Livesey autobiography — chapter 12

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When a man is induced to take a survey of his life, and of the part he may have played in the world, he is apt to consider what has led him into the peculiar line of action he has adopted. I was tempted the other day to refer to a “Phrenological” description of my character, presented to me by Mr. L. T. Fowler, as we are all curious to know what others say of us. And, I confess, my whole experience confirms what Mr. Fowler has stated in almost every particular. I will only instance two or three points. “You have the spirit of independence,” say he, “and desire to have your own way—to rely upon your own strength and resources, and to carry out your own plans.” Regardless of organization, my training from youth easily accounts for this. I had, so to speak, when young, to fight the world alone. Without help, and without association, my character and disposition must have chiefly grown out of my own reflections, arising from my isolated position. I was with my aged grandfather from my seventh to the twenty-first year of my age, whose only family consisted of himself, wife, and one son; and, for some time, of the son only, who was a person from whom I could learn nothing. Unlike those who are sent to mills or workshops, where character is formed in a great measure from associations, I had no companions to work with but my grandfather, much advanced in years, and who died at the age of 96. And I was equally destitute of books as I was of instructive companions. Even when I had chances I never cared to keep the company of the lads of the village. The consequence was, that almost upon every subject I have been unguided, and have had to form my own opinions; and this independence, commencing in youth, seems to have continued with me through life. Few have had more of the spirit of self-reliance than I have had; and seldom have I undertaken any enterprise but I have succeeded. With such antecedents, it might be expected that I should have “a way of my own” almost upon every matter. Even on the subject of temperance, though I have always tried to act in unison with those who are engaged in promoting the same object, I have seldom been able to commit myself to their policy and modes of action. I have been invited to become a vice-president by all our leading organizations, but I always refused, although at the same time I subscribe to their funds and wish them every success. I may say the same as to religious connexions, for, while I wish well to every party, whatever their form of faith, worship, or discipline may be, who really fear God and try to bless and benefit their fellow creatures, since I left the Baptists, I have not joined any particular denomination. In social undertakings the same independence seems to have guided me. I was always bent upon projecting something fresh—some new undertaking—and to resolutely follow it up, with such help as I could command, until it had become a success. This feeling of “individuality” seems to have stuck to me even in every day matters. Passing over others, I may just mention one point, because I conceive it bears upon one of our national habits, which an increase of intelligence, I hope, may tend to alter. I have long been convinced that there is as great a delusion existing in reference to the nutritious qualities of animal food as of beer. All our leading water doctors advise that flesh meat should be taken in greater moderation, but their advice is seldom regarded. Most people believe they could not live, at least they could not keep up their strength, without animal food. And many who have been accustomed to it and try, like a number who begin to abstain from alcoholic drinks, break down. Having read and thought a good deal upon this subject, I have long since come to the conclusion that the general belief in the highly nutritious properties of flesh meat is a mistake, and I have not arrived at this opinion without putting it to the test in my own case. I have abstained six months at a time without any loss of weight or strength, and I am now in my twelfth month without tasting fish, flesh, or fowl. I undertook this as an experiment, and, as before, I find no loss of weight or strength, but rather the contrary. And if ever I required a “generous diet,” owing to the amount of labour and anxiety I have been subject to, it has been during this period. There is, I feel certain, more nutriment in a pound of bread (the staff of life) than in a pound of flesh, and the difference in price is considerable. I cannot here enter into the argument at any length, but there is one advantage in the vegetarian diet (though that is scarcely a correct term) which I cannot omit. All medical authorities agree that people in the middle and upper ranks of life eat too much. In fact, they say more people kill themselves by over eating than over drinking. “Stuffing” is the greatest source of indigestion, for which I should say poverty was the best remedy. What is there that ministers more to over eating than those tempting and savoury dishes of which the English are so proud, made up of all kinds of animal food? Let these be abandoned, and there is far less danger of over eating. And, as a question of economy, there cannot be two opinions. My dinner, at home, as a rule, say three potatoes and a little butter, followed by a little pudding or roasted apples, or something equally simple, never costs more than 6d. And, it is a fact, if I did not occasionally check myself upon this diet I should get more corpulent than I like. I need no “castors;” mustard and pepper and spices are far better out of the stomach. Nature requires them not, and they only stimulate to weaken and do mischief. I should not have dwelt thus upon my own case if I did not believe that my countrymen have much to learn upon this subject; and, if they wish for information, they could not do better than to read the various publications in favour of a vegetarian diet; sold by J. Burns, 1, Wellington Koad, Camberwell, London. Parents are very often blamed, and are blameable, for giving their children tea instead of milk; but they are equally mistaken in giving them flesh meat to make them strong.

If Mr. Fowler’s chart can be relied upon, my organ of “acquisitiveness” is largely developed; and, in my experience, this seems to be fully confirmed. From my earliest years I had a strong inclination to acquire and to save, even in matters that others would have thought too trifling to care for. And when, in after life, opportunities were presented on a larger scale, I was never reluctant to embrace them. In business, nobody could strike a harder or more profitable bargain; and if this feeling had not been counteracted by “benevolence being large and active,” as Mr. Fowler puts it, it is difficult to say the evils to which it might have led. A fondness for acquiring, and a not unwillingness to give when occasion required, seem to have marked my path through life. I was at one time fond of attending auctions, and sometimes my desire for “bargains” led me to make foolish purchases. I have got many a lecture at home, and deservedly so, for buying lots of lumber, and incommoding the house with useless things. I once bought a farm which I had never seen. Entering the auction room, it was hanging under the hammer at £1,700, and I immediately bid another £100. I knew the distance it was from the town, and the measurement of the land, but nothing more Some other person offered another £100, and I followed, when it was knocked down to me at £2,000. I could ill spare the money, but, before the day of payment arrived, a friend of mine, fancying the place, took it off my ilands, giving me a couple of sovereigns for my trouble.

Mr. Fowler gives me credit for being “free in the use of language, and with a little excitement you can talk quite copiously.” In speaking I never tried to be eloquent, my aim always was to make myself understood—to render everything I wished to teach as plain as possible, and in this I seldom failed. I sometimes felt a little anxious before I commenced an address, but once on my feet, I experienced no difficulty in proceeding, and had always a remarkable amount of self-possession. In writing, my great aim has always been to make everything plain and easy to be understood, and without this no permanent impression can be expected. Some authors boast of writing their sheets and sending them off hand, direct to the printers. I cannot do this. Perhaps I am too fastidious; but every article I write is afterwards read over and corrected twice. If there is a weak expression I try to strengthen it; if a confused sentence I alter it, or write it afresh; and for this extra labour I have always been rewarded by the appreciation and approval of my readers. Even in corresponding with an individual, it is pleasant to receive a plain, well-constructed letter, but when you expect your productions to be read by thousands, it would seem criminal not to make them as perfect as you can. And after all, I seldom read one of my own articles in print but I could improve it. If the penmanship was as plain as my diction, my printer would have less occasion to complain.

In concluding these memoirs, it might be expected that I should give a lengthened account of my labours in connection with the temperance cause; but I have so often had occasion to refer to these, and having also published a series of papers entitled “Reminiscences of Early Teetotalism,” in which my earliest efforts are specially noticed, I think it unnecessary to refer again to them at any length. I may, however, be excused for giving the following extract from notes which I made in the year 1853. They were written when I was very lame, at a water establishment in Germany, and with little expectation that I should ever be able to do much more work for the temperance cause.

To the temperance cause I have devoted more time and more labour than to any other. I always saw that it lay at the foundation of all personal and domestic happiness, and of every social and political reform. In fact, without sobriety—and sobriety in the highest sense—you can do nothing. You may, indeed, project various systems of amelioration; but unless you can get both rulers, teachers, and people to be the decided enemies, not of drunkenness merely, but of intoxicating liquors, you can never carry these out with effect. To this good cause I can sincerely say I have devoted days and nights and years of labour, without any consideration but the pleasure of seeing people and families being made better and happier by it. Though often pained at the effects produced by drink, yet up to the year 1830 I took it myself, though in great moderation—say a glass or two when travelling, and a glass or two on a market day; but, I think, we never kept any in the house to treat our friends with—our habits of economy, if there had been no other reason, not admitting of this. Up to this period, like all other mistaken persons, I considered that the liquor was good; that it was the gift of Providence, and that the error of mankind lay in taking it to excess. … It would be tedious to advert in detail to the interesting incidents which have occurred to me during my connection with the temperance cause—since its commencement. The first seven years was a period of hard work and devotedness to the cause. The next seven reminded me that I had a large family growing up, but not over well provided for, so that my labours in this work were at periods only as convenience served, my time and attention being more thoroughly engaged in business. During the last seven years I have found my capabilities for hard labour giving way to the influence of years, and perhaps to previous over exertion. Still, I have stuck to the old ship, and by correspondence and occasional addresses have helped it forward. Within these few years I have several times organized visiting parties, but unless I could attend myself I always found them go down. Two years ago I started a temperance singing meeting on the Saturday evenings, which proved highly beneficial. It afforded amusement for the leisure hours of our teetotalers, especially the young, and induced many others to come to the meeting whom nothing else could have attracted. It was conducted with great simplicity. Five or six hundred people would frequently attend, and perhaps eight or ten different persons, promiscuously and voluntarily, would sing for the meeting, besides the singing of several temperance melodies, in which all would join. The proceeds were expended in temperance publications, and an immense quantity was distributed in the town and country. I generally attended myself every Saturday night. When want of health called me away from Preston, I regretted to find that the meetings fell off, and are now discontinued.

It is important that the reader should remember that the matter contained in the foregoing pages was all published in the Staunch Teetotaler 13 years ago. During so long an interval (from 1868 to 1881), many persons are dead who are referred to, and there are some facts named which will require to be modified. Page 16 will explain what I mean. The remarks made about my wife can not apply to the present time. She died on the 19th May, 1869, 12 years ago. Had she lived 19 more days, our married life would have extended to 54 years. In page 59 I speak of having eight sons, but two are since dead, and hence at present I have only six sons and one daughter; the eldest aged 64 and the youngest 48. Many other cases similar will strike the reader, where important changes have taken place during the past 13 years.

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