The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 33
I was born in one of the sweetest counties of this Island, and the village in which my parents lived might have been considered embosomed in Paradise, had it not been for high rents, and the imposition of taxes.
My father and forefathers throve exceedingly in this village; but when I was fifteen years of age, a war arose between two foreign nations, many hundreds of miles distant across the sea. No one could understand how it was, yet it did happen, that this war smote our village, and the inhabitants suffered as much as if they had been foraged by contending armies. Trade was blasted in every branch. My father's business was reduced, so that it brought him in barely sufficient to keep his family and pay the rent. He was thus a loser every year exactly the amount of taxes,—these things, of a truth, did abound and increase, but in their life they brought forth nought but death.
My father's estate wasted year by year,—so did his form,—and when I was twenty-one years of age he died, without cough, spit, fever, tumour, or fracture. Physicians compounded an epithet for his complaint, but vulgarly it was spoken of as a broken heart. People sneered at the circumstance. For cholera and influenza they had a great deal of respect; of this page 5 malady, however, they had no fear, therefore they sneered. Nevertheless, it did prove infectious, as my mother died with similar symptoms, when they were placing my father's body in a coffin.
I did not then know, but I have since observed, that, of a certainty, in spite of our mocking neighbours, this malady—a "broken heart"—is contagious; and, further, hath this peculiarity—it never comes to men from their fellow beings, nor from aught else save things inanimate or imaginative, as from loss of their money or goods, and from disappointment in their expectations and desires; and to women it never comes in such fashion, but from disappointment or cruelty in regard to men alone.
My thoughts had been much disturbed about that time, by the teachings of a class of men who affirmed the non-existence of a soul, a God, or an hereafter. The irrecoverable loss of my parents crushed me into the very dust; and these men had for me no consolation—no, nor sympathy. For days I was as a worm in a corpse. At the burial—in one hour, in one grave—of those who had given me life, I covered myself with my mourning cloak, nor dared to look on the face of heaven above, nor on the face of man around me. I stood in darkness at the head of the grave. I heard the burial service. I heard sobs. There was then silence. This was broken by the sound of earth rudely shovelled upon the coffins beneath. The sound was as of a voice—a parting voice—a parting voice from the dead. I dropped my cloak, and beheld the coffins—rather, say my parents—wrapt from my sight for ever by the relentless soil.page 6
Instinctively I raised my eyes. Over me bent the graceful branches of a tree. Spring had stepped forth a little by that day, and the leaves were bursting forth, innumerable, bright, and beautiful, forming a veil of green. As if a fountain had opened in my heart, gushed forth the thought :—"As these come forth from death, so will come forth the soul. The Power that brings them forth, will also bring forth the soul. That Power, omnipotent and beneficent, creative and eternal, is what men name God. Where God lives there also is the abode of the soul; that is, not in Time alone. To be in Time, He must have been before, and, therefore, must be hereafter."
I write this that it may be known that our tribe are informed and convinced, by observations of nature like this, of the existence of a God and his goodness. They would be astonished at a man asking for any other proof of these matters. But the men I before spoke of, laughed at my exclamation by the grave side. They would be satisfied of nothing but by many words; in this, however, many words would not satisfy them.
The goods and property of my father, when sold, left me in possession of two hundred golden pieces. He, besides, having been a freeman of the village, which had formerly been a town, I inherited from him a Vote.
A Vote, I may say, was once the right, but had declined into the privilege, of raising a hand in the election of a person, sent by the village, to sit or not to sit, to speak or not to speak, his own mind, or some one else's mind,—as he chose,—in the Parliament of the land; which Parliament corresponded with the page 7 meeting of the chiefs of our tribes, with this difference,—that the chiefs consult only on matters affecting the Nation of Tribes, and cannot dictate aught as to the internal affairs of a tribe, and they must represent what their tribe has instructed them upon, and only such things.
This Vote was understood to belong to the man to whom it belonged. In my father's case, however, it was always the property of his best customer. In later years, when, from a vacillating mind, he was behind with his rent, the lord of the estate desired, and commanded him once or twice, to give it in a different way to what he had done before. This inconsistency my father always evaded, by reluctantly paying the rent that was due.
This Vote, then, was a valuable portion of my patrimony, since it always secured a good customer,—in fact, a rivalry of customers,—and I regretted to part with it without any return; for I had resolved to retrieve a part of that fortune in London, which my father had lost in the country, and it was of no value to me out of my native village.