[From Thomas Howard Gill, 1895]
"And oh ! with the loved, whom no more I see, Show me my home as it yet may be ! "-Henians.
SCHOOL and college days, when interwoven with a happy home life, are surely something to look back upon, in after years, with thankful gladness!
The young Gills were more especially fortunate in this respect, and were, moreover, fully alive to the fact. Among their schoolfellows they reckoned boys who, as men, have attained to high distinction in the clerical and literary world; F. W. Farrar, now Archdeacon Farrar, was a frequent visitor on Saturday afternoons at the Vicarage of Malew, as was also Archdeacon Wilson, late headmaster of Clifton.
It was the mother's rule that the boys might bring school friends home on Saturdays, their half holiday, and then after long rambles, cricket, or football, they would often muster round the tea table, a goodly number of merry boys and girls full of life and fun, and yet, not unmindful of the ftther who was keeping his vigil in the little upstair study.
Thomas Howard Gill was a regular Sunday-school teacher, even as a boy, and on Sunday evenings, besides the family party, most of the teachers assembled in the vicarage parlour for tea.
'l'he Miss Stowells often brought one or two of their pupils, generally the little Isabella, who even in these early days, became a great favourite with the mother. After tea, singing and some short Bible stories, ending up with prayer, closed a peaceful and happy evening. On one occasion John Keble, staying as a visitor at the vicarage, gave out his then newly composed hymn, " Sun of my soul, thou Saviour dear," Mrs. Keble playing the tune " Hursley," which he always considered the most suitable accompanment.
Canon Hugh Stowell, Mrs. Gill's brother, the great Manchester preacher, was a yearly visitor at the vicarage, and so, under such influences, the young Gills grew up to manhood.
On prize day, when Thomas Howard was eighteen, he won the prize poem of the year, the subject being Columbus. In the closing lines, when alluding to the wife of King Ferdinand of Castile as "The sweet and lovely Isabelle," it delighted him to think that he thus did homage to her, who, though still a child, was his " Lady love."
During the summer holidays of this year, Thomas paid his first visit to England, staying with friends in Cheshire and Derbyshire.
To an active, inquiring mind like his, this was a great and never forgotten pleasure, from which he derived much benefit. Among other things, he first learnt the rudiments of photography, in which he became a great adept.
We shall often have occasion to refer to this later on, as in his future career he made photography, as he did everything else, a power for good, an instrument by which he brought Nature, and Nature's God, nearer to man.
For the first time, also, he came in contact with a head gardener in a large place, a man who really knew his business, and he literally picked his brains, his childish love of flowers having grown with his growth.
He went back to his Island full of new ideas, with a fund of freshly-acquired knowledge which he was bent upon put-ting into practice, but over and above all things with a pair of Cochin-chinas, the pride and delight of his heart !
All these outside pleasures, so pure and innocent, did not prevent his taking up his work with renewed energy. In the year 1855 when he was eighteen and a-half years of age, he won an exhibition from his school, with the result that he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he joined his brother Evan, two years older than himself, then in his third year of residence at the University.
Evan Gill was a young man of great promise, whose heart had been early given to God. He had chosen the ministry, whereas Thomas Howard at this time had no such intention, hesitating between being a schoolmaster or an architect.
Evan proposed, after his ordination, remaining two years at Malew as his father's curate, and afterwards to offer him-self for the mission field, and it was with this object in view that he worked. The two brothers lived together for one year in rooms in the old Court of Trinity College ; there Evan took his degree, and in June went home to the vicar-age, to prepare for ordination in August, leaving Tom to spend the long vacation at Cambridge for the purpose of reading. One sunshiny summer morning, five days before his ordination, Evan left his home to bathe at Scarlett. That same afternoon his body was found floating on the water. It would be difficult to depict the anguish with which his brother at Cambridge received the heart-breaking news. Then followed the hurried journey, the sorrowful home-coming, and the laying to rest, in the old church-yard, of the mortal remains of the young Christian soldier, on the very day, almost at the very hour, when he had hoped to enter his Master's service as His ordained Priest. It was a terrible experience, more especially to a young and loving
nature, and it struck deep. It seemed to Thomas Howard as if his brother's voice blade him take up the work he had not been permitted even to enter upon, and so labour in their Lord's vineyard " until the day-break and the shadows flee away."
His nature was not one to remain indifferent to or turn a deaf ear from what might be the voice of God speaking to his soul. Unselfish, generous, and loving Thomas had ever been, but his brother's death was his spiritual life. He obeyed the call without hesitation, and in all his after life he never once regretted having done so; he was quick to hear, quick to obey; the thought, " Had I been taken as suddenly as Evan, am I as ready to appear before my God?" was ever present with him, and so he thrust on one side his own desires, and when he went back to Cambridge it was with the fixed determination of becoming a minister in Christ's Church on earth.
From that time his work assumed a different aspect; higher motives governed his every action, new interests were awakened, and his faith became a living faith in that Saviour, by whom alone we can hope for forgiveness from sin, and who ever liveth to make intercession for us.
How deep the impression made upon him was, we have ample proof, in a curious paper written in his own hand-writing, dated the 26th of November, 1858.
"THE STUDENT'S VISION."
" It was a dull November morning; the frost, which had chilled everything with its icy breath, had fled, and the weather was unusually warm for the season of the year. I had sat for some hours poring over my books, when sud-denly I sprang up from the table, and with a sigh, opening the little lattice window I gazed up into the sky. It seemed more like a morning in the close of autumn, than in winter,
and the air was warm and humid, and the listless breeze stirred not the now leafless branches of the trees and every-thing seemed to be sinking into `calm decay.' The great dull murky clouds lazily moved along before me, as every here and there they parted from each other, affording just space enough for one to catch a glimpse of the firmament beyond, which they so jealously hid. As I gazed I sighed and wished within myself that I could foresee my destiny; `then,' I said to myself, `then could I see of what use all this working, all this reading will be to me; then could I plan for the future; then'-but at this moment the clouds parted just at the spot at which I was looking, and I saw into the depths beyond: and there, as in a mirror, I beheld a multitude of people, and in a moment I had recognised amongst them many of my friends and relations, but each seemed more aged than when I last saw them ; it appeared as though a score of years had left marks upon them which I had never before observed; and I said within myself, `this surely is the future,' and with intense earnest-ness I gazed, thinking that now at least I might learn some-thing of my destiny. As I scanned each face before me, I passed over many with but a hurried glance, till I came to one which, familiar to me as my own, immediately arrested me; but whilst I strove to behold the next vision more clearly, a death-like shudder ran through my frame, for the deep fold of the crape and the sombre hue of her dress spake of bereavement, and I dared not look again at that face lest therein I should read-oh ! I knew not what; and so with an awful foreboding I tore myself away to look at the others, 'and then,' said I, `when I have seen the rest will I return and learn the worst!' Then I beheld many of my dearest friends and relations, but some were wanting; and in the midst I saw one who smiled lovingly on me; her brow was wrinkled. with. many a furrow and the locks that still surrounded her forehead were like the snow-flake, but beneath all the guise wherewith the hand of Time had profusely garbed her, I could not fail to recognise my mother. And when, with a sudden thrill of grief I noticed the full plaited cap-the cap of sorrow-with the same happy smile, she pointed upwards, and whilst I strained hard to pierce the unfathomable depths beyond, I saw him who was not, and his brow seemed to say that he had but lately left her; then I grew more calm, perceiving that they were not so far separated as I at first imagined, and my tears flowed in silence. `But where,' I involuntarily ex claimed, `where is my place?' For a moment a cloud seemed to flit over those calm features, and I grieved to think I had marred their tranquillity; but again the smile returned and I fancied I could catch her accents as softly they floated downwards through the peaceful air, and said to me, I Work, work while it is day, for the night cometh upon thee,' and as the last words fell on my ear, the clouds, which had parted but a moment before, though it seemed like an age to me, again began to close in, and in an agony of terror I once more turned my eyes to where she stood, whom I had first seen. But, alas! the clouds had drawn around-the countenance was veiled-and nought but the deep fold of the crape and the sombre hue of the dress remained!
" With a cry of despair I cast myself on my couch and gave vent to a flood of tears, as mildly I asked, ° Wherefore, wherefore?' But then, with shame, I recalled the calm features of that happy face that had beamed on me; again those words fell on my ears, `Work, work, for the night cometh,' and with a depth of resolution, I resolved no more to question the Future, but to work whilst the day remained, for, when the night should come on, I knew not."
It is impossible to comment upon this strange paper; surely it was the workings of no ordinary spirit, surely it was the voice of God giving him the watchword of his life, Work."
In 1859 he took his degree, second class, and returned home, at once taking up the Sunday-school and similar work. Two years previously he had engaged himself to be married to his little sweetheart, Isabella Mondes, then only sixteen years of age. She was now with her family in Ireland, and the young man doubtless missed her sorely, for he wrote frequently asking her earnestly to consent to their marriage taking place immediately after his ordination, when he would at once enter upon his duties as his father's curate.
Considering his income would not beget £200 a-year, and that his future wife's dowry was very small, it seemed a daring venture. His fiancëe, however, would not say him nay, only she wrote, " Ask your dear mother, and we will abide by what she thinks right." Mother and son were both alike free from ambition; she was only desirous that her sons should marry good women, and, therefore, as Tom could not be happy without Isabella she wrote herself to her future daughter-in-law, bidding her take up her new life in perfect love and faith, assuring her of her motherly sympathy and affection. And so the matter was decided; on the 3rd of September, 1859, Thomas Howard Gill was ordained at Bishops-Court, Isle of Man, and the following day, in company of his father and two brothers, the young bride-groom started to fetch his bride.
They had a rough voyage across the Channel, and then a long journey by coach up to Riverstown. The trip was a very merry one, the brothers chaffing Tom, and shouting with glee whenever they could count three magpies following the coach.
Time was precious to all those concerned,.the vicar had to get back in time for his Sunday services. The very day after their arrival the marriage was celebrated, and Mr. and Mrs. T. Howard Gill started for their fortnight's honeymoon to Dublin. But not without a tender word of love to bid them "God speed " from her who was indeed with them in spirit, the " Mother."
Very sweet are her words, not chilling but sanctifying their love. We will let her speak herself.
"MALEW VICARAGE, "
7th September, 1859.
Who can more sincerely wish you joy; my beloved child-ren, than myself? You are this day as happy as you can be. You have this day given yourselves to each other; see that you give yourselves to the Lord. Give Him your hearts, and devote yourselves to His service. He must, you know, have the first place. Welcome, dearest Isabella, to my heart, I wish to take you as my own. May you be as happy as I wish you to be, and as useful too. Farewell; may the Lord help and keep you both, is the sincere prayer of your most loving MOTHER."
And so the stalwart bridegroom and the fair young bride started on their life's journey together, their love grounded in hope and faith, strong enough to carry them through the trials of this world unto their lives' end, and strong enough to make her, who is left behind; feel that sweet and lovely as it was, it is but the shadow of what will be, when all things shall be made perfect.