Memoirs of a Social Atom (10)

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CHAPTER XLV

"THE CITY OF DREADFUL NIGHT"


WHEN the secretaryship of the Polish Committee became vacant, Mr. Bradlaugh, who was cognisant of my removal to Newcastle, suggested that I should recommend as my successor a young friend of his who lived in his house, and whom I used a few months before to meet every morning at his breakfast table.  The recommendation was effective.  Mr. Bradlaugh's friend was appointed to the office.  I informed him of the duties, handed over all the books and correspondence (including many interesting letters from famous people of the day), and took my leave of London, calling on the way to the North at Manchester and other places for the purpose of consulting with supporters of the Polish cause.  A few weeks later I received a letter from Mr. P. A. Taylor, the treasurer of the committee.  Could I tell him where my successor was to be found?  The new secretary had not been to the office for several days, had left everything in confusion, and had given no indication of his whereabouts.  I could only refer Mr. Taylor to Mr. Bradlaugh.  It transpired afterwards that the neglect of duty was due to a fatal and incurable weakness.  The young man who had so failed in the work he had undertaken to do was the author of "The City of Dreadful Night."

    James Thomson, then and for long afterwards a member of Mr. Bradlaugh's family, was a man of gloomy aspect, manners, and ideas.  Even his smile was sad.  It seemed as if he was suffering from an irrepressible sorrow.  Life to him was not a mission, but a mistake.  Pessimism, a dismal hopelessness, was written on his countenance, which did not otherwise bear evidence of special aptitude or ability.  We were of course on friendly terms, and talked cordially and pleasantly together when we happened to meet.  Beyond this there was no intimacy.  It is possible I should not have understood him if there had been.  I rather fancy that his cynicism was not to my liking, as I know it was not to the liking of some other of his acquaintances.  But I had not at this time any knowledge of that dreadful failing which was eventually the cause of his death.  Once only can I recall a lively passage in his mood and conduct.  A social gathering was being held at the Hall of Science, then one of the centres of the Freethought movement.  It was followed by a dance.  Thomson, I remember, entered with what seemed to me quite unusual spirit into the amusement.  There may have been other occasions when he showed equal sprightliness, but I never saw them.  Mr. Bradlaugh not only found him a home, but, when opportunity offered, employment also.  Paid contributions of his over the initials of B. V., most of them of a more or less pessimistic character, appeared in the National Reformer.  And when at a later period Mr. Bradlaugh had embarked in the commercial business connected with Italian sand, I found the poet installed as chief clerk in his London office.

    Thomson's intimacy with Bradlaugh was begun in Ireland.  Bradlaugh was then a recruit in a regiment of dragoons, and Thomson was a teacher in the garrison school.  Of this early connection particulars were given in the National Reformer at the time that one of the poet's biographies was published:—"We first knew James Thomson in Ballincollig Barracks, Ireland, in 1851, and for many years we were very intimate.  He was a pupil teacher in the garrison school, when we, in the night from nine to eleven or eleven to one, walked 'sentry go' together, he leaving his bed, in defiance of regulations, to make our walk less lonely.  When he left Ballincollig for Chelsea, and then for Jersey, we wrote old-fashioned letters, six, eight, and ten pages, to each other.  His were charming letters.  When, after some ten years, trouble came to him, the writer's home was his, and, with a few severe strainings, the result of one inherited weakness, a close friendship lasted until  1870, and was finally severed in 1874."

    While in Jersey, Thomson became acquainted with another old friend, George Julian Harney.  Thomson was the garrison schoolmaster, and Harney was editing the Jersey Independent.  "The garrison schoolmaster," wrote Harney in 1892, "was a quiet, amiable, somewhat melancholy gentleman.  I had the pleasure of lending him Carlyle's 'Sartor Resartus' and a few other books.  Presently he much more than repaid my small courtesies by sending a few translations of Heine's shorter poems to the Independent."  The incident was only brought to mind many years later when Harney, then in America, read the translations from Heine in a volume of the poet's verses he had received from England.

    Thomson's genius came to be generally recognised only after his melancholy death in 1882, at the age of forty-seven, eight years after the final severance of the Bradlaugh ties.  These years must have been years of misery, for Thomson had then lost the restraining influence of the one great friendship of his life.  It is a question for psychologists how far the earlier recognition of his genius would have saved him from the wreck he made of himself.  The chances are that nothing could have saved him.  One of the first to pay tribute to his poetic merit—the first in literary circles, says the Athenæum—was William Michael Rossetti, who for more than a year (from Feb. 1872, to Nov. 1873) was in correspondence with Thomson on the subject of Shelley and other matters.  Mr. Rossetti's appreciation, however, could not help the poet to a publisher.  And so it happened that the "City of Dreadful Night," the most famous of Thomson's poems, appeared first in instalments in the National Reformer, where I recollect many readers thought that it seemed considerably out of place.  "Though we do not vaunt our judgment of poetry," wrote Mr. Bradlaugh in 1884, "we gave the best evidence of our personal estimate of Thomson's muse by finding place for its insertion here at a date when no other source of publicity availed, save once in Fraser's Magazine, which, however, did not pay its poet."  The poem appeared in the early part of 1874, though it was not till years afterwards that it attracted any sort of general attention.  George Eliot, however, praised it, as did Dante Rossetti and Algernon Swinburne.  But when the author died many biographies were written of him; every scrap that he had ever composed, whether of prose or poetry, was gathered up and printed; and critics and admirers declared that no living poet, except Browning, could be considered his superior.  Poor Thomson was not the only bard who was neglected when he lived and adored when he was dead.  No fate is more pitiable than that of the victim of incurable intemperance.  Thomson's sufferings during his alternate fits of abandonment and remorse must have been terrible.  "The demon of hypochondriasis and all kindred and attendant demons," it was said, "seized him and tore and crushed him in the darkness of his insane phantasy."

    It was almost natural that a love legend should be invented to account for the poet's pessimism and frequent lapses.  One of his biographers expressly states, indeed, that he "lost in his youth the beautiful girl to whom he was engaged."  This, however, was pure fiction.  Mr. Bradlaugh, who knew the facts, explained them thus:—"The armourer-sergeant's daughter (of the 7th Dragoon Guards), who died in Ireland in 1852, was only a little child; and it was not till long after her death, and in his morbid times, that Thomson, little by little, built the poetical romance about her memory."  The "one inherited weakness" about which Mr. Bradlaugh wrote in the same article was the cause of his undoing.  Mr. Bertram Dobell, who issued Thomson's works in four volumes, speaks of the poet's father as having "fallen in the social scale, owing to habits of intemperance"—which habits, according to vague report, brought on imbecility.  And Thomson himself told another of his biographers that "intemperance ran in his family," and that "nearly all the members of it who 'had brains,' especially a gifted aunt of his, fell victims to its power."  It was disease, then, and not love, that led to the poet's downfall.

    The manner of Thomson's death was awful.  Mr. William Sharp tells the sad story in his account of Philip Bourke Marston, prefixed to a collection of Marston's poems in Walter Scott's "Canterbury Poets."  The catastrophe came nearly twenty years after Thomson had misbehaved himself in connection with the Polish Committee.  Marston, who also had had a melancholy career, was one of his friends at that period.  Thomson, who had now included among his excesses the frequent use of opium, had returned from a prolonged visit to the country, "where all had been well with him."  Then for a few weeks his record was almost a blank.  Where he had hidden himself, and under what conditions, we can only imagine.  Afterwards he so far conquered his control as to be able to visit his friend.  Thomson found Marston alone.  "I arrived," writes Mr. Sharp, "late in the afternoon, and found Marston in a state of nervous perturbation.  Thomson was lying down on the bed in the adjoining room.  Stooping, I caught his whispered words to the effect that he was dying: upon which I lit a match, and in the sudden glare beheld his white face on a blood-stained pillow.  He had burst one or more blood-vessels, and the hæmorrhage was dreadful.  Some time had to elapse before anything could be done; but ultimately, with the help of a friend who came in opportunely, poor Thomson was carried downstairs, placed in a cab, and driven to the University Hospital."  He died the next day, a few hours after Sharp and Marston had called to see him in the hospital ward.  It was a tragic ending to a most unhappy life.


 
CHAPTER XLVI

NEWCASTLE IN THE SIXTIES


NEWCASTLE is an ancient town—"aalwis wes an ancient toon, my lord," as one of her old worthies is credited with having said.  But she was more ancient in the sixties than she is now.  The paradox is capable of explanation.  Many of her ancient edifices have since been swept away by the tide of improvement.  The Side and the Sandhill were pictures then.  To-day they are only half-pictures.  Grand old houses, every line and curve a line and curve of beauty, that dated back almost to the "specious times of great Elizabeth," have been replaced by modern buildings—more commodious and durable, no doubt, but infinitely less picturesque and interesting.  This is why I say Newcastle is less ancient now (of course I mean in appearance) than she was when I first had the pleasure of admiring her stately streets.

    Grainger and Dobson had completed their grand work of constructing the new town of Newcastle some time before 1863.  The tide of population, however, had not yet risen to the height the great builder had anticipated.  Clayton Street for the most part was a line of empty shops, showing that the town for the moment had been overbuilt.  The Central Exchange, again, had failed to lure the merchants from the Quayside.  On the other hand, the severe harmony of the architecture of Grey Street—one of the finest streets in the world—had not been broken by tawdry and incongruous defacements.  Nor had Market Street or Shakspeare Street suffered similar mutilations.  But Grainger Street, which then ended at the Bigg Market, had been disfigured by painted images and ugly wooden balconies, followed in later years by gigantic and grotesque letters of vulgar gilt.  The new Town Hall—so called then, though it is a dreadfully disreputable old Town Hall now—had just been built, while some of the houses of Union Street, now covered by the northern end of the municipal abortion, still stood between Pudding Chare and the High Bridge.  There was no Swing Bridge across the Tyne, nor yet any Redheugh Bridge; neither was there any Byker Bridge over the Ouseburn, or any Armstrong Bridge over Jesmond Dene.  The place of the Swing Bridge was occupied by a stone structure of many arches.  And near at hand stood the old Mansion House in the Close, dignified even in decay.  The river front of the Moot Hall had not been spoiled to make a more convenient assize court; but under the very roof of the older Guild Hall fishwives chattered and chaffered and swore.  Two of the ancient towers that once helped to guard the lives and property of the lieges still stood in the sixties—Gunner Tower opposite the Central Station, and the Weaver's Tower on the site of the Public Library.

    Changes in the centre of Newcastle have been considerable, but not nearly so considerable as those in the outskirts, during the period that I have been acquainted with the district.  Forty years ago Maple Street was the limit of the town in one direction, Victoria Square in another, Graingerville in a third, the Ouseburn in a fourth.  Beyond Maple Street there were few houses except along Scotswood Road, where the great Elswick Works were just beginning to be famous.  Away up the hill were open fields to Elswick Hall.  Elswick Lane, bordered by lovely trees which any decent Town Council would have fought tooth and nail to preserve, provided a delightful walk to Benwell, with exquisite views over the Tyne up the Valley of the Derwent.  From Benwell itself there was so sweet a prospect that John Martin is said to have got his idea of the Plains of Heaven from it.  Further up the hill other glorious views were at everybody's command from the West Turnpike, for bright and cheerful hedgerows had not then been supplanted by ugly and repellent brick walls.  Between Gloucester House (otherwise Cabbage Hall) and the Benwell Reservoir there was nothing but the Workhouse and one or two mansions.  Alongside the workhouse grounds a pretty lane gave access to the Nun's Moor.  Beyond Jesmond Church, then called St. Spite's, there were pretty pathways to the Apple Tree Gardens, while beyond Brandling Village there were private roads and lanes through the Friday Fields to Matthew Bank.  Portland Park was a cabbage garden; but the two cemeteries already faced each other, and Martha Major still flourished at the Minories.  Lambert's Leap was much as it was when the incident which gave it its name occurred.  Past the bridge the Tippytoe Bank led down a beautiful ravine to the Washing Tubs and the Ouseburn.  Pandon Dene still retained traces of the loveliness that had inspired a previous generation of local poets.  Over the Ouseburn, Heaton was all fields and farmsteads, while Byker was little more than a row of old-fashioned cottages on each side of Shields Road.  From this brief survey anybody may see how rapidly the "canny toon" has grown since the year 1863.

    Thomas Hedley was then Mayor of Newcastle; John Clayton was Town Clerk; James Hodgson was chairman of the Finance Committee; Thomas Bryson (who was killed with John Mawson and a number of policemen and others in the Town Moor explosion) was Town Surveyor; John Sabbage was Chief Constable; Ralph Dodds, Ralph Park Philipson, Isaac Lowthian Bell, William Lockey Harle, Charles Frederick Hamond, Dr. William Newton, Joseph Cowen, and Joseph Cowen, Jun., were members of the Town Council.  All the members of the Council and all the officials of the Corporation at the period named are now dead, save only Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell and Sir Charles Frederick Hamond.  The former long ago severed his connection with the town, but the latter still takes an active interest in municipal proceedings.  Among the other notable natives and residents at the time were Sir John Fife, Dr. Headlam, Thomas Doubleday, and William Bell Scott.  Fife was a distinguished surgeon and Headlam a distinguished physician, while Doubleday had distinguished himself in literature, and Scott, then master of the School of Design, afterwards won repute in art and poetry.

    Newcastle could not boast of a single public park in 1863.  Jesmond Dene, then recently acquired by Sir William George Armstrong (afterwards famous as Lord Armstrong), was a private pleasaunce, looking from the outside, with its red walks and comparatively bare banks, new and raw and barren.  Mr. Hamond (now Sir Charles Frederick Hamond) must, I think, be credited with the first attempt at park-making.  Part of the Leazes was enclosed; but the difficulty experienced in retaining the water for the lake (there was an old spring well in the enclosure) gave rise for a long time to much satiric banter about Charlie's Hole.  When Christian Allhusen proposed to sell the grounds of Elswick Hall for building sites, an agitation arose for the purchase of the property as a public park.  The scheme was at first defeated in the Town Council, owing to the absurd jealousy of the East End members; building operations were actually begun; but a committee of half a dozen enlightened gentlemen—Joseph Cowen, Thomas Gray, Thomas Forster, William Smith, Thomas Hodgkin, and William Haswell Stephenson—acquired the estate for the purpose of holding it till the Council could be persuaded to change its mind, which it ultimately did.  The circumstance that led to this happy conclusion was the chance of acquiring, through the generosity of Sir William Armstrong, part of the Heaton Hall estate as a park for the East End.  To Heaton Park the same generous donor afterwards added the Armstrong section, and ultimately Jesmond Dene itself.  While these facilities for the public pleasure and enjoyment were being provided, measures were taken to do something of a like kind for the northern end of the town.  The strip of the Town Moor that lay between Brandling Village and the North Road was a sort of Tom Tiddler's ground in the sixties—partly swamp and wholly neglected.  Enclosed and planted, it is now the Brandling Park.  On the other side of the North Road was the old Bull Park.  The Bull Park and a few acres of the Town Moor adjoining, including the reservoir that once supplied the inhabitants with water, were utilised in 1887 for an exhibition to commemorate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria's reign.  When the exhibition was dispersed, the site was converted into a recreation ground.  Some time later another recreation ground was constructed out of a section of the Nun's Moor.  And so it has come to pass that the citizens of Newcastle in the course of thirty or forty years have acquired no fewer than eight capacious parks and pleasure places.  Further, as the indirect outcome of a movement in favour of tree-planting suggested by Robin Goodfellow in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, the Town Moor itself has been completely surrounded by belts of thriving plantations.

    Forty years ago Newcastle as regards many things might have been described as a one-horse town.  The Post Office was located in incommodious premises in the Arcade, with no telegraphs, no telephones, and no parcels delivery as parts of its appurtenances and functions.  The public conveyances were of the most primitive character.  A couple of ramshackle omnibuses ran from Bentinck across the High Level Bridge to Bensham; and a ponderous vehicle plied between the town and Gosforth (then called Bulman Village).  Bicycles were unknown: so were electric lights, electric cars, and electric motors.  Even tramways did not come till many years later.  A few chop-houses and eating-houses supplied the wants of the people who needed substantial refreshments.  A noted black man had established a chop-house in Grey Street; the brothers McCree (another brother, the Rev. George W. McCree, was an active missionary and social reformer in London) announced that their customers "fared sumptuously every day" in the Arcade; and a few humble caterers in the Market and the Bigg Market offered roast and boiled to carriers and country traders.  This was about all there was then in the way of public accommodation for the hungry.  The grills and restaurants and dining-rooms that now flourish in the town are every one of modern growth.

    Board schools there were none; but their places were partially supplied by private adventure academies, while the splendid schools which were afterwards established by Dr. Rutherford in Bath Lane served to educate almost half Newcastle.  Rutherford College, the Medical College, the College of Science, High Schools for Boys and Girls—these came along subsequent to the sixties.  The Grammar School, under Dr. Snape, was situated in Charlotte Square, pending the completion of the new building in Rye Hill.  Bruce's School had not begun to decay, and Erlich's School was almost in its infancy.  And then there were such other educational establishments as the jubilee Schools, the Clergy Jubilee Schools, St. Andrew's Schools, the Orphan House Schools, and Dame Allan's Schools.  Many of these institutions were supported or controlled by the Church or the Denominations.  The Church in the sixties was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Durham, the Bishopric of Newcastle not being formed till some years later.  Clement Moody was vicar of Newcastle, Rowland East vicar of St. Andrew's, Berkeley Addison vicar of Jesmond, Walter Irvine vicar of All Saints, H. W. Wright vicar of St. John's, George Heriot vicar of St. Ann's, Charles Raines vicar of St. Peter's, and Robt. Anchor Thompson master of St. Mary's, Rye Hill.  Mr. Thompson had come with a great reputation, but never did anything particular except quarrel with his bell-ringer and the brethren of the hospital.  Mr. Wright was known as Fanny, and Mr. Irvine as Mary Ann, while Mr. Heriot was the father of two or three handsome daughters, one of whom made an unhappy marriage with Lord Wentworth, son of Byron's Ada.  Many queer or amusing stories were told of Mr. Raines.  One was that he was in the habit of prowling around the stable yards of the neighbourhood in search of rats for his terrier to worry.  But the best was about a game of pool that he was playing with some friends.  As he put down the threepenny pieces when his ball was pocketed, one of the players asked if he was using the collections.  ("Ah," replied the reverend gentleman, "I perceive that you recognise your paltry contributions!"  The Dissenting ministers of the day, at least some of them, were more earnest than the clergy.  The most prominent was Dr. Rutherford, and next to him in prominence and popularity were J. C. Street, H. T. Robjohns, George Stewart, Richard Leitch, J. G. Potter, and Alexander Reid (father of Sir T. Wemyss Reid).  Dr. Hogarth was the Catholic Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle; Monsignor Eyre (afterwards Archbishop of Glasgow) was rector of St. Mary's Cathedral; and Father Aylward was the principal priest at St. Andrew's Chapel, which was down a court off Pilgrim Street, and stood on the site of what is now Worswick Street.

    The fame of no town in England for political alertness and advancement was spread further abroad in the sixties than that of Newcastle. It had been the home of the Northern Political Union, when Charles Attwood, Charles Larkin, Thomas Doubleday, and John Fife thundered against the Tories; and it was then the home of another movement, the Northern Reform League, the leading spirit and spokesmen of which were Joseph Cowen, Jun., R. B. Reed, William Cook, Thomas Gregson, and J. T. Gilmour.  The town at that time was almost invariably the first to make its voice heard when any question of moment, especially any foreign question, demanded the public attention.  The members of Parliament were Thomas Emerson Headlam and Somerset Archibald Beaumont.  Dissatisfaction arose with Mr. Beaumont in 1865 by reason of his attitude towards Parliamentary Reform.  The consequence was an immense requisition to Mr. Joseph Cowen (afterwards Sir Joseph Cowen) to contest the constituency in the Radical interest.  Mr. Cowen was returned at the head of the poll, and Mr. Beaumont, who was defeated, quitted politics and the country.  Newcastle remained Radical or Whig and Radical till the Radicals became intolerant, imperious, arrogant.  Mr. Cowen, Jun., as the result of much pressure, had succeeded his father.  The new member, as he told his constituents on one memorable occasion, was willing to wear the party uniform, but declined to wear the party plush.  And so the Radicals, failing to understand the independence or appreciate the services of Mr. Cowen, prepared themselves the way for the triumphs of a Tory candidate.  Since that time Newcastle has fallen from her high estate in the world of politics.


 
CHAPTER XLVII

PASTIMES IN THE SIXTIES


IF one were in want of a phrase to qualify the beginning of this century, I do not know that a better could be invented than the "age of amusement."  The contrast in this respect between the present time and the period of the sixties is immense.  Most of the pastimes that are now held in greatest favour were absolutely unknown to the general populace forty years ago.  Fancy a world in which there was no football, no tennis, no hockey, no golf, no croquet, no cycling!  Yet such was the benighted condition of England at the time of my first acquaintance with Newcastle.  Winter especially was a sombre season, for then there was really no outdoor pastime for poor people at all except in frosty weather. All the amusements and recreations just enumerated are the growth and invention of less than half a century.  It is still true that life is not all beer and skittles; but it is much more beer and skittles now than it was when our old men were in their prime.  Yet pastimes, though less varied than those of the present day, were not uncommon in the sixties.

    One of the best, which still holds its own as a summer exercise, was cricket.  The old cricket field at the end of what was then called Bath Road, now covered with churches, colleges, and drill halls, was both spacious in extent and convenient of access.  Many a brilliant match, in which Northumbrians did not fail to distinguish themselves, was played and witnessed in the old enclosure.  Unfortunately, interest in what is yet one of the finest of British pastimes went largely out when facilities for pursuing it were lost.  For elderly people, fathers of the city many of them, suitable exercise and recreation were provided at the old Bowling Green in Bath Lane.  The game of bowls, one of the most ancient of English pastimes, had been played in Newcastle from time immemorial.  According to tradition, Charles the First, when a prisoner in Anderson Place, played at bowls with his courtiers and attendants in the Shieldfield, though recent investigations have shown that the game at which he played there was golf.  More authentic is the statement that bowls were a favourite pastime on the Forth, the old playground of the people that was swept away to make room for the Central Station.  Then came new greens—first behind Northumberland Street, and then behind the old walls of the town in Bath Lane.  Before the latter was compelled to give place to Rutherford College, other bowling greens had been made—in Portland Park, in West Parade, in the public pleasure grounds.  A game with a similar name, but totally different in character, was much in vogue among pitmen in the sixties.  It was called bowling, but it should more properly have been-called throwing or pitching, for the balls of earthenware were thrown or pitched, and not bowled at all.  The Town Moor was the chief scene of this recreation.  People who wanted to hear blasphemy in the richest burr of Northumberland had only to attend a bowling match.  If, besides, they wanted to incur the risk of annihilation, they had nothing better to do during a champion match than to touch a ball or allow a ball to touch them in its flight.  When complaints were made of the danger to the ordinary frequenters of the Moor, a special bowling track was laid out for the purposes of the pastime.  Trippet and quoit, elsewhere called knurr and spell, which has since gone entirely out of fashion, was also practised on the Town Moor at the period in question.

    Wrestling was much in favour, too, in the sixties.  The wrestlers had a ground of their own near the Shot Tower.  There two or three days' sport was provided every Easter, when the prizes were sufficiently numerous and valuable to induce athletes from Cumberland and Westmorland to join in the competition.  Sleet and snow, however, were so often the accompaniments of Easter weather that the tournament was postponed to Whitsuntide.  When bad weather pursued the pastime even to Whitsuntide, its patrons and supporters deemed it desirable, not to say necessary, to abandon the tournament altogether.  But the sport that commanded the greatest amount of attention on Tyneside forty years ago was boat-rowing.  Harry Clasper was still to the fore, and Robert Chambers was then in his prime.  Chambers was a man who was sometimes incapable of winning a race, but always incapable of selling one.  For this reason the people never lost faith in the simple, honest oarsman.  There were others, however, in whom the same confidence was not felt.  When a great race was to be rowed, the banks of the Tyne from the High Level to Scotswood Suspension Bridge were crowded with spectators.  Indeed, the factories along the route were all laid idle till the contest was over.  The popularity of the sport continued till the district ceased to produce great rowers.  I think the age of sterility in this respect set in after Renforth's tragic death in Canada.

    As long as Newcastle Races were held on the Town Moor, they constituted a great popular festival.  Many thousands of people went to them, not for the purpose of speculating on the winners, but for the purpose of seeing the spectacle and sharing in the excitement of the crowd.  But when the races were removed to Gosforth, and became part and parcel of a business transaction, this class of patrons ceased to attend them.  My own earliest visits to the races were made when Caller-Ou and Brown Bread were reckoned among the favourites, together with a horse with a Crimean name, Bakhtchisarai, which the populace converted into Back-stitch Sarah or Back-kitchen Sarah.  The sideshows and the drinking tents were at least as attractive as the races themselves.  A pitman from Durham was asked about the events he had seen run.  "Wey," said he, "aa got inte Jerry Jordan's booth, and seed nowt mair."  Among the living curiosities exhibited in those days was a fat woman.  The lady's husband stood at the door of the tent and bawled invitations to the crowd to "come and see the famous Nanny Clark frae Hooden."  This husband himself was the son of a notorious character—"Jack the Deevil"—so called because, when he acquired a small public-house, he astonished and horrified the folks o' Shields by exhibiting his own coffin in the bar.

    And then there was Micky Bent with his sparring booth, the "Pavilion of the Fancy."  It was a treat to listen to Micky, as, standing on a platform at the door, he introduced his pupils and comrades to the public, detailing the victories which each had won in the ring.  Part of the play was, when business was slack, to excite the curiosity of the outsiders.  A friend and myself were two of the outsiders on one occasion.  Micky was expatiating on the exploits of Young Baldwin, the famous Little Bantam from Lancashire (the bull-necked youth, in fighting trim, stood with folded arms beside him), when a challenge rang out from the crowd.  Who was the daring individual?  The answer came that it was Jack Covington.  "Nonsense," cried Micky, as he shaded his eyes to get a better view.  "Divil take me, but it is, though.  Make way there for Jack Covington, the champion of the feather-weights."  Much handshaking on the platform ensued.  And then of course there was an adjournment to the tent, where the Bantam and the champion were to have a pretty "set-to."  And equally of course the party from the platform was followed inside by large numbers of the admiring and now excited crowd.  After each round with the gloves, the proprietor of the booth would be heard crying: "Give 'em a clap, gentlemen, if you think they are deserving of it," he himself setting the example.  So did Micky Bent turn an honest penny, while the hat went round to buy the Bantam a new pair of braces!

    Places of amusement were not very numerous in 1863, though they were no doubt sufficient to satisfy the wants of the population.  There was only one theatre—the Theatre Royal; but there were four or five concert halls.  A photographer named Smith ran the Victoria Hall at the top of Grey Street, and Bagnall and Blakey were the proprietors of the Oxford Hall in the Cloth Market, previously known as "Balmbra's Grand Saloon."  The Grainger Hotel, known as "Donald's," at the corner of Market Street and Grainger Street, was also open as a place of entertainment, and an old circus, standing on the site of the Audit Office of the North-Eastern Railway, had been converted by George Stanley into the Tyne Concert Hall.  One visit to each was sufficient for the Victoria and the Oxford; Donald's I never entered.  Almost all I recollect of either is that Billy Thompson, a fat man with a fund of coarse humour, performed the functions of chairman at the Oxford.  The Tyne Concert Hall, which was the forerunner of the Tyne Theatre, was a long way the best of the variety shows.  Favourites of the period thereat were Ned Corvan, a local songster who is not yet forgotten; Tom Handforth, a negro minstrel who called himself the Black Diamond; and Joe Wilson, the dialect poet who sang many of his own songs—"Geordy, Had the Bairn," the "Row on the Stairs;" and so forth.  The Tyne Theatre, erected at great cost in Westgate, was opened in 1867 under the management of Mr. Stanley.  Its first pantomime, "Ye Lambton Worme," in which Mr. Fred W. Irish played the principal part, was a great success, and for years afterwards all the chief stars in the theatrical firmament flickered and shone in succession on its boards.

    The Theatre Royal, long before and long after 1863, was managed by Mr. E. D. Davis.  Stock companies were the order of the day then.  Among the ladies who were members of these companies the most notable were Emily Cross, Ada Dyas, and Amy Fawsitt.  The latter, after achieving great success as Lady Teazle in London, died miserably in America, betrayed and deserted by the villain she had trusted.  Another favourite season actress was Fanny Addison.  Once she played Juliet with a company of amateurs.  Both Juliet and the audience, I recollect, nearly went into hysterics when Romeo tumbled over the balcony!  No season company was complete during the greater part of Mr. Davis's management without J. Roberts.  "Good old Roberts!" a brother mime wrote of him, "he would play a dozen characters a night, and with the strictest impartiality—making them all alike."  Of course he had a part in every play—now a messenger, anon a first robber, at other times the leader of a mob.  It happened sometimes that he gave a strange turn to the few words he had to utter.  Thus on one occasion, when he had to answer a question by Macbeth, he exclaimed, "'Tis the cry of wimming, good my lord!"  On another occasion, when, as leader of the mob of citizens who thronged the Forum to hear Brutus speak on the murder of Caesar, he had to express the contentment of his comrades, he and the rest of the six supers comprising the "multitude" were heard shouting, "We will be satisfized! let us be satisfized!"  Alas! poor Roberts! one heard of the death of many greater men with more composure than one heard of his.

    The touring system, which came into fashion about the end of the sixties, extinguished the stock company system.  Stars, however, preceded touring companies.  And so one saw at the Royal and the Tyne many of the leading performers of the day—Helen Fawcit, Lydia Thompson, and Mrs. Scott Siddons, Charles Mathews, Joseph Jefferson, and Samuel Phelps.  Lydia Thompson was one of the most popular actresses that ever appeared at the Royal in my time.  Very old playgoers will recollect the enthusiasm which this clever and vivacious lady aroused in 1867.  As a matter of fact, Lydia took the town by storm; almost everybody was talking and some were even raving about her; and the little house in Grey Street was crammed to overflowing every night of her engagement.  It was as a burlesque actress that she was best known—though, for my part, I thought she shone still better in comedy.  The part she played in a charming little piece called "Meg's Diversion" remains in my memory as one of the prettiest triumphs I ever saw on the stage.  Years afterwards Miss Thompson appeared on the same boards in a clever burlesque with Lionel Brough.  The roars of laughter these two produced will not be forgotten by anybody who witnessed their vocal and other antics.  It was a wonderful display, devoid from beginning to end of the smallest suggestion of vulgarity.  Other performances left vivid impressions too.  For example, there was Shiel Barry, whose laugh as the miser Gaspard was as terrific in its way as the wild-cat shrieks of little Robson as Medea.  Then there was Jefferson as Rip Van Winkle—a part he had played so often, I heard him say, that he now and then went through some of the scenes as in a dream, wondering, when he recollected himself, whether he had made any mistakes during the period of forgetfulness.  But the greatest performance of all, to my mind, was Phelps's Sir Pertinax MacSycophant.  It was not acting—it seemed like real life.  It was not Phelps one saw on the stage—it was the vile old hypocrite himself.  If ever a finer thing was done on the boards, I never saw it.

    Critics and admirers of the drama were perhaps more serious in the sixties than they are now.  Three gentlemen—known as the "three K's"—brought exceptional knowledge and intelligence to bear on the tragedies they witnessed.  One was John Kane, then secretary of the Ironworkers' Union; another was John Kirton, a friend of Anderson's and Macready's; and the third was William Kelly, a minor poet of considerable excellence.  Detractors of the drama there might have been then; but none of them could have been as foolish as a relative of Mr. E. D. Davis's, who, when the old manager died in 1887, desired the newspapers to suppress all mention of the fact that he had for twenty or thirty years been the most prominent theatrical personage in Newcastle!


 
CHAPTER XLVIII

NEWCASTLE JOURNALISTS


THE journalists of Newcastle who flourished in the sixties, being many of them masters of the craft, and worthy men besides, deserve a special chapter.

    Richard Welford exchanged journalism for commerce in 1862.   Though I was too late to become his colleague, I was fortunate to become his friend.  First secretary, then manager, and finally managing director of an important shipping company, Mr. Welford devoted his leisure to local history and antiquities.  So he has enriched the literature of Tyneside and Northumberland with many valued and learned volumes.  My immediate colleagues on the leading paper of the district were two—James Clephan and James Hay.  Mr. Clephan, who had been editor of the Gateshead Observer in its palmy days, was a painstaking writer, something of a poet and a philosopher, an antiquary of repute, and much respected in all the serious circles of the town.  Towards the end of his long life he deliberately took to his bed and waited for death.  He lived in bed, worked in bed, received his visitors in bed--all for months and months before the end came.  Nor did he select the most comfortable position, for he lay with his head in the darkest corner of the room, and no persuasion on the part of his friends could induce him to change it.  Mr. Hay removed early, first to Plymouth and then to Portsmouth, where, having acquired an expert knowledge of naval affairs, he was for years the correspondent of the Times.  Latterly he purchased a paper at Melton Mowbray, which he conducted till his death in 1901.  It was in 1863 that the present writer added his farthing candle to the general illumination.  Soon there came three other colleagues, still in the same decade, who are entitled to separate paragraphs.

    Sidney Milnes Hawkes was a barrister-at-law, and had been a man of means.  I understood from himself that he had lost his fortune in some unlucky venture with his friend James Stansfeld, afterwards Sir James Stansfeld, and a member of various Liberal Governments.  Devoted to Mazzini, he had assisted in some of the revolutionary enterprises that had startled Europe a few years before.  Further, he had been brought in contact with many of the most eminent people of the time, recollections of whom he long subsequently embodied in a series of lectures.  Mr. Hawkes was a clever, but not a ready writer.  As he never really liked the work, he exchanged a few years later the duties of a pressman for those of a publican.  The Marsden Inn and the Marsden Grotto, situated on the picturesque coast between Shields and Sunderland, came under his control as the successor of the Allan family, an earlier member of which had carved a dwelling-house and a dancing-room out of the solid rock.  Mr. Hawkes's tenancy commenced just about the time that the Whitburn Colliery was opened.  The pitmen and quarrymen who patronised the Grotto and the Inn--the one on the sea shore the other high up on the cliffs--were sometimes an unruly lot.  Mr. Hawkes, however, who was as gentle as a girl and as amiable as an angel, exercised a wonderful command over them even in their cups.  There was not a more popular or a more highly respected man in the whole district than the landlord of Marsden Grotto.  Mr. Hawkes had a large family.  One of his sons, Mervyn Hawkes, having first tried his pinions as a contributor to the "Notes and Queries" of the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, became attached to the London Press, wrote a political novel of considerable merit, and would probably have won a place of distinction in journalism and literature if he had not died young.  It was Mervyn Hawkes who, standing as a candidate for Eye against Mr. Ashmead Bartlett, challenged one of the supporters of his honourable opponent to run a race for the honour of representing the constituency!

    William Stowell belonged to a clerical family.  His father was the Rev. Dr. Stowell, related to the celebrated Hugh Stowell; his brother became a clergyman of the Church of England; and one of his sons entered the Congregational ministry.  Our colleague himself was pastor of an Independent Church at Ryton.  He preached and wrote equally well.  His capacity for writing was immense.  He could write at any length on any subject, whether he understood it or not, though he generally did understand it.  I used to think that he could make more bricks without straw than anybody I ever knew.  But there was this to be said for him--that he wrote about nothing that he did not make attractive.  Mr. Stowell had some strong tastes--for strong tea and strong tobacco particularly.  The tobacco was black: so also was the tea (which he brewed himself) as it came from the pot.  One day, when some carpenters were employed in making alterations in the office, Stowell mislaid his pouch.  Whereupon, the carpenters having gone home, he went crying along the corridor that the "working classes" had stolen his tobacco!  A smart repartee of his is also worth recalling.  The members of the staff were taking tea at the office when John Lovell, then manager of the Press Association, was introduced to the company.  "Mr. Stowell!" said Lovell: "any relation of Lord Stowell?"  "No--o," slowly replied Stowell: "any relation of Lord Lovel?"  Our colleague had the best of that deal.  When he died in the prime of life, he was buried in the picturesque churchyard of Ryton, where troops of friends assembled from all the district round to testify their respect for his memory.

    Perhaps the best known member of the staff was Thomas Nelson Brown, who came from Dunfermline, but who had previously earned a good reputation as a platform speaker in Glasgow.  More than thirty years later I met in Madeira a retired and wealthy manufacturer (Mr. John Leckie, of Walsall) who had been in far-away days a sort of disciple of his on the banks of the Clyde.  Mr. Brown's prodigious memory was the wonder of his colleagues, as was his marvellous fund of anecdote.  His mind was a veritable storehouse of poetry.  I believe he could recite the whole of Pollok's "Course of Time," besides hundreds of other poems.  And he knew more of Scotch theology than half the professors put together.  Moreover, he talked so well that I often thought he missed his vocation when he took to the press instead of the pulpit.  But the worst of it was that he did not quite know when to stop talking, especially if he chanced to meet a friend in the street.  Brown and Clephan were in the habit, at the close of the night's work, of seeing each other home.  Usually they fell into such enthralling discussions that the process lasted till far into the morning.  Once, when the whole town was sleeping, they were overtaken by a shower of rain, and took refuge in a doorway.  Here they were seen by a new policeman, who ordered them off the premises, hinting that they could be up to no good purpose at that hour and in that place.  Brown, of course, remonstrated; but Clephan, appreciating the humour of the situation, retired quietly to his virtuous couch.  But the midnight rambles of the two friends did not cease with this contretemps.  I believe they were continued till the elder of the two, as recorded above, took to his bed to wait for death.

    The office of sub-editor was held for many years by a careful and painstaking pressman--William Duncan.  Being a Scot, and an Aberdonian at that, he was as cautious as the policeman in Callander who (as previously recorded) declined to say which was the best hotel in the place because he was a person in authority.  Mr. Duncan was a Latin scholar, and was, indeed, so saturated with the speech and style of the ancient Romans that they coloured almost all he said or wrote.  When he retired from the active pursuit of journalism, his colleagues presented him with an illuminated address.  Thereafter he had sufficient employment as official reporter for the Town Council.  William Duncan and James Hornsby were two of the oldest members of the staff in 1863.

    Hornsby reported the inquests and the policecourts.  If information was wanted, he was the man to get it.  Of course he met with many rebuffs.  One was administered by Mr. L. M. Cockcroft, then coroner for South Northumberland.  News of a certain inquest was required.  The coroner declined to supply it.  Late at night James--we all called him James--"tried him again."  The coroner answered the door in his dressing gown.  "What!" he exclaimed, as he caught sight of the reporter, "you here again!" and he slammed the door in his face.  The insult did not disturb the reporter in the least: it was, he said, all in the way of his work.  Mr. Hornsby was an enthusiast in phonography.  Besides teaching classes in England, he went on a phonographic mission to America.  Horace Greeley received him courteously, and next day printed a paragraph in the New York Tribune, announcing that "Professor Hornsby from Europe" had arrived to enlighten the citizens of the Great Republic on the subject of shorthand!

    We had two rivals in 1863.  One is dead.  It claimed, I think, to be the first penny daily paper established in the North of England.  A printer named John Watson started it in Darlington in 1855, bringing it to Newcastle just before the other newspaper proprietors converted their weeklies into dailies.  The paper was owned at the time I mention by a wholesale grocer, and had just previously been edited by a clever but unscrupulous journalist of the name of James Bolivar Manson.  The editor had got himself into so many escapades that the proprietor presumably thought it was better he should return to Scotland.  At any rate he had just left Newcastle in 1863, though he still continued to write the leading articles.  But one of his escapades showed his smartness so much, and yet had such ludicrous consequences, that some of the particulars may be considered interesting.

    A municipal election in one of the wards of the town had given rise to a good deal of bigoted feeling on account of one of the candidates being a Roman Catholic--a highly respected gentleman of the name of Dunn.  The French consul at the time was the Comte de Maricourt.  And M. de Maricourt was accused of interfering in the election on behalf of Mr. Dunn.  Shortly before the contest, Newcastle society had been greatly scandalised by the doings of a notorious Frenchwoman.  This woman, owing to the action of the police, had been expelled the town.  The paper took up the cry against the consul; the editor wrote a furious article on the subject; and the article concluded with a frightful sting "Monsieur must follow Madame."  It was clever, but it was outrageous.  The conjunction in the same sentence as deserving of the same treatment of a respectable nobleman with a disreputable procuress naturally excited great indignation.  The consul's son, the Vicomte de Maricourt, a young officer in the French army, happened to be on a visit to his father.  Him the insult aroused to fury.  The young man presented himself at the editor's house with a revolver, demanding a written apology.  Mr. Manson was compelled to accompany his visitor to the office, where he wrote the declaration the Vicomte de Maricourt required.  Then came proceedings in the police-court.  The affair was compromised in some way.  But the editor followed the consul.

    Mr. Manson left a flavour of romance behind him.  From the circumstance about to be related one would conclude that he was what our American cousins used to call a "festive cus."  It chanced that I needed to rent a house.  The house that I thought would suit me, situated at the corner of two streets, was owned and once occupied by a chemist who was on intimate terms with the journalist.  The chemist was proud of the connection.  Manson and Marley were bosom friends--neighbours too.  Often had the one held high revels in the other's house.  When Marley was showing the prospective tenant over the house, he pointed to the parlour window as he gleefully said, "Many's the time Manson has smashed that window as he has been going home hilarious."  The smashing of the window seemed to be regarded by the owner as a token and evidence of affection on the part of his friend.

    About this house I have another story to tell.  It was situated, I have said, at the corner of two streets.  A little grass plot ran round the two sides.  The mother of the family, being new to Newcastle, was anxious for the safety of her children: so she used to padlock the gate in order to prevent them from wandering away.  As for myself, I was always late at the office; moreover, when I returned home in the early hours of the morning, it was my custom to sit up reading for an hour or two.  These things were noted by a neighbour on the opposite side of one of the streets.  The neighbour put two and two together and built up a beautiful theory.  It chanced that he was acquainted with a friend of mine.  To this friend he one day imparted his suspicions.  "We have some queer folks living opposite to us," he said.  "The man is at home all day; there is a light burning all night ; and the gate is always padlocked.  I fancy they are coiners!"  Such was the reputation the writer had acquired in the neighbourhood till his friend had the opportunity of explaining that the mysterious and nocturnal habits of the journalist were due to the exigencies of work on a daily newspaper.

    Clever stories are apt to be attributed to all sorts of different people, especially if the said people should happen to be noted for saying smart things.  It is likely, therefore, that the rather profane story which was ascribed to Manson may have been told of other wits.  Anyhow, it is good enough for anybody.  Manson, having returned to Edinburgh, was in conversation with an acquaintance, who remarked as a curious circumstance that he had been mistaken for the Duke of Argyll.  "That's nothing," said Manson; "I was taken for a bigger card than the duke."  "Ay, and who was that?"  "Well, as I was crossing the North Bridge, a man I had not seen for years stepped right in front of me and exclaimed, 'God Almighty! is that you?' "

    Mr. Manson's immediate successor was a young Scotchman--James Macdonell.  I had but a slight acquaintance with him, for he tarried in Newcastle only a year or two.  Almost all I remember was that he was tall and slim, and wore his hair long.  Mr. Macdonell became afterwards a famous journalist in London--first as a coadjutor of Thornton Hunt's on the Daily Telegraph, and then as a coadjutor of J. T. Delane's on the Times.  Most of the best articles on foreign affairs that appeared in the Thunderer from 1876 to 1879 were credited to him.  Unfortunately, his brilliant career was of short duration.  When he died, many of his brother journalists wrote touching and beautiful things to his memory.  Even as late as 1885 Mr. Escott published a panegyric in the Chicago Times, and at a still later date his biography was written by Dr. Robertson Nicoll.  Mr. Macdonell was succeeded by Mr. R. N. Worth, who came from Plymouth, and returned thither, after a few years in the North.  Mr. Worth was the author of a "History of Devonshire," and of some other works of a topographical and historical character.  The hand of the syndicate was upon the unfortunate property by this time.  The syndicate entertained the strange delusion that opinion, or what was supposed to be opinion, if poured into a given mould in London, would be gratefully received in Newcastle and in Plymouth and in many other places between.  The false estimate that had thus been formed of the weakness and ductility of the public mind of England was fatal to the paper.  The candle flickered and guttered for some years longer, but went out at last, almost without anybody knowing that it had ceased to smoulder.

    The other daily contemporary had in earlier days been a fierce and somewhat scurrilous party organ.  It had once suggested that John Bright, who had been announced to visit Alnwick at the beginning of the Anti-Corn Law agitation, should be dipped in a horse-pond.  And it had made some insulting observations about the wife of a Newcastle alderman which caused a considerable rumpus in the town.  For this outrage the editor was publicly horsewhipped by the son of the injured lady.  The young man who had thus avenged his mother became in after-years the Mayor of Newcastle, besides being decorated by the Crown for his services to the Volunteer movement.  But he had broken the law in his generous anger: so he had to suffer--perhaps one ought rather to say enjoy--a period of imprisonment.  The detention was rendered pleasant and agreeable by the visits and commendations he received the while from his friends.  But the paper in 1863 had ceased to play the scurvy tricks which brought indignity upon its former editor.  It was still a Tory organ, but a Tory organ that knew how to behave decently.

    The staff of the paper in the sixties included three gentlemen who need not be nameless.  One was the son of an Independent minister in the town.  Leaving Newcastle, he was first the editor of the Leeds Mercury, and then literary director of the great printing and publishing firm of Cassell, Petter, and Galpin.  For some years past he has been familiar in the world of politics and literature as Sir T. Wemyss Reid, founder of The Speaker, and author of "Gladys Fane " and a memoir of Charlotte Bronté.  Mr. Reid, I believe, was both reporter and occasional leader-writer.  The chief of the reporting staff was John W. Lowes, reputed to be the fastest note-taker in the North of England, equal even to taking a verbatim note of Sir George Grey, who rattled away like a Gatling gun.  Mr. Lowes, the author of a system of shorthand of his own, was a native of Durham, whither he retired, and where he died a long time ago.  Among the junior reporters was Thomas Lawson, who, when John H. Amos was appointed to the secretaryship of the River Tees Commissioners, was elected to an important and confidential office in the Corporation of Newcastle.

    Newspaper success depends even more upon skilful management than upon skilful writing.  One of the most skilful managers of the time of which I am writing, and long afterwards, was Richard Bagnall Reed.  No shrewder intellect than his, I think, was ever connected with the press.  If he did not write much himself, he knew how to instruct and inspire others to write.  And his energy was amazing.  Nothing in any department of the paper escaped his watchful eye.  Added to untiring zeal was a marvellous capacity for gauging the tastes and requirements of the reading public.  Mr. Reed was a newspaper genius who, had his lines been cast in other walks of life, would have attained distinction wherever he sought it.  To him must be ascribed the credit of raising the press of the North of England from the parochialism of an earlier day to the rank and dignity it has ever since enjoyed.


 
CHAPTER XLIX

JOSEPH COWEN


BUT the ablest journalist of them all was Joseph Cowen.  The rest were pigmies beside him.  The real journalist, like the real poet, is born, not made.  The qualities which come to others as the result of laborious effort come to him by instinct.  So it was with Mr. Cowen.  Having a passion for public service, a faith to preach, and an object to accomplish, he made of the paper he owned and controlled an organ of illumination and beneficence.

Joseph Cowen
(1829-1900)

    Mr. Cowen, however, was a journalist and something more.  Journalism, indeed, was only an incident.  No better business man was probably to be found in the North of England.  But business was only an incident too.  It was merely a means to an end, just as the newspaper was.  A propagandist from his earliest youth, Mr. Cowen had something to say, and sought all sorts of opportunities of saying it.  Then the press became the adjunct of the platform.  It was when a regular channel of conveying his ideas to the public had been acquired that the natural aptitude of the born journalist discovered itself.  Nobody knows so well the difficulty of gauging the public wants and forecasting the public sentiments as the man engaged in conducting a newspaper.  In Mr. Cowen's case the knowledge of how to do it seemed to come by intuition.  Thus the press in his hands became, as I have said, a machine for spreading enlightenment and effecting progress.  But Mr. Cowen was more than a great journalist: he was a great man--great in every variation of human activity--a great politician, a great orator, a great instructor of the people, with sympathies that embraced all the races of the earth.  What he did for the struggling nationalities of Europe, when kings and emperors were banded together to keep down the natural aspiration for freedom, will never be known.  Yet some of the results of his labours and sacrifices may be seen to-day in the emancipation of Italy from the thraldom of petty despots and foreign oppressors.

    For years and years Mr. Cowen was the Tribune of the North.  No man in our time spoke as he spoke for the Northern race.  The characteristics, the ideas, the idiosyncrasies, even the prejudices of the people among whom he had been born and bred, were more truly represented by him than were those of any other district by any other prominent figure in public life.  Mr. Cowen was a Tynesider from top to toe--"native and to the manner born."  Few men better understood or better appreciated the brusque and sturdy race of which in its higher traits he was himself a type.  And he was "hail fellow" with the proudest and the humblest--with lord and lordling, keelman and puddler.  The tastes of the common people were to some extent his tastes--as, for instance, in the countenance he gave to aquatics in the palmy days of Clasper and Chambers.  It was generally his custom, too, before the Races were removed from the Town Moor, to share in the exhilaration of the scene when the favourite won the Pitman's Derby.  The amusements of the people, though he had practically none of his own, always interested him.  And then his native Doric--it was never changed, and never sought to be changed.  What was good enough for Hotspur was good enough for him.  Thick of speech, as Shakspeare says of Hotspur, indeed he was; but the glowing periods in which he denounced the enemies of liberty from the platform of the Lecture Room or the Town Hall obtained an added force from the deep and mystical burr.  Nor did it prevent him from electrifying the House of Commons as he had many a time and oft electrified vast gatherings of his own townsfolk.

    Most of the commentators in the London press at the time of his death, on Feb. 18th, 1900, alluded to the early difficulty which some of the members of the House of Commons experienced in understanding all that Mr. Cowen said.  But this difficulty, greatly exaggerated by envious critics, was soon overcome.  The overcoming it was itself a triumph for the orator.  Had there not been matter behind the unusual pronunciation of the speaker, the House would never have filled as I have seen halls and theatres and circuses filled in the North when Mr. Cowen was delivering an address.  (Who that was present can ever forget the scenes of wild enthusiasm that occurred in the Town Hall every time he appeared before the electors during his parliamentary contests?).  While all the commentators spoke in one emphatic tone of the power of his eloquence, some of them ventured the opinion that Mr. Cowen lacked the ready skill of the debater.  This was a mistake.  It was Mr. Cowen's custom, at the close of his great harangues, to submit himself to the examination of his constituents.  All sorts of questions--dozens of them, scores of them, almost hundreds of them--were put and answered in a night.  And I used to think that these impromptu replies were sometimes more effective, because less polished, than the well-studied speech that had preceded them.  Readiness and promptitude in answering a question, stating an argument, explaining a policy, expounding a principle, or exposing a fallacy--these are qualities that go to the making of an accomplished debater, and Mr. Cowen had them all to perfection.  But the critics and observers in Parliament had only rare opportunities of seeing and hearing Mr. Cowen, and not even then perhaps at his best.  We in Newcastle, who had seen and heard him so often that we knew every trick and mood and attitude, the expressive turn of the head, the impressive tone of the voice, the significant wave and shake of the finger--we in Newcastle knew infinitely better than any gentleman in London to what heights of power and oratory our great tribune was capable of ascending.  I have heard most of the famous speakers of the last fifty years, and I venture to declare that never a speaker among them had anything like the same power of moving and inspiring a vast audience as Mr. Cowen had.

    The speeches of great speakers will not always bear reproduction in unimpassioned type.  Some of us will remember Henry Vincent.  He spoke like a whirlwind, and like a whirlwind swept his audiences before him.  But his best efforts, if reported word for word, would have been but tawdry stuff mere sound and fury, signifying little.  It was much the same with other famous speakers.  Mr. Cowen saw this default, and determined to evade it in his own case.  Hence the preparation he gave to his set deliverances--the thought and study and information he put into them.  Never in any contest before or since was so masterly a series of speeches delivered as those which Mr. Cowen addressed to the electors of Newcastle in 1874, and again in 1885.  To read them even now, when the subjects discussed have become mere matters of history, is to get a new view of the dignity and grandeur of the English language.

    I have said already that the speeches of Mr. Cowen are classics.  Take down the volume in which Major Evan R. Jones collected some of them together, open it where you like, and see whether you can resist the desire to read to the end.  They will stand the test of time as well as Burke's, and perhaps even better than Canning's.  Every word is a stroke, every sentence a poem or a sermon, every speech a lesson and an exposition.  A Parliamentary reporter asked his editor what he was to do with a speech of Robert Lowe's.  "Cut it down," said the editor; "give only the points."  "You forget," replied the reporter; "a speech of Lowe's is all points."  Much the same may be said of Mr. Cowen's, which are studded with gems as well as points--all brilliant and all genuine.  Even as you read, you are constrained to pause if you mean to drink in all the beauty of diction or all the richness of thought--to pause as long and as often as when reading an essay of Emerson's or a chapter from Ruskin.  A popular novelist, who is as skilful with words and as inventive in ideas as any of her contemporaries, assured me months before the catastrophe of Feb., 1900, that it was her habit, when she felt in want of an intellectual stimulant, to refresh her jaded spirits with a draught from one of Mr. Cowen's speeches.  Since Major Jones's volume was published, many other brilliant performances were added to the public store.  All have been issued in isolated form.  One could wish for nothing better than the issue of a new and complete collection.

    There were many sides to Mr. Cowen's character--so many that the most intimate of his friends probably did not know them all.  Few outside his own circle, for instance, knew that he at one time practically managed a great theatre when fortunes were made in it.  Business, finance, journalism, stagecraft--Mr. Cowen was expert at them all.  Had his inclinations lain in the direction of office, had he been endowed with the pliability which seems to be necessary to statecraft, he would have made a brilliant Chancellor of the Exchequer or a still more brilliant Secretary for Foreign Affairs.  But he was content with moulding and influencing the opinions and affairs of his own people.  For the rest, he had but one recreation--books.  It was his hobby to buy books, the best and choicest in the market.  But he also read them.  And all he said and wrote bore evidence, not only of deep and original thought, but of wide and absorbent reading.  Gifted with a splendid memory, versed in all sorts of knowledge, and thoroughly acquainted with almost all branches of literature, he was able to illuminate every question he discussed or expounded with examples and precepts from ancient and modern writers--from classic and recent history--from the philosophers of the pagan world or the poets and essayists of our own dear land.

    It is recorded in the "Life and Letters of Dean Lake" that that eminent divine consulted Mr. Cowen before he launched his great scheme for the establishment of the Durham College of Science.  And the same thing happened whenever any other important project connected with the North of England was under consideration.  Mr. Cowen's counsel was always invaluable in these matters.  Nor was the help of his influence less useful or less esteemed.  Besides the moral support that he gave to great enterprises, the material support which followed it was ever most liberal and generous.  But far more numerous than his public were his private benefactions.  Many a struggling acquaintance and many a troubled entertainer owed their rescue from despondency to his ready assistance.

    Mr. Cowen, when the political party with which he had previously acted became estranged and embittered, was accused of inconsistency.  No hollower accusation was ever made.  Mr. Cowen was no more enamoured of a "foolish consistency" than Emerson was.  A given policy is only applicable in the same circumstances.  But circumstances, changing from year, and often from month to month, are seldom the same.  It was the policy of the British Government at the time of the Russian invasion of Turkey that caused the rupture between Mr. Cowen and his former political friends--this and the attempt to introduce "machine politics" into England.  Russia, however, though she then seemed to pose as a liberator, had no more altered in character than a leopard could change its spots.  She still stood for despotism.  Mr. Cowen once likened her to a huge iceberg, which, sailing into summer seas, caused everything to freeze or shiver around it.  Russia had dismembered Poland and crushed Hungary.  These things, forgotten by the politicians of the period, could not be forgotten by Mr. Cowen.  Where, then, was his inconsistency?  But the estrangement had a disastrous effect.  It led the one masterly politician of the district to retire from Parliament and ultimately from public life.  The loss to Tyneside has never since ceased to be deplored.  Rarely afterwards did Mr. Cowen entrance his townsmen with his eloquence.  But when for special reasons he emerged from his retirement, the public interest in his addresses, all models and all classics, showed the abiding affection of the people for the greatest among them.

    The last words of eminent men are always interesting.  The last words of Mr. Cowen were pathetic and gratifying as well.  Before he closed his eyes in what proved to be his final sleep, he said to his daughter: "I am very comfortable."  Truly his end was peace.



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