The World Outside

The 20th April 1814, an almost cloudless, perfectly sunny day, saw all London astir. On that day Lewis the Eighteenth was to come from Hartwell in triumph, summoned by France to the throne of his ancestors. London had not enjoyed too much gaiety that year. It was the year of the great frost. Nothing like it had been known in the memory of man. In the West of England, where snow is rare, roads were impassable and mails could not be delivered. Four dead men were dug out of a deep drift about ten miles west of Exeter. Even at Plymouth, close to the soft southwestern ocean, the average depth of the fall was twenty inches, and there was no other way of getting eastwards than by packhorses. The Great North Road was completely blocked, and there was a barricade over it near Godmanchester of from six to ten feet high. The Oxford coach was buried. Some passengers inside were rescued with great difficulty, and their lives were barely saved. The Solway Firth at Workington resembled the Arctic Sea, and the Thames was so completely frozen over between Blackfriars and London Bridges that people were able, not only to walk across, but to erect booths on the ice. Coals, of course, rose to famine prices in London, as it was then dependent solely upon water-carriage for its supply. The Father of his people, the Prince Regent, was much moved by the general distress of “a large and meritorious class of industrious persons,” as he called them, and issued a circular to all Lords Lieutenant ordering them to provide all practicable means of removing obstructions from the highways.

However, on this 20th April the London mob forgot the frost, forgot the quartern loaf and the national debt, and prepared for a holiday, inspired thereto, not so much by Lewis the Eighteenth as by the warmth and brilliant sky. There are two factors in all human bliss⁠—an object and the subject. The object may be a trifle, but the condition of the subject is most important. Turn a man out with his digestion in perfect order, with the spring in the air and in his veins, and he will cheer anything, any Lewis, Lord Liverpool, dog, cat, or rat who may cross his path. Not that this is intended as a sufficient explanation of the Bourbon reception. Far from it; but it does mitigate it a trifle. At eleven o’clock in the forenoon two troops of the Oxford Blues drew up at Kilburn turnpike to await the sacred arrival. The Prince Regent himself went as far as Stanmore to meet his August Brother. When the August Brother reached the village, the excited inhabitants thereof took the horses out of the carriage and drew him through the street. The Prince, standing at the door of the principal inn, was in readiness to salute him, and this he did by embracing him! There have been some remarkable embraces in history. Joseph fell on Israel’s neck, and Israel said unto Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen thy face:” Paul, after preaching at Ephesus, calling the elders of the Church to witness that, for the space of three years, he ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears, kneeled down and prayed, so that they all wept sore and fell on his neck: Romeo took a last embrace of Juliet in the vault, and sealed the doors of breath with a righteous kiss: Penelope embraced Ulysses, who was welcome to her as land is welcome to shipwrecked swimmers escaping from the grey seawater⁠—there have, we say, been some remarkable embraces on this earth since time began, but none more remarkable than that on the steps of the Abercorn Arms. The Divine couple then drove in solemn procession to town. From the park corner for three-quarters of a mile or so was a line of private carriages, filled with most fashionable people, the ladies all standing on the seats. The French Royalist flag waved everywhere. All along the Kilburn Road, then thinly lined with houses, it was triumphant, and even the trees were decorated with it. Arriving by way of Cumberland Gate at Piccadilly, Lewis was escorted, amidst uproarious rejoicing, to Grillon’s Hotel in Albemarle Street. There, in reply to an address from the Prince, he “ascribed, under Providence,” to his Royal Highness and the British people his present blissful condition; and soon afterwards, being extremely tired, went to bed. This was on a Wednesday. The next day, Thursday, His Sacred Majesty, or Most Christian Majesty, as he was then called, was solemnly made a Knight of the Garter, the Bishops of Salisbury and Winchester assisting. On Friday he received the corporation of London, and on Saturday the 23rd he prepared to take his departure. There was a great crowd in the street when he came out of the hotel and immense applause; the mob crying out, “God bless your Majesty!” as if they owed him all they had, and even their lives. It was very touching, people thought at the time, and so it was. Is there anything more touching than the waste of human loyalty and love? As we read the history of the Highlands or a story of Jacobite loyalty such as that of Cooper’s Admiral Bluewater, dear to boys, we sadden that destiny should decree that in a world in which piety is not too plentiful it should run so pitifully to waste, and that men and women should weep hot tears and break their hearts over bran-stuffing and wax.

Amidst the hooraying multitude that Saturday April morning was one man at least, Zachariah Coleman by name, who did not hooray, and did not lift his hat even when the Sacred Majesty appeared on the hotel steps. He was a smallish, thin-faced, lean creature in workman’s clothes; his complexion was white, blanched by office air, and his hands were black with printer’s ink.

“Off with your tile, you b⁠⸺⁠y Corsican!” exclaimed a roaring voice behind him. Zachariah turned round, and found the request came from a drayman weighing about eighteen stone; but the tile was not removed. In an instant it was sent flying to the other side of the road, where it was trodden on, picked up, and passed forward in the air amidst laughter and jeers, till it was finally lost.

Zachariah was not pugnacious, and could not very well be so in the presence of his huge antagonist; but he was no coward, and not seeing for the moment that his hat had hopelessly gone, he turned round savagely, and laying hold of the drayman, said:

“You ruffian, give it me back; if I am a Corsican, are you an Englishman?”

“Take that for your b⁠⸺⁠y beaver,” said the other, and dealt him a blow with the fist right in his face, which staggered and stupefied him, covering him with blood.

The bystanders, observing the disparity between the two men, instantly took Zachariah’s side, and called out “Shame, shame!” Nor did they confine themselves to ejaculations, for a young fellow of about eight and twenty, well dressed, with a bottle-green coat of broadcloth, buttoned close, stepped up to the drayman.

“Knock my tile off, beer-barrel.”

The drayman instantly responded by a clutch at it, but before he could touch it he had an awful cut across the lips, delivered with such scientific accuracy from the left shoulder that it was clear it came from a disciple of Jackson or Tom Cribb. The crowd now became intensely delighted and excited, and a cry of “A ring, a ring!” was raised. The drayman, blind with rage, let out with his right arm with force enough to fell an ox, but the stroke was most artistically parried, and the response was another fearful gash over the right eye. By this time the patriot had had enough, and declined to continue the contest. His foe, too, seemed to have no desire for any further display of his powers, and retired smilingly, edging his way to the pavement, where he found poor Zachariah almost helpless.

“Holloa, my republican friend, d⁠⸺⁠n it, that’s a nasty lick you’ve got, and from one of the people too; that makes it harder to bear, eh? Never mind, he’s worse off than you are.”

Zachariah thanked him as well as he could for defending him.

“Not a word; haven’t got a scratch myself. Come along with me;” and he dragged him along Piccadilly into a public-house in Swallow Street, where apparently he was well known. Water was called for; Zachariah was sponged, the wound strapped up, some brandy given him, and the stranger, ordering a hackney coach, told the driver to take the gentleman home.

“Wait a bit,” he called, as the coach drove off. “You may feel faint; I’ll go home with you,” and in a moment he was by Zachariah’s side. The coach found its way slowly through the streets to some lodgings in Clerkenwell. It was well the stranger did go, for his companion on arrival was hardly able to crawl upstairs to give a coherent account to his wife of what had happened.

Zachariah Coleman, working man, printer, was in April 1814 about thirty years old. He was employed in a jobbing office in the city, where he was compositor and pressman as well. He had been married in January 1814 to a woman a year younger than himself, who attended the meetinghouse at Hackney, whither he went on the Sunday. He was a Dissenter in religion, and a fierce Radical in politics, as many of the Dissenters in that day were. He was not a ranter or revivalist, but what was called a moderate Calvinist; that is to say, he held to Calvinism as his undoubted creed, but when it came to the push in actual practice he modified it. In this respect he was inconsistent; but who is there who is not? His theology probably had no more gaps in it than that of the latest and most enlightened preacher who denies miracles and affirms the Universal Benevolence. His present biographer, from intimate acquaintance with the class to which Zachariah belonged, takes this opportunity to protest against the general assumption that the Calvinists of that day, or of any day, arrived at their belief by putting out their eyes and accepting blindly the authority of St. Paul or anybody else. It may be questioned, indeed, whether any religious body has ever stood so distinctly upon the understanding and has used its intellect with such rigorous activity, as the Puritans, from whom Zachariah was a genuine descendant. Even if Calvinism had been carved on tables of stone and handed down from heaven by the Almighty Hand, it would not have lived if it had not have found to agree more or less with the facts, and it was because it was a deduction from what nobody can help seeing that it was so vital, the Epistle to the Romans serving as the inspired confirmation of an experience. Zachariah was a great reader of all kinds of books⁠—a lover especially of Bunyan and Milton; as logical in his politics as in his religion; and he defended the execution of Charles the First on the ground that the people had just as much right to put a king to death as a judge had to order the execution of any other criminal.

The courtship between Zachariah and the lady who became his wife had been short, for there could be no mistake, as they had known one another so long. She was black-haired, with a perfectly oval face, always dressed with the most scrupulous neatness, and with a certain plain tightness which Zachariah admired. She had exquisitely white and perfect teeth, a pale, clear complexion, and the reputation of being a most sensible woman. She was not a beauty, but she was good-looking; the weak points in her face being her eyes, which were mere inexpressive optic organs, and her mouth, which, when shut, seemed too much shut, just as if it were compressed by an effort of the will or by a spring. These, however, Zachariah thought minor matters, if, indeed, he ever noticed them. “The great thing was, that she was”⁠—sometimes this and sometimes that⁠—and so it was settled. Unfortunately in marriage it is so difficult to be sure of what the great thing is, and what the little thing is, the little thing becoming so frightfully big afterwards! Theologically, Mrs. Zachariah was as strict as her husband, and more so, as far as outward observance went, for her strictness was not tempered by those secular interests which to him were so dear. She read little or nothing⁠—nothing, indeed, on weekdays, and even the Morning Chronicle, which Zachariah occasionally borrowed, was folded up when he had done with it and put under the tea-caddy till it was returned. On Sundays she took up a book in the afternoon, but she carefully prepared herself for the operation as though it were a sacramental service. When the dinner-things were washed up, when the hearth was swept and the kettle on the fire, having put on her best Sunday dress, it was her custom to go to the window, always to the window, never to the fire⁠—where she would open Boston’s Fourfold State and hold it up in front of her with both hands. This, however, did not last long, for on the arrival of the milkman the volume was replaced, and it was necessary to make preparations for tea.

The hackney coach drove up to the house in Rosoman Street where Zachariah dwelt on the first floor. He was too weak to go upstairs by himself, and he and his friend therefore walked into the front room together. It was in complete order, although it was so early in the morning. Everything was dusted; even the lower fire-bar had not a speck of ashes on it, and on the hob already was a saucepan in which Mrs. Coleman proposed to cook the one o’clock dinner. On the walls were portraits of Sir Francis Burdett, Major Cartwright, and the mezzotint engraving of Sadler’s Bunyan. Two black silhouettes⁠—one of Zachariah and the other of his wife⁠—were suspended on each side of the mantelpiece.

Mrs. Coleman was busily engaged in the bedroom, but hearing the footsteps, she immediately entered. She was slightly taken aback at seeing Zachariah in such a plight, and uttered a little scream, but the bottle-green stranger, making her a profound bow, arrested her.

“Pardon me, my dear madam, there is nothing seriously the matter. Your husband has had the misfortune to be the victim of a most blackguardly assault; but I am sure that, under your care, he will be all right in a day or two; and, with your permission, I take my leave.”

Mrs. Coleman was irritated. The first emotion was not sympathy. Absolutely the first was annoyance at being seen without proper notice by such a fine-looking gentleman. She had, however, no real cause for vexation under this head. She had tied a white handkerchief over her hair, fastening it under her chin, as her manner was when doing her morning’s work, and she had on her white apron; but she was trim and faultless, and the white handkerchief did but set off her black hair and marble complexion. Her second emotion, too, was not sympathy. Zachariah was at home at the wrong time. Her ordinary household arrangements were upset. He might possibly be ill, and then there would be a mess and confusion. The thought of sickness was intolerable to her, because it “put everything out.” Rising up at the back of these two emotions came, haltingly, a third when she looked her husband in the face. She could not help it, and she did really pity him.

“I am sure it is very kind of you,” she replied.

Zachariah had as yet spoken no word, nor had she moved towards him. The stranger was departing.

“Stop!” cried Zachariah, “you have not told me your name. I am too faint to say how much I owe you for your protection and kindness.”

“Nonsense. My name is Maitland⁠—Major Maitland, 1A Albany. Goodbye.”

He was at the top of the stairs, when he turned round, and looking at Mrs. Coleman, observed musingly, “I think I’ll send my doctor, and, if you will permit me, will call in a day or two.”

She thanked him; he took her hand, politely pressed it to his lips, and rode off in the coach which had been waiting for him.

“What has happened, my dear? Tell me all about it,” she inquired as she went back into the parlour, with just the least colour on her cheek, and perceptibly a little happier than she was five minutes before. She did nothing more than put her hand on his shoulder, but he brightened immediately. He told her the tale, and when it was over desired to lie down and to have some tea.

Emotion number two returned to Mrs. Coleman immediately. Tea at that time, the things having been all cleared away and washed up! She did not, however, like openly to object, but she did go so far as to suggest that perhaps cold water would be better, as there might be inflammation. Zachariah, although he was accustomed to give way, begged for tea; and it was made ready, but not with water boiled there. She would not again put the copper kettle on the fire, as it was just cleaned, but she asked to be allowed to use that which belonged to the neighbour downstairs who kept the shop. The tea-things were replaced when Zachariah had finished, and his wife returned to her duties, leaving him sitting in the straight-backed Windsor-chair, looking into the grate and feeling very miserable.

In the afternoon Rosoman Street was startled to see a grand carriage stop at Zachariah’s door, and out stepped the grand doctor, who, after some little hesitation and inquiry, made his way upstairs. Having examined our friend, he pronounced him free from all mortal or even serious injury⁠—it was a case of contusion and shaken nerves, which required a little alterative medicine, and on the day after tomorrow the patient, although bruised and sore in the mouth, might go back to work.

The next morning he was better, but nevertheless he was depressed. It was now three months since his wedding-day, and the pomp and beauty of the sunrise, gold and scarlet bars with intermediate lakes of softest blue, had been obscured by leaden clouds, which showed no break and let loose a cold drizzling rain. How was it? He often asked himself that question, but could obtain no satisfactory answer. Had anything changed? Was his wife anything which he did not know her to be three months ago? Certainly not. He could not accuse her of passing herself off upon him with false pretences. What she had always represented herself to be she was now. There she stood precisely as she stood twelve months ago, when he asked her to become his wife, and he thought when she said “yes” that no man was more blessed than he. It was, he feared, true he did not love her, nor she him; but why could not they have found that out before? What a cruel destiny was this which drew a veil before his eyes and led him blindfold over the precipice! He at first thought, when his joy began to ebb in February or March, that it would rise again, and that he would see matters in a different light; but the spring was here, and the tide had not turned. It never would turn now, and he became at last aware of the sad truth⁠—the saddest a man can know⁠—that he had missed the great delight of existence. His chance had come, and had gone. Henceforth all that was said and sung about love and home would find no echo in him. He was paralysed, dead in half of his soul, and would have to exist with the other half as well he could. He had done no wrong: he had done his best; he had not sold himself to the flesh or the devil, and, Calvinist as he was, he was tempted at times to question the justice of such a punishment. If he put his finger in the fire and got burnt, he was able to bow to the wisdom which taught him in that plain way that he was not to put his finger in the fire. But wherein lay the beneficence of visiting a simple mistake⁠—one which he could not avoid⁠—with a curse worse than the Jewish curse of excommunication⁠—“the anathema wherewith Joshua cursed Jericho; the curse which Elisha laid upon the children; all the curses which are written in the law. Cursed be he by day, and cursed be he by night: cursed be he in sleeping, and cursed be he in waking: cursed in going out, and cursed in coming in.” Neither the wretched victim nor the world at large was any better for such a visitation, for it was neither remedial nor monitory. Ah, so it is! The murderer is hung at Newgate, and if he himself is not improved by the process, perhaps a few wicked people are frightened; but men and women are put to a worse death every day by slow strangulation which endures for a lifetime, and, as far as we can see, no lesson is learned by anybody, and no good is done.

Zachariah, however, did not give way to despair, for he was not a man to despair. His religion was a part of himself. He had immortality before him, in which he thanked God there was no marrying nor giving in marriage. This doctrine, however, did not live in him as the other dogmas of his creed, for it was not one in which his intellect had such a share. On the other hand, predestination was dear to him. God knew him as closely as He knew the angel next His throne, and had marked out his course with as much concern as that of the seraph. What God’s purposes were he did not know. He took a sort of sullen pride in not knowing, and he marched along, footsore and wounded, in obedience to the orders of his great Chief. Only thirty years old, and only three months a husband, he had already learned renunciation. There was to be no joy in life? Then he would be satisfied if it were tolerable, and he strove to dismiss all his dreams and do his best with what lay before him. Oh my hero! Perhaps somewhere or other⁠—let us hope it is true⁠—a book is kept in which human worth is duly appraised, and in that book, if such a volume there be, we shall find that the divinest heroism is not that of the man who, holding life cheap, puts his back against a wall, and is shot by Government soldiers, assured that he will live ever afterwards as a martyr and saint: a diviner heroism is that of the poor printer, who, in dingy, smoky Rosoman Street, Clerkenwell, with forty years before him, determined to live through them, as far as he could, without a murmur, although there was to be no pleasure in them. A diviner heroism is this, but divinest of all, is that of him who can in these days do what Zachariah did, and without Zachariah’s faith.

The next evening, just as Zachariah and his wife were sitting down to tea, there was a tap at the door, and in walked Major Maitland. He was now in full afternoon costume, and, if not dandyish, was undeniably well dressed. Making a profound bow to Mrs. Coleman, he advanced to the fireplace and instantly shook hands with Zachariah.

“Well, my republican, you are better, although the beery loyalist has left his mark upon you.”

“Certainly, much better; but where I should have been, sir, if it had not been for you, I don’t know.”

“Ah, well; it was an absolute pleasure to me to teach the blackguard that cheering a Bourbon costs something. My God, though, a man must be a fool who has to be taught that! I wonder what it has cost us. Why, I see you’ve got my friend, Major Cartwright, up there.”

Zachariah and his wife started a moment at what they considered the profane introduction of God’s name; but it was not exactly swearing, and Major Maitland’s relationship to them was remarkable. They were therefore silent.

“A true friend of the people,” continued Maitland, “is Major Cartwright; but he does not go quite far enough to please me.”

“As for the people so-called,” quoth Zachariah, “I doubt whether they are worth saving. Look at the mob we saw the day before yesterday. I think not of the people. But there is a people, even in these days of Ahab, whose feet may yet be on the necks of their enemies.”

“Why, you are an aristocrat,” said Maitland, smiling; “only you want to abolish the present aristocracy and give us another. You must not judge us by what you saw in Piccadilly, and while you are still smarting from that smasher on your eye. London, I grant you, is not, and never was, a fair specimen. But, even in London, you must not be deceived. You don’t know its real temper; and then, as to not being worth saving⁠—why, the worse men are the more they want saving. However, we are both agreed about this⁠—crew, Liverpool, the Prince Regent, and his friends.” A strong word was about to escape before “crew,” but the Major saw that he was in a house where it would be out of place. “I wish you’d join our Friends of the People. We want two or three determined fellows like you. We are all safe.”

“What are the ‘Friends of the People’?”

“Oh, it’s a club of⁠—a⁠—good fellows who meet twice a week for a little talk about affairs. Come with me next Friday and see.”

Zachariah hesitated a moment, and then consented.

“All right; I’ll fetch you.” He was going away, and picked up from the table a book he had brought with him.

“By the way, you will not be at work till tomorrow. I’ll leave you this to amuse you. It has not been out long. Thirteen thousand copies were sold the first day. It is the Corsair⁠—Byron’s Corsair. My God, it is poetry and no mistake! Not exactly, perhaps, in your line; but you are a man of sense, and if that doesn’t make your heart leap in you I’m much mistaken. Lord Byron is a neighbour of mine in the Albany. I know him by sight. I’ve waited a whole livelong morning at my window to see him go out. So much the more fool you, you’ll say. Ah, well, wait till you have read the Corsair.”

The Major shook hands. Mrs. Coleman, who had been totally silent during the interview, excepting when she asked him if he would join in a cup of tea⁠—an offer most gracefully declined⁠—followed him to the top of the stairs. As before, he kissed her hand, made her a profound bow, and was off. When she came back into the room the faint flush on the cheek was repeated, and there was the same unusual little rippling overflow of kindness to her husband.

In the evening Zachariah took up the book. Byron was not, indeed, in his line. He took no interest in him, although, like every other Englishman, he had heard much about him. He had passed on his way to Albemarle Street the entrance to the Albany. Byron was lying there asleep, but Zachariah, although he knew he was within fifty yards of him, felt no emotion whatever. This was remarkable, for Byron’s influence, even in 1814, was singular, beyond that of all predecessors and successors, in the wideness of its range. He was read by everybody. Men and women who were accessible to no other poetry were accessible to his, and old sea-captains, merchants, tradesmen, clerks, tailors, milliners, as well as the best judges in the land repeated his verses by the page.

Mrs. Coleman, having cleared away the tea-things, sat knitting till half-past six. It was prayer-meeting night, and she never missed going. Zachariah generally accompanied her, but he was not quite presentable, and stayed at home. He went on with the Corsair, and as he read his heart warmed, and he unconsciously found himself declaiming several of the most glowing and eloquent lines aloud. He was by nature a poet; essentially so, for he loved everything which lifted him above what is commonplace. Isaiah, Milton, a storm, a revolution, a great passion⁠—with these he was at home; and his education, mainly on the Old Testament, contributed greatly to the development both of the strength and weakness of his character. For such as he are weak as well as strong; weak in the absence of the innumerable little sympathies and worldlinesses which make life delightful, and but too apt to despise and tread upon those gentle flowers which are as really here as the sun and the stars, and are nearer to us. Zachariah found in the Corsair exactly what answered to his own inmost self, down to its very depths. The lofty style, the scorn of what is mean and base, the courage⁠—root of all virtue⁠—that dares and evermore dares in the very last extremity, the love of the illimitable, of freedom, and the cadences like the fall of waves on a seashore were attractive to him beyond measure. More than this, there was Love. His own love was a failure, and yet it was impossible for him to indulge for a moment his imagination elsewhere. The difference between him and his wife might have risen to absolute aversion, and yet no wandering fancy would ever have been encouraged towards any woman living. But when he came to Medora’s song⁠—

“Deep in my soul that tender secret dwells,
Lonely and lost to light for evermore,
Save when to thine my heart responsive swells,
Then trembles into silence as before.”

and more particularly the second verse⁠—

“There, in its centre, a sepulchral lamp
Burns the slow flame, eternal⁠—but unseen;
Which not the darkness of despair can damp,
Though vain its ray as it had never been.”

love again asserted itself. It was not love for a person; perhaps it was hardly love so much as the capacity for love. Whatever it may be, henceforth this is what love will be in him, and it will be fully maintained, though it knows no actual object. It will manifest itself in suppressed force, seeking for exit in a thousand directions; sometimes grotesque perhaps, but always force. It will give energy to expression, vitality to his admiration of the beautiful, devotion to his worship, enthusiasm to his zeal for freedom. More than this, it will not make his private life unbearable by contrast; rather the reverse. The vision of Medora will not intensify the shadow over Rosoman Street, Clerkenwell, but will soften it.