all the brains in the bunk-house wor put together they cudn't think of a thrick like that—the thrick of cleaning a window wid stuff from a dhrugstore! They aint got brains."
"Why haven't they?"
"Ach, begorra, I dunno except for the same raisin that a fish hasn't no horns!"
We retraced our steps to the drugstore and the tailor-shop and the hardware store, and paid our bills and I handed over what was left to Tim.
This experiment taught me more than it taught Tim. It made a better student of me. I had investigated the cases of a hundred men in that same bunk-house—their nationality, age and occupation—and I had tried to find out the cause of their failure. And my superficial inquiry led me to the conclusion that the use of intoxicating liquor was the chief cause.
The following table shows the trade, nationality and age of one of our Sunday audiences in the B—— bunk-house. The audience numbered 108, and were all well-known individually to the Lodging House Missionary.
|Thieves and Bums of various grades||18|
|Between 20 and 30||21|
|Between 30 and 40||30|
|Between 40 and 50||29|
|Between 50 and 60||20|
|Between 60 and 70||8|
|Average age, 41 years|
Despite my experience with Tim Grogan, I diagnosed the condition of these men as being entirely due to strong drink. I went back over the ground and investigated with a little more care the causes that led them to drink, and this was the more fruitful of the two investigations. I wondered why men would not even stick at a job when I got them work. A careful investigation led me to the belief that, when a man gets out of a job once, he loses just a little of the routine, the continuity, the habit of work, and it is just a little harder to apply himself when he begins again. If a man loses a job two or three times in a year, it is just as many times harder to go on with a regular job when it comes. Lack of regular employment is the cause not only of the physical disintegration, but of the moral disintegration also; so, these men who had been out of employment so often, actually could not stick at a job when they got it. They were disorganized. A few of them had the stamina to overcome this disorganization. I found the same to be true in morals. When a man made his first break, it was easier to make the second, and it was as easy for him to lose a good habit as to acquire a bad one.
The same thing holds good in what we call charity. A terrific soul-struggle goes on in every man and woman before the hand is put out for the first time. Self-respect is a tremendous asset, and people hold on to it as to their very souls; but when a hand is held out once and the community puts alms therein, the fabric of self-respect begins to totter, and the whole process of disintegration begins.
I made my headquarters, while a lodging-house missionary, in the Mulberry Street bunk-house. It was only a block from Chatham Square, and central. The first thing I did was to clean it. I proceeded with soap and water to scrub it out, dressed in a pair of overalls. While performing this operation, a tall gaunt figure lurched into the room with his hands in his pockets—a slit for a mouth, shaggy eyebrows, rather small eyes. He looked at me for a moment as if in astonishment, and then he said:
"Hello, bub, what's de game?"
"I'm a missionary," I answered.
"Ye are, eh?"
"Yes. When I finish cleaning the floor, I am going to attempt to clean up some other things around here."
"Me too, hey?"
"Yes; don't you think you need it?"
He laughed a hoarse, gutteral laugh, and said:
"Don't get bughouse, boss. Ye'd wind up just where ye begun—on the floor."
This man, who was known in the bunk-house as "Gar," was known also by the names of "McBriarty" and "Brady." He had been in the army, but they could not drill him. He had spent fifteen years in State's Prison for various offences, but for a good many years he had been bungling around in cheap lodging houses, getting a living by his wits. He was the toughest specimen of a man I ever saw. There was a challenge in him which I at once accepted. It was in his looks and in his words. It was an intimation that he was master—that missionaries were somewhat feeble-minded and had to do with weak people. I was not very well acquainted with the bunk-house at the time, but I outlined a plan of campaign the major part of which was the capture of this primordial man. Could I reach him? Could I influence and move him to a better life? If not, what was the use of trying my theological programme on others? So I abandoned myself to the task. I knew my friends and the officers of the missionary society would have considered it very ill-advised if the details of the plan had been known to them, so I slept in the bunk-house and stayed with him night and day. Of course, I would not have done it if I had not seen beyond him: that if I could gain this man, I would gain a strategic point. He himself would be a great power in the bunk-house; first of all, because he was physically fit. He was selected because he could pitch any two men in the house out of it; and even from a missionary's point of view, that was important. He resented at first my interference, but gentleness and love prevailed, and he finally acquiesced.
The hardest part of the plan was to eat with him in an underground restaurant where meals cost five and ten cents a piece. When he was "tapering off," I went with him into the saloons. He visited the cheap fake auction-rooms and would buy little pieces of cheap jewelry occasionally and sell them at a few cents' profit. These things nauseated me. There was no hope of finding this man any work. He did not want work, anyway; could not work if he had it.
He tried, during the first week that I was with him, to disgust me; first with his language and then with his actions. He put the lights out in the dormitory one night, and in the darkness pulled three or four men out of the bunks, cuffed them on the side of the head and kicked them around generally. He thought this was the finishing touch to my vigil. When the superintendent came up and lit the lamp again, he had an idea that it was the bouncer and came over to his cot, which was beside mine, and found him snoring. When all was quiet, the bouncer said to me:
"What did ye tink of it, boss, hey?"
"Oh," I said, "that was a very tame show, and utterly uninteresting."
"Gee!" he said, "you must have been a barker at Coney Island."
The test of my theology on him proved a failure. The story of the prodigal son was a great joke to him. He said of it:
"Say, bub, if you ever strike an old gazabo as soft as dat one, lemme know, will ye?" Prayer to him was "talking through one's hat."
In a few weeks he straightened up and began to give me very fine assistance in the bunk-house. His change of mind and heart almost lost him his job, for he lost a good deal of his brutality—the thing that fitted him for his work. In ushering insubordinate gentlemen downstairs, he did it more with force of persuasion than with the force of his shoe. He continued my campaign of cleaning, and decorated the kalsomined walls with chromos that he bought at one penny apiece. He was a psychologist and would have probably been surprised if anybody had told him so. He could tell at once the moral worth of a lodger; so he was a very good lieutenant and picked out the best of the men who had reached the bottom—and the bunk-house was the bottom rung of the social ladder. Every day he had his story to tell—of the newcomers and their possibilities. His conversion was a matter of slow work. Indeed, I don't know what conversion meant in his case. It certainly was not the working out of any theological formula that I had preached to him.
The telling of this man's story in churches helped the work a great deal. It was the kind of thing that appealed to the churches—rather graphic and striking; so, unconsciously we exploited him. We could have gotten a hundred dollars to help a man like this—whose life after all was past or nearly past—to one dollar we could get for the work of saving a boy from such a life!
Among the most interesting characters that I came in contact with in those days was Dave Ranney; he is now himself a missionary to the Bowery lodging houses. I was going across Chatham Square one night, when this man tapped me on the shoulder—"touched me"—he would call it. He was "a puddler from Pittsburg," so he said.
"Show me your hands," I replied. Instead, he stuck them deep into his trouser pockets, and I told him to try again. He said he was hungry, so I took him to a restaurant, but he couldn't eat. He wanted a drink, but I wouldn't give that to him. He walked the streets that night, but he came to me later and I helped him; and every time he came, he got a little nearer the truth in telling his story. Finally I got it all. He squared himself and began the fight of his life.
Another convert of the bunk-house was Edward Dowling. "Der's an old gazabo here," said the bouncer to me one day, "and he's got de angel goods on him O.K." He was a quiet, reticent old man of sixty, an Irishman who had served in the British Army in India with Havelock and Colin Campbell. He had bought a ranch in the West, but an accident to one of his eyes forced him to spend all his money to save the other one. He drifted in to New York, penniless and without a friend. Seeing a tinker mending umbrellas one day on the street, he sat down beside him and watched the process. In that way he learned something of the trade.
One Sunday afternoon when I was rallying a congregation in the bunk-house, I found him on his cot, reading the life of Buffalo Bill. I invited him down to the meeting, but he politely refused, saying that he was an Episcopalian. The following Sunday he did come, and his was the most striking spiritual crisis that I had ever seen. His conversion was clean-cut, definite and clear; it was of a kind with the conversion of Paul on the way to Damascus. He was an exceedingly intelligent man, and could repeat more classic poetry by heart than any man I have ever known. He came out from that brown mass of human flotsam and jetsam on the Sunday afternoon following his conversion, and told them what had happened to him.
The lodgers were very much impressed. It was in the winter-time. The old man earned very little money at his new trade, but what he had he shared with his fellow-lodgers. The bouncer told me that the old tinker would buy a stale loaf for a few cents, then in the dormitory he would make coffee in tomato cans and gather half a dozen of the hungriest around him, and share his meal with them—plain bread soaked in unsweetened coffee. Sometimes he would read a few verses of the Bible to them, and sometimes merely say in his clear Irish voice: "There, now, God bliss ye!"
Dowling, Tinker and Colporter
A Veteran who Served in India under Havelock and Colin CampbellToList
At this time he was living on a dollar a week, but every morning he had his little tea-party around the old stove, his word of greeting, and his final word of benediction to the men he had selected to share in his bounty as they slunk out of the bunk-house to begin the day.
Later, he had a large-type New Testament out of which he read a verse or two every morning at the meal. Very soon the three hundred lodgers began to look upon him with a kind of awe. This was not because he had undergone a radical change, for he had always been quiet, gentle and civil; but because he had found his voice, and that voice was bringing to them something they could not get elsewhere—sympathy, cheer and courage.
In the tenement region, particularly in the little back alleys around Mulberry Street, he mended pots, kettles, pans and umbrellas—not always for money, but as often for the privilege of reading to these people messages of comfort out of his large-type New Testament.
Going down Mulberry Street one morning in the depth of winter, I happened to glance up one of those narrow alleys in "the Bend," and I noticed my friend standing at a window, his face close to a broken pane of glass and his large New Testament held in front of him a few inches from his face. His tinker's budget was by his feet. The door was closed. In a few minutes he closed the book, put it into his kit, and as he moved away from the window, I saw a large bundle of rags pushed into the hole.
"What have you been doing?" I inquired.
He laughed. "There, now, God bliss her," he said. "I put a rib in an umbrella for her, but she said the house was too dirty to read the Bible in, so she let me read it through the broken window."
All that winter he tinkered and taught. All winter the little ragged audiences gathered around him in the morning; and often at eventime when he retreated into a quiet corner to be silent and rest, he found himself the centre of an inquiring group of his fellow-lodgers.
Instead of uniting himself to the mission, as such men usually do after their conversion, I advised him to join one of the prominent churches of the city, in the downtown district. I thought it would be good for the church. But we both discovered our mistake later. He was utterly out of keeping with his surroundings. The church he joined was an institution for the favoured few—and Dowling was a tinker.
His diary of that period is before me as I write, and I am astonished at the great humility of this simple-minded man.
He had been asked by the minister of his church to call on him; but his modesty prevented him until hunger forced him to change his mind. After starving for three days, he made up his mind to accept that invitation, and reveal his condition to the well-to-do minister of this well-to-do church. He was poorly clad. It was a very cold winter day. The streets were covered with slush and snow. On his way he met an old woman with a shawl around her, a bedraggled dress and wet feet.
"My good woman," said Dowling, "you must be very cold, indeed, in this condition."
"Sir," she answered, "I am cold; but I am also starving of hunger. Could you afford me one cent to get some bread?"
"God bliss ye, dear friend," he said, "I have not been able to taste food for three days myself; but I am now on the way to the house of a good friend, a good servant of the Lord; and if I get any help, I will share it with you. I am a poor tinker, but work has been very slack this last week. I have not earned enough to pay for my lodging."
The diary gives all the details, the corner of the street where he met her, the hour of the day.
A servant ushered him into the parlour of his "good friend, the servant of the Lord." Presently the reverend doctor came down, somewhat irritated, and, without shaking hands, said:
"Dowling, I know I have asked you several times to call, but I am a very busy man and you should have let me know. I simply cannot see you this morning. I have an address to prepare for the opening of a mission and I haven't the time."
"No handshake—no Christian greeting," records the tinker's diary; and the account closes with these words: "Dear Lord, do not let the demon of uncharitableness enter into my poor heart."
He became a colporteur for a tract society, and was given as territory the towns on the east side of the Hudson River. Tract selling in this generation is probably the most thankless, profitless work that any human being could undertake. The poor old man was burdened with a heavy bundle of the worst literary trash of a religious kind ever put out of a publishing house. He was to get twenty-five per cent. on the sales; so he shouldered his kit, with his heart full of enthusiasm, and began the summer journey on foot. He carried his diary with him, and although the entries are very brief, they are to the point.
"August 29. Sold nothing. No money for bread or lodging. God is good. Night came and I was so tired and hungry. I went into a grove and with a prayer of confidence on my lips, I went to sleep. A clock not far away struck two. Then, rain fell in torrents and a fierce wind blew. The elements drove me from the grove. A constable held me up. 'I am a servant of God, dear friend,' I said. 'Why doesn't he give you a place to sleep, then?' he answered. 'God forgive me,' thinks I to myself, 'but that is the same unworthy thought that was in my own mind.' I went into a building in course of erection and lay down on some planks; but I was too wet to sleep."
Next day hunger drove him to work early. He was turned from one door after another, by saints and sinners alike, until finally he was so weak with hunger that he could scarcely walk. Then he became desperate to a degree, and his diary records a call on another reverend doctor.
This eminent divine had no need for religious literature, nor had he time to be bothered with beggars. Dowling records in his diary that he told the minister that he was dropping off his feet with hunger and would be thankful for a little bread and a glass of water. It seems almost incredible that in a Christian community such things could happen; but the diary records the indictment that those tender lips in life were never allowed to utter—it records how he was driven from the door.
He had letters of introduction from this rich tract society, and again he presented them to a minister.
"A very nice lady came," says the record. "I gave my credentials, explained my condition and implored help.
"We are retired from the active ministry," the woman said, "and cannot help you. We have no further use for religious books."
A third minister atoned for the others, and made a purchase. This was at Tarrytown. On another occasion, when his vitality had ebbed low through hunger and exposure, he was sitting on the roadside when a labourer said, "There is a nigger down the road here who keeps a saloon. He hasn't got no religion, but he wants some. Ye'd better look him up." And he did. The Negro saloon-keeper informed him that being a saloon-keeper shut him and his family from the church.
"Now," he said, "I am going to get Jim, my barkeeper, to look after the joint while I take you home to talk to me and my family about God." So they entertained the tinker-preacher, and the diary is full of praise to God for his new-found friends. The Negro bought a dollar's worth of tracts, and persuaded the colporteur to spend the night with them.
With this dollar he returned to New York, got his tinker's budget, and went back to his missionary field. If people did not want their souls cured he knew they must have lots of tinware that needed mending; so he combined the work of curing souls with the mending of umbrellas and kitchen utensils, and his period of starvation was past. His business was to preach the new vision and tinker for a living as he went along.
"September 12," reads the diary, "I found myself by the brook which runs east of the mountain. I had a loaf of bread and some cheese, and with a tin cup I helped myself to the water of the brook. The fragments that remained I put in a bundle and tied to the branch of a tree by the roadside. On the wrapper I pencilled these words: 'Friend—if you come across this food and you need it, do not hesitate to eat it; but if you don't need it, leave it for I will return at the close of the day. God bless you.'"
At eventime he returned and was surprised at the altered shape of the bundle. He found that two beef sandwiches and two big apples had been added, with this note: "Friend: accept these by way of variety. Peace to thee!" This gives occasion for another address of prayer and gratitude to God for His bountiful care. By the brookside he took supper, and then began the ascent of the hill. After a few hours fruitless search for the road, he "got stuck," in the words of the diary. Finding himself in a helpless predicament, he gathered grass and dry leaves around him and prepared himself for the night.
"Psalms IV. 8 came to my mind," he said, "and I took great comfort in the words—'I said, I will both lay me down in peace and sleep, for Thou, Lord, makest me dwell in safety!'"
He woke next morning and found the earth covered with hoar frost, which suggested to him: "Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."
One of my duties while engaged as a missionary on the Bowery was to render reports of the work done for the missionary society. The society had a monthly magazine and it was through that medium that they got the greater part of their support.
In one of my reports I told the story of a London waif. The story made such an impression upon the superintendent that he thought I was romancing, and said so. My best answer to that was to produce the boy, and I produced him. The boy told his own story. Then it was published in a magazine and produced a strong impression. I think an extra edition had to be printed to supply the demand.
"I know nothing about my father," said the boy to me. "My mother worked in the brick-yard not far from our cottage, where we lived together. I went to school for two years and learned to read and write, a little.
"Every evening I used to go to the bend in the road and meet my mother as she came home. She was always very tired—so tired! She carried clay on her head all day and it was heavy. I used to make the fire and boil the supper and run all the errands to the grocery.
"One evening at the bend of the road I waited for my mother until it was dark, but she did not come. Then I went home crying. I found my mother lying on the bed with her clothes on. She would not wake up. I shook her by the arm, I rolled her from one side to the other, but she would not speak; then, I got on my knees and I kissed her—and her face was very cold. I was scared. I went for the old woman who lived next door. She shook her; then she cried and told me that my mother was dead.
"My mother used to play with me at night and sometimes in the morning, too. When they told me she was dead, I wondered what I would do without her; but all the neighbours were so kind to me that I forgot a good deal about my mother until they put her in a box and carried her away. Then one of the neighbour women took me and said I must live with her; so I did. I sold papers, ran errands, dried the dishes, swept the floor for her; but after a long time she began to speak very crossly to me, and I often trembled with fear.
"One day I decided to run away. After I sold all my papers, I came to the cottage and slipped all the pennies under the door, and then ran away as fast as I could. I did not know where I was going, but I had heard so much about London that I thought it must be a very great place and that I could get papers to sell and do lots of other things; so, when a man found me sitting on the side of the road and asked me where I was going, I said, 'To London.' He laughed and said:
"'Whom do you know there?'
"'Nobody,' I replied, 'but there are lots of people there and lots of work, and I don't like the place where I live.' The man took me to his house and kept me all night and paid my carfare to London next day.
"Many days and many nights I had no food to eat, nor no place to sleep. I did not like to beg, not because I thought it wrong, but because I was afraid. I saw boys carrying packages along the street, found out how they got it to do, and imitated them, earning occasionally a few pennies. I saved up enough with these pennies to buy a stock of London papers. By saving these pennies and eating little food, I was able to buy a larger stock of these papers each day. I had good luck, and by economy I managed to live and save. In a few days I was able to pay thru'pence a night for a lodging. One night when I made a big venture in spending all my money on a big stock of papers, I had an accident in which they were all spoiled. I dropped them in a pool of water—and I was penniless again! That night, late, I went up the white stone steps of a big house in Westminster and went to sleep. I had saved a few of the driest papers and used them as a pillow.
"'Hi, little cove!' a policeman said, as he poked his baton under my armpit next morning. 'What are you doing here?' I began to whimper, and he took pity on me and showed me the way to Dr. Barnardo's Home; but when I got out of his sight, I went off in another direction, for I had heard that many boys got whipped down there. I got among a lot of boys on the banks of the river. They were diving for pennies. I thought it was a very hard way to earn money, but I did it too, and got about as much as the rest. I did not stay long on the river bank. The boys were sharper than I was and could cheat me out of my pennies.
"One night I slept under an arch. Next morning I heard the loud sound of factory whistles. Everybody was aroused. Some of the people lying around were going to work there; and I thought I might get a job also, so I followed them. On the way we came to a coffee stall, and as I was nearly fainting with hunger, I stood in front of it to get the smell of the coffee and fresh bread, for that does a fellow a heap of good when he's got nothing in his stomach. A man with a square paper hat on looked at me, and said:
"'What's up, little 'un?'
"I said nothing was up except that I was hungry. Then he stepped up to the coffee-man and gave him some money, and I got a bun and a mug of coffee. It seemed to me that I had never been so happy in all my life as with the feeling I got from that bun and coffee—but then, I had been a good many days without food.
"There was no work to be had at the factory near the bridge, so I went back to the docks. At night I slept with a lot of other fellows under a big canvas cover that kept the rain from some goods lying at the docks ready to be shipped. I think there must have been as many fellows under that big cover as there were piles of goods. It was while there that I thought for the first time very seriously about my mother, and I began to cry. The other fellows heard me and kicked me from under the cover; but that did not help my crying, however. I smothered a good deal of it and walked up and down by the side of the river all night. My eyes were swollen, and I was feeling very badly when a sailor noticed me. He had been to sea and had just returned home. He talked a lot about life on a ship—said if he were a boy, he would not hang around the docks; he would go to sea.
"'Where's yer folks?' he said to me.
"'Ain't got none,' I said.
"'Where d'ye live, then?'
"'I don't live nowheres.'
"'Shiver my timbers,' he said, 'ye must have an anchorage in some of these parts? Where d'ye sleep nights?'
"'Wherever I be when night comes on,' I told him.
"The sailor laughed, and said I was a lucky dog to be at home anywheres.
"'See here, young 'un,' the sailor said, 'I've been up agin it in these parts myself when I was a kid, and up agin it stiff, too; and there ain't nothing around here for the likes of ye. Take my advice and get out o' here. There's a big ship down here by the docks—Helvetia. Sneak aboard, get into a scupper or a barrel or something, and ship for America.'
"The idea of 'sneaking aboard' got very big in my mind, and I went to Woolwich where the ship was lying; and I met a lot of other boys who were trying to sneak aboard, too. I thought my chances were slim, but I was going to have a try, anyway. These boys that were thinking of the same thing, tried to get me to do a lot of things that I knew were not right. There was stuff to steal and they knew how I could get it. There were kind-hearted people around, and they wanted me to beg. When they said the ship was going to sail, I got aboard and hid on the lower deck.
"Two days after that I thought the ship was going to the bottom of the sea, and I didn't care very much, for I had been vomiting, and it seemed as if my heart was breaking, and I was sick—so sick that I didn't care whether I was dead or alive. One of the sailors heard me groaning and pulled me out by the leg. Then he looked at me and swore; caught me by the neck and dragged me before the captain. I was so sick I could not stand; but the captain was not angry. He was very funny, for he laughed very loudly, and said:
"'Put the kid to work, and if he doesn't do it, put a ten-inch hose on him!'
"Four of us altogether had stowed away on that ship. The other boys laughed a good deal at me because I got the easiest job of them all. When I was able to stand on my feet, they made me clean a little brass cannon. I could clean it sitting down, and I liked the job when I was not sick. Every one was good to me, and I had a happy time the last few days of the voyage. Then I came to New York and met you."
This, in briefest outline, is the story of Johnnie Walker. I met him at a mission on the edge of the North River, and was as touched by his story as others had been before me. So I took him to my home, introduced him to the bathroom and to a new suit of clothes, and Johnnie entered upon the happiest days of his life. After a few weeks I handed him over to the Children's Aid Society, and they sent him out West. He has always called me "father."
One evening I asked him what he knew about Jesus and he replied, "Ain't 'ee th' bloke as they swears about?"
His ideas of prayer were also dim, but he made an attempt. He wrote a letter to God and read it on his knees before going to bed.
He is now a prosperous farmer in the far West, living on a quarter section of land given to him by the Government, and on which he has made good his claim to American citizenship.
A sharp contrast to this waif of the street is the case of a statesman under a cloud. I was sitting on a bench near the bunk-house one day at twilight, when I noticed a profile silhouetted against the window. I had seen only one profile like that in my life, and that was when I was a boy. I moved closer. The man sat like a statue. His face was very pale and he was gazing vacantly at the walls in the rear of the building. Finally, I went over and sat down beside him.
"Good evening," he said quietly, in answer to my salutation. I looked into his face—a face I knew when a boy, a face familiar to the law-makers of Victoria for a quarter of a century. I called him by name. At the sound of his own name, his paleness turned to an ashy yellow.
"In Heaven's name," I said, "what are you doing here?" He looked at me with an expression of excruciating pain on his face, and said:
"I have travelled some thousands of miles in order to be alone; if you have any kindness, any pity, leave me."
"Pardon me," I said, "for intruding."
That night the Ex-Club invited him to take part in their deliberations. He refused, and his manner showed that he considered the invitation an insult. I had known this man as a brilliant orator, a religious leader, the champion of a sect. In a city across the sea I had sat as a barelegged boy on an upturned barrel, part of an immense crowd, listening to the flow of his oratory. Next day he left the bunk-house. Some weeks afterward I found him on a curbstone, preaching to whoever of the pedestrians would listen.
At the close of his address, I introduced myself again. He took me to his new lodging, and I put the questions that filled my mind. For answer he gave me the House of Commons Blue Book, which explained the charge hanging over him. Almost daily, for weeks, I heard him on his knees proclaim his innocence of the unmentionable crime with which he was charged. After some weeks of daily association, he said to me:
"I believe you are sent of God to guide me, and I am prepared to take your advice."
My advice was ready. He turned pale as I told him to pack his trunk and take the next ship for England.
"Face the storm like a man!" I urged, and he said:
"It will kill me, but I will do it."
He did it, and it swept him to prison, to shame, and to oblivion.
Nothing in the life of the bunk-house was more noticeable than the way men of intelligence grouped themselves together. Besides the Judge, there were an ex-lawyer, an ex-soldier of Victoria and a German Graf. I named them the "Ex-Club." Every morning they separated as though forever. Every night they returned and looked at one another in surprise.
At election-time both political parties had access to the register, and every lodger was the recipient of two letters. Between elections a letter was always a matter of sensational interest; it lay on the clerk's table, waiting to be claimed, and every lodger inspected it as he passed. Scores of men who never expected a letter would pick it up, handle it in a wistful and affectionate manner, and regretfully lay it down again. I have often wished I could analyze the thoughts of these men as they tenderly handled these rare visitors conducted by Uncle Sam into the bunk-house.
It was a big letter with red seals and an aristocratic monogram that first drew attention to a new-comer who had signed himself "Hans Schwanen." "One-eyed Dutchy" had whispered to some of his friends that the recipient of the letter was a real German Graf.
He was about sixty years of age, short, rotund, corpulent. His head was bullet-shaped and set well down on his shoulders. His clothes were baggy and threadbare, his linen soiled and shabby. He had blue eyes, harsh red hair, and a florid complexion. When he arrived, he brought three valises. Everybody wondered what he could have in them.
The bouncer was consumed with a desire to examine the contents, and, as bouncer and general floor-manager of the house, expected that they would naturally be placed under his care. When, however, it was announced that the newcomer had engaged "One-eyed Dutchy" as his valet, the bouncer swore, and said "he might go to ——."
There was something peculiar and mysterious in a ten-cent guest of the Bismarck hiring a valet. The Germans called him Graf von Habernichts. He kept aloof from the crowd. He had no friends and would permit no one to establish any intercourse with him.
His valet informed an intimate friend that the Graf received a check from Germany every three months. While it lasted, it was the valet's duty to order, pay for, and keep a record of all food and refreshment. When the bouncer told me of these things, I tried very hard to persuade the Graf to dine at my house; but he declined without even the formality of thanks. After a few months, the revenue of the mysterious stranger dried up and "One-eyed Dutchy" was discharged.
A snowstorm found the old Graf with an attack of rheumatism, and helpless. Then he was forced to relinquish his ten-cent cot and move upstairs to a seven-cent bunk. When he was able to get out again, he came back dragging up the rickety old stairs a scissors-grinder. Several of the guests offered a hand, but he spurned them all, and stuck to his job until he got it up.
Another snowstorm brought back his rheumatism; he got permission to sit indoors. The old wheel lay idle in the corner; he was hungry and his pipe had been empty for a day and a night; but still he sat bolt upright, in pain, alone, with starvation staring him in the face. The third day of his voluntary fast he got a letter. It contained a one-dollar bill. The sender was watching at a safe distance and he recorded that the Graf's puzzled look almost developed into a smile. He gathered himself together and hobbled out to a nearby German saloon. Next day came the first sign of surrender. He accepted a commission to take a census of the house. This at last helped to thaw him out, but it didn't last long.
His rheumatism prevented him from pushing his wheel through the streets and I secured him a corner in a locksmith's basement. He had not been there many weeks when he disappeared. The locksmith told a story which seemed incredible. He said the old Graf had sold his wheel and given the proceeds to an Irishwoman to help defray the funeral expenses of her child.
Some months later, the clerk of the bunk-house got a postal card from "One-eyed Dutchy." He was on the Island, and the Graf and he were working together on the ash gang. I secured his release from the Island.
When he returned to the bunk-house, every one who had ever seen him noted a marked change. He no longer lived in a shell. He had become a human, and took an interest in what was going on. One night when a few of the Ex-Club were exchanging reminiscences, he was prevailed upon to tell his story. He asked us to keep it a secret for ten years. The time is up, and I am the only one of that group alive.
"In 1849 it was; my brother and I, students, were in Heidelberg. Then broke out the Revolution. Two years less of age was I, so to him was due my father's title and most of the estate. 'What is Revolution?' five of us students asked. 'We know not; we will study,' we all said, and we did. For King and Fatherland our study make us jealous, but my brother was not so.
"'I am revolutionist!' he says, and we are mad to make him different.
"'The King is one,' he said, 'and the people are many, and they are oppressed.'
"I hate my brother, and curse him, till in our room he weeps for sorrow. I curse him until he leaves.
"By and by in the barricades he finds himself fighting against the King. In the fight the rebels are defeated and my brother escapes. Many are condemned and shot. Not knowing my heart, my mother writes me that my brother is at home.
"I lie in my bed, thinking—thinking. Many students have been shot for treason. Love of King and Fatherland and desire to be Graf, are two thoughts in my heart.
"I inform. My brother is arrested, and in fortress is he put to be shot.
"Four of us students of patriotism go to see. My heart sinks to see my brother, so white is he and fearless. His eyes are bright like fire, and he stands so cool and straight.
"'I have nothing but love,' he says; 'I love the cause of truth and justice. To kill me is not to kill the truth; where you spill my blood will Revolution grow as flowers grow by water. I forgive.'
"Then he sees me. 'Hans!' he says, 'Hans!' He holds out his arms. 'I want to kiss my brother,' he says. The General he says, 'All right.'
"But I love the King. 'No! I have no brother! I will not a traitor kiss!'
"My Gott! how my brother looks! He looks already dead—so full of sorrow is he.
"A sharp crack of guns! They chill my heart, and down dead falls my brother.
"I go away, outside glad, but in my heart I feel burn the fires of hell. Father and mother in one year die for sorrow. Then I am Graf.
"I desire to be of society, but society will not—it is cold. Guests do not come to my table. Servants do not stay. They tell that they hear my mother weep for sorrow in the night. I laugh at them, but in my heart I know them true. Peasants in the village hide from me as I come to them.
"But my mind is worse. Every night I hear the crack of the rifles—the sound of the volley that was my brother's death. Soldiers I get, men of the devil-dare kind, to stay with me. They do not come back; they tell that they hear tramp, tramp, tramp of soldiers' feet.
"One night, with the soldiers, I take much wine, for I say, 'I shall be drunk and not hear the guns at night.'
"We drink in our noble hall. Heavy doors are chained, windows barred, draperies close arranged, and the great lamp burns dim. We drink, we sing, we curse God und das Gesindel. 'We ourselves,' we say, 'are gods.'
"Then creeps close the hour for the guns. My tongue is fast and cannot move; my brow is wet and frozen is my blood.
"Boom! go the guns; then thunder shakes the castle, lightning flashes through the draperies, and I fall as dead.
"Was I in a dream? I know not. I did not believe in God; I did not believe in heaven or in hell; yet do I see my past life go past me in pictures—pictures of light in frames of fire: Two boys, first—Max, my brother, and I, playing as children; then my mother weeping for great sorrow; then the black walls of the great fortress—my brother with arms outstretched. Again my blood is frozen, again creeps my skin, and I hear the volley and see him fall to death. I fear. I scream loud that I love the King, but in my ear comes a voice like iron—'Liar!' A little girl, then, with hair so golden, comes and wipes the stain of blood from my brow. I see her plain.
"Then I awake. I am alone; the light is out; blood is on my face. I am paralyzed with fear, so I cannot stand. When I can walk, I leave, for I think maybe that only in Germany do I hear the guns. For twenty years I live in Spain. Still do I hear the guns.
"I go to France, but yet every night at the same hour freezes my blood and I hear the death volley.
"I come to America, which I have hated, yet never a night is missed. It is at the same hour. What I hate comes to me. Whatever I fear is mine. To run away from something is for me to meet it. My estate is gone; money I have not. I sink like a man in a quicksand, down, down, down. I come here. Lower I cannot.
"One day in 'the Bend', where das Gesindel live, I see the little girl—she of the golden hair who wiped my stain away.
"But she is dead. I know for sure the face. What it means I know not. Again I fall as dead.
"I have one thing in the world left—only one; it is my scissors-grinder. I sell it and give all the money to bury her. It is the first—it is the only good I ever did. Then, an outcast, I go out into the world where no pity is. I sit me down in a dark alley; strange is my heart, and new.
"It is time for the guns—yet is my blood warm! I wait. The volley comes not!
"The hour is past!
"'My Gott, my Gott!' I say. 'Can this be true?' I wait one, two, three minutes; it comes not. I scream for joy—I scream loud! I feel an iron hand on me. I am put in prison. Yet is the prison filled with light—yet am I in heaven. The guns are silent!"
One day a big letter with several patches of red sealing-wax and an aristocratic monogram arrived at the bunk-house. Nearly two hundred men handled it and stood around until the Graf arrived. Every one felt a personal interest in the contents. It was "One-eyed Dutchy," who handed it to the owner, and stood there watching out of his single eye the face of his former master. The old man smiled as he folded the letter and put it into his pocket, saying as he did so: "By next ship I leave for Hamburg to take life up where I laid it down."
The only man now living of those bunk-house days is Thomas J. Callahan. He has been attached for many years to Yale University and doing the work of a janitor. Many Yale men will never forget how "Doc" cared for Dwight Hall. He is now in charge of Yale Hall. The circumstances under which I met Doc were rather peculiar.
"Say, bub," said Gar, the bouncer, to me one day, "what ungodly hour of the mornin' d'ye git up?"
"At the godly hour of necessity," I replied.
"Wal, I hev a pal I want ter interjooce to ye at six."
I met the bouncer and his "pal" at the corner of Broome Street and the Bowery next morning at the appointed hour.
"Dat's Doc!" said Gar, as he laid his hand on his friend's shoulder.
His friend bowed low and in faultless English, said: "I am more than pleased to meet you."
"I can give you a pointer on Doc," the big fellow continued. "If ye tuk a peaner to th' top av a mountain an' let her go down the side sorter ez she pleases, 'e c'u'd pick up the remains an' put thim together so's ye w'u'dn't know they'd been apart. Yes, sir; that's no song an' dance, an' 'e c'u'd play any chune iver invented on it."
Doc laughed and made some explanations. They had a wheezy old organ in Halloran's dive, and Doc kept it in repair and played occasionally for them. Doc had a Rip Van Winkle look. His hair hung down his back, and his clothes were threadbare and green with age. His shoes were tied to his feet with wire, and stockings he had none. Doc had studied in a Medical College until the eve of his graduation. Then he slipped a cog and went down, down, down, until he landed at Halloran's dive. For twelve years he had been selling penny song-sheets on the streets and in saloons. He was usually in rags, but a score of the wildest inhabitants of that dive told me that Doc was their "good angel." He could play the songs of their childhood, he was kind and gentle, and men couldn't be vulgar in his presence.
I saw in Doc an unusual man, and was able to persuade him to go home with me. In a week he was a new man, clothed and in his right mind. He became librarian of a big church library, and our volunteer organist at all the Sunday meetings.
After two years of uninterrupted service as librarian, during which time Doc had been of great service in the bunk-house, I lost him. Five years later, crossing Brooklyn Bridge on a car, I passed Doc who was walking in the same direction. At the end of the bridge I planted myself in front of him. "Doc," I said, "you will never get away from me again." I took him to New Haven, where he has been ever since.
It is needless to say that several years' work in the midst of such surroundings gives one a hopeless outlook for that kind of work. In 1891 a movement to establish a municipal lodging house was organized, and I became part of it. A committee composed largely of business men met in the office of Killaen Van Ransellaer, 56 Wall Street. In discussing the plan of a municipal lodging house, the "Wayfarers Lodge" in Boston, an institution of the character under discussion, was pointed out as a model, and it was decided to send a representative to Boston to investigate and make a report on it.
I was suspicious of the printed report of the Boston place. It spoke of the men getting clean bedding, clean sheets and good meals; and experience was teaching me that that kind of catering for the tramp would swamp any institution. Then, I knew something about the padding of charitable reports. I did not care to offer any objection to the sending of a representative, but I determined to go myself; so, dressed in an old cotton shirt with collar attached, a ragged coat, a battered hat and with exactly the railroad fare in my pocket, I went to Boston. I stopped a policeman on the street, told him I was homeless and hungry. "Go to the Police Station," he said, and knowing that at each Police Station tickets of admission were served, I presented myself to the Sergeant at the desk.
Furnished with a ticket, I went to No. 30 Hawkins Street, and there fell in line with a crowd of the same kind of people I was working with and for on the Bowery. We had about an hour to wait. When it came my turn for examination, I was rather disturbed to find the representative of the committee sitting beside the superintendent, investigating the tramps as they passed. I knew he could not recognize me by my clothes, but I was not so certain about my voice, so I spoke in a low tone.
"Open your mouth," the superintendent said. "Where are you from?"
I kept my eyes on the ground and answered a little louder, "Ireland."
"You are lying," the superintendent said. "Where are you from?"
"Ireland," I answered again in the same tone.
Two kinds of checks lay on the table in front of him—one pile green, the other red. After answering the rest of the questions, I was given a red check and taken to a cell where a black man stripped me to the skin.
"Why did I get a red card while most of the others got a green card?" I asked.
"You're lousy, boss, dat's why."
"Well, what are you going to do about it?"
"Steam 'em." So he tied my clothes in a bundle and put them under a pressure of two hundred and fifty pounds of steam, the coloured man remarking as he stowed them away: "What's left of 'em when they come out, boss, aint gwine to do no harm." Then I was marched, sockless, with my shoes on and a metal check strung around my neck, to the bath where I was taken charge of by another coloured man.
"Here!" he said, as he pointed to an empty tub. I bathed myself to his satisfaction and then looked for the clean towels of the "Annual Report," but found them not. Instead, there was a pile of towels already used—towels made of crash—and I was told to select the driest of them and dry myself.
"I was clean when I went into that tub," I said to the black man—"I am cleaner now; but if I dry myself with this sodden piece of crash, I will be dirtier than when I began." The black man proceeded to force me to do this and his attempt nearly ended the experiment, for I refused pointblank to do it. "No, thank you," I said, "I will walk up and down until I dry."
When the superintendent of that department was called into counsel, my use of English rather surprised him, and he let it go at that. Then we were marched upstairs to bed; there were one hundred and fifty beds in a big dormitory. I looked around for the linen of the "Annual Report," and was again disappointed. The cots were furnished with horse blankets.
The method of arousing the men in the early morning was rather unique. A man with a stick—a heavy stick that reminded me of an Irish flail—thumped the bare floor, and, to my astonishment, there was a rush of this savage-looking, naked crowd to the door. As I knew no reason for the excitement, I took my time.
I followed the men to the boiler-room, where, after calling out my number, I got the bundle corresponding to it, and it looked like a crow's nest. Everybody around me was hustling to get his clothes on, boiled or unboiled; and again I was mystified as to the hurry. When I arrived in the yard, I discovered the reason for this unusual activity of my parishioners. The first men out in the yard had a cord of wood each to saw, and it took twice as long to chop as it did to saw it. Those who were last had to chop. I took my axe and began my task. Soon the splinters were flying in all directions. The man next to me was rather put out by this activity and said that if he wanted to work like that he could do it outside.
"This ain't no place to work like that," he said; then he began to expectorate over my block and annoy me in that way. I tried a few words of gentle persuasion on him, but it made him worse. He bespattered my hands and the axe handle, and I took him by the neck and ran him to the other end of the yard and dumped him in a corner. Any kind of a fuss in that yard had usually a very serious ending; but this had not, for the yard superintendent took my part.
I think it was about eleven o'clock in the forenoon when I finished my wood, and went in to get breakfast, which consisted of a bowl of gruel and two hard biscuits. One of these biscuits I kept hanging in my study for two years. After breakfast I marched into the office, and said to the superintendent:
"Brother, I want to ask you a few questions which belong to a domain—that mysterious domain that lies between the facts and your 'Annual Report.'"
"Are you a reporter?" was his first question.
Assuring him that I was not, I asked him the necessary questions, and, furnished with some real information, I returned to the Wall Street Conference.
I think John H. Finley of the City College was the representative, and he rendered his report. Then I stood up and told of my experience which differed vitally from the re-hash of the "Annual Report." The facts, as I found them, were all in favour of such an institution. A man would have to be mighty hard up to go to the Boston municipal lodging house; and that is exactly what was needed. The necessity for padding the "Annual Report" I could never find out.
The municipal lodging house agitated at that time is now a fact. It has been duplicated. On February 19th, 1893, in the Church of the Covenant on Park Avenue, I made the suggestion, and it was published in the papers the following day, that there was a splendid opportunity for a philanthropist to invest a few million dollars at five per cent. in a few lodging houses on a gigantic scale. What connection the Mills Hotels bear to that suggestion, I do not know, but they are the exact fulfilment of it.
A few years in that work gave me a terrific feeling of hopelessness, and I longed for some other form of church work where I could obviate some of the work of the Bowery. The best a man could do on the Bowery was to save a few old stranded wrecks; but the work among children appealed to me now with far greater force. I also saw the necessity of the preacher touching not only the spiritual side of a man, but the material side also. A preacher's function, as I understood it after these experiences, was to touch the whole round sphere of life.
About this time the old church of Sea and Land at the corner of Market and Henry streets was to be put up for auction. The New York Presbytery wanted to sell it and devote most of the money to the building up of uptown churches. I was sent there by the missionary society to hold the place until they got a good price for it. I gathered the trustees around me—a splendid band of devout men, mostly young men—and I did not need to tell them that it was a forlorn hope. They already knew it.
We outlined a plan of campaign to save the church for that community, and the result is that the church is there to-day. Of course, the district is largely Jewish, but there were enough Gentiles to fill a dozen churches.
It was inevitable that we should get in touch with the Jewish children. We had a kindergarten, but made it known to the Jewish community that we were not in the business of proselyting, and that they need have no hesitation in sending their children to our kindergarten, which was a great blessing to the whole community. Sunday evenings in the spring and fall, I spoke to large congregations of Jewish people from the steps of the church, on the spirit of Jewish history—as to what it had done for the world and what it could still do.
I think it was in the early part of 1893 that I began my work there. It was the year of the panic, and the East Side was in a general state of stringency and starvation. A group of ministers of various denominations got together and devised a plan for a cheap restaurant in which we were to sell meals at cost.
Probably for the first time in the history of New York, a Roman Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist pastors sat down around a table to talk over the welfare of the people. A committee was formed, and I nominated the Catholic priest for chairman. He was elected. The restaurant did not last very long, and probably the chief good of the thing was the getting together of these men. Difficulties, of course, came thick and fast. Kosher meat for the Jews, fish for the Catholics on Friday, and any old thing for the Gentiles, were the smallest of the difficulties to be overcome.
I was supported in my church work by a band of young men and women, mostly from a distance, who gave their services freely, and in the course of a year or two, we managed to increase the church membership by a hundred or so, and occasionally we filled the structure by serving out refreshments to the lodging-house men of the Bowery. I had an opportunity to touch the social needs of the community by coöperating with the University Settlement which was then in its infancy. I opened the church edifice for their lecture course which included Henry George, Father McGlyn, Thaddeus B. Wakeman, Daniel de Leon, Charles B. Spahr, and W.J. Sullivan. Sixteen years ago these men were the moving spirits in their respective lines in New York City. The New York Presbytery was not altogether pleased by this new departure in church work; but we had the lectures first, and asked permission afterward. Most of these men filled the church to overflowing. In the case of Father McGlyn, hundreds had to be turned away.
As I sat beside Father McGlyn in the pulpit, I said, "Father, how do you stand with the Pope, these days? What is the status of the case?"
"Well, Irvine," he said, "I can best explain it by a dream that I had some time ago. I dreamed that a young priest visited me with the intention of getting me to recant. 'McGlyn,' he said, 'if you don't recant, you'll be damned!' And I thought for a minute or two and then gave the only answer that a man with a conscience could give: 'Well, brother, I'll be damned if I do!'"
I found myself drifting quietly out of old methods of church work, and attempting, at least, to apply religion to the conditions around me. Every aspect of social life was in need of remedial treatment. Of course, I did not neglect the religious teaching, but what the situation demanded was ethical teaching, and, without making any splurge about my change of view, I worked at whatever my hand found to do in that immediate neighbourhood.
From a sketch by Juliet ThompsonToList
The push-cart men and organ-grinders were terrorized by the policemen. I hired an organ-grinder one summer afternoon to play for several hours, so that the children of the neighbourhood might have a dance on the street. It was a joy to my soul to see these little bits of half-naked humanity dancing by the hundreds on the streets and sidewalks, most of them barefooted, hatless and coatless. It was on one of these occasions that I discovered the petty graft exercised on the organ-grinders. The push-cart men all paid toll to the policeman on the beat, and the captain of the precinct winked at it. The officers of the precinct looked upon the religious leaders as "easy marks"—every one of them. The detectives of the Society for Prevention of Crime went through my parish and discovered wholesale violations of excise laws and city ordinances by the existence of bawdy-houses and the selling of liquor in prohibited hours and on Sundays. The captain of the precinct came out with a public statement that these men were liars; that the law was observed and prostitution did not exist. As between Dr. Parkhurst and the captain of the precinct, the public was inclined to believe the captain.
One Sunday evening after service, I dressed in the clothes of a labourer, took several men with me and went through the parish. The first place we entered was the East River Hotel, a few blocks from my church. We purchased whiskey at the bar. I did not drink the whiskey, for under oath I could not tell whether it was whiskey or not; but my companions were not so hampered. After paying for the liquor, we were invited upstairs, and there we saw one of the ghastliest, most inhuman sights that can be found anywhere on earth outside of Port Said. We counted forty women on the first floor. We saw them and their stalls, surroundings and companions, and we beat a hasty retreat. A cry of alarm was raised, and the barkeeper jumped to the door. It was secured by two heavy chains. No explanation was made, but a straight demand that he open the door, which was done, and we passed out.
The grand jury, which at that time was hearing report and counter-report on the condition of the neighbourhood, had for a foreman a Tammany man who owned several saloons. We went into these saloons one after another, purchased liquor in bottles, and next morning appeared before the grand jury armed with affidavits, and the liquor. Dr. Parkhurst stood at the door of the jury room as I went in, and whispered to me as I passed him: "This thing cannot last forever."
The first few minutes of my testimony I was unconsciously assuming the position of a criminal myself, and apologizing for interfering with these gentlemen. The assistant district attorney, instead of representing the people and standing for the Law, was inquiring into my reasons for doing such an unusual thing. I objected to the foreman sitting on his own case.
"This man," I said, "is an habitual violator of the Law. I am here to testify to that; so are my companions. We have the evidence of his law-breaking here," and I pointed to the bottles that we had placed on the table.
They did not move, however, and I think they rather considered the whole thing a joke. We proceeded to describe the East River Hotel and similar resorts that a few days previously had been described as immaculately clean by the captain of the precinct. The result of all this was the sustaining of the testimony of Dr. Parkhurst's detectives. The petty graft among the organ-grinders and the push-cart men went right on. Complaints were jokes and were treated as such.
The change of seasons brought little change in the activities of a church centre like that. In the winter it was the provision of coal and clothes. In the summer it was fresh-air parties and doctors.
I made the discovery one day in a tenement in talking to a little child of five, that she had never seen a green field or a tree. This led me to ask the missionaries assisting the church to make a search for a few weeks and collect as many such children as possible. We got together seventeen, ranging from three to seven years of age, not any of whom had ever seen a single aspect of the outdoor world, save the world of stone and brick and wood.
Some friends in Montclair, N.J., arranged a lawn party for these little ones, and we proceeded. Nothing extraordinary happened. There was no open-eyed wonder, few exclamations as we intently watched the emotions of these children as they gazed for the first time on lawns, flower gardens and trees. Two-thirds of them were seasick on the train and the one regret of the journey was that we had not taken along half a dozen wet nurses.
The one unique thing of the day was the luncheon. The children were arranged around an extemporized table where sandwiches, lemonade and milk were abundantly provided. At a signal from the hostess, I said, "Now, children, everything is ready! Have your luncheon." But there was no commotion. Two-thirds of them sat motionless, looking at each other.
The sandwiches were made of ham. If I had not seen this with my own eyes, I would scarcely have credited the telling of it by anybody else. Two-thirds of the children were of Jewish parents and had been taught at least one thing thoroughly. The hostess did the best she could under the circumstances and provided other kinds of meat, cake and fruit, and the festal occasion had a happy ending.
A certain amount of care has always to be exercised in new enterprises, in departures from the ordinary routine, especially if they involve expense; or, as I have said before, interfere with political or economic progress. Pulpit preaching is the smallest item in the entire programme of a preacher, especially in such a neighbourhood and in such a church. If a preacher wants an audience, all he has to do is to step outside his church door, stand on a box, and the audience is ready-made. It is miscellaneous and cosmopolitan; it is respectful and multitudinous. When I discovered this, I proceeded to act on my convictions, and copy, to the extent of getting an audience, at least, the Socialist propagandist; and I proceeded to work with the people around me instead of for them. There were no lines of demarkation to my activity. I touched the life of the community at every angle, sometimes entering as a fool where an angel would fear to tread.
I was called upon to visit a poor couple who lived in a rear tenement. They were of the unattached; had no ecclesiastical connections whatever. I saw that the old man, who lay on a couch, was dying. He was scarcely able to speak, but managed to express a desire that I sing to him; so, as there was no one present but his wife and myself to hear it, I sang. This inspired the old man to sing himself. He coughed violently, tried to clear his throat, pulled himself together, and sang after me a line of "Jesus, Lover of my Soul." This was very touching, but the solemnity was severely jarred by following that line by the first line of: "Little Brown Jug, don't I love you!" So between the Little Brown Jug and the sacred poetry of the church he wound up, dying with his head on my knee.
There was an insurance of thirty dollars on his life. I informed the undertaker, and did what I could to comfort the old woman who was now entirely alone in the world. One of the missionaries of the church came next day and helped to make arrangements for the funeral which was to take place in the afternoon. They had not been long in that alley and knew nobody in it, and when I arrived to conduct the funeral service at three o'clock in the afternoon, there was a little crowd of people around the door, and from the inside came agonized yells from the old woman.
I opened the door and marched in. I found the undertaker in the act of taking the body out of the casket and laying it on the lounge in the corner. The old woman was on her knees, wringing her hands and begging him in the name of God not to do it. I asked for an explanation and, rather reluctantly, the undertaker told me, proceeding with his programme as he explained that there was a "kink" in the insurance.
"Well," I said, "we can fix that up all right."
"Yes," he said, "you can fix it up with cash; but we are not in the undertaking business for our health, you know."
"Well, stop for a moment," I pleaded, "and let us talk it over!"
"Have you got the dough?" he asked.
"Not here," I replied, "but I am the pastor of that church up there on the corner, and surely we are good enough for the small expense of this funeral."
By this time he had the lid on the casket and was proceeding to carry it out. The old woman was now on her feet and almost in hysterics. I was mightily moved by the situation, and asked the man to wait; but he jabbed the end of the casket under my arm—perhaps accidentally—pushing me to one side on his way to the door. I was there ahead of him however; locked the door and put the key in my pocket.
"Now, will you wait for one moment till we talk it over?"
His answer was a volley of oaths. I waited until he subsided, and then I said:
"I will be responsible for this financially. You are wringing the heart's blood out of this poor old woman, and I don't propose to stand by and allow it." I raised my voice and continued—"I will give you two minutes to put that corpse back in the casket and arrange it for burial, and if you don't do it, there may be two to bury instead of one."
I began to time him, making absolutely no answer to anything he said. I quieted the old woman, stood very close to her and put my hand on her head. I said, "It's all right, Mary. Everything is all right. You are not friendless. You are not alone."
The two minutes were up. I took off my coat, rolled up my shirt sleeves and advanced toward him.
"Are you going to do the decent thing?"
There was one long look between us. Then he put the body back in the casket, arranged it for burial, and I opened the door and the crowd came in, not, however, before I had put my coat on again. I read the service and preached the sermon, and the undertaker did the rest.
Some months afterward, I was at work in my study in the tower of the old church, when I heard a loud knocking at the church door—a most unusual thing. I came down and found that undertaker and a gentleman and lady, well dressed, evidently of the well-to-do class, standing at the door.
"Here is a couple that want to get married, Mr. Irvine," the undertaker said.
They came into the study and were married, and I shook hands with the three, and they went off. Next day I went to the undertaker—indeed, he was an undertaker's helper. I went up to his desk and laid down a five-dollar bill, one-fourth of the marriage fee. Without being invited, I pulled a chair up and sat down beside him.
"Now, tell me, brother," I said confidentially. "Why did you bring them to me?"
A smile overspread his features.
"Well," he said, "it was like this. You remember that funeral business?"
"Well, I figured it out like this: that one of the two of us was puttin' up a damned big bluff; but I hadn't the heart to call it. Shake!"
After some years' experience in missions and mission churches, I would find it very hard if I were a workingman living in a tenement not to be antagonistic to them; for, in large measure, such work is done on the assumption that people are poor and degraded through laxity in morals. The scheme of salvation is a salvation for the individual; social salvation is out of the question. Social conditions cannot be touched, because in all rotten social conditions, there is a thin red line which always leads to the rich man or woman who is responsible for them.
Coming in contact with these ugly social facts continuously, led me to this belief. It came very slowly as did also the opinion that the missionary himself or the pastor, be he as wise as Solomon, as eloquent as Demosthenes, as virtuous as St. Francis, has no social standing whatever among the people whose alms support the institutions, religious and philanthropic, of which these men are the executive heads. The fellowship of the saints is a pure fiction, has absolutely no foundation in fact in a city like New York except as the poor saints have it by themselves.
Tim Grogan jolted me into a new political economy; the crowded streets of the East Side on a summer night gave me a new theology. I stood one night in August on the tower of the old church and looked down upon the sweltering mass that covered the roofs, fire escapes and sidewalks. The roofs were littered with naked and half-naked children panting for breath. Down on the crowded streets thousands of little children darted in and out like sparrows, escaping as if by miracle the vehicles of all sorts and descriptions. Crowded baby-carriages lined the sidewalks. The stoops, too, were crowded. What a mass of humans! What a ganglia of living wires! As I looked on this vast multitude, I questioned the orthodox theology that held me in its grip. Most of these people belonged to another race. And I stood at that moment firmly rooted in the belief that this multitude was inevitably doomed! Let me put it frankly, even though it seems brutal: doomed to hell!
I am unable to analyze the quick currents of thought that went through my mind at that instant. I cannot explain how the change came. I know that there came to me a bigger thought than any I had ever known, and that thought so thrilled me with human feeling, with love for men, that I said to my soul: "Soul, if this multitude is doomed to hell, be brave; gird up your loins and go with them!"
In that tenement district people were being murdered by the tens of thousands by tuberculosis, by defective plumbing, by new diseases born of the herding of men and women like cattle. I made some feeble attempt to investigate, to ascertain, to acquaint myself with the facts, and my investigation led me to this result—a result that the lapse of years has not altered; that the private ownership of tenements—the private profits in housing—was not only the mother of the great white plague, but of most of the plagues down there that endanger health. It led me to the belief also that the struggle for bodily health, the struggle to survive, was so fierce as to leave little time for soul health or mental health! It was a source of continual wonder to me that people so helpless and so neglected were as good as they were, or as healthy as they were. It did not seem reasonable to lay the blame at the doors of the owners of the tenements. Many of them had a tenement only as a source of income—and to acquire the tenement had taken long years of savings, earnings and sacrifices. It was part of the great game of business, the game of "live I, die you!"
The churches and synagogues are of little vital importance there, because they ignore social conditions, or largely ignore them. And there is a reason for this also, and the reason is that they are supported by the people—the very people who perpetuate the evils against which prophet, priest and pastor ought to cry out continually. The protest against such conditions is a negligible quantity.
There is a protest, an outcry, but it is related neither to the church nor to the synagogue. The East Side has a soul, but it is not an ecclesiastical soul! It is a soul that is alive—so much alive to the interest of the people that many times I felt ashamed of myself when I listened to the socialistic orators on the street corners and in the East Side halls. They were stirring up the minds of the people. They were not merely making them discontented with conditions, but they were offering a programme of reconstruction—a programme that included a trowel as well as a sword.
The soul of the East Side expressed itself in the Yiddish press, daily, weekly, and monthly, and in Yiddish literature, and in the spoken word of the propagandist whose ideal, though limited in literary expression, made him a flame of living fire. It was this soul of the East Side that drove me against my will to study the relation of politics to the condition of the people. One of the first things that I discovered was the grip that Tammany had on the people. Every saloon keeper was a power in the community. Men, of any force of character whatever, who were willing to hold their hands behind their backs for Tammany graft, were singled out by the organization for some moiety of honour. Small merchants found it to their advantage to keep on the right side of the saloon keepers and the Tammany leaders. I remember trying to express this thought in an uptown church to a wealthy congregation; and I remember distinctly, also, that I was rebuked by one of the leading lights of the missionary society of which I was a part. I was informed that my business was to "save souls," and in my public addresses to tell how I saved them; that political conditions must be left to the politicians—and it was done.
To the old church at the corner of Market and Henry streets came Dowling. He followed me as a matter of fellowship—we loved each other. And came also Dave Ranney, the "puddler from Pittsburg."
On the first anniversary of Dave's conversion, I gathered a hundred wastrels of the Bowery together and gave them a dinner at the church. Dave, of course, was the guest of honour. When my guests were full and warm, they became reminiscent, and I urged them, a few of them, to tell us their stories—to unfold the torn manuscripts of their lives. Dave told his first.
"Boys," he said, "I was one of de toughest gazabos what ever hung aroun' de square. I met dis man an' tried t' bleed 'im, but it warn't no go—'e was on to de game and cudn't be touch't.
"I giv'd 'im a song an' dance story fur weeks. One day 'e sez to me, sez 'e, 'Chum!'—well, say boys, when I went out an' had a luk at meself, sez I, 'Ye dhirty loafer, if a man like dat calls y' "chum," why don't y' take a brace an' get on de dead level?' So I did an' I've been on de dead level ever since—ain't I, boss?"
I was able to place Dave as janitor of the church. After he had been there for a while and comfortably housed in the janitor's quarters in the basement, he thought it a propitious time to be reconciled to his wife; so we arranged to have Mary come down and inspect the place. We put extra work into the cleaning of the quarters, furnishing it with some sticks of furniture. Reconciliations were getting to be an old story with Mary, and Dave knew he was going to have difficulty in this new attempt. He finally persuaded her to make a visit to the church. When he was ready, Dave, in a most apologetic tone, said:
"There is just one thing lacking here."
"What is it Dave?"
"A white tie."
The white tie as ecclesiastical appendage I had avoided. I despised it. But Dave assured me that if Mary came down to look the church over, she would be more interested in my appearance than in the appearance of the church, because what she really wanted was an assurance that Dave was "on the square!" and if he could introduce her to a real minister as his friend, it would enhance his chance.
I sent Dave to the Bowery for a five cent white string tie, and I borrowed a Prince Albert coat. There was an old stovepipe hat in the church—sort of legacy from former pastorates—and it was trotted out, carefully brushed and put on the study table. Then Mary appeared! Dave had instructed me to put up a "tall talk," so I put up the tallest possible. Mary inspected the church, the quarters and the minister; then she looked at Dave and said in an undertone—"This looks on the level."
"You bet your sweet life!" Dave said.
So Mary was installed as "the lady of the temple" at Sixty-one Henry Street, and for seven years ministered to the poor and the needy, and kept in order the House of God. After her death, Dave remained at the church about a year; then he became my successor as missionary to the lodging houses on the Bowery, where he still works—a sort of humble doctor of the humanities; feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting men in despair.
It seemed to me at that time that what a weak church like that most needed was a strong, powerful church to put its arms around it and give it support. I interviewed Dr. Parkhurst, as I was Chairman of a Committee of the City Vigilance League which he organized. The result was that Dr. Parkhurst's church gave it for a year support and absolute independence of action at the same time. Then the Rev. John Hopkins Dennison, who had been Dr. Parkhurst's assistant, superseded me in the care of the church, and was able to bring to its support help that I could not have touched. Mr. Dennison's service to that church is worthy of a better record than it has yet received. He performed brilliant service, intensified the life of the church and gathered around it a band of noble people. He transformed the tower of the church into a kind of modern monastery in which he lived himself, and in which Dowling, the old Irish tinker, had a place also, and which he made a centre of ten years' missionary work chiefly among the lodging houses where I found him.
One day Dowling was walking along the Bowery when a hand was laid roughly on his shoulder and a voice said:
"Ain't you Dowling?"
"What did you do with the loot?"
In the Sepoy Rebellion in India, he had looted the palace of a Rajah with two other soldiers. The most valuable items of the booty were several bamboo canes stuffed with diamonds, rubies and sapphires. In the act of burying them for protection and hiding, one of the soldiers was shot dead; the other two escaped and separated, and all these years each of them had lived in the suspicion that the other had gone back for the loot, and they both discovered on the Bowery that neither of them had and that this valuable stuff was buried in far-off India. Dowling wrote to the Governor-General and told of his part in the affair and volunteered to come out and locate it. But by this time his body was wasted, his steps were tottering and his head bent. Five-hundred dollars were appropriated by the Indian Government to take him out; but Dowling was destined for another journey; and, in the old tower that he loved so well and where he was beloved by every one who knew him, he lay down and died. They buried him in Plainfield, N.J., and his friends put over him a stone bearing these words that were so characteristic of his life:
"HE WENT ABOUT DOING GOOD"
My next service was in a city of a second class beyond the Mississippi River. I had been invited as a pulpit supply in one of its largest churches, but when I arrived I found them in a wrangle over the pastor who had just left and by whose recommendation I was to fill the pulpit. I arrived in the city on a Sunday morning and went from my hotel to the church prepared to preach. I stood for a few minutes in the vestibule, and what I heard led me to go straight out again, never to return.
My first impression of the city was that it contained more vital democracy than any city I had ever been in. It takes an Old World proletarian a long time to outgrow a sense of subserviency. As a missionary and almoner of the rich in New York, this sense was very strong in me. In the West I felt this vital democracy so keenly and saw the vision of political independence so clearly, that my very blood seemed to change. Politically, I was born again.
While studying the social conditions of this city, I took a residence on the banks of the river among the squatters. There were about fifteen hundred people living in shacks on this "no man's land." My residence was a shack for which I paid three dollars a month. It was at the bottom of a big clay bank, and not far from where the city dumped its garbage. There was neither church nor chapel in this neglected district, and the people were mostly foreigners; but the children all spoke English.
During the early part of my stay in that shack, I entered my first great period of doubting—doubt as to the moral order of the universe, doubt on the question of God. I had gone through some great soul struggles, but this was the greatest. It was for a time the eclipse of my soul. For weeks I lived behind closed doors—I was shut in with my soul. But the community around me called in a thousand ways for help, for guidance, for instruction, and I opened the door of my shack and invited the children in. I organized a Sunday School and taught them ethics and religion. I got up little entertainments for them. I procured a stereopticon, gave them lectures on my experience in Egypt, and lectures on art, biography and history. I had a peculiar method of advertising these lectures. I informed the little cripple boy on the corner. He whispered the information to a section of the huts, at the farthest end of which a golden-haired courier informed another section; so that by the time the lecture was scheduled to begin, my audience was ready, and most of them slid down the clay bank in front of my door. Later I went out through the surrounding towns and cities, lecturing, and raised money for a chapel, and we called it the "Chapel of the Carpenter."
I never knew the meaning of the incarnation until I lived on "the bottoms" with the squatters. I talked of great characters of history; I reviewed great books. I travelled with these children over the great highways of history, science and art, and very soon we had a strong Sunday School, and helpers came from the city—but the door of my own soul was still shut. It seemed to me that my soul was dead. I was without hope for myself: everything around me was dark. Sometimes I locked the door and tried to pray, but no words came, nor thoughts—not a ray of light penetrated the darkness. My mind and intellect became duller and duller. It was at this time that I came across the writings of Schopenhauer; and Schopenhauer suggested to me a method of relief. I may be doing him an injustice, but it was his philosophy that made me reason that, as I did not ask to come into life and had no option, I had a right to go out of it. There was nothing spasmodic in the development of my thought along this line: it was cold, calm reasoning; I had determined to go out of life. So, with the same calm deliberation that I cooked my breakfast, I destroyed every vestige of my correspondence; and, one night went to the river to seek relief. I was sitting on the end of a log when a man, who had been working twelve hours in a packing-house, came out to smoke, after his supper. He had not washed himself. His bloody shirt stuck to his skin—he was haggard, pale; and we dropped naturally into conversation. In language intelligible to him I asked him what life meant to him.
"The kids," he said, "that's what it means to me. I work like one of the things I kill every day—I kill hundreds of them, thousands of them every day. I go home and eat like one of them, and sleep like one of them, and go back to hog it again like one of them."
"Do you get tired?"
"Tired? Tired as hell!"
"I mean—tired of life?"
"Oh, no," he said, "I aint livin' the best kind of a life, but what I have is better than none. I don't know what's beyond—if there is any life or none at all; but something in me makes me stick to this one. Besides, if there is any chance for a better life here, he must be a damned coward that would go out of it and leave it undone. Good night."
I saw him retreat to his shack among the tall weeds. I heard the door close. I fancied him lie down in a heap in the corner and go to sleep. He was a better philosopher than I was, and he had called me a coward, but he had not altered my determination. I began to sweat. It was like the action of a fever on my body, and I became very nervous; but I was determined to meet the crisis, and go.
A sudden change in affairs was created by an unearthly scream—the scream of a woman. I looked around suddenly and discovered that the only two-story shack on "the bottoms" was in a blaze, and the thought occurred to me that I might be of some help and accomplish my purpose at the same time.
In a moment I was beside the burning hut. It appeared that a lamp had exploded upstairs, and that three small children were hemmed in. That was the cause of the scream.
A plank that reached to the upstairs window was lying at the wood pile. I pushed it against the house and climbed like a cat into the burning bedroom. By this time the neighbours had collected, and I helped the woman and lowered the three children down, one by one, and then deliberately groped for the stairs to get hemmed in, the smoke suffocating me as I did so. By the time I found the stairs, my hair was singed, my arms were burned, but I was gradually losing consciousness, and before I reached the bottom I fell, suffocated with the smoke. In that last moment of consciousness, my whole life came up in review. I had no regrets. I had played a part and it was over.
When I came out of coma, I was lying on my cot in the hut, the neighbours crowding my little bedroom and standing outside in scores. One of the newspapers that had most severely criticized my interference in politics, gave me a pass to Colorado and return—and in the mountains of Colorado, the door of my soul opened again, and I saw the world beautiful—and opportunities that were golden for helpfulness and service awaiting my touch. So I returned to my hut with the sense of God more fully developed in me than it had ever been.
They had a system in that city that I was very much ashamed of—that I thought all men ought to be ashamed of—the segregation of the "social evil." I discovered that the city fined these poor creatures of the streets, and that these fines, amounting to thousands of dollars every year, went straight into the public school fund, so that it could truly be said that the more debauched society was, the more efficiently it could educate its children and its youth.
These houses in the red light district were built to imitate castles on the Rhine, and were owned by church people and politicians. Everybody winked at this condition. One minister of this town uttered a loud protest and took his children out of the public schools, but he had to leave the city. The Christians would not stand for such a protest. The newspapers would not touch it, trustees would not touch it, the great political parties would not touch it.
I joined the Knights of Labour in that city, an organization then in its prime of strength, but they would not touch it. I joined the People's Party in the hope that there I might do something about it. One of the leading members of that party importuned me to nominate him as presiding officer of the city convention. "On one condition," I told him; "that you appoint me chairman of the committee on resolutions." And the compact was made.
Five men were on that committee, and when I asked the committee to put in a resolution condemning the education of children from this fund, they refused. I could only persuade one of four to indorse my minority report, which, signed by two of us, condemned this remnant of Sodom left over; but it swept the convention and was carried almost unanimously. Even the three men on the resolutions committee who refused to sign it before, voted for it in convention. I am aware that it does not matter from what fund or funds the public school system is supported. I am aware also that one of the things we can do is to make that kind of thing cover up its head.
What I suffered for that resolution can never be recorded.
My period of inclement mental weather was followed by a period of poverty—destitution rather—I was physically unable to work with my hands and I had not yet tried to earn money by my pen. I was often so reduced by hunger that I could scarcely walk. At such times one feels more grateful for friendship. Into my life then came a few choice souls whose fellowship acted as a dynamic to my life. It was when things were at their worst that George D. Herron found me. The almost Jewish cast of feature, the strange, wonderful voice, the prophetic atmosphere of the man forced me to express the belief that I had never met a human being who seemed to me so like Christ. Then came George A. Gates, the president of Iowa College where Dr. Herron was a professor. About the same time came Elia W. Peattie and Ida Doolittle Fleming. Mrs. Fleming and her husband helped me organize a Congregational Church which, when organized, was a means of support.
The church was in a growing section of the city but I could not be persuaded to live there. I lived where I thought my life was most serviceable—on "the bottoms."
One night after a few days' involuntary fast I found in the hut two cents. To the city I went and bought two bananas—one I ate on the way back and the other I put in my hip pocket.
There were no streets, no lights, no sidewalks in that region. As I came to a railroad arch on the edge of the squatter community I saw a figure emerge from the deep shadows. I knew instantly I was to be held up, but as life was rather cheap down there I was not sure what would accompany the assault. A second figure emerged and when I came to within a few yards of them, I whipped the banana from my pocket and pointing it as one would a revolver I said—"Move a muscle, either of you, and I'll blow your brains out!"
"Gee!" one of them muttered; "it's Mr. Irvine."
They belonged to a gang of young toughs who lived in a dug-out on the banks of the river. Some of them had brothers in my school. There were about a dozen of them. They had hinted several times that they would clean me out when they had time, but they had delayed their plan. I took these fellows to my hut and we talked for hours.
When I produced the banana they laughed vociferously and invited me to their "hole." Next evening they gave a reception and, I suppose, fed me on stolen property. They had a stove—a few old mattresses and some dry-goods boxes.
I held their attention that night for four hours while I told the story of Jean Valjean. Next day we were all photographed together on a pile of stones near the "hole."
After that these fellows protected the chapel and made themselves useful in their way. In less than a year afterward half of them had gone to honest work; the rest went the way of the transgressor, to the penetentiary and the reform school.
This period was one of total rejection by any means—powerful influences were at work to render my labour void—but they were offset for a time by the finer influences of life. I gave a series of addresses in Tabor College, Iowa, and they were the beginning of an awakening among the students. After the last word of the last address the student about whom the president and faculty were most concerned walked up the aisle and expressed a desire to lead a new life.
"Do it now," I suggested.
"Yes, right where you stand."
The president and faculty gathered around him, making a circle; he stood in the midst, alone, and in that way with prayer and dedication from the lips of the young man and his friends began one of the most useful lives in the American ministry. This young man became an ascetic. I gave him to read the life of Francis of Assisi, and he went to the extreme in emulation. He divested himself of collars and ties and on graduating read his thesis for his Bachelor's degree collarless and tieless.
I was in New Haven when he came there to take his Divinity degree in Yale. He came without either collar or tie, but after days of prayer and fasting he was "led" to enter the University as others entered it. He is now pastor of the First Congregational Church in Rockford, Illinois; his name is Frank M. Sheldon. Nine men have gone by a similar route into the ministry, but Mr. Sheldon is the only one of them who has kept touch with the modern demands on religious leadership.
Birthdays have meant nothing whatever to me, but I made my thirty-second an occasion for a party on "the bottoms."
I could only accommodate seven guests. Two were favourite boys and the others were selected because of their great need. The hut was the centre of a mud puddle that January morning. I got a long plank and laid it from my doorstep to the edge of the clay bank. I took precaution not to announce the affair, even to the guests, but a grocer's boy who had been sent by a friend with some oranges lost his way and his inquiry after me created such a sensation that when he found me he was accompanied by about fifty children.
Old Mrs. Belgarde, my nearest neighbour, had whispered across the fence to her neighbour that something was sure to happen, for she had noticed me making unusual preparations that day. I think the origin of the party idea came with my first birthday gift—I mean the first I had ever received—it was a copy of Thomas à Kempis, given me by my friend the Reverend Gregory J. Powell. [I gave it later to a man who was to die by judicial process in the county jail.]
When the hour arrived a crowd of two hundred youngsters stood in the mud outside. On the top of the clay bank stood parents, crossing themselves and praying quietly that their offspring would be lucky enough to get in.
I had taught these children some simple rules of order, and when I opened the door I rang a little bell. There was absolute silence. They had been actually tearing each other's clothing to rags for a position near the door. I told them that I was so poor that I had scarcely enough food for myself. That the little I had I was going to share with seven of my special friends; of course they all considered themselves included in that characterization.
"Dear little friends," I said, "I never had a birthday party before; and now you are going to spoil this one."
Up to this time the crowd didn't know who the guests were. I proceeded to call the names. As those called made a move there was a violent fight for the door. Some of them I had to drag out of the clutches of the unsuccessful. Only six of the seven were there. There was a howl from a hundred throats to take the place of the absent one.
"No," I said sternly; "he'll come, all right." A roar of discontent went up and chaos reigned. I couldn't make myself heard; I rang the bell and again calmed them. I was at a loss to know what to say.
"Dear little folks," I said, "I thought you loved me!"
"Do too!" whined a dozen voices.
"Then if you do, go away and some day I will have a party for every child on 'the bottoms.'"
That quieted the youthful mob and they departed—that is, the majority departed. Some stayed and bombarded the doors and windows with stones. There were few stones to be found, and as it didn't occur to them to use the same stones twice they used mud and plastered the front of the hut with it.
This form of expression, however, did not disturb us much. I sent three of my guests into the back yard to wash and arrange their hair. They returned for inspection but didn't pass, the hair refusing to comply on such short notice. I put the finishing touches on each of their toilets and we sat down to supper. The oldest boy, "Fritz," was half past twelve and the youngest, "Ano," had just struck ten. Ano was a cripple and both legs were twisted out of shape—he hobbled about on crutches. "Jake" was eleven—two of his eleven years he had spent in a reformatory where he had learned to chew tobacco and to swear.
"Eddy" was also eleven, but the oldest of all in point of wits. I had a claim on Eddy: one day he was amusing himself by jerking a cat at the end of a string, in and out of Frau Belgarde's well. She was stealthily approaching him with a piece of fence rail when I arrived and possibly prevented some broken bones. "Kaiser" was nearly twelve; he too had been in a reform school—he liked it and would have been glad to stay as long as they wanted him—for he had three meals a day and he had never had such "luck" outside. "Whitey" was a little Swedish boy whose mother worked in a cigar factory. "Kaiser" and "Whitey" had a "dug-out" and they spent more nights together in it than they spent in their huts.
"Fritz," the oldest boy, began his career in the open by stealing his father's revolver; and, jumping on the first grocery wagon he found handy, he left town. Of course he was brought back and "sent up" for a year. "Franz," the absent one, was Ano's brother, and the toughest boy in the community.
These brief outlines describe the guests of my birthday party.
"When ye make a feast call the poor" was stretched a little to cover this aggregation—stretched as to the character of those invited. A blessing was asked, of course—by the host and repeated by the guests. Of things to eat there was enough and to spare. After dinner each one was to contribute something to the entertainment.
"Beginning here on my left with 'Whitey,'" I said, "I want each boy to tell us what he would like to be when he becomes a man." Whitey without hesitation said:
"A organ-man wid a monkey."
Eddy said he would like to be a butcher, and as a reason gave: "Plenty ov beef to eat."
"Kaiser" preferred to be a "Reformatory boss."
"Ano," the cripple, said he would like to be a minister. When pressed for a reason he said, "That's what m' father says—dey ain't got notin' to do!"
In the midst of this social quiz a loud noise was heard outside. "Bang! Bang!! Bang!!!" The timbers of the hut shivered, the guests made a rush to the back door. I was there first and found Franz, the missing guest, his arms smeared with blood, his ragged jacket covered with hair of some sort and in his hand a bloody stiletto.
He rushed past me into the hut, got to the table and exclaimed: "Gee whiz! der ain't a —— scrap left!"
"Look here, Franz," I said, "I want to know what you've been up to?"
"Ye do, hey? Ye look skeered, too, don't yer—hey?"
"Never mind how I look; tell me at once what you've been up to!"
"Ha, ha, ha!" he laughed, "d'ye tink I kilt some ol' sucker for 'is money—hey? Ha, ha! Well, I hain't, see? I've bin skinnin' a dead hoss an brot ye d' skin for a birfday present, see?"
The skin was lying in a bloody heap outside the back door. I arranged "Franz" for dinner and the party was complete.
I told some stories; then we played games and at ten o'clock they went home. The moment the front door was opened, about forty children—each with a lighted candle in hand—sang a verse of my favourite hymn: "Lead, Kindly Light." They knew but one verse, but that they sang twice. It was a weird performance and moved me almost to tears.
After they sang they came down the clay bank and shook hands, wishing me all sorts of things. Two nights afterward I had a different kind of a party. A bullet came crashing through the boards of my hut about midnight. Rushing to the door, I saw the fire flashes of other shots in a neighbour's garden. I went to the high board fence and saw one of my neighbours—a German—emptying a revolver at his wife who was dodging behind a tree.
My first impulse was to jump the fence and save the woman but the man being evidently half-drunk might have turned and poured into me what was intended for his wife; and the first law of nature was sufficiently developed in me to let her have what belonged to her! I tried to speak but my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. I was positively scared.
The old fellow walked up to the tree, letting out as he walked a volley of oaths. I recovered my equilibrium, sprang over the fence, crept up behind and jumped on him, knocking him down and instantly disarming him.
I went inside with them and sat between them until they seemed to have forgotten what had happened. Then I put them to bed, put the light out and went home. I examined the revolver and found it empty. Next morning I went back and told the old man that I would volunteer to give him some lessons in target practice; and that the reason I knocked him down was because he was such a poor shot. This old couple became my staunchest supporters.
I interested the students of Tabor College in the people of that out-of-the-way community, and before I built the Chapel of the Carpenter which still stands there I organized a college settlement which was manned by students.
The small church, the chapel on "the bottoms," the work of the college students and the increasing circle of converts and friends made the work attractive to me, but I had entered the political field in order to protest against and possibly remedy something civic that savoured of Sodom; and for a minister that was an unpardonable sin. The "interests" determined to cripple me or destroy my work. This they did successfully by the medium of a subsidized press and other means, fair and foul. It was a case of a city against one man—a rich city against a poor man and the man went down to defeat—apparent defeat, anyway: I packed my belongings and left. As I crossed the bridge which spans the river I looked on the little squatter colony on "the bottoms" and as my career there passed in review, for the second time in my life I was stricken with home-sickness and I was guilty of what my manhood might have been ashamed of—tears.
The experiences of 1894, '5 and '6 gave me a distaste—really a disgust—with public life I felt that I would never enter a large city again. I sought retirement in a country parish; this was secured for me by my friend, the president of Tabor College, the Rev. Richard Cecil Hughes.
It was in a small town in Iowa—Avoca in Pottawattomie County; I stayed there a year.
In 1897 I was in Cleveland, Ohio, in charge of an institution called The Friendly Inn; a very good name if the place had been an inn or friendly. My inability to make it either forced me to leave it before I had been there many months. It was in Cleveland that I first joined a labour union. I was a member of what was called a Federal Labour Union and was elected its representative to the central body of the union movement.
Early in 1898 I was in Springfield, Mass., delivering a series of addresses to a Bible school there. My funds ran out and not being in receipt of any remuneration and, not caring to make my condition known, I was forced for the first time in my life to become a candidate for a church. There were two vacant pulpits and I went after both of them. Meantime I boarded with a few students who, like their ancestors, had "plenty of nothing but gospel."
They lived on seventy-five cents a week. Living was largely a matter of scripture texts, hope and imagination. I used to breakfast through my eyes at the beautiful lotus pond in the park. We lunched usually on soup that was a constant reminder of the soul of Tomlinson of Berkeley Square. Quantitively speaking, supper was the biggest meal of the day—it was a respite also for our imaginations.
The day of my candidacy arrived. I was prepared to play that most despicable of all ecclesiastical tricks—making an impression. I almost memorized the Scripture reading and prepared my favourite sermon; my personal appearance never had been so well attended to. The hour arrived. The little souls sat back in their seats to take my measure.
It was their innings. I had been duly looked up in the year-book and my calibre gauged by the amount of money paid me in previous pastorates.
The "service" began. My address to the Almighty was prepared and part of the game is to make believe that it is purely extemporaneous. Every move, intonation and gesture is noted and has its bearing on the final result. I was saying to the ecclesiastical jury: "Look here, you dumb-heads, wake up; I'm the thing you need here!" Sermon time came and with it a wave of disgust that swept over my soul.
"Good friends," I began; "I am not a candidate for the pastorate here. I was a few minutes ago; but not now. Instead of doing the work of an infinite God and letting Him take care of the result I have been trying to please you. If the Almighty will forgive me for such unfaith—such meanness—I swear that I will never do it again."
Then I preached. This brutal plainness created a sensation and several tried to dissuade me, but I had made up my mind.
It was while I was enjoying the "blessings" of poverty in Springfield that I was called to New Haven to confer with the directors of the Young Men's Christian Association about their department of religious work. I had been in New Haven before. In 1892 I addressed the students of Yale University on the subject of city mission work and, as a result of that address, had been invited to make some investigations and outline a plan for city mission work for the students. I spent ten days in the slum region there, making a report and recommendations. On these the students began the work anew. I was asked at that time to attach myself to the university as leader and instructor in city missions, but work in New York seemed more important to me.
I rode my bicycle from Springfield to New Haven for that interview. When it was over I found myself on the street with a wheel and sixty cents. I bought a "hot dog"—a sausage in a bread roll—ate it on the street and then looked around for a lodging.
"Is it possible," I asked a policeman, "to get a clean bed for a night in this town for fifty cents?"
"Anything's possible," he answered, "but——"
He directed me to the Gem Hotel, where I was shown to a 12 × 6 box, the walls of which spoke of the battles of the weary travellers who had preceded me. I protected myself as best I could until the dawn, when I started for Springfield, a disciple for a day of the no-breakfast fad.
Things were arranged differently at the next interview. I was the guest of the leaders in that work and was engaged as "Religious Work Director" for one year. I think I was the first man in the United States to be known officially by that title.
The Board of Directors was composed of men efficient to an extraordinary degree. The General Secretary was a worker of great energy and business capacity and as high a moral type as the highest. He was orthodox in theology and the directors were orthodox in sociology. It was a period when I was moving away from both standpoints.
To express a very modern opinion in theology would disturb the churches—the moral backers of the institution; to express an advanced idea in sociology would alienate the rich men—the financial backers. A month after I began my work I "supplied" the pulpit of a church in the New Haven suburbs called the Second Congregational Church of Fair Haven. The chairman of the pulpit supply committee was a member of the Board of Directors of the Y.M.C.A.
Gradually I drifted away from the Association toward the church. The former was building a new home and many people were glad of an excuse not to give anything toward its erection. So any utterance of mine that seemed out of the common was held up to the solicitor. An address on War kept the telephone ringing for days. It was as if Christianity had never been heard of in New Haven. Labour men asked that the address be printed and subscribed money that it might be done, but an appeal to the teachings of Jesus on the question of war was lauded by the sinners and frowned upon by the saints.
With the General Secretary I never had an unkind word. Though a man of boundless energy he was a man in supreme command of himself. We knew in a way that we were drifting apart and acted as Christians toward each other. What more can men do?
Mr. Barnes, the director, who was chairman of the pulpit supply committee of the church, kept urging me to give my whole time to the church. Every day for weeks he drove his old white horse to my door and talked it over. I refused the call to the pastorate but divided my time between them. For the Y.M.C.A. my duties were:
To conduct mass meetings for men in a theatre.
To organize the Bible departments and teach one of the classes.
Care and visiting of converts.
Daily office hour.
Literary work as associate editor of the weekly paper.
Writing of pamphlets.
To conduct boys' meetings.
For the church:
To conduct regular Sunday services.
Friday night prayer meetings.
Men's Bible class.
Visitation of sick and burial of the dead.
Class for young converts.
At the same time I entered the Divinity School of Yale University, taking studies in Hebrew, New Testament Greek and Archæology. A little experience in the church taught me that intellectually I was leaving the ordinary type of church at a much quicker pace than I was leaving the Y.M.C.A.
Dr. Edward Everett Hale told a friend once that he preached to the South Church on Sunday morning so that he might preach to the world the rest of the week. I told the officers of the church frankly that I was not the kind of man needed for their parish; but they insisted that I was, so I preached for them on Sunday that I might preach to a larger parish during the week.
Two things I tried to do well for the church—conduct an evening meeting for the unchurched—which simply means the folk unable to dress well and pay pew rents—and conduct a meeting for children. I organized a committee to help me at the evening meeting. The only qualification for membership on the committee was utter ignorance of church work. The very good people of the community called this meeting "a show." Well, it was. I asked the regular members to stay away for I needed their space and their corner lots with cushioned knee stools. I made a study of the possibilities of the stereopticon. Mr. Barnes gave me a fine outfit. I got the choicest slides and subjects published. Prayers, hymns, scripture readings and illuminated bits of choice literature were projected on a screen. I trained young men to put up and take down the screen noiselessly, artistically, and with the utmost neatness and dispatch. I discovered that many men who either lacked ambition or ability to wear collars came to that meeting, and they sang, too, when the lights were low. When in full view of each other they were as close-mouthed as clams. The singing became a special feature. My brethren in other churches considered this a terrible "come-down" at first, but changed their minds later and copied the thing, borrowing the best of my good slides and not a few of the unique ideas accompanying the scheme.
A Methodist brother across the river said confidentially to a friend that he was going to launch on the community "a legitimate sensation"—a boys' choir. My plans for getting the poor people to church succeeded. Such a thing as fraternizing the steady goers—goers by habit and heredity—and the unsteady goers—goers by the need of the soul—was impossible. The most surprising thing in these evening meetings to the men who financed the church was the fact that these poor people paid for their own extras. That goes a long way in church affairs.
The weekly children's meeting I called "The Pleasant Hour." Believing that the most important work of the Church is the teaching of the children, it was my custom for many years in many churches to personally conduct a Sunday School on a week day so that the best I had to give would be given to the children. In my larger work for the city two ideas governed my action. One was to get the church people interested in civic problems and the other was to solve civic problems or to attempt a solution whether church people were interested in them or not.
I organized a flower mission for the summer months. We called it a Flower House. An abandoned hotel was cleaned up. A few loads of sand dumped in the back yard as a sort of extemporized seashore where little children might play. Flowers were solicited and distributed to the folks who had neither taste nor room for flowers. We did some teaching, too, and gave entertainments. A barrel-organ played on certain days by the sand pile; and that music of the proletariat never fails to attract a crowd.
The flower mission developed into a social settlement. We called it Lowell House. At first the church financed it, then it got tired of that, and when I incorporated the settlement work in my church reports in order to stimulate support, the settlement workers—directors rather—got tired of the church and went into a spasm over it. Lowell House is accounted a successful institution of the city now. It is doing a successful church work among the poor—church work with this exception, that its head worker—its educated, sympathetic priestess—lives there and shares her little artistic centre with the crowd who live in places not good enough for domestic animals.
In 1898 New Haven's public baths consisted of a tub in the basement of a public school. I photographed the tub and projected the picture on a screen in the Grand Opera House for the consideration of the citizens. That was the beginning of an agitation for a public bath house—an agitation that was pushed until the dream became a brick structure.
I was not particularly interested in the bath per se. It was an opportunity to get people to work for something this side of heaven, to emphasize the thought that men were as much worth taking care of as horses—an idea that has not yet a firm grip on the mind of the bourgeoisie.
The bath-house bill passed the Aldermanic and Councilmanic chambers, was signed by the mayor and the matter of building put into the hands of the Board of Health. The Board forgot all about it and some time later the agitation began again and persisted until another city government and another mayor had made a second law and carried it into effect.
There was no ecclesiastical objection to my participation in this movement. It was a small thing and cost little.
My Father had been begging me for years to come home and say good-bye to him; so, in 1901, I made the journey.
I hadn't been in the old home long before the alley was filled with neighbours, curious to have a look at "ould Jamie's son who was a clargymaan." I went to the door and shook hands with everybody in the hope that after a while they would go away and leave me with my own. But nobody moved. They stood and stared for several hours. "'Deed I mind ye fine when ye weren't th' height av a creepie!" said one woman, who was astounded that I couldn't call her by name.
"Aye," said another, "'deed ye were i' fond o' th' Bible, an' no wundther yer a clargymaan!"
A dozen old women "minded" as many different things of my childhood. I finally dismissed them with this phrase, as I dropped easily enough into the vernacular, "Shure, we'd invite ye all t' tay but there's only three cups in the house!"
My sister Mary and her four children lived with my father. We shut and barred the door when the neighbours left and sat down to "tay," which consisted of potatoes and buttermilk. Mary had been trying to improve on the old days but I interposed, and together, we went through the old régime. Father took the pot of potatoes to the old tub in which he used to steep the leather. There he drained them—then put them on the fire for a minute to allow the steam to escape.
"I'm going to 'kep' them," I said, and they both laughed.
"Oh, heavens, don't," he said; "shure they don't 'kep' pirtas in America!"
"I'm not in America now," I answered, as I circled as much of the little bare table as I could with my arms to keep the potatoes from rolling off. He dumped them in a heap in the centre; they rolled up against my arms and breast and I pushed them back. Mary cleared a space for a small pile of salt and the buttermilk bowls.
"We'll haave a blessin' by a rale ministher th' night," Mary said.
"Oh, yis, that's thrue enough," my father said, "but Alec minds th' time whin it was blessin' enough to hev th' murphies—don't ye, boy?"
After "tay" I tacked a newspaper over the lower part of the window—my father lit the candle and Mary put a few turfs on the fire and we sat as we used to sit so many years ago. My father was so deaf that I had to shout to make him hear and nearly everything I said could be heard by the neighbours in the alley, many of whom sat around the door to hear whatever they could of the story they supposed I would tell of the magic land beyond the sea.
I unbarred the door in answer to a loud knock; it was a most polite note from a Roman Catholic schoolmaster inviting me to occupy a spare room in his house. Half an hour later we were again interrupted by another visitor, an old friend who also invited me to occupy his spare bed. It was evidently disturbing the town to know where I was to sleep. I politely refused all invitations. Each invitation was explained to my father.
"Shure that's what's cracking m' own skull," he said; "where th' divil will ye sleep, anyway, at all, at all?"
Then they listened and I talked—talked of what the years had meant to me.
The old man sighed often and occasionally there were tears in Mary's eyes; and there were times when the past surged through my mind with such vividness that I could only look vacantly into the white flame of the peat fire. Once after a long silence my father spoke—his voice trembled, "Oh," he said, "if she cud just have weathered through till this day!"
"Aye," Mary said, "but how do ye know she isn't jist around here somewhere, anyway?"
"Aye," the old man said as he nodded his head, "deed that's thrue for you, Mary, she may!" He took his black cutty pipe out of his mouth and gazed at me for a moment.
"What d'ye mind best about her?"
"I mind a saying she had that has gone through life with me."
"'Ivery day makes its own throuble?'"
"No, not that; something better. She used to say so often, 'It's nice to be nice.'"
"Aye, I mind that," he said.
"Then," I continued, "on Sundays when she was dressed and her nice tallied cap on her head, I thought she was the purtiest woman I ever saw!"
"'Deed, maan, she was that!"
When bed time came I took a small lap-robe from my suit case, spread it on the hard mud floor, rolled some other clothes as a pillow and lay down to rest. Sleep came slowly but as I lay I was not alone, for around me were the forms and faces of other days.
Next day I visited the scene of my boyhood's vision—I went through the woods where I had my first full meal. I visited the old church; but the good Rector was gathered to his fathers. It was all a day-dream; it was like going back to a former incarnation. Along the road on my way home I discovered the most intimate friend of my boyhood—the boy with whom I had gathered faggots, played "shinney" and gone bird-nesting. He was "nappin'" stones. He did not recognize my voice but his curiosity was large enough to make him throw down his hammer, take off the glasses that protected his eyes and stare at me.
"Maan, yer changed," he said, "aren't you?"
"Och, shure, I'm th' same ould sixpence!"
"Except that you're older!" There was a look of disappointment on his face.
"Maan," he said, "ye talk like quality—d'ye live among thim?"
I explained something of my changed life; I told of my work and what I had tried to do and I closed with an account of the vision in the fields not far from where we sat.
"Aye," he would say occasionally, "aye, 'deed it's quare how things turn out."
When I ended the story of the vision he said: "Ye haaven't forgot how t' tell a feery story—ye wor i' good at that!"
"Bob" hadn't read a book, or a newspaper in all those years. He got his news from the men who stopped at his stone pile to light their pipes—what he didn't get there he got at the cobbler's while his brogues were being patched or at the barber's when he went for his weekly shave. We talked each other out in half an hour. A wide gulf was between us: it was a gulf in the realm of mind.
As I moved away toward the town, I wondered why I was not breaking stones on the roadside, and I muttered Bob's well-worn phrase: "How quare!"
It became so difficult to talk to my father without gathering a crowd at the door that I shortened my stay and took him to Belfast where we could spend a few days together and alone. We had our meals at first in a quiet little restaurant on a side street. He had never been in a restaurant. As the waiter went around the table, the old man watched him with curious eyes. I have explained that my father never swore. He was mightily unfortunate in his selection of phrases and when irritated by the attention of the waiter to the point of explosion he said, in what he supposed was a whisper: "What th' hell is he dancin' around us like an Indian fur?" I explained. Everybody in the place heard the explanation; they also heard his reply: "Send him t' blazes—he takes m' appetite away!"
We moved into the house of a friend after that.
One afternoon I took him for a walk in the suburbs of the city.
He rested on a rustic bench on the lawn of a beautiful villa while I made a call.
"Twenty-five years ago," I said to the gentleman of the house, "I had a great inspiration from the life of a young lady who lived in this house, and I just called to say 'thank you.'"
"Her father is dead," he said. "I am her uncle."
Then he told me of the career of the city girl I had met on the farm and whom I had watched entering the church on Sundays.
"About the time you missed her at church," he said, "she was married to a rich young man. He spent his fortune in liquor and finally ended his life. She began to drink, after his death, but was persuaded to leave the country. She went to America. We haven't heard from her for a long time."
The following Sunday I told my father we were going to church.
"Not me!" he said.
"Oh, yes," I coaxed; "just this once with me."
"What th' divil's the use whin I haave a praycher t' m'silf."
"I am to be the preacher at the church."
"Och, but that's a horse ov another colour, bedad. Shure thin I'll go."
When my father saw me in a Geneva gown, his eyes were filled with tears.
The old white-haired lady who found the place in the book for him was the young lady's mother. Her uncle had ushered him into her pew, but they had never met each other nor did the old lady know until after church that he was my father.
He never heard a word of the sermon, but as we emerged from the church into the street he put his arms around my neck and kissing me said, "Och, boy, if God wud only take me now I'd be happy!"
He had been listening with his eyes and what he saw so filled him with joy that he was more willing to leave life than to have the emotion leave him.
Though he was very feeble, I took him to Scotland with me to visit my brothers and sisters; and there I left him. As the hour of farewell drew near he wanted to have me alone—all to himself.
"Ye couldn't stay at home awhile? Shure I'll be goin' in a month or two."
"Ah, that's impossible, father." He hung his head.
"D'ye believe I'll know her whin I go? God wudn't shut me out from her for th' things I've done—"
"Of course he won't."
"He wudn't be so d——d niggardly, wud He?"
He fondled my hands as if I were a child. The hour drew nigher. He had so many questions to ask, but the inevitableness of the situation struck him dumb. We were on the platform; the train was about to move out. I made a motion; he gripped me tightly, whispering in my ear:
"Ask God onct in a while to let me be with yer mother—will ye, boy?"
I kissed him farewell and saw him no more.
I went on to France.
My objective point in France was the study of Millet and his work. I wanted to interpret him to working people in New Haven.
So to Greville on La Hague I went with a camera.
Greville consists of a church and a dozen houses. Gruchy is half a mile beyond, on the edge of the sea.
In Gruchy Millet was born; in Greville he first came into contact with incentive—I photographed both places and spent a night and a day with M. Polidor, the old inn-keeper who was the painter's friend.
Surely, never was so large a statue erected in so small a village. The peasant artist sits there on a bank of mosses, looking over at the old church that squats on the hillside. In Cherbourg I found more traces of his art and some stories of his life there that would be out of place here.
I found four portraits painted while he was paying court to his first wife. I found them in a little shoe shop in a by-street, in possession of a distant relative of his first wife.
From Cherbourg I went to Barbizon, where Millet spent the latter part of his life. I was very graciously received and entertained by his son François and his American wife.
To browse among the master's relics, to handle the old books of his small library, to hold, as one would a babe of tender years, his palette, were small things, judged by the values of the average life: to me it was one of the most inspiring hours of my career.
Paris was to me an art centre—little more. I followed the footsteps of Millet from one place to another. I sat before his paintings in the Louvre—I met some of his old friends and gathered material for a lecture on his work.
From Paris I went to London. The British capital was more than an art centre to me. It was a centre, literary, sociological and religious. I was the guest of Sir George Williams one afternoon at one of his parties and met Lord Radstock whom I had heard preach on a street corner in Whitechapel twenty years before.
Besides visiting and photographing the literary haunts of the great masters, I made the acquaintance of the leaders of the Socialist movement. I went to St. Albans to attend the first convention of the Ruskin societies. The convention was composed of men who in literature and life were translating into terms of life and labour the teachings of John Ruskin.
From London I went to Oxford and spent a few weeks browsing around the most fascinating city in the world, to me. My visit was in anticipation of the British convention of the Young Men's Christian Association to which I was a fraternal delegate from the Young Men's Association of Yale University.
I was invited to a garden party at Blenheim Palace while at Oxford. I arrived early and presented my card. Without waiting I went into the grounds and proceeded to enjoy the beautiful walks. Before I had gone far, I met a young man who seemed familiar with the place. I told him that I had once taken the Duchess through part of the slum region of New York, and expressed a hope that she was at home.
"No," he said, "she is conducting a fair in London for soldiers' wives." My next remark was in the realm of ethics. I had heard that the father of the present Duke was a good deal of a rake and asked the young man whether that was true or not. He said he thought it was like the obituary notice of Mark Twain—very much exaggerated.
"I have been a flunky to some of these high fliers," I said, "and I know how hard it is to get at the facts and also how easy it is to form a mistaken judgment."
"Yes," he said, "that's true, but men of that type, while they are often worse than they are painted are more often much better than the best the public think of them! I am the successor of the late Duke, and speak with authority on at least one case."
He took me through the palace, not only the parts usually open to the public but the private apartments also, and later in the afternoon he took me over some of the property at Woodstock, stopping for a few minutes at the house of Geoffrey Chaucer.
The Rector of Exeter College had invited a group of the leaders of the convention to a luncheon in Exeter and, because I was the only American, I was asked to be present and deliver a short address.
The grounds of Exeter show the good results of the four or five hundred years' care bestowed upon them. In my brief sojourn in Oxford as a student I had been chased out of the grounds of Exeter by the caretaker, under the suspicion that I was a burglar, taking the measure of the walks, windows, doors, etc.
I told this story to a man with whom I later exchanged cards; he was an old man and his card, read "W. Creese, Y.M.C.A. secretary, June 6, 1844."
"You were in early, brother," I said. "Yes," he said modestly, "I was in first." He helped George Williams to organize the first branch of the Y.M.C.A. My story went the rounds of those invited to luncheon and prepared the way for the address I delivered.
The first thing I did on my return from Europe was to visit the last known address of the girl friend of my youth. It was in a Negro quarter of the city.
"Does Mrs. G—— live here?" I asked the coloured woman who opened the door.
"She did, mistah—but she done gone left, dis mawnin'."
"Do you know where she has gone?"
"Yes'r, she done squeezed in wif ol' Mammy Jackson," and she pointed out the tenement.
As I passed down the steps I noticed a small pile of furniture on the sidewalk. Something impelled me to ask about it.
"Yes'r," the negress said, "dem's her house traps; d' landlord done gone frow'd dem out."
I found her sitting with an old negress by the stove in a second-floor back tenement.
"I bring you a message of love from your mother," I said, without making myself known. We talked for a few minutes. I saw nothing whatever of the girl of long ago. There was a little of the voice—the fine musical voice—but nothing of form, nothing of feature. Deep lines of care and suffering marred her face and labour had calloused her hands. She was poorly dressed—had been ill and out of work, and behind in her rent. Too proud to beg, she was starving with her neighbours, the black people. I excused myself, found the landlord, and rearranged the home she had so heroically struggled to hold intact.
"Do you remember the farm at Moylena?" I asked.
"Yes, of course."
"And a farm boy——"
"Yes, yes," she said, adding: "those few days on that farm were the only happy days of my life!"
"I am that boy and I have come to thank you for the inspiration you were to me so long ago." She looked at me intently, perhaps searching for the boy as I had been searching for the girl.
"There was a wide gulf between us then," she said. "In these long years you have crossed to where I was and I—I have crossed to where you were, and the gulf remains."
In December, 1901, the New Haven Water Company applied for a renewal of its charter. The city had been getting nothing for this valuable franchise, and there was considerable protest against a renewal on the same terms. The Trades Council asked the ministers of the churches to make a deliverance on the question, but there was no answer. I was directly challenged to say something on the subject. I attended a hearing in the city hall. It was the annual meeting night of our church, and I closed the church meeting in the usual manner.
As quickly as possible I made my way to the public hearing. The committee room was crowded; on one side were the labouring men and on the other the stockholders and officers of the company. Several prominent members of my church, whom I had missed at the annual meeting, were in the committee room.
When called upon to speak, I asked the committee to hold the balance level. "We tax a banana vendor a few dollars a year for the use of the streets," I said, "then why should a rich corporation be given an infinitely larger use of them for nothing?"
This provoked the rich men of the church, for most of them were stockholders in the company, and two of them were officers.
The thing was talked over afterward in the back end of a small store where all the church policies were formulated. One of the members was sent to the parsonage to question and warn me. My visitor spoke of former pastors who had been "called of God" elsewhere for much less than I had done. Another man came later, and asked for a promise that I would keep out of such affairs in the future.
This was the first fly in the ointment, the first break in the most cordial of relationships between me and the church.
The church had been organized fifty years when this incident occurred. We were preparing to celebrate the golden jubilee.
I gathered the officers together, and we went over the articles one by one. Not a man in the church believed in "everlasting damnation," but they voted unanimously to leave the hell-fire article just as they had found it. They had all subscribed to it, and it "hadn't hurt them."
"Do you mean to tell me," I asked, "that none of you believe in eternal punishment, and yet you are going to force every man, woman, and child who joins your church to solemnly swear before God that they do believe in it?" There was a great silence. "Yes, that's exactly what's what," one man said.
This incident illustrates the seared, calloused, surfeited condition of the average mind in the churches. It is glutted with sham, and atrophied by the reiteration of high-sounding but meaningless, pious phrases.
I managed to persuade them to so amend their by-laws that children baptized into the church became by that act church members. They did not know that by that amendment they were setting aside two-thirds of their creed, because they didn't know the creed.
One of my sermons at the Jubilee attracted the attention of Philo S. Bennett, a New York tea merchant, who made his home in New Haven. We became very close friends. One day Mr. Bennett and Mr. W.J. Bryan called at the parsonage. I happened to be out at the time, but dined with them that evening. Next morning a church member, who was a sort of cat's-paw for the rich men, called at the parsonage and informed me of the "disgust" of the leading members. "They won't stand for it!" he said vehemently.
When I spoke at the city hall they catalogued me as a Socialist, and when Mr. Bryan called, they moved me into the "free and unlimited coinage of silver" column. By "they," I mean four or five men—men of means, who absolutely ruled the church. The deacons had nothing to say, the church had as little. "The Society" was the thing. The "Society" in a Congregational church is a sort of secular adjunct charged with the duty of providing the material essentials. Their word is law, the only law. In their estimation business and religion could not be mixed, nor could things of the church be permitted to interfere in politics. The purchase of an alderman was to them as legitimate as the purchase of a cow. Some of them laughed as they told me of buying an election in the borough. It was a great joke to them. They were patriotic, very loudly patriotic, and their special hobby was "the majesty of the law."
I was to be punished for that water company affair, and a man was selected to administer the punishment. I had brought this man into the church; I had created a church office for him, and pushed him forward before the men. He was supposed to be my closest friend. He came to the parsonage one morning, to talk over casually the question of salary.
"Now," he said, "you don't care how we raise your salary, do you?"
"Of course not."
"Well, the Society's hard up this year and can only raise $1,600; but the church will raise the other $400, and I have one of them already promised."
This seemed a most unusual proceeding, but I was unsuspecting. A few months afterward this man, with tears in his eyes, said:
"Mr. Irvine, whatever happens you will be my friend—won't you?"
He was doing their work, and wincing under the load of it.
"Brother," I said, "when I know whether you are playing the rôle of Judas or John, I will be better able to answer you."
At the end of the year it all came out. I was literally fined $400 for attending that meeting.
As my term of service drew to a close, the workingmen who had joined the church during my incumbency got together. They were in a majority. A church meeting was called, and a motion passed to call a council of the other churches. The purpose of the call was to advise the church how to proceed to force its own Society to pay the pastor's salary. A leading minister drew up the call. All ministers knew the record of the church: only one minister in its history had left of his own accord. The council met. It was composed of ministers and laymen of other churches. Among the laymen was the president of the telephone company. I had publicly criticized the company for disfiguring the streets with ugly cross-bars that looked like gibbets. The president's opposition to me was well known.
The council, under such influence, struck several technical snags, and adjourned. The president of the council wrote me later that the president of the telephone company had advised him not to recall the council, and he had come to that decision.
Concerning the defrauding me of my salary, the best people in that church to this day, when speaking of it, say: "Well, we didn't owe it to him, legally." The Society spent the money in fitting up the parsonage for my successor.
After the public hearing on the water contract, several labour unions elected me to honorary membership. The carriage makers' union had so elected me, and a night was set for my initiation. It was a wild winter's night—the streets of the city were covered with snow, and the thermometer registered five above zero. Few hard-working men would come out a night like this. Who would expect them? I was rather glad of the inclement weather. I was weary and tired, and hoped the thing would soon be over. I entered an old office building on Orange street and climbed to the top floor.
A man met me as I reached the top of the stairs and led me to a door, where certain formalities were performed. There was an eye-hole in the door, through which men watched each other. There were whispered words in an unknown tongue, then a long pause. Why all this secrecy? What means this panther-like vigilance? It is a time of war. This body of craftsmen is an organized regiment. The battle is for bread. Before the door is opened there is a noise like the sound of far-off thunder. What can it mean? To what mysterious doings am I to become an eye-witness to-night? I became a little anxious, perhaps a little nervous, and regretful. An eye appeared at the hole in the door; there is a whispered conference and I find myself between two men marching up the centre of the hall to the desk of the presiding officer.
My entrance was the signal of an outburst of applause such as I had seldom heard before. The hall was small, and it was a mystery how six hundred men could be packed into it. But there they were, solidly packed on both sides of the hall, and as I marched through them they seemed to shake the whole building with their cheers. The chairman rapped for order, and made a short speech.
"I ain't what ye'd call a Christian," he said, "but I know the genuine article when I see it. If the Bible is true, Jesus went to the poor, and if the rich wanted him they'd have to look him up. Do you fellows ever notice the church ads in the Sunday papers? They remind me of the columns where ye look for a rent. They all advertise their 'modern improvements.' This minister is doin' th' Jesus business in th' old way. That's why we like him, an' that's why he's here."
Once again the rafters seemed to shake with the violent vibrations of enthusiasm, and it was some time before order was restored. My initiation concluded, I made an address. It was as brief as the chairman's.
"Reference has been made to a great Master to-night," I said. "Let me ask you craftsmen of New Haven to stand and with all the power of your lungs give three cheers for the Master Craftsman of Galilee."
There was the shuffling of many feet for an instant—then a pause, a pause which was full of awe—then, with a roar like thunder, six hundred throats broke into wild applause for Jesus, whom such people ever gladly heard; and straightway, for the first time in the history of organized labour in New Haven, a union meeting was closed with the apostolic benediction.
Other unions followed suit. I carried a union card of the "Painters, Paper Hangers and Decorators," and there came a time when every street car on the streets of New Haven carried at least two of my friends, for I became chaplain of the Trolleymen's Union, and took an active part in their work.
I was a factor in the wage scale adjustments of the Trolleymen's Union for two years. I fought for them when they were right and against them when they were wrong. I fought on the inside. At first the railroad company looked upon me as a dangerous character; but when their spies in the union reported my actions, the general manager wrote me a letter of thanks and thereafter took me into his confidence. The public, also, looked upon me as inimical to the interests of business, but occasionally the newspapers got at the facts and published them.
The New Haven Register of August 8, 1904, in its leading editorial on an averted strike, said:
"There is a general feeling in New Haven to-day of satisfaction in the news published in yesterday's papers, that the trolleymen's plans for a strike had been relegated to the ash heap.
"The trolleymen were evidently satisfied with the attitude of the railroad managers, and satisfied that they were going to get fair treatment. We read with unusual pleasure the reports of 'cheers' at the meeting; and cheers, not for the little pleasantries of battle, but for the friendly propositions of peace. The sentiment shown by the trolleymen does full justice to their record as law-abiding and intelligent public servants.
"One or two phases of the completion of peace negotiations in the local trolley situation call for particular notice here and now. We do not remember, for instance, to have heard for some time of the active participation in labour agitations of a regularly ordained clergyman of the Christian church. We noted, therefore, with respectful interest, the manner in which the Reverend Alexander Irvine took part in the meeting at which the final decision was made, and especially the influence which he brought to bear to clear the atmosphere. Usually hot-headed sympathizers with the cause of labour agitation are the principal advisers at such a time. We remember, and the trolleymen certainly do, that at the critical juncture several summers ago, when a final decision was to have been rendered by the striking trolleymen, an agitator from Bridgeport not only agitated, but nearly managed to turn the balance toward an irreparable break in negotiations. We remember that New Haven people absolutely lost all patience at that juncture, and would have stampeded from their thorough sympathy with the trolleymen's cause had not better wisdom finally prevailed. Mr. Irvine seems to have occupied that gentleman's shoes at the Saturday night meeting, and to have acquitted himself much more to the taste of the public. His interest was, we take it, purely that of any citizen who has studied labour questions sufficiently to arrive at a fair and unprejudiced point of view, and who, moreover, possessed the requisite balance of mind and sincerity of purpose to counsel, when his counsel was asked, judicially. There was absolutely lacking, in his whole connection with the case, any of that sky-rocket, uncertain theorizing that makes the attitude of so many labour 'organizers' so detrimental, in the public eye, to real labour benefit. New Haven has considerable to thank Mr. Irvine for in his attitude in the past crisis. More sound advice and friendly counsel and wise sympathy from such men as he are needed in labour troubles."
Another New Haven paper, commenting editorially on my attitude toward a strike carried on by the bakers' union, said:
"We commend to the Connecticut Railway and Lighting Company, which has now practically four strikes on its hands, in two Connecticut cities, the sentiment of the Reverend Alexander Irvine, in his sermon last Sunday night in reference to the striking bakers of this city who declared against a proposition to arbitrate with the bosses. 'If they have nothing to arbitrate,' said Mr. Irvine, 'they have nothing to strike about.' The proposition would seem to involve a sound principle of business ethics. An honest disagreement is always arbitrable. A body of workmen who make a demand which they are unwilling to submit to the judgment of a fair and intelligent committee deserve little sympathy if they lose their fight, and an employer who refuses to entrust his case to the honesty, fairness and justice of a committee of respectable citizens representing the best element of that public from which he derives his support, must not be surprised if he loses public sympathy."
I was elected a member of the teamsters' union while the teamsters were on strike. I was in their headquarters night and day, doing what I could for them; but I was unable to offset the bad leadership which landed nine of them in jail.
On May 1st, I left Pilgrim Church. My farewell sermon was a fair statement of the case. The sermon was published in the press. The Hartford Post made the following editorial comments on it:
"ONE CHURCH AND ITS PASTOR
"Plain speaking is so much out of fashion that when examples of it are discovered they rivet attention. Undoubtedly there was a good deal in the farewell sermon of the Reverend Alexander F. Irvine, who has just closed a pastorate of four and one-half years in the Pilgrim Congregational Church in New Haven, that was applicable only to that church, but possibly some statements have more or less general application. At any rate, it is an interesting case and the sermon was remarkable for its almost brutal directness, its cutting satire, its searching exposition of the wholesale spirit of charity mixed with kindly humour which runs through it.
"After four years and six months of labour, a clergyman is certainly qualified to speak of the characteristics of the pastorate. In most cases the farewell sermon is, however, a mass of 'glittering generalities,' a formal, perfunctory affair. Often it is omitted altogether. The pastor simply goes out, leaving the church to its fate, commending it to the care of the Almighty. His private views are not expressed. Mr. Irvine retired in considerable turmoil, but he made his parting memorable by expressing his sentiments, and his frankness was absolute.
"In reviewing his pastorate, Mr. Irvine spoke of the children's services on Wednesday nights, the men's Bible class and a group of sixty added to the church at its fiftieth anniversary as among the happy features of his administration. But he went on to say that those new members were not welcomed by the 'Society' because they brought no money into the treasury. The clash that went on during those four and one-half years is revealed by what the pastor said on this matter. He tried to democratize the church. He wanted to get in 'new blood.' He tried to interest the workingmen, as many other pastors have tried to do and are trying to do, with varying success. We hear a great deal about the church and the masses, how they are drifting apart. Here is a minister who tried to bring them together. He had services when all seats were free, and workingmen were invited. He interested many of them, and many joined the church. But the attempt was a failure, for the church as a whole didn't take kindly to people without money. 'In the making of a deacon,' said Mr. Irvine, 'goodness is a quality sought after, but the qualifications for the Society's committee is cash—cold cash. If there is a deviation from this rule, it is on the score of patronage. Power in the case of the former is a rope of sand; in the latter it is law.' Again on this line, Mr. Irvine said: 'It was inevitable that these workingmen should be weighed by their contributions. That is the standard of the Society.'
"How true it is that this standard is applied in more churches than the Pilgrim Church in New Haven those who are in the churches know. It is not true, of course, universally, but this is not by any means an isolated case. Possibly the organization of the Congregational churches is faulty in this respect. There is the church and there is the Society. The Society's committee runs the business of the church. It is apt to be made up of men to whom the dollar is most essential, and often the committee exercises absolute power in most of the affairs of the church. In this case it froze out a man who wanted to go out and bring in men from the highways and byways, and now he has gone to establish what he calls the church of the democracy. It is to be a church independent of the rich. There are such churches—not many, to be sure—but they come pretty close to the gospel of the New Testament.
"'A man here may do one of three things,' said the democratic clergyman in his good-bye address. 'He may degenerate and conform to type. He may stay for three or four years by the aid of diplomacy and much grace. He may go mad. Therefore, an essential qualification for this pastorate is a keen sense of humour. If my successor has this he will enjoy the community ministry for a few years and will do much good among the children—he will enjoy the view from the parsonage, the bay, the river, the mountains. He will make friends, too, of some of the most genuinely good people on earth. He must come, as I came, believing this place to be a suburb of paradise, and blessed will that man be if he departs before he changes his mind.'
"That is satire, and possibly out of place in the pulpit, but it may be that the words could be applied without stretching the truth to other pastorates. 'The preacher is their "hired man." He may be brainy, but not too brainy—social, but not too social—religious, but not too religious. He must trim his sails to suit every breeze of the community; his mental qualities must be acceptable to the contemporary ancestors by whom he is surrounded, or he does not fit.' The bitterness in those words is evident, but the truths they contain are important.
"It may be that more sermons with equal plain speaking would do good. It may be that the conservatism, not to say the Phariseeism, of the modern church requires a John the Baptist to pierce it to the core, and expose its inner rottenness. The church that does not welcome the poor man and his family with just as much heartiness, sincerity and kindly sympathy as it does the rich man and his family is certainly not worthy of the great Teacher who spoke of the great difficulty the rich man has in entering the kingdom of God."
I have delivered about two written sermons in twenty-five years. That farewell message was one of them. I wanted to be careful, fair, just. I could not escape the belief that at least seven of my predecessors who had been pushed out by unfair means had left with a lie on their lips. Pastor and people, in dissolving relationship, had always assumed and often explicitly stated on the records that the departing minister "had been called of God" elsewhere. If God was the author of their methods of dismissal, He ought to be ashamed of Himself.
There was no interregnum. The Sunday following that farewell sermon I preached my first sermon as pastor of the newly organized People's Church of New Haven. About thirty people left the old church and joined the new. Among them was a saintly woman, who had been a member for half a century of Pilgrim Church. We had one man of means—Philo Sherman Bennett, the friend of Mr. Bryan. The opening meeting was in the Hyperion Theatre. The creed was simple, and brevity itself: "This church is a self-governing community for the worship of God and the service of man." A Jewish Rabbi read the Scriptures, a Universalist minister made an address, and a judge of the city led in prayer. Part of my address was a series of serious questions: "Will this movement raise the tone of society? Will it increase mutual confidence? Will it diminish intemperance? Will it find the people uneducated and leave them educated? Will the voice of its leader be lifted in the cause of justice and humanity? Will it tend after all to elevate or lower the moral sentiments of mankind? Will it increase the love of truth or the power of superstition or self-deception? Will it divide or unite the world? Will it leave the minds of men clearer and more enlightened, or will it add another element of confusion to the chaos? These are the tests we put to this new church and to our personal lives."
We had an old hall in the outskirts of the city, on a railroad bank. There we opened our Sunday School and began our church activities. I got a band of Yale men to go to work at the hall. The son of Senator Crane, of Massachusetts, became head of the movement, but that plan was spoiled by a man of the English Lutheran persuasion, who was an instructor in Yale. It appeared that the church of which this man was a member had been trying to rent this old hall and, not succeeding in that, they claimed the community. This instructor complained to the Yale authorities, and without a word to me the Yale band was withdrawn. A few weeks after the Lutherans claimed another community, and went to work in it.
In the middle of our first year our little church received a staggering blow in the death of Mr. Philo S. Bennett. We had become very intimate. I dined with him once a week. He was about to retire from business, and after a rest he was to give his time to the church idea. He inquired about buildings, and he had fixed his mind on a $25,000 structure. He spoke to others of these plans, but in Idaho, that summer, he was killed in an accident. Mrs. Bennett sent for me and I took charge of the funeral arrangements. Mr. Bryan came on at once and helped. After the funeral he read and discussed the will. I was present at several of these discussions. The sealed letter written by the dead man was the bone of contention. Then the lawyers came in and the case went into the courts. The world knew but a fragment of the truth. It looked to me at first as if a selfish motive actuated Mr. Bryan, but as I got at the details one after another, details the world can never know, I developed a profound respect for him. He was the only person involved that cared anything for the mind, will or intention of the dead man, and his entire legal battle was not that he should get what Mr. Bennett had willed him, but that the designs of his friend should not be frustrated: not merely with regard to the fifty thousand—he offered to distribute that—but with regard to the money for poor students.
We missed Mr. Bennett, not only for his moral and financial help, but because of his great business ability. During the coal strike of 1902, for instance, when coal was beyond the reach of the poor, we organized among the working people a coal company. The coal dealers blocked our plans everywhere. We were shut out. Then the idea came to us to charter a shipload and bring it from Glasgow. It was the keen business ability of Mr. Bennett that helped us to success. We needed $15,000 to cable over. I laid the plans before Mr. Bennett; he went over them carefully and put up the money. Before we needed it, however, we had sold stock at a dollar a share, and the coal in Scotland brought in an amount beyond our immediate needs. This, of course, was "interfering with business men's affairs," and the dealers in coal were not slow to express themselves. I was a director of the coal company for some time. The newspapers announced that I was going into the coal business to make a living; but I had neither desire nor ability in that direction. It was a great day in New Haven when our ship entered the harbour and broke the siege. We sold coal for half the current price.
The idea of a church building had held a number of people in our little church for a long time, but after Mr. Bennett's death that hope seemed to die, and those to whom a church home was more than a church, left us; those of that mind that didn't leave voluntarily were lured away by ministers who had a building. The amount of ecclesiastical pilfering that goes on in a small city like New Haven is surprising. Conversion is a lost art or a lost experience, and the average minister whose reputation and salary depend upon the number of people he can corral, usually has two fields of action: one is the Sunday School and the other is the loose membership of other churches. The theft is usually deliberate.
When my income was about forty dollars a month, subscribed by very poor people, a pastor who had been building up his church at the expense of his neighbours, wrote me that he was trying to persuade one of our members to join his church. It was the most brazen thing I had ever known. He felt that our dissolution was a matter of time, and he wanted his share of the wreckage. He went after the only person in our church who had an income that more than supplied personal needs. Afterward, this same minister entered into a deal with the trustees of the hall we used, by which the hall and the Sunday School were handed over to him. Of course, we made no fight over the thing—we just let him take them. This is called "bringing in the Kingdom of God."
We were not free from dissension within our own ranks, either. Mr. Bryan came to lecture for us in the largest theatre in town. Admission was to be by ticket, on Sunday afternoon. The committee of our church that took charge of the tickets began to distribute seats—the best seats and boxes—to their personal friends. Thousands were clamouring for tickets. It was an opportunity to give the city a big, helpful meeting, and to do it democratically and well. But the committee would brook no interference.
I announced in the papers that all tickets were general admissions, and "first come, first served" would be our principle. Sunday morning, when I was half-way through my discourse, one of the committee handed me a note. I did not open it until I finished. It was a threat that if I did not call off the democratic order, the committee would leave the church. The meeting was a great success, and the committee made good its threat. What the writer of the following letter expected of me I have no idea, nor did his letter enlighten me:
"Wen I gave my name for a church member it was fer a peeples church, not a fol-de-rol solo and labour union church.
"Drop my name."
We had at our opening a solo by the finest singer in the city, and I had thanked the labour unions for their help. His name was dropped.
An educated woman thought she saw in our simple creed an open door she had been seeking for years. She joined us with enthusiasm. One day I was calling on her, and as I sat by the door I saw a dark figure pass with a sack of coal on his back. The figure looked familiar.
"Pardon me," I said, as I stepped out to make sure.
"Hello, Fritz!" I called. The coal heaver had only trousers and an undershirt on, and looked as black as a Negro. Sweat poured over his coal-blackened face. We gripped hands. The lady watched us with interest.
"Do you know him?" she asked.
"Yes, indeed!" I said. "And you must know him, for he is one of our deacons."
She never came back. Democracy like that was too much for her. The deacon himself left our church a few months later because he discovered that I did not believe in a literal hell of "fire and brimstone," whatever that is.
The chairman of our trustees was a business man who was very much engrossed with the New Thought. He saw a great future for me if I would get "in tune with the infinite." I was more than willing. He expounded to me the wonders of the new régime. Would I take lessons in healing? Certainly! He paid an American Yogi a hundred dollars to teach me. I was unaware of the cost. At first it was by correspondence. His chirography looked like a plate of spaghetti. I was instructed how to take a bath and when. The second letter ordered me to sleep with my head to the East. I was "a Capricorner, buoyant, lucky," so he said. At the end of a month I paid him a visit. He showed me how to manipulate a patient—absent or present—and how to charge!
The correspondence was taken verbatim from a ten-cent book on astrology; I got tired, and handed the letters over to my wife. She took them seriously, and when she had made what she thought was progress she inadvertently told the chairman of the trustees. That settled him. He resigned forthwith, and we saw him no more.
I thought we had reached the point where there was nothing further to lose; but I was mistaken. I had been charged with being a Socialist, and, curious to know what a Socialist was, I began to study the subject. What I feared came upon me: I announced myself a Socialist. That settled the Single Taxers; they left in a bunch! No, hardly in a bunch; for two of them remained.
The Universalists invited us to use their church for our Sunday night meetings. We thought that a fortunate windfall. We were to pay five dollars a night. We did so until one week we had nothing to eat and we let the rent wait. The trustees of the Universalist Church met and passed a resolution something like this: "Resolved, that in order that the good feeling existing between the People's Church and the Universalist Church be maintained, that the People's Church be requested to pay the rent after each service." We paid up and quit.
The most intelligent man in our church was a young draftsman in the Winchester Arms Company. He was a man of boundless energy and great courage. He lost his job. No reason was given. His wife, before her marriage, had been a trained nurse, and in her professional life had nursed the wife of a bank president, who was a director in the gun company. One day these ladies met, and the lady of the bank said she would find out why the husband of her former nurse was discharged. The director got at the facts, and gave them to his wife, sub rosa: "He belongs to Irvine's church—and Irvine is an anarchist." The young man got another job in another city. After a few discharges of that kind, men who did not want to leave the city got scared and gave me a wide berth.
I looked around for something to do to earn a living. I found a young bookbinder in a commercial house, and as he was a master craftsman, I advised him to hang out a shingle and work for himself. He did so. When I was casting around for a new method of earning a living I thought of him, and asked him to take me as an apprentice. He did so, and I put an apron on and began to work at his bench. One day, when the reporters were hard up for news, one of them called for an interview.
"Have you ever published any sermons, Mr. Irvine?"
"Yes; one, and a fine one."
"Where was it published?"
"Right here in New Haven!"
I went to my case and produced a book—I had sewed it, backed it, bound and tooled it. It was my first job, and I was proud of it. I am proud of it now. It is the best sermon I ever preached.
Another day a professor in the Yale Medical School called to have some books bound at the bindery.
"Who is that fellow at your bench?" he asked.
"Mr. Irvine," the bookbinder replied.
He took the young man aside and told him that he could expect no recognition from the "best citizens" as long as he kept me. Off came my apron, and I looked around again.
I was very fond of Dr. T.T. Munger. In his vigorous days his was a great intellect, and when in his study one day he told me that I had no gospel to preach, I felt deeply the injustice of the charge. I could not argue. I would not defend myself. I valued his friendship too highly. I hit upon a plan, however. I had published in a labour paper seventeen sermons for working people. I went to a printer and told him that, if he would print them in a book, I would peddle them from door to door until I got the printer's bill. They were printed in a neat volume, entitled "The Master and the Chisel." I paid the printer's bill, and gave the rest away. I sent one to Dr. Munger; and this is what he said of it:
"Dear Mr. Irvine:
"Many thanks for the little book you sent me. I have read nearly all the brief chapters, and this would not be the case if they were dull. That they certainly are not. Nor would they have held my interest if they did not in the main strike me as true. I can say more, namely, that they seem to me admirably suited to the people you have in charge, and good for anybody. They have at least done me good, and often stirred me deeply. Their strong point is the humanity that runs along their pages—along with a sincere reverence. I hope they will have a wide circulation."
The tide was ebbing, but it was not yet out. The announcement that I was a Socialist brought, of course, the members of the party around me, but on Sunday nights, when they came, expecting a discourse on economic determinism and found me searching for the hidden springs of the heart, and the larger personal life, as well as the larger social life, they went away disappointed and never came back.
As I looked around, however, at the churches and the university, I could find nothing to equal the social passion of the socialists—it was a religion with them. True, they were limited in their expression of that passion, but they were live coals, all of them, and I was more at home in their meetings than in the churches.
I soon joined the party and gave myself body, soul and spirit to the Socialists' propaganda. The quest for a living took me to a little farm on the outskirts of the city. There were eighteen acres—sixteen of them stones.
Gradually I began to feel that my rejection was not a mere matter of being let alone, of ignoring me; it was a positive attitude. There was a design to drive me out of the city. On the farm I was without the gates in person but my influence was within, among the workers. We spent every penny we had on the farm. I hired a neighbouring farmer to plow my ground and plant my seed, for I had neither horse nor machinery. I told him I had a little cottage in the woods in Massachusetts that I was offering for sale and I would pay him out of the proceeds. At first he believed me and did the work.
It took me two months to get that cottage sold and get the money for it. The farmer's son camped on my doorstep daily. Every day I met him, in the fields or on the road. I spoke in such soft tones and promised so volubly every time he approached me that he got the impression that I had no cottage—that I was a fraud and cheating his father. He spread that impression. He began after a while to insult me, to make fun of me. I debated with myself one afternoon whether when he again repeated his insults I should thrash him or treat him as a joke. I decided on the former. Meantime the check for the cottage came and relieved the situation. Despite my inability to become a Yogi, I believed in the New Thought. My wife and I used to "hold the thought," "make the mental picture," and "go into the silence." We did this regularly.
I had an old counterfeit ten-dollar bill for a decoy. I shut my eyes and imagined myself stuffing big bundles of them into the pigeon-holes of my desk.
I got an incubator, filled it with Buff Orpington eggs and kept the thermometer at 103° F. My knees grew as hard as a goat's from watching it. In the course of events, two chickens came. We had pictured the yard literally covered with them. These poor things broke their legs over the eggs. My wife was more optimistic than I was.
"Wait," she said, "these things are often several days late." So we waited; waited ten days and then refilled the thing and began all over again.
We lost an old hen that was so worthless that we never looked for her. In the fullness of her time she returned with a brood of fourteen! She had been in "the silence" to some purpose!
"Well, let's let the hens alone," my wife said with a sigh; "they know this business better than we do." But we kept on monkeying with mental images—it was great fun.
During our stay on that farm I did four times more pastoral work than I had ever done in my life. I was the minister of the nondescript and the destitute. I presided over funerals, weddings, baptisms, strikes, protests, mass meetings. Nobody thought of paying anything. To those I served I had a sort of halo, a wall of mystery; to me it was often the halo of hunger—of the wolf and the wall—yes, a wall, truly, and very high that separated me from my own.
An incident will show what my brethren thought of my service to the poor. I was in the public library one day when the scribe of the ministerial association to which I belonged accosted me:
"Hello, C——! Splendid weather we're having, isn't it?"
"Splendid," replied C——; and in the same breath he said, "say, you don't come around to the association; do you want your name kept on the roll?"
I hesitated for a moment, then said: "Whatever would give you most pleasure, brother—leaving it on or taking it off—do that!"
That was all—not another word—he reported that I wanted my name removed, and that practically ended my ministerial standing in the Congregational ministry.
The Jewish Rabbi who had taken part in our opening service met me on the street one day.
"Dr. Smyth and I are coming to see you, Irvine," he said.
"I'll be mighty glad to see you both, Rabbi. What are you coming for?"
"Well, we think it's too bad that the labour gang use you as a sucker and we want to see if we can't get a place in some mission for you."
"Rabbi, some of your rich Jews have been after you for appearing on our platform. Come now, isn't that so?"
"Well, it's because they believe as I believe, that you are used as a sucker."
"I don't like your word, Rabbi; but there are fifty ministers in town. If Capital has forty-nine suckers, why not let Labour have one?"
That made him rather furious and he said:
"You remind me of Jesus, a fanatic. He died at 33 when he might have lived to a good old age and done some good!"
"That," I said, "is the highest compliment I have ever received." I bared my head at the word and then left him on the sidewalk.
The New Haven water company managed to get what was called an "eternal contract" passed through both chambers of the city government. Only labouring people opposed it. Naturally there was a strong suspicion of foul play.
State Convention of the Socialist Party of Connecticut, May 31, 1906ToList
A year afterward a man came to me with a grip-sack full of documents. He had been expert book-keeper for the water company, and knew the facts and figures for twenty-five years.
Among them were two cancelled checks—one for a thousand, which was made out by and to the president, and dated the day a certain committee was to meet to go over the terms of the contract. The other was made out to a shyster lawyer and was for fifteen thousand. He expected to create a sensation. The thing had worked on his conscience until it became unbearable. He came to me because of what he had learned of me at the water company office. It takes a civic conscience to deal with such a problem and New Haven had no such thing at that time.
He took the documents from one place to another—to ministers, lawyers, judges, legislators, etc. Nothing could be done. They were all the personal friends of the officials.
The papers wouldn't print anything about it. The book-keeper said he thought he knew why "editors never had any water bills." Some radicals got the big check printed in facsimile and scattered it abroad. The aldermen had been bought; there was no doubt of that, but it was a matter of business.
The whole agitation came back on the reformers like a boomerang. Leading politicians determined to do something to vindicate the leading citizen who had been accused. They elected him to the State Senate! A city of a hundred thousand can by either a positive or a negative process, destroy the usefulness of any man who would be its servant.
I felt my loneliness very keenly—indeed, so much so that it was often as though I had committed a great crime. Always, however, at the breaking-point came a word of cheer—a note of approval.
Bishop Lines of Newark, New Jersey, who was then Rector of St. Paul's church, sent me a note, that reached me in a dark hour.
"I do not suppose," he said, "that I look at things as you do, in all respects, but I would like to assure you of my great regard for you and of my implicit faith in your sincerity and goodness. I know that the world's great sorrow rests upon your heart and that many men who feel it not sit in judgment upon you."
The People's Church dwindled to a vanishing point. The farm produced nothing. Autumn came and we lived largely upon apples.
"Make a break!" my wife said, but it seemed like running away from the fight. The fight was already over and I was beaten—beaten, but unaware of defeat.
One morning I was at the top of a big apple tree, shaking it for three Italian women whom we believed to be worse off than ourselves. A branch broke and I fell on my back on a boulder. I lay as one dead. My wife found me there and hailed a passing grocer's wagon. The boy whipped up his horse to bring a doctor, but on the way spread the news that I had been killed by a fall. Among the first callers after the accident were Donald G. Mitchell and his daughter, my neighbours. I lay on a mattress on the lawn all afternoon in great agony.
Although it was with the greatest difficulty that we scraped together the twenty-five dollars a month for the farm, my wife, putting her philosophy of the New Thought to the test, had rented a house in the city at seventy dollars a month. When she rented it, we hadn't seventy cents. We were to move into it the day of the accident. I insisted that we proceed.
"Send for Jimmy Moohan," I said. Jimmy was a genial old Irish expressman whose stand was at the New Haven Green. Jimmy came and looked me over. Then came Bob Grant, a foreman from a near-by manufacturing concern, and after him four Socialist comrades on their way home from work.
"Ah, Mother o' God," Jimmy said, "shure it's an ambulance yer riverence shud haave."
"I want you, Jimmy; pile me in."
"Holy Saints," he exclaimed, "shure th' ould cyart'll jolt yer guts out!"
"Pile me in."
So they lifted me on the mattress and laid me in the express wagon. Bob Grant sat beside me; the four comrades steadied it—two on each side.
"Git up now, Larry, an' be aisy wid ye."
When the wagon wheel mounted a stone, Jimmy blamed Larry and swore at him. Occasionally he would turn around and say: "How's it goin', yer riverence?"
I was in such agony that I sweat. Pains were shooting through every part of my body but I usually answered:
"Fine, Jimmy, fine!"
So I came back within the gates of the city—rejected, defeated, deserted, and practically a pauper.
It had been a long fight but the city had conquered. A few more attempts at work; a few more appeals for fair play, a few more speeches for the propaganda; but as baggage in Jimmy Moohan's express wagon I was down and out!
At a regular meeting of the Trades Council of New Haven a member moved that a letter of sympathy be sent to me. A week after my fall, another was made and carried to make me a member of the council and a third to send me a check for fifty dollars. This was the only money I ever received for my services to labour and as it arrived a few hours before the agent called for his rent, it was very welcome.
It seemed odd to all sorts of people that, after being starved out, I should bob up again in one of the largest houses on Chapel Street—I couldn't quite understand it myself. My wife could, however. She said the whole business of life was a matter of mental attitude and she only laughed when I asked whether there was any chance of my being kicked to death by a mule for the next month's rent!
I made another attempt to interest the students of Yale in the human affairs of New Haven. Ten years previous to this, when there was some suggestion that I take charge of Yale's mission work, I was astounded to be told by the leaders of the Yale Y.M.C.A. that the chief end in view was not the work but the worker. Yale's mission was to give the student practice. Missions were to be laboratories—the specimens were to be humans. The eternal questions of sin and poverty were to be answered by the pious phrases and the cast-off junk of immature students. I gave a series of talks on labour unions to a selected group of students who were leaders.
I was a social evangelist then and, after the talks, took stock of the results. Many fell by the wayside, but a group of strong men formed themselves into a "University Federal Labour Union." Dick Morse, captain of the 'Varsity crew, became president of it. Representative union constitutions were studied. The following sentences from the declaration of principles will illustrate how thoroughly these young men got in line with the union movement:
"We believe it inconsistent and unworthy that a wage-worker should take the benefits that accrue to a craft as a direct result of organization and at the same time hold himself aloof from the responsibilities and from his share of the expenses of that organization.
"We believe that union men whenever possible should demand the union label as a guarantee that the goods were manufactured under conditions fair to labour. We believe that eight hours should constitute a day's work."
In the preamble was this statement: "We do not look upon the labour union as an ultimate conception of labour, but we believe that whatever progress has been made in the lot of the labourer has been due wholly to the organization of the wage-workers!"
The preamble concludes with this paragraph: "Believing, therefore, in the cause of labour and desiring to add according to our ability to the support of the union movement, we pledge ourselves to study it intelligently and to support it loyally."
Here was the beginning of a splendid mission work among the students; but the New Haven labour movement wasn't big enough to take it in; nor was the American Federation of Labour. The labour men would have no dealings whatever with the students. We managed to keep the big house for a year, but we kept little else during that period. Twice we lost the mental image of the monthly rent. Sam Read supplied it the first time and Anson Phelps Stokes the other. These were my only borrowings in New Haven. In that house I had one of the most bitter experiences of my life.
"I think," said my wife to me, one morning at 2 A.M., "that the baby will be born in an hour."
The announcement chilled me. There was but five cents in the house and that was needed to telephone for the family physician. As I walked down Chapel Street it seemed as if my heart was a nest of scorpions spitting poison.
There was no breakfast in the house for the mother of the new-born babe. The churches, the homes of the wealthy and the university filled me with unutterable hate as I passed them. I was in the frame of mind in which murder, theft, violence are committed.
I had held my integrity intact until that exigency. Then I only lacked opportunity to smash my ideals—to bend my head, my back, my morals!
Cold sweat covered my body, my teeth chattered and my hands twitched. My Socialist philosophy told me that society was in process of evolution. Democracy at heart was correcting its own evils and like a snake sloughing off its outworn skin. I was part of that process. Reason pounded these things in on me but hate pushed them aside and demanded something else. I wondered that morning whether after all there weren't more reforms wrapped up in a stick of dynamite than in a whole life of preaching and moralizing. In that fifteen-minute walk there passed through my mind and heart all the elements of hell.
It was a new experience to me—I had not travelled that way before. I went into a little restaurant to use the 'phone. I laid the nickel on the counter, when I had finished, and as I did so the waiter said, "It's a 'phone on me, Mr. Irvine;" and he rang up five cents in the cash register.
"Ah," I said, "you know me then?"
"Sure thing," he said, "don't you know me?"
I shook my head.
"Gee!" he said, "you're sick. You look like hell!"
"I feel like it."
"You heard me 'phone?"
"Sure—aint you glad?"
"Say, have a cup of hot coffee, won't you?"
"Thank you, I think I will."
His intuition was keen enough to perceive that the trouble was mental and as I took the coffee he said:
"Discouraged a bit, hey?"
Without waiting for a reply he proceeded to tell me how a few words of mine at one of the trolleymen's midnight meetings had changed his life. He went into details and as he went on I saw a look of contentment on his face and as I watched, it changed the look on my own.
I could not drink his coffee but I shared his comradeship and as I went back home I became normal. Hate left my heart. I was beaten, in a way; but the love of mankind was a fundamental thing and the other was a mental storm that passed over and left no ill results.
Things took a new turn that morning. We saw a rift in the clouds and were encouraged. It became clear that my work in New Haven was ended.
I took a commission from the Young Men's Christian Association on West 57th Street to open up meetings in some of the big shops and factories of New York.
Mr. Charles F. Powlison, who is one of the largest minded and noblest hearted men in the Association, is special secretary there, and it was through his faith and confidence that the work came to me.
The Interborough Rapid Transit Company gave us permission to hold meetings in several of their largest shops.
I enjoyed the work very much—these big crowds of men in jumpers and overalls had a fascination for me. The work in the Interborough went well for a year. I reviewed great books, I gave the biographies of the world's greatest men, I talked of ethics, science, art and religion. I taught the truth as I understood it; but it was all utterly unsectarian and universal. In one shop the company cleaned out the junk and replaced it with a restaurant: the superintendent told me it was the result of my work there. My talks were never over fifteen minutes long and seldom over ten. I was always assisted by a musician of some sort.
The work went well for a year in the big shops; then my part in them came to an abrupt end.
The board of directors at the West Side Y.M.C.A. is composed of representative men of affairs in New York—men of big responsibilities and large wealth; as splendid a set of men as ever governed an institution.
This particular Y.M.C.A. was a pioneer institution in a big way. It stood for large things when those things were unpopular. It was a heretic in a way. In ten years the procession came up and the institution seemed to stand still.
It had given the Y.M.C.A. world a larger outlook in religion and it may be that it will yet become a pioneer in giving it a larger sociology.
I was one of two men to address the board of directors one night and I stated the case at more length than I do here.
"What shall I tell those workingmen you stand for?" I asked. "Do you believe in the right of the workers to organize? If you do, say so, and, as your representative, let me tell them that you do."
The Lunch Hour in an Interborough ShopToList
The next time I addressed a big shop meeting I gave the musician all the minutes save three. Several hundreds of men stood around me—disorganized, poorly paid men.
"Men," I said, "there is in this city a thing called the Civic Federation. Its leaders are directly the owners of this shop. In it are also leaders of labour, Mitchell and Gompers. There are several bishops of various beliefs. Now the Civic Federation tells us—tells the world—that it believes in labour unions. What I want to suggest is this: A dozen of you get together; write a note to your masters and ask them if that belief applies to you?"
Of course I knew it didn't apply to them, but I got very tired merely telling the slaves to be good, and ended my service there in that way. A spy at once informed the superintendent, and I was told—the Y.M.C.A. was told—that I could never enter their shops again. The man who succeeded me as a speaker at that shop, the following week, went much further; he positively advised them to organize, for hardly in the United States could one find greater need of organization.
The last piece of work in New Haven was a master stroke. It was an inoculation. Jack London was in the East and I persuaded him to pay the comrades in New Haven a visit and make a speech. The theatres were all engaged, so were the halls.
The new Y.M.C.A. hall could not be rented—for London. There was only one hope left—Yale. I knew a student who was a Socialist. We outlined a plan. London was a literary man; Yale had probably heard of him. The Yale Union was canvassed. It was a Freshman debating society. Certainly; they had read London's books—"The Call of the Wild," "The Sea Wolf," etc.
"Well now, boys, here's your chance. Jack London can be had for a lecture."
The Union had no money and Woolsey Hall cost fifty dollars. "That's easy," I suggested, though I didn't have fifty cents at the time. That seemed fine. "Of course," I said, as I remembered the empty Socialist treasury, "we'll have to charge an admission fee of ten cents." That, too, was all right. In case of frost or failure I promised to make good so that the Union would have no responsibility. I meekly suggested that as compensation for "risk involved" I would take the surplus—if there was any.
"They say Jack London is Socialistically inclined, Doctor," said the youthful president of the Yale Union.
"Yes, he is, rather," I answered.
"Well," he added, "I suppose we will have to take our chances." The chances seemed small then; they loomed up larger later.
He hoped President Hadley would not interfere with him.
"Will you introduce him, Doctor?"
"What's his topic?"
"He calls it 'The Coming Crisis.'"
"Social, I suppose, eh?"
"Yes, it's a suggested remedy for a lot of our troubles."
The Socialist student had a few rounds with Lee McClung, the Yale treasurer. "Mac" didn't know Irvine from a gate-post but took Billy Phelps's word for it that London was a literary man and let it go at that—let the hall go, I mean.
"Yale," said the brilliant Phelps, "is a university, and not a monastery; besides, Jack London is one of the most distinguished men in America."
When it was decided we could have the hall the advertising began. Streets, shops and factories were bombarded with printed announcements. Next morning—the morning after securing the hall—Yale official and unofficial awoke to find tacked to every tree on the campus the inscription, "Jack London at Woolsey Hall."
Max Dellfant painted a flaming poster that gripped men by the eyes. In it London appeared in a red sweater and in the background the lurid glare of a great conflagration. Yale and New Haven had never been so thoroughly informed on such short notice. The information was in red letters.
The first thing done was to run down the officers of the Yale Union. They had previously run each other down. The boys were thoroughly scared, explanations were in order all around.
The wiseacres of Yale got busy and the new Yale took a hand also. Professor Charles Foster Kent—the Henry Drummond of Yale—and Professor William Lyon Phelps counselled a square deal and fair play.
The Yale Union had a stormy meeting. A real sensation was on their hands; there was possible censure and probable glory and every man in the Union went after his share.
It was indignantly moved and carried that the president of the Union introduce the speaker.
"Irvine is a Socialist," the mover said, "and would spoil the show before it began."
Alexander Irvine and Jack London, 1906ToList
They next discussed the topic. One boy suggested that London be asked to cut out all mention of Socialism. That was tabooed because no one knew that he would mention it anyway.
The day of the lecture I got this note from the Socialist student: "Yale Union and many of the faculty are sweating under the collar for fear London might say something Socialistic. The Union realizes that it would be absolutely useless to ask him to smooth over his lecture and cut out anything which sounds radical. Also they have decided that it would be a shock to the university and the public to have you appear upon the platform in any way, shape or manner. They are going to ask you to cancel your engagement to introduce London. In this I think they are unwise, but as they are determined it must be so. I advise you to agree to whatever arrangement they suggest. This done, they will 'take the chances' that London will express Socialistic ideas. Now I fear there will be the devil to pay for the lecture—the university is going to be surprised, the faculty shocked beyond measure and the Yale Union severely criticized!"
This is how the president of the Union expressed the situation in a note to me on the day of the lecture. "At a meeting of the executive committee of the Yale Union it was voted that the president of the Union introduce the speaker of the evening as it would tend to identify the Union more conspicuously and also to give it prominence before the student body. For this reason—wholly beyond my power and opposed to my opinion—I shall be forced to forego our little plan which I thought by far the best," etc., etc.
Some small portion of prosperity having come our way I was able to dine a small group with Jack London as the chief guest. Professor Charles Foster Kent of Yale, and Charles W. De Forrest, a business man, were among the guests.
It was a Socialist innings at Woolsey Hall that night. The big crowd gave the Yale Union an idea—this time it was a financial idea—twenty-eight hundred people paid admission—the officers swept down on the box office; but there was a Socialist inside playing capitalist. Socialists are not familiar enough with the game to play it successfully, but in this instance we played in strict accordance with the rules. We furnished the capital, took the risks and bagged the pot! We conceded nine points out of ten—the tenth was a financial one. The audience represented every phase of life in the city. Over a hundred of the faculty and ten times as many students. Citizens of all classes were there.
The Harvard Students had played horse with London a few weeks before this and we—the Socialists—were prepared for any sort of demonstration.
"The spectacle of an avowed Socialist," said the New Haven Register, "one of the most conspicious in the country, standing upon the platform of Woolsey Hall and boldly advocating the doctrines of revolution was a sight for gods and men."
Jack London talked for over two hours to that packed hall and received a most unusual attention. After the lecture he was taken to a students' dormitory where he answered questions till midnight. Then he was escorted by a smaller group to Mory's for supper and at one o'clock we held a reception at the big house which was known as "the Socialist Parsonage."
For over twenty years I have been a contributor to newspapers and religious periodicals, but not until I met Jack London did it ever occur to me that I could earn a living by my pen. London made me promise to write. My first story I mailed to California for his criticism and suggestion, but before it returned I had entered the field.
Appleton's Magazine published my first serious attempt at fiction. It was a short story entitled, "Two Social Pariahs."
The cry of peonage was in the air and I arranged with Appleton's Magazine for a series of articles on the subject. Dressed as a labourer I went to the muscle market of New York and got hired. To do this I had to assume a foreign accent and look as slovenly as possible. With a picturesque contingent of Hungarians, Finns, Swedes and Greeks, I was drafted for the iron mines of the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company. The mines are near Bessemer, Ala. At every turn of the road south we were herded and handled like cattle.
It was a big, black porter who led us into the car at Portsmouth, Va. I was the leader of the contingent, and the porter addressed us for the most part by signs, and when he spoke at all he called me "Johnny." When inside, he arranged us in our seats, putting his hands on some of our shoulders to press us down into them. I did not realize that I was in a Southern state until I saw a big yellow card in this car marked "Coloured." Then I knew instantly that we were in a Jim Crow car. A coloured woman sat next to the window in my seat and by her look and little toss of the head and a quick nervous movement she seemed to say, "What are you doing here?"
When the train pulled out of the depot, I stepped up to the porter and said:
"Haven't you a law in Virginia on the separation of the races."
The big black fellow grinned.
"Dere sho' is, boss—but you ain't no races. You is jest Dagoes, ain't you?"
At Atlanta we changed cars and were again driven into the Jim Crow car. This time I made a more intelligent attempt to solve my race problem. The conductor, faultlessly dressed in broadcloth and covered with gold lace, strode into our car with the air of an admiral of the fleet. He went straight through the car, collecting the block ticket for our gang from the boss, and as he returned I stepped into the aisle in front of him, blocking his passage.
"Pardon me, sir," I said, "isn't there a law in Georgia on the separation of the races?"
Without a word, he removed the glasses from his nose, stared at me for a moment, then turned sharply, walked to the end of the car, removed the card which read "Coloured" and reversed it. It then read "White." Then he came back through the car slowly, staring at me as he passed but without uttering a word.
Our particular destination was "Muckers Camp" at Readers. A group of three buildings on the brow of a hill—the hill where the blacks live. The first of these buildings is a kitchen and dining room, the second is a big dormitory and the third is a wash-house. This was our new home. The dormitory was originally intended for a series of small rooms but the work was arrested before completion. The uprights marking the divisions of the rooms were still standing—bare and uncovered. The floor of the big dormitory was littered with rubbish—miners' cast-off clothing, shoes, broken lamps, and in a corner there was a junk-heap of broken bedsteads, slats, army blankets and sodden mattresses. We were told to make ourselves "at home." There was room enough and plenty of bedding. All we had to do was to fish for what we needed and put it in order. Everything was red—red with ore that men carried out of the mines on their bodies.
The junk heap in the corner played an important part in the movements of my gang. The thought of having to sleep in the sodden stuff chilled me to the bones, but I kept silent. Whatever the previous condition of the men had been, they felt as I did as they pulled their bedding out piece by piece. They had gone to spend the winter in the mines of the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company; they knew the work, conditions and pay; they had refused to be bribed on the way down, but as they tugged at the junk, a change came over them! They swore in half a dozen languages—they gritted their teeth and vowed that they wouldn't be treated like pigs.
In a Mucker's Camp in AlabamaToList
Irvine and Three Other Muckers as They Left Greenwich Street for the SouthToList
We went to the wash-house and the outlook was less encouraging. There was a long, narrow trough in the centre. It was half full of red ore. The floor was wet and covered with ore, rags, old papers and other rubbish. There were compartments intended for shower-baths, but there again the work had been arrested and was incomplete. We washed, made our beds, ate dinner and proceeded to the company store to be fitted out.
Each man was furnished with a number. By that number he was to be known while in the company's employ. Each man showed his number and drew what he needed—overalls, lamps, and heavy boots. There was nothing niggardly in the credit. The deeper the debt the tighter the grip on the debtor. The goods cost just one hundred per cent. more than anywhere else. The company paid wages once a month. If a labourer borrowed of his own within that time, he paid ten per cent. on the loan.
As we came back from the store, the miners were just leaving the mines and it was interesting to see them gaze into our faces and address us in Russian, Hungarian, Swedish and various other languages. It was one of the excitements of camp life—to inspect and classify the newcomers.
One of the men had a wheezy accordion and he relieved the monotony of the evening with some German airs. The big shed was unlighted, save as each man was his own lamp-post. Each made his own bed by the light of the lamp on his cap. As he undressed, the cap was the last article to be set aside and the extinguishing of the smoky, flickering blaze the last act of the night.
As the first streak of the gray dawn came in through the bare windows, four of our gang dressed and deliberately marched out of the camp—never to return.
The first number in the programme of a "mucker's" toilet is to adjust his cap with his lamp in it, trimmed and burning. The second is to light his pipe; then he dresses.
It was half-past five and still dark, when those nude, shaggy men with heads ablaze with smoky, flickering lamps, began to move around. They looked grotesque—unearthly—denizens of some underground pit. They were good-humoured and full of boisterous laughter.
A breakfast of pork, beans, potatoes, bread and coffee—plenty of each—and we went off with dinner pails over the hill to the valley, where five tall, smoking chimneys marked the entrances to as many mines.
Each mine has a complete outfit of men and machinery, and a certain number of chambers or pockets in which, with blast and hammer and hand, the red hills are made to disgorge their treasures of iron ore.
Three of us perched ourselves on the rear end of the "skip"—a big iron-ore disgorger—and began the half-mile descent. It was a 45 per cent. grade, and the skip, at the end of a powerful wire cable, went down by jerks. One of my companions was Franz, the Hungarian, the other was a German. The big square mouth of the mine became smaller and smaller as we bumped into the bowels of the earth. In a few minutes it looked like a small window-pane, and then disappeared altogether and we were left in the darkness.
Each mine is like a little town. It has a main street and side alleys—"pockets," they are called. There are "live" and "dead" pockets—the dead are the worked out.
At the first of the live pockets the skip was stopped by some invisible hand and we clambered over the side to a platform where a foreman met and conducted us to the task of the day.
The mine was filled with red dust. We could see but a few feet ahead of us. The lamps on men's brows looked like fire-flies dancing in the red mist. There was a sound of rushing water and the chug, chug of the pumps. As we waded ankle-deep through a water alley, we heard the warning yells of a foreman. A charge of dynamite was about to burst and the men were flying out of danger. We were whisked into a cleft for safety. Half a dozen old miners were squeezed in beside us. Our scarcely soiled caps told the story of our newness and the old hands watched us closely.
Boom! The hills shivered like the deck of a warship as she discharges a broadside. Franz shivered too. His eyes bulged and he stared, loose-jawed, at the men around us, who laughed at his fright.
The explosion was in our alley; it had torn up the car-tracks like strips of macaroni; it was the salute of dynamite to our soft, flabby muscles, to our white caps and new overalls; it was a stick of concentrated power throwing down the gauntlet to men in the raw.
We had a foreman who superintended our compartment, "a driller," who with a steam drill sat all day boring holes for dynamite, and we were the "muckers"—miner's helpers—who carried away with muscular power the effects of the explosion. Each alley had similar crews.
"Mule boy!" I roared with all my vocal power into what looked like an ugly rent in the rocks. A moment later, I saw a glimmer of light, then a mule shot up out of a hole and a black boy brought up the rear, clinging to the tail of "Emma," the mule, our sure-footed locomotive.
We were handed a huge sledge-hammer each and the work began. My hammer bounded off the rocks as if it were an air ball. It bounded for a dozen heavy strokes.
"Turn that rock over and look for the grain!" the foreman shouted in my ear. Then he took the hammer, turned the huge boulder over on its side, struck it twice or thrice and it flew into splinters.
We acquired the knack of things quickly, and instinctively struck the working pace. It was the limit of human strength and endurance. My jacket came off first, then my overalls, then my shirt, leaving trousers and undershirt only. The others followed suit. The sweat oozed out of every pore of my body. We smashed, filled and ran out the full cars. We worked silently, doggedly and at top speed. Several hundred men were doing likewise in other pockets; they were less bloody, perhaps, but the work was the same and they did it without knowing that it was brutally hard. There was a halt of fifteen minutes for dinner. Then we went at it again. Our best fell short of the demand. For every car of ore blasted, the foreman got fifty cents and for running out each car, we got twenty cents—a little over six cents each.
"—— —— your souls to h—l," the foreman shouted. "Why don't you get a move on you —— hey?"
We moved a little faster.
"You muckers ain't goin' t' get ten cars out t'day if ye don't mend yer licks!"
We "mended our licks."
He looked like a wild beast. Short of stature, but his arms were hardened and under the red skin the muscles were hard as whip-cords and taut as a drum. His eyebrows were heavy and bushy and over his strong chest grew shaggy masses of black hair. Our car slipped the track once and when he heard the smash he came thundering along, ripping out a string of oaths as he came. Putting his powerful body to the lever, he lifted the car almost alone. As he did so, his lamp came in contact with my hand. Unable to let go, I screamed to him to move. As he did so, he saw the seared flesh.
"Too bad! Too bad!" he said, as he dropped the truck. I gazed into his eyes.
"Look here!" I said, "if you will look as human as that again, you may burn the other hand!"
The human moles who empty these pockets of ore are inured. Life down there is normal to them. After a few years' work, the skin becomes calloused and tough. The hands become claws or talons—broken and disfigured. The muckers laughed at us. They saw we were concerned about trifles. Bloody sweat and hot oil held the red dust around us like a tight-fitting garment. Our scanty clothing was glued to our bodies. Our shoes were filled with water, but that was a luxury—it was cool.
What a hades of noise and dust! The continual noise and clatter of the pumps, the rattle of the drillers, the hissing of steam and the ear-splitting roar of the dynamite explosions are matters that one gets accustomed to in time. The frenzied desire to get cars filled and run out leaves little time for novel sensations—for that, brute force alone is needed.
At the end of the first day we had filled and run out ten cars. Our pay for that was sixty-six cents apiece. During the same time, Philo, the mule boy, made seventy-five cents and Emma—she had earned what would enable her to return to-morrow to repeat the work of to-day.
About five o'clock in the afternoon we were sandwiched into the big iron skip with a score of others—black and white. Eight hours had taken our newness away. We were as others in colour and condition. We looked into their faces and felt their hot breath. Then a signal was given and the panting, squirming mass was jerked to the surface.
As we passed over the hill to the camp I was in an ecstasy. The sense of relief under the open sky was intense. Others seemed to have it—for they joked and laughed boisterously over trifles as we went "home."
Seven of us together went to the big wash-house. It was rather crowded. I marvelled that nobody was using the shower-baths. I soaped myself, stood beneath the big iron water-pipe and waited, but there was no response. There was a loud laugh, then a miner asked:
"Air ye posin' for yer photo, mister?"
"No. What's the matter with the water?"
"Fits, Buttie—it's got fits!"
There was plenty of food, of a kind. The supper, at the close of the day was a brief function, but brutal as it was brief. It was something of a shock, the first night we were in camp, but at the close of my first day's work I found myself on a level with the grossest. The finer instincts were blunted or gone and I was in the clutch of a hunger like that of the jungle, where might and cunning rule. At a signal from the cook, we rushed in, crushed by main force into a seat, seized whatever was nearest and began. Scarcely a word was spoken—heads down, hands and jaws at top speed. The disgusting spectacle lasted but a few minutes, then up and out to smoke and talk.
Beside me sat a strong, powerfully built German boy, who joked about the age of the pork for supper.
"What you guff about?" the burly steward asked.
"Schmell, py gee—its tick mit bad schmell!"
"Vell, you shut your —— maut or I smash your —— head, see?"
The boy laughed, then the steward removed his plate and refused to give any more. Nobody took any notice. We were too busy and too brutally selfish to interfere. The steward was the camp bully and the men were afraid of him. They must not even laugh at his provisions. We had pork for breakfast, we took pork chops to the mines for dinner, and the staple article—the standby—of every supper was pork. Pigs in Alabama are like turnips in Scotland—there are no property rights in them. They breed and litter in the tall dog-fennel; they root around the shanties and cover the landscape.
"Who owns these pigs?" I asked old Ransom Pope, a Negro.
"One an' anoder!" he said.
The gullies and the weeds were full of them and the steward found them easy and cheap feeding.
"You come yere for breakfast to-morrow an' I smash your dam head!" the steward said to the boy, as we left the dining room. There was no reply. Each man went his way. They were tired—too tired to think. Though a stranger to even the taste of liquor, I had an intense craving for it and it seemed as if I had used it all my life. An hour after supper, I lay down on my sodden pile and went to sleep.
I was awakened next morning by a Norwegian mucker who was organizing a strike over the incident of the tainted pork. Five minutes later, every man in the shed was around the stove in an impromptu indignation meeting. It was agreed that Max, the German boy, should go in first; if the steward put him out, we were all to leave with him and refuse to work. He was allowed to take breakfast but was refused a dinner pail. We dropped ours and marched to the office in a body. An investigation was made and it was discovered that the steward was feeding us on his neighbour's pork and charging it to the company. He was discharged and we went back to the camp to make merry for the rest of the forenoon. The fun, for most of them, consisted of an extra demand on their physical force—rough horse-play, leap-frog and wrestling. One man went to town for extra stimulants. Another, a big Swede, stripped nude, drained at a single draught a bottle of whiskey and lay down to sleep himself drunk and sober again before his next call to the pits. At the close of the day he lay there—a big, shaggy animal, wallowing.
The mines were shut down on Sunday and we had an opportunity to look around. Though a place of one thousand inhabitants, it has no post-office. There are ditches but no drains; wide, deep gullies, but no streets. The moon shines there in her season, but there are no street lamps. The hogs are somewhat tame and we fed them as we went along. There is a church but it's for black folks—it's essential to them. The whites fare not so well. If they want one, they travel for it. They do likewise for a school, for the little school beside the church is for coloured children. The only "modern convenience" was an ancient style of hydrant, around which the children were organizing fire companies and extinguishing imaginary fires.
After visiting the mule boy in Rat Hollow on Sunday, I returned to the camp. The men were lounging around the stove, smoking, and exchanging experiences. In one corner, a German sailor was playing his wheezy accordion, and in another, to a group of Slavs, a Russian soldier was singing a love song. It was my last day with the muckers. Many of my gang had already gone—the rest would follow. It wasn't a matter of wages or hours—it was a question of muck. Once in it, men lived, moved, and had their being in it, but even the most brutalized quailed at the junk pile in the corner of the shed.
The sun was setting behind the red hills. Save for a long, yellow streak just above the horizon, the sky was a mass of purple billows. The yellow changed to amber and later to a blood red. Then rays of sun-fire shot up and splashed the purple billows; the purple and gold later gave place to black clouds through which the stars came one by one, while the muckers were settling down for the night.
It seemed at first as if I would have to commit some crime to get admission to the stockade where the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company had their largest convict labour force. I was seedy-looking—my beard had grown and I was still in blue shirt and overalls. I approached the chaplain—told him my story and gained admission to his night school; and for three weeks moved in and out among the socially damned of that horrible stockade.
In that time I got the facts of the life there and I became so depressed by what I saw that I had to fight daily to keep off a sense of hate that pressed in upon me every time I went into that atmosphere.
Here were eight hundred men, seven hundred of them coloured. They had committed crimes against persons and property. The state of Alabama hired them out to the corporation at so much a head and the corporation proceeded, with state aid, to make their investment pay.
The men were underfed and overworked and in addition were exploited in the most shameful manner by officials from the top to the bottom.
For the slightest infraction of the rules they were flogged like galley slaves. Women were flogged as well as men. What the lash and the labour left undone tuberculosis finished. Unsanitary conditions, rotten sheds, sent many of them into eternity, where they were better off.
They were classified according to their ability to dig coal, not according to the crimes committed.
From the stockade I went to a lumber camp where some officials had been found guilty of peonage.
Irvine Punching Logs in the Gulf of Mexico, 1907ToList
I got a job as a teamster and took my place in the camp among the labourers as if I had spent my life at it.
In this way I got at the facts of how and why men had been decoyed from New York and imprisoned in the forests.
I was so much at home in my work and so disguised that no one ever for a moment suspected me. I obtained photographs of the bosses, the bloodhounds and the camp box cars in which the lumber Jacks lived.
Several times around a bonfire of pine knots I entertained the men of the camp with stories of travel, history and romance.
If I had been discovered, if the purpose of my presence had been known I would have been shot like a dog; for life is as cheap in a Southern lumber field as in any part of the world.
From the lumber camp I went to one of the big turpentine camps where conditions are as primitive and as inhuman as in the stockades.
My next and last job in the South was punching logs in Pensacola harbour for a dollar and six "bits" a day. There I got material for several stories of peons who had escaped from the woods.
While in Pensacola I made a visit, one Sunday morning, to the city jail and asked permission to address the prisoners. The jailer, of course, wanted to know what an unkempt labourer had to say to his charges.
In order to convince him I had to deliver an exegesis before the desk! The cells were iron cages with stone floors.
A young Englishman, who had just landed after a long sea voyage the night before, was the first man to whom I talked. He claimed to have been drugged and robbed in a saloon. The fact of his incarceration was a small thing to him; what made him swear was the condition of his cage. The excrements of probably half a dozen of his predecessors in the cell lay around him, nauseating and suffocating him. Fire shot from his eyes as he pointed to it. He was bitter, sarcastic, sneering, and with evident and abundant cause.
Whatever I had to say to the men and women in that dungeon that morning was driven from my mind and my lips.
The young man pushed all the resentment of his soul over into mine! I spent that Sunday in working out a plan by which I could help Pensacola to clean up this social ulcer.
There was a Tourist Club there and I offered to lecture for them. It was arranged for the following Sunday afternoon. I called on the mayor and he promised to preside. I interviewed several aldermen and they promised to attend. I lectured for forty minutes on my experiences as a labourer in the camps of the South, and for ten minutes at the close described what I had seen in the city jail.
It was a somewhat heroic method of treatment, and I did not remain long enough to see the effect, but I at least deprived them of the plea of ignorance.
I found in Florida two Government officials who had done splendid work in behalf of labour. I mean the labourers who were decoyed by false promises and brutally abused on their arrival in the camps. They were both modest men—men unlikely to enter politics for personal advancement. I cut my articles out of the magazine and sent them to President Roosevelt, calling his attention to the conditions and commending these men to his notice. The result was that they were both promoted to positions where their usefulness was increased and the cause of labour considerably helped.
A group of literary people with whom I was acquainted had rented No. 3 Fifth Avenue, and were operating a coöperative housekeeping scheme. I became part of the plan and it was there that I first met the Rector of the Church of the Ascension, the Rev. Percy Stickney Grant.
Naturally, we talked of the church and its work. I was so impressed with Mr. Grant's bigness that I volunteered to devote some of my spare time to the work of his parish. A few weeks later I got a letter from him inviting me to become a member of his staff. This was a surprise to me, but I made no immediate decision. I was earning a comfortable living and devoting my spare time to the Socialist propaganda. I was free—very free—and I saw danger ahead in church work.
I had several interviews with Mr. Grant and went over the situation. I wasn't a man with Socialistic tendencies; I was a Socialist—a member of the party.
The danger ahead looked smaller to Mr. Grant than it did to me. He had absolute confidence in the broad-minded men of affairs around him. My Socialism was explained and understood. Just how to fit in was the next problem.
The mission of the church is at No. 10 Horatio Street. It was without a minister in charge. For a few Sunday evenings I conducted the service. The audience was composed of half a dozen parishoners and a dozen of my personal friends. Mr. Grant knew nothing of my ability in public address. I took his place one night in the church and that ended my career at the chapel. I had discarded an ecclesiastical title I possessed but never used; I became a lay reader in the Episcopal Church—the church of my youth—the church in which I was baptized and confirmed.
The conference and discussion following the service was an afterthought. The audiences steadily grew. It was and is the most cosmopolitan audience I ever saw. I wanted to get acquainted with the people and suggested a sort of reception in the chapel. The ladies of the church provided refreshments.
"Who is that man?" one of the ladies at the tea table asked one night.
"He is a Socialist agitator," I answered.
"Why don't you ask him to talk?"
The man was Sol Fieldman and I asked him to speak for five minutes. He did so and from that time the character of the after-meeting changed. The first few evenings after the change the speaking was very informal: any one of note who happened to be in the meeting was asked to speak. Later, the invitation was enlarged and any one who desired to speak could do so. Then came a time limit. A workingman asked that the refreshments be cut out. The table took up valuable space and the time consumed in "serving" was "a pure waste," so he said. Then we arranged for a formal presentation of a topic and a discussion to follow it.
The Socialists were always in the majority. Every Socialist is a propagandist—not always an intelligent propagandist. Intelligent and leading Socialists are generally engaged Sunday evenings, so the majority of those who came to us were of the hard-working kind—limited, very limited, in the literary expression of the social soul flame that so passionately moves them.
Some of our church officers who took an active part in the first year's meetings were somewhat alarmed at the brusqueness of these men and women, and undertook to correct their manners.
The Rector understood. And with great patience and tact he heard all. The Church of the Ascension has in its membership some of the country's biggest leaders in industry; some of these men came to the meetings. What they saw and heard was different to what they expected. They fraternized with the men of toil. It was a fraternity utterly devoid of patronage. There were free exchanges of thought. The average labouring man is incapable of such conference, for no matter how many years a member of a labour union it is only when he becomes a Socialist that he becomes an intelligent advocate of anything.
The Church of the AscensionToList
The Rector and I tried to avoid the notice of the newspapers and for about six months we succeeded. Then came the explosion of the bomb on Union Square and we were at once thrown into the limelight. I was on the Square that afternoon.
It was designed to be a mass meeting of the unemployed. The unemployed are not usually interested in any sort of propaganda; the more intelligent of the labour men are, and the Socialists are more so.
So the promoters of the mass meeting for the unemployed were Socialists. It was at this meeting that a police official declared to a man who had the temerity to question him that the policeman's club was mightier than the Constitution of the United States.
No permit was given and no mass meeting held, but the multitude was there and when the police began to disperse it the people who were neither Socialists nor unemployed resented being driven off the streets. I saw men clubbed and women deliberately ridden over by the mounted police. I kept moving: I wanted to be where it was most dangerous. I suffered for months with a bruised arm that I got as I went with the crowd in front of the horses: it was a blow aimed at a man's head; I was clubbed on the back for not moving fast enough. At every turn, at every angle of the Square, the police were as brutal as any Cossack that ever wielded a knout.
Late on that afternoon the police opened the Square—that is, the people were permitted to cross it in all directions. My study was at No. 75 Fifth Avenue, and I was moving in that direction past the fountain when the explosion took place. I was hurled off my feet; that is, the shock to my nervous system was so great that I collapsed. My first flash of thought was of the battle-field!
Fifteen feet in front of me two men staggered. It seemed to me that one of them had been ripped in twain. He fell and the other fell on top of him. Instantly the policemen around me seemed crazed: as I staggered to my feet one of them struck me a terrific blow with his club. The blow landed between my shoulders, but glanced upward, striking me on the back of the head. I tumbled over, dazed, but the thought that his next blow would murder me seemed to give me superhuman strength and I ran. As I turned he attacked another man and I thought I was free. I was mistaken, however, for he gave chase and if I had not escaped into the crowd I would have fared badly at his hands.
My nerves were so badly shattered that on the way to my room I fell several times. The following Sunday night the Civic Federation packed our meeting with their speakers.
Mr. Gompers's representative in New York was the first man put up. He was furnished with quotations from alleged Socialist writers on the question of religion. Then a woman from Boston who had once been a Socialist, sent a note to me—I was presiding—asking for extended time. I was the only Socialist in the place who knew what was going on.
The newspapers had all been "tipped off," as the Herald reporter told me later. The discussion waxed so warm that fifty people were on their feet at once, shouting for recognition.
Humour in such a situation is a tremendous relief. I managed to inject some into the discussion and it was like grease to a cartwheel. In a humorous way I turned the light on the Civic Federation and the audience laughed. Next day every newspaper in New York had an account of the meeting. From that time until the end of the first year of the meeting the papers reported not only what happened but much that never happened. Most of them were humorous in their treatment. The Marceline of the press gave us much space in its characteristic style.
The result was that we were forced to have policemen guard the door so that when the chapel was full the crowd unable to gain admittance could be dispersed. We admitted by ticket for some weeks, but the plan didn't work well. Of course, many who came were moved solely by curiosity, but for two years the chapel has been filled at every meeting. On the wildest winter nights it looked sometimes as if the choir was to be my only audience, yet when the after-meeting opened, the place was as full as usual.
The Sunday evening service is designed to be of special helpfulness to working people; it is an extra service permitted by the canons of the church, and in this instance directed to helpful and constructive social criticism. The discourses have not been theological in any sense, but I have seen men and women converted, experiencing a change of heart in exactly the same manner as people are converted in revival meetings. The same energies of the soul were released and the same results obtained with this extra consideration, that the change was a new attitude toward society as well as a change of heart.
Men and women who had not been in church since they were children have found an atmosphere—a spiritual atmosphere—that has been a distinct help to them during the week. There have been unique examples of this that cannot be recorded or catalogued. If we were padding a year-book, bolstering a creed or attracting men merely to put our tag on them the meetings would have waned long ago, for the class of people who attend are quick to discover undercurrents or ulterior motives.
The spiritual atmosphere is created by a combination of forces. The picture of the Ascension by La Farge has contributed not a little to it—even to people to whom the circumstance was a myth. The architecture and music contributed much.
We held the after-meeting in the church one night—to accommodate hundreds of people who couldn't get into the chapel. The meeting was a failure. The most radically minded men told me that they couldn't talk in the church.
"Why?" I asked one man.
"—— if I know, but it took the fight out of me!"
It took the fight out of all. So we went back to the chapel. One man whom I have known for years as a Socialist agitator who fought the intellectuals in his party and was a materialist of the most radical kind made this statement at the last meeting of the first year:
"I appreciate the courage of Mr. Grant in opening this church to the people and opening its pulpit to a representative of the people. I am grateful for the fine fellowship, the freedom of discussion, the music, the beautiful architecture and the inspiration that comes from such contact, but these are the smallest of what has come to me during the past winter. I am the son of an orthodox Rabbi but I have been an atheist all my life. I have been over-bitter and destructive in my addresses. I have learned something here. I did not expect nor did I want to, but I have. I am now a believer in the immortality of the soul and I look forward to life instead of death. This has influenced my work, my life. Instead of a hundred words against human slavery to one for human freedom I speak a hundred for human freedom to one against human slavery. That may seem small to you. It's big to me—it's a new psychology."
A school teacher, a brilliant young Jewess, said: "The inspiration of that service in the church lasts all week with my scholars. I am worth twice as much as I was to the public schools."
A letter from a trained nurse says: "I am going away for the summer, but before I go I want you to know how much of a blessing your service has been to me, and to both physicians and nurses in this hospital, for we have all been at one time or another, and we have always talked over your topics with interest and profit."
During the first year we had a tremendous stimulus in the meetings from the active participation of four of the most prominent theosophists in the country—two of whom are members of the vestry. They sharpened the line between spiritual and material things. They brought to the notice of working-class Socialists the essential things of the soul. They made the meetings a melting-pot in which the finest, best and most permanent things were made to stand out distinctly. The world affords not a better field either for the testing or propagating of their philosophy, but they did not come the second year and we missed them very much.
There was a good deal of misunderstanding about the meetings, arising from garbled newspaper reports. The newspaper reporter has a bias for things off colour—buzzard-like, he sees only the carrion—at least he is trained to report only the carrion—this always against his will. So we were kept explaining to men and women of the church who had not been able to attend and see for themselves. There was not only misunderstanding but prejudice. I came in contact with it in quarters the most unlikely. The people of independent means in the Church of the Ascension have social ideals, those of the working class who are in the church have none—none whatever, and what prejudice I found came from those who had never contributed anything to the church but their presence, and to whom the church from their childhood had been an almshouse, a hospital, and a place of amusement.
These were the people, baptized and confirmed Christians, who spoke with bitterness and a sneer of the evening meetings because the majority of the attendants were Jews. The other phase of their prejudice was against Socialism—which they supposed to be a process of "dividing up." My chief encouragement came from the richest people in the church, the sneer came from the poorest.
The range of topics was as wide as the interests of human life. The speakers were the leading men of New York and distinguished visitors from other lands. One of the earliest speakers was Mrs. Cobden Sanderson, the daughter of Richard Cobden and the intimate friend of William Morris. Capitalism was represented by Professor J.B. Clark, Dr. Thomas R. Slicer and Herman Robinson of the American Federation of Labour. There were many others, of course, but these were the best known. The Socialist leaders were W.J. Ghent, Rufus Weeks, Gaylord Wilshire and R.W. Bruére. Exponents of individualism were many, and most of them were brilliant. The most powerful address on behalf of labour was made by R. Fulton Cutting. There has been no attempt to bait an ecclesiastical hook to catch the masses. We have tried to make men think and to act on their best thought.
This venture in ecclesiology is not the democratization of a church. It is the leadership of a rector—Mr. Grant is an ecclesiastical statesman—he has a strong cabinet in his vestry. Men who, having made big ventures in the business world, are not averse to an occasional venture in matters not directly in their line. He has enough reaction among them to keep the balance level.
The Church of the Ascension is the real Cathedral of New York. What matters it about Canon, Chapter, Dean and Prebend? A cathedral is a church of the people—all the people!
My vision spiritual came to me out of the unknown. The facts and experiences of life led me to Socialism. In each case it was a rebirth.
"The Way" of Jesus was at first a state of mind; it had no relation to a book; it had no connection with a church. Socialism is a passion for the regeneration of society, it is a state of mind, a point of view. The religion of the peasant Saviour and the movement for industrial democracy expand as they are understood. Both thrive under opposition and are retarded only by unfaithful friends. I caught the spirit, then studied the forms. I got tired of doling out alms. It became degrading to me either to take them from the rich or to give them to the poor. Almsgiving deludes the one and demoralizes the other. I had distributed the crumbs that fall from rich men's tables until my soul became sick. I expected Lazarus the legion to be grateful; I expected him to become pious, to attend church, to number himself with the saved, and he didn't.
Almsgiving not only degrades the recipient but the medium also. The average minister or missionary is looked upon by the middle and upper classes as a sort of refined pauper himself. So, like a mendicant he goes to the merchant and trades his piety for a rebate of ten per cent.; or he travels on a child's fare on the railroads. I have scores of times given away my own clothes and have gone to the missionary "Dorcas Room" and fitted myself out with somebody's worn-out garments; and I, too, was expected to be grateful and to write of my gratitude to the person who, "for Jesus' sake," had cleaned out his cellar or garret. In the West I have been the recipient of Home Missionary barrels packed in some rich church in New York or New England—annual barrels in which there is usually a ten-dollar suit for the missionary, bought by some dear old lady to whom all men were alike—in size. This whole process is hoary, antiquated, stupid and degrading.
My Socialism is the outcome of my desire to make real the dreams I have dreamed of God. It came to me, not through Marx or Lassalle, but by the way of Moses and Jesus. Twenty years' experience in reform movements taught me the hopelessness of reformation from without. It was like soldering up a thousand little holes in the bottom of a kettle.
For a hundred years men and women have been begging the industrial lords to spare the little children of the poor. Have they? Ask the census taker. Millions of them are the victims of the sweater—the dealer in human endurance. The cure for child labour is justice to the father, and justice to the father is his full share of the good things of life. As long as he has to pay tribute to a horde of non-producers, who have merely invested in his endurance, so long will he be unable to keep his child at school.
It is the daughters of the poor that become the victims of middle-class lust—Fantine is the daughter of a working man. She is multiplied by tens of thousands on the streets of great cities, selling her soul for a morsel of bread. We are hardened to that and we think we are meriting the approbation of angels when we start a rescue mission for her special class.
How pure in the sight of God is poor Fantine when compared with the cowards who will not smash the mill of which she is the mere grist. Just so long as there is a cash consideration in her life must capitalism bear the burden of her sin!
There were millions of men out of work last winter. The political parties took no notice. The leaders knew the minds of the electors. They knew that those millions of unemployed were too stupid to see any connection between government and work.
Mr. Taft was asked in the campaign what a workless, homeless man could do to find employment.
"God knows!" was his reply.
Out of this army of the unemployed the ranks of the criminals are reinforced, and the search for creature comforts recruits the ranks of women who are not fallen, but knocked down. The supreme function of the state is to make it easy for citizens to live in harmony with one another and hard to be out of joint.
Poverty is the mother curse of the ages. No man suffering from her withering, blighting touch can be in harmony with the best. Socialism tackles the master job of abolishing it. Not by any fantastic plan of redistribution but by giving to the creator all that he creates and to the social charges, pensioners and cripples an assurance of life without the stigma of pauperism.
Socialism asks for the application of science to the disease of poverty. Science has chained the lightning and harnessed the ether waves, it has filled the world with horseless carriages and is now filling the air with machines that fly like birds. The inventions of the last twenty years are modern miracles but the sunken millions of our fellowmen never speak through a telephone, never ride in an automobile, never send a telegram, never read good books, or see good plays! They make all these things. They make them all possible for others, but the enjoyment of them is beyond their wildest dreams!
The strength of the social chain cannot be greater than its weakest link.
Socialists are grouped around the thin places, the leakages, the weaknesses of democracy, and engross themselves in making them strong. The propaganda in times past wielded only a sword; now it has a trowel. Socialism is a positive force; it is leaven in the lump.
The party has a discipline which often hampers its own progress, but in the regimentation of an idea discipline can not be dispensed with. There are Socialists who see only the goal—are not willing to see anything else or less. There are others who see every step of the way and emphasize each step.
"What kind of a Socialist are you?" a rich man asked me the other day.
"Catalogue me with the worst!" I said, "for he who numbers himself with the transgressors is in direct apostolic succession."
The Socialists are the only people who seem to have the Bible idea of work. The scriptures make no provision for parasites. In the commonwealth of Israel everybody worked. When there was a departure from this ideal, came the prophet to speak for God and the divine order.
Socialists are doing for America what the prophets did for Israel thousands of years ago: we are pointing the way to simple and right living, to justice, brotherhood and religion. Socialism is not an ultimate conception of society: it only paves the way for a divine individualism. When the fear of hunger is vanished men will have a chance to be individuals.
Men striving all their lives to live—to merely live—have no time, no opportunity for a career.
Opposition to the democratic ideal of Socialism is based on ignorance. Opponents ask for a mechanical contrivance that will wind up and go like a clock. We are asked questions that only our great-grandchildren can answer. We are told by the good people that the ideal leaves out God. The British Parliament proclaimed that bloodhounds and scalping were "means that God and nature had given into its hand." A coal baron of Pennsylvania declares that God has entrusted a few men with untold wealth and consigned a multitude to degrading poverty—that kind of a God the democratic ideal does leave out. He is a God spun out of the fertile brain of the materialist. Critics of Socialism assume and herald their own patriotism, their devotion to law and order, but they are usually men who distrust any extension of the functions of the state not directly beneficial to their personal interests.
The Socialists of to-day know that their ideal can not be realized during their lifetime; they are people of vision; they are not saying, "Lord, Lord," but they are bringing in His Kingdom.
The early Socialists met their worst opposition in a corrupt church and their writings were coloured by the conflict. We are asked to stand sponsor for all they said. One might as well charge 20th century Christians with the horrors of the Inquisition!
We are not even willing to stand sponsor for their economics. Many of their prophecies are yet unfulfilled, the currents of thought and action are not flowing in the direction they anticipated, but the facts they faced have altered little and we moderns have made our own diagnosis, and we have decided on a remedy. The remedy is not revolution in the historic sense; it is not a cataclysm, it has no room for hatred. Its method is evolutionary; its watch-word is solidarity, its hope is regeneration.
The process levels up, not down. It has an upward look. It will abolish class struggles and divisions. It will usher in a reign of peace. Just at present it is a class struggle, a struggle on behalf of that social group of labourers on whose back are borne the world's heaviest burdens, but it is no more a labour movement than the emancipation of the slaves was a Negro movement.
The man who enunciated the doctrine of the class struggle belonged only by soul contact to the struggling class. The Socialist appeal is made directly to that class, for until it is awakened to its own peril and its own need little progress can be made.
Changes in society are like changes in human character: they must have their origin in the heart and work outward. It is at the heart of things we place our hope and the secret of the social passion to me is the knowledge that I am a coöperator with God.
There comes over me occasionally an idea, as I look into the future, that the fact may become the mockery of the dream. Our temples are built with hands, they are fair to look upon even in the dream, but other builders will come and build on other foundations temples of the soul more fair, more enduring. Socialism the fact will have the higher individualism as the dream; but the conflict will be lifted from the sordid plane of the stomach to the realm of mind, heart, and soul.
The apologist of the status quo is of all things the most pitiful. If a politician, he has no dream; if a business man, he has no vision; if a preacher, he lives in a mausoleum of dead hopes. To these the ten commandments sum up the moral order of the universe. The eleventh commandment shares the fate of the seed that fell on stony ground.
The worst that a man can do against the democratic ideal is not to work for it. He might as well fight against the stars in their courses. What does it matter who brings it to pass or how it comes?
To work for it is the thing. To feel the thrill of a world-comradeship, a world-endeavour, to be in line with the workers and touch hands with men of all creeds, all classes, this is social joy, this is incentive for life!
In the very advent of my spiritual life I gravitated toward the church. There I added to my faith a theology. A theologian is a fighter—a doctrinaire. Every item of knowledge I got I sharpened into a weapon to confound the Catholics.
Before my nakedness was wholly covered I was shouting with my sect for "Queen and Constitution," and I could discuss the historic Episcopate before I could write my own name. Then came a hidebound orthodoxy. I measured life by a book and for every ill that flesh is heir to I had an "appropriate" text. I had a formula for the salvation of the race. I divided humanity into two camps—the goats and the sheep. I had a literal hell for one crowd and a beautiful heaven for the other. The logical result of this was a caste of good (saved) people for whom I became a sort of an ecclesiastical attorney. Naturally one outgrows such obsolescence. Such archaism has an antidote: it is an open-minded study of the life of Jesus. The result of such a study to me was a rediscovery of myself, that I think is what Jesus always does for an inquiring soul. He is the Supreme Individualist, the Master of Personality.
I did not ask him what to wear or how to vote. I did not even ask him what was moral or immoral, for these things change with time and place and circumstance.
I asked him the old eternal questions of life and death and immortality, of God and my neighbour, of sin and service. The answers stripped me of fear and gave me a scorn of consequences. The secret of Jesus is to find God in the soul of humanity. The cause of Jesus is the righting of world wrongs; the religion of Jesus the binding together of souls in the solidarity of the race.
Three miles north of Peekskill and two miles east of the Hudson river lies this farm place that I have named Happy Hollow. It looks to me as if God had just taken a big handful of earth out from between these hills of Putnam County and made a shelter here for man and beast.
"Happy Hollow," Mr. Irvine's Present Home Near Peekskill, New YorkToList
The Hollow is meadow-land through which runs a brook. Across the meadow in front of the house, rises almost perpendicularly a hill five hundred feet high. It is clothed now in autumnal glory. On the summit there are several bare patches of granite rock surrounded by tall dark green cedars that look like forest monks, from my study window. There are over two hundred acres, two-thirds of them woodland. Through the woods there are miles and miles of old lumber roads over which my predecessors have hauled lumber since the days of the Revolution.
"Is there a view of the Hudson River from any of these hills?" I asked when buying.
"Somewhere," said the owner, but she was not quite sure.
One day I was exploring the fastnesses and came upon a rock ledge standing a hundred feet high. I walked to the edge, pushed the branches of the elder bushes aside and out there in front of me lay that glorious valley and beyond the valley over the top of my house lay the mighty river like an unsheathed sword!
On that ledge I have built a platform of white birch and behind the platform a bungalow from the window of which I have a full view of the valley, the Westchester County hills and the river. I have named the ledge "Ascension Point" in memory of the valued friendships formed at the church on Fifth Avenue.
On the edge of the amphitheatre-shaped meadow, beside the old road that leads to the river, stands the farmhouse. It is sheltered from winter winds by the hills and from summer sun by elm, maple and walnut trees.
There is nothing to boast of in the arrangement; it was built quickly and not over-well. If the man who planned it had any more taste than a cow he must have expressed it on the building of the barn, not on the house. It had been heated with stoves for years, but I tore away the boards that covered the open fireplaces. I built a cistern on the hill and a cesspool down in the meadow, and between them, in a large room in the house, arranged a bathroom, a big bathroom, big enough to swing a cat around.
I am now knocking a wall down here and there, wiping some outbuildings off the map, and by degrees making it habitable throughout the year.
There is a five-acre orchard on the hill east of the house and through it runs a brook that can be turned to good account.
I had a population of twenty-five during the summer. They were encamped within a few hundred yards of each other in tents, overhauled barns, etc. We were all hand-picked Socialists—dreamers of dreams.
Of course we had to eat and as the raw-food fad did not appeal to us we had to have a fire on which to cook; and as there was an abundance of wood I instituted a wood pile!
To any one about to form a coöperative community I can recommend this institution as an infinitely better gauge of human character than either the ten commandments or the royal eight-fold pathway! We didn't need much wood and there were plenty of men. We had good tools and—I was going to say, "wood to burn."
"It was jolly good fun, don't you know," to hack up about three sticks; then the woodcutter would have a story to tell or he "had something he had left undone for days." There was an atmosphere around the pile that affected us as the hookworm affects its victims in some Southern communities—we grew listless, dull, flaccid.
The influence was baneful, subtle. None of us ever confessed to being affected. It rather emphasized our idealism.
"In the future," said one comrade as he laid the axe down after his second stick, "wood will be cut by machinery!" We looked interested. "Yes," he said as he rolled a cigarette, "there will be a machine that will cut a cord a second!"
"Why don't you invent one?" we asked.
"How can one invent anything in this slave age?" he asked, as he glared at us between the curling puffs of smoke.
"That's true," we said, and piped down.
He went over to the well to get a drink. The housekeeper called for firewood. He smiled—he was a jolly good-natured chap.
"Keep cool, comrades," he said gently, "it'll be all the same in a thousand years!" The axe was blunt. He took it to the grindstone—a new patent, with a bicycle seat on it, and there he sat puffing and grinding until a neighbour's cow broke into our corn. He dropped the axe and went after the cow.
The housekeeper kept calling for wood. Another comrade was pressed into the killing ether and he smashed and hacked for five minutes; then he straightened himself up and, said, with a look of disgust on his face, "That's a mucker's job!"
"Who will be the muckers under Socialism?" I asked mildly.
"The dull, brainless clods who can do nothing else!" he said.
Just then our neighbour's hired man, a Russian muzik, passed with his ox-team. He wore a smock of his own making and a pair of shoes he had made of hickory bark.
"That," said the comrade at the block in a stage whisper, "is the type that will do the rough work. You couldn't wake that thing up with a plug of dynamite!"
We watched Michael and his ox-team as they lumbered lazily along the lane.
"Happy Hollow" in the Winter, Looking From the HouseToList
We had one poet in our midst—just one. He had lately completed a poem on the glories of our valley. Two men stooped to pick up the axe. Gaston and Alphonse like, they stooped together. As they did so the poet came along with a beaming face. "Stop!" he said; "listen, boys, listen."
We all straightened up, and stood at attention. He read:
The housekeeper rudely broke the spell!
"You comrades had better eat that poetry for dinner," she said.
We all looked and all understood—all save the poet. He looked aghast, thinking in Yiddish.
"Go on," somebody said, but the poet was a sensitive youth and could sense an atmosphere quicker than most of us.
"Wood," said the housekeeper, pointing at the few sticks lying around the block.
"Ah," exclaimed the poet as he took up the axe, "you shall have it, comrade—have it good and plenty."
He laid the poem in the white birch frame against a stone and proceeded. We moved away, every man to his own place.
In a community where the communers have to chop the fire-wood, canned salmon is a good standby.
That day we had salmon for dinner.
Just as a matter of encouragement I had the artist of the community print a Latin motto in fine Gothic characters:
"LABORARE EST ORARE"
This I tacked to the block at the woodpile. We had one orator in the community—just one.
Next morning, when the motto stared him in the face, he said: "Gee whiz! that's great—Labour is oratory!" It was a blow at a venture in the interpretation of Latin and instead of wood to cook the breakfast we had a speech on the labour of the orator!
The idea that I was giving land away got noised abroad, and a thousand letters of inquiry came to me. Most of the inquirers asked if I gave "deeds" to the land.
Others got an idea that I had a coöperative colony and all they had to do was to come and plant themselves on the land. I never intended to organize a colony but I did invite some families to enjoy the summer on the farm.
I shall not ask as many next year for I have no talent as a manager and it takes more management than I imagined to look after even half a dozen families.
I had a number of parties from the city during the summer—the largest being from the Church of the Ascension and the Cosmopolitan Church. From Ascension Church came a young men's club on Decoration day. I introduced the boys to their first experience in archery.
The people from the Cosmopolitan Church came on a Sunday and I took them over the hill to call on my friends, the Franciscan monks, of the society of the Atonement. The Franciscans are my nearest neighbours on the north and on the south is my neighbour Mr. Epstein, a Russian Jewish farmer.
From the north we have had an intellectual and moral fellowship and from the south the comradeship of the soil.
To Mr. Epstein's bull we are indebted for the element of excitement—a very necessary element if one could get it in any sort of orderly arrangement.
The bull objected to Mr. Epstein interfering in what might be called his (the bull's) family affairs. He tossed his owner into the air three times one afternoon in my meadow and, but for the timely interference of a dog, would have gathered the farmer to his fathers. Several of our community saw the incident, but the vibrations had a more enervating effect than even those around the woodpile, and being armed only with the first law of nature they left the honours of the incident to the dog.
The following Sunday morning I saw a crowd in Mr. Epstein's orchard. It looked like a small county fair. A cow doctor had been imported to perform an operation on the bull. Mr. Epstein and his muzik, Michael, almost came to blows in trying to decide which of them should put the yoke on the bull's neck. No decent farmer will stand aloof in such a crisis: so I threw my coat off and offered my services. The patient made serious objections to me, but permitted the yoke to be adjusted by a day labourer named Harvey Outhouse.
This Holstein aristocrat had a terrible come-down. He used to stalk around as if he owned the earth, but now he is a common "hewer of wood and drawer of water" like ourselves.
I see him occasionally, now, pulling a heavy load of stones or hay past our place as meekly and quiet as the dull ox by his side, and involuntarily I exclaim: "How are the mighty fallen!"
I have a horse and a cow. The artist of the community, who remains as one of my family, took charge of the cow and the care of the horse was distributed among the rest of us. The house is made comfortable and snug for the winter and I have settled down here for the remainder of my life.
With my family are these two comrades, the artist and the mechanic, and we are in complete harmony in work and ideals. I have been a gypsy most of my life. I am to have a respite now. Here in this corner of Putnam County I have found my happy hills of rest. My work will always be in the city but here my home is to me and here I am to do my writing, thinking, living. In the solitude of these woods I am to find inspiration and quiet, here I am to dream my dreams and see my visions. I am forty-seven years of age now, but I have the health and vigour of a boy and I feel that for me life has just really begun. I have but one ambition: it is not wealth, or fame, or even rest. It is to be of service to my fellow-men; for that is my highest conception of service to God.
This memoir is but a catalogue of events—a series of milestones that I have passed. My life has been at times such a tempest and at other times such a calm, and between these extremes I have failed so often and my successes have been so phenomenal that the world would not believe a true recital of the facts, even though I were able to write them.
The conflicts of the soul, the scalding tears that bespeak the breaking heart, can not be reduced to print. Nevertheless, I hope that what I have written may be of encouragement to my fellow-travellers along the highway of life, especially men who mistakenly imagine they have been worsted in the fight.
There is a great truth in the doctrine of the economic interpretation of history but there is also truth, and a mighty truth, in the spiritual interpretation of life. The awakened human soul is indissolubly inknit with the warp and woof of things divine. It fights not alone, it is linked with God.
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