PASTIMES AND OBSERVANCES.
AS my wish is to give a true description of the life
which I led in my early days, and consequently of the manners and customs
to which that life would be conformable, I shall only be proceeding with
the proper end in view, if I give an account of the games, pastimes, and
observances, which were prevalent amongst both the youthful and the more
mature classes of the working population of my neighbourhood at the time I
am writing about; and this may be considered as less irrelevant, inasmuch
as that most of the pastimes and diversions which I shall describe are no
longer practised—some of them not even known—by the youthful population
of the manufacturing districts at the present day. Thus we are
enabled distinctly to perceive the great change which, in a few years, has
taken place in the tastes and habits of the working classes. And,
seeing these alterations clearly set forth, we shall be better able to
determine whether or not the labouring classes have been advancing in, or
retrograding from that state of mind, and that bodily habit, which are
meant by the term, Civilisation.
It was always a custom with the Methodists to hold a public
prayer-meeting or "watch-night" at the chapel, and to continue in prayer
or singing from the eve of Christmas day to the following morning; when
the leaders, and such of the attendants as chose to accompany them,
perambulated the town, singing hymns and carols, and stopping to sing
before the dwellings of individuals of their own society, or of any other
individual who was of their congregation, or who was generally respected. On the forenoon of the following day, they also generally held another
prayer-meeting, unless there was service at the chapel, whilst in the
evening there was generally a full service. On New Year's Eve there
was a prayer-meeting again. And these were the chief Christmas
observances of the religious body with which I was associated in worldly
Some two or three weeks before Christmas it was the custom in
families to apportion to each boy or girl weaver a certain quantity of
work, which was to be done ere his or her holidays commenced. An
extra quantity was generally undertaken to be performed, and the
conditions of the performance were such indulgences and gratuities as were
agreeable to the working parties. In most families, a peck or a
strike of malt would be brewed; spiced bread or potato custard would be
made, and probably an extra piece of beef, and some good old cheese would
be laid in store, not to be touched until the work was done. The
work then went on merrily. Play hours were nearly given up, and
whole nights would be spent at the loom, the weavers occasionally striking
up a hymn or Christmas carol in chorus. A few hours of the late
morning would perhaps be given to rest; work would be then resumed, and
the singing and rattle of shuttles would be almost incessant during the
day. In my uncle's family we were all singers, and seldom a day
passed on which several hymns were not sung. Before Christmas we
frequently sung to keep ourselves from sleep, and we chorused "Christians,
awake," when we ourselves were almost gone in sleep.
I recollect, on one of these occasions, my aunt had a very
nice brew of ale in the buttery, and as we were working extra hours, I
suggested that an allowance of it should be
served to us whilst so working, instead of its being reserved until the
work was done, when we should no longer require it. My aunt, however,
would not give way; not a drop
must be tasted until the work was finished. I determined, therefore, on
helping myself, deeming it no dishonesty to obtain a part of my good fare
when it was most wanted.
I got a hollow straw, therefore, and whenever I went into the buttery,
which was not unusual with any of us, I introduced my tube into
the bung hole and sucked until I was satisfied for that time. This was
repeated on several other occasions, and at last I heard my aunt say to my
uncle that she thought the
ale was not working so well as she could wish it to do. He told her to
fill it up, and it would be prime ale, no doubt. So she filled it up, and
I sucked it down; she
filled it again, and again the barn, was below the bung-hole. I, chuckling
with mischievous glee at my poor aunt's embarrassment, who no doubt began
to have surmises that
something not exactly "of this world" might have interfered with it, at
last one day, as I was having a most refreshing draw, a bump on the back
drove my nose into the
barm, and there stood my aunt, crying out, "Ah, I've catch'd him! I've catch'd him i' th' fact!" She brought me forth, and narrated my trick to
my uncle, who sat smoking,
and though he endeavoured to look angry, could not help laughing until
tears ran down his face.
Christmas holidays always commenced at Middleton on the
first Monday after New Year's Day. By that day every one was expected to have his work finished. That being done, the cuts were
next carefully picked and plated, and made up for the warehouse, and they
been despatched, the loom-house was swept and put in order; the house was
cleaned, the furniture rubbed, and the holidays then commenced. The ale
was tapped, the
currant-loaf was sliced out, and lad and lass went to play as each liked
best; the boys generally at football, and both boys and girls at sliding,
when there was ice on the
ground. In wet weather we should have a swinging rope in the loom-house,
or should spend the day in going from house to house amongst our
playmates, and finishing at
night by assembling in parties of a dozen or a score, boys and girls,
where on some warm, comfortable hearth we sat singing carols and hymns,
playing at " forfeits,"
proposing riddles, and telling " fyerin tales," until our hair began to
stiffen, and when we broke up we scampered homeward, not venturing to look
behind lest the " old one"
himself should be seen at our heels.
At this season also it was the custom for the sexton of the
church, and the ringers to go from house to house wishing
their neighbours "a merry Christmas," when they were generally invited to
sit down, and were presented with a jug of ale and a present in money. This was done at most of
the houses, especially if trade was going well; dissenters as well as
church people gave, for religious differences had not so far divided the
people into sects as to make them
forget good neighbourship. It must have been a very furor of religion
indeed which could have made my kind and simple-hearted uncle entertain
one disparaging feeling
towards his fellow townsmen of any party. Nor were the hard-working
colliers shut out from the Christmas festivities. They also made it a
custom to visit their
neighbours, and were treated with ale or money, or both, as the
circumstances of the family permitted. The poor sympathised with the poor,
their sympathy not being of
that description which in these times froths out in rabid speeches to
starving multitudes, but was expressed by action as well as by word. "Come, Jim, have a slice
loaf. Now, Bill, tak' a cup of my ale. Thou deservest what
ever thou canst get. I live and work here in cheerful day and sunlight;
thou spendest thy life in constant danger, and in little dark cells under
ground. Come, don't
need inviting. Thou art heartily welcome, and thou canst never be too
greatly paid for thy labour." Thus the weaver and the collier would
reciprocate their good wishes, which
is better after all, more manly, and more in the old English way—more
respectfully kind than the vaunted French mode of fraternisation.
At Shrove-tide we had always a holiday on Tuesday, when we
went to each other's houses to turn our pancakes, and "stang" such as
incurred the penalty by not having
eaten their cake before the next cake was ready. The person to be stanged
was placed on a pole, and being held on each side, was carried by others
to middin and there
deposited, amid the laughter and jokes of all present. On one of these
occasions my little companion Mima, having to be stanged, and there being
no poles at hand, I
lifted her like a child and carried her towards the appointed place, she
struggling and making a great show of resistance the while, which caused
her to fold her arms round
my neck, and to hold so closely, that had I
not discovered that she had the sweetest breath as well as the prettiest
cheek in Middleton, I must have been a blockhead indeed.
Midlent Sunday, with us called "Cymbalin Sunday," was another
of our feasts, when it was customary to eat cymbalin cake,  and drink
mulled ale. This was more
particularly the custom at Bury than at any other town in our
neighbourhood. Latterly the inhabitants of Heywood and Royton have set up
as special observers of this day,
though on what pretence I know not, except it be with the view of bringing
strangers to their town, whereby shopkeepers may get purchasers of their
cake, and publicans of
their ale. I know not how to account for the origin of this ancient
observance, except by supposing that it is in some way or other derived
from the heathen
"feast of cymbals." That it has in its very name and manner an allusion
to the instrumental cymbal, there can scarcely be a doubt; the name
itself, which I here
spell as it is pronounced, directly points to such meaning, whilst the
form of the cake—the cymbalin—is a more positive indication of its
origin. A cymbalin is not a merely
round spiced cake—such an one would be a spiced cake only, and would be
so termed—but let the maker raise a lump in the middle, like the ball of
a cymbal, and turn up the
edges like those of the instrument, and any native of South Lancashire
will call it a cymbalin. There have been many disputations and surmises
about the orthography and
derivation of the name—some of those by persons who probably did not know
a cymbalin from a cake; but this definition, I think, may be allowed to
set the matter at rest.
The name is Cymbalin; the form is exactly that of a cymbal: but when or
by what means this custom, so directly allusive to a musical instrument,
became connected with a Christian observance in our part of the country,
some one more learned than myself must determine, if it can be determined
Easter was a more important holiday time at Middleton. On
Good Friday children took little baskets neatly trimmed with moss, and
went "a peace-egging," and received at
some places eggs, at some places spiced loaf, and at others halfpennies,
which they carried home to their mothers, who would feel proud that their
children had been so
much respected. On Easter Monday, companies of young men grotesquely
dressed, led up by a fiddler, and with one or two in female attire, would
go from house to house
on the same errand of "peace-egging." At some places they would dance, at
others they would recite quaint verses, and at the houses of the more
inhabitants, they would merely request a "peace-egg." Money or ale would
in general be presented to them, which they afterwards divided and spent. Meantime, the holiday
having fairly commenced, all work was abandoned, good eating, good
drinking, and new clothing were the order of the day. Men thronged to the
ale-houses, and there
was much folly, intemperance, and quarrelling amidst the prevailing good
humour. On Tuesday night, some unlucky fellow who had got so far
intoxicated as not to be
able to take care of himself, would be selected to fill the post of lord
mayor for the year ensuing, and as—for the sake of the drink and the
sport which it afforded—there were
always parties on the look-out ready to secure some one suitable for their
purpose, the town was seldom at a loss for a lord mayor. Their mode of
certainly, was not of so courteous nor so grave a character as are the
proceedings of mayoral elections in some of the recently created
neighbouring boroughs, but "the
Middleton Charter" having been in existence "time out of mind," granted
no doubt by some king or lordly ruler, whose very name is lost in remote
antiquity, the electors were
not very strictly circumscribed in their operations, and they generally
went to work without consulting either town's-books, town-clerk, statute,
or charter. The individual
pitched upon would generally be found in the nook of some ale-house, in
the state which has been before described, or if by a more lucky
accident he were picked up from the gutter, he would be conveyed to some
friendly tap, where the necessary preparations could be carried on without
electors who undertook this important duty for "the good of the town"
would be mostly of that class of "free burgesses" who, on festive
occasions, are always the first at the
ale-house and the last to leave it; the first to leave work, and the last
to return to it; such as weavers who, disdaining slavery and being for the
Charter, are always at leisure
to look after their favourite pints, with a determination to get, by hook
or by crook, as many toward the six  as they can;—cobblers, "Souter
Johnnies," "droughty cronies," who'd
"Rather be a hobble in,
Than bend to their cobblin';"
hedge joiners, whose chief hedging is that which edges towards the drink
mug; and dusty-throated colliers, who for of all the working classes, have
the greatest apology
for a good wash-down of ale. Such being the electors, what might be the
mode of election?
First of all, then, if the candidate happened to have a
somewhat decent coat on his back, it was stripped and given into the care
of the landlord, or his equally obliging wife.
The face of the candidate was next well daubed with soot and grease, his
hair would be dusted with both soot and flour, a pig-tail made from a
dish-clout would be appended
behind, a woman's kirtle, a cap, a hat without crown, an old jacket, an
old sack, or any other shred of dress which the imagination of his
lordship's robers could construe
either into an article of adornment or deformity, would be placed upon him
so as to have its greatest effect. He would then be taken into the street,
placed on a chair, or in an
armchair if too far gone to sit upright, and proclaimed "Lord Mayor of
Middleton," with every demonstration of drunken and mischievous glee. If
the landlord, for reasons best
known to himself, declined the honour of furnishing one of his old chairs
for the procession, as most likely he would do, his lordship would
probably be hoisted on a pole, with attendants balancing him on each side;
or he might be laid upon a ladder, or mounted upon
some poor strayed donkey; and so, amid shouts, laughter, yells, and oaths,
would be conducted through the streets and lanes of his new dominions. It
somewhat past midnight ere his lordship commenced this his first survey,
and the noise which accompanied his approach was such as permitted but
few of his subjects to
remain in repose. A loud knocking would be heard at every door, whilst
many voices called out, "Come deawn, milord wants his dues," " Milord
wants his dues." If the window were opened and one within said, "Well, yo'
met'n make a less din, an' behange'd to yo'; heer's tuppence, an' be off
wi' yo';" the response
would be, "Hur-rey! milord's gett'n his dues; come, let's try this next
dur. Hur-rey! Hur-rey!" And so was chosen, elected, installed, and
paraded, the lord mayor of Middleton.
On the forenoon of the following day his lordship might
perhaps be seen, half washed and not yet awaken, on the form of the
noisiest tap-room of the town. His conductors of
the over-night drinking, smoking, dancing, and singing, in the
same place. Some having been fighting, some ready to fight, some with
black eyes, others with torn and bloody clothes, some with scarcely any
clothes at all, whilst
anon, constables would be peering about and making inquiries as to who it
was that kicked open such a door? who smashed such a window? who stole
this body's can?
who broke that body's mug? and a woful reckoning being promised for next
week, some of the marauders would look serious. And, in truth, if the
affair got over without some
damages having to be made good, some law having to be hushed up, it was
considered a very peaceable and exemplary election, and the "free
burgesses" were in good
heart for a repetition next year.
This custom was analogous to one which prevailed at
Ashton-under-Lyne on Easter Monday, and which was called "Riding the
Black Lad." At Ashton, however, the
ceremony took place in the day time, when the figure of a man dressed in
black was paraded through the streets, mounted on a horse,
or a sorry nag of any kind. The origin of these customs is involved in
obscurity. Both customs seem to have had one origin, and to have been held
commemoration of some member of the Assheton family, as no such custom
prevailed except in the two townships connected with the Asshetons. At
Ashton the figure was
ignominiously paraded in the day-time; at Middleton, as we see, "The Lord
Mayor," all blackened and soiled, and, in fact, disguised, was paraded at
midnight, and with
mock authority demanded "his dues." The ceremony at Ashton would seem to
be expressive of hatred and contempt, that of Middleton to indicate the
cause of it, namely,
severe and arbitrary exaction. Another supposition also arises, namely,
that the Ashton ceremonial would scarcely have been allowed to take place,
had the object
of it been on the spot in the person of a powerful chief; and we may
thence infer that he was gone thence to some other place. At Middleton,
however, the ceremony
was performed at midnight, in comparative secrecy and obscurity; and on
the night but one following the day exhibition at Ashton. And this
circumstance seems to indicate
that the object of distaste was present at the latter place, with the
power as well as the will to punish those who incurred his displeasure;
hence it might be that the
ceremonial took place at midnight. Ralph Assheton, Esquire, a son of Sir
John Assheton, Knt. of Ashton-under-Lyne, having married a daughter of
Richard Barton, Esquire of
Middleton, in 1438, became lord of the manor of Middleton, and left Ashton
to reside at the latter place. He was called the "Black Knight," and
tradition points to him as
the original of the "Black Lad."
On Easter Wednesday, what was called "The White Apron Fair,"
was held at Middleton. It was merely an occasion for the young wives and
mothers, with their children, and
also for the young marriageable damsels, to walk out to display their
finery and to get conducted by their husbands, or their sweethearts, to
the ale-house, where they
generally finished by a dance, and their inamoratos by a battle or two,
and their consequences, bruised hides and torn clothes.
The night of the 1st of May was "Mischief-neet," when, as
"there is a time for all things," any one having a grudge against a
neighbour was at liberty to indulge it, provided he
kept his own counsel. On these occasions it was lawful to throw a
neighbour's gate off the angles, to pull up his fence, to trample his
garden, to upset a cart that might be
found at hand, to set cattle astray, or to perform any other freak,
whether in the street, house-yard, or fields, which might suggest itself
or be suggested. The general
observation in the morning would be, " Oh, it's nobbut th' mischief-neet." If a young fellow wished to cast a slur on a lass, he would hang a rag
containing salt at her
parents' door, or he would cast some of the same material on her doorstep,
as indicative of gross inclinations. If he remained unknown he escaped
punishment, but if
he were detected, or his secret became divulged, he generally got
thrashed, as he deserved, by a brother, or some favoured swain, or he
might get his face channelled by the
fair one's nails the next time she met him, or a mop slapped against his
cheek, or a vessel of odorous liquid poured on his clothes as he passed
the desecrated threshold; all
or any of which retaliations would earn for him but small sympathy with
his neighbours—the men chuckling or laughing and saying nothing: and the
women all agreeing,
"Aye, it sarves him quite reet, th' wastril." A gorse bush indicated a
woman notoriously immodest; and a holly bush, one loved in secret; a tup's horn intimated
that man or woman was faithless to marriage; a branch of sapling, truth in
love; and a sprig of birch, a pretty girl. If a house floor wanted
cleaning, a mop would be left for
that purpose; and if a dame was notorious for her neglect of needle-work,
a ragged garment of some sort would be hung at her door. The morning
after "mischief-neet" was generally prolific of gossip and some laughter,
as it generally became known by breakfast-time what "lumber" (mischief)
farmer So-and-so had
had done, and what this young girl, or that young widower, found at their
doors when they opened them.
The feast of Whitsuntide was not attended by any particular
local customs, except the relics of the old "Whitsun ales,"
which consisted in what were termed "main brews" of ale; a number
clubbing to purchase malt which was brewed by one selected from the party,
and drunk at one of the
houses. Dances and ale-house fuddles were also common, and latterly races
attracted vast crowds to the scene of their operations. Sticks were
indispensable to pedestrians
on these occasions, and hazel or holly sticks, with the peel taken off in
a spiral form, were considered the very example of a country "somebody." Oldham pedestrians
went to the races by hundreds, and were designated as "Owdham Brewis;"
whilst Rochdale folks, still more numerous, were known as "Ratchda Roofyeds." The
inhabitants of Blackley were "Blackley Lions," perhaps from the
circumstance of their having lions for the signs of their two
public-houses; people who come from Bowlee
were "Bowlee Tups"; whilst the inhabitants of Middleton were retaliated
upon as "Middleton Moons," a term indicative of a notion that, with all
their wit, they were
not more wise than their neighbours.
BUT "The Rush-bearing" was the great feast of the
year, and was held on the anniversary of the dedication of the church. At
Middleton it is
held on the third Saturday in August, or if there be five Saturdays in the
month, it falls on the fourth. From tradition, as well as from custom
itself, we may conclude that at
first it was a simple offering towards making the church floor comfortable
during the winter services. Every family having then its separate bench to
sit upon, some one or two
of them would at first strew their own floors with rushes to promote the
warmth of their feet during the stormy months. Others perceiving how
snugly and cosily their
neighbours sat, would follow the example. Probably the priest would
encourage the new luxury, and it would soon become common. Thus Nan and
Dick, and Bob and Bet,
would be seen carrying bundles of rushes to the church at the feast of the
dedication, and the church would be littered for the winter. Next,
families forming small hamlets of
the parish would unite, and pitching each their quota of rushes into a
cart, would send down a load. Some of these hamlets in order, probably, to
with the priest, by rendering extra homage to the church, would arrange
and decorate their rushes with green boughs; others would excel them; and
a rivalry as to which
hamlet could bring the neatest formed and the most finely decorated load
of rushes would ensue, and thus the present quaint and graceful "rush-cart" would be in time
produced. Music, dancing, and personal finery would accompany and keep
pace with the increasing display; the
feast would become a spectacle for all the surrounding districts, and the
little wood-shadowed village, would annually become a scene of a joyous
gathering and a hospitable
festivity; and thus, the wakes, as they existed in my early days, would be
The folds or hamlets which mostly sent "rush-carts" to
Middleton, were Boarshaw, Thornham, Hopwood, Birch, Bowlee, and Tonge. About a month or six weeks before the
wakes, the young men of the hamlets, as well as those of the town, would
meet at their respective rendezvous, which was some ale-house, where the
names of such as
wished to join the party during the wakes were given in, and the first
instalment of money was paid. These meetings were called "enterings,"
and they always took
place on Sunday evenings, when each one paid a certain sum towards a
general fund, and a trifle more for drink at their meetings. It was the
interest of these young
fellows to raise as strong a party as they could, not only with a view to
a plenteous fund, but also in order to repel—if necessary—aggression
from other parties; for as these
little communities were seldom without a few old grudges to fall back upon
should an opportunity offer, it was very extraordinary indeed if a quarrel
did not take place amongst
some of them, and half-a-dozen battles were not foughten before the wakes
ended. It was consequently an object with each to get as numerous' a party
and as heavily
bodied an one as they could, agility and science not being so requisite in
Lancashire battles as weight, strength, and endurance. These young
mustered as imposingly as they could, and if one or two of the young women
of the place happened to have sweethearts who came from a distance—and
especially if they
were likely to clear their way in a row—the courters would probably be
found joined with the brothers and friends of their fair ones. Well, the "enterings" having been
formed, and the subscriptions duly paid, a rush-cart would be determined
upon. Such a farmer's broad-wheeled cart was to be bespoke. Then, lads and
at all spare hours be engaged in some preparation for the feast. New
clothes would be ordered; and their quantity and quality would probably
depend on the amount of money saved during the year, or on the work
performed in a certain time before the wakes. Jack would obtain, if he
could, "a bran new suit, wi' trindl't shurt," and Bess would have her "geawn made wi' tucks an' fleawnces; new shoon wi' ston op heels; new
stockin's wi' clocks; a tippit wi' frills o reawnd; monny a streng o
necklaces; an' a bonnit made by th' new mantymaker, the prattyist 'at ever
wur seen, wi' a skyoy blue underside, an' pink ribbins." By "day skrike"
in a morning, or by "neetgloom" in the evening, the jingle of morrice
bells would be heard along the lanes and field roads; for the lads having
borrowed each his collar of bells at neighbouring farmhouses, would hang
them on their necks and come jingling them home, waking all the echoes in
the deep lanes, and the meadow nooks, and the old grey solitary places,
until the very air was clamorous of the bell tingle and the musical roll
of the crotal.  Ropes and stretchers would also be borrowed, and the
rushes growing in certain waste pieces having been marked out, and when
necessary bargained for with the owner of the land, mowers were appointed,
and a day or two before the commencement of the wakes the rushes were cut
down. An old experienced hand was generally engaged to "make the cart,"
that is, to lay on, and build up, and trim the rushes, according to the
design which is always adopted in such constructions. The girls meanwhile
would all be employed at over-hours getting their own finery and that of
their brothers or sweethearts ready for the great event. Tinsel was
purchased, hats were trimmed with ribbons and fanciful devices; shirts
were washed, bleached snow-white, and neatly pleated; tassels and
garlands, and wreaths of coloured paper, tinsel, and ribbon were designed
and constructed, and a grand piece of ingenuity and splendour, a kind of
concentration of the riches and the pomp of the party was displayed in the
arrangements and setting forth of "the sheet." This was exclusively the
work of the girls and women, and in proportion as it was happily designed
and fitly put together or otherwise, was their praise or disparagement
meted out by the public, a point on which they would probably be not a
little sensitive. The sheet was a piece of very white linen, generally a
good bed sheet, and on it were arrayed pretty rosettes, and quaint
compartments and borderings of all colours and hues which either paper,
tinsel, or ribbons, or natural flowers could supply. In these compartments
were arrayed silver watches, trays, spoons, sugar-tongs, tea-pots,
snuffers, or other fitting articles of ornament and value, and the more
numerous and precious the articles were the greater was the deference
which the party which displayed them expected from the wondering crowd. Musicians were also secured in good time; a fiddler for the chamber
dancing always, and never less than a couple of fifers and a drummer to
play before the cart. But if the funds would allow, and especially in
later times, a band of instrumentalists would be engaged, often a sorry
affair certainly, but still "a band" to swear to, and that would be a
great thing for the ears of the multitude. All true church-goers were duly
apprised of the wakes, as its date was cried by the bellman in the
churchyard whilst the congregation were leaving the church, on three
Sunday afternoons previous to its commencement. The morning of the great
day comes, and every one is in a state of bustle and anxiety. Heads of
families are bundling up their work and hastening off to town in order to
be back in time for the opening of the wakes. And now, the rushes having
been mown are carted to the place where the cart is to be made. The maker
with his assistants are all present; the wheels are sunken in holes; and
the cart is well propped to make it steady; the peeled rods and binders
are set up so as to make the structure steady, and to give the proper form
as it advances; ale is poured out and drunk liberally; numerous
youngsters are playing and rolling about on the rush-heap, whilst others
are making of them small sheaves bound at each end, and being cut in the
middle with a scythe-blade are called "bowts" (bolts); others again are
culling the finest of the rushes and making them into "bowts" of a
superior description wherewith to form a neat edging to the front and back
of the structure. And so they keep binding and cutting and piling up until
"the cart" is completed, which now presents
the form almost of a flattened bee-hive, with the ends also flattened, and
ornamented with a projecting edging of rushbolts, which gives them a
quaint and trim appearance.
The sheet, before described, is displayed with all its wonder-exciting
treasures in front of the cart; sometimes another sheet less costly is
exhibited behind, and when that is
not the case, letters and various devices in flowers are generally found
there. The top of the cart, or rush-heap, is stuck with green boughs which
wave and nod like plumes, and amongst them one or two of the young men who
have been the
latest married take their seats astride the load. The drawers, all donned
in ribbon finery and tinsel, now begin to make their appearance; some
dozen or so of the leaders
having bells around their necks. The drum is beating, the music is blowing
and snorting and screaming, the gay tinkling of morrice bells is floating
and waking up the echoes.
The children are wild with joyful expectation, or astonished by the
wondrous fairy scene. The girls bepranked in their new pumps, kirtles, and
bonnets, now add
beauty to the spectacle; and on the arm of each may be noticed the best
Sunday coat and doublet of her brother, or her sweetheart. The ropes are
attached, the stretchers
noosed fast at proper distances; all is ready. The music strikes up
louder; the driver clears the way with his long whip, making it give a
loud and clear crack at every
stroke—that being his feat—the word is "Neaw, lads," and at one strong
pull, and a heave of the shafts, the wheels are dislodged from their
socket holes, and the cart is
slowly drawn up to the level sward, amid the loud shouts of the admiring
gazers; and so, with music-clangour, and bell-jingle, and laughter, and
words of caution, as, "Howd
on, lads," "Gently, lads," the quaint and romantically fantastic spectacle
moves towards the village of its destination.
If the party can go to the expense of having a set of morrice
dancers, and feel inclined to undertake the trouble, some score or two of
young men, with hats trimmed, and decked out as before described, precede
the drawers, dancing in couples to various simple country tunes, one of
which may be measured by this stanza:—
In some later
instances there have been processions of banner and garland bearers, with
all beautiful flowers, artificial or real, and apt and ingenious devices. A choice beauty
of the village may also, on some occasions, be induced to personate the
Queen of the Wake, walking under a bower borne by four of her companions,
and preceded by
dancers and the other pageants described. But these spectacles I should
rather suppose to be of comparatively modern introduction in this part of
Arrived at the village, other parties similar to their own
will be found parading their cart on the high road. The neighbouring folds
and hamlets, having been nearly deserted by
their inhabitants, all are there concentrated seeing the wakes and
partaking in the universal enjoyment. The highway is thronged by visitors
in gay attire, whilst shows, nut
stalls, flying-boxes, merry-go-rounds, and other means of amusement are
rife on every hand. Should two carts meet, and there be a grudge on either
side, a wrangle, and
probably a battle or two, settles the question, and they each move on; if
the parties are in amity, they salute each other with friendly hurras, the
drawers holding their
stretchers above their heads until they have passed. Each cart stops at
the door of every public-house, which the leaders enter tumultuously,
jumping, jingling their
bells, and imitating the neighing of horses. A can of ale is then
generally brought to the door and distributed to the drawers and
attendants; those who ride on the top
not forgetting to claim their share. When the whole town or village has
been thus perambulated, the cart is drawn to the green near the church,
where the rushes are
deposited—or should be—though latterly, since the introduction of pews
in the church, they have generally been sold to the best bidder.
The moment the first cart arrives on the green the church bells strike up
a merry round peal in honour of those who have thus been alert to testify
their devotion; but as the
rushes are now seldom left at the church, so neither is the ringing so
strictly performed as it wont to be; and, in fact, though the name and
the form are in some degree
retained, it is evident that attachment to our venerable state-worship has
far less influence in the matter than it had in the days of my early life.
After disposing of their rushes, either by gift to the church
in which case they became the perquisite of the sexton—or by sale to the
best bidder, the lads and their friends,
sweethearts, and helpers repaired to the public-house at which they put up
for the wakes, and there spent the night in drinking and dancing. On
Sunday some of the principal
banners and garlands, which had been paraded the day before, were
displayed in the church; and on Sunday night the lads and lasses again met
at the public-house, where
they drank, smoked, and treated their neighbours and friendly visitors
from other public-houses. Sunday was also the great day for hospitality.
Relations living at a distance,
old friends and acquaintances, being generally invited to the wakes,
considerable numbers of well-dressed people would be seen in the forenoon
entering the town from all
quarters. Then, the very best dinner which could be provided was set out,
the ale was tapped, and the guests were helped with a profusion of
whatever the host could
command. It was a duty at the wakes to be hospitable, and he who at that
time was not liberal according to his means, was set down as a very mean
decent strangers who apparently had no fixed place of visitation, would be
frequently called in as they passed the open door and invited to partake
with the family and other
guests, and would be made entirely welcome to whatever the house afforded.
This was not the custom at Middleton only, but at all wakes holidays in
and at none was it carried out with more genuine and hearty welcome than
at Oldham. The town would, during the afternoon of this Sunday, be
thronged with visitors; private
houses were mostly
occupied, and the public-houses were crowded, whilst dealers in nuts,
oranges, and Eccles cakes vended their wares from basket or stall, and
shows, flying-boxes, and
whirligigs stood there, mute and still, as if in admonition of the vain,
restless, and wearying crowd which floated around them. Monday was the day
for hard drinking, and for
settling such disputes and determining such battles as had not come off on
Saturday. Tuesday was again a drinking day, with occasional race-running,
and more battles at
night. Wednesday would be spent in a similar manner. On Thursday the dregs
of the wakes-keepers only would be seen staggering about. On Friday a few
of the dregs of the
dregs might be met with; Saturday was woful, and on Sunday all would be
over, and sobered people, going to church or chapel again, would make good
resolutions against a
repetition of their week's folly. And thus would have passed away the
great feast of "The Wakes."
From this time, as days began to shorten fast, candles were
lighted up in the loom-houses, and what was called "wakin' time "
commenced—not so termed from the keeping of the wakes, but from the
lighting up—the waking with candles.
When the fine clear nights of late August came, many were the
joyous gatherings of lad and lass on the broad open green in front of the
houses of Barrowfields. Two or three score of wild, nimble, gleesome
beings would assemble there, running, leaping, wrestling, singing, and
laughing, in that unalloyed mirthfulness which is the especial blessing
of innocent youth. After the various groups had for a while pursued
their several sports, some one would call out—"Come neaw, lads an' wenches,
together." Immediately the games would cease, and all would be called
together, and when they had determined on what they should play at,
dispositions would be
made accordingly. If it were "Hitch-hatch," all would lay hold of hands,
a lad and lass alternately, and a ring be formed, the couples standing at
arm's length, and making as
large a one as they could. One of the maids then went round on the outside
of the ring, with a handkerchief in her hand, which she applied to every
pair of hands, an d then took away again, repeating as she went round—
I've a chicken undermi lap;
Heer I brew, an' heer I bake,
An' beer I lay mi clap-cake"
handkerchief at the same time on the arm of some youth or maiden, and
running away, in and out, across the ring and round about, the one on
whose arm the
handkerchief was left, following as quick as possible to catch her, and if
he or she succeeded in doing so, she must begin and perambulate again,
until she can contrive to
slip into the vacant space left by her pursuer, when she keeps the station
and her pursuer goes round as she did. This, of course, gives an
opportunity for a good deal of
running and chasing and laughter, and of endeavours to escape when
overtaken; which again necessitates a pretty close hold to be had of the
captive—not an unpleasant one
often—and much merriment until the play proceeds.
If the play was "Bull-i'th'-Barn," a lad chosen to enact the
bull stood within a ring formed as before, and tried to break through by
running with all his force against the clasped hands without using his
hands to dissever them. The ring would often give way without being
broken, and his disappointment would be hailed by shouts of laughter.
Again he would survey the ring, and choosing what he considered to be a
weak place, he would perhaps break through and take to his heels, when the
ring broke up and the whole followed him helter-skelter, and after a smart
run and a deal of hauling and fun, he would be brought back captive, and
either placed in the ring again, or another be placed instead of him.
"Sheppey," or "Blackthorne," was another of our youthful
plays. Two or three of the best runners having been selected, they
took their station at one end of the green, whilst the main body of their
companions were at the other end. The runners then shouted
which was answered—
"Buttermilk and barleycorn."
"Heaw mony geese han yo' to-day?"
"Moor nor yo' can oather catch or carry away."
The two parties approached each other at a swift pace, and the runners
made as many of the others prisoners as they could, taking them back to
the place from whence they started, when they also took part with the
runners in the subsequent game. Thus they kept running and taking
prisoners until the whole of the geese party were secured, when they
divide, as at first, and the play was renewed.
Other games used by the boys alone were leapfrog, running
races, leaping, and wrestling, which expanded our lungs with fresh air and
filled our veins with new, life-fraught blood, we continuing our play
untired until parents or guardians standing at their doors called us to
bed, and to an oblivious healthful repose.
THE next holiday was on the Fifth of November, the
anniversary of the discovery of Gunpowder Plot. Most people ceased
from working in the afternoon, and children went from house to house
begging coal to make a bonfire, a distich of the following words being
their form of application:
"The Fifth o' November, I'd hayo remember;
A stick an' a stake for King George's sake;
Pray, dame, gimmi a cob-coal,
To make a leet i' Lunnun cellar hole."
In addition to
these contributions gates and fences suffered, and whatever timber was
obtainable from the woods and plantations was considered fair game "for
King George's sake." At night the country would be lighted up by
bonfires, or as pronounced in Lancashire, "bunfoyers;" tharcake and toffy
were distributed to the younger members of families, whilst the elder
clubbed their pence and at night had "a joynin'" in some convenient
dwelling. The lord of the manor made the young men a present of a
good two-horse load of coal, with which a huge fire was lighted on The
Bank near the church, and kept burning all night and most of the day
following. The young fellows also joined at ale from the
public-house, and with drinking, singing, and exploding of firearms, they
amused themselves pretty well, especially if the weather was favourable.
Such were the principal games, pastimes, and observances of the rural
population of Middleton and its vicinity when I was a youth. There
were other observances, however, which were supposed to relate to the
immaterial world, to give an account of which would perhaps be considered
too much out of the line of my narrative. I will, however, briefly
describe two of them.
A young woman who wished to have a sight of her future
husband would walk three times round the church at midnight, sprinkling
hemp-seed, and repeating as she went:
"Hemp-seed I sow, hemp-seed I sow,
And he that must my true love be—
Come after me and mow."
When the spirit
of the young man she was destined to marry would appear and come mowing at
her heels, and if she stopped to scrutinise him over much she was in
danger of being cut down. So much for the gallantry of spirit
We know that according to old legends the two nights of All
Saints and All Souls were especially set apart for spiritual appearances.
That on the night of All Saints the spirits of the blessed who in the
course of the year should depart within the parish were visible in their
human forms at the parish church, and that on the night of All Souls the
spirits of all those who should die, whether sinner or saint, were also
certain to appear in bodily shape. On one of these yearly
recurrences Old Johnny Johnson, who was then the sexton, had an
irrepressible curiosity to know which of his neighbours should die, as
well as to ascertain the amount of grave and other fees and perquisites he
was to receive during the next twelve months, so, on the night of All
Souls, he concealed himself in the church, and watched the ghostly
visitants come in and go out and walk about the place, and a decent number
he had already counted up, which at the usual fee per head would amount to
a goodly sum. Still they kept dribbling in one by one, and sometimes
"Old and young,
Weak and strong,
Faint and hale
Come and go,
Life in death,
Not a breath,
Not a wail."
There sat old Johnny, chuckling and counting up his gains, when at last a
little old man made his appearance, and Johnny at the first look knew him
to be himself. He had then seen enough, and with all speed he
hastened to his home, became very thoughtful, soon after sickened, and
within the twelve months he died.
As for the Parish Church of Middleton, every one in those
days admitted that there was not a rood of earth around it which was not
redolent of supernatural associations. My poor aunt Elizabeth no
more doubted these things than she did the truth of every word betwixt the
two backs of her Bible. Often when on a winter's night we youngsters
were seated round the hearth, and my uncle was engaged elsewhere, would
she set her wheel aside, take a pinch of snuff, hutch her chair towards
the other hob, and excite our curiosity and wonder by strange and fearful
tales of witches, spirits, and apparitions, whilst we listened in silence
and awe, and scarcely breathing, contemplated in imagination the visions
of an unseen world which her narratives conjured up before us. Often
she would tell—for these tales were always new again—how that the
venerable servant of God, Mr. Wesley, being benighted on one of his
journeys, obtained lodgings at a lone house, and on retiring to his
chamber was followed by a huge black dog, which he knew to be an unhappy
spirit, to whom, with a feeling of compassion, he flung his gown as a bed
for it to lie upon, which it did, and he then making fast the door, went
to sleep and had a good night's rest, and on awaking in the morning the
dog was gone, though the door remained fastened, and no one belonging to
the place knew of such a dog, or had seen such an one about the premises.
At other times she would narrate the strange stories of Elizabeth Hobson,
who could not walk abroad by night or day without seeing the spirits of
departed persons; who being affianced to a young suitor, saw his spirit
pass her in the street, and walk apparently through the wall of a house,
and thereby she knew that he was dead, an account of which soon after came
to hand; who made an appointment to meet a spirit at midnight on a
lonesome hill, whither she was accompanied part of the way by devout
persons, from whom, after earnest prayer, she departed, and by whom she
was seen ascending the hill after being joined by others, whom, from her
warnings, they knew to be spirits; who, after being on the hill a long
time, during which her friends were praying for her, returned and gave an
account of many things which she had seen; of the spirits of deceased
neighbours and friends she had conversed with whilst on the hill, but
refused to divulge certain matters which she stated she was immutably
pledged not to disclose, and the awful secrets of which she never could be
prevailed upon to utter.
In one of my aunt's communicative moods she told how her
grandfather Bamford, being in a delirium, attempted to destroy himself,
and was tied down in bed, where religious people came to pray for him,
when in order to convince them that all their precautions were vain, and
that the Evil One, to whom he was given up, would let him have his will,
he drew his hand from the noose, as if he had been merely moving it in an
ordinary way, and pointing to a corner of the room told them—to their
great terror—that at that precise spot, and at that moment, the dark
spirit was waiting to do his slightest bidding. That on learning
this horrid fact—of which they had not the least doubt—prayers were
redoubled, and doctors were called in, and the latter having bled the
patient and forced medicine upon him, he, through God's mercy and "the
efficacy of prayer," was restored and afterwards became a devout man.
Or she would tell how her sister Mary—a beauty in person, and an angel in
mind—died, in the bloom of her days, praising God and blessing all around
her; or how her brother Abraham—the pride of the family—having taken a
mixture given him by a quack doctor, died shrieking in torment. How
James gradually wore away, and Samuel died of fever, and William of
On another occasion, I and she being alone in the house, she
gave me an account which made my heart to thrill and the tears to gush
from my eyes. She said no bereavement out of her own family had
troubled her more than the death of my mother. "I was at home," she
said, "here in Middleton, and was sadly grieved that I had not seen her
before she died; both Sally Owen and I were troubled in our minds on that
account; but it was no slight matter for the mother of a family to leave
them all well here, and to walk into a great fever hospital which the
workhouse was at that time. So we judged it best not to go, but to
offer up our prayers on her behalf, and on behalf of thee and thy father,
and all who were sick. We always remembered you in our prayers, and
daily besought God on our bended knees that He would spare you yet a
little while, and two out of the four were spared. Well, but Sally
an' me cried many a time about thy mother—we never met but we cried about
her, and sometimes we blamed ourselves for not goin' a seein' her, and
sometimes we were comforted by thinkin' we had done our duty. What
troubled us most was the uncertainty about the state of her soul. We
were hardly satisfied about that, and we next prayed that if she was happy
a token might be vouchsafed whereby we might know that she was so.
Still nothing happened, we kept watchin' for tokens but none came, and
months and months passed away. At last, Sally was taken in labour,
and I went down from these club-houses here to th' Back-o'th'-Brow, and a
good time and a safe delivery she had—thank God; an' tow'rd eleven o'clock
thy uncle William came to fetch me home, an' we tarried till near
midnight, an' as he sat smokin' his pipe, I donn'd my cloak an' bonnet,
and said I would be going slowly up th' Bonk, and he would o'ertak' me
before I had gotten far on the way, for theaw sees I was rather slow at
walkin' i' consequence of my cough an' shortness o' breath. Well, I
kept comin' slowly up an' slowly up, an' turning' to see if he were comin',
an' I kept creepin' end way till I'd gotten to the bottom o' th' church
steps. It was as fine a moonleet neet as ever shone eawt o' th'
moon, as cleer very nee as th' noon-day; I could ha' seen to ha' gathert a
pin off th' greawnd. Well, I stoode an' lookt back to see if he wur
comin', an' I seed him just meawntin' onto th' bonk, when I yerd th' gate
oppen behind me, and lookin' that way, I seed a very fine, tall woman
dresst o' i' sparklin' white, come through th' gate an' walk deawn th'
steps past me, and go straight under th' trees tow'rd Summer Heawse.
The moment I seed her put her foot eawt to come deawn th' steps, that
moment I knew her to be thy mother."
"Aye, thy very mother, or at th' least her spirit."
"I' th' name o' Goodness, aint, whot aryo tellin' me."
"I'm tellin' the' God's own truth, lad; I seed her as plain
as I see thee this very minnit. The mother had a foote an' ancle
incomparable; I could ha' known her ony time by seeing her step eawt."
"And did you not see her face, then?"
"Nawe, I didno'. I felt a kynd of awe, an' ere I could
look up, hoo wur past me."
"And whot then?"
"Oh! hoo walkt streight forrud as if hoor gooin' tow'rd th'
Market-place, an' I turn'd me an' watcht her as lung as I cou'd see her,
under th' trees, an' through th' moonleet, and through th' shadows, as
fair as if it had been noonday. 'Blessed be God,' I said; 'yon's
Han-nah; hoo's happy, an' I am satisfied.'"
"An' did you tell my uncle?"
"Nawe; the uncle towd me. He coom op to me in a minnit
after, an' he said, 'Lisabeth, hooas yon fine woman at's just gone past
" 'Why, did theaw see her, then?' I asked.
" 'Aye,' he said, 'I seed her plain enoof; hoo'r not so very
far off me, as hoo went deawn heer tow'rd th' Lodge.'
" 'Theaw'rt rnista'en, lad; hoo went o' this reet side o' th'
Beawling Green, an' under th' trees.'
" 'Nay,' he said, 'theaw munno say so, lass, hoo went o' this
lift side o' th' Green; heaw cud I ha' seen her gooin' tow'rd th' Lodge,
if hoo'd gone under th' trees.'
" 'Well,' I said, 'that convinces me moor an' moor.'
" 'Convinces the' o' whot?'
" ' 'At ween both seen a spirit.'
" 'Nonsense, wench!' he said; '‘it wur nobbut a very fine
lady, o i' white. I seed her as plain as I see thee. Hoo walkt
heer deawn tow'rd th' Lodge quite natural. Some body happen at had
been a visitin'.'
" 'Visitin'! whot, at this time o' neet, or reyther mornin'!
Beside, wheer cou'd hoo ha' come fro', an' wheer cou'd hoo begooin' to?
There's no sitch fine foke heerabeawt.'
" 'True, lass, there isno', unless it's sumbody 'at's been at
" 'Th' Clockmakers! yon's no company for th' Clockmakers, as
great foke as they ar. Yon's eawer Daniel wife spirit as sure as I
ston heer. I knew her the moment I set my een on her. Thanks
be to God 'at I seen her. Hoos comn fro' heaven, an' hoo's gooin'
back theer. "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be
the name of the Lord." 'An' so we turn'd an' coom through th'
churchyard whom, an' the uncle wur afterwards convinc'd 'at th' appearance
must ha' bin a sperit. An' when I towd Sally Owin, after hoo'd
gett'n better, we both went deawn on eawr knees and returnt thanks for
eawer onsur to prayer."
"Well," I said, "I'm glad you have told me of this, aunt.
I never had a doubt about my mother's happiness. I always considered
her as too good to go anywhere save to heaven. What you have said
has, however, made me still happier, since you and Sally Owen, when she
was living, and your most intimate connections, would all be satisfied
with respect to my mother's spiritual state."
"Oh! quite so, quite satisfied. Would to God 'at I wur
as sure o' my own salvation."
"Is it not strange, aunt, that I have often thought that
walk, under the trees and towards the summer-house, was a very solemn
"Hasto ever thought so, then?"
"Aye, I've always felt strangely attached to the spot, and
have taken many a ramble there instead of going with the others to play.
Can it be that my mother's spirit haunts that place, think you? And
that it would be fain to meet me there?"
"Oh, no, chylt! the mother's happy i' heaven, an' if theaw
expects to meet her, theaw mun prepare to goo theer."
"Well, I cannot tell how it happens, aunt, but I always feel
so calm and soothed when at dusk I walk alone round the green, or sit on
the bright grass under the trees. It seems as if I had all the company I
desire: I can converse better with myself, as it were—can commune more
deeply with my own feelings and thoughts in that lone spot than in any
other, Middleton Wood excepted, and probably some of the lone dells of
Hopwood. I shall go there oftener."
" 'There's a deal o' sin committed thereabeawts; pitchin',
an' tossin', an' drinkin', an' beawlin', i' summer time."
"Yes, but I go when the rabble are away—when nothing is heard
save the distant murmurs from the surrounding habitations. There is
something so quaintly hoary in the old summer house, and the tall trees
waving in the mysterious twilight just before dark, that I feel as if I
were almost in a new existence. I shall go there oftener. My
mother has come there once, and she will come again if I wait for her."
"Tempt not God," said my aunt; "the spirit may come again if
it is so willed."
I CAN scarcely recollect a period of my life when
the society of females was not very agreeable to me. I was now,
however, approaching that age when this general partiality was to become
more individualising, and when amongst the mass which I always
contemplated with tender regard, some would be found from whom I could not
withhold a still warmer sentiment. Thus were the young germs of love
beginning to quicken in my heart; and instead of repressing or controlling
them, as I should perhaps have done, or have attempted to do, had I had a
wise adviser to counsel me, I abandoned myself to delicious heart-gushings
of romantic feeling, bowed in silent but earnest regard to female
loveliness, and became soul and heart-bound—profoundly mute, however,
except by sighs and looks—to more than one, in succession, of the young
beauties of my acquaintance. Thus from an admirer of the sex
generally, I became the worshipper of its most lovely forms in particular,
and amongst those I was not slow to discover some who to me seemed to
surpass all other mortals in beauty and modest worth. Such was the
collier's darkeyed daughter who came every Sunday to school from Siddal
Moor: such the tall fair girl who, all blush-coloured, and wild as a young
roe, came from the meadow-top at Alkrington: such the pale vocalist from
my native suburb, whose sable hair streamed like night-clouds around a
statue of snow. Such, also, were others, but why should I dwell on
these reminiscences, seeing that I cannot look back and reopen my heart
and find it as it once was; seeing that death has swept some away; that
Time has bowed those who remain; that age has subdued love, and that
beauty is in ruins.
My cousin Hannah I could have admired because she was pretty,
but she understood not my boyish endeavours to please, and repaid them
with rudeness, so there was soon an end of romance in that quarter.
Little Mima daily grew in my esteem, as well as in beauty, and I felt that
I was likely to love her when she was more of a woman, but not as yet.
It would have been a fact entirely at variance with the well
known penetration of females in matters in which the heart is concerned,
if some of my fair Cynosures had not penetrated the secret of my feelings.
The quick eyes and the virgin sensibilities of several of my young friends
detected, as they were sure to do, the state of my feelings, and then
whenever our eyes met we were covered with blushes, mutual acknowledgments
of a sentiment too delicate for oral expression. And thus we kept
meeting and blushing, and sighing at times, and looking with tender
regard, whilst with rare exceptions the word love never escaped from our
lips. My heart, though I knew it not, was yearning for the
accomplishment of its dearest wish, and that was to be beloved by one
worthy of my esteem, as well as of my devotion. And thus had many a
young love-dream come and tormented me, and had passed like the rest, when
the long nights of winter having come, I won a few kisses in playing at
forfeits, or I was emboldened to a word or two in playing at
Hide-and-seek, or at Blindman's Buff. Then winter was over, days
lengthened, and spring approached, when, one evening in February, we were
all sitting round the fire at my uncle's, having our bagging, and a girl
who lived at the next house, trying to open the door to go home, found it
jammed fast by something which stuck at the bottom. She pulled it
out and gave it to my aunt, and on its being opened before us all, great
was our astonishment at beholding a valentine displayed. There were
Cupids, and darts, and bars of love, and birds and chains, and bleeding
hearts, all cut out, and coloured, and set forth in most approved form.
There were also lines of writing all around, and several verses and
couplets in the middle. After a few minutes spent in admiration of
the pretty missive, there was a general request to have it read, and I
must own that I felt a mischievous glee in the idea that it would be found
to be meant either for my bashful cousin Thomas or his sister Hannah, at
whose expense, in particular, I was wishful to have a laugh. At
length, after my uncle and aunt had examined the ornaments, it was handed
over to Thomas to read, who began by reading the direction, which was, "To
Mr. Samuel Taylor, at Mr. W. Taylor's," whereupon there was a general
laugh at me, which I met by observing that the letter could not be meant
for me, since my name was not Taylor but Bamford, and it was evidently
intended for some person of the name of Taylor, and that Thomas was most
likely to be that person. But when Thomas began to read the document
itself—which he did with evidently mischievous glee—I was covered with
confusion, and knew not where or how to look. "Read it; read it,"
was the general cry; and so he read a number of rhymes, and verses, and
complimentary scraps, which removed every doubt as to the valentine being
intended for myself and no one else. In the commencement I was
addressed "My dear Samuel," then I was described as "tall and straight as
a poplar-tree," next informed that
"The rose is red, the violet blue,
The pink is sweet, love, so are you,"
"As sure as grapes grow on the vine,
I'm your true love and Valentine,"
or couplet being followed by a laugh from the youngsters. My uncle
enjoyed the scene in his own quiet placid way, whilst my aunt affected to
view the affair in a very grave light. The paper was handed from one
to another, in order that they might identify the writing, and they all
mentioned some person whose writing it was like; at length, after much
hesitation, I was allowed to examine the missive, and as soon as my eye
rested on the heading, I was almost satisfied with respect to the person
who had written it, but I kept my opinion to myself.
"Well," said my aunt, taking an extra pinch of snuff, "it's
come to summut, at ony rate, 'at one conno' sit deawn to one's meat i'
one's own heawse, but we munbi haunted wi' yung snickits comin' after
thee, an' stickin' ther letters under th' dur. But I'll get to know
hooas writ'n it, gentlemen. Thy feyther shall see this; heest know
heaw theawrt carryin' on; he shanna be kept i' th' dark; it's none reet
'at he shudbe."
I protested that I knew nothing whatever of its coming.
I could not prevent its being put under the door, and as for the writing
none of them knew whose it was.
"But we win know," replied my aunt, still bent on tormenting
me, though she could scarcely conceal the amusement she derived from my
embarrassment, "we win know. This papper shall be sent deawn to th'
skoo, an' laid afoie th' mesters, an' th' writin' shall be compar't wi'
some o' th' copy books, an' th' writer will then be fund eawt, an' yo'
shan bwoth be browt an' set ov a form, one aside o' th' tother."
The very idea made my heart sink within me, for I was sure if
the writing was produced at school, and the copy books examined, the
writer would be detected, and I was more concerned by the thought of the
writer being exposed than I was by any care for myself. Instead,
therefore, of being gratified and elevated by the compliment which had
been given to me, I was both humiliated and unhappy, and I passed many
hours in no enviable frame of mind. The day following I asked my
aunt to give the valentine up to me, but she refused, and persisted in
saying my father should see it, and it should be produced at the Sunday
school. I therefore determined to gain possession of it by any means
I could devise, and accordingly I stole up to her chamber one forenoon,
and found it in a pocket-book under her pillow, and after having minutely
conned it over, I destroyed it, and thus put an end to all talk—whether
feigned or in earnest—about its exposure in other places. My aunt
was now really displeased; and threatened me with my father's severest
reprehension; but I was never better satisfied with anything I had done,
inasmuch as I had secured the writer—whoever she might be—from the
possibility of any annoyance in future, on that account. In a short
time I expressed an intimation to Mima that I deemed her to be the writer,
but she denied it with seeming displeasure, and I knew not then what to
think about the authorship; and thus the occurrence was no more spoken
Let no one despise simple incidents like these. They
are the rufflings which mark human existence—the joys and anxieties—the
lights and shadows—of which humble life is composed.
In consequence of the great dearth of corn which marked the
year 1800,  my uncle's family had to suffer in
manner and degree with the rest of their poor neighbours. We dealt
with one of the best provision shops in Middleton, but the meal which we
got for our porridge was very often not fit for food, whilst flour for
dumplings or pies was out of all question. Our bread was generally
made from barley, and tough, hard, dark-coloured stuff it was.
Instead of wheaten flour, we had a kind of mixture which was nicknamed
"ran-dan," or "brown George," and sad rubbish George proved to be; but all
was welcome, nothing was refused by us hungry lads, whose only care was to
get enough. Oaten cake, though made from meal which was enormously
adulterated, was so much a dainty that we often took an opportunity for
putting a piece of it out of sight, as a delectable snack to be eaten at
The pinching "barley-times" were over, and flour was selling
at sixpence the pound, meal at fourpence, and potatoes at a guinea a load.
Yet such was the profusion of work and the price of labour during the
short peace of 1802,  that plenty was in every
man's buttery. Common seven-eights calico, twenty-eight yards in
length, was woven at ten shillings and sixpence the cut. A young
soldier who came over on a two months' furlough, immediately set to the
loom, and worked with extraordinary quickness and perseverance: when his
furlough expired, he got it renewed, and again set to work, and when he
returned to the regiment he took money with him which bought his
discharge. But this prosperity was of short duration; wages receded
as fast as they had advanced, and work became very scarce. War again
raged fiercely, the nation was to be invaded by a French army from
Boulogne, and the whole kingdom was bristling with volunteer bayonets,
when one afternoon I was rather surprised by an intimation that my uncle
and a neighbour were going to look at the canal at Slattocks, and that
myself and cousin Thomas might go with them if we chose. We went,
pleased enough of course, but I soon lost my company, and returning home,
found the town people all out of doors with fife and drum, and the
constables parading for volunteers. I immediately offered myself,
and was rejected on account of my stature. But Long Tom, an old
campaigner, insisted on having me; he said I was a straight thriving lad,
and would make a fine soldier, and so at last I was accepted, though the
lowest of any in the ranks, and I got a shilling bounty, a billet whereat
to spend my shilling, and a black and red cockade. On being
dismissed for the night I went home, and had to encounter another lecture
from my aunt, who said it was the first time a cockade had ever been worn
by one of their family, and that I was in the way to perdition. I
bore her reflections very philosophically, consoling myself with the
assurance that I had only performed a duty to my country, and as the corps
were never called on—not even to parade—I got through that great "act of
sin," as my aunt was pleased to designate my volunteering.
Meanwhile, on fine moonlight nights we enjoyed our wild and
mirthful games out of doors, laughing until the echoes came back with
laugh as gleesome as our own. Latterly we had also been sometimes
joined at our play by one or two of our maiden acquaintance, who lived at
a distance, and whom, as a matter of decent attention, I felt obliged to
accompany part of the way home, taking many pleasant walks
"By heather brown and meadow green,"
which I was rather pleased to perceive was not at all agreeable to others
who, until now, I had deemed almost indifferent to anything which
concerned me. I certainly had many compunctions of conscience; I
thought, as my aunt said, that I was getting on very fast in sin, and that
if I did not turn over another leaf of life, I should become quite
But deeper involvements soon followed from a persuasion which
about this time took possession of me, and that was, that I was far from
being indifferent in the estimation of my fair friend Mima. I
remarked that whenever I went into a place where she was one of the
company, she was the first to make room for me and offer me a seat; that
she always contrived to be near to me, and to be my partner in play; that
she always seemed pleased whenever I made my appearance; pleased when I
won at marbles or at any other game; and latterly I had to thank her in my
heart for a very agreeable instance of her regard and solicitude when
almost unheeded by others as I sat ill in the nook. The kind
inquiries, the concern for my pain, the tender expression of her
countenance beaming at once with pity and beauty, more beautiful from its
goodness, could not fail to make an impression in which love was born of
gratitude, an impression which I neither strove to conceal from myself nor
to resist, since I now found that besides her rare personal charms, she
had, what was in my estimation a still brighter charm, in the tenderness
of her innocent and devoted heart.
A young lad, a companion of mine, being deeply enamoured of a
coy lass who lived at Throstle Nest, he took the expedient of inditing
love epistles, in order to interest her indifferent feelings towards his
suit. In these occupations I frequently assisted, and gave my
advice, as well as accompanied him in his night excursions, when he went
to peep at her window, or to deposit his love billets. I also
confided to him the secret of my attachment, and, when the season came
round, we frequently sat down at his parents' house, after working hours,
and penned letters and valentines to our several fair ones, and sometimes
also, by way of joke, to others of our female acquaintance. He was a
neat writer, and an ingenious framer of such things, and under his tuition
I soon became as good a proficient as himself. I now set my
ingenuity to task, and prepared a valentine the equal to which for
painting, and gilding, and writing, and scissors work, had never probably
been seen in Middleton, and this I gave with my own hand to Mima, when she
came to play at my loom at night. I had seen too much of the chances
of such things getting astray to entrust this precious offering to other
conveyance than my own, I accordingly showed it to her first, and asked
her opinion as to its merits, when, with admiration not unalloyed by a
painful doubt, she inquired for what happy lass the beautiful thing could
be intended? and I in a whisper said, "For you, if you can find in your
heart to accept it for my sake, and as a sincere expression of my
feelings." With joy in her look, and blushes lovelier than those of
the queen flower of June, she said, "I do! I do!" and with a smile all
modestly radiant, she placed it in her bosom, and went away.
So now we knew each other; we were united in heart, she was
mine, and I was her own, but not one word of love escaped from our lips.
Days and weeks and months passed, both of us happy in the assurance of
mutual affection. I had no companionship with any of the other
members of her uncle's family, and consequently I never went there except
on an errand to the shop. She, however, being the confidante of my
cousin Hannah, had a recognised privilege to come and go at our house
without notice, and whenever she chose to do so, and seldom, indeed, a day
passed, on which we were not favoured by a visit from the little Hebe, who
would have a word of news for my old aunt, or a question to put to my
uncle, or something to mention to Hannah, but who never went away until
she had stood beside my loom, or tried to weave for me, or fetched me
bobbins, or moved my rods, or spoken a word, or bestowed a modest glance,
which said more than words could do. And thus we continued, thinking
and looking unuttered things—heart united, soul blended, but never
speaking of love, never daring to let that fearfully expressive word
escape from our lips, never daring even to meet alone, when one day my
aunt surprised and almost distressed me by the information that I was by
my father's direction to depart that week and take up my abode in
And as I am now about to quit this humble roof, and to launch
on themes and scenes of a quite different description, it may not be out
of place if I here introduce notices of a few scarce and original
characters who were acquaintances of and visitors at my uncle's house,
during my sojourn in his family.
One of the most singular of these was Richard Hall, a leader
amongst the Kilhamite Methodists. Richard in his youth had been a
most reckless fighter and drinker, the master and bully of the whole
country side about Heywood, but having attended a preaching and a meeting
or two of the Old Methodists, he was struck with remorse, became an
altered man, and joined the society; and when the schism betwixt Mr.
Kilham  and the Conference took place, Richard went
with the former, and ever afterwards adhered to that party. At the
time I first knew him, he was a grave and venerable looking man,
gracefully stooping, with thin dark locks, a very dark complexion, a
temper surpassingly dogged and immovable, and withal a manner as humble,
and a speech as mild as might have become the veriest lamb. Old
Richard, however, I believe was as sincere a Christian as many who make
more pretensions, but his modicum of grace had to act on a bodily
temperament of no common order, and amongst other besetments thrown in his
way by the "Evil One," no doubt, was an enormous liking of savoury viands,
at whatever time of day, or in whatever manner he became cognisant of
their proximity. Richard, however, was not selfish; he was generous
of his humble store, and was at all times hospitable towards preachers or
poor brethren who came about dispensing the Word in the neighbourhood.
On one occasion he invited a preacher to partake his Sunday dinner, and
the invitation was accepted with thanks. Meanwhile, the preacher was
to preach, and Richard as his host accompanied him to the chapel, where a
goodly array of hearers awaited them. Well, the prayer was made, the
hymn was sung, the text was taken, and the preacher expounded to the great
edification of those present. Richard, however, was thinking of
other things; the old "Father of Sin," knowing his weakness, kept
presenting to his imagination the nice stuffed duck which was roasting for
dinner; and such was Richard's anxiety to have it quite ready the moment
the preacher returned, that he slipped out of the chapel and hastened home
in order to make sure that no time should be lost. His wife,
however, who was a little, expert, tidy woman, had the duck already cooked
and the dinner waiting, and Richard, snuffing the delicious odour, thought
there could be no great harm if he cut a slice and ate it, just to
ascertain whether or not there was sage enough in the stuffing. So
he took a little of the duck and most excellent it was; then a little
more, with some stuffing and apple sauce, and that was delicious.
Then he thought that as the duck was ready, he might as well e'en make his
dinner at once, and there would be enough left for the preacher when he
came. So Richard kept cutting and eating, and cutting and eating,
until, when the preacher returned, there was only the pickings of the
bones left for him. Richard, now conscience struck, made the best
apology he could, which, I believe, amounted partly to a confession of his
besetting temptation, and partly to an opinion that his friend had gone to
dinner with some other of the congregation. The preacher took all in
good part, forgave his brother, advised him as to the future, and
concluded with a word of prayer. Richard was greatly humbled, and
more guarded for a time, but to the last years of his life, nothing gave
him so great bodily satisfaction as "a nice savoury chop," or a "bit of a
He was blessed with two daughters, as dutiful and
affectionate children they were as ever ate bread from a parent's hand.
They worked for and supported their old father and mother when they were
unable to support themselves: they tended them in their age and their
sickness, nursed them whilst they lived, and buried them with decency.
One is still, I believe, toiling with the world only to keep sinking
deeper in poverty; the other met a sudden and dreadful fate. After
having received such attentions as led her to expect marriage by a
religious person, and having been abandoned by him, chiefly in consequence
of the envious interference of other religious persons, she seemed to
forget herself; became less careful in her attire, less guarded in her
conversation, less cleanly in her habits, began to smoke tobacco, then to
take liquors in small quantity, and at length, after a course of years,
during which she abandoned every propriety save that of modesty, she was
found one morning drowned in the mill-pond. If ever a young woman
began life with a deservedness to be happy, this was the one; but worth
was rendered worthless, a body was ruined—degraded—a soul all but lost.
Let humanity shed a tear for the fate of this poor unfortunate:
Once or twice a year, generally when days became short, and
cloudy, and stormy, and we had long nights to sit by the fire; at such a
time of the year, and oftenest at the close of day, would the door of my
uncle's house slowly open, and an old woman leaning on a stick, with her
face half muffled, and her person concealed in an old brown cloak, and
with sundry rags, bags, and pockets swaggering under her clothes, would
enter. Instantly we knew her voice and made room for her to sit
down, for "Old Ailse o' Bharla " was always a favourite at my uncle's
fireside. She had plenty of tales, chiefly of an admonitory and
religious turn; she had "a remarkable gift of prayer," had also been
"unfortunate in the disposal of her affection," was "rather out of her
mind" as they said, and spent her time in wandering about from place to
place, seeking rest, but finding none. Her father was a farmer of
some property, residing in Birkle at about the year 1745, and Ailse used
to take the week's butter to Bury every Saturday. At that time she
was a smart, handsome, young woman, and happened to attract the attention
of a young dragoon quartered at Bury, who was himself of respectable
parentage, and bore a good character in the regiment. The soldier
became deeply enamoured of the Birkle beauty; and lost not much time in
making known to her the state of his heart. The very idea of being
beloved by a common soldier, Alice looked upon as an insult, and she
consequently treated his advances with contempt. The young man tried
all means to induce her to lend a patient hearing to his supplication, but
the high-notioned maid could not be prevailed on to listen. The
lover was respected by many of the townspeople as well as by his comrades,
and he engaged several of the former to interest themselves in the
promotion of his suit, but all was in vain—the proud beauty would not
listen. The youth remained hopeless, and in that forlorn state he
marched with the regiment from Bury to Scotland. From thence he
wrote several letters to friends in Bury, which described in touching
language the strength of his hopeless love and the deplorable state of his
mind, and probably some passages at least of these letters would find
their way to the damsel's ear. Whether, however, it was from
something which she heard at Bury, or from some reproaches of conscience,
or from "some dream or vision," or some "apparition," or "love spell"—for
she seldom would converse on the subject even with her most confident
friends—she suddenly became violently desirous to see the young soldier,
and to make amends for the slight and neglect she had practised towards
him. She procured a horse and money, and travelled to Scotland, to
the town in which she knew he was quartered. She entered the place,
and as she and her steed, all weary and travel-worn, went slowly up the
street, the sound of a trumpet playing a mournful air attracted her
notice, and soon after she met a soldier's funeral procession. She
stopped her horse to allow a free passage; several of the troopers gazed
on her intensely and began to converse; at length she noticed one whom she
remembered having seen at Bury, and him she took the liberty of asking
where she should find her lover, when the man, pointing to the bier, said
that was his quarters, and the only place where he was then to be found.
She fainted, and would have fallen from her horse; the procession halted;
the soldiers collected around her; they knew her; they pronounced her
name. She was taken care of whilst the funeral was completed.
After some time she returned home—an altered woman—a faded rose,—lost in
heart—lost in mind—a dream interpreter—a spell solver—a religious
monomaniac—an object of pity and in some degree of dread to all who knew
her. Such was the tale of "Old Ailse o' Bharla."
HOPE STILL DEFERRED-NEW EMPLOYMENTS—NEW BOOKS.
ON leaving Middleton I went to live with my sister
in Greengate, Salford, and attended once more the school of my father's
old Methodist friend, John Holt, of Oldham Street, with a view to my
improvement in writing and arithmetic, but my day for learning was gone
by, and I took quite as much notice of certain pretty figures which sat in
the girl's room opposite to me as I did of those in my book, and so I got
not much improvement this time. Mima, however, was not forgotten.
I had written to my cousin Thomas informing him of my situation, and in a
postscript desiring him to remember me kindly to J. S., but the letter
fell into my aunt's hands, and our secret was discovered. To add to
my chagrin also, when I went to Middleton Mima was nowhere to be seen,
having gone on a visit to Liverpool, so that instead of some faint chance
of an interview which I had ventured to hope for, I got nothing save sly
jokes and inuendoes about my love for J. S., and I returned home sadly
But the time for confirmation arrived, and I, with many
thousands of other young folks belonging to Manchester, received the
bishop's blessing in the old church. It was with us a matter of some
anxiety whether the right hand or the left of the venerable prelate should
be placed on our heads, and it was my good fortune to receive the pressure
of his right hand, which was considered a propitious omen. The day
following the youth from the country districts were to be similarly
admitted to Christian communion, and as I knew that Mima would be with the
Middleton party, I was in the churchyard at an early hour, waiting with an
anxiety which made me indifferent to every other object. First one
group appeared, then another came up the Mill Gate, and many of my old
schoolfellows and playmates were amongst them; but the right one—the
little cherry-blushing maid, with her light auburn hair, and bright looks,
and pale-blue frock, and straw bonnet—was nowhere to be seen, and it was
not until I had waited and looked, and gazed down the narrow, crooked
street, and scrutinised each party as they approached—my sight becoming
weary and my heart almost sick—that I at length caught a glimpse of one
amid a group of maidens who I thought must be she whose coming I had so
anxiously sought for. Another glance, less rapid than the omen of my
own heart, told me that I was not mistaken, and the next moment our hands
met, and heart-throbbing, agitated, and happy, our only words were mutual
inquiries, confused and almost incoherent. My cousin Hannah, I
found, was her companion, and though I was always rather partial towards
Hannah, in good truth, I would she had at that time been in any other
place. She was, however, there, and I could not do less than behave
respectfully towards her; it would have been unkind not to have done so; a
proceeding which, when a female was in the case, was not to be thought of
by me, was not in my nature. And so, after the communion was over,
we three formed one company, and, after taking refreshment, spent some
time in looking through the wondrous old College, and in viewing the shops
in the square, and the toy-stalls in the Smithy Door, where I made each of
them a present of a breast-pin with an initial, not all gold of a
certainty, but as highly prized as if it had been so, and had come from
other hands. When the time of departure arrived, I accompanied them
a good distance on the way home, in the hope that some accident would
occur which might detach my cousin and give me an opportunity of uttering
but one word to my enslaver, and of receiving her assurance of affection
in return, for of that I felt not the least doubt; but our attendant never
left us for an instant, and I, though again sorely disappointed, made up
my mind to remain as contented as I could, with the expression of kind
looks, and one tender pressure of her dear hand only. And so,
"hoping soon to meet again," we parted, that hope being destined not to be
I was shortly afterwards placed in the warehouse of Mr.
Spencer, counterpane and bed-quilt manufacturer, whose rooms were at the
bottom of Cannon Street. I was Mr. Spencer's only warehouseman, and
my duties were to sweep the rooms, to light the fire, to dust the
counters, and to fodder my master's horse, which was housed in a small
stable in the yard. I also gave out goods, and took them in from the
bleachers when my employer was absent, and on like occasions when a buyer
came round it was my duty to show the goods and to sell them if I could.
I was thus become a person of some responsibility all at once, and the
estimation which I attached to my situation was not of the most humble
degree. My wages were certainly rather of the lowest, being—if I
recollect aright—about six shillings a week, but as my work was light and
I was learning, as it were, the warehouse business, my wages were
considered reasonable for the time being. My hours of attendance
were from eight in the morning to six in the afternoon in summer, and to
five in winter, with an hour at noon for dinner. My master resided
somewhere near Levenshulme; he was punctual in his attendance in the
morning and his departure in the afternoon. He was an exact and
economical man, though not a severe master; he liked to have things done
at a proper time, and to find every piece, and book, and paper, and
wrapper, and string in its proper place; and as I was active and obliging
and also took some pride in having the rooms neat, and the stock in order,
I did not often incur his censure. His temperate and economical
habits led him, as I understood, generally to dine on his return home;
sometimes he would lunch in town, and occasionally he would send me to the
Cockpit Hill for a fourpenny veal pie, which he took in the warehouse as a
lunch. I liked my master very well, notwithstanding his careful
habits and his rather distant manners; I liked his horse, however, better,
when he and I had become acquainted. He was one of that useful sort
which can work either in a cart or trot under a saddle, and was very
docile—only, if there had been more riding for me and less rubbing, I
should have liked our acquaintance still better.
After being in the employ of Mr. Spencer some considerable
time, I got a situation, at the advanced wages of eight shillings a week,
in the warehouse of Mr. Thomas Robinson, of Hodson's Square, whose
residence was at Walshaw Lane, near Bury, and who carried on a manufactory
there of dimities and quiltings. He also had an agent who made
calicoes for him at New Church, in Pendle Forest; Mr. Robinson's town
agent or salesman in Hodson's Square was a young man named W., who had
lately entered into Mr. Robinson's employment from that of his uncle, a
draper, of Melton Mowbray. My warehouse duties here were much the
same as at my former place, only I had not a horse to attend upon, as Mr.
Robinson, when he came to town on Tuesdays and Saturdays, put up at The
Dangerous Corner Inn, and left his nag there to be hostled. My work
was, however, much more laborious than at Mr. Spencer's, and consisted
chiefly in carrying goods up and down the stairs, in taking rather heavy
parcels out to buyers in the town, and in packing up for country delivery.
I cared little, however, about the weight of the work which I
was called on to perform, for being an active, clear-winded lad, I was
seldom really tired; but one piece of drudgery which Mr. W. set me to do
galled my feelings very much, and more so because I neither deemed the
manner in which I was made to perform it necessary, nor the performance
itself at all within the intention of my contract with my employer.
Mr. W., as was quite excusable in a young man of his condition, affected
great smartness in his dress, and had his mind been as well cultivated as
his person was draped, he would have been a very intelligent gentleman
indeed; but his manners, pronunciation, and in fact every action and tone,
betrayed the rustic provincialist just come to the great mart of trade
with but one wish, one idea, that of gain, gain, gain. I, young and
inexperienced, and ignorant of the world as I was, could not fail to draw
comparisons betwixt my employer, the plain, unaffected, but perfectly
well-bred, well-informed man, and the young country buck whom he had
selected to do his business. Both of them wore top-boots, and as Mr.
W. would have his perfectly clean, he initiated me into the mysteries of
making excellent blacking and boot-top liquid, and then installed me in
the honourable office of shoeblack and boot-cleaner to himself. I
felt this to be an encroachment on my condition of service, but as I never
imagined that Mr. W. would do less than make me a handsome present when I
became expert at the job, I did my best to please him. Weeks and
months, however, passed, Mr. W. having the distinction of sporting the
cleanest and best polished boots in the town; but not one word did he ever
utter having the remotest allusion to remuneration. Sometimes when
he put them on and turned round his foot to see how smart they looked, he
would, in one of his pleasantest moods, say, "Sam, thaw has done these
very well," or, "Sam, thaw has made these tops very nyst; they almost look
as well as new;" but never did my observant eye detect his hand gliding
into his pocket for a sixpence or a shilling to give me for my trouble.
And so when one morning he ordered me to carry a slop-basin full of
milk—for top-liquid—from his lodgings in Salford to the warehouse, I
refused, and told him, once for all, I would neither clean tops nor black
bottoms any more. He looked a moment at me aghast and horrified by
my audacious rebellion, but finding me neither abashed nor tractable, he
only intimated that Mr. Robinson would have to be informed of my
insubordination. I, however, never heard anything further respecting
the matter, and probably Mr. Robinson was never made aware of the extra
drudgery I had performed.
About this time I was delighted by the acquisition of two
books, the existence of which, until then, had been unknown to me.
One was the second volume of Homer's Iliad, translated by Alexander Pope,
with notes by Madame Dacier, and the other was a small volume of
Miscellaneous Poems, by John Milton. Homer I read with an absorbed
attention which soon enabled me to commit nearly every line to memory.
The perusal created in me a profound admiration of the old heathen heroes,
and a strong desire to explore the whole of "The tale of Troy divine."
To the deep melancholy of the concluding lines I fully responded.
"Be this the song, slow moving tow'rd the shore,
Hector is dead, and Ilion is no more."
With Milton I
was both saddened and delighted. His "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso"
were but the expressions of thoughts and feelings which my romantic
imagination had not unfrequently led me to indulge, but which, until now,
I had deemed beyond all human utterance.
"Some time walking not unseen
By hedgerow elms, on hillocks green,
Right against the eastern gate,
Where the great Sun begins his state,
Rob'd in flames, and amber light,
The clouds in thousand liveries dight.
Meadows trim with daisies pied,
Shallow brooks and rivers wide:
Towers and battlements it sees
Bosom'd high in tufted trees,
Where perhaps some beauty lies,
The Cynosure of neighb'ring eyes,"
were the very
whisperings of the spirit ever present in my day musings, and which
brooded over my night dreams. Then again in "Penseroso" the line—
"Call up him who left half told,"
set my imaginative curiosity to work. What him? who was "him?" when
did he live? where did he reside? and how happened it that he
"left half told
The story of Cambuscan bold?"
strangely interesting subject for thoughtful conjecture was his "story
half told," with its Cambuscan, and Algarsife, and Canace, who, whether or
not she was ever wived at all, was a mystery impenetrable to me.
"Samson Agonistes" and "Paradise Regained" were less attractive than were
others of the great bard's miscellaneous productions. His night
witchery of "Comus" was the very revel of poetry,
"The star that bids the shepherd fold,
Now the top of Heaven doth hold,"
"Braid your locks with rosy twine,
Dropping odours, dropping wine,"
conveyed to my
heart and my imagination ideas almost as fascinating and dangerous as the
spell which bound the fair lady in her "marble venom'd seat," while the
concluding lines of the mournfully quaint "Lycidas " inspired me with
those pleasing anticipations which are always awaiting the behest of
healthful, active youth.
"Thus sang the uncouth swain to th' oaks and rills,
While the still morn went out with sandals gray,
He touch'd the tender stops of various quills,
With eager thought warbling his Doric lay:
And now the sun had stretch'd out all the hills,
And now was dropt into the western bay;
At last he rose, and twitch'd his mantle blue:
To-morrow to fresh woods and pastures new."
Milton! John Milton! of all the poetry ever read or ever heard
recited by me, none has so fully spoken out the whole feelings of my
heart—the whole scope of my imaginings—as have certain passages of thy
Be kept like hidden gold?"
NEVER, probably, were the reveries of love and
poetry more deeply indulged in than they were by me in these my young days
of visionary romance. My warehouse work was certainly a laborious
reality, but what then? I was more than equal to any fatigue which I
had to encounter. I performed all I had to do cheerfully, readily,
and thoroughly, and the hours flew swiftly, if not altogether pleasantly,
whilst my deepest thoughts were engaged in far other scenes, and the
objects constantly occurring to my mental perception were of a quite
different nature. Very often, whilst bending beneath a load of piece
goods, as I carried them through the crowded streets, or wiping the sweat
from my brow as I rested in the noon sun, would I be unconsciously
wandering in imagination in the free forest glades with Robin Hood, or
"Over some wide water'd shore,"
with Milton. Then, in such a place as Manchester, where beauty
adorned by graceful art appeared at each step, I frequently encountered
objects which led my thoughts far astray; and not only was the hardship of
my situation forgotten, but, the present overcoming the distant, she to
whom I had silently vowed my true and loyal troth, was too often absent
from my meditations.
My chief companions at this time were a lad of about my own
age named Booth, who was serving an apprenticeship to the business of a
letter-press printer, and a young warehouseman named Fielding. After
working hours we used frequently in summer time to take our rambles in
Broughton, and one of our favourite spots was a piece of rough-broken
ground lying on the left of the first ascent of Stony Knows, and known by
the name of The Woodlands. Here were various out-of-the-way
footpaths, round green hillocks, and through winding dells and hollows,
with natural arbours of hazel and wild-rose, and quaint cell-looking
little nooks to sit in, where either in the warm sun or in the shade, we
could choose our seat; either in the breeze or under the wind that ruffled
the gnarled oak, and brushed the grey birch, and swept through the boughs
of the red-berried rowan, for such were the only woods remaining, could we
lie down, or sit up, or read poetry or romance, or sing, or laugh, or talk
over our own little love affairs or those of others. Pleasant Sunday
rambles were these, on cool dewy mornings, or on fine sunny afternoons,
and vastly did we young joking, laughter-loving frolickers enjoy whatever
was enjoyable in our own simple, humble way--from a scramble which should
pluck a dog-rose, to a race which should first win the smile of a milkmaid
and purchase the warm cream from her can.
On one of these occasions, I and a companion were taking this
very pleasant round, and wishing that some beautiful apples, which hung on
the other side of the hedge, were ours, when thump went a fine one on my
companion's back, and in a moment after I was very near being hit by
another. We gathered the fruit and laughed heartily, being greatly
pleased with the joke, but were puzzled in what terms to thank the donor,
whose person remained beyond our ken. "Who's thrown 'em?" asked one.
"What's thrown 'em?" asked the other. "Well, but mine's a good un,"
said the first taster; "An' mine's as good," said the second. Thank
the thrower, whoever threw 'em," said the first speaker; "Aye, an' twenty
times o'er were the thrower but a bonny lass," said the second. "If
she be a bonny lass, and she's as good as she's bonny, she'll perhaps
throw another," said the first speaker; "I shouldn't wonder," said the
second. And with that two more apples were thrown, and we heard a
laugh and just caught a glimpse of a fair young maiden hastening from the
orchard and crouching beneath the apple trees. Quick, however, as
was her disappearance, it was not so quick but I knew her to be the sister
of one whom I had seen in the town, and who had recently come in for a
very considerable share of my deepest considerations. She whom we
had seen was indeed a bonny lass, as fair as alabaster, and with locks as
dark as those of an "Ethiope queen," whilst the one who had disturbed my
equanimity was older, taller, and bore in her manner and her features an
expression of sedate and comely beauty, the impression of which I in vain
tried to efface. To my poetic fancy she seemed a near
personification of Milton's "Nun"--
"devout and pure,
Sober, steadfast, and demure;
With sable stole of Cyprus lawn,
Over her decent shoulders drawn;"
sable stole which she wore, being in mourning, was truly befitting her
grave and modest demeanour.
After I had been in Mr. Robinson's employ a considerable
time, he removed from Walshaw to Bent House, in Prestwich. Here he
had a small farm attached to his holding, and when they were busy in the
hay, at his request, I willingly went over to help them during a week.
In some time after he disagreed with his farming man, and he then wished
me to go to Bent House and undertake the man's work. I hardly
relished this; I was not satisfied of my ability to do the work as it
should be done. I liked my master, however, very well, and his lady,
and their little daughter "Mittey," as we used to call her, when I carried
her in my arms during the hay season; and as it was a pleasure for me to
do anything which pleased my master, considering also that it was my duty
to do so in every lawful thing, I consented, for a time, to resign
Manchester and its attractions, and so take up my abode at Prestwich.
I set about doing my work in the best manner I could, and as "where there
is a will, there is a way," I was not long in becoming tolerably handy
about my business. I had some notion how to clean a horse before,
and I soon learned how to bed my master's neat tit down, and to rub the
bits and stirrups, and sponge the saddle, and bridle, and girths. In
the shippon I was equally active, except at milking, which was done by one
of the women. Knife cleaning I had to learn, but that was easily
done, whilst in the business of boot-and-shoe polishing, the instructions
which Mr. W, had conferred on me came just to hand, as if this predicament
had been foreseen. Martha, the cook, a woman of mature age, was very
kind to me, for I was generally cheerful and in good temper, and whenever
she had to go anywhere after darkness set in, being afraid of "spirits," I
had to go with her. The other cook, who came after Martha left, was
kind also; so that I thought cooks were the best creatures in the world.
Nancy, the nurse, got blamed, poor girl, for coming about the stable;
whilst Sarah, the housemaid, a plain-looking, careful Yorkshire lass, soon
left, and her place was supplied by Mary H., the daughter of a cottager
residing close by, as thoroughly innocent and sweet-looking a damsel was
Mary as ever stepped in England. My mistress got me to clean the
plate, and next she wanted me to wait at the table; but that was a thing I
could never take up. I was thinking of far other things, and always
making some blunder, and at last Mary had to do it instead of me. I
had soon plenty of acquaintance in this new place; there was Robert B.,
who courted Mary, and young Tummus C., who trailed the wing after Nancy.
Then there were milk customers from Rooden Lane, and last, though not
least to be thought upon, Old Wilde the farmer, whose daughter Mary always
welcomed me to a seat by the fire. My mistress, though I could not
please her in all things, was a very kind and considerate lady towards me.
When I was attacked by a severe quinsy she attended me herself, blistered
my throat, dressed the blister, prepared a gargle, and saw that I used it;
in short, she did for me what none of my fellow servants could or would
do, and she had the satisfaction of receiving my grateful thanks after a
short but severe crisis. My master and mistress were both young
people, and a handsome couple they made, and with their two little ones,
they presented a group the like of which is but seldom found in this
world's scene. My mistress was very orderly in her family
arrangements, whilst my master was a steady man of business, though not
always fortunate. He made no parade of religion, but read prayers
before the whole family every Sunday night.
On one occasion my master and mistress went on a visit,
during a week or so, leaving myself, the cook, and the housemaid at home.
One night the subject of fortunetelling was talked about as we sat on the
hearth, and it was agreed that on the very next night I should accompany
the women to a famous seer of that description, known by the name of
"Limping Billy," who lived at Radcliffe Bridge. The thing was to be
quite secret, and so we got Mary Wilde and another woman to keep house
whilst we were away, telling them, what indeed was true, that we were
going over to Besses-o'th'-Barn, and would soon return. So away we
went on foot, and through Besses-o'th'-Barn, and over the top of
Pilkington to Radcliffe, where we found the old conjurer domiciled up some
steps in a back yard. According to arrangement, the women entered
the place at once, whilst I retired to get a cup of ale at a public house.
So I waited here some time, and when I supposed the secrets of futurity
had been unveiled, I mounted the steps, and without much ceremony opened
the door and entered the room. If my recollection deceive me not,
the apartment was a dimly lighted, roomy place, with a close musty smell.
Opposite the door stood a plain uncurtained bedstead, containing what
appeared to be a bed, the colour of dirty sacking. A table with some
spoons and basins stood propped against the further wall, an old oaken
chair occupied a dark corner, a miserable-looking fire glimmered in the
grate, beside which, with his knees almost up to his chin, seated behind a
dirty, sloppy table, with a single candle burning, or rather flickering,
appeared the wizard. My two companions sat with their backs towards
me, and he with his bony fingers, taloned with long black nails, kept
turning round and peering into a tea-cup, mumbling all the time words the
meaning of which I could not comprehend.
"Hooas theer?" said he, suddenly looking up and gazing full
at me with a malicious and angry grin.
"It's only me," I replied.
"Hooa arto," shouted the conjurer, "an' wot dusto want?"
"I'm waitin' o' these two young women," I replied.
"Then goo an' wait sumweer elze," he said, in a still angry
tone, "an' when they want'n the, they'n know wheer to find the."
"Oh, it's only the lad 'at's comn wi' us," said one of the
"He may as weel wawk off at once," said the seer, "I'll do no
bizniz while he's i'th' place."
"Hee'l happen hav' his fortin towd," said the other girl.
"Hee'l ha' no fortin towd heer to-neet," said the conjurer.
"An' if it comes to that, I care no great deal either for you
or your fortin," I said, pretty well satisfied with what I had observed,
and coming out of the place.
More mortified than disappointed, I awaited the arrival of
the women in the street, when we adjourned to the public house, and whilst
there partaking a glass of warm liquor, they told me that old Billy had
caught me laughing, and was very angry at my daring to laugh in his
presence. I admitted that I certainly had been betrayed into a not
very reverential feeling when I saw them listening so demurely whilst the
old impostor peered into his dirty cup and mumbled his prognostics.
Nor, as I learned from various hints, was the result of their inquiry such
as they had hoped it would be. One of them could not hear anything
whatever respecting a particular "old sweetheart," whose coming she had
awaited during years, but who never came; whilst the other, whose cheeks
were burning, and ears almost cracking, to be assigned to a certain "young
man of a fresh complexion and light hair," was inexorably awarded, so said
the cup, to one rather aged, stooping, and dark haired. Neither of
them, I found, was satisfied, and in order to dispel their evil bodings, I
ridiculed old Bill and his trade until they joined me in laughing at their
adventure as well as my own, and so in this lively mood we set off towards
home, and arrived there better pleased with ourselves and our journey than
we had at one time expected to be. I may mention, that in the end,
the one got married to her "old sweetheart," and the other to her "fresh
complexioned" young fellow. Whilst I was very near being a prophet,
old Billy proved an impostor, and the mirth of our home walk was the
wisest part of the whole affair.
One day when returning from Manchester, I was overtaken in
going up the Red Bank, by a heavy storm of wind and rain, and seeing
before me an old woman muffled in her cloak, well, thought I, the old
creature shall, at any rate, have a share of my umbrella, if she will.
So I walked up beside her and said, "Good mother, come and take shelter
under this covering of mine," and I stepped short that she might come
under, when at that moment looking up, she displayed a countenance the
very type of angelic loveliness, so youthful, so abashed, so gentle, so
innocent, and withal so serious, that I blamed myself for having accosted
her in that abrupt manner, though with the best of intentions.
"Lord, save us!" at length said I, "that I should have taken
such an one as thee for an old woman!" For as a country lad, I was
in the habit of theeing and thouing my equals in years and condition.
"You shouldn't try your jokes on strangers," she replied,
with a look of reproof, and pausing in her gait that I might pass on.
"If there be truth in human words," I said seriously, "I
could not attempt to jest with thee."
"Why not?" she inquired, "you seem rather apt at the thing."
"Indeed I do often jest, like others of my condition, but if
thou will believe me, I could not do so whilst looking on a face like
"How then could you pretend to have taken me for an old
"I had not then marked thy bonny look, and the wind and the
rain had caused thy cloak to be so muffled, hood over bonnet, that thou
wert in a close guise. Besides, speaking truly, I did think thou
walked somewhat wearily up this hill; and I felt moved, for my own mother
has travelled this road in many a storm; and I thought this is also
somebody's mother, sure enough." And then, when the fair being saw
that I was moved, she gave a pardoning look, and said:
"Well! since you do not intend to banter me, I will confess I
did walk slowly, for I have a pain here," pressing her hand on her left
"If, then, when thinking thou wert aged, I hastened to show
thee kindness, surely now I find thee to be young, and passing fair also,
I may be allowed to show thee respect. See how the rain again pours,
and how the wind blows, and how the leaves are swept from the hedges.
Trust me, lass, and walk on this quiet side, and I'll break the storm,
And so I kept my stout umbrella to the wind, and she walked
by my side, her golden hair scarcely ruffled by the wind. And when
there came a flash and an astounding roar of thunder, she stopped,
trembled, and looked imploringly, and I drew her arm over mine, saying,
"Trust God, and fear not. He who hurls the bolt can avert the blow."
Such was my first meeting, and such nearly the terms of my
first conversation, with my beautiful Catherine--the daughter of a widow
who kept a small farm in Crumpsall.
The thunder soon rolled at a distance, the rain began to
abate, the wind almost ceased, still, arm in arm, we proceeded until we
arrived at the top of Smedley Lane, where there were stumps leading to a
footpath across the meadows, and here we parted, but not before an
appointment had been made for a second meeting.
Oft we met again, and took lonely walks in those pleasant
undulating pastures, and when her mother came to know about our meetings,
she said no one should marry her daughter who could not fetch her away on
his own horse. And thereat I felt abashed, I thought I was sure
enough presumptuous, and that I had not any right to stand in the way of
the old mother's expectations on behalf of her daughter; and so I said at
one of our stolen interviews, "How shall this be, dear Catherine?" and she
advised that for the present our meetings should be discontinued.
"My mother will become more reconciled," she said, "and we shall become
older, and better settled in the world; meanwhile, let us not forget each
other, but exchange tokens of affection, to be looked upon with kind
remembrance when we are distant." And we exchanged love tokens; and
after a long interview, and many last words and turnings again, we parted,
and I went to Prestwich very downcast, and wishing I had a farm and a
horse of my own, that I could make a home for my dear Catherine.
SOON after this my master gave up his manufacturing
concern and removed to Manchester, and after a short stay there, he
commenced business as a shipbroker at Liverpool, where I believe he died.
On his leaving the Manchester trade, our late bookkeeper and salesman, Mr.
W., began business himself, and I went with him as porter and warehouseman
the same as before. Our establishment was removed to High Street,
and we did much business in prints and calicoes, both grey and white: a
cheap bargain of any kind had always a good chance of being taken up by my
employer. Trade was now going very well, and vast sums of money were
speedily realised by shrewd, active, and enterprising tradesmen, and of
this class my employer was certainly one of the most remarkable. I
continued my poetic readings at all leisure moments. I procured and
read speedily a complete Iliad in English. Some of Shakespeare's
works having fallen in my way, I read them with avidity, as I did almost
every other book, and though deeply interested by his historical
characters and passages, I never either then or since relished his blank
verse, or that of any other poet. I never, as it were, could get the
knack of it; and as compared with rhymed poetry, it has always seemed to
"Like the forc'd gait of a shuffling nag."
If any one wishes to see a play performed he has only to walk
the streets of Manchester, or any other of our large towns, and he may
behold the perfection of either tragedy or comedy enacted by performers
who need neither prompter, call-boy, nor rehearsal; but all coming and
going as regularly as if the piece were a play "got up" and "put on the
stage, as the phrase is, "put on ready for representation." The
scenes are admirably painted--the machinery perfect in its operations, of
wonderful construction, and sometimes of most awful effect. The
actors might have been made for the performance of their several parts, so
aptly do they go through them; whilst the dresses, decorations, and all
the accessories of the piece, are sure to be wonderfully befitting.
And with such a stage as this, with its ever-varying reality before our
eyes, who can require sham repetition as an after-part? Not I at any
Milton's miscellaneous works were still my favourites.
I copied many of his poems into a writing book, and this I did, not only
on account of the pleasure which I felt in their repetition, and in the
appropriation, so to speak, of the ideas, but also as a means for the
improvement of my handwriting, which had continued to be very indifferent.
The Odyssey and Æneid, which I also
procured and read about this time, seemed tame and languid, whilst the
stirring call of the old Iliadic battle trumpet was ringing in my ears,
and vibrating within my heart. In short, I read or attentively
conned over, every book I could buy or borrow, and as I retained a pretty
clear idea of what I read, I became rather more than commonly proficient
in book knowledge, considering that I was only a better sort of porter in
I was now a strong, active young fellow, fast rising into a
man, with somewhat of a will and away of my own; and with a coolness of
thought, and a steadfastness of purpose, increasing with my years, and
strengthening with my strength. I had not yet become a beer drinker,
but I could take my half pot of porter whilst at work on a hot day without
feeling the effects of the liquor, and though I was not in the least
quarrelsome, but on the contrary was given to good-humoured jocularity, I
would as lief almost have had a battle on my hands, in a right cause, as
have been without one; and so in this line I not unfrequently met with
some rough amusement. I kept still, however, adhering to my simple
habits and diet, working my work promptly, and perhaps zealously, and
giving the remainder of my time to the reading of my favourite authors, to
country strolls at eventide, or on Sundays, or to a good swim or two in
season at Sandy Well or Broughton Ford, with my acquaintance. Seldom
did my inclination or my connections lead me to the theatre. That
sort of thing did not please me; there was too much of tinsel and
clap-trap, too little of reality, of thorough natural freshness for my
taste. And when I did go, I never came away without an impression
which spoiled all the rest, that I had been witnessing a delusion.
Neither my spare hours, therefore, nor my loose change were often spent at
the play-house; my home-goings were consequently more early and regular
than they other wise might probably have been. I went to rest betime,
and rose clear-headed, and with a strength and buoyancy of limb that
mocked toil and weariness. My breakfast was generally a basin of
milk, with a good thick slice round a loaf toasted and soaked in. My
dinner I either took at the cook's shop at the corner of Brown Street,
where the Commercial Hotel now is, or at the pie-house in Cockpit Hill,
where in repay for my free and cheerful discourse with the old lady, and
my gentle deference to the daughter, I was frequently offered the use of a
plate and knife and fork, and those were favours not accorded to many.
My supper would be bread and milk again. My bed was a very humble but
cleanly one, in the upper room of a tall sombre-looking tenement occupied
by one widow Pick-Lip and her daughter--a little pale, prim, automatic,
fastidious body, whose only solace now was in the artless prattle of her
young unfathered child. The house was situated in a strangely
isolated yard, bounded on all sides by a high wall, or by the back walls
of other houses, and approachable only by a narrow covered passage closed
by a door, and leading out of another long alley called Ditchfield Court,
which latter place was accessible only by steps from that end of that
quaint and antique old street called Long Mill Gate, which emerges in the
open space, formerly known as The Apple Market, close to the Old Church.
From this part of the town, Strangeways, Broughton, and the
Cheetham Hill road being the most ready outlets into the country, it not
unfrequently happened that my steps almost involuntarily took the
direction of the latter quarter, and that on many occasions when I merely
purposed to stroll as far as Smedley or Cheetwood, I found myself
lingering upon and retracing the footpaths on which Catherine and I had so
often strayed. A feeling of profound but benignly soothing
melancholy was at these times ever present, humbling my heart and
straightway reassuring it
"Wounding as it were to cure,
Strength'ning only to endure."
On one of these occasions, when these sadly solacing communings,
protracted until night, found me wandering like something lost, I was
recalled to consciousness by the barking of a dog, and the flashing of a
light, and the clapping to of a gate, through which I saw Catherine pass
swiftly towards a dwelling at a short distance from the one she had left,
which was her mother's. I took my station under a hedge and awaited
her return, and when she approached, I gave the same low whistle which she
had often heard before, and she stopped, holding up the lanthorn, and
exclaiming, "Bless us, lad! can that be you?" I came from my covert
and convinced her it was myself, come I scarcely knew how or why, as I
said, but hoping against despair that I might once more catch a glimpse of
her dear form through the window, or hear her voice, or at least see some
one of the family who I knew had seen her, and then I could return
contented. "Indeed," she said, taking the hand which I extended,
"you are very kind; but how cold you are--you have been out in the dew
until you are wet and starved: wait a few minutes, and I will make an
excuse to come out again; I have something to tell you." And with
that she disappeared through the gate, and went into the house. She
was as good as her word. In a short time I heard her well-known
step, and went to meet her, and as I modestly embraced her, and expressed
a thousand thanks for this token of her kindness and confidence, she bade
me hush, and leading me beneath some trees, said she believed me to be
worthy of her confidence, even of her affection, or she should not have
met me again, but that her stay must be short, and that this meeting would
perhaps be our last as lovers.
It would be of little use were I to attempt to narrate the
particulars of all that was said on that mournful occasion. The
conversation of lovers is seldom interesting to any save themselves.
I urged, I pleaded, I besought, I even reproached and again pleaded, with
every persuasive which my unpractised but heart-bursting emotion could
pour forth, in order to induce her to say that we should once more live
for each other, but in vain. All she would promise was that this
should not be our final parting, but that, whatever might be the
consequence, she would meet me once more.
The simple-minded but tenacious girl made known to me,
however, in the most kindly and confiding manner, the circumstances which
had induced her thus unexpectedly to sacrifice our mutual happiness.
She, like the girls at Prestwich, had been trying to look into futurity,
and had given ear to the prophecies of an old fortune-telling woman, who
said "it was not our fate to be united," "that if the connection was not
broken off one of us would die," "that an evil star was in the table of
our destiny," "that, in fact, if the acquaintance was continued, I should
prove false in the end." "And so," added the distressed and almost
terrified girl, "what must be, must be." "It is of no use striving
against the decrees of Providence." "It is a great misfortune, but
it might have been worse; we can still esteem each other, nay, love each
other as dear friends, even meet each other as friends in passing through
the world, and surely that will be enough. If we can each be certain
of one true 'friend in need and indeed,' we shall be fortunate after all."
When I tried to reason her out of her delusion, she informed
me that the old woman was "infallible," and that before she gave a final
decision she always had access to the body of a lady which lay embalmed in
one of the rooms of a certain great house which stood on the roadside
leading to Manchester, and that whatever she in consequence foretold, it
was useless to attempt to evade.
And so, with one fond embrace, and mutual prayers that God
would protect and bless us through life, we again parted, and I, with my
heart somewhat consoled by the assurance of meeting her once more,
returned to my quiet and solitary old domicile.
I now became moody and melancholy, brooding over my ill
success in courtship, and wondering how it happened that love like mine
should go unrequited. I felt piqued also, and my pride was wounded,
that the fiat of an old woman should have had more influence than all my
entreaties. In my intercourse with the fair sex, the emotions of the
heart had hitherto been my only offering, and now the unworthy surmise
first occurred that the offering had been too pure, that the heart and the
imagination alone of man could not suffice for womankind, that the beings
I had adored were not so entirely divine as my poetry had painted them,
and that, if I would be really loved with a womanly love, mine must be of
a less ethereal nature than it had hitherto been. This notion I
found to be the confirmed opinion of some of my more experienced
acquaintance, who laughed at my simplicity, and with this dangerous and
debasing impression on my mind, I began to think there would be but little
sin in my acting differently from what I had done. That persuasion
had an immediate and injurious effect on my conduct, and the consequences
I first set about ridding myself of the influence which every
female, in whatsoever degree, had upon my feelings. I resolved to
love them all alike, and never more to give to woman the power of
inflicting pain such as I had endured. With the aid of pride, which
I summoned to my assistance, and a strong resolve to be free, I flattered
myself that I had accomplished this feat pretty soon, and I began to
breathe with greater confidence. From all the female sex I had taken
a distance, one was as near to me as another, and none were near enough to
wound. I could gaze on beauteous woman without emotion; I could
converse with her in terms of the coolest civility, whereas my heart-movings
would in past times have embarrassed my utterance. I was no longer
her slave; and the only duty I thenceforward acknowledged as owing to her
was to protect and please her, and in return, when so disposed, to accept
of her endeavours to please. But never again was she to have my
happiness at her disposal. So I became, as I thought, a
free-and-easy young fellow, with few things to care about save the
performance of my labour, the receipt of my wages, and the partaking of
such amusements as my humble means afforded. A dangerous position
was this for youth of my present turn of mind to occupy. My father,
whom I frequently called to see, never failed to give me the best of
advice, and I deferred to it for the moment, but seldom did its influence
long remain after I had quitted his presence. To three points of his
advice, however, I have, I hope, adhered through life, namely, to stand up
for the right and fear not, to be inflexibly honest, to avoid all approach
towards presumptuous assurance, and rather endeavour to be marked for
Hitherto "fond and sinless love" had been my protection
against many temptations, but now that was gone I found myself beset with
inducements to vice which I had previously deemed not worth a thought.
There was a void in my existence, and it required to be filled up by some
means. Small tipples of ale became not unfrequent; my company
keeping was more promiscuous; my conversation less modest; and my
deportment less reserved. Irreverent thoughts would obtrude whether
at church or chapel, and those places became mere rendezvous, where this
one might be seen, or that one might be found, or where an hour or two
might be spent as at a theatre, in the show of fine clothes, and hearing
the drone of tranquillising music. In short, I was fast ripening
into a graceless young ruffian, loving no one as I could once have loved;
beloved by no one as I would have been beloved; and preserving only so
much of self-respect as guaranteed my integrity, and the performance of my
duties to my employer.
But a new allurement now crossed my path, and had it not been
that the instrument for trial was just the one it was, my demoralisation
might have taken a decided and fearful course.
One night, as I was proceeding home, a woman of the town took
hold of my arm, and desired me to go with her. I had never been so
accosted before, and as she walked on with me the thoughts of being seen
with such an one at my side covered my cheeks with burning shame.
Confiding, however, in my own self-control, I took the dangerous resolve
of hearing what she had to say, and of observing what she would do.
I therefore suffered her to continue her conversation, and she led me into
less frequented streets, and by back corners, where under the shroud of
darkness her blandishments had well-nigh shaken my virtuous resolves.
Something she said about "the sweet air of the country," when I asked her
if she came from the country? and on her replying that she did, I
questioned her as to where she came from, and did not my ears tingle, and
my heart leap, when she said "from Middleton." "Ah!" I said, "I come
from Middleton." "Did I?" what was my name then? I told her,
when, uttering an exclamation of joyful surprise, she would have smothered
me with caresses. I next questioned her as to her name, and
seemingly incredulous, she asked me if I really did not know her? I
assured her I did not, and she wept to think, as she said, that she should
have carried me in her arms when I was an infant, and now that we should
meet here and I did not know her. Who could she be? I again
asked, and she mentioned a name at the hearing of which I almost sank to
the earth. She had been born and brought up at the house next door
to that of my parents; she was the beloved child of their early friends
and associates; she married when I was but an infant, and her husband,
when I could run about, used to make whip-cord, and kites, and banding to
fly them with for me. I knew the man well at that time; he was still
living, and it not unfrequently happened that I was in his company when I
went over to Middleton. I was disgusted with myself and her. I
shuddered at the sin which I had well-nigh committed, though she would
have continued her blandishments, and even pressed me for an assignation
at another time. But my soul revolted, and I got rid of her by
paying for a glass of hot liquor at "The Dangerous Corner" public house.
OLD FEELINGS AWAKENED--A VISIT, AND OTHER MATTERS.
FORTUNATELY, however, for me, I was for the present
somewhat recalled from this unsettled course of life by an incident which,
though trifling in itself, gave a startling impulse to my dormant
feelings. A young woman, an acquaintance of, and near neighbour to,
Mima, my young Middleton favourite; accosted me one day in the streets of
Manchester, and reproached me for having, as she said, forgotten the
little maiden, who, she gave me to understand, still retained a tender
remembrance of former days. Was that true? was it possible that she
could cherish a kind recollection of one who had been so long absent?
I asked. She said it was even as she had stated. This moved
the old pulses of my heart, and awoke that tender feeling of regard which
had been too long dormant. I entrusted the young woman with a kind
message to Mima, confirming it with a small token which I thought would be
acceptable, and I did not forget to make a present of a gay ribbon to the
bearer of this unhoped-for but welcome information. I now resolved
to see my fair agitator, at all events, and to learn from herself, frankly
and promptly if possible, whether or not our former friendship was to be
renewed, or abandoned at once and for ever. I therefore went to
Middleton the Sunday following, and as Fortune I suppose was just at that
time not in a humour for throwing impediments in my way, I obtained an
interview with the object of my solicitude, and besides finding her as
modest and bewitching as ever, the very model of a little head-bowed,
health-flushed Hebe, a lily rose-tinted, I had the ineffable pleasure of
receiving in her own words, with every grace of maidenly shame, an
acknowledgment that I had long been, and still was, regarded with a more
than friendly interest by her. This was enough for the present, and
after making arrangements whereby we might correspond by letter, I bade
adieu to the dear little girl, and walked back to Manchester in a state of
mind to which I had long been a stranger. I felt that in this
transaction I had, in fact, only performed a duty: that my early love had
after all the most rightful claim to my affection; that she was in every
respect worthy of it; and that, in this instance as in many others, the
performance of duty had been my guide to happiness. I was again as
deeply in love as ever, only this time I was serenely contented; my
confidence was greater, the void in my heart was filled, and I was happy.
I had been of opinion for some time, that my services to Mr.
W. were worthy of an increased remuneration, and I mentioned the matter,
but my employer could not be prevailed upon to adopt my views, and so
after the expiration of a month's notice I left his service.
It was about this time that on going home one evening, I saw
a young fellow beating a girl in the street.
"Hallo, you fellow," I said, "what are you abusing that girl
"What's that to you?" said the blackguard.
"I'll let you see what it is to me if you lay a finger on her
"Oh, you will, will you," said he; "come on then."
So we set to, and in five minutes I beat him till he was
dizzy and had enough. I then led the girl from the crowd, and as we
were going she told me he had beaten her because she could not supply him
with money for his night's revel. Was he her husband then? I asked.
She said he was not, and gave me to understand that she was an unfortunate
girl, and that he had latterly been supported from the wages of her
prostitution. "He wanted some to-day," she said, "whereas I have not
tasted meat since yesterday morning."
"Not tasted meat?"
"Not one crumb," said the girl, wiping her bleeding mouth and
tear-wet cheeks; "not one single crumb has passed my lips."
"If that be the case," I said, "thou hadst best come this
way;" and so I led her to a cook's shop, where according to her choice,
she had a plate of hot pie, which I paid for and left her eating it.
"Did I not promise that I would meet you once more," said a
gentle voice, as I stepped into the street.
"Good heavens! Catherine!" I said, "is that you."
"It is even me, and I have now redeemed my promise."
"Did you see me go in here?" I said.
"I saw both you and your companion go in," she said; "I
marked you coming down the street."
"Dear Catherine, you seem unwell--you are agitated; let us
seek a more suitable place."
"This place is very suitable, for all I now have to say
is--to bid you good-bye."
"Shall I not go with you?" I asked.
"No, I have company here," she replied, pointing to an
elderly woman who stood at a short distance. "Farewell," she added,
"Old Lissy might have been further mistaken;" and with that she stepped
over to the old woman, and they both went down the Mill-Gate--one of them
looking back, as I perceived, ere they finally disappeared.
Poor Catherine! Three months previously I could not
have believed that a meeting and parting of ours could have taken place
with so little emotion on my side.
It was now the season when Middleton wakes was approaching,
and as Mima would have to come to Manchester to buy a new gown, we
arranged in all the simplicity of our hearts, that she should call at my
lodgings, when I would accompany her in shopping, and afterwards see her
on the way towards home. I gave my landlady to understand that a
young woman, "my cousin, from the country," would be there that day.
Well, I waited all the morning, but Mima came not; all the noon, but there
was no appearance of the expected one. Two, three, four o'clock were
gone, and unable to rest I kept passing and repassing from my lodgings to
the street and back again; still my "dove appeared not at the window;" and
during a pang which was not to be borne, I rushed into the street, and
paced, very probable like one deranged, two or three times across the
Baron's yard. In a few minutes I controlled myself sufficiently to
return, and was preparing to stride desperately the steps of the entry,
when, looking up, who should be coming down, agitated and trembling, but
the dear one who had caused all my uneasiness. "Eh, Mima!"
"Eh, Samhul!" were our only exclamations, as we stood gazing on each
other, unable for a moment to reciprocate any other token of pleasure.
My old landlady and one or two old neighbour women stood at the upper end
of the court, eyeing us and our motions with the knowing curiosity for
which persons of their condition are remarkable. "She's Samhul's
cousin from the country," said my landlady. "Nay," replied another,
"yonder are no cousins." "If they are cousins," remarked a third,
"they're cousins an' something else besides."
I wished Mima to stop and have tea, but she declined, not
liking the scrutiny of the old women, who had been putting questions to
her when she went up the court to inquire for me. Besides she had
two young girls with her whom she had left waiting in the churchyard, so I
went with her and we found the girls, and after shopping and looking
through the town, we returned and rested at Tinker's Gardens, then a sweet
bowery place, and still as solitude on that week-day afternoon. Here
we took refreshment in one of the secluded arbours, and whilst our two
young companions strolled round viewing the gardens, I and my fair one had
a most agreeable opportunity for expressing all that our full hearts
permitted us to say. As night approached, we left this pleasant
place, and I escorted my company into the new high-road which was then in
the course of formation betwixt Manchester and Middleton. We knew
not how to part, and I kept going further and further until we arrived at
Middleton, where having seen Mima and her companions within a few yards of
home, I left them and returned to Manchester with as much happiness in my
heart as a human being could experience and live.
The ensuing wakes at Middleton was probably celebrated with a
greater degree of finery and a more plenteous hospitality than it had ever
been before, or has been since: besides banners, groves of evergreen,
garlands of flowers, and dancers numerous, not fewer than six bands of
music paraded the town, and eleven rush-carts. But Mima and I left
all the gaud, and the music, and the wonder-seeing crowd, to have our lone
walks in the woods. To us the wakes and everything connected with it
appeared as vanity unworthy of human thought. Mima took her milking
cans and I went with her, but when we got to the woods the kine were not
to be found, so we left the cans at the milking booth--a shed of
wattles--and a most pleasant excursion we had in search of the cows, and
after rambling long, often, indeed, forgetful of the beasts, we found them
at last, in a shady hollow, licking the tender herbage that fringed a
little rill. So we drove them to the booth and Mima milked them, and
then with her cans, one in the other and gracefully balanced on her head,
we returned to the crowded street and separated. That evening;
however, we had another and a longer walk. Turning away from "vanity
fair," we sought the lone bypaths and sweet meadows of Hopwood, where,
whilst the jingle and hubbub sounded afar off, we
"Wander'd by the greenwood-side,
And heard the waters croon;
And on the bank beside the path,
For hours thegither sat,
In the silentness of joy."
And many a time
since that happy eve have the same twain been seated on that "Bank beside
the path," in the muteness of sorrow, as well as "In the silentness of
9. Usually known as "Simnel Cake" and "Simnel Sunday." Bamford wrote
the name as he heard it pronounced. It occurs in Herrick's ' "Hesperides"
"I'll to thee a simnel bring
'Gainst thou go a-mothering,"
10. Written in 1848, when the Chartist agitation collapsed. The
charter consisted of "six points."
11. A kind of cymbal.
12. The average price of wheat in 1800 was 110s. 5d. per quarter. It rose
to 115s. 11d. in 1801, and fell to 67s. 9d, in 1502.
13. The peace of Amiens, March, 1802. War was declared again in May, 1803.
14. Founder (1797) of the Methodist New Connexion.