IN THE SUNNY SOUTH.
I do not think any human being upon earth ever felt so much repose of soul and body as I do. Many years of toil are all rewarded by this blessed rest, which only seems too good to be true. I have no task work, and do more voluntarily, as a recreation, than I have often done of obligation. No idle tongues disturb me, or cares molest me.
The burden is taken from the shoulder, and the bit from between the jaws. If anything can make me young and strong again, this will.
It is rest of a sort which I never knew before in all its forms; for, at other times, pain, or dulness, or too much company, has made it less enjoyable. I rest on the wing, as the swallow is said to do. — C. H. S., in letter from Mentone, written in 1882.
Up in Dr. Bennet’s garden, when Harrald read me the following lines, I adopted them as my own; — “O days of heaven and nights of equal praise, Serene and peaceful as those heavenly days, When souls drawn upward in communion sweet Enjoy the stillness of some close retreat, Discourse as if released, and safe at home, Of dangers past, and wonders yet to come, And spread the sacred treasure of the breast Upon the lap of covenanted rest.”
IT would have been easy to fill a volume with the account of Mr. Spurgeon’s experience,in the sunny South, but the many other interesting portions of his wondrously full life make it needful to condense into two chapters the record of about twenty annual visits to the Riviera. He was fairly familiar with most of the favorite resorts on that part of the Mediterranean shore, and he occasionally made a short stay at one or other of them; but Mentone was the place he loved beyond all the rest.
Sometimes, after going elsewhere for a change of scene, a few days sufficed for the enjoyment of the beauties and charms of the new region, and then he would say, “I think we will hasten on to Mentone.” On settling down in his old quarters, he generally exclaimed, with a sigh of relief, “Ah! now I feel at home.”
Mr. Spurgeon’s first visit to the Riviera was made before the railway had been completed along the coast; and he used often to describe to his travelling companions, in later days, the delights of driving from Marseilles to Genoa, and so being able to see, under the most favorable conditions, some of the loveliest views on the face of the earth. On that journey, one incident occurred which was quite unique in the, Pastor’s experience.
While staying for a few days at Nice, he received a letter from the captain of the Alabama, an American man-of-war lying in the harbour of Villefranche, inviting him to pay a visit to that vessel. On accepting the invitation, a very pleasant time was spent on board, and then the captain asked Mr. Spurgeon to come another day, and preach to his officers and men, and to those of a second man-of-war which was stationed not far off.
Though the preacher was out for a holiday, he gladly availed himself of the opportunity of conducting the service desired; and after it was over, he chatted for some time with a number of his sailor hearers. Amongst them, he found one who, when a boy, had been in Newington Sunday-school, and whose uncle was a member at the Tabernacle, and another who, as a lad, ran away from his home at Dulwich. Several different nationalities were represented and a good many Roman Catholics were there; but all seemed exceedingly pleased to listen to the gospel message, and Mr. Spurgeon said that he did not know that he had ever enjoyed preaching more than he did on that occasion, and that he should, ever afterwards, reckon himself an honorary chaplain of the United States Navy.
Tidings of the service at Villefranche probably reached other American vessels, for, several years later, when the U. S. S. Trenton, the flagship of the European squadron, was at Gravesend, the chaplain wrote to Mr. Spurgeon — “Could it be possible for you, amid your abundant labors, to come down some day, and address our officers and men, it would be esteemed a great favor, and I know it would be the means of doing incalculable good. All through the cruise, it has been my desire that the ship might go to some port in your vicinity, hoping thereby that you might oblige us with a visit.” The Pastor was unable to accede to the request so kindly conveyed, but he fully appreciated the honor, and perhaps all the more because he was never invited to preach on board a British man-ofwar.
One of the travelling companions on the first visit to the Riviera was the Pastor’s friend, deacon, and publisher, Mr. Joseph Passmore; and he was usually a member of the little company who gathered at Mentone year by year; though, latterly, his partner, Mr. James Alabaster, had the joy of taking his turn at holiday-making with the author whose works he had so long published.
In 1879, Mr. Harrald went for the first time; and, from that year, until the never-to-be-forgotten last visit of 1891-2, he was only absent twice, when his services seemed more urgently required at home. The accompanying reproduction of a photograph taken at Mentone, in 1880, contains the portraits of Mr. Spurgeon. Mr. Passmore, Mr. Harrald, “Old George,” and “Father Abraham,” whom the Pastor always called his Oxfordshire deacon.
Beside Mr. Passmore, the Tabernacle deacons who stayed at Mentone with Mr. Spurgeon were Mr. W. Higgs, sent Mr. T. Greenwood, Mr. C.F. Allison, Mr. W. Higgs, and Mr. F. Thompson.
Mr. Spurgeon often quoted one of “Father Abraham’s” sayings, “I don’t believe any other three men in Mentone have done as much work as we three have done to-ay.” The speaker’s share of the work consisted in sitting quite still, and. reading the newspaper or one of the many interesting books which always formed part of the Pastor’s travelling equipment.
It has been already intimated that the season of rest was by no means a time of idleness; some friends even hinted that there was too much labor, and too little relaxation. The quotations at the beginning of the present chapter give the chief worker’s own view of the matter in i882; and a few more extracts from his letters of the same period will furnish details of the manner in which some of his days of holiday were pleasantly and profitably spent — “I went up to Dr. Bennet’s garden at 11 o’clock, and remained there alone with Harrald till 3.30. He read to me, and then I dictated to him, changing to a talk, a walk, a pun, some fun, and the. n reading and speechifying again, the electric shorthand bottling all up for future use. I did enjoy it, though the mistral blew savagely. We were in a corner of the kiosque, out of all the wind, and yet in the open air, with mountains, and sea, and garden all around. No one disturbed us; it was the beau ideal of an artistic author’s studio.” “Harrald read to me, yesterday, The Life of Cromwell, — grand, soulinspiring.
How the man trusted in the Lord! How sweet is the life of faith, and how splendid are its triumphs! I would live equally above joys and sorrows, and find my all in the Lord Himself.” “It came on to blow, so Harrald. and I resorted to Dr. Bennet’s garden from to to 3, having a grand read all alone till about 2 o’clock, and then admitting the other friends to be silent disciples among us. I gathered sheaves of texts for sermons, and a few subjects for articles, and had a very happy clay. The wind blew in hurricanes, but we sat with a wall at our backs, and the sun shining upon our faces. Trees were bending; in the gale, and the swift ships were flying across the main; but we had a hiding-place from the wind, and sat therein with comfort.”
Mr. Spurgeon never saw cyclamen growing anywhere without recalling an amusing incident which happened in Dr. Bennet’s garden at the time when visitors were freely welcomed there in the morning. The Pastor and his secretary had fond a sheltered spot where they were completely hidden from view, and during one of the pauses in the reading or dictating, they were greatly interested in hearing a young lady, quite near them, exclaim, in unmistakable Transatlantic tones, “O mother, do come here! There are some lovely sickly men (cyclamen), just here. I du love sickly men!”
Perhaps the speaker would not have been quite so enthusiastic if she had been aware of the proximity of the English listeners who mischievously gave to her words a meaning she never intended them to convey.
When Dr. Bennet restored the Saracenic tower here represented, he placed it at the disposal of Mr. Spurgeon, who at once availed himself of such a delightful retreat. Perched up so high above the sea, the view all around was indescribably lovely, while, by turning the key in the lock, absolute immunity from intruders was secured; and, as the result, some of the brightest of the articles in The Sword and the Trowel were here written or dictated, and some of the choicest sermons in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit were here composed, at least in outline. Only a short distance away from this tower, and perched on the very edge of the cliff overhanging the sea, stands the Italian guard-house which Mr. Spurgeon had to pass every time he went to see his friend, Mr. Thomas Hanbury, at the Palazzo Orengo, La Mortola. The Pastor often told the story of an incident that happened within this building. In the days when the phylloxera was committing such deadly havoc among the vines of France and Italy, the two countries tried to prevent its further spread by forbidding the transport of fruit, flowers, shrubs, etc., from one land to the other, it was a foolish and useless regulation, for the phylloxera was already in possession of both sides of the frontier; and it led to many amusing scenes. One day, Mr. Spurgeon was going, with a party of friends, for a picnic; and, amongst the articles under his charge, were,, a couple of oranges. He understood sufficient Italian to comprehend that the fruit could not be allowed to pass; but his ready wit suggested the best way out of the difficulty, so he walked into the soldiers’ room, peeled the oranges, carefully putting all the peel into the fire, and ate them, to the great amusement of the defenders of the crown rights ,of the King of Italy! As the story has been published in various papers and books, Mr. Spurgeon is represented as having “stepped back, five or six paces, into France,” in order to defy the Italian guards; whereas, at the time, he was probably one or two hundred yards beyond the boundaries of the Republic.
Dr. Bennet’s garden was not the only open-air study that Mr. Spurgeon had at Mentone. In the accompanying illustration, it is easy to pick out the line of cypresses running through the dense masses of olive trees at the back of the Chalet des Rosiers, the Swiss villa where. Queen Victoria stayed when at Mentone. That cypress walk led up to one of the numerous quiet nooks where the Pastor and his secretary spent many a delightful day.
They started from the hotel soon after the little company of friends, who had gathered for morning prayer, had dispersed, and if the weather was favorable for a long stay out of doors, they carried the materials for a light lunch with them, a waterproof rug to spread on the ground to ward off rheumatism, — and some books, of course, generally including a volume of Brooks, or Manton, or some other Puritan divine, with a biography or something that would make a variety in ‘the reading. The reader had to pause, every now and then, to jot down texts that struck the attentive listener as being suggestive, or to preserve, by means of phonography, any happy and helpful thoughts that might be of service in after days.
Sometimes, the dictation would only’ be sufficient for a paragraph or two, and then the reading would be resumed; on other occasions, a whole article for the magazine would be ready for transcription before the return journey to the hotel. A large part of The Clue of the Maze, and several of the Illustrations and Meditations, or, Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden, were thus written at another re. tired spot nOt far from the cypress walk. A good idea of the kind of place that was usually selected for this purpose can be conveyed by the view that one of the Pastor’s friends took for him, and most appropriately entitled “A Pretty Peep.”
Occasionally, the time devoted to reading in the open air was spent in one of the many lovely valleys by which Mentone is surrounded. Mr. Spurgeon never forgot one experience which he had in the portion of the Gorbio valley represented in the illustration on the opposite page, and concerning which he wrote — “In this valley I have spent many a happy day, just climbing to, any terrace I preferred, and sitting down to read. I once left Manton on Psalm 119. by the roadside, and before the next morning it was returned to me. Here, too, on Christmas-day, 1879, I learned what it is to ‘Walk in the Light.’ I had been ill with gout; and, on recovering, arranged to drive up this valley as far as the road would serve, and then send away the carriage, walk further on, have our lunch, and, in the afternoon, walk gently back to the spot where we left the conveyance, the man having orders to be there again by three. Alas! I had forgotten that, as far as the upper portion of the valley is concerned, the sun was gone soon after twelve!
I found myself in the shade before lunch was over, and shade meant sharp frost; for, wherever the sun had not shone, the earth was frozen hard as a rock. To be caught in this cold, would mean a long illness for me; so, leaning on the shoulder of my faithful secretary, I set forth to hobble down the valley. The sun shone on me, and I could just move fast enough to keep his bright disc above the top of the hill. He seemed to be rolling downward along the gradually descending ridge, like a great wheel of fire; and I, painfully and laboriously stumbling along, still remained in his light. Of course, it was not the time for our jehu to be at the appointed spot; so, with many a groan, I had to stagger on until a stray conveyance, came in our direction. Out of the sunshine, all is winter in the sunlight alone is summer. Oh, that spiritually I could always wall< in the light of God’s countenance as that day I managed to keep in the sun’s rays! “‘ Like Enoch, let me walk with God, And thus walk out my day; Attended still with heave ely light, Upon the King’s highway.’” The Gorbio valley was one of the special haunts of the trap-door spiders until visitors so ruthlessly destroyedtheir wonderful underground home,,.
Concerning these and other curious creatures, the. Pastor wrote to Mrs. Spurgeon — ” How I wish you could be here to see the spiders’ trapdoors!
There are thousands of them here, and the harvesting ants also, though the wise men declared that Solomon was mistaken when he said, ‘They prepare their meat in the summer.’ I shall send. you a book about them all.” When the volume arrived, it proved to be Harvesting’ Ants and Trap-door Spiders, by J. Traherne Moggridge, F.L.S., and it contained such a choice inscription that it is here reproduced in facsimile— One of the charms of Mentone to Mr. Spurgeon was the fact that he could constantly see there illustrations of Biblical scenes and manners and customs. He frequently said he had no desire to visit Palestine in its present forlorn condition, for he had before his eyes, in the Riviera, an almost exact representation of the Holy Land as it was in the days of our Lord. He was greatly interested in an article, written by Dr. Hugh Macmillan, upon this subject, in which that devoted student of nature traced many minute resemblances between the climate, the conformation of the country, the fauna and flora, and the habits of the people in the South of France of today, and those of the East in the time when Jesus of Nazareth trod “those holy fields.” In several of his; Sabbath afternoon communion addresses, the Pastor’ alluded to the many things that continually reminded him of “Immanuel’s land,” while the olive trees were a never-failing source, of interest and illustration. One of the works, with which, he had made very considerable progress, was intended to be, if possible, an explanation of all the Scriptural references to the olive, Mr. Spurgeon often remarked that there were many Biblical allusions which could not be understood apart from their Oriental associations; and, as an instance, he said that some people had failed altogether to catch the meaning of Isaiah 57:20, “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.” Those who have affirmed that the sea never can rest have not seen the Mediterranean in its most placid mood, when for days or even weeks at a time there is scarcely a ripple upon its surface. During that calm period, all sorts of refuse accumulate along the shore; and then, when the time of tempest comes, anyone who walks by the side of the agitated waters can see that they do “cast up mire and dirt.” Usually, during the Pastor’s stay at Mentone, there was at least one great storm, either far out at sea, or near at hand. In 1882, in one of his letters home, he wrote the following graphic description of the scene he had just witnessed “This afternoon, I have been out to watch the sea. There was a storm last night, and the sea cannot forgive the rude winds, so it is avenging its wrongs upon the shore. The sun shone at o’clock, and there was no wind here; but away over the waters hung an awful cloud, and to our left a rainbow adorned another frowning mass of blackness. Though much mud was under foot, all the world turned out to watch the hungry billows rush upon the beach. In one place, they rolled against the esplanade, and then rose, like the waterworks at Versailles, high into the air, over the walk, and across the road, making people run and dodge, and leaving thousands of pebbles on the pavement. In another place, the sea removed all the foreshore, undermined the walls, carried them away, and then assailed the broad path, which it destroyed in mouthfuls, much as a rustic eats bread-and-butter! Here and’ there, it took away ‘the curb; I saw some twelve feet of it go, and then it attacked the road. It was amusing to see the people move as a specially big wave dashed up. The lamp-posts were going when I came in, and an erection of solid stone, used as the site of a pump, was on the move. Numbers of people were around this as I came in at sundown; it was undermined, and a chasm was opening between it and the road. Men were getting up the gas pipes, or digging into the road to cut the gas off. I should not wonder if the road is partly gone by the morning. Though splashed with mud, I could not resist the delight of seeing the huge waves, and the. sea birds flashing among them like soft lightnings.’ The deep sigh, the stern howl, the solemn hush, the booming roar, and the hollow mutter of the ocean were terrible and grand to me. Then the rosy haze of the far-ascending spray, and the imperial purple and azure of the more-distant part of the waters, together with the snow-white manes of certain breakers on a line of rock, made up a spectacle never to be forgotten. Far away, in the East, I saw just a few yards of rainbow standing on the sea. It seemed like a Pharos glimmering there, or a ship in gala array, dressed out with the flags of all nations. O my God, how glorious art Thou! I love Thee the better for’ being so great, so terrible, so good, so true. ‘ This God is our’ God, for ever and ever.’“ Another phenomenon was thus described in. a letter of the same period — ”About six in the evening, we were all called out into the road to see a superb Aurora Borealis, — a sight that is very rarely seen here. Natives say that it is twelve years since the last appearance, and that it means a cold winter which will drive people to Mentone. Our mountains are to the North, and yet, above their tops, we saw the red glare of this wonderful visitant. ‘ Castellar is’ on fire,’ said an old lady, as if the conflagration of a million such hamlets could cause the faintest approximation to the Aurora, which looked like the first sight of a world on fire, or the blaze of the day of doom.”
Mr. Spurgeon had been at Mentone so many years that he had watched its growth from little more than a village to a town of considerable size. He had so thoroughly explored it that he knew every nook and cranny, and there was not a walk or drive in the neighborhood with which he was not perfectly familiar. His articles, in The Sword and the Trowel, on the journey from “Westwood” to Mentone, and the drives around his winter resort, have been most useful to later travelers, and far more interesting than ordinary guide-books. Many of the villas and hotels were associated with visits to invalids or other friends, and some were the scenes of notable incidents which could not easily be forgotten.
At the Hotel d’Italie, the Pastor called to see John Bright, who was just then in anything bat a bright frame of mind. He was in a very uncomfortable room, and was full of complaints of the variations in temperature in the sunshine and in the shade. His visitor tried to give him a description of Mentone as he had known it for many ),ears, but the great tribune of the people seemed only anxious to get away to more congenia1 quarters. The Earl of Shaftesbury was another of the notable Mentone visitors whom the Pastor tried to cheer when he was depressed about the state of religious and social affairs in England and on the Continent.
One morning, among the little company gathered for family prayer, Mr. T. A. Denny unexpectedly put in an appearance. I n explanation of his sudden arrival, he said, “I felt down in the dumps, so I thought I would just run over to my friend Spurgeon for a few clays, for it always does me good to see and hear him.” His presence was equally’ ‘welcome to the Pastor, and they drove together to some of the most charming’ places in the district.
The genial Sir Wilfrid Lawson scarcely needed anyone to raise his spirits, for he was in one of his; merriest moods when he met Mr. Spurgeon at the hotel door, and the half hour they spent together was indeed a lively time.
The Right Hon. G. J. Shaw-Lefevre was another politician whom the Pastor met at Mentone. The subject of Home Rule was just then coming to the front, and the Liberal statesman heard that day what Mr. Spurgeon thought of Mr. Gladstone’s plans; the time came when the opinions then expressed privately were published broadcast throughout the United Kingdom, and materially contributed to the great leader’s defeat.
In the earlier years of visiting Mentone, the Pastor stayed at the H6tel des Anglais; and he used often to say that he never passed that spot without looking at a certain room, and thanking God for the merciful deliverance which he there experienced. One day, he was; lying in that room, very ill; but he had insisted upon the friends who were with him going out for a little exercise. Scarcely had they left, whets a madman, who had eluded the vigilance of his keepers, rushed in, and said, “ I want you to save my soul.”
With great presence of mind, the dear sufferer bade the poor fellow kneel down by the side of the bed, and prayed for him as best he could under the circumstances. Mr. Spurgeon then told him to go away, and return in half an hour. Providentially, he obeyed; and, as soon as he was gone, the doctor and .servants were summoned, but they were not able to overtake the madman before he had stabbed someone in the street; and, only a very few days later, he met with a terribly tragic end.
In the garden of the same hotel, the Pastor once had an unusual and amusing experience.. A poor organ-grinder was working away at his instrument; but, evidently, was evoking more sound than sympathy. Mr. Spurgeon, moved with pity at his want of success, took his place, and ground out the tunes while the man busily occupied himself in picking up the coins thrown by the numerous company that soon gathered at the windows and on the balconies to see and hear Mr. Spurgeon play the organ! When he left off, other guests also had a turn at the machine; and, although they were not so successful as the first amateur player had been, when the organ-man departed, he carried away a heavier purse and a happier heart than he usually took home.
It was while staying at the Hotel des Anglais that the Pastor’ adopted a very original method of vindicating one of the two Christian ordinances which were always very clear to him. At a social gathering, at which Mr. Spurgeon and a large number of friends were present, Mr. Edward Jenkins, M.P., the author of Ginx’s Baby, persistently’ ridiculed believers’ baptism.
It was a matter of surprise to many that he did not at once get the answer that he might have been sure he would receive sooner or later. The party broke up, however, without anything having been said by the Pastor upon he question, but it was arranged that, the next day, all of them should visit Ventimiglia. On reaching the cathedral, Mr. Spurgeon led the way to the baptistery in the crypt; and when all the company had gathered round the old man who was explaining the objects of interest, the Pastor said to his and-immersionist friend, “Mr. Jenkins, you understand Italian better than we do, will you kindly interpret for us what the guide is saying?” Thus fairly trapped, the assailant of the previous evening began, “This is an ancient baptistery. He says that, in the early Christian Church, baptism was always administered by immersion.” The crypt at once rang with laughter, in which the interpreter joined as heartily as anyone, admitting that he had been as neatly “sold” as a man well could be. He was not the only one who learnt that the combatant who crossed swords with our Mr. Great-heart might not find the conflict to his permanent advantage.
Mr. Spurgeon was never able to accept the invitation of Mr. Hanbury, who wished him to stay at the Palazzo Orengo; but, on two occasions, he was the guest, for a week or two, of Mrs. Dudgeon at the Villa 1es Grottes. He had frequently spent a clay there, or gone to a drawing-room meeting in aid of one or other of the many religious; and benevolent works in which that good lady was interested, or, in the evening, had met, at her house, a number of friends, belonging to so many different denominations, that it seemed like a gathering under the auspices of the Evangelical Alliance. On one of these occasions, there were so many Church of England canons in the company, that Mr. Spurgeon humorously said that they’ might form a park of artillery. After a season of general conversation, the whole company usually settled down to listen to the story of the Stockwell Orphanage, or remarkable instances of answers to prayer, or a few words; of loving gospel talk, closing with earnest supplication for a blessing to rest upon all present.
When the weather permitted, Mrs. Dudgeon liked to arrange for a picnic, at which other friends could have the opportunity of meeting her honored guest; she related to him, ‘with great glee, the remark of a Mentonese woman concerning one of those outings — ” I can’t make out you English people at all; you have nice hotels and houses where you can have your meals in comfort, and yet you go and eat your dinner in a ditch!” The “ditch” was, of course, a dry one; and, usually, an olive garden was the scene of the alfresco repast.
A favorite resort for these picnic parties was Beaulieu, rightly named “beautiful place.” The route to it led directly through Monte Carlo, and the Pastor was always glad when that part of the road was passed; he said that the whole region seemed to smell of brimstone! On one of his early visits to the Riviera, he had gone in to see the gamblers in the Casino; but, in all later years, he avoided even the gardens surrounding the building where so many had been ruined both for time and eternity, and he did not like any of those who were staying with him to go merely to look at the players. He used to tell them what was said once to a friend of his, who was walking in the gardens, and who, when he met the manager, began to apologize for his presence there as he never went to the tables. “My dear sit’,” replied Monsieur ............. , “you are heartily welcome to come at any time, even though you do no’ play; you are one of our best friends, for you and others like you help to make our place respectable.”
As the one to whom these words were addressed had an utter horror of supporting gambling in any way, he took care. never again to be seen anywhere near the gardens.
Almost every year, while Mr. Spurgeon was at Mentone, he heard of many cases of suicide as the result of the gambling at Monte Carlo, and in various ways he discovered that the ruin wrought by the Casino was far greater than was known to the public in England. On various occasions, he published some of this information, in the hope of aiding the movement for the abolition of the evil. One of those papers, entitled “The Serpent in Paradise,” was reprinted, and had a large circulation but,, alas! the gaming still continues, and the annual roll of victims appears to be as long and. as terrible as ever.
One delightful excursion was arranged to Laguet, or Laghetto, the charming valley which has been, at times, the resort of almost numberless pilgrims, who have gone there to obtain the supposed mediation of the large wax doll which probably is still preserved in the chapel attached to the monastery. A drive out to that lovely spot, with a mid — day rest for the. horses, and an open-air meal for the travelers, was always regarded by Mr. Spurgeon as one of the greatest enjoyments of his sojourn in the sunny South. But it was only possible in the finest weather, and when the days were long enough to permit the return journey to be completed before sunset; otherwise, a chill and a painful illness would most likely follow, as there was so great a fall in the temperature the instant the sun disappeared for the night.