Memoirs of a Social Atom (03)

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THE popular literature of the first half of the century was as scant in quantity as it was for the most part poor in quality.  It is true there was no overpowering demand for literature of any sort, for the reason, as already indicated, that the masses of the people were unable to read.  Creditable, but perhaps not altogether successful, efforts were made by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge to supply such want as existed.  The Penny Magazine, which was issued by that society, was full of facts, often very dry facts—interesting, but not enlivening.  Charles Knight, William Howitt, and William and Robert Chambers tried to do better, and succeeded in doing better.  The publications of the Messrs. Chambers suited the popular taste then, as some of them suit the popular taste now.  There was and is so judicious a blending of light and heavy literature in Chamber's Journal that that periodical has helped to educate, inform, and entertain many generations of the British public.  Whenever it came in my way, as it did sometimes, I revelled in its pages.  The Penny Magazine also was a great delight on the rare occasions that I saw it.  But I remember best the Family Herald, Reynolds's Miscellany, and Lloyd's "penny dreadfuls."

    Excepting "Pilgrim's Progress," "Gulliver's Travels," and the "Arabian Nights," I saw and read none of the books which entrance young minds.  The religious meaning of the first, the satirical meaning of the second, and the doubtful meaning of the third were, of course, not understood.  The story was the great thing—the trials of Christian, the troubles of Gulliver, the adventures of Aladdin.  "Robinson Crusoe" was never accessible till late in life, when the taste for such productions had departed.  So with "Don Quixote," Captain Cook's voyages, and Mungo Park's travels.  There are certain books which must be read at the period of life suitable for enjoying them, else they are rarely enjoyed at all—never with the gusto they would have excited at the proper season.  Great, therefore, was the disadvantage that poor boys of my age and condition suffered.  But great was our delight, too, when chance opportunities came in the way of such of us as could read.  An opportunity of this kind arrived when a firm of printers in London, sometime about 1844 or 1845, brought out a penny Shakspeare—a play of Shakspeare's for a penny!  Well do I remember this cheap treasure.  It was my first introduction to the great bard.  Gracious! how I devoured play after play as they came out!  I was a poor errand boy at the time.  When on my errands I used to steal odd moments to read my penny Shakspeare.  A painful incident—inexpressibly painful to me at the time—arose out of this habit.  One day another lad—a bit of a rogue I knew—asked to look at the play I was reading.  Out of pure devilment (for he couldn't read himself) he refused to return it.  I followed him through many streets, thinking he was playing a joke, and imploring him to give me back my precious property.  But I never saw the little book again.  To this day the remembrance of grief and mortification is as vivid as ever.  The scene, the book, the thief—all are clearer now than greater events of yesterday.  The popular reading of the time was not all as elevating and as wholesome as Bunyan, or Shakspeare, or even Swift.  Much of it, indeed, was the very reverse.  At a period when newspapers were five or six times the price they are now, and when village innkeepers found it a payable custom to let them out on hire for a penny an hour, stories of the "penny dreadful " class were issued in weekly parts.  The publisher was Edward Lloyd.  Mr. Lloyd was the legitimate successor of the old Alnwick printer—Catnach of the Seven Dials.  He began business as the printer of sheets that were hawked and sold by the "flying stationers"—records of prize-fights, of murders, of executions, and of what purported to be "last dying speeches and confessions."  Then, as time went on, he issued whole libraries of fiction, started many periodicals, and established two important and successful journals.  When he died in 1890, he was the proprietor of great paper mills at Sittingbourne, of a great London daily, and of the well-known weekly that bears his name.  The latter venture was as successful as any of his enterprises.  It was so successful that he was enabled to pay Douglas Jerrold, the most famous wit of his age, a salary of a thousand a year for little more than the mere use of his name as editor.  Lloyd's fiction was always of the strongest and most sensational character.  The publisher knew how to select stories that would make the blood curdle and the flesh creep—also how to select the authors who could write them.  Next to the selection of a strong story was the selection of a strong title.  Mr. Lloyd and his writers were equal to this too.  The names of a few of the stories, all of which, as will be seen, have subsidiary titles relating to mystery or bloodshed, may give an idea of the intellectual food on which the masses of the people were fed in the old days:—

Ada the Betrayed, or the Murder at the Old Smithy.
Adele, or the Pirates of the Isle.
The Curse, or the Outlaws of the Old Tower.
The Old Monastery, or the Deed of Blood.
Gonzalo the Bandit, or the Bereaved Father.
Olivie, or the Mysteries of Pigani Castle.
The Black Monk, or the Secret of the Grey Turret.
Alice Home, or the Revenge of the Blighted One.
The Black Mantle, or the Murder at the Old Ferry.
The Smuggler King, or the Foundling of the Wreck.
Villeroy, or the Horrors of Zindorf Castle.

    Many of those terrifying narratives were published in Lloyd's Penny Weekly Miscellany of Romance and General Interest.  Others were issued in weekly instalments.  The latter were illustrated with rude woodcuts.  One of these woodcuts haunted me for years after I had first seen it.  A masked robber, holding a dark lantern in one hand and an uplifted dagger in the other, was seen creeping towards a bed on which an old gentleman, with his arms outside the quilt and a tasseled nightcap on his head, lay sleeping.  I could see and hear the rest of the tragedy—the stealthy tread of the robber, the sudden plunge of the dagger, the blood-stained bedclothes, the dying groans of the night-capped victim.  Another picture also haunted me.  It was one of the illustrations to "Villeroy."  The vaults of a castle; a trapdoor evidently leading to the dungeons below; the villain of the story, or rather one of the villains of the story, peering into the depth by the light of a mediæval lamp.  The very attitude and costume of the villain are before me now.  A stage attitude, wide-topped boots, trunk hose, slashed doublet, belt studded with daggers, slouch hat and long feathers—every detail is there.  The pictures rivalled each other in horror.  I retain a vivid recollection of the "fearful joy" I used to snatch from them every week through the window of a small newsvendor's shop in the town.  I was too poor to buy the serials myself; but I borrowed from somebody a bound copy of "Villeroy, or the Horrors of Zindorf Castle."  It is of this specimen of penny dreadful literature that the most vivid remembrances remain.

    The romance was appropriately named, because it was filled with horrors from the first page to the last.  Where Zindorf Castle was supposed to be situated I cannot now recollect; but I do recollect that it was supplied with the usual assortment of secret doors, secret passages, and secret dungeons.  The villainous personages that passed through these doors, the crimes that were committed in these passages, and the sufferings that were endured in these dungeons, were depicted and combined in such a manner as to make the young reader, if not the old, dream dreadful dreams when he went to bed.  One never-to-be-forgotten evening was spent in the company of the occupants of Zindorf Castle.  The elder people were all engaged in an adjoining outhouse, so that I was left alone in the family room—kitchen and sitting-room in one.  There, by the light of a tallow candle (for we had neither gas nor oil lamps in those days), the development of the drama was followed with absorbing interest and terror.  As crime succeeded crime, as villain followed villain, the nervous and excited reader fancied that one or other of the robbers and murderers who danced through the pages of the romance would suddenly make his appearance in person.  So entirely did this idea obtain possession of his morbid and juvenile mind that he took the precaution of placing the carving knife on the table beside him!  When he went to bed that night, he buried his head deep under the sheets, dreamt of thieves and cutthroats, and woke next morning to dream again all day of the horrors of Zindorf Castle.  Ah! poor lads of sixty years ago—such of them as could read at all had to be satisfied with literary matter of a parlous character.  And yet—and yet—I don't know that the lads of the present day, with all their advantages, are really any better than we were.

    It may be that stories of the "Villeroy " stamp, like the chap-books of the period, encouraged and developed the taste for reading; and the taste for reading, once acquired, came in due course to need higher pabulum to satisfy it.  Before it could be satisfied, a complete revolution in companionship became necessary.  Frequent occasions had arisen for feeling dissatisfied with the chums of my boyhood—once particularly when some of them, having taken a bird's nest, tore the little fledglings to pieces.  Protests provoked only laughter and scorn.  Other incidents occurred to produce estrangement.  Some of the lads had already begun to contract bad habits.  Was there not a danger that bad habits would be contracted by all the rest?  I resolved to sever the connection.  One Sunday afternoon the usual call was made for a ramble in the fields.  Word was sent to the callers that their old companion was not going to join them.  I heard from an upper room, not without a certain amount of tremor, their exclamations of surprise.  They wandered off into the fields in one direction; I, with a new companion, wandered off into the fields in another.  My new companion was Young's "Night Thoughts."  The old companions were never joined again.  A new life had begun.



ALL the old reformers fought hard for education—the education of the people at the expense of the people.  The fight was hopeless till the franchise was extended.  "Education for all," I wrote myself in a little pamphlet entitled "An Argument for Complete Suffrage," printed at Manchester in 1860, "is an inevitable consequence of the enfranchisement of all."  And I was right.  The extension of the suffrage was very soon followed by the multiplication of schools. But schools have been multiplied without producing the great and beneficial results that ardent reformers expected from them—hence disappointment. The people are educated—educated at great cost—but they are neither better nor wiser than the people who were left to educate themselves.

    There has been coddling [Ed.—treating with excessive indulgence] as well as culture.  But coddling is not necessary—isn't even desirable—nay, is positively pernicious.  It corrupts the character, prevents the development of self-reliance, makes no distinction between the fit and the unfit.  It will, in the end, if unchecked, prove disastrous to society.  Coddling is costly also.  The coddling of the London School Board, for example, costs the ratepayers of London a million sterling per annum—an average, it was computed in 1899, of £28 per child, or eleven shillings per week, which is about the wages of an agricultural labourer in many parts of the country!  "And yet," said a leading journal, "the parents of one child in five won't have the Board's education even at this price."  If the money were well spent, there would not, perhaps, be much objection to the vast outlay.  But is it?  This is a question for experts.  The unfairness, however, would remain.  Many a struggling parent who pays for the education of his own children, though he is perhaps less able to do it than many of those whose children are taught at the public expense, can only afford for the purpose £10 a year each.  Again, the cost of a thing is not always a criterion of its value.  My own education never cost much more than sixpence a week.  It was not much of an education, but it sufficed.  It supplied me at any rate with the tools of knowledge.  And the tools of knowledge are about all that the State ought to be expected to provide gratis, except in the case of promising and deserving scholars.  Given these tools, the child can work out its own career.  Gilt-edged tools can do no more—not even such gilt-edged tools as dancing and deportment.  It is well to educate the people, but the tendency of much of the School Board policy of the day is to pauperise the people.  Yet School Boards ought, above all things, to beware of undermining the independence of the individual.  That lost, the nation becomes little better than a machine—a mere affair of cogs and wheels.

    We managed these things better in the forties.  And we had no Hooligans either.  I was myself, I daresay, the nearest approach to that undesirable character.  We who were poor had few facilities—no free scholarships, no subsidies from Government, no classes supported by public funds; but those among us who had learnt to read and write could employ our advantages to acquire what else we desired.  Every avenue of culture was open to us if we had the perseverance and the capacity to penetrate it.  We had, as I have said, the tools of knowledge.  Having these, it depended entirely upon ourselves what use should be made of them—whether, in fact, they should be used at all, or left to rust and decay.  Some of us kept our tools bright and keen with constant friction; others neglected them as they would have neglected the widest education itself.  A lad of finer parts would, of course, have turned to better account the small benefits received from school.  But I was only a very ordinary lad—gifted with nothing more than a desire to shine and a sort of feverish activity in the way of realising it.  An old diary of the period, when I was off with the old companions and had for some time been on with the new, records classes or meetings every night in the week except when work detained me at the office.

    If I did not at that time educate myself, I at least did the next best thing—I tried to.  English grammar was picked up from Cobbett; the lessons in Cassell's Popular Educator afforded some insight into Latin; French was studied from the same pages in conjunction with another youth; and arrangements were made with an enthusiastic disciple of Isaac Pitman [11] to plunge into the depths of phonography, when a change of circumstances cast these and all other educational projects to the winds.  Cobbett's Grammar has long since been superseded by newer treatises; but it is still an intensely interesting work, if only because of the characteristic way in which the author makes political friends and political foes supply examples and illustrations of good and bad English.  John Cassell, a vendor of coffee and a lecturer on temperance, had tried several small ventures in periodical literature before he commenced his famous Educator.  One of these was the Family Friend—a pleasant and cheerful publication in which Parson Frank stirred up the ambitious instincts of the young people of the day.  But the Popular Educator was the great enterprise.  It came out in weekly parts.  It was badly printed, and was full of blunders and blemishes; but it contained lessons to suit all aspiring tastes, and satisfied the requirements of the young folks in a manner they had never been satisfied before.  Most of the self-educated people of my age and of later generations owe a deep debt of gratitude to John Cassell.  It was with such aids as have been indicated, together with readings and scribblings at odd moments of the day or night, that the desire for knowledge was in some manner gratified.

    There was flourishing in Cheltenham in my young days a rather exclusive society—exclusive, I mean, in being beyond the reach of poor boys—known as the Philosophical Institution.  It has gone the way of many similar societies—the way, also, of most of the old mechanics' institutes; but the handsome building in the Promenade, modelled on the outside after a Greek temple, retains a precious place in my memory, from the lectures I heard there on literary and scientific topics.  Tickets of admission occasionally came my way.  When they did, they were highly appreciated.  The lecturers, as the title of one of Browning's poems runs, were "people of some importance in their day."  Dr. Wright, a resident physician, and the Rev. T. W. Webb, a Gloucester clergyman, frequently elucidated branches of the sciences on which they were distinguished authorities—geology and astronomy.  Charles Cowden Clarke came now and then to lecture on the poets, George Dawson to expose the weaknesses and foibles of mankind, and Clara Lucas Balfour to tickle the cultivated tastes of the members on matters of a light and airy character.  George Dawson—George Dawson, M.A., as he was always described in the programmes—was probably the most popular lecturer of the middle years of the century, while Mrs. Balfour, mother of the unhappy and unscrupulous Jabez Balfour, enjoyed the distinction of being about the first lady to make a reputation on the platform.  Of the former—his "raucous voice," his sarcastic humour, his conversational style, and his general appearance—I retain the clearest recollection.  I do not think any lecturer of my time in the matter of quiet ease and entertaining power ever quite came up to Dawson's standard.

    But the institutions of a more modest (and I regret to say more ephemeral) character—more suited to our humble means, I mean—were either started by us, or were warmly supported by us after they had been started.  One was held under a Baptist Chapel; another in the vestry of the Unitarian Chapel; a third in a private house that had been purchased for the purpose by the agent of one of the political parties in the town.  The Baptist Chapel affair was chiefly memorable to me from the engagement of a strange and eccentric person—a great rogue as it turned out afterwards—who professed to teach us elocution; but the story of his eccentricities and his rogueries must be told in a later chapter.  The minister of the Unitarian Chapel had been the Rev. Henry Solly, who devoted many years of his later life to the task of founding Working Men's Clubs in all parts of the country, and who, when he was over eighty years of age, published his memoirs in two interesting volumes. [12]  It was, however, under Mr. Solly's successor—the Rev. John Dendy, a son-in-law of the Rev. Dr. Beard of Manchester—that we were granted the use of the vestry for the meetings of the Cheltenham General Literary Union.

    Unfortunately, the union was not a success, though many advantages accrued to the members from their evening chats and readings under its auspices.  The longest lived of our societies was the People's Institute.  The house in which it was held—21, Regent Street—became rather notorious afterwards on account of the use that was alleged to have been made of it in the manufacture of faggot votes [Ed.—the manipulation of the electoral register].  But the place was very popular in my time.  The management was sufficiently catholic to allow all sorts of movements to be conducted in its rooms.  Even Chartist meetings were held there.  I presided over some of these meetings myself, although a mere boy at the time.  Books and newspapers could be read in one of the rooms; classes for the study of various subjects were held in other rooms; debates on topics of current interest or speculative value took place once a week; and occasionally essays that had been awarded prizes in competition were read by the ingenious writers.  We were fond of controversy in those days, some of us because we wanted to propagate what we thought were new ideas.  Many a time and oft, after floundering about in a maze of confusion in the debating class, have we delivered wonderful speeches on the way home, overpowering in argument and eloquence, confounding our opponents, and establishing as on a rock the principles for which we had been contending!

    But our thirst for controversy was not satiated by the weekly debate.  We had a little magazine of our own—the British Controversialist, which ran into several volumes, and to which we contributed papers on the negative or positive side of the questions which the editor selected.  My own gratification at the acceptance of a paper on Mahomet was much marred when I came to read the production in print—shamefully and brutally disfigured by the editor's improvements!  It did not occur to me then that I should in after-years have to shamefully and brutally maltreat the productions of a younger generation of aspirants.  We wrote essays, too.  The prizes that were offered for the best were only just sufficient to encourage effort.  An amusing entry relating to this matter, dated July 13th, 1850, may be quoted from an old diary:—"Proposed to raise essay fund, and to subscribe one shilling towards it."  The entry has no interest except as showing the poverty of our resources and the bent of our inclinations.  A very big scheme was initiated, however, when Boswell's "Life of Johnson" and two smaller books were offered as prizes for the three best essays on the "Advantages of Knowledge."  The competition in this case was only remarkable because the award was made by a clergyman of the Church of England, the Rev. F. J. Foxton, author of the "Popular Christianity"—a neo-theological work of some repute in its day. [13]

    With the desire for culture there had come a passion for politics.  This passion was stimulated by the French Revolution of 1848.  I was a reader of Reynolds's Miscellany.  One day, soon after the proclamation of the Republic in France, there appeared in it a picture of the members of the Mountain—Ledru Rollin, Louis Blanc, Pierre Leroux, Victor Schœlcher, and the other ardent Republicans and Socialists who composed the Extreme Left of the National Assembly.  The picture was followed by the announcement of a new publication—Reynolds's Political Instructor.  It supplied what some of us wanted, though not all that the most insurgent among us longed for.  But the stirring events in Paris and the newer literature that began to be issued sent the young men of my age wild with excitement and enthusiasm.  I had previously read the "Rights of Man" and other political works of Thomas Paine, which had seduced me from bed at five o'clock for many mornings in succession.  And now I was fairly in the maelstrom.



THE diseases of one age may cease to afflict the next.  Much depends upon conditions independent of human will or control: much also upon the good sense men and women exercise in applying the results of experience.  Leprosy has disappeared—from the British Islands at all events.  Why should not other maladies—those, for instance, which are undoubtedly generated by the improper feeding of infants?  The ignorance of other days was often the cause of the diseases of other days.  Our great-grandfathers cared nothing about ventilation, nor very much about sanitation either, as may be gathered from the horrible arrangement that lasted all through my apprenticeship in the printing office of a Cheltenham newspaper.  Every person who could afford it luxuriated in a four-post bedstead.  And curtains were drawn closely around the sleeper so as to exclude every breath of fresh air.  The consequences to our ancestors of thus inhaling for hours together the atmosphere they had themselves contaminated can readily be understood in these times.  Is it any wonder that they suffered from complaints which are hardly known even by name now?  As we increase in knowledge and in the wisdom to use it, healthier lives will be lived by the people.  But we have not yet discarded the prejudices that fettered our predecessors.  Moreover, it may be, we are by new habits and vices planting the seeds of fresh penalties for the races that are to come.

    It sometimes happens that old disorders, coming at infrequent intervals, are accounted new.  This, I imagine, was the case when an epidemic of influenza reappeared after an interval of many years.  People talked of it as if it had never been heard of before.  Their elders, however, knew better.  But the same fallacies were current in my young days.  I remember hearing then of a terrible disorder.  It was called influenza; but it was thought and said to be something that had not previously afflicted mankind.  Yet visitations of exactly the same mischief seem to have been recorded in the Middle Ages.  No such mistake was made with respect to cholera.  That terrible affliction paid many visits to England during the last century.  It is a singular fact, however, that it always left Cheltenham untouched.  The circumstance that it did so, as I have recorded in a previous chapter, was inferentially ascribed by the Rev. Francis Close to the appeals for the intercession of the Almighty that had been offered up in the parish church.  But the reverend gentleman was not so emphatic on the subject as was his colleague, the Rev. Archibald Boyd, on the subject of the sudden death of the Czar Nicholas during the Crimean war.  Preaching at Christ Church, Mr. Boyd told his congregation that he regarded the event as a distinct answer to prayer.  "Only a fortnight ago," he said, "the people had assembled in the house of God, and bowed themselves before Him in humble supplication.  But none of us could have dreamt in what way our prayers would be answered.  None of us could have imagined that, ere ten days had passed, the Angel of Death would come and lay his icy hand on the proud Nicholas and lay him in the dust."  A much more rational explanation of the immunity of Cheltenham was given later by a German medical writer, that the reason it was not visited by cholera in 1832 was in consequence of the abundance of trees in its streets and squares and gardens.  But indeed the place has been singularly salubrious at all times; in testimony whereof the local historian records on August 4th, 1860—"Only five persons were buried in Cheltenham this week out of a population of 40,000.  The united ages of these five were 399 years, or an average of 8o years each."

    But neither trees nor prayers could save the people from visitations of small-pox.  That loathsome disease made regular, frequent, almost constant appearances in England in the earlier part of the century.  It was reckoned among the inevitable ailments of childhood or maturity—as certain to come as teething itself.  Since it was impossible to escape the dreadful affliction, the virus was deliberately implanted in infants.  An entry in the Annals of the Northern Counties for October 21st, 1787, reads thus:—"The Duchess of Northumberland arrived in Newcastle, from whence she went to Heaton Hall, one of the seats of Sir Matthew White Ridley, where her children underwent inoculation for the small-pox."  The practice that was favoured by the faculty in the eighteenth century continued in favour with the populace down to near the middle of the nineteenth.  Old people in my time came to the conclusion that the best thing to do was to meet the disease halfway: so they prepared their children with purgatives—brimstone and treacle chiefly—in order, as they said, to purify the blood, and then got the patients inoculated.  The children who were subjected to this treatment were not placed in the hands of doctors or even druggists.  A relative of my own, a very worthy woman, who, however, was not acquainted with even the elements of medicine or surgery, performed many of these operations for her neighbours.  And she continued to perform them till one of her patients had the narrowest escape from death.  Afraid then of the consequences of continuing the service, she inoculated no more.  I was myself subjected to the process.  And I suffered from so severe an attack of the malady that I bore the traces of it for many years, as did thousands of other people in my younger days.  And now the visitations of the foul plague are so rare that the present generation hardly knows what "pock-marked" means.

    The immunity enjoyed in our day is attributed to vaccination; but vaccination is so curious and out-of-course a process that large numbers of good folks, not understanding the mystery, have an incurable prejudice against it.  Here I may record another fact within my own experience.  A baby of a few months old suffered from a horrible eruption.  For many months the poor mother could not fondle it—could hardly touch it, in fact, except to wash and poultice it.  For weeks and weeks, indeed, the little sufferer had to be carried about on a pillow.  "Ah!" said the neighbours, when they saw it, "that comes of vaccination."  But the infant had not been vaccinated at all.  If it had been, the mother herself, I daresay, would have accepted the same conclusion; for whatever follows vaccination is generally put down as the result of vaccination, whereas, as in the case I have mentioned, there are certain obscure ailments that attack children under all circumstances whatsoever.

    The ravages of small-pox were so conspicuous on the faces of the people in the thirties and forties that one could not pass through the streets of our towns without seeing somebody or other who had been disfigured by the disease.  A Newcastle magistrate, Mr. John Cameron Swan, when a case of so-called "conscientious objection" (which is often only another name far pure prejudice and ignorance) came before him in 1899, remarked that he remembered the time "when every third or fourth person one met in the street was marked with small-pox."  My own recollections coincide, if not exactly, at all events generally, with Mr. Swan's, as must those of all who have reached or passed the age of three score and ten.  The late Lloyd Jones, well-known throughout the country as a lecturer on social and political subjects, records that the one thing which struck him, when he revisited his native town of Bandon after many years' absence, was the disappearance of pock-marked people from the streets.  Testimony to much the same effect is borne by William Lovett, one of the originators of the Chartist movement.  Mr. Lovett, who was born at Newlyn, Cornwall, in 1800, tells us in his autobiography that he caught the foul disorder from a little girl who, her "face and arms still thickly beset with the dark-scabbed pustules," was brought into the school he was attending.  "So terrible were the ravages of small-pox at that period," he writes of the first decade of the nineteenth century, "that I can vividly remember the number of seamed and scarred faces among my school-fellows.  Vaccination had not been introduced into our town, though inoculation was occasionally resorted to; but it was looked upon as sinful and a doubting of Providence, although about one in every fourteen persons born died from the effects of the disease."

    Statistics of mortality are alleged to bear out the impressions of observers and the testimony of medical men.  According to a little pamphlet written by Mrs. Ernest Hart in 1896, and published in the same year by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, small-pox was so terrible a plague in the last century that it killed three thousand people every year out of a million of the population.  "Out of every hundred children born, ninety caught the small-pox and one-sixth of them died, and scarcely anybody grew up without having had it."  Mrs. Hart remarks further that the deaths per million of the population after vaccination had been introduced fell to 600 per annum; that after Parliament had granted funds to make vaccination gratuitous, though not obligatory, the deaths fell to 305; that after vaccination had been made obligatory, but was not efficiently enforced, the deaths fell to 223; and, finally, that between 1872 and 1891, when the compulsory clauses of the Vaccination Acts were more strictly carried out, the deaths fell to 89.  "The population of England and Ireland," says Mrs. Hart, "now numbers thirty million, and there would at the present time be a probable annual death-rate of about ninety thousand from small-pox if it were not for vaccination."  Facts and figures to the same purport were quoted by Dr. Henry W. Newton at a Medical Congress in Newcastle.  "Wherever vaccination was adopted," he said, "small-pox had been excluded, as was illustrated in the case of Germany and Austria.  In Spain there were no vaccination laws in force.  During the year 1889, there died from small-pox in the province of Almeria 3,080 per million, in Murcia 2,070, in Cordova 1,400, in Malaga 1,340, in Cadiz 1,330.  For the same year the death-rate in protected Germany was four per million."  Professor Corfield at the same Congress warned "those who were foolish enough not to accept the advantages offered by vaccination" that they "would gradually perish by one of the most loathsome diseases that had ever afflicted the world."

    It was an outbreak of an epidemic of small-pox in the city of Gloucester that elicited the warning of Professor Corfield.  That outbreak, it was alleged, was the result of the neglect of vaccination.  Here we have a case of a prophet not being honoured in his own country; for Edward Jenner, the discoverer of vaccination, was a member of an old Gloucestershire family.  Born at Berkeley, a few miles from the city in one direction, Dr. Jenner practised medicine for many years at Cheltenham, a few miles from the city in another direction.  The local connection is further strengthened by the circumstance that another Cheltenham physician, Dr. Barron, was the biographer of Jenner.  But the fatal experience of the inhabitants of Gloucester has failed to remove the popular prejudice and ignorance on the subject, since Parliament itself, bowing to popular clamour, has decreed that the laws of vaccination, no matter what the consequences to the public health may be, shall no longer be enforced where the parents of children allege or fancy that they have "conscientious objections to the practice."  The folly of placing the welfare of the community at the mercy of individual caprice would perhaps be realised too late if the awful horrors of a loathsome complaint should show themselves at the beginning of the new as they did at the beginning of the old century.



SMALL events as much as great may indicate the condition of life in the days that are gone.  Nor may they be altogether lacking in interest even if they have no bearing on the conditions of life at all.  The small events that are now going to be grouped together, without any distinct connection between them, will only serve such a purpose as the indulgent reader may choose for himself.

    The coronation of Queen Victoria lives in my memory, from the illuminations which marked the rejoicings in our town.  The well-to-do houses, the lights in the windows, the wheelbarrow by which I was standing, are all as fresh as ever.  The long line of houses, built of one pattern, were in a fashionable quarter; and the windows, being of the same size, contained of course the same number of panes.  Plate glass was at that time either unknown or but little used.  It had not at any rate found its way into domestic architecture.  Every window, therefore, contained sixteen or twenty squares.  And each square was furnished with a candle.  The effect of the burning candles, so regularly disposed, so uniformly bright, and so many thousands in number, was almost entrancing.  I had never seen anything so beautiful before, and I am not sure that I have ever seen anything in the way of illuminations so really effective since.

    An indistinct impression of a dark object floating and flapping in the sky, causing consternation and wonderment, crosses my mental vision.  It was an air balloon, cast adrift by an aeronaut who had descended in a parachute.  There had happened just before a fatal accident to another aeronaut who had attempted the same feat from Vauxhall Gardens, London.  The unfortunate adventurer was named Cocking.  Cocking's fate, however, did not deter a rival balloonist named Hampton from desiring to follow his example.  Hampton's ascent took place in 1838 from the Montpellier Gardens, Cheltenham.  But the local magistrates, while assenting to the ascent in a captive balloon, forbad the descent in the manner projected.  Hampton, however, defied the authorities, cut himself loose from the earth, and made, as the local records say, "one of the most successful parachute descents in England."  The exploit was deemed a world's wonder in an age that had not seen the far more hazardous and sensational leaps from the clouds of the present day.  Not long before Mr. Hampton performed his daring feat, Mr. Green, another famous aeronaut, ascended from the Montpellier Gardens in the "great Nassau balloon."  Mr. Green was accompanied by Mr. Rush, the American Minister in London, and the balloon travelled a distance of ninety miles in three hours.  There was much rivalry between the two principal spas in the town—the Montpellier and the Pittville, the Old Wells having fallen out of the running.  The proprietor of the Pittville establishment announced a balloon ascent too.  But as pipes were not laid down to the more distant gardens, it was resolved to inflate the balloon at the gas-works, remove it to the spa grounds, and there tether it till the time for its ascension arrived.  Crowds of small boys were early astir to witness the removal.  A gang of men held the balloon captive, while the aeronaut directed operations from the car.  The work of transporting the ponderous sphere on a windy morning through the narrow streets of the town was exciting and difficult.  It furnished, however, as I recollect, immense enjoyment to the small boys.  Unfortunately, after escaping many perils, the balloon was wrecked near St. Paul's Church, before it had performed half its journey to Pittville Gardens.  Collision with a chimney stack caused a great rent, and the trouble and labour that had been spent were lost.  Night-capped heads protruded from every window along the route, as the shouts of the crowd awoke the sleeping inhabitants.  When the collapse occurred, loud were the cries of the outsiders to close the windows lest the escaping gas should in some way cause an explosion.  There was no further attempt in my time to make a balloon ascent from Pittville.

    Churches were plentiful in Cheltenham, and chapels were fairly numerous.  Other places of faith, and emotion were also in evidence.  There was much talk of Mormonism among the poor in the thirties and forties.  Indeed, one heard now and again of bands of converts—Latter-Day Saints was the name they assumed—migrating to the sacred city that had been founded near the Great Salt Lake.  But the movement received a considerable check when the leader of the sect was transported for robbing a firm of jewellers.  Much commotion was caused about the same time when a young fellow who called himself Shiloh, and proclaimed himself a prophet, appeared in the town.  Shiloh's career, however, owing to the disturbances his mad antics provoked, was cut short by the police. [14]  Worse disturbances happened when, in 1850, the Pope announced the establishment of a Catholic hierarchy in England.  A public meeting was held in the Town Hall to protest against "Papal Aggression."  Measures were taken later to burn the Pope and Cardinals in effigy.  The effigies were exhibited in a tailor's shop window, and many tons of coal and loads of faggots were purchased for the great bonfire.  So intense was the excitement and so great the apprehension of riot there from that the magistrates issued a notice forbidding the proceedings.  The mob, however, not to be defrauded of its entertainment, attempted to set fire to the Catholic Chapel, tore down the railings in front of it, and broke open the premises of several Catholic tradesmen.  Hundreds of special constables having been sworn in next day, no renewal of the row occurred.

    Spiritualism, which has become a sort of religion in these days, was practically unknown in the first half of last century.  It began with table-rapping.  I was invited to one of the earliest performances—the exponents were strangers to the town—but, unfortunately, the tables wouldn't rap a rap.  About the same time clairvoyants could be consulted by fashionable people for a fashionable fee.  Hypnotism and thought-reading were not familiar names till long afterwards.  But mesmerism, which seemed to be akin to both, was quite a common topic of discussion.  It was discussed at our debating class.  There I became intimate with a family which had the gift or faculty of mesmerism to a remarkable degree.  The father was an ordinary stonemason, while his children were engaged in various occupations of a humble character.  I remember one night going to the house of my friends to witness some experiments.  It should be said that no member of the family made any public display of the strange powers most of them possessed, though, of course, in private circles it was well known that the father, sons, and daughters were addicted to mesmerie practices.  On the occasion to which I allude I was accompanied by a mutual friend of the Winters family.  The eldest daughter, a girl of my own age, was mesmerised by the father, much in the same manner as people are now supposed to be hypnotised.  When in the mesmeric state, with her eyes completely closed, she went about the house in a methodical way, poking the fire, setting the chairs to rights, and doing such other things as she was accustomed to do in her waking condition.  Afterwards I held the girl's eyes, while the other visitor produced from his pocket a book she had never seen—a copy of Collins's poems—which was opened at random, and the verses on the open page of which she read as distinctly as if she could see them, though I am quite sure, from the manner in which I held her eyes, that she could not possibly see anything at all.  My companion then held the girl's eyes, while I drew from my pocket some scraps of paper on which I had written a few exercises in French and English, the writing never having been seen by anybody but myself.  The English part of these exercises was read without the least difficulty; but when she came to the other she quietly remarked, "Oh, that's French; I can't read French."  I offer no explanation of the phenomenon; I merely put it on record.

    Mesmerists and spiritualists alike have been denounced as quacks and charlatans.  Two names are most prominently associated in England with the supposed exposure of spiritualistic tricks—those of Messrs. Maskelyne and Cooke.  Both belonged to Cheltenham.  One was an innkeeper's son apprenticed to a watchmaker; the other was as poor a lad as any in the town, with no relative but his mother.  Cooke and Maskelyne, brought together as young men, commenced business as conjurors, Mr. Maskelyne being, as he still is, the inventive genius and leading member of the firm.  Before establishing themselves in London, where for many unbroken years their entertainments have nightly drawn appreciative audiences to the Egyptian Hall, they amused and bewildered the country folks in the small towns and villages around Cheltenham.  And hereby hangs a tale.

    A Revising Barrister is holding his court at Cheltenham.  The Tory party is represented by its legal agent—Mr. Frederick Stroud, author of the elaborate "Judicial Dictionary" which bears his name, now Recorder of Tewkesbury, a dear friend of my youth and ever since.  A vote is claimed for Mr. Cooke by the Liberals; but objection is taken by the Tories on the ground that the house for which the vote is claimed is rented for the claimant's mother, that the claimant himself does not reside in Cheltenham at all, and that consequently he is disqualified by reason of non-residence.  "What is Cooke?" asks the Revising Barrister.  "A conjuror," replies Stroud.  "Where does he live?"  "Well, your Honour, he lives a wandering life—here to-day and gone to-morrow."  "Oh! what the law in old times called a vagabond, then."  "Precisely, your Honour—a vagabond."  The vote is disallowed.

    Years elapse.  Maskelyne and Cooke are drawing crowded audiences to the Egyptian Hall.  The principal attraction is the exposure of what the conjurors call the tricks and frauds of spiritualistic mediums—the Davenport Brothers, the Fays, Dr. Slade, and others.  There is a cabinet on the stage.  The two performers, securely tied with ropes, take their places inside the cabinet, and a member of the audience is invited to take a seat beside them, so as to make sure that they can obtain no help from any quarter.  The moment the door of the cabinet is closed the "manifestations" begin—that is to say, the usual noises are heard within, the ringing of bells, the beating of tambourines, etc. (This is the thing the Davenport Brothers did, as they said, with the aid of spirits from another world.)  Mr. Stroud, happening to be in London, sends in his card to the entertainers.  They, delighted to see an old acquaintance, assign him one of the best seats in the house.  The cabinet performance is about to be given.  Maskelyne and Cooke are tightly bound, and an invitation is offered to anybody in the audience to come and see fair play.  Mr. Stroud is inquisitive, and volunteers.  As he is seen advancing over the stage, Maskelyne whispers to Cooke, "Here's Stroud coming.  Let's pay him out for that vagabond business."  All forgetful of his delinquency, and ignorant of the sudden conspiracy against him, Mr. Stroud greets his friends and takes his seat in the cabinet beside them.  The door is shut; there is total darkness; and then—the band begins to play.  Mr. Stroud sees nothing; but he hears and feels a great deal more than he had bargained for.  "A vagabond, am I?" he hears Cooke exclaiming as he feels his ribs punched, his back slapped, his head tumbled and touzled by both performers.  "For God's sake, Cooke, drop it, or we shall have the show down," he cries as he rolls about on his seat.  "I've had my turn now," says Cooke, as he gives his friend a parting tickle.  The shouts and shrieks of laughter are heard by the people in front, who wonder what in the world is taking place inside the cabinet.  Suddenly the doors are thrown open.  Maskelyne and Cooke are seen released from their bonds, while the lawyer wears an amused, but somewhat bewildered smile.  The performance brought down the house.

    If there be any moral to the story, it is this—that it never pays to play jokes with a conjuror, unless, like the Recorder of Tewkesbury, you are prepared to join in the laugh at the finish,



MURDERS and crimes of all sorts, even though the bulk of the people could not read about them themselves, were the subjects of most absorbing interest to young folks and old "in the days when we went gipsying, a long time ago."  Terrible was the impression produced by Greenacre's monstrous villainy.  Somehow I formed the notion that a working man who used regularly to pass our door bore a resemblance to the murderer.  And I never saw this poor man without shuddering, and even sometimes running away to hide myself.  The Greenacre sensation was, however, eclipsed by that which the later crimes of the Mannings and of James Bloomfield Rush created—crimes which were, in their turn, eclipsed in tragic interest by the poisonings at Rugeley, the pathetic misdeed of Madeleine Smith, and the mysterious fratricide of Constance Kent.

    Homicides were probably fewer, but executions were more common, at the beginning than at the end of the century.  Men and women were hung for almost trivial offences—hung in batches, too, after almost every assize.  My grandmother used to talk of five or six poachers being hung together in front of Gloucester gaol.  Townsend, the noted Bow Street runner, giving evidence before a Committee of the House of Commons in 1816, testified to these grim facts:—"We never had an execution wherein we did not grace that unfortunate gibbet at the Old Bailey with less than ten, twelve, sixteen, or twenty wretches—I may say forty, for in the year 1783, when Serjeant Adair was Recorder, there were forty hanged at two executions."  The gaoler of Newgate, being asked by the Recorder a few years later how many could be executed at one time on a new gallows, complacently replied: "Well your worship, we can hang twelve upon a stretch, but we can't hang more than ten comfortably." The hangings in those days, and till long after, were always done in the open, the contention being that the gallows, like the gibbet, was a great "moral teacher."  I happened to be passing Newgate Street a few minutes after nine o'clock one morning in 1857.  Suddenly the street was filled with the most villainous-looking characters I ever saw in a single crowd.  They were laughing and shouting and jostling each other as they hurried along—a great stream of gaol-birds.  Whence had they come?  Enquiries elicited the information that they had just been enjoying an execution—fresh from the teaching of the gallows.  Similar spectacles drew similar crowds to the county gaols all over the country.

    We in Cheltenham always knew when Calcraft had been at work from the cries of the dealers in patter literature.  Our local Catnach was Thomas Willey, a printer of ballads and broadsheets.  Mr. Willey was always ready with a "last dying speech" for every criminal who was executed at Gloucester.  It was generally the same speech, altered to suit the name and circumstances of the new culprit; and it was invariably adorned with a ghastly woodcut, showing the figure of a man or a woman, as the case might be, dangling from a gallows.  The passage leading to Willey's printing office was crowded on the morning of an execution with an astonishing collection of ragamuffins and tatterdemalions, greasy, grimy, and verminous.  Soon they were bawling their doleful wares all over the town.  Where they came from was as much a mystery to the inhabitants as whither they disappeared when the last dying speech had been sold.  But penny papers and recognised reporters drove the flying stationers from the streets.  Marwood by this time had succeeded Calcraft—Marwood, who told a party of pressmen who had met to compliment him that he should die happy when he had hung a reporter!  Thomas Willey, by the way, was succeeded by his grandson, Thomas Hailing, and Thomas Hailing in after years made the old office famous for some of the most artistic printing ever done in England.

    There were other sensational trials besides those of murderers.  One of these occurred at Gloucester Assizes in 1853.  But I must go back a few years earlier—to 1847 or 1848.  It was the period of the dawn of youthful enthusiasm for all sorts of things—useful or useless knowledge among others.  I had joined an elocution class, held under the Baptist Chapel mentioned in a previous chapter.  The class was a complete fiasco, because the teacher was a charlatan.  The man called himself Dr. Smyth, wore a shabby-genteel cloak, and put on pompous airs.  It was evident from the first that he knew little or nothing about the art he undertook to teach, and so it came to pass that the committee of the society to which the class was attached gave him his dismissal.  Instead of teaching the youngsters who attended his prelections anything about the proper method of reading and reciting, he occupied their attention by telling stories about himself.  One of these was intended, he remarked, to illustrate the doctrine he held, that children should be addressed as if they were grownup people, because, if so addressed, they would soon lose their baby ways.  The story was precisely similar to one which is, no doubt falsely, ascribed to Dr. Johnson.  Dr. Smyth, so he told us, was driving towards Bristol, when a woman with a child asked him for a lift.  Consent was given on the understanding that no baby-talk should be used.  In the course of the journey, however, the mother forgot this condition, and said something about "Georgy-porgy getting a ridey-pidey."  Down, observed the professor of elocution, the mother and her child had to get, making their way to Bristol as best they could without his help.  A still more extraordinary doctrine was set forth by the reputed Dr. Smyth—the doctrine that sleep was not only unnecessary, but unnatural.  Cattle never slept, he declared, for he had spent night after night in the fields watching them!

    The professor of elocution, dismissed at Cheltenham, turned up in a new character at Gloucester Assizes a few years later.  Sir Hugh Smyth, of Ashton Court, near Bristol, had died without direct issue, leaving an estate of the annual value of £20,000.  A claim to the property was set up by a person who alleged that he was the son of the late baronet, that the secret of his birth had long been kept from him, and that he had commenced proceedings for the purpose of acquiring his real position in life.  Mr. Bovill, afterwards Chief Justice of Common Pleas, was counsel for the claimant when the case was entered at Gloucester.  The claimant, in the course of his evidence, and in proof of his claim, produced some jewelry which he declared had belonged to old members of the Smyth family.  The crisis in the trial came when Sir Frederick Thesiger, who appeared for the defence, asked the witness if he knew the name of a certain jeweller in London.  It was the name of a jeweller who had manufactured for the claimant the very articles in question!  The witness was confounded, his counsel threw up their briefs, and the Court ordered him to be taken into custody.  Tried afterwards for perjury and forgery, the pretended Sir Richard Smyth, who was not a Smyth at all, but a certain Thomas Provis, son of a Somersetshire labourer, was sentenced to twenty years' transportation.  I believe he died about twelve months after his conviction.  But the Dr. Smyth who professed to teach elocution, and the Tom Provis who tried to filch an estate, were one and the same person.  Augustus Hare states in his autobiography that Provis's wife, "a daughter of De Wint the artist, had already ordered a carriage, in which she was to make a triumphal entry into Bristol, when the cause suddenly collapsed."

    A more extraordinary case than even that of Tom Provis occupied the attention of the people of Cheltenham for many years.  The peace and comfort of a reputable family were utterly wrecked and destroyed by the pertinacity of an unscrupulous barrister.  A British admiral, Sir Robert Tristram Ricketts, Bart., died at his residence, The Elms, in 1842.  Soon after his death, Mr. Augustus Newton, who had married one of his daughters, commenced proceedings which lasted from that time till 1849, and indeed were not finally concluded till 1861. Mr. Newton began operations in the magistrates' court.  There he charged Lady Ricketts, the widow of the admiral, Dr. Thomas Wright, the eminent physician and geologist previously mentioned, who had married another of the admiral's daughters, and Mr. J. C. Straford, the family solicitor, with forging the admiral's will.  The prosecutor occupied several days in ventilating insinuations of forgery, fraud, conspiracy, cruelty, and murder against the unfortunate accused.  Not a tittle of evidence being produced to support the accusations, the magistrates dismissed the case without calling upon the prisoners (for they had all been apprehended) for their defence.  A few days later, the solicitor was presented with an address of respect and sympathy, signed by nearly every professional man in the town.  But Mr. Newton was not dismayed.  Application was made for a warrant to apprehend the proprietors of a newspaper, the Cheltenham Examiner, that had commented on the previous proceedings; but again the magistrates refused to comply.

    Next year indictments were preferred at Gloucester Assizes against Lady Ricketts and others for perjury and conspiracy, and against the newspaper proprietors for libel.  Both actions failed, the grand jury in the former case unanimously declaring that "there was not the shadow of a shade of evidence in support of the charge."  Mr. Newton now transferred his operations to London.  Poor Lady Ricketts was arrested and dragged before the magistrates at Guildhall.  The case was dismissed here also, the bench expressing "deep regret " that so base and baseless a charge should have been made.  We next heard of Mr. Newton being a prisoner himself—a prisoner in Gloucester Gaol under the Insolvent Debtors Act.  Other actions were instituted in 1844, the principal being a suit for £10,000 damages before the Court of Common Pleas at Westminster against the proprietors of the Examiner.

    Many of the most prominent lawyers of the day were engaged in the affair, including Mr. Cockburn, afterwards Lord Chief Justice Cockburn, and Mr. Fitzroy Kelly, afterwards Chief Baron Kelly.  Again was the pertinacious prosecutor foiled, though he never paid a single penny of the costs of the defence which he was ordered to defray.  Then ensued actions against the High Sheriff of Gloucester, against the Sheriff's officers, and against the solicitor to the newspaper proprietors.  Two further actions against the Examiner were tried in 1847, making six in all.  Mr. Straford in the same year was indicted on the old charge, and with the old result, in the Court of Queen's Bench.  Two years later, the judgment of the Prerogative Court, accompanied by indignant animadversions on the conduct of the opposing parties, established the validity of the admiral's will.  Although the prosecutor was subsequently disbarred for unprofessional practices, the end of his outrageous proceedings was not reached till the appeal case, "Newton v. Sir Cornwallis Ricketts," was dismissed by the House of Lords in 1861.

    The newspaper which had suffered so much from the attentions of Mr. Newton remarked at the close of the case in 1849 that "those who are inexperienced in the harassments of litigation know nothing of the vast amount of wrong and persecution which may be inflicted under colour of the law."  For a period of seven years the unhappy family of Sir Robert Ricketts and its legal adviser were "tortured by the most cunning devices, subjected to the most harassing disquiet of mind and body, and mulcted in legal expense which of itself swells into a fortune."  It is lamentable that the forms of law should permit the perpetration of so much cruelty and mischief.  But Lady Ricketts, who survived her trials and miseries for two years, was fortunate in one respect.  The case against her was not taken up by the populace; nor did noblemen and members of Parliament provide her pursuers with vast sums to assist the persecution: otherwise Augustus Newton might have become as great a figure in the annals of chicane as Arthur Orton himself.  The butcher of Wapping was so much the hero of the hour that it was almost dangerous to doubt the truth of his story.  And this reminds me of an incident which shows how some of the humbler classes looked at the Claimant's claim.  The time was in the crisis of the case, when Orton, being under cross-examination by Mr. Coleridge, was wriggling and frizzling on a moral gridiron.  I was travelling in a third-class carriage between Cheltenham and Tewkesbury.  Enter a labouring man in fustian.  "How is Sir Roger gettin' on now?" he asked.  "Oh, very badly," I replied, looking up from a newspaper.  "Well," continued the labouring man, "it wud be a pity now, wudn't it, if he wus to lose the estate after all the trouble he's bin at to get un?"

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11.     The "enthusiastic disciple" was Mr. John Lea, a gentleman of independent means, who, when he died in 1899, was described as "probably the oldest stenographer in the kingdom."

12.     While these pages were going through the press, I read with great sorrow of the death of Henry Solly.  This venerable friend of my youth died in March, 1903, at the residence of his son-in-law, the Rev, P. H. Wicksteed.

13.    Mr. Foxton was also, I think, the author of another work of note, "The Gospel according to Mrs. Grundy." "Popular Christianity" was published by John Chapman along with Froude's "Phases of Faith," and Newman's "Soul, its Sorrows, and its Aspirations."  It is recorded in the "Life of Lord Tennyson" that Mr. Foxton had been "Carlyle's companion and caretaker during a journey on the Continent."  I was personally grateful to the reverend gentleman, because he had encouragingly written on the manuscript of the essay which gained the first prize—"The author will have an admirable style when he has written more?"  When a year or so later some of us had plunged into the great democratic whirlpool, we had the temerity and conceit to approach Mr. Foxton, he being, as we knew, a scholar of advanced ideas, with the view of asking him to join our movement!  We were kindly received, attentively heard, and placed in a row with our faces to the light, so that we could be seen to the best advantage.  Mr. Foxton did not despise us because we were young and audacious; but he did not join our movement.

14.    This extraordinary fanatic, who came from America and attracted immense crowds by throwing handfuls of half-dollars among them, called himself Ecce Homo also, declared himself to be Christ, dressed himself in a white robe, and claimed to have been the cause of the potato blight!  A Chartist meeting in Sandford Fields, addressed by Ernest Jones and R. G. Gammage, attracted an enormous multitude, mainly because a report had been circulated that Shiloh was to take the chair!



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