Livesey autobiography — chapter 16

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Our friends are always anxious to report successes, especially when they have received a large number of signatures to the pledge. Many hundreds, and in a recent case 7,000, was reported as the result of the labours of a clever speaker from America. It was currently stated that Father Mathew had pledged five millions to abstinence in Ireland, America, England, and Scotland. He did not take names in a book, but requested his converts to kneel and repeat the words after him. Everything about pledging has been done from the first very loosely. We have too often been misled by these reports, and when the individuals have been carefully visited a few weeks after, the numbers reported had to be greatly reduced, proving, in my opinion, the necessity of some modification in the pledge for professed new converts, if what might be called a pledge should be allowed to such. Many a time have I noticed how eagerly, at the close of our meetings, the people rush to the platform to sign the pledge, but when I have got the cases visited a few weeks after, I have been mortified at finding that great numbers had broken it. It is a question whether they should be allowed to sign there and then, under emotions such as are common to a large excited meeting; that if they sign at all, it should mean that they will try to abstain and become teetotalers. Such cases are very numerous; I will give one. A friend of mine, a very intelligent man, went to hear Gough; he was so excited with the address that, as supper was being brought in, he exclaimed, “No more porter, Betty, at this supper table here.” He meant what he said, but before the week was over the porter jug was on as usual; and worse still, the same practice was continued to the day of his death. If intelligent men such as he can yield to their appetite for liquor, no wonder that the untaught crowd should do the same. No person, I am inclined to think, should be registered as a member of the teetotal society till after he has been visited, and afforded evidence of his consistent abstinence. Something of this sort I think should be attempted. There is nothing I have felt more anxious about than this visiting, and to go on taking names without it is building upon a rotten foundation. It is painful to confess how often I have been disappointed in the practical result of our meetings; I have adopted various arrangements of visitation for this work, and as often been disappointed. Many who had left their names in the book had changed their residence and could not be found, many had broken their pledges, and this work always got into arrears. I fear it is from this source that such conflicting statements as to the total number of teetotalers are allowed to appear in print.

There is need, again and again, to remind our teetotalers of this much neglected duty of visitation. Without frequent visitations, my decided opinion is that no society can be in a prosperous condition. Our ordinary meetings are too often thinly attended; people don’t flock to them and crowd the doors as they did thirty or forty years ago; and unless we go to the people, the great mass will remain untaught and uncared for. In all our temperance labours we should get as low down as possible, It is not the righteous but sinners that need our  help. Christ condensed all the commandments into two, one being this—”Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” But how can we be said to love our neighbour whom we never see, never call upon, and never enquire after? Many teetotalers are fond of “demonstrations,” but those who take a wider and more Christian view, delight more in visiting and teaching the residents of the slums, helping the downcasts, remembering that we are all of one flesh, children of the same Parent. Here indeed shines the bright example of the Lord Jesus. The interests of the poor, the wicked, the lost, the friendless, were ever near His heart. He delighted in the companionship of the lowly. The Jews would have condemned to death the woman taken in adultery, but what says Jesus? “Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more.” Read His conversation with the woman of Samaria—one who had had five husbands, and was then living with a man who was not her husband. How different the tone of His discourse to that of many of His followers! The same kind and compassionate feeling was displayed at Simon’s supper table, where the woman, a great “sinner,” washed His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. What a contrast is the teaching of Christ’s parables with that of others! The prodigal son’s return and the father’s heart overflowing with compassion; the good Samaritan taking pity and relieving the man who had fallen among thieves, and who was passed by and left suffering by the Priest and the Levite; —these are certain lessons of love and pity which we should all imitate. If one in a hundred go astray, He teaches us that we should seek him out and bring him back, rejoicing more over his restoration than over the ninety and nine who remained in the fold. It is a question for Temperance people to consider seriously how greatly behind they are in love, compassion, pity, kindness, and self-denial, their great Teacher, who went about doing good. We want more practical religion; more feeling, more sympathy for the sufferings of others. We should seek out and save, if possible, those who appear to be lost. “The want of sympathy,” said a late judge, “is the sin of this age.” The Temperance people should be pioneers in this work of universal charity. There should not be a drinking man untaught, uncared for, unlooked after, nor a drinker’s house unvisited. If visiting was made a Christian duty, not merely the duty of a committee, but the duty of all, according to their time and opportunities, we should then have a full acquaintance with each other, learning to bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfil the law of Christ. The influence of caste seems to be getting worse. A change is greatly needed. As much as possible we should all mix together, the rich and the poor, the wise and the unwise, the good and the wicked. Not that we need to renounce either private property or private rights, but the mixing should be one of kindness, humility, love, charity, and good will.

I do deeply lament the indifference of many people in view of the overspreading calamities of our country from the drinking system. Ignorance, poverty, vice, crime, lunacy, and irreligion abound; and yet how many persons are content with ” attending their place of worship,” and though they weekly—some daily—pass the doorsteps of thousands of poor souls, lost by taking drink, their “bowels of compassion ” towards such seem wholly inactive. Some of the ministers, who ought, like their Master, to be the “friends of publicans and sinners; “who ought to exemplify the important fact that “visiting the fatherless and the widows in their affliction” is a great part of “pure and undefiled religion,” seem satisfied with performing their pulpit services, and attending to the easier duties of their office, little concerning themselves with the condition of the masses outside. I once visited fifty miserable hovels in Cowgate, Edinburgh; only from one of which was any person gone to a place of worship; and to my inquiry, “Do the ministers of religion come and see you? “the answer was, “No, never!” What a lamentable state of things! If a minister wishes to be really useful, he should visit the “slums.” If he wants to get a correct view of the morals and conduct of the people, he should be in the streets—the worst streets—on a Saturday night until public-house closing time. By such an example, members of his congregation would also be induced to labour and seek out and try to save those that are being lost. What should we say of our street-sweepers if they were always sweeping in the clean places, avoiding altogether the filth and dirt of the back streets, accumulating and spreading their pestiferous effects all around? What should we say of our medical men if infectious diseases were allowed to get so rife as to destroy thousands for want of their attendance, their time being taken up with those who least need them? I hold it equally important that quite as great efforts should be made to remove moral as physical evil, especially by those who are paid for doing the work. At a gathering which was held in Edinburgh, the Rev. William Arnot said: —”We must now strike a lower key-note. The Christian Church has been basking itself in the sunshine over an appalling mass of moral and spiritual degradation. The surface of it has yet barely been scratched. Women and children are being slowly and surely murdered within sound of our hymn singing.” Speaking of the great gulf existing betwixt the church and the masses of the common people, he says “they might as well be living in another planet.” There ought not, in my opinion, to be, and there need not be, a drinking man untaught, nor a drinker’s house unvisited. If the ministers of religion would determine upon this and take the lead, there are, I believe, in every congregation a number who would be glad to engage in the work. With true Christian zeal, with virtuous self-denial and perseverance, on the part of the religious and temperance people, I should have no doubt of a great change in the conduct and habits of the people. Multitudes of our fellow creatures are lost for want of being looked after by those who are able. Many live and die drunkards, nobody caring for them.

I know that we have a number of good men who delight in this work; and the number would be vastly increased if the leading spirits in each society would make a fresh start. It is to help such that I propose giving a few hints as to how they should proceed in their work. I said before that no time can be wrong for engaging in the work of visitation. But I always found Sunday forenoons the best of all times. The men are then at home and often on the stool of repentance from the previous night’s fuddle. The drink-shops are closed, it is the publican’s half-holiday, and we should take advantage of it. I will here suppose that we have only two hearty devoted persons from each place of worship (and this would make, say in such a town as Liverpool, the goodly number of at least 600 teetotal missionaries!); let these make their arrangements on the Saturday night as to the time and place of labour for the following forenoon, and provide themselves with plenty of handbills; or, if more desirable, let them follow our old plan, meeting together and starting from a central room. Let these missionaries go to where the hard drinkers reside—and the difficulty is not to find where they do reside but a district without them, and I should always give preference to the neighbourhood of the church or chapel where the visitors attend. Their calls will have to be guided partly by what they learn in the neighbourhood (for if they ask to be shown the houses where the drinkers live there will be plenty ready to give the information), and partly by what they see, for dirty door-steps, broken windows, and other indications of the effects of drink, will not be long to seek. Of course in these visitations the backsliding teetotalers will be specially looked after. Our friends, with papers in hands, and a familiar “good morning,” will soon get a hearing. In many cases they will not need to ask leave, but will be invited to come in. The poor fellows who are enslaved to drink are apt to cherish the idea that nobody cares for them; and when you go and sit down by their fireside, and talk to them in a kind and sympathising spirit, they are delighted to find that they have some one who is still anxious for their welfare. The wife is sure to be with you, and to do all she can to make your words impressive, and the children listen with delight. In most cases you will find that these men have tried teetotalism, and they will tell you how happy they were when they kept it. If there should be opposition (as there will be in some places), let no hard words escape, or bad temper be shown, and avoid wasting time by any controversy, taking care to close the call by leaving them something to read, which is a good preparation for the next visit. These visitors will not go many times before they will be known, and their calls expected; and the household improvements even by a few visits will soon be visible. This I would call the first part of our teetotal work among the masses.

Another work will unavoidably follow. In all the back streets on Sunday forenoons are groups of idlers, many of them young men, whose attention will be excited by the visitors with papers in their hands; and in most cases they will not be allowed to pass without some observations. To stop and speak to these people is an important duty; it is perhaps the only chance that can be had of meeting with them disengaged, and out of the drinkshop. This chance should always be embraced, and good tact, good temper, and great forbearance will be here required. Beware of long controversies, and avoid all offensive reference to religion. Keep to teetotalism, and to the benefits and happiness of abstaining from drink. These little gatherings are of great importance, and in such places as I have in view they can be improvised any time. Visits like these, conducted in a Christian spirit, cannot fail to benefit the masses, and they constitute the only agency by which we can reach a great majority of drinking people, and especially the young. Next, if we would do the work well, is to arrange as many plain, homely, public meetings as possible in the densely-populated parts of our towns. Every street should be made to feel the agitation in some shape or other. If it be winter, obtain the loan of schoolrooms, or outhouses, or cottages—if no better can be done. These meetings should be made well known, stating that a number of reformed characters will attend to give their experience. Our plan used to be this—to send a man round all the streets in the locality with a watchman’s rattle for an hour or so before the time. The children were specially attracted, and would follow the man in his round, carrying home the announcement. By these inexpensive means meetings get well known and well attended. Many such gatherings has our old friend “Dicky Turner” (author of the word teetotal) announced with his rattle. Of course in summer buildings will seldom be wanted, as the meetings will be generally held in the open air. I never found a difficulty in getting a hearing in the “slums,” especially from the females; and for their sakes alone we should exert ourselves in every place. We keep complaining of the increase of female drinking, and what are we doing to lessen it? Next to nothing, except denouncing “Gladstone’s Wine Bill!” Let it, however, be distinctly understood that the plan I advocate is neither intended to supplant nor supplement the present modes of labour which have been proved to be really effective, but to take its proper place in the front rank of the agencies for a temperance reformation.

Now the kind of work I have referred to should not be spasmodic, similar to a “month’s missions.” We should go on the year round, all taking a part; and such efforts would go on if we had the spirit of primitive teetotalism. With weekly meetings in central situations, constant agitations among the masses in the back streets, and Sunday labours similar to what I have described. Better days I hope are in prospect, but not without sound principles, and more energy in working them out. If Paul’s spirit “was stirred in him” when he saw the city of Athens wholly given to idolatry, ought we not to feel the same when we see the worship of Bacchus eclipsing all others? We should be like the early disciples, of whom it was said, “They that had turned the world upside down are come hither also.” I recommend nothing but what I have practised myself, and of which I understand all the details. For three years consecutively I was engaged every Sunday forenoon in this important work, and at intervals ever since. These were glorious times, such as I fear I shall never see again! We knew our work, and we did it, and if proof be wanting of the mighty change that was produced by these humble labours, it will at any time be forthcoming in the testimony of the late BRev. John Clay, chaplain of the gaol, an authority respected by everyone. Though at present drink seems to rule, it is a great encouragement to find that the old spirit is still alive, and the only sound principle of entire abstinence so extensively acknowledged. What we want is a real revival. When are we to have it? and who will help to bring it about?

Unpleasant as it seems to many to be mixed up with poor people, it always seemed to be my duty and pleasure to visit such. When I have travelled abroad, or visited the large towns at home, I never sought out “the lions of the place,” but always preferred to see the state of the Slums where misery and destitution had taken up their abode. Though pained at what I witnessed, I always felt pleased that I had sought out the wretched and miserable, especially the great sufferers through drink, and had secured the opportunity of giving them good advice and encouragement amid their poverty. And the longer I live the more am I convinced that in this, both temperance people and religious people are coming far short of their duty. Ours is a mighty enterprise, but an uphill work; and yet it is the most important step in social reform that good men have attempted in our day. It lies at the basis of success in all other attempts to benefit our fellow-creatures. Meetings incessantly, indoors and outdoors; untiring visitations among the drinking classes; the distribution of temperance information, leaving no one untaught; the firm and faithful use of the press; denouncing every form of drinking, and keeping the whole question prominently before the world; all this done with a liberality worthy of such a cause, is the duty of every man and woman who claims the title of temperance reformer.

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