Mr. Armstrong's literary labours were not those of a recluse, whose life is passed among books. They were the earnest outpourings of a heart which lived among men, seeking to provide for the necessities which his pastoral experience brought before his notice, or to give vent to aspirations and schemes of good which opened upon him; and this with an ease of writing, and a happy flow of simple, impressive eloquence, peculiarly his own.
The "Pastor in his Closet" was published in the year 1847, two years after he came to Tidenham. It is a small devotional manual for the parish priest, and expresses the yearnings and self-reproaches of a deeply ardent spirit. It bears upon it the indisputable evidence of being the genuine transcript of his own mind, with all the reality and transparency of his own beautiful character.
 After viewing the pastoral life of the writer, it becomes necessary to quote some passages from this manual, to convey an idea of what thoughts and feelings were working within. The power which animated his outward actions will be better understood, when we enter into the spirit which breathes in these outpourings of his heart before God. The manual opens with some thoughts for general devotion:--
"O Lord God, I am alone with Thee in my chamber; I have shut the doors of my chamber and entered into my closet, that I might pray unto Thee in secret, for Thou hearest and lovest the secret prayer. No man seeth or heareth me; no man knoweth that I have come to pray; this is my 'solitary place;' it will not be known that I have now sought Thee in prayer till the last day, when all hidden things shall be brought to light.
"When I pray in Thy house of prayer, when I pray with my household, I am seen to pray; but here I pour out my soul, I lift up my soul, I seek Thy face, I bow myself to the ground before Thee, I hold communion with Thee, God Most High, through Thy Son's Name, and 'Thou Lord only knowest it.'
"O gracious Father, I do desire to be alone: when I am occupied before men, I know not the [150/151] power of the opinions of men over me; I know not how much I do to he seen of men, or out of regard to men; I know not mine own self, I am not sure of myself; whatsoever I do in secret seems to be more entirely sincere, and done in singleness of heart to Thy glory. When I kneel down here in this secret place, I can but be seeking Thee; I can but desire Thy favour toward me. Awful is it to be with Thee, O God, with my own solitary soul, with myself such as I am, with my single spirit, a most sinful creature, approaching Thee alone. Awful it is to feel Thy presence, to consider it, to believe in it, to know that I am alone with Thee,--I a most sinful man, Thou the great God of heaven and earth. I might well desire to hide myself from Thy light, as did Adam, when he had sinned, among the trees of the garden. I might well desire to be joined by devout men in my prayers, to be mixed and incorporated with them, to escape standing alone before Thee and feeling my own solitariness, oneness, singleness of my own individual personal life. I might well desire to cast myself among a multitude, that I might be, as it were, a part of a multitude. But yet it is good for me to be alone, to feel that I am one, single, separate, responsible soul, who must in my own self live eternally."
It is said by one of his flock, in regard to his [151/152] outward manner in the Church-services,--"He would complain of his difficulty in feeling the service, while saying it in church; but the devotion of his manner was most striking, and he was so natural, that one could not but believe the manner the true indication of his feelings." The sources and nourishment of what thus appeared in his outward demeanour will be discerned in the "Meditation for Sunday:"--
"As I have many things to do,--to pray, to read Thy holy Word, to preach accordingly; to offer up supplications for the sick, and thanksgivings for those to whom Thou hast shewed mercy; to baptize, to receive the blessed Sacrament of Thy Body and Blood, to administer it; to lay in the grave those of our brethren whom it hath pleased Thee to take from us unto Thyself,--help me, holy Jesus, in all these acts of devotion, that the spirit of devotion may be sustained throughout, that all my ministrations may be done with a single mind, and may be blest unto myself and unto those to whom I minister.
"Outward reverence at all times, O Lord, is easy; but inward reverence, inward attentiveness and solemnity of spirit, it is hard always to keep. I may not wound my flock by outward carelessness, indifference, haste, negligence, or any other visible [152/153] fault; but how much may I lose them, if I do not inwardly worship Thee, and heartily pray for them; if my spirit is backward and remiss, or hurrying to many unprofitable thoughts, or thinking of the opinions of men!
"It is right that I should outwardly honour Thee, for there cannot be inward worship beneath outward irreverence; but what are things outward, if I lack devotion within! No man knoweth from outward appearance how much my thoughts wander in my prayers, but Thou knowest mine infirmities; 'my faults are not hid from Thee;' and 'my secret sins are in the light of Thy countenance.' I fear being formal in my worship,--I am often formal; I want perseverance in prayer, collectedness, abstraction,--true fervent elevation of soul. As the shepherd, I ought to go before the sheep, and lead them unto Thee; but I doubt not many of the sheep do outrun me in fervent praying, and in the heartiness of their praise.
"O Lord, I could for hours pray Thee to give mo the true spirit of prayer: I am so dull, so easily carried back to the world; so often dwelling upon worldly affairs; so grovelling in my thoughts; and when men think me devout, then oftentimes I most need that very thing which I am supposed to have.
"Assist me, heavenly Father, for Thy dear Son's sake, especially in the more solemn parts of my ministrations. Assist me, most merciful Saviour, especially when I administer Thy blessed [153/154] Sacraments, those mysteries whereby we are new-born, or renewed in the spirit of our minds.
"When I administer holy Baptism, may I do it with a devout will, with faith, with sincere prayers. Though my unworthiness or absence of mind hinders not the reception of grace, yet it were a thing most sinful, most hurtful to my own soul, if, while the Holy Ghost was descending, I were wandering afar off; if, while He was present, I were absent in spirit. Let mo consider how many thoughtless godparents in these times speak solemn words lightly; and so may I be moved to pray as though none beside myself were praying. Make me to look upon all children dedicated to Thee as mine for Thy sake. If the prayers of their kindred be lacking at that time, make up what is lacking by the fervency of mine.
"When I stand at Thine altar, grant that I may have the profoundest sense of Thy presence; take me, as it were, out of the world; shut the gate of my heart against it; lift up my spirit; let the house of prayer be unto me as a heavenly place; let the very rails of the altar remind me of my especial separation from the world; may I feel myself to be on holy ground: I cannot draw nearer unto Thee on earth, may I feel Thy nearness. Fill me with a sense of my own sins, and Thy great love; of my own unworthiness, and Thy mercy; for who can tell the love wherewith Thou hast loved us. I altogether [154/155] sink to the earth when I think of Thy wonderful condescension towards us, and the awfulness of our sins, that could in no way be atoned for except by the spilling of Thy own blood.
"I have sometimes, yea, many times, rejoiced with unspeakable joy when I have been suffered to partake of Thy Body and Blood in the Sacrament of Thy Supper, and to minister it to the moie mature members of my flock; my soul has been filled with sensible consolations; I have experienced overflowings of love and great peace. But must I not confess that at times, when I have been called to minister at Thine altar, if it had not been my office to serve thereat, I might have abstained from the feast! Must I not confess that I have at times come coldly, with little heart; that I have ministered coldly, and not with a full soul; that I have said those great words, 'Take and eat this,' and 'Drink this,' without deeply considering that I was distributing a heavenly and life-giving meal! I have passed on from one communicant to another without that devotion of spirit that was meet.
"Grant, Lord, that henceforth I may always weigh those words, and speak them from my innermost soul, and be warmed with a most holy love for each single soul that receives the mystical elements from my hands. Grant that my intent may go with my ministrations; though, should my intent be wanting, I believe that they may still be blessed to my flock.
 "In these, and all other acts of divine service this day, be present with me, most gracious Lord, that I may perform them holily, with a holy purpose. When I perform the rite of holy matrimony, or of the churching of women, or the most moving service for the burial of the dead, preserve in me an attentive and earnest spirit. In all the order of common prayer, in all litanies, and supplications, and confessions of faith, in all psalms and spiritual songs, fill me with the Spirit, lead mo by the Spirit to the throne of grace. When I preach, may I preach faithfully according to Thy holy Word, delivering Thy Gospel 'with meekness of wisdom.' May I preach not only true words, but in a true spirit. May I seek not to please men's ears, nor to raise admiration of myself, but to turn their hearts, and draw them unto Thee. May I preach holily, knowing that plain words from a holy and spiritual mind are more apt to minister grace to the hearers than most eloquent words that come not from a devout heart. If men should listen eagerly to my own fallible words, may I never be puffed up; may I strive against a self-seeking and vainglorious mind; may I kneel down and meditate upon the multitude of my sins. Easily might my soul be lost through the sweetness and deceivableness of human praise. Or if through lack of eloquence, a gift now over-esteemed to the neglect of prayer, my flock come but ill to the house of prayer, may I by true seriousness seek to edify the more devout and stable souls. It is [156/157] not a multitude of listeners that bespeaks the growth of piety. May I myself think more of prayer, that I may lead others to esteem it more.
"Grant also, O Lord, that I may spend all little intervals between the parts of divine service in inward prayer. When I enter the vestry, may I use it as my oratory, my place of secret prayer, of preparation for common worship. May I waste not the time, but spend it either in praying, or meditating, or reading Thy holy Word, that I may enter upon mine office with a prepared and collected mind. While I robe myself with the decent vestments appointed by the Church, may I offer up short ejaculations, praying for inward purity, that, as one of Thy priests, I may 'be clothed with righteousness;' may the white robe be unto me as a sign of the innocency of life required of me. When I pass from the vestry to the appointed place of prayer, or from the place of prayer to the altar, or from the altar to the place of preaching, may I lift up my soul secretly as I walk, and offer up secret prayers for the gift of the Holy Ghost, for power to pray, for grace, for the divine blessing both upon myself and the congregation assembled in Thine house.
"But not only at the time of public prayer, and in the house of prayer, give me a devout will, but in all other parts of the day, and in all other acts help me, most blessed Lord, that whether I walk through the fields, or sit at home, or read, or meditate, or teach in schools, I may preserve a holy and thankful [157/158] mind, and use the whole day holily, and consecrate all its portions."
This same breadth of view, the same continued watchfulness, the same lowly thoughts of self, and the same constant reference to the Source of all strength in the fervent yearning after a sustained spiritual life, breathes in the "Monday Meditation," which opens to us his inner mind as to his daily pastoral work, and reveals the secret spring of his unwearying activity:--
"Lo, I am Thine! and now I must enter afresh upon Thy service. Yesterday was the day of dedication, of prayer, of resolves, of devout thoughts. To-day I must be exercised in those things that I resolved upon through Thy Spirit; to-day is the day of action,--prayers, devout thoughts, raptures, resolves, holy exultations of heart, what are these, if in action I fail?
"I do greatly fear and distrust myself. Preserve me, holy Jesu, from my own particular thoughts, from indolence, from worldliness, however secret, from love of self, from love of men's opinions, from pride, from love of advancement, from cowardice in rebuking sinners, or from harshness in rebuke,
"I know that I oftentimes yield to sloth; I am often indolent, a waster of time, an. ill husbandman [158/159] of time; I abide at home when I should be labouring among my people; I linger and hesitate to go forth, or I leave off too soon and do my work but partially, or I shrink from those who most need exhortation, from the most sinful and hardened of my people; I please myself with the conversation of the devout; I choose rather to sit with the righteous, than to go among sinners; I have often distaste for my toils; I want heart for them and patience; I often go to them unwillingly and end gladly; or when I have done little, I think I have done enough. Indolence doth much possess me, and backwardness; I had rather read holy books than work holy works; I had rather sit meditating upon holy things, than perform holy labours. I am often seeking excuses for easing my neck from the yoke.
"And yet, whensoever I have devoted myself to my flock, and have spared not myself, I have returned home with a recompense in my heart, with a gift in my bosom, a treasure of inward satisfaction, with a light conscience, with a rejoicing spirit, with great peace. I have tasted of the cup of peace for my obedience to Thy will; I have knelt down and been glad; I have had exceeding great refreshment in my evening prayers. Thus hast Thou ever rewarded me instantly for my service; thus hast Thou encouraged me diligently to do Thy will.
"O that I should ever shrink from the pure pleasure of devout action; that I should ever be loath to repeat such peace-giving toils; that I should ever [159/160] go coldly and give myself unwillingly to these godly labours, that so soon recompense with such and so much joy! ... O that I should ever be drawn from that part of active obedience, which has the promise of peace, and is the path of peace!
"It is said of the men of the world that they 'rise up early and late take rest,' in their carefulness for perishing things; shall not the like be said of the men of God, Thy ministers, in their zeal for imperishable souls? In the sweat of my brow ought I to labour, yea, in the sweat of my heart, for I am an husbandman of souls, and of this harvest angels shall be the reapers. That I may thoroughly do this work, I must gather up the fragments of time, that nothing be lost. Ease must be unknown to me, for what has the preacher of the Cross to do with case! He who would effectually preach the Cross must bear it, and be crucified himself.
"And how many souls hast Thou given me, O Lord! even . .. [the number of his parishioners were 1,500]. This is my charge, this number of immortal souls; and each one of all these souls has to be numbered among the angels or the devils! How can I abide at home, or rest, or take my pleasure, with such a burden and such a charge laid on me! Is not each separate soul worth a life's work, all the labour I could give? What, then, must be the value of all this multitude of souls? How can I give sufficient labour?
 "O take from me, merciful Lord, all sleep and desire of sleep: souls may be lost even through the un-watchfulness of but a few days. Of how great a price is even one opportunity of speaking Thy Word, if Thou art with me! Teach me after Thine own most perfect pattern, to go about doing good and to be zealous in doing good, that I may be a faithful pastor, and that nothing be lost to this people through my unfaithfulness. Make me not only an evangelist, but a true pastor, going about from house to house. From house to house ought I to carry Thy Word, that the state of individual souls may be the better discerned, and that words in season may be the better spoken.
"If it should please Thee to bless these my labours, and to give them increase in my time and before mine eyes, then, O Lord, increase in me the grace of humility; humble me so much the more. With all my heart, with great fervour, even with passionateness of spirit, I do beseech Thee to keep me humble in the day of success. Let me not say 'my persuasion or my pastoral activity hath done this.' Grant that I may give Thee all the glory, heartily, with a sincere mind. Grant that I may take nothing to myself of all the good done, but thank Thee with humble joy for having used such an one as myself to promote Thy glory. Grant that my rejoicing may be in Thee; so, in profiting others, shall mine own soul be profited.
 "Or if, Lord Jesus, I should seem to labour in vain, let not my heart fail; move me by Thy Spirit to persevere. It may be that Thou desirest to keep me humble, and to make me feel mine own insufficiency, and to trust more entirely to Thy grace, and to seek Thine help more earnestly in prayer. It may be Thou makest trial of my patience, withholding a blessing, that I may seek it with more importunity and continue labouring in faith. Or it may be, Thou givest me no visible success, that I may the more undistractedly desire the final and most glorious recompense of faith. Thou canst give increase when Thou wilt; if not in my day, give it afterwards: make me content to labour without visible fruit of my labours in this life. O God the Father, bless me in my going out and coming in before Thee; bless all my labours this day and always for Thy dear Son's sake Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
Something has been already said of the deep, abiding sense which seemed to possess him of the value and power of prayer. There are some beautiful expressions of such a feeling, and especially of his desire for the prayers of others, in the "Meditations for Tuesday and Wednesday:"--
"But, most blessed Jesus, with so great a work laid on me, with so holy a frame of mind continually to sustain that I may fulfil my work, I feel the need [162/163] of other prayers beside mine own, of a broader stream of prayer than can flow from my single soul. I need, I very greatly need, the prayers of my brethren in Christ, that I may myself incline to prayer and keep this ready mind. If I had mine own self only to watch, I should need the prayers of others. How much more, then, when I have this Thy flock to watch over!
"I pray then, O God, for the prayers of my flock; grant that they may have the mind to remember me daily in their prayers. I do earnestly beseech Thee, move them, through the power of the Holy Ghost, to do this good work for me, that I may do my work for them. Make them to feel my need of their prayers. As I pray for them, so may they pray for me. This gift I desire at their hands, this great gift, this act of love, better than silver and gold, which the poor of this world can bestow on me if they be rich in faith; 'for the prayer of a righteous man availeth much.'
"May my own flock ask a blessing on me daily in my labours: then I doubt not a blessing will descend on me from the Spirit of grace, the dew of Thy blessing. O with what a refreshed spirit should I go forth, if I felt that my people had been pleading for me before the throne of grace, in their morning sacrifice of prayer; if I thought that the children, and the aged, and the full-grown had besought Thee to make Thy Word fruitful in my mouth."
 The following striking words form the commencement of the "Wednesday Meditation," which throughout is one continued prayer for the different members of his flock:--
"In the morning watch do I come unto Thee, O God, yea, in the morning watch; I remember Thee when I awake, and I remember the great charge which Thou hast given me, even all these souls, these living souls, this multitude of souls, all this people, 'fearfully and wonderfully made,' painfully redeemed, bought with blood, even with Thy blood, Thou 'Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world.'
"On my knees, Lord Jesus, Thou great Shepherd of the sheep, Thou good Shepherd, that laidest down Thy life for the sheep and gavest it to the wolves, out of Thine unspeakable love, love past finding out, for the height and depth and breadth thereof, I do pray Thee remember these souls, this portion of Thy universal flock, this parish, my own dear flock, my care and my joy. Remember them and have mercy on them now, and always, in this life and in the day of judgment.
"All these souls in this parish are mine; mine to present unto Thee at the last day; as the steward of them, they are mine, good and bad together, to be watched, nourished, carried in my bosom, in my innermost heart, to be worn next my heart, to be loved with heart-love, exceedingly, holily, 'through good report and evil report,' whether they hear or [164/165] whether they forbear. I should stretch out mine arms; yea, stretch out my soul and embrace them in my love, as mine own spiritual children, high and low together, rich and poor, one with another, for Thou hast died for all.
"Every face that I behold must be changed by the mighty working of Thy power into an eternal fashion, fit for the eternal light of Thine own kingdom, or for the place of devils; yea, not face only must be changed, but the whole body; and not only the body, but body and soul together O God, when I look upon this present fashion of my people, I am filled with a great awe, not knowing what their change will be, their eternal fashion, and seeing how great a work each soul has to perform in this short life, to be ripe for Thy coming."
In our present day of trial, when such deep anxiety is pressing upon those who, like Mr. Armstrong, hold dear the full deposit of the Catholic faith inherited from our fathers, and when the hearts of so many have failed,--some forsaking our communion, and others lingering amongst us only with chilled affections,--it is refreshing and strengthening to mark the lowly, unjudging spirit, and warm attachment to the Church of England, which breathes in the "Thursday Meditation."--
 "But more especially am I bound to pray for that branch of the Catholic Church into which, by Thy unspeakable mercy, I have been baptized; for this dear Church of England, my nurse hi the faith, my mother that has borne me all these years, and borne with me, that has fed me and nourished me, though a wayward and unworthy son, oftentimes dishonouring her with my misdeeds.
"For this Church of England, for all members thereof, priests and people, in all times, through all changes and chances of times, I do pray most earnestly. O Lord, send Thy blessing upon this branch of the vine, Thy workmanship, Thine own branch, so long and wonderfully preserved, with so long a history of grace."
In 1848, the year after the "Pastor in his Closet" appeared, Mr. Armstrong commenced a series of publications which have proved to be of considerable importance in parochial religious literature, not only supplying a serious deficiency long felt, but raising the whole tone of such publications, both in respect of doctrine and style of writing. He was the responsible editor for these works, and himself wrote a great portion of them. The "Tracts for the Christian Seasons" were issued in monthly parts, commencing with Advent, 1848, and closing with Advent, 1849. They were intended to bring out in a warm, earnest and attractive [166/167] style, the full practical teaching of the successive seasons of the Christian year. They have had a large sale, and can hardly have failed to produce a considerable effect, tending, with other influences which have been at work, to impress on the mind of the age a more lively sense of the value and beauty of the Church's commemorative seasons. A second series was commenced, on the close of the first series, in Advent, 1849, and was concluded in Advent, 1850. Each series occupies four volumes.
These works were followed by a series of "Sermons on the Christian Seasons," which were commenced in Advent, 1852, in monthly parts, like the Tracts, and were brought to a close in Advent, 1853. In the course of these two last years, Mr. Armstrong also edited a series of "Tracts for Parochial Use," intended to fill up another void long felt by the parochial clergy. They embrace a very extensive range of subjects, falling under the following heads: "The Chief Truths of the Faith; the Creed, Lord's Prayer, and Ten Commandments; the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist; Offices for Confirmation, Marriage, Visitation of the Sick; Churching, Commination and Burial Services; Observance of Holy Days and Seasons; the Church, and Church's [167/168] Common Prayer; Devotions, &c, for the Sick and Afflicted, and for Penitents; Prayers, Hymns, Meditations, &c.; advice and warning on general subjects; Tales and Allegories, and a Series for miscellaneous reading."
Besides writing a large proportion of these tracts and sermons, he had to procure writers, overlook the MSS., correct, and often make additions to complete the required quantity. Each tract or sermon, as he playfully expressed it, "went upon all fours," i, e. was composed of four, or a multiple of four, pages. Thus each tract, or sermon, could be printed separate and complete in itself, while yet forming part of a series. This plan made it possible for such a large quantity of matter, by different hands, to be prepared in so short a space of time, and much of it simultaneously. It must have been an intense mental effort to keep up the necessary supply at such brief and fixed intervals, especially when so much depended on correctness of taste and doctrine; and the accomplishment of it affords a striking instance of his fluency of thought and language, and quickness of judgment. The burden and pressure of toil which these works involved must have told seriously upon his strength. The writer remembers meeting him when he [168/169] had just completed the last of the series, and was struck with his worn look, and expressions of thankfulness and relief that the work was done.
Mr. Armstrong still continued from time to time to write articles in the Reviews, and always on some question touching the well, or ill-being of society,--a class of subjects which seemed to be committed to him as a special mission. One was on Mr. Wilson's great and successful work in raising the character of the young persons employed in Price's patent candle factory at Vauxhall. Another was on the "History and Modern State of Freemasonry," which appeared in the July number of the "Christian Remembrancer" for 1847. This latter article is a good instance of his peculiar power of elucidating grave subjects with a playful, graphic humour.
The article opens with a view of the external state of the Society at the present day:--
"Among the multitude of convivial advertisements which reveal the associative tendencies of an appetite, some will be found to proceed from a body which garnishes itself with the title of 'the free and accepted Masons.' By these epithets they distinguish themselves from the common herd of Masons,--those plain, drudging, hard-working men, who do not play [169/170] at their trade with silver trowels and kid gloves. Of Masons, this building age knows and sees enough; of Freemasons, it knows and sees but little. It is neither the wiser nor the better for their existence: they are not to be seen performing any useful work; neither are they like moles, which, though they themselves are out of sight, throw up from their hidden chambers visible tokens of their toils. The strongest microscope would fail to discover the minutest grain or particle of good which the Freemasons confer upon mankind. The body, with all its invisible action, is as utterly useless to the world at large as a clock would be to its owner which went wheeling and ticking on, with all its busy machinery, after the amputation of its hands. Were the Fraternity to dissolve itself to-morrow, and, to appease the common sense of this practical and working age, to make a hecatomb of their aprons, the world would be unconscious of the dissolution, except for the unsavoury smoke of the leathern sacrifice.
"The energies of our countrymen are too often devoted to dinners, to make any succession of feasts, however excellent, shed fame on the festive brotherhood. It is possible that many associations need to have their axletrees oiled with an annual feast, to carry them through the wear and tear of a year's life. A dinner in this country appears to exercise a galvanic influence on the constitution of societies; but with whatever warmth of expectation it may be looked to through the vista of the working months, [170/171] it is, after all, the reward, the refreshment, and not the work, of societies. Every Society, except the Freemasons', has something to do; but this, entertaining the notion of freedom which has been so strongly impressed on the popular mind in all ages, and which makes it consist in having nothing to do, shews that its members are 'free' in this sense of the word, whether they are 'accepted' or not."
The following is the view given of the moral aspect of the Society:--
"And yet the Freemasons profess to have an object. It is certainly vague, so vague as to involve no trouble, so ingeniously vague that even an increase of dinners might be regarded as one means of attaining it. 'Universal benevolence' is their aim; they would have 'lodges' from pole to pole: 'The true mason,' says one of their greatest writers, 'is a citizen of the world; his philanthropy extend? to all the human race. . . . The distant Chinese, the wild Arab, and the American savage will embrace a brother Briton.' Over and over again we hear of 'universal benevolence;' it meets us at every turn. Now we know nothing easier than the profession of benevolence, especially of universal benevolence; the wider it is, the easier it is; for as one does not, meet wild Arabs every day on Hampstead Heath, nor Chinese in Piccadilly, those who dwell in such regions may easily offer to 'embrace' them without much risk; and after all, if such benevolence leads to nothing more tangible and definite than [171/172] 'embracing,' there would be no great difficulty, though perhaps a little unpleasantness, in clasping an 'American savage' in our arms. Universal benevolence must end in profession; it cannot be carried out; we cannot ask all the world to dinner: where our sympathy extends to all the human race, we know not, as a matter of practice, where to begin. The moment we fix our minds upon some particular people, or upon some particular course of action, the universal has sunk into the particular. So wide a circle as the world, so vast a waist, is difficult practically, though very easy theoretically, to span; our feelings may circumnavigate the world; but when we come to practical charity, we find ourselves tethered to some particular post, and moving in a narrow round. The sympathy of your universal philanthropists is gloriously obscure, indefinite, impracticable, and cheap; it may be indulged after dinner in a nice easy-chair, on a winter's night, by a blazing fire, the curtains drawn,--consisting of a few rather comfortable sighs for 'the poor folks out of doors;' they cannot house all the world, nor mount all the Arabs, nor give oil to all the Esquimaux, nor feather all the Indians. Such gigantic feelings end commonly in Liliputian actions. It is so with the Freemasons. A dinner or two ends the matter, where all the nations of the world may come--if they can.
"Thus, after we have tried to grasp this idea of universal benevolence, to place before our minds all [172/173] the world in aprons, or to conceive some countless 'deputations' from all nations marching to some monster hall on some monster festival, in coats, or skins, hats, or turbans, Hottentots and Turks arm in arm, the natives of Paddington and Japan, of Pimlico and Peru,--when we come down, after these conceptions, to a few matter-of-fact details as to the means of carrying out so magnificent a design, we find very little machinery provided for the purpose beyond flags and orations, compasses and waiters, dish-covers and white wands. It all ends in 'being social,' as it is called. This Universal Benevolence is no more than one of the bubbles of sentiment, a mere hollow phrase, an unmeaning motto, painted on banners, and mouthed by after-dinner orators.
"It is true that the Freemasons plume themselves on their charities, but their charity is of that peculiar kind which begins at home, and there ends. The body helps itself; the members pay, and the members receive. And when we consider the habits which such a body is almost sure to form among the middling classes, of whom it is chiefly composed, the support of a school and an almshouse is but a small atonement for the mischief which it most probably works. We are convinced much private ruin and derangement of affairs will always be found to follow the course of a society which, whatever its high-sounding professions may be, is neither more nor less than a convivial club. Such bodies are especial snares to the tradesmen of large towns."
 The article embraces an interesting account of the supposed history of Freemasonry, and towards the close exposes in strong, energetic language the dangerous and false system of religion, if it may be so called, which it embodies and encourages among its members:--
"And now let us see what this religion is. We might suppose, we ought to suppose, that a body which can procure the services of the priests of the English Church as its chaplains, must needs be a Christian body; we ought to suppose that Christian priests would shrink in horror from giving their services to a professedly religious society, which was utterly, plainly, unequivocally antichristian, or unchristian, in its character. We grieve to be constrained to say, that all such suppositions are entirely false; what ought to be, is not. However fearful a thing it is to say, yet so it is, that clergy of the English Church are found acting as clergy to a body which rejects the profession of Christ's religion. In short, the religion of the Freemasons is neither more nor less than plain, downright, undisguised, unequivocal Deism. Whatever their Christian chaplains may say, or their Christian members--a deistical body it is; a deistical body we shall prove it to be from their own writers.
"First of all, we turn to the authorized 'constitutions' of the fraternity, the first rule of which proclaims the religious character of the body, for it is [174/175] thus headed,--'Concerning God and religion;' the rule itself, which is a formal and official exponent of their religious views, runs thus: 'Though in ancient times Masons were charged in every country to be of the religion of that country or nation, whatever it was; yet it is now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves;' i.e. an exhausting process is to be applied till all the distinctive features of all the various religions of the world are gone, till all the opposing dogmas are drained out, till we come down to the lowest form of religion, and accommodate ourselves to that lowest form, till, in short, we have come to that which can just be called religion, which is but one remove from atheism.
"All has to be pared away, and suppressed, and rejected, and lopped off, till we come to that one universal dogma, that there is a God: anything more than this would be a breach of their rule; anything less than this would be a breach of it: we must not rise above the most naked deism; we must not sink below it. We are not to be more than deists, we are just not to be atheists. This is 'the one religion in which all men agree;' and this is the religion of Freemasons. The Christian is to suppress all that is peculiarly Christian, the Jew all that is peculiarly Jewish, the Mahometan all that is peculiar to the Koran; and then casting off their peculiar doctrines of Christianity, Judaism, [175/176] Mahommedanism, as hindrances and stumbling-blocks in the way of universal benevolence, as the mere excrescences, as it were, of the one universal religion, Christians, Jews, Turks, infidels, and heretics are to join together in one religious brotherhood. Here we have the creed of the Freemasons; here is their grand religious basis; here are the features of a most complete deistical catholicity, which is to absorb all the great doctrines of the Christian religion, and, instead of placing before us a holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, invites men to join in an unholy, deistical, catholic alliance. Truly, among the yearnings for catholicity that break out in an irregular and defective way, this is the worst.
"The same view, with equal distinctness and equal boldness, is still further expressed in the second rule of the sixth section, in which we read that there are to be 'no quarrels about religion, or nations, or state-policy, we being only, as Masons, of the Catholic religion above-mentioned.' And yet it is into this deistical catholicity that Christian men, nay, Christian priests, are found to cast themselves. It is this sort of 'Catholics' which wants to come in procession to our Christian churches, and on their show-days to have Christian services, and to be honoured by the Christian Church; and it is the withholding the Christian ministrations of the Church from this deistical brotherhood which is proclaimed as an act of narrow-minded bigotry."
Afterwards he touches on an important [176/177] principle that has a far wider bearing than upon the state of religious teaching among the Freemasons:--
"But while we are heaping proof upon proof of the Deism of Freemasonry, we find a thousand clamorous voices assail us with the question, 'Do we not honour the Bible? Are not the brethren exhorted to study the Sacred Law, to consider it as the unerring standard of truth?' 'Is not the Bible carried on a cushion in our processions, and kept open in our lodges?' It is this very so-called honouring of the Bible which we denounce; it is this outward show of respect to Holy Scripture, after all its peculiar and most blessed truths have been suppressed, which we emphatically condemn. It is like honouring the empty sepulchre where our Lord lay, and denying the Lord; for if the truths of the Gospel be expelled, as they must be, to make up a 'religion in which all men agree,' then the Bible is no more than an empty sepulchre; then the honour is bestowed upon the words and letters of the book, not on the truths which those words and letters are designed to teach. With all our strength we protest against this bandying about of the Bible, this hollow unmeaning mock-reverence, this profane cushioning of the Bible amid a company of Jews and Socinians, who trample under foot all the most glorious truths which it contains. We know no more prevailing stratagem of Satan at this present time than that of [177/178] persuading infidelity to pay a sort of homage to God's written Word, whereby many well-meaning Christians are deceived. The mere presence of the Bible is supposed to sanctify any meeting, and the purposes of the meeting, and the opinions broached. The struggle now is not what it was in the last century; it is a more subtle struggle, more dangerous to common minds; the Bible is nominally accepted now; all the varieties of infidelity now support themselves by texts from Scripture, and derive their systems from a perverted and blasphemous interpretation of the Word of God. It is the acceptance of the Bible, without attaching any distinct meaning to it, or attaching an heretical meaning, which is among the fearful signs of the day. We want no longer a host of 'evidences' for its inspiration; they have done their work; chameleon infidelity has changed its colour. It is now the Bible against the Bible; that is, the true sense against the false sense, the Catholic verities against infidel interpretations, the right interpretation against the wrong. It is now an internal war. Believers and unbelievers meet within Bible-ground, both accepting the Sacred Volume as the Revelation of God, but each disputing what that revelation is, and drawing from precisely the same words an opposite view. ******
"For ourselves, we feel that while the authority of the Church as the interpreter of Scripture is so widely denied, it would be an easier contest for those [178/179] who hold the faith, if the Bible itself were denied by their adversaries. Better far that it should be denied than that Deism should be drawn therefrom; better far that it should be denied with all its true doctrines, than that false systems should be built upon it, that structures of infidelity should be made out of the material of the revelation of the mystery of Christ. When men see the walls of a temple of infidelity patched over and cemented with Scripture texts, they may be led to mistake it for a Temple of the true God. To extract the heart and the sinews from the oracles of God, and to boast of honouring those oracles, is the modern stratagem of the infidel, by which he at first disarms, and then poisons the unsuspicious and confused mind of unstable and unlearned men. He first puts their spirit to sleep by droning in their ears a multitude of texts, perversely applied, to 'prove,' as he calls it, that his is 'the religion of the Bible,' and then he pierces them through and through with heresies.
"And what sort of honour is that which the Freemasons bestow upon the Bible, and of which in the anxious justification of their chaplains we hear so much? On this, as on the other religious questions connected with their body, we will call one of the most celebrated of their chaplains, as the fairest witness we can find, that we may give the fairest representation of their case. 'As a Mason,' says the charge at initiation, 'you are to study the sacred law.' And what does Dr. Oliver say to this? We tremble to [179/180] quote his fearful words. 'In England the Bible; out in countries where that book is unknown, whatever is understood to contain the will or law of God!' Yes, this is the Freemasons' honour of that book. It is but one compartment of 'the Sacred Law,'--the oracle of Delphi, and what we call 'the oracles of God,' are but different tones of the same divine voice sounding in the world. Here we have a Christian priest, a minister of Christ, actually belonging to a body, which, on his own plain confession, looks upon the Bible only as a revelation of God, and which recognises the creeds of heathens equally as portions of the sacred law. The Bible and the Koran are placed upon a level, as species and varieties of the genus of revelation; the Bible is the species here, the Koran is the species among Mahometans. 'Read the Koran,' says Dr. Oliver to the Turks, 'Read the Bible,' says Dr. Oliver to the Christian; 'both volumes are but parts and sections of the Sacred Law; and both of you, by suppressing the points of difference in your two revelations, can meet together, according to our Masonic principle, in one common religion.' Such treatment of God's Word, however it may startle us where it is so plainly put, is after all but the natural, the necessary result of those deistical principles on which the Masonic body rests. They cannot, consistently with, those principles, recognise the Christian as the one true revelation, nor in their honour of the Bible can they insist upon the honour of its peculiar doctrines: so that theirs is an honour of the [180/181] Bible, after all those peculiar doctrines, which make it a revelation of better promises than other so-called revelations give, have been put out of sight and covered. As those peculiar doctrines, which we especially call 'the Christian verities,' go beyond the one 'religion in which all men agree,' so, when the Freemasons carry the Bible on their cushions in supposed reverence, they do not mean to include in that honour those Christian verities."
In another article on Mrs. Vidal's well-known tales, "Cabramatta and Woodleigh Farm," he expresses with his usual power and graphic truth what he, together with so many others, had keenly felt,--the alienation of the middle classes, who people our cities and towns, from the Church, and the momentous importance of increasing every possible means of reaching that intelligent and influential mass of men:--
"But one class has almost escaped our notice: we have walked amid the cedars of the mountains; we have laboured in the flats and levels at the bottom of the hills; but the half-way district, the middle region of men, the middling classes, have but slightly attracted the Church's toils. We have left this important class alone; we have let it increase amongst us without grappling with it in any deep or searching way; its internal life is almost as unknown as Central Africa; its internal codes, its principles, its habits, its modes of thought, its temptations, its [181/182] amusements, all lie like an unexplored desert or a frozen sea. The whole class of tradespeople and shopkeepers, with their maxims, their conventionalities, their usages, have been well-nigh untouched. We look in at the shop-windows; we traffic across the counter; we receive, as purchasers, studied civility; we look at the respectful outsides of men; we hold mercantile converse; but here all communication ends; it is a mere buying and selling intercourse,--a cold, stiff, business-like interchange of words; our talk is of ribbons, or grocery, or furniture, or plate, as it may be; it is mere shopping. But what foot has passed all those bales of goods, those long counters with busy customers on one side and pale shopmen or shopwomen on the other? What foot has pressed into the shop 'parlour,' or to the apprentice's room, or learnt the private life of the principal, or the private manners of the apprentices? Who knows anything, for instance, of the goings on, the recreations, the leisure hours of the young men in the large drapers' shops, who are measuring tapes, or silks, or calico all the day? The clergy, if the truth be told, have but little knowledge on this matter; and as they have little knowledge, they have little weight: they feel their tradesmen to be difficult parishioners to foci with or to know; and not unnaturally, though wrongly, they have somewhat shrunk from diving deeper into the character of this class, or from throwing themselves into their ways, and working themselves into anything like real [182/183] communion. They pass into drawing-rooms; they mix with the higher orders, because they have come from them, and this is their natural position: it is true they are now acting upon the higher orders in a more ministerial way, and are obtaining a wholesome influence of a higher kind, but their position by birth helps them in this matter; there are many sympathies between them and the higher orders. They also find no difficulty in a free thorough intercourse with the poor; they lift up the latch of the cottage or of the houses in the back streets, and take their scat by the fireside, and are received with friendly courtesy; the intercourse on both sides is open, genuine, and unreserved, without artificial stiffness. But with the tradesman it is different. An occasional formal call, an occasional admission into the parlour, in which hang the portraits of the tradesman and his wife, an occupation of the bright mahogany armchair with its horse-hair bottom, is as much as many clergy can boast of, while the conversation is on both sides stiff, conventional, icy, and restrained. Neither party really knows each other; neither party talks freely; neither party thaws; and the visit ends with little fruit on either side.
"We do not mean to say that the ice is not thick, and that it is not a difficult matter to thrust the wedge into the thick-grained material of that peculiar class which, as it hangs between the high and low, just risen above the low and aspiring toward the high, wants the natural courtesy or freedom of the [183/184] one, and the more easy and conscious refinement of the other; it is a class somewhat touchy, sensitive, afraid of not doing 'the proper thing,' oppressed with artificialities, afraid of losing dignity, profoundly versed in mysterious and peculiar laws of etiquette, the occupants of a middle territory which they tremblingly hold, over fearful of aggression on either side, neither at the top of the ladder nor at the bottom, suspended between earth and air, dreading to be pulled down by those beneath them or trodden down by those above them, the half-castes of our social system, too keenly alive to castes and grades, and ever suspicious of inroads on their position. But still, while many circumstances combine to make them a class of difficult access, hard intimately or closely to approach, yet enough has not been done to gain admittance among them, or to influence them for good. With all these freezing points among them, there is heart and feeling, and many excellent traits and tendencies are to be found beneath that crust of mannerism; there are sympathies that may be stirred; spiritual longings to be satisfied, when once the apparel, the artificial coating of the inner man of the heart, can be unstarched. And it is now time to be stirring in this cause; past neglects must be remedied; the Church must no longer withhold herself from the tradesman class; we must not content ourselves with gazing at shop-fronts; we must not creep round by the edges of the desert, but must plunge boldly into the interior life. [184/185] We have lost time; we have lost ground already; large parts of London, of Manchester, of our commercial and manufacturing districts, have slipped out of our hands, and must be regained. We owe it to them to go among them, if our Church is to be the Church of all; and we may be sure, that whatever class we may have neglected, therein we shall find the sharpest and strongest weapons that are formed against us.
"Not only have the clergy failed as pastors to obtain any real footing among those we speak of, of a decided kind, but other means of influence have been little used. Take our literature: has this been adapted to the middling classes? Has it described a tradesman's life? has there been anything between our 'Susan Carters' and our 'Margaret Percivals,' any midway works bearing directly on the peculiar state of life in these classes, shewing intimate acquaintance with their peculiar features? Of course there are many books which are of a general character, which are not for this class or that, and which suit all alike. But with the various modes of thought, tone, tendencies, pursuits, influences, prejudices, at work in each separate class, we want a certain degree of what may be called class-writing; and, as a matter of fact, we have written for different classes, though we have excepted this particular class. Of course we are speaking generally throughout: there are some books for this class; there are some clergy who have found their way into their interior life.
 "And yet we see the leisure of the whole trading masses begins to be increased; the 'early closing' movement is an important one which the Church must not forget or overlook: the whole life is not given up to ribbons, and grocery, and soap; the streets in the evening no longer glitter with the light of busy shops, a glitter that was dearly bought, and that helped to burn out the minds and bodies of the shopmen so ceaselessly employed. Whether the time gained will be really gained, rests much with the Church; more time is not of itself a gain; it is a space that may be filled with poisonous weeds or fair flowers; it may give occasion to wildness and hurtful festivities, or to mental improvement sanctified by a religious spirit: never was good literature more wanted than among these freed apprentices and their masters; there is a taste for literature rising up among them; but it is not Church-like, or even religious; as yet, Chambers' hooks strew 'the parlour' table, and reign supreme."
It was the conviction of the necessity of influencing the middle classes through the press, as one means of acting upon their mind, that led him shortly before he left England to undertake a monthly publication called the "National Miscellany," which was intended to provide healthful reading of a light caste, to pave the way for what was deeper and more strictly religious. An article found among his [186/187] papers, (on "Almshouses,") written for this Miscellany, but never printed, is here subjoined, as a sample of the kind of subject and style of writing which marked the publication:--
"In wandering about the pleasant villages and older towns of England, I have been struck here and there by a low range of gable-ended buildings, with green lawns before the doors, and honeysuckle climbing about the old casements. Mostly in the centre of this little group of houses, clustered together, there is some inscription which testifies that a Miles Purvis or a Marmaduke Browning, merchant, erected these almshouses for six aged widows and six aged widowers of this parish, A.D. 1674, a little earlier or a little later. And on enquiring the history of these said calm retreats for old age, where feeble widows and helpless old men are able to husband the flickering flame of life in their native place, amid their old haunts, their old companions, and within reach of the old church where they have been wont to worship their whole life through, I have found that the history of these almshouses commonly forms some such tale as this. The aforesaid Miles, or the aforesaid Marmaduke, was the village tailor's apprentice, and whether from being well beaten by a hard master, or being of an adventurous spirit, started off to better himself with youthful hopefulness to London, or some great town, thinking the streets were paved with gold, and that the country lad had the world before him. Then [187/188] came want, friendlessness, years of servitude, many bitter looks cast towards the old village, the old home; then the patient spirit drawn out by trial; the persevering struggle; the gradual advance in life; the rise from step to step; the increased ascent; the changed tide of fortune; the prosperous days shining forth; the station and the wealth; and then, amid all civic dignities, and riches, and repute, the memory of the old village, the old folks in the one straggling street,' the trials and the struggles of the poor, the hunger and the want,--and then Miles' heart, or Marmaduke's heart, melts beneath the alderman's robe, with its grand fur, and he recollects what he was, what he felt, what he endured. Though he has not for years visited the place, it all rises up before his mind. There it is, the old man who shook his head when he talked of going away, the old woman who for a crust of bread and the broken meat would come to scrub his master's shop, and often save him from a cuff, or bid him to be of good heart, when he was in a despairing mood.
"And as these things rose up in his mind, and all his boyish days stood before him, as it were, he resolved on doing something for the place of his birth and boyhood. This was thought of, and that was thought of, but at last Miles or Marmaduke, the rich merchant, remembering the aged and the poor, resolved to erect an almshouse in his native place for six old women and six old men, and to endow it out of his ample means. After his day of business was over, [188/189] he would go to his desk and there delight himself on winter's nights in drawing out a scheme for the governance of the whole. He would settle all about the dark cloaks of the women, and the allowance of the men; how they were to be elected, what they were to have a week; what rules of order were to be observed; what lands the endowment was to come from, what manner of building was to be raised; the size the chapel was to be of, and the chaplain's lodge. No pleasure was so great as that of settling the whole almshouse scheme; and there in his own hand was the scheme drawn out, so carefully, with such precision, and with such minute details, that we could see that no small space of time, no slight care was spent. And then, after this, the plot of ground was bought, and the townspeople or the villagers talked of the new almshouse, and some thought it dear and some cheap; some wondered how he could make so much fuss about the poor; some thought it a wise plan; some recollected all manner of tales about him when a boy, and always thought there was 'something in him,' and that he would rise,--though these prophecies were not delivered till after the event; and some thought it was all luck, and a dangerous thing to the State to have such ' upstarts' put into high places.
"However, while the gossips were having their say, wondering, or not being the least surprised, praising or making light of him, the work went on. And when all was finished the merchant came down, [189/190] and on the feast of St. Luke went to church with the first six poor men and six poor women whom he appointed, and the rector preached a good, affectionate sermon about the duty of loving the poor, and the blessings which the poor may bring upon the rich by their good-will and their prayers.
"Then in due time Miles or Marmaduke died, and he had left instructions to be buried in the old church at home, and to be followed by the almshouse folks, to whom he left a black cloak or a black coat apiece; and as they all stood round the grave, with their bent forms and wrinkled faces, as the coffin was lowered, many a tear made its way down their cheeks, and the merchant had some true 'mourners,' who did not put on, like 'mutes' at our fine funerals, a hired gravity and a professional look of woe.
"Since that time the almshouse has had, like other things, its changes of fortune, its ups and downs: sometimes the governors have been scrupulously faithful to their trust, most anxious to admit those most worthy of admittance, and to do the utmost good with the founder's institution; at other times they have put in their decayed butlers, whom they wanted to pension off at a cheap rate to themselves, and who had loved their cellars too well; or the appointments all went by interest, and favour, and intrigue, not by worth; sometimes there was peace and brotherly feeling amongst the almsfolks, sometimes a good deal of bickering and strife; but on the whole--and in this evil world, we must always judge [190/191] of things by their general effect, and not by their particular abuses for a time,--on the whole, it has worked well. Many a hoary head found shelter in time of need, and many a wrinkled hand was lifted up to the throne of grace in heartfelt thankfulness for such a quiet resting-place after hard and unsuccessful toil.
"Such, then, is the sort of history which I have woven out of the various accounts of these old alms-houses, which are amongst the best ornaments of our old towns and villages. But where, I often ask, where are the modern almshouses; where that old spirit of love for the poor which those who have risen in the world ought to feel for those who are at the bottom of the hill? Where are those grateful offerings of the thriving tradesman, the prosperous merchant, who has carved out his own fortune, and by a good strong head has made his way upward in the world? Where the love of the village, or the native town, and any goodly proofs of care for the worn-out, the infirm, the decrepid, who have now to be dragged from their old haunts and homes, and crowded into dismal unions? Alas! it is but here and there, few and far between, that modern almshouses rise up, or that successful men think of providing for the last days of the destitute. It is more common to see the 'villas,' and the 'mansions,' and the 'places in the country,' absorbing the wealth amassed in the shop or the merchant's office, and the poor are left to Boards of Guardians and Relieving Officers, to that [191/192] legal provision which, however well managed on the whole, does not pretend to do more than keep body and soul together in the cheapest way.
"It always strikes me as a very sad thing to see old folks packed off from the place where they have spent their lives; and a quantity of old people from a multitude of places, each uprooted and torn from his accustomed home, huddled together, with all the physical and mental infirmities of age, strikes me as one of the most painful spectacles in the land. A place stripped of its old folks is a melancholy place, and a place filled with them equally melancholy. A park filled with nothing but young trees is but a poor concern to look at, and one filled with nothing but old and decayed ones equally wanting in excellence: what one likes is the mixture of the two; here and there the old oak, with its topmost branches bare, and its trunk hollow, and then some fine stalwart timber, middle-aged trees, rich in foliage, spreading their broad shadows over the grass. So with towns or villages. We want all sorts amongst us, young cheeks and wrinkled ones, the curly-headed lads and white-haired old men. This makes up the goodly picture of human life. But to weed out the old, to rend away all the hoary heads of the poor, to pack off the stooping forms of the aged, to bundle them into one great workhouse, as if they were so much waste material, choking up the way of younger life, to tell them, in so many words, we have no reverence for them, no care, no love or compassion, [192/193] but that they are in the way, and must be done for as cheaply as can be, is sad, sad work, which will make, at last, trade wither, and our wealth to turn into poverty, and all our commercial successes to be without blessing.
"We want a different state of things from this; and those thriving men who have well-filled purses tinkling in their pockets, who have got on in life, who have risen from being shopmen to be shopkeepers, who have the highest stool in merchants' offices, and are now sitting in bankers' parlours, and have become partners in good substantial firms, whoso name is worth so much money, and who 'stand high' among business men, would do well to consider what is here said to them about almshouses."
It is said that a man's character is better seen in his recreations, than in his more serious employments. The observation applies to these lighter pieces of miscellaneous writing; for the kindly disposition, and hearty, healthful English feeling, elevated by a prevailing tone of simple, genuine piety, which mark such fugitive compositions as that last inserted, make them to be very characteristic of the writer.
The other articles of any importance written during this period relate to the Church Penitentiary movement; but these more fitly will fall under our notice in connection with that great work, which requires to be dealt with in a separate chapter.