[From H Stowell Brown, Notes of my Life, 1888]



BUT now to return to matters connected with my ministry. Very shortly after my settlement there was an encouraging increase in the congregation. In the first year of my ministry we added twenty-eight to the Church; in the second year, thirty-one ; in the third, thirtyseven; and in the fourth, forty-two. The congregation grew until we had to regard that place as too small for us, and so in the fourth year of my ministry we accumulated our funds and spoiled our chapel by the erection of side-galleries at a cost of £400. In one respect, however, the chapel was improved, for we took down the hideous chandeliers and substituted the sun-burners. What became of those abominable masses of cast iron I scarcely know; it was proposed to sell them, but I think we had to pay some one to take them away, and so they were got rid of. With the chapel so altered, we went on comfortably for eight years, during which period 260 persons were added to the Church.

It was also during this period that I entered on my Sunday afternoon series at the Concert Hall. I was not the originator of this movement ; the first idea of holding such series of lectures was struck out by my good deacon, Mr. Nathaniel Caine. Nothing is more common than a dispute as to the origin of an innovation, and I am inclined to think that when a want is felt for such a thing, that some method of supplying it often occurs to more persons than one at or almost the same time. Whether my friend Mr. Caine was, or was not, actually the first to hit upon the idea, this is certain— that he was the first to give substance and shape to the scheme for a series of special services for working men. He was much more enthusiastic about it than myself. In fact, he instituted the services ; and in a short time, all over the country, such services were held in halls and in theatres, and even in the great cathedrals, which had been all but closed in the evenings ; not the choir only, but the many-pillared naves and aisles were crowded with hearers. My own part of the work was mainly this. On Sunday afternoon, May 1st, 1854, I went and met a few people in the lower room of the Concert Hall, and on that and several subsequent Sundays spoke of the Great Teacher and what He taught. The attendance grew larger and the weather warmer, so we went upstairs, and gradually the Hall became crowded. I did some rather stiff work at that period; once in particular, when the horror caused by the crimes of Palmer the poisoner culminated in the wretched man’s execution. After my morning’s service at the chapel I spoke on the subject first in a theatre which then existed in Parliament Street, afterwards repeated the lecture in the Concert Hall, and then went through my work here again in the evening. Of all these Sunday afternoon lectures I have reason to believe that by far the most popular was that entitled "Five shillings and costs." I endeavoured as far as possible to indicate the subject matter of each lecture by a telling title. These are some of them: "Napoleon’s Book of Fate," "Poor Richard’s Almanack," "Cleanliness is next to Godliness," "Taking care of Number One," "Turning over a New Leaf~" "The Devil’s Meal is all Bran," "The Street," "All Right," "The Seventh Commandment," "The Battle of Life," "The Battle of Death," "The Fustian Jacket," "The Bible," "Saturday Night," "The Lord’s Prayer," "Stop Thief," "A Lion in the Way," Almost a Christian," " Altogether a Christian," " Conscience," "I’ll have my Revenge," "The English of it," "I don’t care," "I can’t help it," "Luck," "Never Despair," "Pluck," "Move on," "Keep to the Right," "The Cross," etc., etc. Many were the letters I received about these lectures ; some of compliment, more of complaint, some thanking me, many growling at me and abusing me. One asked me to lecture on the soul and body destroying effects of tobacco; another begged me to warn all men to have nothing to do with municipal elections; another correspondent told me that he had broken down in trade, and hoped I would make a collection for him on the next Sunday. A draper’s assistant wanted me to lecture on the swindling practices which he assured me prevailed in all drapers’ shops, and on which he offered to post me up, at the same time frankly owning that he had been engaged in such practices for many years himself. Some told me to shut up and not make a fool of myself any longer; some complained that I did not lecture more frequently; some thought there was no gospel in my lectures; others that there was too much. One wrote to tell me that he very much wished to hear me, but he wanted first to know whether I was a teetotaler, because he could not conscientiously listen to any public speaker who tasted, touched, or handled liquid fire and distilled damnation. Sometimes, however, as I have said, I was complimented. One good old lady told me to my face, and told me, good old soul, in the firm belief that she was saying something to my praise, that my lectures were so successful because I was not a clerical man. "You would not do half so much good," said she, "if you used better language."

Another result of the lectures was that I got a most alarming reputation for philanthropy. One man wrote and asked for help on this singular ground. "Sir, feeling assured that you are a lover of your specie." I confess that I was too great a lover of my specie to let him have a shilling of it. Another informed me that he had heard me at the Concert Hall speak of the good Samaritan, that he wanted to go to America, that he had no money, that it was much more comfortable to go by a steamer than by a sailing-vessel, that the passage would be fifteen pounds, that I could remit this amount by post-office order, and that if he did not receive it by the next Friday he should consider I was as big a humbug as the priest in the parable, who passed by on the other side—I passed by, all the same! I might give many more instances of this sort. I carried on these lectures, chiefly in the winter and spring months, for almost seven years; and I have reason to think they did some good in themselves, and that they set an example to many other ministers, who, adopting more or less of my method, addressed the working men in many of our English towns. I gave the lectures up, because I felt that in addition to my other work they were rather more than I ought to undertake, though one of my Concert Hall hearers, vexed at my giving up the work, wrote to the effect that it was all confounded nonsense for me to pretend that I had not time, for everybody knew perfectly well that I had nothing else to do, and he supposed I had got tired because people did not pay for admission. I was just like other hirelings ; he had thought I was above such things, but now he saw very plainly that I was a greedy, self-seeking fellow like all the rest of my cloth. However, I did not entirely abandon my old practice of delivering addresses to the working-people, for I had the pleasure in the summer of speaking to audiences in the open air, after the Sunday evening service in the chapel, and generally had a congregation of from 3000 to 4000 persons, who listened with the most patient and respectful attention. Yet my opinions in regard to such services have undergone a considerable change. I do think it far better that the rich and poor should meet together in the House of the Lord, than that we should even seem to encourage their separation by holding special services for the working men in halls, theatres, and the like. What I am much more desirous of effecting is this—to offer every encouragement and facility for the attendance of all classes at our places of worship, to adapt our services to working men in so far as they need such adaptation, and to lead them to feel that they really are all welcome to God’s House. Churches and chapels filled with people of all classes, and wherein distinctions of social rank should be all forgotten, would be far better than churches and chapels half filled with the wealthier sort, and halls and theatres crowded with the working people.

I for one have no reason to complain of working men keeping aloof from religious ordinances. I think we have pretty nearly, if not quite, a thousand of them in constant and devout attendance upon the means of grace at Myrtle Street Chapel. I do not, however, know how far my lectures on Sunday afternoon may have contributed to this.


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