Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 27

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I heard a whisper close to me, from one whose opinion I valued, and value still—a scholar and a poet, one who had tasted poverty, and slander, and a prison, for The Good Cause:

"Fine talk: but it's 'all in his day's work.' Will he dare to say that to-morrow to the ladies at the West-end?"

No—I should not. I knew it; and at that instant I felt myself a liar, and stopped short—my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth. I fumbled at my papers—clutched the water-tumbler—tried to go on—stopped short again—caught up my hat, and rushed from the room, amid peals of astonished laughter.

It was some months after this that, fancying the storm blown over, I summoned up courage enough to attend a political meeting of our party; but even there my Nemesis met full face. After some sanguinary speech, I really forgot from whom, and, if I recollected, God forbid that I should tell now, I dared to controvert, mildly enough, Heaven knows, some especially frantic assertion or other. But before I could get out three sentences, O'Flynn flew at me with a coarse invective, hounded on, by-the-by, by one who, calling himself a gentleman, might have been expected to know better. But, indeed, he and O'Flynn had the same object in view, which was simply to sell their paper; and as a means to that great end, to pander to the fiercest passions of their readers, to bully and silence all moderate and rational Chartists, and pet and tar on the physical-force men, till the poor fellows began to take them at their word. Then, when it came to deeds and not to talk, and people got frightened, and the sale of the paper decreased a little, a blessed change came over them—and they awoke one morning meeker than lambs; "ulterior measures" had vanished back into the barbarous ages, pikes, vitriol-bottles, and all; and the public were entertained with nothing but homilies on patience and resignation, the "triumphs of moral justice," the "omnipotence of public opinion," and the "gentle conquests of fraternal love"—till it was safe to talk treason and slaughter again.

But just then treason happened to be at a premium. Sedition, which had been floundering on in a confused, disconsolate, underground way ever since 1842, was supposed by the public to be dead; and for that very reason it was safe to talk it, or, at least, back up those who chose to do so. And so I got no quarter—though really, if the truth must be told, I had said nothing unreasonable.

Home I went disgusted, to toil on at my hack-writing, only praying that I might be let alone to scribble in peace, and often thinking, sadly, how little my friends in Harley-street could guess at the painful experience, the doubts, the struggles, the bitter cares, which went to the making of the poetry which they admired so much!

I was not, however, left alone to scribble in peace, either by O'Flynn or by his readers, who formed, alas! just then, only too large a portion of the thinking artizans; every day brought some fresh slight or annoyance with it, till I received one afternoon, by the Parcels Delivery Company, a large unpaid packet, containing, to my infinite disgust, an old pair of yellow plush breeches, with a recommendation to wear them, whose meaning could not be mistaken.

Furious, I thrust the unoffending garment into the lire, and held it there with the tongs, regardless of the horrible smell which accompanied its martyrdom, till the lady-lodger on the first floor rushed down to inquire whether the house was on fire.

I answered by hurling a book at her head, and brought down a volley of abuse, under which I sat in sulky patience, till Mackaye and Crossthwaite came in, and found her railing in the doorway, and me sitting over the fire, still intent on the frizzling remains of the breeches.

"Was this insult of your invention, Mr. Crossthwaite?" asked I, in a tone of lofty indignation, holding up the last scrap of unroasted plush.

Roars of laughter from both of them made me only more frantic, and I broke out so incoherently, that it was some time before the pair could make out the cause of my fury.