Bust of John Passmore Edwards

The Autobiography of John Passmore Edwards

By the way


I remember seeing Charles Bradlaugh, many years before he entered Parliament, surrounded and followed by a multitude of men and boys from East London, on their way to a "demonstration" in Hyde Park. Bradlaugh was a very tall man, and wore an ordinary high hat; his followers were short men and boys, who wore low hats of one kind or another, or had no hats to wear. Consequently, the leader looked almost a yard taller than the crowd, and was easily seen. When passing into the Park, I heard one little boy say to another "There 'e is; let's 'av a shy at 'im." As with Bradlaugh, so it is, I have found, with anyone who may have made himself more or less conspicuous by providing public buildings. "There he is," say a host of the letter-writing, circular-sending fraternity; and postmen soon get more to do and waste-paper baskets get sooner filled. Why should anyone who supplies a public library or a convalescent home be pelted with begging letters to build churches? Or, because he provides a public institution, about which he may know much, be appealed to right and left to assist individuals about whom he knows nothing? And the inconvenience is not limited to the reception of begging letters, but includes personal applications; and these, in my case, became so frequent that, contrary to my disposition and desire, I have had to cultivate carefully the habits of a recluse.
Soon after I began to provide buildings for public use I was several times asked whether foundation-stones might be laid with Masonic ceremony. I willingly consented, and, one thing suggesting and leading to another, I found myself, after due preparation and passing well-guarded portals, an "accepted freemason" and member of the Cornish Lodge in London. Experience soon taught me that the conditions of the order were not so exacting as I expected to find them, and were certainly more festive. I will give an illustration. In 1899 the late Sir John Millais, R.A., presided, in the absence of Lord Leighton, who was ill, over the annual Royal Academy banquet. Sir John proposed the toast of the evening, and concluded with a unique eulogium on the president. He said that his noble friend, Lord Leighton, added to his great artistic ability, which all acknowledged, social qualities and administrative ability of a very high order; and with all, if not better than all, he was a very fine fellow. Something of the kind may be said of Freemasonry. It has a noble ritual, wide-embracing sympathies, and useful methods of applying them; and with all, and more pronounced than all, particularly when enjoying "refreshment after labour," masons are "jolly good fellows." The order is limited to no country, creed, or colour, and includes among its members men [no women] of all latitudes and faiths. It is essentially cosmopolitan in character and constitution, and might easily use its broad vantage-ground to promote the solidarity of nations. This could be done by masons at Lodge meetings greeting each other across seas and continents, or by invitations to foreign masons, who may be in London at particular times, to masonic meetings. Such action might, and no doubt would, evoke reciprocative action abroad, and in this way the fraternisation of masons might promote the pacification of mankind.
I have, in more than 9,999 out of every 10,000 days of my life, enjoyed good health, which I attribute mainly to simplicity and regularity of living. During about a dozen of the central and busiest years of my life I was a teetotaler and a vegetarian, and have been mostly so ever since. Man, in physical structure and moral tendency, is vegetarian. Cannibalism has nearly ceased to exist; carnivorosity will follow in due course. The longest-lived and most sagacious animals, such as elephants, are vegetarian. It is the same with birds, such as parrots. Other animals mostly resembling man such as the monkey tribe-are fruit-eaters. Human flesh-eaters will not, as a rule, eat flesh-eating animals. Where one kind of animal is eaten by man, hundreds of kinds of animals are not eaten. It is more humane to eat without killing than it is to kill to eat. Vegetables, cereals, and fruit can be produced much cheaper and quicker than animals for food. Since I came to live in London its population has more than doubled, and the consumption of bread has increased correspondingly
During the same time the price of bread has materially decreased, and the price of flesh food has materially increased. Fruit and vegetable production is in harmony with the highest human instincts, which cannot be said of cultivating and killing animals for food. Human progress depends much more on what people eat and drink than is generally supposed. Much that goeth into the mouth defileth the man. Many things have recently been said and written about the laws of health and life, and on methods of preserving them; and municipal and government action has been more and more invoked to provide and administer public health regulations. But individuals, by simple living, can do more to protect themselves than can be obtained by the most affluent use of medicine or any amount of legal provision. Indigestion is the mother of many miseries. Modern sumptuous dinners are more akin to barbaric than to civilised centuries, and the fewer they get the better for mankind. Seneca said: "If you are surprised at the number of our maladies, count the number of our cooks."
I have more than once been asked, by collectors of facts for biographical dictionaries and other publications, what is my "chief recreation." I have had no particular recreation, as generally understood. I have tried to perform the duties of life with as little friction as possible, and have had a fair share of the pleasures of life. My chief recreation, however, next to reading, has been derived from habitually observing and admiring nature as seen in flower, field, and forest; in billowy landscapes and azurean seas; or as seen or felt in the pulse of spring and the leafy pomp of summer; in cloud-curtained rising and setting suns; in the exhaustless provision of energy everywhere observable; in the reign of law and the universal balance of things. Nature in essence and operation is recreative, compensative, eternal. It ever waits to impart instruction to seekers after truth and satisfaction to seekers after beauty. Here is a volume with luminous pages open at all seasons to inform and delight its readers, to afford solace to the jaded from overwork or lessons to others who work too little or not at all. The beautiful everywhere invites attention, Inspires hope, and offers joy. When a traveller asked Wordsworth's servant to show him her master's study, she answered: "Here is his library; his study is out of doors." All may not have a study or library to call their own, or live within reach of a public library or picture gallery; but most people may, without charge, enter Nature's study, with its grass-carpeted earth, its ebbing and flowing seas, its sunny and starry skies.
It is surprising to learn from the biographical dictionaries referred to that so many, in search of recreation, should indulge in angling, pigeon and partridge shooting, fox-hunting, hawking, deer-stalking, polo, rabbit-coursing, etc. Such sports must be attended with animal suffering. It is humiliating to know that so many educated people should or could derive enjoyment from wounding and killing, by scientific means, innocent birds and animals; and it is still more humiliating to know that hundreds of thousands of acres of cultivable land should, at the expense of the community, be turned into game preserves and breeding-grounds to provide means for degrading amusements. When a young man, I went with another young man on a shooting expedition. My share of the fun consisted of shooting a sparrow which was enjoying itself on a hayrick. I managed to wound it, when it fluttered down, on broken wing, and took refuge in a hedge near by Immediately I felt sorrow for what I had done, and carefully searched for the wounded bird to render it assistance if I could, or, if dying, to shorten its misery. But I could not find it. Fortunately I also wounded mysel. Touched with remorse for my cowardly conduct, I then and there resolved never to indulge in such sport again. I have kept my promise, and shall continue to do so, But that sparrow did not suffer altogether in vain. It was, in fact, a little martyr, and I have since tried to atone for my cruelty by advocating, on suitable occasions, not only kindness, but, what perhaps is better, justice to animals. It may be thought by some hat wounding or killing a sparrow is a little thing, and scarcely worthy of a serious thought. Yes, a little thing in comparison to many things, but a great thing to the mutilated sparrow. All things, great or small, are in touch with other things. Justice to animals is inseparably linked with justice to man. The little girl who sends on a postcard kisses to her canary, as well as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humanitarian League, and the Anti-Vivisection Societies, when defending animal rights, are at the same time, and by use of similar motives, promoting human good.
Though much has been done, and is being done, in a variety of ways, by individual and combined action, to increase the sum of good, much is also being done in many ways to increase evil. Take two or three conspicuous examples. We see a thousand and one institutions and committees of one kind or another working for social welfare; at the same time, we see Government prodigally spending public money, and thereby impoverishing the nation and increasing the evils such institutions and committees are trying to remove. A still more discouraging state of things may be seen in the wide, and widening, gulf between the very rich and the very poor. We see, on the one side, multitudes of men, women, and children huddled together in hunger, poverty, and dirt; a few hundred yards off may be seen an increasing class revelling in luxurious idleness. We have masses of preventable evil side by side with a section of society who assist to produce that evil by consuming too much and wasting more. London is becoming the metropolis of pleasure, and, at the same time, getting more and more the home and refuge of sweating practices. The poor, by hard and often under-paid work, make the riches and provide the luxuries of the rich ; and the rich, by their wasteful habits, largely assist to make the poverty and increase the sufferings of the poor. It is surprising that so many should pride themselves on their independence, their affluent means and sumptuous trappings, when they are dependent on others for everything they eat, drink, parade, waste, and wear. It is equally surprising that the producing many should so quiescently accept such a condition of things. Dean Swift wrote: "I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed."
As far back as 1844-I write this sixty-one years after-I met in the street in Liverpool a little blue-eyed girl, with hair like woven sunbeams, who asked me to "buy a brick." In answer to an inquiry, she said they were about to build a new Temperance Hall in Liverpool, and it was supposed that each brick in the building would cost about a penny. Without further entreaty, I bought a brick, and received in return a small picture of a brick on a card. It was the most profitable investment I ever made, as the memory of the incident, and the consciousness that I was joint proprietor, with hundreds of others, of a Liverpool Temperance Hall, have yielded me many pennies' worth of satisfaction. It has since been my good fortune to make other and larger investments of a similar kind, and there is ground for belief-at all events for hope-that the institutions I have been privileged to rear may be so many bricks in the big building of British civilisation.
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April 18, 2005
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© Dean Evans 2003