There was an unbending, too, when we used to sing together, in my case very tunelessly. I had inherited a plentiful lack of musical genius from my Mother, who had neither ear nor voice, and who had said, in the course of her last illness, 'I shall sing His praise, at length, in strains I never could master here below'. My Father, on the other hand, had some knowledge of the principles of vocal music, although not, I am afraid, much taste. He had at least great fondness for singing hymns, in the manner then popular with the Evangelicals, very loudly, and so slowly that I used to count how many words I could read silently, between one syllable of the singing and another. My lack of skill did not prevent me from being zealous at these vocal exercises, and my Father and I used to sing lustily together. The Wesleys, Charlotte Elliott ('Just as I am, without one plea'), and James Montgomery ('Forever with the Lord') represented his predilection in hymnology. I acquiesced, although that would not have been my independent choice. These represented the devotional verse which made its direct appeal to the evangelical mind, and served in those 'Puseyite' days to counteract the High Church poetry founded on The Christian Year. Of that famous volume I never met with a copy until I was grown up, and equally unknown in our circle were the hymns of Newman, Faber and Neale.
It was my Father's plan from the first to keep me entirely ignorant of the poetry of the High Church, which deeply offended his Calvinism; he thought that religious truth could be sucked in, like mother's milk, from hymns which were godly and sound, and yet correctly versified; and I was therefore carefully trained in this direction from an early date. But my spirit had rebelled against some of these hymns, especially against those written--a mighty multitude--by Horatius Bonar; naughtily refusing to read Bonar's 'I heard the voice of Jesus say' to my Mother in our Pimlico lodgings. A secret hostility to this particular form of effusion was already, at the age of seven, beginning to define itself in my brain, side by side with an unctuous infantile conformity.
I find a difficulty in recalling the precise nature of the religious instruction which my Father gave me at this time. It was incessant, and it was founded on the close inspection of the Bible, particularly of the epistles of the New Testament. This summer, as my eighth year advanced, we read the 'Epistle to the Hebrews', with very great deliberation, stopping every moment, that my Father might expound it, verse by verse. The extraordinary beauty of the language--for instance, the matchless cadences and images of the first chapter--made a certain impression upon my imagination, and were (I think) my earliest initiation into the magic of literature. I was incapable of defining what I felt, but I certainly had a grip in the throat, which was in its essence a purely aesthetic emotion, when my Father read, in his pure, large, ringing voice, such passages as 'The heavens are the works of Thy hands. They shall perish, but Thou remainest, and they all shall wax old as doth a garment, and as a venture shah Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed; but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail.' But the dialectic parts of the Epistle puzzled and confused me. Such metaphysical ideas as 'laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works' and 'crucifying the Son of God afresh' were not successfully brought down to the level of my understanding.
My Father's religious teaching to me was almost exclusively doctrinal. He did not observe the value of negative education, that is to say, of leaving Nature alone to fill up the gaps which it is her design to deal with at a later and riper date. He did not, even, satisfy himself with those moral injunctions which should form the basis of infantile discipline. He was in a tremendous hurry to push on my spiritual growth, and he fed me with theological meat which it was impossible for me to digest. Some glimmer of a suspicion that he was sailing on the wrong tack must, I should suppose, have broken in upon him when we had reached the eighth and ninth chapters of Hebrews, where, addressing readers who had been brought up under the Jewish dispensation, and had the formalities of the Law of Moses in their very blood, the apostle battles with their dangerous conservatism. It is a very noble piece of spiritual casuistry, but it is signally unfitted for the comprehension of a child. Suddenly by my flushing up with anger and saying, ' Oh how I do hate that Law,' my Father perceived, and paused in amazement to perceive, that I took the Law to be a person of malignant temper from whose cruel bondage, and from whose intolerable tyranny and unfairness, some excellent person was crying out to be delivered. I wished to hit Law with my fist, for being so mean and unreasonable.
Upon this, of course, it was necessary to reopen the whole line of exposition. My Father, without realizing it, had been talking on his own level, not on mine, and now he condescended to me. But without very great success. The melodious language, the divine forensic audacities, the magnificent ebb and flow of argument which make the 'Epistle to the Hebrews' such a miracle, were far and away beyond my reach, and they only bewildered me. Some evangelical children of my generation, I understand, were brought up on a work called 'Line upon Line: Here a Little, and there a Little'. My Father's ambition would not submit to anything suggested by such a title as that, and he committed, from his own point of view, a fatal mistake when he sought to build spires and battlements without having been at the pains to settle a foundation beneath them.
We were not always reading the 'Epistle to the Hebrews', however; not always was my flesh being made to creep by having it insisted upon that 'almost all things are by the Law purged with blood, and without blood is no remission of sin'. In our lighter moods, we turned to the 'Book of Revelation', and chased the phantom of Popery through its fuliginous pages. My Father, I think, missed my Mother's company almost more acutely in his researches into prophecy than in anything else. This had been their unceasing recreation, and no third person could possibly follow the curious path which they had hewn for themselves through this jungle of symbols. But, more and more, my Father persuaded himself that I, too, was initiated,, and by degrees I was made to share in all his speculations and interpretations.
Hand in hand we investigated the number of the Beast, which number is six hundred three score and six. Hand in hand we inspected the nations, to see whether they had the mark of Babylon in their foreheads. Hand in hand we watched the spirits of devils gathering the kings of the earth into the place which is called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. Our unity in these excursions was so delightful, that my Father was lulled in any suspicion he might have formed that I did not quite understand what it was all about. Nor could he have desired a pupil more docile or more ardent than I was in my flaming denunciations of the Papacy.
If there was one institution more than another which, at this early stage of my history, I loathed and feared, it was what we invariably spoke of as 'the so-called Church of Rome'. In later years, I have met with stout Protestants, gallant 'Down-with-the- Pope' men from County Antrim, and ladies who see the hand of the Jesuits in every public and private misfortune. It is the habit of a loose and indifferent age to consider this dwindling body of enthusiasts with suspicion, and to regard their attitude towards Rome as illiberal. But my own feeling is that they are all too mild, that their denunciations err on the side of the anodyne. I have no longer the slightest wish myself to denounce the Roman communion, but, if it is to be done, I have an idea that the latter-day Protestants do not know how to do it. In Lord Chesterfield's phrase, these anti-Pope men 'don't understand their own silly business'. They make concessions and allowances, they put on gloves to touch the accursed thing.