Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

Wesleyism spread widest and deepest. If any part of Wesley's mission tended to modify or abolish slavery, then a devotion to freedom so constant and generous as Conway's should link their names by an irrefragable, however subtle, filament of common piety. I wished to look into Finsbury Chapel for my old friend's sake, but it seemed to me that we had intruded on worshippers enough that morning, and I satisfied my longing by a glimpse of the interior through the pane of glass let into the inner door. It was past the time for singing the poem of Tennyson which "Tom Brown" Hughes used to say they always gave out instead of a hymn in Finsbury Chapel; and some one else was preaching in Conway's pulpit, or at his desk. I do not know what weird influence of sermonizing seen but not heard took the sense of reality from the experience, but I came away feeling as if I had looked upon something visionary.

It was no bad preparation for coming presently to the church of All Hallows in the Wall, where a bit of the old Roman masonry shows in the foundations of the later defences, of which indeed, no much greater length remains. The church, which is so uninterestingly ugly as not to compete with the relic of Roman wall, stands at the base of a little triangle planted with young elms that made a green quiet, and murmured to the silence with their stiffening leaves. It was an effect possible only to that wonderful London which towers so massively into the present that you are dumb before the evidences of its vast antiquity. There must have been a time when there was no London, but you cannot think it any more than you can think the time when there shall be none. I make so sure of these reflections that I hope there was no mistake about those modest breadths

[ocr errors]

of Roman masonry; its rubble laid in concrete, was strong enough to support the weightiest reflection.

I am the more anxious about this because my friend, the genealogist, here differed with the great Cunningham, and was leading me by that morsel of Roman London to St. Peter's Lane, where he said Fox died, and not to White Hart Court, where my other authority declares that he made an end two days after preaching in the Friends' Meeting-house there. The ignorant disciple of both may have his choice; perhaps in the process of time the two places may have become one and the same. At any rate we were able that morning to repair our error concerning St. Catherine Cree's, which we had unwittingly seen before, and now consciously saw, for Sir Nicholas Throgmorton's sake. It had the look of very high church in the service which was celebrating, and I am afraid my mind was taken less by the monument of Sir Nicholas than by the black-robed figure of the young man who knelt with bowed head at the back of the church and rapt me with the memory of the many sacerdotal shapes which I used to see doing the like in Latin sanctuaries. It is one of the few advantages of living long that all experiences become more or less contemporaneous, and that at certain moments you cannot be distinctly aware just when and where you are.

There was little of this mystical question when our mission took us to Whitechapel, for there was nothing there to suggest former times or other places. I did, indeed, recall the thick - breathed sweltering Sunday morning when I had visited the region in July; but it is all now so absolutely and sordidly modern that one has no difficulty in believing that it was altogether different when so many Southern and especially Virginian

emigrations began there. How many settlers in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland also were recruited from it, I know not; but the reader may have it at second-hand from me, as I had it at firsthand from my genealogist, that some Virginian names of the first quality originated in Whitechapel, which, in the colonizing times, was a region of high respectability, and not for generations afterwards the perlieu it became, and has now again somewhat ceased to be.

The first exiles from it were not self-banished for conscience' sake, like those at a later date when the Puritans went both to Massachusetts where they revolted further, and to Virginia where they ultimately conformed. The earlier out-goers, though they might be come-outers, were part of the commercial enterprise which began to plant colonies north and south. The Plymouth Company which had the right to the country as far northward as Nova Scotia and westward as far as the Pacific, and the London Company which had as great scope westward and southward as far as Cape Fear, had the region between them in common, and they both drew upon Whitechapel, and upon Stepney beyond, where I had already fancied the present Whitechapel resuming somewhat of its ancient respectability. It is then a "spacious fair street," as one of Cunningham's early authorities describes it, and it is still "somewhat long," so long indeed that our tram was a halfhour in carrying us through it into Stepney. About the time of the emigrations De Foe saw it, or says he saw it (you never can be sure with De Foe) thronged "with the richer sort of people, especially the nobility and gentry from the west part of the town, with their families and servants," escaping into the country from the plague.

The "offscourings" of London, which the companies carried rather more to the southward than the northward with us, were hardly scoured off in Whitechapel, which was a decent enough ancestral source for any American strain. As for Stepney, then as now the great centre of the London shipping, she has never shared the ill-repute of Whitechapel, at least in name. Cunningham declares the region once "well-inhabited, and the sailors still believe that all children born at sea belong to Stepney Parish. By an easy extension of this superstition she is supposed to have had a motherly interest in all children born beyond seas, including, of course, the American colonies, and she is of a presence that her foster-folk's descendants need not be ashamed of. Our tram took us now and then by an old mansion of almost manor-house dignity, set in pleasant gardens; and it followed the shore of the Thames in sight of the masts of ships whose multitude brought me to disgrace for having, on my way to Greenwich, thought poorly of London as a port, and which, because of her riparian situation, made Stepney the scene of the great strike of the London dockers, when they won their fight under the lead of John Burns.

Our lovely weather cooled slightly as the afternoon wore away, but it was bright and mild again when we came another day towards Stepney as far as the old church of St. Dunstan. It is an edifice of good perpendicular Gothic, with traces of early English and even of later Norman, standing serene in a place of quiet graves amid the surrounding turmoil of life. The churchyard was full of rustling shrubs and bright with beds of autumnal flowers, from which the old square tower rose in the mellow air. Divers of our early emigrants were baptized in St. Dunstan's, namely, the wife of

Governor Bradford of Plymouth, with many of our shipmen, notably that Master Willoughby, who established the ship-yard at Charlestown, Massachusetts. I like better to associate with it our beginnings, because here I first saw those decorations for the Thanksgiving festival which the English have lately borrowed from us, and which I found again and again at various points in my September wanderings. The pillars were wreathed with the flowers and leaves of the fall; the altar was decked with apples and grapes, and the pews trimmed with yellow heads of ripe wheat. The English Thanksgiving comes earlier than ours, but it remembers its American source in its name, and the autumn comes so much sooner than with us that although the “parting summer lingering blooms delayed" in St. Dunstan's church-yard, the fallen leaves danced and whirled about. our feet in the paths.

There is witness of the often return of the exiles to their old home in the quaint epitaph which a writer in The Spectator (it might have been Addison himself) read from one of the flat tombstones:

"Here Thomas Taffin lyes interred, ah why?
Born in New England, did in London die.'

[ocr errors]

"I do not wonder at this," Dr. Johnson said of the epitaph to Boswell. "It would have been strange if born in London he had died in New England."

The good doctor did indeed despise the American colonies with a contempt which we can almost reverence; but the thing which he found so strange happened to many Londoners before his time. One of the least worthy and less known of these was that George Downing, who came back from Boston, where he was graduated at Harvard, and took the title of baronet from

« VorigeDoorgaan »