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  • CHARLES SPURGEON'S WRITINGS -
    THE OLD PARSONAGE AT STAMBOURNE.


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    BY C. H. SPURGEON.

    THE drawing of the old Manse at Stambourne has far more charms for me than for any of my readers; but I hope that their generous kindness to the writer will cause them to be interested in it. Here my venerable grandfather lived for more than fifty years, and reared his rather numerous family. In its earlier days it must have been a very remarkable abode for a dissenting teacher; a clear evidence that either he had an estate of his own, or that those about him had large hearts and pockets. It was in all respects a gentleman’s mansion of the olden times. The house has been supplanted by one which, I doubt not, is most acceptable to the excellent minister who occupies it; but to me it can never be one-half so dear as the revered old home in which I spent some of my earliest years. It is true the old parsonage had developed devotional tendencies, and seemed inclined to prostrate its venerable form, and therefore it might have fallen down of itself if it had not been removed by the builder; but, somehow, I wish it had kept up for ever and ever. I could have cried, “Builders, spare that home.

    Touch not a single tile, or bit of plaster”: but its hour was come, and so the earthly house was happily dissolved, to be succeeded by a more enduring fabric. The new house, as Smith told me, was “built on the same destruction.” It stood near the chapel, so that the pastor was close to his work. One Sabbath morning (grandfather could not bear to hear us say Sunday), my dear grandmother felt ill, and so did not go out to the service.

    Before service had ended she had gone to be with Jesus; she was found sitting with her Bible open before her, marking the passage, “The hand of God hath touched me.” From this text her funeral sermon was preached. I have put in here such an approach to a portrait as I could find: it was taken by some traveling artist who visited the district, and took off several of the family. Such deaths as those of my gracious grandmother made the old house sacred.

    It looks a very noble parsonage, with its eight windows in front; but at least three, and I think four, of these were plastered up, and painted black, and then marked out in lines to imitate glass. They were not such very bad counterfeits, or the photograph would betray this. Most of us can remember the window tax, which seemed to regard light as a Latin commodity — lux , and therefore a luxury, and as such to be taxed. So much was paid on each aperture for the admission of light; but the minister’s small income forced economy upon him, and so room after room of the manse was left in darkness, to be regarded by my childish mind with reverent awe. Over other windows were. put up boards marked DAIRY, or CHEESE- ROOM, because by being labeled with these names they would escape the tribute. What a queer mind must his have been who first invented taxing the light of the sun! It was, no doubt, meant to be a fair way of estimating the size of a house, and thus getting at the wealth of the inhabitant; but, incidentally, it led occupiers of large houses to shut out the light for which they were too poor to pay.

    Let us enter by the front: door. We step into a spacious hall, innocent of carpet. There is a great fireplace, and over it a painting of David, and the Philistines, and Giant Goliath. The hall-floor was of brick, and carefully sprinkled with fresh sand. We see this in the country still, but not often in the minister’s house. In the hall stood “the child’s” rocking-horse. It was a grey horse, and could be ridden astride or side-saddle. When I visited Stambourne, in the year 1889, a man claimed to have rocked me upon it. I remembered the horse, but not the man, so sadly do we forget the better, and remember the baser. This was the only horse that I ever enjoyed riding.

    Living animals are too eccentric in their movements, and the law of gravitation usually draws me from my seat upon them to a lower level; therefore I am not an inveterate lover of horseback. I can, however, testify of my Stambourne steed, that it was a horse on which even a member of Parliament might have retained his seat.

    Into this hall came certain of the more honored supporters of the Meeting to leave their cloaks, and so forth, on wet Sundays. The horses and gigs went down to the stables and sheds in the rear; the whips usually went into the pews: and a few of the choicer friends left their wraps and coats in the minister’s hall. What fine people were Mr. and Miss Jarvis, who were generous patrons, and yet were among the lowliest of friends! Never a word of boasting fell from their lips, but their lives were delightful to think upon. Neither in life nor in death did they forget their Pastor and his household.

    How I used to delight to stand in the hall, with the door open, and watch the rain run off the top of the door into a wash-tub! How much better to catch the overflow of the rain in a tub than to have a gutter to carry it off!

    So I thought; but do not now think. What bliss to float cotton-reels in the miniature sea! How fresh and sweet that rain seemed to be! The fragrance of the water which poured down in a thunder-shower comes over me now.

    Where the window is open on the right was the best parlor. Roses generally grew about it, and bloomed in the room if they could find means to insert their buds between the wall and the window-frame. They generally found ample space, for nothing was quite on the square. There had evidently been a cleaning up just before my photograph was taken, for there are no roses creeping up from below. What Vandals people are when they set about cleaning up either the outsides or the insides of houses! On the sacred walls of this “Best Parlor” hung portraits of my grandparents and uncles, and on a piece of furniture stood the fine large basin which grandfather used for what he called “baptisms.” In my heart of hearts I believe it was originally intended for a punch-bowl; but in any case it was a work of art, worthy of the use to which it was dedicated. This is the room which contained the marvel to which I have often referred.

    Here is one of the references: — “We remember well, in our early days, seeing upon our grandmother’s mantel-shelf an apple contained in a phial.

    This was a great wonder to us, and we tried to investigate it. Our question was, ‘How came the apple to get inside so small a bottle?’ The apple was quite as big round as the phial: by what means was it placed within it?

    Though it was treason to touch the treasures on the mantelpiece, we took down the bottle, and convinced our youthful mind that the apple never passed through its neck; and by means of an attempt to unscrew the bottom we became equally certain that the apple did not enter from below.

    We held to the notion that by some occult means the bottle had been made in two pieces, and afterwards united in so careful a manner that no trace of the join remained. We were hardly satisfied with the theory, but as no philosopher was at hand to suggest any other hypothesis, we let the matter rest. One day the next summer we chanced to see upon a bough another phial, the first cousin of our old friend, within which was growing a little apple which had been passed through the neck of the bottle while it was extremely small. ‘Nature well known, no prodigies remain’; the grand secret was out. We did not cry, ‘Eureka! Eureka! ’ but we might have done so if we had then been versed in the Greek tongue. “This discovery of our juvenile days shall serve for an illustration at the present moment. Let us get the apples into the bottle while they are little: which, being translated, signifies, let us bring the young ones into the house of God, by means of the Sabbath School, in the hope that in after days they will love the place where his honor dwelleth, and there seek and find eternal life. By our making the Sabbath dreary, many young minds may be prejudiced against religion: we would do the reverse. Sermons should not be so long and dull as to weary the young folk, .or mischief will come of them; but with interesting preaching to secure attention, and loving teachers to press home the truth upon the youthful heart, we shall not have to complain of the next generation, that they have ‘forgotten their restingplaces.’” In this best parlor grandfather would usually sit on Sunday mornings, and prepare himself for preaching. I was put into the room with him that I might be quiet, and, as a rule, The Evangelical Magazine was given me.

    This contained a portrait of a reverend divine, and one picture of a missionstation.

    Grandfather often requested me to be quiet, and always gave as a reason that I “had the magazine.” I did not at the time perceive the full force of the argument to be derived from that fact; but no doubt my venerable relative knew more about the sedative effect of the magazine than I did. I cannot support his opinion from personal experience. Another means of stilling “the child” was much more effectual. I was warned that perhaps grandpa would not be able to preach if I distracted him, and then — ah! then what would happen, if poor people did not learn the way to heaven? This made me look at the portrait and the missionary-station once more. Little did I dream that some other child would one day see my face in that wonderful Evangelical portrait-gallery.

    In the front of the house towards the left, nearly hidden by a shrub, is a very important window, for it let light into the room, wherein were the oven, the mangle, and, best of all, the kneading-trough. How often have I gone to that kneading-trough; for it had a little shelf in it, and there would be placed “something for the child! ” A bit of pastry, which was called by me, according to its size, a pig or a rabbit, which had little ears, and two currants for eyes, was carefully placed in that sacred shrine, like the manna in the ark. Dear grandmother, how much you labored to spoil that “child”!

    Yet your memory is more dear to him than that of wiser folks, who did not spoil “the child.” Do you now look down from your mansion above upon your petted grandson? Do you feel as if he would have been better if you had been sour and hard? Not a bit of it. Aunt Ann, who had a finger in it all, would spoil “the child” again if she had a chance.

    The mangle was of use to the whole parish, and there was always sure to be some one or another turning it. It was, of course, of a very ancient sort, but it was efficient. I have heard of an East Anglian dame putting herself down upon the schedule as Head of the household, and when the census man questioned her, as to whether that was not her husband’s position, she replied: “He isn’t the master here. What’s he good for, except to turn the mangle?” I have also heard it said of certain divines, that all they could do by way of preaching was to mangle the text; but that relates to a worse kind of mangling. I have heard a good deal of chat in that room; but never any provoking judgment upon the rougher sex, which ran to the length of that which I have quoted. The people who came turned the mangle for themselves, and measured time by minutes; but they chatted on upon a thousand now-forgotten themes: talking did not hinder mangling.

    I should not wonder but what I heard some of the rough village wit of which Mr. Beddow has given me a specimen, in what he calls AGROTESQUE LITTLE DRAMA.

    Three boys in a village had rather hard times at home. Through the pressure of poverty, and partly, it was said, through the stinginess of their mother, the lads were often half-starved and very hungry One day, during their mother’s absence, they resolved to have a good feast of porridge.

    The meal-bag was brought out from the drawer. The saucepan, with water, was put on the fire. One boy put in meal from the bag; one stirred the mixture; and one watched at the door.

    When they were busy with the cooking, some other lads, happening to be close by, listened to the talk of the brothers, which ran thus: — “Stir up, Dick.” “Put in, Tom.” “Jack, take care your mother don’t come.

    When the brothers next appeared in the village, they were saluted with a sort of chorus — a repetition of their own cries — “Stir up, Dick! Put in, Tom! Jack, take care your mother dont come! ” For a long while it was a standing joke among the village boys to tease these brothers by shouting after them this kind of mocking refrain.

    At another time we might have heard another specimen of the wit of our village: — Two rustics were in the garden. One, finding the other in his way, gave him a tap on the head to make him stand aside. The victim whiningly, complained, “You’ve hurt my head.” “Head, man,” said his mate, “Head! it’s only a pimple, it ain’t come to a head yet!”

    Hardly knowing where else to put it, we will here insert Mr. Beddow’s story of BARNEY’ S CHERRY TREE. “One day when B — and his brother John were in the garden, a village boy stopped at the fence and asked, ‘Mr. John, will you please to show me Barney’s cherra-tree? ‘ ‘What do you mean, my boy?’ ‘Well, you see, Mr. John, I told Barney. as how I set an apple-pip in our garden, and this year its growed into a little tree. But Barney said as that wor nothing: he set a cherra-stone last year, and this year its growed into a tree, with cherras on it.’ “This recalling of his joke made Barney stoop to hide his burning face, and John asked, ‘How is this? what does it all mean?’ Then the listening lad cried aloud, in remonstrance, ‘O Barney! I doubt that’s a story, Barney!’ “It was a boy’s jest — a Munchausen tale, though Barney knew nothing of the famous Baron. In after life Barney learned to be more particular. He heard of George Washington, and henceforth scrupulously respected the truth. I have heard him tell this tale for the amusement and warning of his young friends; but I was sorry that they saw any fun in it. That is poor wit which consists of untruths and exaggerations, and to play upon the good faith of youth is not to exhibit great power of intellect.”

    The dairy at the back of the house was by no means a bad place for a cheese-cake, or for a drink of cool milk. It makes one think of the hymn: “I have been there; and still would go. ” The cupboard under the stairs where they kept the sand for the floors would be a real Old Curiosity Shop nowadays; but there it was, and great was the use of it to the cottagers around.

    There was a sitting-room all the back of the house, where the family met for meals. In that which looks like a blank side in our picture there certainly was a window looking out upon the garden; perhaps it was a little further back than the picture goes. A very pleasant outlook there was from that window down the green garden paths, and over the hedge into the road. ‘When I last saw the “Keeping-room”, a bit of ivy had forced its way through the lath and plaster, and had been trained along the inside of the room; but in my childish days we were not so verdant. I remember a mark on the paper which had been made by the finger of one of my uncles, so they told me, when one year the flour was so bad that it turned into a paste, or pudding, inside the loaf, and could not be properly made into bread. History has before this been learned from handwritings on the wall.

    The times of the old Napoleon wars and of the Corn Laws, must often have brought straitness of bread into the household; and a failure in the yield of the little farm made itself felt in the family.

    There was a mysterious jack over the fire-place, and with that fire-place itself I was very familiar; for candles were never used extravagantly in grandfather’s house, and if anyone went out of the room, .and took the candle with him, it was just a little darker, not very much; and if one wished to read, the fire-light was the only resort. There were mould candles now and then in the best room, but that was only on very high days and holidays. My opinion, derived from personal observation, was that all everyday candles were made of rushes and tallow.

    Our young readers in London and other large towns have probably never seen a pair of snuffers, much less the flint and steel with which a light had to be painfully obtained by the help of a tinderbox and a brimstone match.

    What a job on a cold raw morning to strike, and strike, and see the sparks die out because the tinder was damp! We are indeed living in an age of light when we compare our incandescent gas-burners and electric lights with the rush-lights of our childhood. And yet the change is not all one way; for if we have more light, we have also more fog and smoke, at least in London. Our “Keeping-room” was a very nice, large, comfortable dining-room, and it had a large store-closet at one end. You should have seen the best china! It only came out on state occasions, but it was very marvelous in “the child’s” eyes.

    A quaint old winding stair led to the upper chambers. The last time I occupied the best bedroom, the floor seemed to be anxious to go out of the window, at least, it inclined that way. There seemed to be a chirping of birds very near my pillow in the morning, and I discovered that swallows had built outside the plaster, and sparrows had found a hole which admitted them inside of it, that there they might lay their young. It is not always that one can lie in bed and study ornithology. I confess that I liked all this rural life, and the old chintz bed-furniture, and the paper round the looking-glass cut in the form of horse-chestnut leaves and dahlias, and the tottery old mansion altogether.

    I am afraid I am amusing myself rather than my reader, and so I will not weary him with more than this one bit more of rigmarole just now. But there was one place upstairs which I cannot omit, even at the risk of being wearisome. Opening out of one of the bedrooms, there was a little chamber of which the window had been blocked up through that wretched windowduty.

    When the original founder of Stambourne Meeting quitted the Church of England, to form a separate congregation, he would seem to have been in possession of a fair estate, and the house was quite a noble one for those times. Before the light-excluding tax had come into operation, that little room was the minister’s study and closet for prayer; and a very nice cozy room too. In my time it was a dark den; — but it contained books , and this made it a gold-mine to me. Therein was fulfilled the promise, “I will give thee the treasures of darkness.” Some of these were enormous folios, such as a boy could hardly lift. Here I first struck up acquaintance with the martyrs, and specially with “Old Bonner,” who burned them; next, with Bunyan and his “Pilgrim”; and further on, with the great masters of Scriptural theology, with whom no moderns are worthy to be named in the same day. Even the old editions of their works, with their margins and old-fashioned notes, are precious to me. It is easy to tell a real Puritan book even by its shape and by the appearance of the type. I confess that I harbor a prejudice against nearly all new editions, and cultivate a preference for the originals, even though they wander about in sheepskins and goat-skins, or are shut up in the hardest of boards. It made my eyes water a short time ago to see a number of these old books in the new manse: I wonder whether some other boy will love them, and live to revive that grand old divinity which will yet be to England her balm and benison.

    Out of that darkened room I fetched those old authors when I was yet a youth, and never was I happier than when in their company. Out of the present contempt, into which Puritanism has fallen, many brave hearts and true will fetch it, by the help of God, ere many years have passed. Those who have daubed up the windows will yet be surprised to see heaven’s light beaming on the old truth, and then breaking forth from it to their own confusion.

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