[From Manx Recollections, 1894]
IT was the year 1870, a memorable year in the annals of Europe, as well as in those of the friend whose individual history we strive in some degree to commemorate in these pages.
It was the year of the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, when Europe shook with the noise of that conflict which brought such disaster to the aggressive power; and such gain and ascendency to the power invaded and recklessly defied. It was in April of this year our friend, startled and saddened by the agitations of the times, had another reason for fear and great misgiving. And as we are about to name it, we are insensibly reminded of the saying of the much tried and patient Job, "The thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me."
Gradually her precious sight had been more and more waning; and the volumes that she loved so dearly were becoming less and less decipherable; and the heart that had been so desolated was once again to be, in course of time, . the abode of a dreaded and yet greater isolation and desolation.
Those of us who have in full preservation our faculty of sight, how little can we realise what it must be to have it withdrawn; and especially terrible was it, we may well believe, in the case of one whose vision was, humanly speaking, now her chief source of gratification and almost only solace. Without it how how sad! No more intercourse with the great and the good of bygone ages, or of living but remote ideal acquaintances. No more feeding on the wealth of their intelligence, and the sweetness and the beauty of their kindred spirits! And sadder, more crushing still, no more gazing on that beauteous world of nature that theme of perpetual rapture that mirror of the face of an all-glorious and beneficent Creator!
In her distress she sought advice; and the result of it was that she must go away and consult some eminent oculist. Finally the one recommended was Dr. Meurer, a famous German eye-surgeon. He was this year in London, and the opportunity to see him was favourable.
In April of 1870 she took her departure, and on the way visited once again the dear ones at Elton. From them she received all the hope and encouragement they could bestow as to her final recovery from the affliction that was threatening to cast its dark pall upon and envelop in gloom the remaining years of her chastened existence.
Dr. Meurer was seen. He pronounced the disease to be cataract, but said nothing could be done for the present. He would in the meantime prescribe for an application, but in a year or two he must see her again.
In September she returned to Douglas, and it was this month that' the writer first became positively acquainted with her. It was at a picnic given by our vicar, Mr. Hawley, and Mrs. Hawley.
The picnic was at Glen Meay, and the writer, being the only juvenile of the party, kept a good deal in the rear, taking refuge, for the most part, under the wing of Mrs. Hawley.
Concealment, however, was not to be permitted for long. Mrs. Elliott had followed the recluse with her sympathetic eye, and very soon induced her to emerge from her hiding; and instinctively the young girl felt she had gained a friend in the gentle quakeress-looking lady, of whom she had often heard, but of whom personally she knew little.
In the evening, on our return from the picnic, we all assembled at Mrs. Moffat's, at 20 Finch Road. It is only necessary to name that name to recall to many insular minds a family of noted courtesy and Christian benevolence. Miss Elizabeth Moffat, who is very musical, played beautifully the evening in question, and Mr. Hawley, so beloved by us all and so accomplished in mind, delighted us with many a graceful poetical reference and quotation. A stranger, a learned divine, interested us with a flow of ready converse on many themes, heightened by a brilliant imagination and ready humour; whilst Mrs. Elliott, in whose presence it was impossible for any one to be dull, kept the ball rolling with perpetual variety of suggestion and charming approval. How calmly bright how benign was her countenance, and how elevated and elevating every word that fell from her lips; how kindly and graceful her deferential regard and consideration for others; how ready she was to say the pleasing word, to look the affectionate thought! The writer, though young and far from sedate, succumbed to the influence of this ennobling nature, and henceforth bowed before a power she felt, and which, though only in a degree, she could analyse and explain.
And here we will endeavour to present the appearance, ` as when first we knew her, of this friend whose life was like that of a silent stream, permeating alike with its elevating holy influence the haunts of the poor and debased, and the homes of the wealthy and refined.
She was at this time about fifty-seven years of age. Her stature was somewhat diminutive and slight rather than the reverse; her head evenly balanced and very compact in its development; the form of her face a full oval, her skin very fair and smooth almost no wrinkles; her brow clear and expansive, her eyes a quiet brown, her nose large and aquiline but well formed, indicating by its size and certain marked lines at the corner of each nostril a character of vigour and great determination; her mouth gentle and, clearly cut, but also emphasised at the corners with grave decided lines. Her chin had a like pronounced contour; on her brow rested smooth silky grey hair, which contrasted harmoniously with the clear complexion and grave sweet look of the general expression of the face.
It was a face of strangely calm endurance, utter guilelessness, and yet of a passionless strength; strong and sweet were the features, and very restful the bearing of the whole figure even to the matter of dress, which was invariably black, relieved about the throat and hands with white lace or muslin. Looking at her one would say, that is a nature which can no longer be moved by the blandishments or agitated by the fears of a vain uncertain world; the waves of sorrow and disappointment and care may have beat upon it with all their force, but the storm has been weathered the anchor is fixed, the sails are set as of a vessel waiting the tide to enter its harbour of rest.
Between September of 1870 and April of 1871 public sympathy in Douglas had been largely called out on behalf of the sufferers of the Paris siege. Amongst those still exposed to the dangers of the times in France were the Rev. Edward * and Mrs. Forbes and their family. This was the same Mr. Forbes who, before the appointment of Mr. Hawley, was Incumbent of St. George's, Douglas. From Douglas he went, it will be remembered, to Paris to the Church of the Rue d'Aguesseau, having been appointed chaplain to the British Embassy.
The reign of anarchy, however, had begun in France, and it needed no additional cause to make it the painful subject of many minds, and the general theme of conversation amongst persons interested in their fellow-creatures, and the events of contemporary history.
* Afterwards the Rev. E. Forbes, D.D., Vicar of St. Olives, Old Jewry, London.
Mrs. Elliott writes on September 5, 1870, in her usual graphic way: " The air is pure and pleasant now after the storms at the beginning of this month. When September comes it seems that summer is gone the very name has an autumnal sound; and the wind and rain sobbing and sighing last week seemed to bewail the departing summer. Within the space of two months the war storm in Europe has swept an Emperor from his throne ; and now the Republic in France takes up the war-cry."
April 4, 1871, she writes: "A few minutes since the Manx volunteers marched through this street in the moon-light, the band playing a lively tune. It is to be hoped that they will never be required to play the part of National Guards. Paris is in an awful plight with the red flag of Terror waving over the grand palaces of the Louvre and Tuileries.
" In to-day's paper there is an account of a battle between the Government army and the insurgents, ` the National Black-guards,' as they have been well described. What a mournful Christmas Paris has passed through, and now what an Easter is approaching! These wild Communists in one of their proclamations speak of the `redemption,' and the `regeneration' which the country requires; but they expect it from their idol, `the Republic,' and not from the true Redeemer, who died on Calvary to redeem and regenerate the slaves of sin. These Communists, it is said, have ordered all ministers of religion to leave Paris."
Sometime during the early period of the war (the date in her letter is not given), she, writing to her nieces, says " If you were here now, your young eyes and voices would be often employed in reading aloud the newspapers. In this horrible, hateful war there are two objects of personal interest to me one Prussian, the other French the kind and clever German oculist, Dr. Meurer who, I trust, with all his household, may escape uninjured; and the pale gentle boy, the Prince Imperial, the young lad of fourteen, who ought to have been kept away from the horrors of this like war. Certainly the course of events in France is M e a comment on the Scripture word, 'Scatter thou the. people that delight in war.' The French, with their false notions of glory, are learning a terrible lesson. It is to be hoped that a timely peace may save Paris from ruin."
In the summer of 1871 Dr. and Mrs. Elliott visited Coniston, and on their return to Douglas found some of the young people from Elton, and Hannah their nurse, at their house in readiness to welcome them back. This was about the beginning of a long series of visits that the young Weatherells afterwards annually paid to their uncle and aunt. At the close of their present visit, Dr. and Mrs. Elliott themselves prepared to leave Douglas again this time for Germany, as Mrs. Elliott had made up her mind to visit Dr. Meurer once more, and ascertain from him the expediency of operating now upon her eyes.
The following delightful little note was written by her to her brother when she and Dr. Elliott had just crossed by the steamer from Douglas to Liverpool written on the wing; and yet how fair and sweet it is breathing, as always, the native air of her poetical and loving soul !
"LIME ST. STATION, LIVERPOOL, 7 MIN. to 3 P.M., "August 4, 1871.
"John Bunyan describes the River of Life as `curiously beautiful with lilies.' Our house has been beautiful with very fair lilies for a few summer days, and now they are transplanted again to their own peaceful garden at Elton. . . . We are gratified to find that the dear girls were so pleased with their visit, and content to remain with us. Their uncle again and again said, 'We miss the children.' You may tell their mamma that they were pleasant, affectionate, and obliging, and it was a pleasure of hope to expect them and Hannah, and it is a pleasure of memory to think that they have been with us so lately.
We have had a fine passage to-day, thank God. We came in five hours. The sea and the sky were beautiful and blue and quiet. We are waiting for the 4 o'clock train for London."
After apparently a month of travel and sojourn in different places, the travellers finally arrived at Coblenz, whence the following was penned
"HOTEL DE GËANT, COBLENZ, "September 12, 1871.
"Through the good hand of our Heavenly Father we have been brought safely to this beautiful place to-day. Our room overlooks the Rhine (Wacht am Rhein), and at the opposite side of the river is the grand fortress of Ehrenbreitstein (the broad stone of honour), almost as strong as Metz, as a soldier told me this evening. We left Cologne this morning, at a quarter to nine, and had a charming sail up the Rhine in a fine American steamer, passing on our way the `castle crags of Drachenfels,' and arrived here about three in the afternoon. We soon set out in quest of Dr. Meurer. It was rather a long walk, as his house is some way out of the town. But the kindness of two German young ladies was something extraordinary one came out from her hall door and walked a little way with us, and another went on patiently walking beside us for nearly a quarter of a mile until she could point out the very house. A handsome house it is, in a pretty country situation; and after we had sat waiting some time on the balcony outside the drawing-room, Mrs. Meurer, who had been out driving, I believe, returned, and then the doctor appeared on horseback. He was very kind and courteous, and carefully examined my eyes with an ophthalmoscope, and said that the disease had made no progress; and he slightly altered the prescription, ordering something else, something stronger, instead of spirits of lavender, to be mixed with the iodide of potash. I have reason to be thankful for the opinion thus expressed; it is a great mercy from the Author and Giver of light. And the Saviour, who blessed the clay and the waters of Siloam, is still the Good Physician.
On our return from Dr. Meurer's house we came back to this quay, and walked across the bridge of boats to the other side of the Rhine to visit the mineral spring of Ehrenbreitstein. Marian and Alice will remember the cup which Mrs. Harris * gave to their uncle that he might drink of this spring, which she had found invigorating. And he did drink of it, and drank her health there, and so did I. It is strong iron water. Two soldiers escorted us to this place with much civility, as it was not easy to find the way. We may probably (D.V.) leave here tomorrow."
* Wife of Samuel Harris, Esq., now Vicar-General of the Isle o£ Man.
Our next news of the travellers is contained in the following:
DOUGLAS, ISLE OF MAN, "Sept. 30, 1871.
" Through the continued care of our Heavenly Guardian we have been brought home in safety this evening. On Thursday, on arriving at Boulogne from Paris, we found that a telegram had been sent to prevent the boat from sailing to Folkestone that day, as the equinoctial tempest was so wild. And yet the next day (yesterday) the sea was so subdued by Him who ruleth the waves thereof, that we passed over quickly and calmly in an hour and three-quarters to Folkestone. Thence by train to London, and last night to Liverpool; and this morning, or rather at I P.Ø., we passed over a glittering sea, bright with sunshine and quite calm. It was a pleasant passage of five hours and three minutes. In this we have reason to be thankful.
" On our return from the Coniston excursion in summer we were greeted at the door by the fair young faces of Marian and Alice-a pleasant and a cheerful sight. When this journey of earthly life is ended, may we all be welcomed by the gracious Redeemer, who is the light of the heavenly home !
" On Sunday last, at the Chapelle Evangelique in the Avenue de la Grande Armëe, what a wonderful sermon was preached by Eugëne Bersier on Rom. viii. 15 ! What a word of reconciliation, sweet and winning as the voice of an angel! He is considered the best preacher in France, and he is greatly respected and beloved. In the morning and evening we attended the English services in the Rue d'Aguesseau, where Mr. Forbes preached well and faithfully. And on Monday morning we breakfasted with Mr. Forbes."