If we were suddenly transplanted into the world of only fifty years ago, we should be startled and even horror-stricken by the wretchedness to which the step backwards would reintroduce us. It was in the very year of which I am speaking, a year of which my personal memories are still vivid, that Sir James Simpson received the Monthyon prize as a recognition of his discovery of the use of anaesthetics. Can our thoughts embrace the mitigation of human torment which the application of chloroform alone has caused? My early experiences, I confess, made me singularly conscious, at an age when one should know nothing about these things, of that torrent of sorrow and anguish and terror which flows under all footsteps of man. Within my childish conscience, already, some dim inquiry was awake as to the meaning of this mystery of pain--
The floods of the tears meet and gather; The sound of them all grows like thunder; Oh into what bosom, I wonder, Is poured the whole sorrow of years? For Eternity only seems keeping Account of the great human weeping; May God then, the Maker and Father, May He find a place for the tears!
In my Mother's case, the savage treatment did no good; it had to be abandoned, and a day or two before Christmas, while the fruits were piled in the shop-fronts and the butchers were shouting outside their forests of carcases, my Father brought us back in a cab through the streets to Islington, a feeble and languishing company. Our invalid bore the journey fairly well, enjoying the air, and pointing out to me the glittering evidences of the season, but we paid heavily for her little entertainment, since, at her earnest wish the window of the cab having been kept open, she caught a cold, which became, indeed, the technical cause of a death that no applications could now have long delayed.
Yet she lingered with us six weeks more, and during this time I again relapsed, very naturally, into solitude. She now had the care of a practised woman, one of the 'saints' from the Chapel, and I was only permitted to pay brief visits to her bedside. That I might not be kept indoors all day and everyday, a man, also connected with the meeting-house, was paid a trifle to take me out for a walk each morning. This person, who was by turns familiar and truculent, was the object of my intense dislike. Our relations became, in the truest sense, 'forced'; I was obliged to walk by his side, but I held that I had no further responsibility to be agreeable, and after a while I ceased to speak to him, or to answer his remarks. On one occasion, poor dreary man, he met a friend and stopped to chat with him. I considered this act to have dissolved the bond; I skipped lightly from his side, examined several shop-windows which I had been forbidden to look into, made several darts down courts and up passages, and finally, after a delightful morning, returned home, having known my directions perfectly. My official conductor, in a shocking condition of fear, was crouching by the area-rails looking up and down the street. He darted upon me, in a great rage, to know 'what I meant by it?' I drew myself up as tall as I could, hissed 'Blind leader of the blind!' at him, and, with this inappropriate but very effective Parthian shot, slipped into the house.
When it was quite certain that no alleviations and no medical care could prevent, or even any longer postpone the departure of my Mother, I believe that my future conduct became the object of her greatest and her most painful solicitude. She said to my Father that the worst trial of her faith came from the feeling that she was called upon to leave that child whom she had so carefully trained from his earliest infancy for the peculiar service of the Lord, without any knowledge of what his further course would be. In many conversations, she most tenderly and closely urged my Father, who, however, needed no urging, to watch with unceasing care over my spiritual welfare. As she grew nearer her end, it was observed that she became calmer, and less troubled by fears about me. The intensity of her prayers and hopes seemed to have a prevailing force; it would have been a sin to doubt that such supplications, such confidence and devotion, such an emphasis of will, should not be rewarded by an answer from above in the affirmative. She was able, she said, to leave me 'in the hands of her loving Lord', or, on another occasion, 'to the care of her covenant God'.
Although her faith was so strong and simple, my Mother possessed no quality of the mystic. She never pretended to any visionary gifts, believed not at all in dreams or portents, and encouraged nothing in herself or others which was superstitious or fantastic. In order to realize her condition of mind, it is necessary, I think, to accept the view that she had formed a definite conception of the absolute, unmodified and historical veracity, in its direct and obvious sense, of every statement contained within the covers of the Bible. For her, and for my Father, nothing was symbolic, nothing allegorical or allusive in any part of Scripture, except what was, in so many words, proffered as a parable or a picture. Pushing this to its extreme limit, and allowing nothing for the changes of scene or time or race, my parents read injunctions to the Corinthian converts without any suspicion that what was apposite in dealing with half-breed Achaian colonists of the first century might not exactly apply to respectable English men and women of the nineteenth. They took it, text by text, as if no sort of difference existed between the surroundings of Trimalchion's feast and those of a City dinner. Both my parents, I think, were devoid of sympathetic imagination; in my Father, I am sure, it was singularly absent. Hence, although their faith was so strenuous that many persons might have called it fanatical, there was no mysticism about them. They went rather to the opposite extreme, to the cultivation of a rigid and iconoclastic literalness.
This was curiously exemplified in the very lively interest which they both took in what is called 'the interpretation of prophecy', and particularly in unwrapping the dark sayings bound up in the Book of Revelation. In their impartial survey of the Bible, they came to this collection of solemn and splendid visions, sinister and obscure, and they had no intention of allowing these to be merely stimulating to the fancy, or vaguely doctrinal in symbol. When they read of seals broken and of vials poured forth, of the star which was called Wormwood that fell from Heaven, and of men whose hair was as the hair of women and their teeth as the teeth of lions, they did not admit for a moment that these vivid mental pictures were of a poetic character, but they regarded them as positive statements, in guarded language, describing events which were to happen, and could be recognized when they did happen. It was the explanation, the perfectly prosaic and positive explanation, of all these wonders which drew them to study the Habershons and the Newtons whose books they so much enjoyed. They were helped by these guides to recognize in wild Oriental visions direct statements regarding Napoleon III and Pope Pius IX and the King of Piedmont, historic figures which they conceived as foreshadowed, in language which admitted of plain interpretation, under the names of denizens of Babylon and companions of the Wild Beast.
My Father was in the habit of saying, in later years, that no small element in his wedded happiness had been the fact that my Mother and he were of one mind in the interpretation of Sacred Prophecy. Looking back, it appears to me that this unusual mental exercise was almost their only relaxation, and that in their economy it took the place which is taken, in profaner families, by cards or the piano. It was a distraction; it took them completely out of themselves. During those melancholy weeks at Pimlico, I read aloud another work of the same nature as those of Habershon and Jukes, the Horae Apocalyptícae of a Mr Elliott. This was written, I think, in a less disagreeable style, and certainly it was less opaquely obscure to me. My recollection distinctly is that when my Mother could endure nothing else, the arguments of this book took her thoughts away from her pain and lifted her spirits. Elliott saw 'the queenly arrogance of Popery' everywhere, and believed that the very last days of Babylon the Great were came. Lest I say what may be thought extravagant, let me quote what my Father wrote in his diary at the time of my Mother's death. He said that the thought that Rome was doomed (as seemed not impossible in 1857) so affected my Mother that it 'irradiated' her dying hours with an assurance that was like 'the light of the Morning Star, the harbinger of the rising sun'.