JOHN HARRIS, CORNISH MINER
A STORY OF CARN BREA.
The blind Fiddler—His little Girl—History—Sudden Explosion of the Hole—Echoes of his Violin—Story of Second Rider—The Farmer—The Mocker—Sudden Fall—Ruin-Mysterious Departure—Stories of First Rider—The Christian again—Devotion to the Cause of Christ—Conversation—Love for the Bible and closet prayer—Sobriety—Humility—Charity—Last Sleep—The old Man and his Tombstone—His easy Nature—Teaching of the Seasons—Moral Darkness—Thirst for Fame—Tin Box—Bible Reader—New Light—Resolution—Change—Exit—The Spirit's Sword—The Moorland Mother—Her froward Son—Prayer at his Bedside—Emigration—Conversion in a strange Land—The Petition answered—The blessed Sheet—The Widow's Story again—Her changeful Path—Hope in God—The harvest Wain—The Redbreast—The Miner's Departure—Affection for his Children—The Wife's Watching.
I HAD been busy with a little poem,
Making and mending, when I took my book,
And started up to walk into the fields,
To gather inspiration from the flowers,
And happy birds, and lyric-laden breeze;
And, turning round a corner by a stile,
I saw a blind man with his violin,
Singing and playing to some villagers,
Led by a little girl of six years old,
Ruddy and beautiful,and thinly clad,
Who carol'd cadence to her father's chime.
He wore a coat of bargain, and a hat
Long mock'd by tempests and the pelting rain;
A green eye-shade conceal'd his sightless orbs,
And on his face the powder-grains had left
The impress of their riot, pits and ruts
And fearful scars, with bottoms black and sides.
One hand was splinter'd, half the fingers gone,
And the dried wrist, all blacken'd with the blast,
Seem'd like a moving cinder of charr'd wood,
Guiding the bow across the warbling strings.
O what a wreck he look'd, a human wreck!
And yet he sang and play'd so pleasantly, .
As if he were the happiest man alive.
I stood to listen, and the pity-drops
Came to my lids to hear those ringing strains,
Rising and swelling on the evening air.
If he were happy, blind and blacken'd so,
Half fed and weary, on whom wind and rain
And bitter cold pour'd all their violence,
How should my song of gratitude arise
For mercies, numerous as the countless sands,
Strewn on my path, and clustering round my board!
His little girl sang with him, and her eyes
Oft look'd imploringly on those around.
'T was a sad sight. Within a reedy shed,
On a wild carn, six little ones were left,
Wrapp'd up in woe, and wrung by wasting want,
Watch'd by a loving mother, woe-begone,
With scarce enough to keep them from the worms.
And day by day this pensive couple pass'd
From town to town, to sing for daily bread,
Not only for themselves, but those at home.
I gave the child a trifle, and pass'd on;
But through the rushes and among the ferns,
Beside the hedgerow and along the lane,
Over the pools and quivering through the trees,
Their touching ditty sounded, and I heard
The sharp shrill shiver of the violin.
O ye enjoying eyesight, when you gaze
Upon the beauties of this under-world,
On moon and stars, comets and wandering clouds,
That glow serenely in the upper sphere,
Think of the poor blind miner, and relieve
The wandering minstrel singing through the gloom.
His history is soon told. One Autumn morn,
He left his cot, and travell'd to the mine;
But not before he bent above the beds
Where slept his treasures, kissing every one,
Then parting from them, ne'er to see them more.
He hasten'd down the ladders, and full soon
Was at his labour, boring the hard rock.
He placed a charge of powder in the hole,
Filling it half-way up, and the top part
With a soft stone he had design'd to fill,
The usual course when blasting the hard ground,
Tamping it to the top. Alas, alas!
When beating down the second floor, a spark
Ignited the closed charge, and off it crash'd,
Like a great peal of thunder, dashing him
Back several fathoms; and when consciousness
Came, like a stranger, wondering at the change,
His eyesight had departed, and his limbs
Hung like the blasted branches of the beech,
Lick'd with the livid lightning. If you ask
His first fresh thoughts as he lay groaning there,
He'll tell you that his soul was uppermost,
And then his wife and children. Poor, poor man!
'T was sad to see him, after weeks of pain,
And long, long months of anguish, borne in trust
And Christian meekness, sitting by his fire,
Feeling the faces of his little ones,
And playing with their ringlets, telling them
That he should ne'er behold their eyes again,
Or gaze upon their beauty, but their hope
Must now be in the God who made the heavens,
And soon they should behold each other there.
Then, as his limbs grew strong enough to bear
His wasted body, and his children's cries
Rose loud for help, he took his cottage-harp,
Which he had practised when he was a boy,
And with his little maiden wander'd forth
Among the hamlets, singing for their bread;
And day by day is heard the violin
Amid the mountains and upon the moors.
Then spoke the rider, twisting round his chair:
"'Tis sad the havoc the great foe hath made,
Since first let loose to blight the wicked world.
Fire, sword, diseases, haggard pestilence,
Storm, earthquake, famine, with ten thousand ills,
Like whetted scythes, mow down the field of man:
I knew a farmer, who went step by step
O'er misery's steep, until his end came on,
As sudden as the warrior blade to blade.
Wine was his mocker, till it madly hurl'd
Him, blinded, from the earth before his Judge.
One market-day he left his injured wife
And gentle babes, and promised to return
When evening shadows fell upon the flower.
But eve approach'd, a summer eve and still,
And night with all its stars and blessed dreams,
And yet he came not. At the farm-yard gate
She crept to listen, then went back again
To weep and wonder. Shadows flitted round,
Or scowl'd among the pictures on the wall,
Perch'd on the chairs, or sat upon the stools.
She hid her face, and silent was her prayer.
The clock struck two; she sought the gate again,
Again to feel no comfort; not a sound
Pass'd through the stillness, save the river's moan.
The clock struck three: she heard the horse's hoofs,
And, rushing through the door, beheld, sad sight!
The steed without its rider. Months lagg'd on,
And years of sorrow trail'd into the dark.
The widow's hair turn'd grey upon her brow;
Her eyes had ceased to weep, her heart to bleed.
Her children gone, she lived in loneliness,
With heaven before her shining like a sun,
And yet no tidings of the lost one came.
Conjecture's page was rife;—the assassin's blade,
The river's bed, the mine-pit's awful gloom,
The sea's dark grotto, or the hungry bog,
Perhaps engulph'd him. This is all that's known.
He left the highway inn at one o'clock,
Weltering in wine, and dizzy with the dose.
The cunning landlord help'd him on his horse,
Received his money with a gracious smile,
Bade him good night, and turn'd the pony's head
Into the long lane leading to the moor.
He swagger'd in his saddle, and rode on.
The widow died, and gone is all her kin.
Long hath the landlord slunk into the grave.
Mysteries have risen, shook their dark drapery off,
And stalk'd about the world in weeds of light;
But till this hour a haze has overcast
The fate of this poor drunkard, which, perhaps,
Will lie beneath the cloudy hill of doubt
Until the judgment of the last great day."
"How differently our friend we left behind,
In the green graveyard, 'neath the castle walls,
Lived!" said the other, resting on his hand.
"And living well, he died in perfect peace.
The stranger lingering 'mid our lodes, who saw
His face among his fellows, and o'erheard
The gentle words that murmur'd from his tongue,
Felt in his heart he was a man of God.
The April of his life, his May-day hours,
His summer season and rich autumn brown,
Were all devoted to the cause of truth.
Sobriety sat down in plain attire
Beside his table, and, where'er he walk'd,
It bore the pilgrim pleasant company.
His conversation, like a purling brook,
Even for ever, though the rude storm strove,
Flow'd freely, never rushing o'er its bounds.
The neighbours prized him, and believed his word,
And sought his counsel when discomfort came,
Or trouble roll'd upon them, which he gave
Free, without grudging, filling life with love.
The Bible was his compass, chart, and guide.
He took the lowest place, and deem'd himself
Unworthy as an officer of Heaven.
He feasted with Humility, and sat,
Among the rich grapes in her porch of rest.
Religion with him was an awful thing,
Too dread to handle lightly: hence he fell
In awe before her, all unworthiness.
He wrestled in his closet, all alone,
On hill and valley, with the Lord oflife.
'T was there he won his greatest victories,
And drank more largely of the wine of heaven.
At times he lifted up his voice in prayer
In public places, feeling it a cross.
At times he utter'd words which served to cheer
The faint disciple of the blessed Christ.
At times he warn'd the sinner to repent.
But all was managed meekly, and much good
Was oft accomplish'd in his Master's name.
The great God bless'd the labour of his hands,
So that he prosper'd daily, and his alms
Oft dropp'd into the shrivell'd palm of Want .
He went about the country like a balm
For hearts care-broken, by his look, and word,
And cheerful deed, perform'd with earnest prayer.
His life was one convincing homily,
To win the wicked and to serve the saint,
Death came, and in his little upper room,
With glory fill'd, fronting the morning star,
Bright angels gather'd, and he fell asleep
With Canaan's odours passing o'er his soul.
"Now take another scene from memory's page:
Amid the rocks he dwelt, and waterfalls,
And Druid hills with strange-carved crags a-top:
An easy man, with brain enough to think
How cattle sold, and corn, and farming crops,
And just no more: this was enough for him,
A small horizon bounded by the heights
And heathery downs, distinguish'd from his door,
In which his mind revolved for sixty years,
The seasons came, with wisdom on their wings,
And teachings for the thoughtful, morn and eve,
And day and night, the sun, and moon, and stars,
Telling of God, and whispering of His love,
And yet he heard not, saw not, and his soul
Grew dark and darker every passing hour,
The flowers arose and cast their fragrance forth,
Breathing of Him who made them; and the birds
Sang in the valleys their Creator's name;
And every stone, and steep, and rushy rill,
And roaring torrent, rolling down the rocks,
And cowslips clinging to the shelly ledge,
And shining insect humming o'er the heath,
Had each a tongue which trill'd the name of God,
And yet he heard it not, but closed his ears,
And shut his eyes, and groped about in gloom,
Quenching the light within him, till he seem'd
Almost as callous as his native crags;
And many shook their heads in sage debate,
Saying, 'Alas! there's little hope for him.'
But good art Thou, O Father, and Thy love
Extends to every atom Thou hast made;
Chiefly to man, the noblest of Thy works,
Drawing the farthest wanderer to Thyself,
Refusing none, receiving all mankind,
Not willing that the vilest should be lost,
But giving Jesus that the world might live.
"Strange that within the landscape of his thoughts
There should be found a phantom men call fame,
Glistering in raiment brighter than the morn,
And that, amid the stillness of his home,
Where rushes waved and hawthorns mark'd the meads;
This easy man should sigh to be renown'd,
And hunger after immortality.
Yet so it was. On every New Year's Day
He dropp'd a trifle in a small tin box,
Which, he had said, when lying with the worms,
Would buy his tombstone, and his name would live
Within the village when the tower turn'd grey.
And so the box remain'd, a sacred thing
Not to be open'd till was oped his grave.
One April morn, when buds were on the brea,
And primrose clusters from the coppice peer'd,
Like angel-eyes, inspiring thoughts of song,
And waking melodies that slumber'd deep
Within the soul, a Bible-reader came,
And oped the treasures of the holy book
Before his eyes, and bade him gaze and live;
And, passing on, he left him to his thoughts.
All this was new to him, a region fair,
And bright, and wonderful, and rich with hope.
Man lost and ruin'd, but redeem'd and saved,
Justice appeased, the Father reconciled,
And the great Conqueror spoiling Death and Hell,
Opening the gates of glory to a world,—
All this was new to him. The Spirit shone
Into his heart, and one by one the scales
Fell from his eyeballs, till he clearly saw
The path of life, and walk'd the way to heaven.
"Daylight was done, and night came stealing on,
A night of cloud and tempest. How they rush
Above the hills, and hurry through the air,
Like muffied monarchs marching on to doom!
The angry Wind lifts up his dreadful front,
And yells in fury on the trembling heights,
Shaking the earth and stirring up the sea,
Roaring around the reedy hamlet-home,
And knocking like a robber at the door.
Such was the world without, as he sat down
Beside his fire of peat, with new-born thoughts
Thronging the galleries of his wondering soul.
His wife, in linen weeds, and spectacles,
Was mending an old garment; on the shelf .
The hour-glass stood, with brown sands trickling down,
Where pewter plates and pewter teapots shone;
In the wood-corner's entrance slept the cat,
And o'er the flower-pots by the lattice hung
A cage, and bird with beak beneath its wing.
Gone were their children, married all, and gone;
And so life's autumn closed them in its calm.
At last he spoke, and said, 'Yes, I'm resolved
That when to-morrow's sun looks o'er the hill,
I'll ope my box, and, be it rain or shine,
I'll take the money to the minister
To help the cause of Christ. This is my all,
And long have I been thinking it would buy
My tombstone, and our famous village bard
Might write my epitaph, and I should live
For generations 'mid our moors and meads.
All this I now abandon for His sake
Who scatter'd my thick darkness with His light,
That others may believe and feel like me.'
And year by year he walk'd with humble feet
The road to Zion, and his influence,
Silent as dew, was felt where'er he moved,
And many fear'd, and sought and found the Lord.
His last hour came. With shining armour on,
He stepp'd into the boat, and reach'd the shore,
And landed where a dart is never hurl'd,
"How does it thrill through every chord of life
To hear of princes clad in peasant weeds,
Monarchs in frieze, and kings in coarsest vests,
Or queens apparell'd like the cottage dame,
Wielding the Spirit's sword with mighty power,
Moving Jehovah on His throne of stars,
And bringing down upon the sons of men
A flood of blessing from the sky of Love!
I knew a mother, living on a moss,
Who quietly pursued her humble way
Along life's road, communing with her Lord.
She had a froward son, who took his seat
Among the scorners, greedy after wrong.
He laugh'd at goodness, in whatever form,
And ridiculed religion, saying they
Were easy souls who sought her sacred shade.
He walk'd unblushing to the drunkard's den,
And roar'd his ragged carol, stealing home,
With reason reeling round an airy ring,
When Midnight sat upon the darken'd hills,
Or Morn came blushing through her golden porch;
And as he lay, all feverish, on his bed, -,
She, deeming him asleep, would softly steal
Into his chamber, and kneel down to pray.
I fancy that I hear her as she cries:
'O blessed Saviour! Thou who didst come down
From highest heaven to seek and save the lost,
Have mercy on my wandering, wicked boy,
And let Thy Spirit lead his erring feet
Into the upright land, where all is safe!
O let Thy holy will by him be done,
That by and by, when time shall be no more,
We both may happy be where Jesus reigns!'
And then, as softly as she came she went,
To wipe away her tears and pray alone.
"Time roll'd along upon his cloudy car
By winged coursers drawn, till, one spring morn,
When buds were bursting to the gush of song,
And rills stole softly round the primrose banks,
He left his native land, and o'er the seas
A vessel bore him to another clime.
Here he remain'd for years, as rock, unchanged,
Turning his back upon the cause of Christ,
And seeking rest to find increasing woe;
Till one rude night, when Horror was abroad,
And thunder rush'd from groaning hill to hill,
As reeling through the forest to his shed,
A change pass'd o'er him swifter than the light.
Nought was or is, above, around, below,
Without, within, but with an angry tongue
It yell'd reproof. In the red thunder's roar
Deep condemnation rattled: every sheet
Of lurid flame that dash'd across the dark
Glared like a dreadful monster, uttering doom.
The black pine forest shook its mighty arms,
And seem'd to menace wildly, while his guilt
Rose like a great hill, cover'd o'er with clouds.
He fell upon the ground, and cried to God,
Rose and pursued his way; then fell again,
And cried, yet louder. Feeling no relief,
He reach'd his injured home, and wail'd till morn;
And after many bitter days and nights
Rose up renew'd. He turn'd away from sin,
And lived another life, of faith and love,
Preaching the Cross he had despised before.
That praying mother, in her little room,
By angels guarded, still exists in peace,
And but a few short moons ago received
A letter from him, which she rightly call'd
'A blessed sheet,' relating how the Lord
Had heard her prayer, and blotted out his sins.
'You used to steal into my room,' said he,
'When I lay drunk upon my bed, and kneel
And pray, believing me asleep; but I
Have heard your words, and they have follow'd me,
Like Heaven's own echoes, wheresoe'er I went;
And now your son is on the King's highway.'
But day is dying, and we fain would hear
Our widow's story. Will you end it, dame?"
The matron wiped her eyes, and thus began:
"My path through life has been mark'd out by Him
Who cannot err, and so I know 't is right.
Sometimes in cloud, sometimes in brightest sun,
Sometimes in mist, sometimes in clearest blue,
Sometimes o'er flowers, and oft where thorns abound,
Such has my journey proved towards my rest.
But life all summer would have chain'd my heart
To lower objects than the bliss of heaven;
Prosperity unbroken would have bound
My spirit to the creature; and a walk
All smoothness would have led me to the pit.
Sweet was my childhood, sweet my hymnful youth,
And sweet my womanhood and married life,
Though cares came creeping as my steps advanced.
And now, when, lone and wintry, I look up,
With much of thankfulness, and trust, and hope
For help below and happiness above,
And like a lonely plover on the moor,
With night approaching, I awake my cry,
If haply I may soon regain my mate."
And then she told them how, when ripe fruit hung
Within the orchard, and the harvest-wain
Roll'd laden from the corn-field, when among
The changing leaves the swallows held their court,
Ere they departed to a warmer clime,
And robin sang in silence, drawing near
The open casement with his whistling note,
Her husband donn'd his Sunday dress, unlock'd
A little chest, and gladly took therefrom
Three guineas for the lady. Then he kiss'd
His olive-branches, bade his wife good bye,
And said, "Expect me when the moon's locks rest
Upon the mountain: Heaven preserve you all!"
And, resting on his staff, he cross'd the brook,
And hasted up the footpath o'er the stile,
And soon was lost among the rising hills.
She scann'd him from the casement, till her eyes
Grew dim with gazing, and a sudden rush
Of pale presentment bow'd her to her chair.
Never had warrior to the murder field,
Or mariner on long discovering voyage,
Or traveller to pile of ancient fame,
Intenser watching than she gave her lord.