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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter LXXII. - At Thwaites House


As already indicated, I was far from being out of work during the breakdown period, when I had to lie most of my time on my back, for besides the monthly budget for the Cape, I wrote many leading articles and reviews of books for other papers. I chose my own subjects, and wrote as I honestly thought on those subjects. Before I went to South Africa I was by habit and conviction what I may call a Palmerstonian Whig. So, at the time of my editorial connection with it, was the Bradford Observer, and its proprietor, Mr William Byles. There was only one subject on which he and I agreed to differ, and that was the aggressive policy of Mr Edward Miall and the Liberation Society towards the Established Churches of England and Scotland. Dissenters, I knew, had grievances which ought to be redressed, and were by degrees being redressed, in rural districts where squire and parson looked upon themselves as monarchs of all they surveyed, but Mr Byles, who belonged to the old class of religious Dissenters, was ready enough to admit that the two National Established Churches had done, and were doing work which, if they were levelled down, Voluntaryism could not undertake to do, and he did not deny that their work and historical continuity were the backbone of Protestant strength not only at home but in the United States, where there was no Established Church. On this one subject I never wrote in his paper, nor did he want me to do so. The truly religious Dissenters of his generation and training did not realise how among the younger generation political dissent was already eating out the heart of puritanic belief, although happily to a large extent the old standard of morality was still upheld. Mr Byles, with his long business experience, was far less sanguine than I that co-operation and limited liability would go far to solve the capital and labour difficulty. Co-operation stores, with their assured customers and ready money payments, under ordinary good management, cannot help being comparatively successful. But co-operation mills and other works have not stood the test of many fair trials. Individual management in competent hands must always beat collective management, however careful and free from the corruption of secret commissions and scandals such as those of Poplar, West Ham, and Mile End. I always valued the colonies and dependencies as the Greater Britain there was to be, and always resented the tone adopted towards them by Messrs Cobden and Bright, and all their Manchester School followers. I came back from the Cape a stronger Imperialist than when I went there, and with new doubts about the abiding value of the free import policy which we glorified by calling it free trade when it never got to be anything of the kind.

A political era closed with the death of Lord Palmerston and the going to the House of Lords of old Lord John Russell. The leaders who came after them, Mr Disraeli and Mr Gladstone, had began public life, the former as a flashy, philosophical Radical, and the latter as a High Church Anglican Tory. After Mr Disraeli's democratic Reform Bill, establishing household suffrage in boroughs, and ten pound suffrage in the counties, and Mr Gladstone's disestablishment of the Irish Church, the old designation of parties as Whigs and Tories lost their meaning ; and the new ones of Liberals and Conservatives became more appropriate. As for the disestablishment of the Irish Church, the only thing I deeply regretted myself was that the confiscated ecclesiastical funds were not retained and proportionately shared among Catholic parish priests and Protestant ministers of all denominations for permanent endowment purposes as far as they would go. The Protestant Episcopal Church of Ireland was in very truth "A garrison church," which represented English domination, and a half conquest, which was much more irritating and ten times less beneficial than a settlement on complete conquest might have been. 1 had read all Mr Disraeli's published works, and while fully aware of the genius displayed in them, I did not like their foreign-like glitter, superlatives, and class and caste limitations in regard to his subjects and the way he treated them. But on questions of foreign and colonial policy his views seemed always to be as far- seeing and truly patriotic as those of Mr Gladstone were hazy and unreliable. It was after the time I am writing about that Mr Gladstone took to having special revelations like Mahomet, which suited personal and party interests. When he disestablished the Irish Church, he was yet far enough from Irish Home Rule, and from the passionate claptrap of the Bulgarian atrocity agitation. He had, with wonderful gifts of oratory and financial talents, the singular faculty of persuading himself as well as others that on every occasion of his making a new departure in politics he was acting on the highest motives, as if he had a revelation and order from heaven. No one could listen to his glowing oratory without being to some degree mesmerised, but when his speeches, with their bursting sentences so troublesome to reporters were read in print, the mesmerism of tone and personality disappeared, and one wondered how the sought-for impression could have been produced at the public meeting or in the House of Commons by a flow of words, which were in sense frequently elusive, however imposing in form. 1 think I must admit that I got an early prejudice against Mr Gladstone, because he was the only House of Commons member of Sir Robert Peel's Government in 1842-3 who understood the dispute which ended in the Disruption, and who, instead of doing all he could to prevent the catastrophe, joined with Manning and others in setting up the Glen- almond College, for Anglicanising the sons of the Scotch nobility and gentry.

On returning from South Africa, I found myself, like many more of the Ne quid nimis Palmerstonian Whigs, out of sympathy and general agreement with the new Liberalism, and filled with distrust of Mr Gladstone's tendency to heroically plunge into all sorts of domestic policy innovations, and of his capacity for blundering in foreign affairs, and for neglecting the colonies and British Empire consolidation. So henceforward I was, like others of my kind, ranked as a Conservative, and as the years passed got accustomed in words and writings to express my fears and ever increasing convictions of the dangers ahead, with Highland forcibleness of language. I lost, no doubt, professional chances by refusing to float with the current of Gladstonian Liberalism, but I lost none of my old friends, not- withstanding political separation at the parting of the ways, and in after years not a few of them were driven by Mr Gladstone's Home Rule plunge to join the ranks of the Unionists. This is all preliminary to what I have to say about our eleven years' residence at Thwaites House, within a mile of Keighley, but by a small field's breadth inside the parish of Bingley.

I returned from the Highlands on the second visit with health so much improved that we forth- with began to look out for a house in the country, where we should for the third time since our marriage set up our penates. Ere long we heard of Thwaites House. My wife and her mother went to see it, and their report was so favourable that I took it without having first visited it. I was delighted with it when I did see it. It had been built in succession to an older homestead by one of a line of Rishworth proprietors about 1780. The houses then put up, like this one, were built to last as it were for ever. The fold of farm buildings claimed a much higher antiquity than the homestead, which consisted of a broader main building and a narrower kitchen end, with plenty room for the farmer, Mr William Wilkinson, and his wife, and the wife's father, who resided with them until his death, a few years later. The Wilkinsons had no family, and when the wife died the husband's niece came to keep house for him. Worthy, hard-working, and excellent neighbours they all were. With the exception of one upstairs room, we had all the main building five rooms, two of which were very large, with a kitchen, cellar, and broad staircase. Our front door and the face of the whole house faced the mid- day sun, while the door of the farmer's part of the building was at the other side. When there was level ground so near, it was a strange fancy of the old proprietors to have stuck in their homestead at the foot of a steep grassy brae, over which the larks delighted to sing like mad, while they rose and fell in the air as if dancing to their own music. The farmer had the better and more level half of the old garden, our part being an intake from the steep hillside. But it was enough for our needs, and, besides vegetables for the pot, and salad stuffs, produced plums, apples, gooseberries, rasps, and strawberries. I was always fond of gardening, and it did me good to spend spare hours in fighting this unlevel piece of ground. The house roofs were covered, not by slates, but by Yorkshire grit flags, as was the case with most of the old buildings of the whole district. A later Rishworth built, some time in the early half of last century, three cottages at the end of the homestead, with their fronts and doors facing away from the mid-day sun. Slate, I believe, was not much known, or at any rate much used, before the making of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. In the fifties or early sixties, the Rishworths sold their Thwaites House property, and went to Tuam, in Galway, where they established themselves as manufacturers. Their history was like that of many others of the old class of small landowners who were tempted to sell in order to launch out in new careers, or to divide capital among a numerous family of children. The area of the Thwaites House property was just enough for a snug farm, which, before the arable and level part was sold and cut off' for the Keighley Gasworks, Mr Wilkinson and his wife, with a servant man's aid in spring and autumn, were able to manage very well.

We went to Thwaites House with two children, the boys we brought back with us from Africa. We left it with a family of nine, and two more were born to us at Inverness.

Between Keighley and Bingley, on the Thwaites or west side of the Aire, the scenery is exceedingly pretty, being varied by low fields, and some boggy still lower nooks, where willows for basket-work were profitably cultivated an industry which ought to be introduced into many places in the Highlands, which are undoubtedly suitable for willow cultivation. Besides Bingley wood, trees and hedges abounded everywhere. By rising abruptly from the plain, the upper grazings, with their trees, bushes, and hedges, made a successful attempt to produce the impression of being rather lofty, or at least very picturesque hills. But when we climbed the abrupt little hill above our house, so beloved of larks, starlings, and other birds, we came to a fairly level farm, above which rose the higher small and romantic rocky hill which had at some unknown date acquired the name of the Druid altar. Rights-of-way, by roads and footpaths, had been carefully preserved, throughout all the varia- tions brought about by encroachments of towns and changes of industrial and social life. So there was free access to a lovely scenery, rich in flower and fauna, where the air was pure, and smoky towns and polluted streams could be forgotten. On the east or Rumbold Moor side of the river, the scene was less varied, and the much higher hill was less interesting until the heather was reached and the open lower slopes, with ancient halls, were lost sight of.

While we could fancy ourselves out of the world in this rural retreat, we were yet in it, not only because of my work for various newspapers, but likewise because we had many callers, such as friends and acquaintances of various classes, politicians, and clergymen of different Churches, Episcopalians, Nonconformists, and my good friend Father Kiernan from Tipperary, whose Gaelic, to his huge regret, had in the days of his youth been neglected. Political opponents liked to have arguments with me. Among these was Mr Moggridge, who succeeded me as editor of the Observer, and flung himself conscientiously into the Radicalism from which I had determinedly revolted. Mr Moggridge was the son and heir of a Welsh landowner. While at the University he had fallen under the influence of John Stuart Mill's economical theories, Herbert Spencer's metaphysics, and Goldwin Smith's shallow political philosophy. He made sacrifices for his opinions. He had studied for being a clergyman of the Church of England, and drifting into Agnosticism, renounced his church connection and sure prospects of promotion, disappointed his father and relatives, flung himself into journalism, and married a nice lady of the fair Saxon type, who was the niece of the enemy of grouse and game Mr Peter Taylor, for a long time the Radical M.P. for Blackburn, but who drew the line at Irish Home Rule, and died a firm Unionist. Mr Moggridge himself was a dark Welshman, and so was their daughter the brightest, sylph-like, of young lassies that could be found, while their boy was like the mother. Mr Moggridge and I had many discussions on the evolution theory and kindred subjects. He admitted it was not at that time fully proved, but believed that it was wholly true, and expected that the missing links would soon be found. I admitted that for generalisation and classification purposes it might have its usefulness, but contended that, rightly defined, the distinction of species was on this planet, as far as men knew or could know, immutable and eternal, and that the history of hybrids in plants and animals sustained my contention. We both realised the far-reaching consequences of the evolu- tion doctrine if accepted for proved truth. Mr Moggridge, I always felt, could not find rest all his life in the cold atmosphere of Agnosticism. He was too fond of Homer, Plato, and even the Arthurian stories, and naturally too religious for becoming rooted in his thin unbeliefs. High aspirations and ideals connected him too closely, despite reasoning and will, with the soul side of the universe to be satisfied with the materialism, which science can only dissect like a dead corpse, leaving the soul side alone. It would not have been impossible for him, I thought, to find, when averted from Christianity, something to suit his imagination in Buddhism or the creed of Pythagoras, but I deemed it far more likely that he would rather, when he revolted from materialism and found out that human nature was, for good and evil, not what he had dreamed of, like Cardinal Newman, put himself under the authority and discipline of the Church of Rome. But he contented himself with return to the Church of England. He left Bradford several years before we left Thwaites House. I missed his visits many a day, but as I always disliked to keep up correspondence by letters with friends as much as I liked to talk with them face to face, I lost sight of him for a long time. It was a good while after we came to Inverness that I was one day startled by reading in an Aberdeen or Elgin paper news of his death on the Moray Firth coast, where he had been in charge of an Episcopal Church and congregation. Had I known sooner that he was there, I would certainly have gone to see him, and to invite him and his to come and see me and mine at Inverness.


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