a true history, & study in psychology
|The Edward Carpenter Archive|
by Simon Dawson
This is not one of Carpenter's published documents. It exists in the Sheffield Archive (catalogue Number MSS 363/17) only as the carbon copy of an original 80 year old typescript, heavily edited by Carpenter himself in pencil.
Nevertheless it is an interesting document - the story of how Carpenter and Merrill met, and a description of Merrill's early life. This part of the document is fascinating, full of life and humour. It is also a good source document for social historians keen to learn about life for a young gay man in the slums of a northern town, a man not averse to using his good looks to his advantage.
As I have known George Merrill now (5 March, 1913) for some twenty-two years - during fourteen of which he has lived with me as a friend and housekeeper - he has naturally played an important part in my life and I feel impelled to try and put something on the record about him. It is not often perhaps that two people are associated over a longish period so closely as we have been; for though the ordinary man and wife may see a good deal of each other, yet it generally happens that their respective occupations carry them during the day pretty far apart; whereas we have been practically within hail of one another all the time - working side by side in the garden or the house, or at most in adjacent rooms, meeting at nearly every meal, plunging together over the hills to the railway station and into Sheffield, or traveling in England or abroad. And I think it speaks well for both of us that the relation has endured this somewhat severe test: - that is has grown indeed in grace; and that our intimacy, though perhaps a little different in its temporal character, is just as close and sincere to-day as it was twenty years ago.
In some ways I regard George Merrill as the most interesting and satisfactory character I have ever met. Knowing as I do, thousands of people, of all classes - and many very intimately - I still doubt whether I find anyone more natively human, loving, affectionate, and withal endowed with more general good sense and tact than he. Born and bred quite in the slums of Sheffield he ran as a boy barefoot about the streets and trafficked with other boys in cigar-ends and trouser-buttons; but whatever the draw backs of these early days may have been they brought him the priceless advantage that he never had any education in the modern sense; and grew up totally ignorant of the existence of the Saturday Review or the Spectator, and untouched by the moralisings of such goody books that were left in the house by the occasional visits of the missionary. It is true, he tells me, that at the little school to which he went part of the time he was considered good at reciting from the Psalms and other parts of Scripture. But I can testify to-day that he is entirely ignorant of the stories contained in the Bible (which in itself one must of course regard as a serious loss) and even of its teaching. For not long ago, when I happened to mention the Garden of Gethsamane, he asked me in all sincerity what that was; and when I said "that was the garden where Jesus spent his last night" he simply replied "Who with?"
His mother was a big, racy-tongued, good-hearted woman with a stout voice and leg-of-mutton arms - probably descended from a rustic strain not that far back. I think she must have had Irish blood in her - to judge from her voluble humor. One girl and eight boys were her children; a rather good looking lot and, notwithstanding their poverty, well-grown and fine featured. And among them the mother ruled and raged - alternately chastising them with the clothes-line, or convulsing them with laughter by her witticisms.
George was simply devoted to his mother. He clung to her skirts as a child; when he was eight or nine he delighted to sew bits of coloured stuffs together into quilts, and to make skirts and chemises for dolls; when he was eleven or twelve he would help her in the knitting of stockings and in looking after the younger children; as a growing lad he turned over practically all his wages to her - that is, when he began to make any; and when she died (which was after he had come to live with me) her memory was always present with him. And something more than her memory; for oftentimes he would say to me "I heard my mother speaking just know - I saw her standing close to me in the kitchen, when I was washing up - I could hear her voice quite plain." That or something similar. And almost every night he would dream of her.
I remember him saying to me - only two or three years ago - and it was about the tenth anniversary of her death "Oh, yesterday all at once I did go so miserable, a sudden cloud of wretchedness came all at once on me, and I couldn’t think why; and Tom N., who was with me, said "What makes you so quiet?" Then all at once it flashed upon me; it was the day of her death - she died you know on the Monday. I had thought of it a week ago, and then forgot all about it; but that was the reason of course."
The father had been a goods engine-driver as a younger man, and fairly competent; and for a time there were passable wages coming in for the growing household. But at an early date trouble arose; a fog signal bursting damaged his eye, and for twenty-six weeks he was under care either in the infirmary or outside. About the same time the drink trouble supervened, and as usual got worse with the advancing years. Sam Merrill had to leave the Railway, and after that only found some poor and casual employment in the cutlery trade. His earnings fell off just as the family was increasing. Sometimes indeed they vanished to zero; and then there was deadly poverty and despair. Everything available was pawned. The mother raged and scolded. "He’s no mortal use to me. I’ve ‘ad ‘im all these years now, and I’m dead sick on ‘im. He don’t bring nothing in, he don’t; and he well nigh wears me out with botheration and anxiety. Many and many a time I’ve prayed on my bended knees for him to be taken; but the Lord won’t have proffered flesh, and that’s a true saying. When I married him he was right enough; there wasn’t an idle bone in his body then - till he took to drink - and now he ain’t good for nowt. If the Lord don’t take him soon I shall soap t’ cellar steps one day, and let him down that way on the back of ‘is ‘ead - and a good riddance too."
During this sort of tirade the diminished husband (not a very big man at best) would sit smoking his pipe up the chimney and trying hard to look indifferent. No longer the man of younger days, he felt some shyness perhaps in the presence of that powerful voice and those leg-of-mutton arms - a shyness not unmixed with admiration, and a comfortable knowledge that the bark of his better half was far worse than her bite.
Naturally when Samuel did bring any earnings home they were impounded for the benefit of the family exchequer. And the consequence of that was that Samuel not infrequently dissembled. If he really had money with him he would return very late when he could rely on wife and boys being in bed, and then - knowing that his pockets would probably be ransacked upstairs - he would empty them down below, and hide the coins under a corner of carpet or in the mug on the shelf - counting on the prospect of securing them again in the morning before their discovery by the family.
One morning - after such a late entry of his father the night before - George came down first and searching around, presently found a sovereign and a shilling together under the edge of the hearthrug, and two half-crowns slipped in beneath the family Bible on the side table. He collared them of course, and waited impatiently for his mother to descend - clattering a little meanwhile with the fire-irons in order to wake her - while he laid the fire. Presently when no sound of stirring was heard he went to the staircase door and shouted up. "Mother! you’re wanted. Mrs. Ellis took worse, and will you go round to oncet?" There was a smothered reply; but still no effective movement. He waited again, and then going to the door, said - "Mother, if you don’t be quick about it will be to late." This had the desired effect, and in a few moments Mrs. Merrill appeared. George put his finger to his lips and showed her in dumb gesture the money and the places where it had been found.
"Well done, lad," whispered his mother, "it's just what we want. It'll get my old Sunday clothes out of the pop-shop, and buy thee a pair of cord trousers, which thou's been wanting now so long, and a pair of blankets for upstairs." And she smiled all over her face, and wrapping the money in a bit of waste paper pulled up her skirt, and inserted the tiny parcel in her petticoat pocket.
Presently the father came down. But the other two paid no attention - only busied themselves with cleaning up and getting breakfast ready. The old man peeped about on the sly - when they were apparently not looking - under the mug and in drawers and inside the hollow china dog on the mantelpiece; but could find nothing; and having been somewhat in liquor the night before; felt confused and had no clear memory to guide him. At last he broke out, roundly accusing them:-
"What have you done with my money? Where have you put it?"
"Thy money? We've not found any of thy money - I wish we had. And I tell thee, if we had (murder will out!) thou would na get any of it. Serve thee right for coming home like that - making a beast of thyself, and hiding what thou owes to decent folk in nicks in the floor and such like places - where they happen get lost, and we never knows about them - though all the time we may be clemming for want of a bit of victuals."
So after breakfast George and his mother went out and got their Sunday clothes and the blankets and the corduroy trousers; and when - a day or two later - the father returned to the quest with "Where's my money?" and "Where have you put it?" the wife pointing at the things bought and reclaimed, said "It's theer! and it's theer! and it's theer! - can't thou see it, and hasn't thou the sense to know for thysen?"
I met George first when he was about twenty, in a railway train; and I remember being struck then by the clinging (Footnote 1) and affectionate; yet sad and wistful expression of his countenance. A boy of loving sensitive nature who grows up in the conditions I have described is bound to see a good deal of the seamy side of life - both in the way of suffering and in the way of pretty coarse experiences.
George; with his keen physical vitality and humourous turn of mind (both derived from his mother) was able to find his way healthily through both classes of experience; and it was characteristic of him that when quite mature and grown up he combined a strong sexuality of temperament and habit with the most tender and affectionate disposition. (It is often thought of course that sexuality, if indulged in, destroys the finer and more sensitive elements of character - and there may be some truth in the supposition; but I have not always found it to be so, and there certainly are cases where the inhibition of sexuality blunts and ultimately stunts the finer feelings - so that a wide generalisation on the subject is perhaps at present not possible.)
Only three or four years ago George said to me one night "I have cried in bed when I was a boy for hundreds of hours thinking no one loved me or cared for me - and yet I wanted to love everybody. It was only afterwards that I found out how many good people there are in the world."
But I imagine that from very early days he had an intuition of love affairs and sex affairs; and partly from close association with his mother and elder sister, partly from street boys, learned much of the lore both of women and men. I remember his describing to me how when his sister was confined and the little niece was born (for whom he helped to sew chemises) he - a boy of twelve or so - crept upstairs and through the crack of the bedroom door saw the midwife, and the bloodstained sheets, and other things ineffable; and knew that the story that Mrs Clarke (the midwife) had brought the baby in under her shawl. was a lie!
When George was eleven or twelve and at school, I think the master must have somewhat favoured him; for he made George the means of sending billets doux to a certain Mrs. Thane, a member of the church choir; and he received replies by the same means. The house was a mile or more distant through the town, and the boy enjoyed the walk and lingered over it; and Mr. Cole (the master) never asked inconvenient questions about the lingering. Moreover the lady generally gave him a drink of some-thing and a bit of cake, and Mr. Cole gave him twopence on his return. But one day while in class George did something naughty. He stooped down from his form, pretending to pick up something from the floor, and slyly ran a pin into a girl's stocking, sitting in front of him. Scream! and enquiries and evidence, and cross-examination, and George was told to come out.
"Hold out your hand" - whack came the cane.
"Now hold out the other hand".....
George in his characteristic way had really a rather romantic devotion to the master. But there was a limit to everything; and when the first blow made his hand fairly burn with pain, and a second blow was threatened - things began to take on another complexion; and suddenly, and in a low voice unheard of the class, George hissed out (and he never quite knew what put it into his head) "I'll tell Mister Thane about you!" The cane nearly dropped from old King Cole's hand. His manner suddenly changed, and he said "Come and see me at twelve o' clock."
At twelve o' clock some of the boys waited outside the schoolroom door, expecting George to come out crestfallen after punishment; but he emerged smiling and with an extra threepenny bit in his hand! How he had obtained this result however, he never told them.
Probably at that age he had no very clear idea of the concatenation of marriage and love-affairs; and if anyone had asked him he would not have been able to say exactly why he mentioned Mr. Thane's name at that moment; but his strangely active subconscious mind prompted him here; no doubt to a conclusion which mentally he could not reason out - as it often did in later life, and in a way which almost amounted to genius - especially in his relations with other people, and his perception and estimate of their character.
George's mind, anyhow , whether at this period or later, was intensely feminine in its character - swift, intuitive and always personal in its outlook. He hated argument; and indeed argument with him - as with many women - was quite impossible. The most obvious logic missed its way and was of no avail - while on the other hand he would slaughter one with a retort or repartee, telling in its way, yet so wide of the real mark that one was left open-mouthed and unable to reply. Maps he hated also with an inveterate contempt. "Why not ask the policeman, or a tramp, or anyone, rather than pull out a beastly map? You can have some pleasure in talking to a human being, but not in staring at a compass!" And in general any attempt to harness his thoughts in logical form was foredoomed to failure.
He was feminine also in two other respects - his love of babies and his admiration for men. As a boy up to the age of fifteen and sixteen he was run after by children and might often be seen carrying a babe in arms in the street and nursing it in the most skilful way, while the other kiddies held onto his jacket; and in later years he always knew instinctively the wants of children and had little presents ready for them. This was the maternal side of him. At the same time his personal affection and sense of romance went out towards strong and mature men. Towards such he experienced a genuine devotion; and curiously enough this was the case not only as a boy, but in later years also, when he himself was of mature age.
On the other hand, though so feminine in some respects, he was not so in appearance and build, being well-made both as a boy and man, and fairly muscular - nor in voice, which as he grew up, developed into a musical baritone, though with falsetto notes. Nor was he finnikin in manners or in dress - though in respect to the latter he had, and has, a decidedly artistic sense.
Finally it may be said that his mind was irradiated by a quality not very common in women - an intense sense of humour. When in the mood - and the mood was not unfrequent - he would fairly coruscate with quaint sayings which came bubbling up from unknown deeps - and all the more comical for their very inconsecutiveness and spontaneity.
But I am getting in advance of my subject. It was characteristic of the kind of easy optimistic way in which needy folk often live that the Merrill parents let their children grow up in the most casual manner as regards trade or profession. Out of the eight boys, two only were apprenticed to trades - (one to silversmithing and the other to file-forging) ; two loafed about for a time and then drifted into the Army; one died early, and the remaining three had no regular occupation. This sort of beginning to life is pretty bad.
"We hadn't much chance at that time - we hadn't",
said George one day.
"Father was addling next to nowt, and drinking what he did addle; the old wretch; and mother and Elizabeth (the sister) and me, we got half-a-crown a week for cleaning the church out - half-a-crown between us, mind you, and it was slaving work to get it done; and all our best clothes was up the spout; and the landlord kept coming for his rent; and Mother would say to him, It's no good your coming here, Mr. -, you can't get butter out of a dog's throat, and you can't get your rent where there's no rent to be had. And Albert Carr (another boy) and me used to blow the organ on Sundays, and only got twopence between us for that. And sometimes we used to put a bit of soap on the end of a knife and get a sixpence out of the offertory box that way - serve em right for being so stingy. Call themselves Christians indeed.",
And one evening there were a lot of us boys going in the streets together, and we were so hungry - oh, we were hungry. So we made it up to get a pork pie out of a shop in Meadow Street. Bob Hines - he was the most decent dressed - so he went in and said Mrs. Clarke (the aforesaid midwife) who lived only a few doors off in the same street, wanted a pork pie, and would they put it down to her account? So they gave him the pork pie quite natural and simply. And we got it - such a beautiful pie. And then we couldn't eat it. We couldn't somehow. We didn't know what to make of getting it so simply: and we thought it was a dodge of the shop folk to catch us, and the police would be after us. We got in such a fright we daren't eat it - and at last we went up into one of the courts of Scotland Street, and dropped it down into the ash-midden.
At the age thirteen, somehow or other, be got employment at some Baths. Tbere were slipper baths and a swimming bath. George collected the tickets and served out towels, &c.; and received an almost invisible wage; which was added to by occasional pennies, for tips. In winter the big bath was covered over and became a dancing hall. So he saw a little of life there. Also there was a girl attendant named Susan, rather older than himself, with whom he made friends.
But the following year, feeling, I suppose that it was time to take up some real trade, he found employment at a regular works - a small casting shop - and set out to be a man at fourteen and to bring home some wages every week. A1as It was a fraud and a frost.
"The boss was a beast of a man whose only idea was to sweat the lads that came to him. We worked early and late, fetching and carrying for the moulders and casters in a sort of underground place, suffocating with sand and dust, for a miserable wage; three and four shillings a week; and when we grumbled we had to go, and others would take our place. No one stayed very long. I was there a few months; and then ran away and got into a f11e-grinding shop, which was a bit better. After a little time they let me take the horse and cart out, fetching and carrying tiles and other things - and that wasn't so bad.- especially as I had to take the horse out of an evening after work - bareback with no saddle - and ride it up to a field near the moor to graze. My I was proud. But one day, carting in the town, the belly band - which was a rotten thing partly sewn together - broke, and the shafts flew up, and me and the files bumped backward all in a heap on the ground. It was just going dark, and pouring with rain too; and we were in a mess horse and all. But the people in the street were very good, and helped, and I got back to the works all right.
"After that I worked a bit in the same place at file-grinding, and they wanted to apprentice me to it; but about that time a stone broke in the shop where I was and injured a man badly; and I got a regular fright and a s1ckener, and I wouldn't be bound, and so I had to leave. (Footnote 2)
Not a very good beginning. Casual and not too competent parents, drifting about the streets into any employment that offered, two years spent in squalid, dirty and dangerous works. Little wonder that George's next move was into a public-house. Princes Hotel" they called it, in a small and inconspicuous street. The publican and his wife seem to have been fairly decent folk: and George; who was now seventeen, became sort of assistant barman and waiter, not to mention other work about the house, which he had to do in conjunction with Charlotte the general slavey.
"The daughter of the house, Laura, and I always got on together pretty well, and I used to help her all I could in her work. But once we had a row and she called me "a cheeky little monkey," and I said 'I'm no more a monkey than what you are - if ever there was a monkey you're one.' And then she ran and told her mother I was calling her a monkey. But the mother only laughed. So after a time we got friends again, and she began fairly spooning me - she was a year older you know - and trying to get round me all she could. She used to let me frizzle the bacon at breakfast, before the fire - and let the dripping fall on a bit of toast for me. She was really awfully good - and I was fond of her; but not in that way, of course."
"Afterwards, when the food got very bad at the "Princes" we made it up between us - Charlotte and me 4 to run away. It was one Tuesday morning - and our screw had been paid the day before - so that all right. And the Mr. and Mrs had had a chicken for supper - and only eaten a bit of it. So we were up at 4.30 and made the fire; and got the chicken out and ate it for breakfast, and had a regular good feed; and at 5 o'clock went out and locked the door behind us and pushed the key back underneath. And I went home, and she went to her people. Afterwards the Mr. and Mrs. sent for us both and wanted to have us back; and Charlotte: did go back, but I didn't."
An odd thing about this story is its conclusion. Though Laura, the publican's daughter and George were fond of each other, there was no love affair - at least not on George's side. But the two remained friends and years afterwards - even fifteen or twenty years later - George would go and see Laura occasionally and talk over old times - as he did also with Susan, the girl at the Baths. The truth is that he was fond of women - in just the way of friendship; and could talk freely with them about a hundred little things, which men do not generally appreciate. And they of course took to him. Quite a long time afterwards, when he was living with me, I found that the girls and young married women were constantly telling him all sorts of things about themselves - about their love-affairs, and coming babies, and so forth - and I believe that he really helped them a good deal with his quaint experience and advice. But as to falling in love with them - that on his side never occurred though doubtless there were occasional misunderstandings on the other side.
There are no doubt some men who even from their earliest boyhood - for some unscrutable reason - do not fall in love with the opposite sex. They are generally (as in the case of George) men of rather fine and subtle nature, intrinsically quick at reading character. Whether this is a cause or whether it is an effect it might be hard to say; but at any rate such men follow the fineness of a feminine mind and tumble to its litt1e plots and plans as it were by nature. ("It's as easy as reading a sugar-paper" George used to say - or "Anyone can guess eggs when they see shells") and while the naive and normal man quite sincerely for the moment believes his girl to be an angel incarnate; the other kind of man (of course it's his misfortune) perceives the inner works and mechanism much too clearly to be sensible of any such wonderful glamour.
It speaks well for George that his year as a barman did not apparently disorganise his industrial leanings. Probably also there was more actual cash to be earnedd in a workshop. And so it came about that he went - as an unskilled youth of course - into a sma11 works where they made some sort of tools. What happened to disgust him I do not know. Probably the hopeless drudgery of the work. At any rate after a few months he left; and was again at large.
It was a bad time. Things were bad at home and no money coming in. To earn money was imperative. The world so far to George consisted on the one hand of bar-room life - drinks and smutty jokes and the sentimentalities of boozy customers; and on the other hand of dreary and dingy 'works' with ill paid monotonous toil, and no earthly prospect of deliverance. What outlook for a natural sensible human boy could there be in either of these directions? Through it all, the great need of his nature - the need of real love - remained unsatisfied; nor was much prospect of satisfaction to be discerned.
He decided to leave Sheffield and try his luck elsewhere. Yet this was a painful and difficult thing to do - despite the flavour of adventure in it. He could not bear to leave his mother, with whom his life was so bound up, and on the other hand he could not bear to stay and witness the poverty of a home to which he was bringing nothing in.
"Well, I told my mother I was going - but she only said 'Don't talk nonsense, boy,' and paid no attention. So one day I set off without saying anything - I thought that would be the best way. I knew of some lad at Derby, and I thought I would go there and find work of some kind. I had a half-crown in my pocket, that was all."
"It was a wretched drizzly morning and I felt rather miserable when I started, but it cleared up later, and I walked 23 miles that day. The first evening I reached Alfreton, and I stopped at a tiny little cottage. It looked ever so nice, with flowers in the window; and I thought I would go in and ask if they knew where I could find a lodging. So they told me to sit down, and asked all about myself and I sat and talked; and presently they made me have supper with them. And afterwards they whispered a bit together, and the man said I could stay with them the night. So I did. There was only one room upstairs and one bed - so the wife went to sleep with a neighbour, and I slept with the man. He was awfully friendly and kind. In the morning the wife came in to breakfast. So when breakfast was over I asked How much? and they said "Nothing." But when they weren't looking I left my half-crown under the plate and went away. He was a plumber - the man was - and out of work himself. Well, he actually came running down the street after me and made me take it back - also a bit of cake wrapped in paper for my lunch. I tell you, I blessed those people many a time as I walked on by myself."
"When I got to Derby I went to the Railway Station, and walked up and down there. And there was a man there - looked like a Catholic Priest, rather Spanish-looking, with soft black hat and cloak; and he came up to me - I expect I looked rather tired and hungry - and took me into the refreshments room for something to eat. He was a fine looking man, only about thirty-five. And he told me he had a school at Matlock and would I come and be servant-lad in the school? So of course I said Yes. And I went with him that same day."
This man, with whom George so curiously and quickly came into touch, was a certain Father D--. He had been abroad a good deal and was said to be related to the Braganza family of Spain. He appears to have kept a small seminary of eight or ten boys - not at Matlock, but at Aberystwyth, whither George went with him after a brief stay in the first-named place. According to George's account the boys worked at their lessons in preparation for later collegiate courses for the priesthood, and George himself served at table and in the house. Father D. was kind and affectionate towards the boys; "and we," said George, "were all very fond of him." But occasionally - as it appears - undue familiarities occurred, and ultimately (through an old housekeeper) there was some sort of exposure and row, and Father D --. had to go abroad.
Thus this episode ended, after about a year; and George, who had kept sending to his mother all he could spare, returned home in person - considerably grown and improved in appearance, and now about twenty years of age.
Sheffield of course did not present any prospect of living more hopeful than it had done before; and when after some weeks at home, a commercial traveller named Watson offered George employment to go about with him as assistant - selling an encyclopedia in provincial towns - George gladly accepted.
Watson however turned out a fraud. "He was a mean devil, and I soon hated him. He gave me £1 a month wages, and my keep of course; and I always sent 10/- a month to my mother and generally more. Having to keep me he would not spend a farthing more on food than he could help, and on Saturday night he would stay on to the very end of the market, beating folk down till they had to fair give things away. I remember his getting a couple of chickens like that once for 1/9 the pair! and I shouted 'You ought to be ashamed of yourself bartering poor folk down in that way, what I dare say is not as well off as you are - and Sunday morning too!' And then people laughed with joy, when I spoke out like that, and he shouted, "Get along home, you cheeky brat, and I'll give you summat when I come back."
"There was public-house we used sometimes to go off to of an evening; where they sang. That was at Hull. It was as good-sized room, with a bit of a platform at one end, and lots of men, navvies and all sorts, drinking and smoking. The name of the place was The Andrew Marvell. And one evening they would have me go on the platform. I was awfully nervous and yet I wanted to sing, you know. So I went up; and I was all of a shake; and I didn't dare to look at the people, so I looked straight at the ceiling all the time; and I sang Up in my own Mountain Home - a jodeling song, you know. And my voice was clear and sweet with just a little tremble in it. And oh! the company did applaud when it was done, and the customers came up and shook hands with me, and great rough men offered me drinks, and wanted me to come and sit beside them. And of course I had to sing again. So after that whenever we went to the place, they always called on me to sing - till at last Jack Watson got quite jealous and wouldn't let me go any more."
George certainly had a very sweet voice, and a wonderfully good and accurate ear. His repertory was pretty large - extending from sentimental ballads and semi-comic jodeling songs ("My Old Guitar", &c.) to the classic English music of Purcell or Quilter. He would pick up a new song so quickly that at a later time when I used to accompany him sometimes on the piano, I could not believe that he was not reading the music. Especially was this the case when we were dealing with Schubert, Schumann, Rubenstein and other songs of that class. But as a matter of fact he never could read a note - nor ever learned to read. It was all pure intuition and instinct.
This gift of song was very much the key to George's character - which had all the fine spontaneity and subtlety of the musical temperament. He found his way to people's hearts as simply and surely as a thrush or a blackbird. And his occasionally Elizabethan language and jokes, caught originally from the alleys in which he was born were (though a little shocking to some people) really too humorous and human to be out of keeping with his native refinement. He was certainly at ease, and quite himself in any society, aristocratic or vagabond. Snobbery formed no part of his composition, You could see that his one idea, whoever he might be talking to - was to establish a human relationship with that person. Nothing else interested him. As to his Elizabethanisms, as some one once remarked, "He only speaks out what we are all thinking in some way or other."
Watson's business took him at one time to Scarborough for three months - and this of course was a good time for George. He was able to escape fairly frequently from his commonplace and selfish "boss", and get on to the Parade and the Spa, where - as usual in such cases - he met with not a few 'adventures.'
"There was an elderly man - a Lord something or other - as I found out afterwards - who would come and talk to me. He was kind and nice, though I did not care for him very much; but we met several times; and one evening nothing would satisfy him but I must leave Scarborough and come away with him. I told him about Watson of course; but he said, 'No matter, you leave everything and come with me; and I will find you in all, and you need never have any more anxiety.' Oh! I was in such a state, not knowing what to do at all, pale and trembling, yet not daring to go with this man what I knew so little of. And then about my mother, and she not knowing perhaps what had become of me. So at length I refused, and I didn't see him any more. I think he must have gone away the next day."
"And then there was a youngish man, but ever so handsome, with a dark moustache - the Italian Count I used to call him. He was very well off, and we used to meet in the Spa nearly every evening - that is when I could escape. The first day he came up I was sitting on a bench with Jack Watson, and he passed once or twice, and looked at us; and then he came and sat down by me and said something about the weather. And there I was sitting between those two! Fancy, what a predicament! We couldn't talk much of course; but I could see Jack Watson was getting restless. However before we went away the 'Count' offered me a cigar, and while I was lighting it at his he managed to say a word about meeting in the same place that evening. So we did. And after that I used to go to his room in the Brunswick Hotel where he was staying - generally in the morning early, and got him out of bed to come and bathe. He was awfully nice, and very fond of me. He gave me all sorts of presents - of lovely flowers, and neckties, and handkerchiefs. And then, it was too bad! - when he had to go away I promised to come and see him of at the station and say good-bye. And after all I couldn’t get off. The boss was fussing around about some cards and circulars that had to be sent off, and I couldn’t find an excuse to get away. So I never saw my count again. I don’t know what he would think of me, I’m sure. I’ve often wondered about him since."
"As to the present he gave me, things were awful bad at home at that time, and I bought things with the money and sent mother every fadge I could spare - postal orders, handkerchiefs, flowers, even, as she was always so fond of flowers. Father was drinking badly: and Arthur, who was the only brother at home, was out of work. And they got hold of some of the things I sent - a tablecloth and some tea cloths and other things - and pawned them. And mother was nearly crazy about it all. So I wrote to her and sent her a postal order to come over by a week-end trip; and I told her to tell them that she was going to leave them for good - and not say where she was going. Which she did do. And so they were hunting for her at police stations and all over Sheffield: and it gave them a nasty fright."
"After that we were at York for a bit with our Cyclopedia - and it’s certainly very odd how I meet people - but one day I was at the station there, and the Prince of Wales (King Edward you know) was in the station just going off to Tranby Croft on a visit, with some of his suite. Of course they were all very smart with frock coats and tall hats and flowers in their buttonholes: but one of them was such a good-looking fellow - real nice and kind looking - and only about twenty-six or seven. And he got into the last carriage, just where I was standing on the platform outside, and as soon as he got in he put his head out of the window and made a movement to me to speak to him; and directly I went up he said quite sharp and business like, 'where will you be this evening at nine o’clock?' And I said, 'Here,' and he said, 'All right! Mind you come' - And the train went off."
"And in the evening he came all right - only in a tweed suit and cap. Oh! He was nice - such a real gentleman and such a sweet voice. And we walked along by the river, and sat on the seat under the trees, and he had brought some lovely grapes with him to eat."
"And after that we met several evenings the same way. He was not sleeping at Tranby Croft, but at an hotel in York. And he used to leave a bunch of violets every morning for me just out side his window on the ground floor (I could show you the place some time when we are in York) and a little bit of paper twisted among the violets saying the time and place for us to meet that evening."
"He told me a lot about himself. He said he didn’t care for the shooting and the cards and all that sort of thing, but he couldn’t help himself and had to go through with it. But he did long for some real love and affection from anyone like me - only it was impossible-like in his position. He said he lived in a big county house in ---shire, and if ever I was in that part to let him know."
And I said, ‘Nay, I couldn’t come and call upon such as you.’ But he said, ‘Oh! I’ll manage it. Don’t be afraid. You just let me know and I’ll arrange. It would be a pleasure to me. And he wrote down his name and address on a bit of paper and gave it to me. And made me promise to write to him."
"And did you ever write?" I said.
"No it’s too bad. And I have so longed to see him again. But it was only a few weeks after that we had the bums in the house at home - and I was out of work, miserable, and mother was nearly off her head with worry - and all our things were sold up - and I could never find that paper again, and could not remember the address: so I never knew where to write to.
I dare say he wondered why you never wrote."
I shall never forget him, I’m sure. The night before he went he brought me some beautiful flowers; and the next day I went to the train which took the whole party back to London, and he was in the last carriage as usual, and I just went up and spoke to him (At that time I had good clothes and looked alright). And we said goodbye and the train went off."
It was not long after this that George’s connexion with the cyclopedia came to an end. Walking along the road on day, Watson fell foul of some poor boy, and began ‘waling’ him with a stick. George got furious and swore at Watson, whereupon the latter made at George, but George wrenched the stick from Watson’s hand and struck him. After that George never went back to him. Watson came to their home one day and begged George to return. And of course at that time the family was in very low water. But George said he would rather die in the gutter; and his mother chimed in with "I allus thowt thou were a mean devil: but now I knows it."
It was shortly after this - some time early in 1891 - that I first me George. It was in a railway carriage, coming from Sheffield to Totley. At some intermediate station some young men got in, chatting and chaffing. One of them immediately attracted my attention: his somewhat free style of dress, and something corresponding in his face, were so different from the perky conventionality of the others; and then that look of wistful sadness beneath! We exchanged a few words and a look of recognition: but it was no time for talk, for on leaving the train at Totley quite a little party joined me from the other carriages - all bound for Millthorpe - and I was compelled to walk with them.
However I soon found that at a little distance behind George was following us. He had left his other friends, and was on our track. His appealing look even at that distance reached me. This went on for a mile or more: and so at last after a little manoeuvring I dropped behind, and he caught up with me, and we walked together for a bit.
I had, as it happened, only two or three weeks before come back from India where (and in Ceylon) I had been absent for four or five months. George - as I afterwards found out - had seen me more than once in Sheffield, at an earlier date, and wanted, but in vain, to get into conversation. Then I disappeared and he wondered what had come of me; and then after all he came upon me that afternoon in the train. This accounted for the state of tension and eagerness he was obviously in - both in the train and afterwards on the road. He implored me to stop and let the others go on, to return with him towards Sheffield, and so forth; but of course I could not: and finally I had to leave him, but naturally I did not do so till I had secured his name and address in Sheffield. That was the beginning of our acquaintance, which became almost immediately close and intimate, and has remained so ever since - a period of nearly twenty-five years.
I soon found that George was out of work, and indeed - he and his mother - out of many of the necessities of daily life. For two or three months there was a vain search for employment; but at the end of that time a vacancy occurred at the office of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph. George applied for it. I was not able to help except by providing a reference, and perhaps a few useful clothes. But he obtained the place - much to his joy. It was not a comp’s place, but only a cleaning and tidying-up job. However for that it suited him very well, as he always had a knack of order and cleanliness. It was not long after his installment before he was on good terms with his shopmates - the printers generally and the foreman; as well as with the ‘Boss’, whose office he looked after.
One day an amusing incident occurred. There had been a political meeting in Sheffield the night before, and in the morning a small party, including Arthur Balfour, the Conservative leader, came round to see the works. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph and its able Editor Sir W. Leng, had a certain réclame at that time. Beaconsfield years before had said that this was the most ably conducted paper in the United Kingdom. William Leng was proud to show his visitors round. Balfour probably thought the ceremony was a bore. As the party passed through the basement George was cooking something on a little stove there. Balfour went straight up and entered into conversation with him. It was no doubt an escape for the great man from pompous explanations, and a sensible thing to do. What the conversation was about history does not record: but I fancy it was enjoyed on both sides. Finally it was broken up by the rest of the party coming back in search of their Leader!
Not unfrequently it happened that a party of ‘theatricals’ would be shown round; and then George would be sure to know one or other of them, and to get into conversation - not a little to the wonderment and amusement of his shop-mates.
Having from earliest days been an habitué of theatre and music-hall galleries, and having indeed a natural ‘music-hall’ gift of the first order, it had often happened to him to make the acquaintance of traveling artists; and in later years his connection among the fraternity was really extensive. I found him most useful as a referee on any matters relating to the stage - either about the personnel or the performances. His knowledge was encyclopaedic; and I owe to him not a few introductions to theatrical friends. As to his repertory of snatches of scenes, songs and jokes - thought not intruded upon one in any way - it was really endless: and an amazement to me even to the last!
In some ways it seems almost to be regretted that he did not go on the ‘variety’ stage. With an inimitable gift of humour, an extraordinary spontaneity of performance, an excellent voice, good looks and a slender supple figure, clever at dancing - he might have made a hit and a fortune. Two or three things however militated against this. In the first place a slight stammer made him always a little timid and self-distrustful: extreme poverty as a boy gave him no chance of entry into such a world; and his very spontaneity which was his charm prevented him from working up anything in a systematic way. This last was probably the conclusive obstacle. It was really quite impossible to get him to learn a speech or a song or a bit of patter for direct use. Such things might and often did come to him unconsciously through unintended repetition; but he could not deliberately work them up. His absolute lack of early training partly accounted for this. A systematic ‘education’ had never given him the conscious power of brain-control but on the other hand in his case it had not paralysed, as it mostly does nowadays, the spontaneity of the soul.
It was lucky, anyhow - and I never cease to think so - that he did not take to this kind of career. To anyone of sensitive, sociable, easily-led disposition, how frightfully disorganising! - the everlasting emotional excitements and reactions, the vanities, the hungering for applause, the irritations, disappointments, jealousies, the drink, the drugs, the gradual coarsening of the nature, the loss of spontaneity, the slow embitterment of the heart. What a terrible vista! George was a true artist by nature; but on the stage he would never have really found his vocation. Only a strong character and a powerful brain can master and mould the conditions there to a harmonious conclusion. Perhaps a deep instinct told him all this. Though he may have had occasional longings for the footlights, a more permanent dream of his was towards the narrower (though equally important) sphere of domestic life and house-keeping; and ultimately he had the great happiness to be able to realise this dream in actual fact.
George remained on in the same work at the Telegraph office for four or five years - getting small wage it is true, only some twenty shillings a week, but fairly well-suited in it. The wage was enough to keep a little home going at 79 Edward Street - a tiny cottage in a very poor part of town (but standing curiously over the street, apart, and on a sort of rampart of its own) which George and his mother immediately took on securing the engagement. It was affluence to the mother, who after long years of toil had now seen all her children but one go out into the world and leave her. And the conditions were a convenience to the father, who earning a tiny sum for himself at making spring guards for carving forks, could now use the little house as a lodging place without feeling that he was in the way. I used not unfrequently when in Sheffield to look in - perhaps at the ordinary week-day dinner hour, when George would be home for an interval; or perhaps on a Saturday evening when I would sometimes carry him off for a belated walk over the hills to Millthorpe with the prospect of a Sunday rest there.
This little cottage was a great joy to George. After the disasters of the earlier period, and having twice I think been ‘sold up’ and losing all their household gods [sic]and heirlooms, it was a joy and a pride to begin life again in a house which he could practically call his own and where his mother could rest in safety and comfort. Every week after his wage was paid he would bring home something towards the new establishment - cutlery or glass for the table, a picture for the wall, a plant for the window, not to mention things even more immediately necessary. And gradually the little place, with its pots and pans and its china dogs, began to have quite a charm of it own. I was making sandals at that time, so one day I made George a pair, which he wore frequently - especially on Sundays - though somewhat to the puzzlement of the neighbours, who had never seen such things anywhere except in illustrated Bibles. "One Sunday," he said, "it was such a fine morning I thought I would have a run in Weston Park, So I put my sandals on and an old felt hat on my head and ran out. And just up the street I met two men coming along - regular decent working chaps; and one said to the other ‘Sithee, Bill, Sithee - here comes a bloody Jesus Christ in sandals!’ I nearly stopped and spoke to them - I wish I had, they looked a good sort - but I didn’t."
In then earlier part of this period the Fearnehoughs were with me at Millthorpe, but in 1893 they left, and the Adams’ took their place. I was working at Millthorpe, partly helping in the gardening there, partly doing my own writing; and was also a good deal in Sheffield, taking part in Socialist meetings and propaganda - so I was pretty busy. I also during a good part of the time had a little lodging in Sheffield where I could stay the night on occasions. Sometimes, as I said, I would make him come out with me on a Saturday evening. I remember two or three occasions in the very first winter after our acquaintance, when along the muddy lanes at night, or in whirling snow, I dragged him out through the woods and fields, and he all the time so exhausted with the week’s work that he would almost go to sleep on my arm. It sounds like cruelty to animals! But the truth was that to escape from Sheffield was such a joy, and to rest all Sunday in the clean air such a renewal of life that he was always game for the outing when proposed.
Albert Fearnehough and his family were always friendly to George, and seemed to like to see him at Millthorpe. When they left it certainly occurred to me to have George out to keep house in their place; but the experiment seemed too doubtful to try. I had only known him for two years; and his inexperience of house-keeping, his familiarity with town life, the dullness of the country, the fact that he was already in a fairly comfortable and suitable situation - all had to be considered. Then I had already, without any pledge, said something to the Adams’ about the possibility of their coming to Millthorpe some day. So in the end I said nothing; and let the Adams’ come. I said nothing to George, and George said nothing to me - though we practically each knew that the matter was in the other’s mind.
George Merrill, I must say, was wonderfully good and generous over the whole affair. He never then or at a later time did or said anything to suggest that I should root the Adams’ out and let him take their place. But George Adams was different. Perhaps he had a secret fear or intuition of what might happen. Anyhow his was a jealous, rather dissatisfied, scheming nature. From the first he did pretty well all he could to throw difficulties in the way of George’s visits to Millthorpe, or to render them unpleasant, or even to turn the minds of villagers and neighbours against him. Naturally his policy only had the effect of alienating my confidence and causing me to keep a firmer hold on my Sheffield friend; but it led of course to a gradual estrangement between Adams and myself; and ultimately - after four or five years - to a parting of our ways.
Another of my friends who was often at Millthorpe at that time (and since) was George Hukin. First and most trusted of my Sheffield Socialist ‘comrades’, and also an old ally of Adams, he had married a few years before, and now not unfrequently would come, with his wife, and spend the week-end at Millthorpe. His tact and understanding helped the situation greatly. It had a beneficial effect upon Adams, and it cheered George Merrill - healing his sores and sensitive spots and eliciting his warm affection and gratitude.
On one occasion George Merrill was laid up for two or three weeks at Edward Street, with a kind of dysentery and had got ‘run down,’ and rather weak and low. One evening about six o’clock, just as the light was beginning to wane, there cam a knock at the door. George sat up and said "Come in;" and immediately there appeared in the doorway a low-statured dust-besprinkled figure in working clothes with a dinner basket in its hand. "How art ta, lad?" said the figure, and George to his great satisfaction recognised the voice and the form of Hukin. He had come straight from his work before going home, and had brought a corn-flour blanc-mange with him. This was his first visit to the little cottage, but its unexpected and unannounced kindliness made a great impression on George Merrill and was long remembered.
George remained in the Sheffield Telegraph office for four years or more, and enjoyed the time on the whole. The comps and other men, seeing his rather neat and clean ways and friendly manners - so different from the surly Sheffield style - were a little curious about him at first, and wanted to know where he came from. He used to tell them with a twinkle of the eye (and this was rather characteristic) that he was "not really accustomed to the sort of work, but was only doing it for a wager!" However as time went on a complete understanding and friendliness developed; and there was general regret when at the end of this period he had to leave. The trouble arose over a doorkeeper, or some such man, with whom George had a quarrel. As neither party would give way over the matter, one of them had to go ("choose how") and the onus naturally fell upon George, being the younger. This was in 1896.
The good fairy of the plot at this period was Mrs. Charles Doncaster - a lady well known in Sheffield for her good works and good-heartedness, and a long-time friend of mine. She had met George once or twice at Millthorpe, and with quick feminine intuition had discerned his affectionate temperament as well as his natural gift for service and helpfulness; and once or twice had arranged with him to come and ‘wait’ at her house on the occasion of an evening party or other function. This he had done so well that she was favourably impressed with his talent in that direction. And when the break occurred at the Telegraph office it was not long before she discovered that a waiter was wanted at the Hydropathic Establishment at Baslow, and that she would probably be able to secure the place for him.
I had already, years before, given my ordinary and regulation dress clothes away? so had no evening suit to supply him with; but a friend came to the rescue and filled the gap; and soon we had him rigged out in quite elegant style! Indeed he looked more gentlemanly than most of the men-visitors at the Hydro - (but that after all was not saying much)!
For a couple of seasons - a year and a half or so - George remained at the Hydro; and on the whole enjoyed the life. The place being only about four miles (over the moors) from Millthorpe, and close to the gates of Chatsworth Park, it not unfrequently happened that I, either alone or with a friend, would be in the neighbourhood; and would call and see him. Sometimes we would arrange to meet for and hour on the moors half-way. Sometimes, if I happened to be in Baslow, he would walk a good part of the way home with me late at night. Allowing for occasional brushes and escapades, he got on very well with the matron and the visitors and the general personnel of the place; but it was rather characteristic of him that almost his chief friend there was a little old lady who used fairly frequently to come on a visit for the sake of her health. She had met with an accident once when out driving and had lost a good part of both legs. George, touched by her helplessness, was particularly attentive to her; and presently quite a friendship sprang up between them. She always insisted on being placed at one of ‘his’ tables; and although such a cripple was as full of fun and life as George himself. Once or twice after she had returned home to London, she wrote to George, and asked him - if he ever came to London - to call on her. But this visit never came off.
At the end of the second season, (October 1896) things at the Hydro began to grow rather slack. The staff had to be reduced - for a time at any rate, and George had to leave. Then came a sudden and drastic change. For a few weeks there seemed no prospect of employment in Sheffield or anywhere else. It was one of those periods when work over the country generally was very slack, and I could make no opening for him at Millthorpe. But presently we heard, through our common friend Jim Shortland, of a place in a big ironworks at Sheffield. There was a vacancy at Vickers & Maxims for a labourer in the armour-plate department; and George without more ado secured it.
From evening clothes and waiting at table to corduroys and the din and uproar of a huge machine-shop was certainly a great transformation. The planing by machinery of huge armour plates (for battleships yet only half-built) went on night and day. Huge steel shavings an inch or two wide and many inches in length were licked by the great chisels off the edges of the plates as if they were so much butter. Enormous cranes and trolleys running overhead lifted the huge masses from time to time and transferred them across the vast shed. A sense of irresistible force was everywhere around. The mechanics themselves with their sturdy surly ways only added to the impression. To George it was a little appalling; and yet something in the whole situation - particularly in the solid strength and roughness of the men - attracted him. He was not of course expected to do any skilled work, but only to go round with a greased rag, keeping the parts bright and clean, and lending a hand now and then when anything heavy had to be moved. As in all such cases the men now and then would ‘take a rise’ out of him at first as a green hand, or play him a practical jest; but his quips and jokes and his snatches of song and his humorous ways soon put things on a right footing.
No on who has not worked through the night - say from 7.00 p.m. to 6 a.m. - quite realises the weariness and lassitude of that early morning period, say from 1 to 5 a.m. - the terribly slow-footed movement of the hours, when you think they will never pass. The temptation to go to sleep is almost irresistible; yet in an armourplate works, with that huge and powerful machinery, to let it run at any point beyond its due limits is to court disaster.
George luckily did not have this responsibility on his shoulders; and so it not unfrequently happened that after the foreman inspector had passed on his rounds, and when the coast seemed likely to be clear for an hour or two, he would disappear behind a machine or curl himself up in some dark corner. On one occasion he had gone sound asleep on a bench; and when he woke, to his surprise he found himself unable to move. At first he thought he was under the spell of a nightmare, but he soon discovered that, like Gulliver, he had been fastened down while unconscious - not by invisible bonds however - rather by such things as waist belts, bits of rope and greasy rags. His mates had disappeared, and for the first moment he felt a little uncomfortable. The next however brought the certainty of deliverance, for he knew that even if he might be deserted, the great machine pounding away there could not be left for any length of time. And sure enough five minutes later he was free - but only of course on condition of paying a fine for a drink all round!
George stayed about a year in these works. And then the thing long-desired happened. The Adams’ left Millthorpe, partly wanting a place to themselves, and partly seeing their way to other plans. They took a large cottage and garden near Sheffield, where they were able to develop the sandal business, and at the same time in connection with gardening and fowl-keeping to lay out the ground for the entertainment of tea and other parties from Sheffield. Their new place became a rendez-vous for Clarion and other Socialists, and was successful I believe from a financial point of view, as well as being a real boon to the town-dwellers who resorted there.
The way thus opened out perfectly naturally for George to come to Millthorpe: and to Millthorpe he came.
It was the 2nd February 1898. The Adams’ had left the day before - with all their household gods and goods. The weather turned out execrable, with rain, hail, snow and keen wind, and I remained in the half empty house, keeping up a good fire, but doubtful whether on such a day the pilgrim would arrive. However early in the afternoon he turned up. With him were two youths, whom with a light porter’s cart he had engaged to transport his baggage; and all three, blue with cold, and panting from the journey, tumbled gladly into the shelter and warmth of the fireside. Max Flint, the Polish Jew, was staying in the house at that time; and when the Adams’ went away, he had remained on. So he, companionable and gentle as ever, was there to help me receive the visitors.
Tea was soon made and the larder ransacked, and - the house being half dismantled - we all sat round an improvised table, and made the best of the situation - an amusing and Bohemian crew! The town lads mingled their joy at getting a decent meal with wonderment as to how we could possible remain in such an outlandish place; where I think they firmly believed the snow blizzards represented the ordinary climate! "Art ta going to live out here?" said one of them to George. "I’m going to try to" was the reply. "Well, thou hast a pluck," retorted the youth. "I wouldn’t live in such a place as this - not for ten pound a week." Presently indeed they both began to get a little nervous about their return journey and whether they might possibly get caught in the dark. So they soon trundled off again with their pony cart, and George and Max and I were left in sole possession.
From that day the building up of our little menage on a fairly simple and practical basis, yet with due regard to the charm and beauty of life, became an object of continual interest to myself and my friend. Furniture and household stores had to be acquired, partly to make up the gaps left by the Adams’ departure. Fortunately George’s ideals and tastes in this matter were much the same as mine. If anything - as might have been expected - his tendencies were rather more towards civilisation and the complexity of things than mine. But not much. Nor did we ever have any difficulty in steering a middle course agreeable to both sides. When the parties who keep house together do the work of the menage there is not much difficulty in deciding what is needed and appropriate and what is not so. The labour necessary in connection with any installment or arrangement tends to bring that arrangement into due proportion with the rest of the establishment, and so to give it an element of beauty. Useless and therefore unbeautiful things disappear automatically. It is only when a house is kept going by mercenary or slave labour that it loses grace and charm.
Of course there are differences; and housekeeping, like every other human activity, depends upon the personality. It can only be really well managed when it is treated as an Art - a work of both expression and of pleasure in expression. George fortunately had the gift of expression in this direction, and (without knowing it) made his housekeeping, from the first, an artistic pleasure and a satisfaction to himself. He soon picked up the necessary wrinkles with regard to cooking, baking, washing and all the little minutiae of household life; and in a wonderfully short time I found myself living in a state of comfort, both physical and mental, such as the years preceding had neither offered nor suggested.
It is curious, but it seems to be a rule in life that when you do anything really vital or useful, all the powers that be heap themselves up against you. As regards my own external activities perhaps the three best things I have ever done (and that's not saying much) were, first, to relinquish my Orders and Fellowship, and give up a University career; secondly, and at a long interval after, to plant myself out on the land and take to market-gardening; and thirdly, after a still longer interval, to arrange a domestic life really congenial and suitable to myself. Each of these changes in turn met with almost violent opposition from my friends and acquaintances. The changes all came perfectly naturally and deliberately, without any haste or pressure on my part; and when they came seemed perfectly obvious and indeed inevitable. Yet they all excited resistance and protest: and the domestic change, though in many ways the most natural and inevitable of the three, excited as much as the others.
With regard to the last-mentioned I received no end of letters, kindly meant, but full of warnings and advice - deprecating the idea of a menage without a woman, as a thing unheard of, and a step entered on, it was supposed, in a rash moment, and without due consideration; hinting at the risk to my health, to my comfort, at bad cooking, untidy rooms, and abundance of cobwebs, not to mention the queer look of the thing, the remarks of neighbours, the certainty that the arrangement could not last long, and so forth. It was indeed almost comic, considering the circumstances under which the change really took place. Having however gone through this sort of thing twice before in my life, it did not affect me so very much; and I simply went on my way as usual.
I reflected that if this had been happening in a continental town, or even in a large city in England, it would have excited no attention; and that one simply had to put up with all this stir as an example of British ignorance and insularity, aggravated of course by rustic conditions. For a time certainly the rustics were put a little aback, and seemed somewhat shy of the new-comer. Busybodies circulated any stories, prejudicial to him, that they could rake up (and when there is a demand for such stories the supply is not long in arriving): and on one occasion a quite virulent attack was made upon him (largely with the object of damaging me) by an Anti-socialist agitator, who scattered scurrilous leaflets about the country side for the double purpose. But as I had already been living at Millthorpe for fifteen years and had made some quite intimate allies among the country folk, it was naturally impossible for them to hold out long against my friend. When they discovered his true character - his songs, his humour, his real kindness of heart and affectionateness - they took to him cordially, and he became as one of themselves.
Indeed I think that not a few of the country folk - men as well as women - fairly loved him, though the former in their British way did their best to conceal the fact! When you live in the same house with other people you soon come to know the prevailing current of their thoughts; and I doubt if I ever knew anyone in whose life personal affection played a more absorbing part than in George's. Children in Millthorpe and children in Sheffield looked eagerly to his arrival, and called him 'Uncle' as a matter of course. An ancient Aunt in a dingy court in the big town hung upon the prospect of his fortnightly visit. Another old dame in Millthorpe the same. An elderly farmer, a widower - older than myself - was quite devoted to him; and this was due to the fact that in the first instance George had been so friendly and thoughtful towards him. With younger people of course similar things happened without end. The number of his alliances was in fact extraordinary: and such as to make grave and reverend folk shake their heads, as much as to say that there could be no real feeling at the back of such a Catholic output. But they were mistaken.
The truth was that there was a certain excess of emotionality about George; - a kind of genius for romance and the affairs of the heart; and this overflow of feeling had (as the philosophers tell us it is wont to have) the effect of causing a rebound of affection towards him from others. The emotionality - though it verged towards sentimentality at times - was perfectly sincere; and I have good reason to know, from a score of instances, the suffering it sometimes caused him. "It is a painful thing," says Whitman, "to love a man or woman to excess." He could not always contain himself, and would occasionally lapse into a state full of longing, a kind of love-sickness, hysterical almost, caused either by the thought of some particular person, or by some more obscure and general cause. "There are so many beautiful people in the world," he said one day "people that one wants to love - and one can't love them all - I feel sometimes as if my heart would burst." His heart physically was affected with a certain weakness and irregularity, dating partly from rheumatic fever in early years, and though there did not appear to be any actual organic trouble, there was often pain in it. "I feel quite afraid sometimes" he said on another occasion "I think it will kill me."
The pain was probably in reality largely nervous; but with his highly nervous temperament and organisation it was very real; and even I was anxious sometimes about him. If under the condition of such a temperament he occasionally let himself go in the way of what the world calls indiscretions, that was certainly far better than attempting to bottle himself up - a course which would have been fatal to his own peace of mind as well as to the charm of his relationship with others. There is already one may say far too much concealment and suppression of the fundamental things of life, among young people - at any rate in this country. And that kind of suppression, as the later psychologists are showing, is the copious source not only of mental troubles, but of actual physical diseases and disabilities. This state however of extreme tension and emotionality belonged to George's earlier years. As time went on, what with the country life and the natural consolidations of maturity, he threw off to a large extent this overcharged condition of the soul and became healthier and more stable both in body and mind than he had ever been before.
During the great War he felt, in that strange underworld of his, the tragedy of the conflict most keenly, and "the loss and suffering of all those fine brave men;" and more than once I found him alone and weeping to himself at the though of it. "I pray for them every night" he said "before I go to sleep; and for the Germans just as much as for our own people. They are fighting for their own country just the same as we are; and I think indeed that it has some effect." Curious, it might be thought, that with his views (or want of views) on religion, he should pray at all; but it only shows, I think, how - deep below all our views - prayer is an instinct and an organic need, an impulse which we fly to under pressure, meaning something real and effectual no doubt, even if we do not understand it. Interesting too that his sympathy for the Germans should be as ready as for the British or the French - a showing that, not being encumbered with 'politics' or 'arguments' and ready-made delusions of various kinds, his mind went straight to the point of our common humanity. He had seen enough of German folk here and there to know that they were not essentially different from ourselves, and that was enough for him. The deepest wisdom after all reaches the goal where cleverness and learning go astray; and if humanity is ever to be saved it must be by the heart first and the brain afterwards. He was anxious all the time of the War to go out to the Hospitals and help; but the opportunity somehow did not present itself.
The following are two short extracts from my diary:-
"Augt. 1909. George Merrill was at Sheffield yesterday, and when going down Division Street felt a hand on his arm, and looking round saw a young man, poor, rather Italian-looking, who said he had had nothing to eat for two days. George said nothing, but gave him a penny and walked on. Presently he looked round and saw the fellow go into a cookshop. So he turned back and walked past the shop and saw him eating cold peas and potatoes. Then he turned again and went in, and put a threepenny bit on the table beside the man, and still said nothing and walked out. (Surprise of shopman and thanks of youth)".
And a similar incident:-
"1st November 1910. George said: Oh! I did see such a wretched-looking man yesterday in the street, selling something. He looked so sad and miserable. And I felt in my pocket but had no coppers. So I gave him a sixpence - and there came such a look in his face: but he didn't say a word. And I could not say anything: we neither of us spoke - and I came away."
Thanks to Marc, Philip, Kevin, Alan, Lincoln, John and Joey for their help in preparing this document.