Can or Will the Methodists Help?

THEY sat up as late as they could that night, and she told them all she knew. She wondered if there was any minister she could see in London who might help her.

‘I have heard of Dr. Beaumont,’ she said, ‘what a wonderful preacher he is. Could I see him? And couldn’t he help?’

Now Thorpe knew Dr. Beaumont and a good many other prominent preachers. He told her that there was no harm in trying, but that it was very doubtful if she would find the Doctor at home. He was more often away than at home because he was so much in demand all over the country. And somehow he didn’t think he carried much weight. He knew that Dr. Bunting and Dr. Beaumont were always arguing about things and that it was Dr. Bunting who always got his own way. And so they went through the possibilities, one by one. There were a number of laymen who used to meet occasionally in various parts of London, and they used to talk about politics and things like that as well as about Methodism. He didn’t think they liked Trade combinations. Still, if it was a case of injustice, they might try to see that justice was done. But they wouldn’t want to be mixed up with any resistance to the law. She was given a few addresses and determined to see what she could do next morning.

Dr. Beaumont she did just manage to see. She found him wonderfully sympathetic. He had only twenty minutes he could give to her, before travelling to a place in the midlands where he was preaching missionary sermons on the Sunday. He had read the account of the trial in The Times, and had felt that all was not as it should be. He hadn’t then known that five of the men were members of his own Society. He promised to do what he could, but assured her that he was a man of no influence.

Another minister whom she saw was by no means so sympathetic. At first she thought he was going to be a real help.

‘What can I do for you, my good woman?’ he said. ‘You are in trouble I hear, and have come to lay your trouble before me to see if I can help you. From Dorsetshire I see. If I can help you, I shall be happy to do all in my power.’

‘Thank you kindly, sir,’ she answered. ‘I am indeed in great trouble. But it is not for myself, sir. I have left a poor woman who is dying from the exposure she received when they came to arrest her son. But her trouble is nothing to the injustice which good men are suffering under. And you have so much influence that perhaps you can help to stop the injustice.’

The minister frowned. This was not quite what he had expected. These tales of injustice were getting far too frequent amongst the common people. It looked like another case of disciplinary action.

‘I haven’t a great deal of time to go into a lot of irrelevant details. Tell me as quickly as you can just what you want.’

She had seen the frown, and began to feel nervous about her mission. To remind herself of the thing which had given her comfort at other times she hummed a bar or two of the tune ‘All things are possible’. She would have courage. She saw that courageous look of her hero in her imagination and looked up again.

‘I’m a Methodist, sir,’ she said. ‘And I was taught to love Jesus by George Loveless, and he and his brother James, and Thomas Standfleld and his son John and James Hammett and another lad called James Brine have been condemned to transportation for seven years. They are good men, sir, and they oughtn’t to go, and I want you to tell the Prime Minister or the King that they shouldn’t be sent.’

‘Stop, stop, I haven’t any such power as that. And I couldn’t use it if I had in such a case. Why, I have something about it in my papers here. Three of these men are local preachers, aren’t they? They are a disgrace to us as Methodists. Three local preachers to be transported! And just for agitation! Don’t you know, woman, that men cannot rebel against the King and Constitution without having to suffer for it? Of course I can’t help you, if that is what you have come about. A nest of Radical agitators has been cleared out. If you want to serve them, tell them to repent of their sins.,

‘But I’m not allowed to see them, sir. And I wouldn’t tell them that if I was. Why, George Loveless has given the very breath of life to my soul, and you tell me to tell him, the grandest man who ever walked in Dorsetshire, to repent of his sins. You can’t know, sir. You can’t know. Let me tell you about it.’

‘I know that a Judge of His Majesty’s appointing has tried the case and has given his judgement after duly weighing the evidence. Your friends have sinned against the law. No follower of Jesus should be disobedient to the law. They must suffer for their iniquity and repent of their sins. Perhaps then they may come back refined and purified.’

‘But, sir, you don’t know them or you couldn’t talk like that. And one of them wasn’t even at the meeting that they were condemned for holding and had nothing to do with them. Why should he be condemned in another’s place?’

‘My dear woman, the Judge has tried the case and is satisfied that these men were all there. Besides, a jury of men agreed that they were all guilty. No, we ministers know too much that every condemned prisoner says he is innocent. That is one of the problems of our life.’

‘And aren’t they ever innocent? Can’t the people who judge them make a mistake?’

‘No, madam, it is nearly impossible.’

‘But not quite, sir. They made a mistake in this case. Didn’t I tell you, sir, that I was converted under the preaching of George Loveless. How, then, can he be a man who would break the law?’

‘Ah, my dear woman, there you enter into a well-known error. You remind me that the great Dr. Bunting himself had a similar experience. One of the men who had a great influence on his life, sincere and well-meaning I am sure, was hanged for murder. He, too, declared that he was innocent. But a woman was murdered, and a lot of people were tried for the murder and condemned to death. They say that the fanatics went to the scaffold singing. But they were guilty. They must have been. Much though he regrets it, the Doctor has cast him out of his life and his thought. Terrible it is to think that those who have administered the word of truth may themselves become castaways. The Apostle Paul himself prayed that it might not happen to him. No, madam, you may rest assured that these men are just getting what they deserve. You can do them best service by praying that they may come to repentance.’

It isn’t true. It isn’t true. They are suffering terrible injustice. And you, a minister of the gospel, are as unjust as that unjust Judge, Baron Williams. You won’t understand and you won’t help me. Oh, you may look at me like that with your sneering face. But I’d like to see you brought before an unjust judge and condemned to transportation and see how you would bear it. Yes, and it is just for preaching the gospel they have been taken. It is the vicar who was at the back of the prosecution. They don’t like the truth. They are persecuting them just because they are dissenters. But they will, they will, they will be free.’

And so she went on her way. She had shown a great deal of pluck. Perhaps she was not too conciliatory in her attitude, and it was very difficult to persuade these people that the facts were as she stated them. They didn’t know her friends, and most of them had a horror of being mixed up with politics. They never took part in political discussion, and the ministers at any rate knew that during that year a fellow-minister was to be called to account because he had meddled too much in politics. It was a Whig ministry, and some of its members were greatly honoured. There had been riotings amongst Trade Unionists, particularly in the north, and there was Captain Swing and the rick-burnings and machine smashings. These were breaches of the law that none of the men she saw would tolerate for a moment. But neither would her friends! They had done nothing of the sort. They were good men.

‘How do I know that?’ said one of the ministers ‘You say these men are local preachers. Haven’t they seen the address to the Society year after year, with its continual warning against political association? How can they expect sympathy if they fly in the face of that warning? And if they will do that by forming this association against their masters, how do I know that they haven’t done other things, for which they are being justly punished?’

‘But they haven’t. There was nothing said like that at the trial. You can read it in the papers. It was just for having a secret oath that they were condemned.’

‘Yes, my dear woman,’ he replied, ‘but everything does not come out in a trial. I’ll be bound that Lord Melbourne and Lord John Russell, and Lord Lyndhurst know something more they have done, and the judge knows, too. And so they are being punished for the real things they have done, which haven’t been revealed.’

This was, of course, a worse charge against the Whig ministers than he realized. Yet it was the sort of thing that was in the mind of The Times when it condemned the terms of the indictment, but said they really deserved all they were getting because of their combination.

Jane did not reply on those lines. The idea of this minister had not struck her before as being possible. She at once saw the point, and jumped to the conclusion that someone must have been giving false information against them.

‘I know that can’t be true, sir,’ she said. ‘They are loyal, law-abiding men, who never do anything wrong in the way you say. George Loveless does say things against the Church parsons sometimes, but they wouldn’t mean that, would they, sir.’

‘No, no, my good woman; it must be something much worse than that. I trust our leaders. I don’t think gentlemen like those in power would do anything that is not just. No; I cannot help you. The men must have done wrong.’

So, weary of her day’s struggle, she went back to the Thorpes wondering if her time was to be wasted altogether. She had had no success except with Dr. Beaumont, who said he had no influence. Could she have moved Dr. Bunting to help if she had seen him? It is not likely. He was no supporter of the Whig Government, but he would not have let his inclination to Toryism bring him into political conflict. Probably he would have refused to intervene. He and his fellow leaders in Methodism were very severe on radical ministers and they did not interfere in the legal processes of the country.