A VILLAGE POLITICIAN.* MR. MIINDELLA, who tells us in his
brief words of introduc- tion that this book is "an interesting record of one whom I have known for many years as a practical and active worker in all social and educational effort," also tells us that " some parts of it may read like a romance," and that "the changes
• A Village Politician: th+ life-Story of John Bockley. Fd ted by J. C. Fire-.must With .n letroduct.on by the Right Hon. A. J. Mundella, M.P. Luncieu: T. F.bhor Ugly'
made in names and places are intended to prevent a too per,- sonal identification." We are not sure that when such guarantees for the truth of a story as names and places are confessedly concealed from the reader, there may not be a con- siderable amount of romance in what is actually told. It is not easy for any man who tells a story of which he has secured that there shall be no verification, to keep strictly to fact. His own feelings are certain to contribute a good deal of illusion to his tale, and of course he can always tell himself that as his statements do not profess to affect any one whose history can be iden- tified with that tale, he is not bound to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Hence we have not read, and cannot advise any one to read, this most in- teresting little volume as if it were an autobiography, and not more or less of a romance. Indeed, we rather think that Mr. Mundella himself probably views the story as only founded on fact, and not to be regarded as strictly authentic. That is not altogether a satisfactory kind of literary produc- tion. One is always asking oneself at the most critical turns of the story whether the story is true, or more or less of a romance. It is clear that the author has a good deal of vindictiveness in him, and is not at all inclined to forgive his enemies,—and he has had many who, if the exact details of his narrative were authentic, certainly do not deserve to be forgiven. For example, the uncle who in his childhood per- suaded him that he had taken a deadly poison, and would be dead before the morning, when he had taken some perfectly harmless dill-water, and who got an undertaker to measure the child for his coffin in order to drive in this con- viction, and so make a salutary change in his behaviour, was a wretch who needed to go through very profound con- trition (of which we hear nothing) for his sin, before he could deserve to be forgiven for such elaborate and wicked cruelty. And again, the reverend principal of the training College, who professed that be got up early to read Chrysostota in the original Greek, when all the College knew that he could hardly translate a single sentence of the ordinary Greek delectue, and who deliberately tried to ruin the hero of this biography by telling falsehoods about his past life, hardly deserved to be forgiven. Indeed, it seems pretty certain that he never has been forgiven by the original of this romantic autobiography :—
"In a few weeks I met the reverend gentleman in a narrow street. The temptation was too strong—how I hated him ! I went up to him and spoke my mind very freely : You black crawling creature, you have tried to take the bread out of my children's mouths and you have failed.' Ile turned as pale as death, he thought I was about to strike him, but I knew better ; ho tried to call the police, but his voice failed him. This, thank God, was our final interview." (p. 298.)
Perhaps Mr. Buckley,—we conclude the name is one of those which have been changed " in order to prevent a too personal identification,"—has good reason to thank God that there have been no further opportunities of re-exciting this in- tense vindictiveness for his own sake as well as for that of his maligner, when he finds himself so vehemently excited by a casual meeting with him, as he seems to have been.
Now this element of probable romance in the admirably told story which we have before us, lends a certain touch of unreality to what would otherwise be a most remarkable book. We never know how much to believe and how much to doubt. But we may, surely, take for granted that the author, who has evidently inspired Mr.
Buckmaster, who has so ably edited this most readable book, as well as Mr. Mundella himself, with a sincere feeling of regard and respect, cannot be one who has romanced so much as to deprive his account of himself of anything like credit.
And undoubtedly the book, from a literary point of view, is a. most fascinating one. The author's account of his fourfold ex- periene" as an agricultural labourer, as a carpenter, as an anti- Corn-law agitator, and as an educational reformer, is full of variety and vigour, and the various scenes of misery and hope through which he passes are, even if we allow a good deal for the romance which his own personal emotions have introduced into it, painted with great vividness. Nothing can be better told, for instance, than this reminiscence of some of his happy hours spent in farm labour :-
" At half-past five on Monday morning, when the larks were singing over the grave of any mother, which I passed on my way to work-, and all nature seemed joyous and happy, I went to the Bury Ku-m, which was kept by a distant relation, and corn- noticed my agricultural life by feeding some young pigs, collect- ing eggs, scrubbing the milk pails inside and out with a wisp of straw and wood ashes and line sand until they were fit for a drawing-room, the iron bands shining like silver. Then came the wooden trenchers and bowls used for meals. On the dresser were rows of pewter plates and dishes, used in hay-time and harvest when the men had their food in the fields. There were twenty •• leads " of milk in the dairy, and these had to be cleaned and scoured each time they were used. The skim milk went to the pigs. My previous domestic training made me useful about the house. In the afternoon I chopped up faggots for the fire and the oven, which was heated on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Twice a week I had to turn a small barrel-churn, but if elfin. or witches were inside the butter was a long time in coming, and warm water had to be poured inside to drive them out. They are now expelled with a thermometer. It was springtime. The earth with its kingcups and cowslips, and the air filled with the song of bird., made it a second paradise—type of eternal life to me was the blessed spring l Atter a fortnight I was sent into the fields to pull docks, cut thistles. break clods, and scare birds. The latter was often solitary work. I have been for hours and some- times days in the fields and not seen a human being. I used to cat my food by the sun, and if I had been instructed with the same care in some of the phenomena of nature as I was instructed in catechisms I should always have had a companion in my soli- tude. The foundation of all science and all knowledge is nature, but I remained in solitary ignorance. After I had been at work at the Bury Farm three weeks I was moved on to the Hill Farm. It was the custom for all who were not permanently attached to a farm to go the rounds, which meant that you worked on every farm in the parish either three weeks, nine days, or even two days, according to the acreage, and there were always a few going the rounds in the winter. The number was often eight or nine. If no work could be obtained after visiting all the farms, you worked on the roads, but you had to go the rounds every morning. At the Hill Farm I was sent to drive plough. I regarded this as a high promotion. To ride a mile on a hcrse in the grey twilight, with a long whip and a bag on one lime, with a bacon dumpling and a chunk of bread, and on the other a small wooden bottle of small beer, was the perfection of happiness. The ploughman was kind and good-natured, better than some of the ploughmen at the Bury Farm, who were cruel to the horses, swore and used coarse language. I had no experience in driving plough, but the proper words for directing the horses were not difficult to learn, and for the first day or two wore given by the ploughman. About eleven o'clock—guessed by the sun or the number of furrows ploughed— the horses had a feed, and the ploughman and I sat together on the plough beam. After he had drank his horn of beer from the wooden bottle he said, John, my boy, I am sorry to see you here; and if your grandfather had been a wise man and your father a sober man, instead of ploughing other people's land, you might have been ploughing your own.' My father at this time lived a few miles away, and so little did I know of him that had I met him in the street I should not have recognised him." (pp. 21-24 )
Nor can we doubt that there was a good deal of reality about the scene of his first anti-Corn-law duel, which is thus vigorously described :—
" We came on the platform together, and my heart went into my boots. I felt nervous. We were received like two gladiators, with cheers and groans. Mr. Pipkin was in evening dress, with half an acre of shirt front. He had a large watch-chain strong enough to hold a bulldog, and from a ring there sparkled some- thing white about the size of a pea. It is the worst possible taste to go before an audience of working men on any subject in dress boots, lavender kids, and diamonds. In the Sunday clothes of a decent mechanic, I felt more at ease than Mr. Pipkin. The chair- man opened the proceedings fairly. He made a few remarks about getting at the truth, however disagreeable, and fair play for both aides, inclining favourably towards the young man. This made me more nervous, and the audience cheered. Mr. Pipkin led off about our dependence on foreigners. I bad the whole thing at my fingers' ends. I asked where Mr. Pipkin's shirt came from, his gold chain, his silk waistcoat, and umbrella, and his beaver hat ? His trousers and coat were probably made from foreign wooL Let Mr. Pipkin strip himself and stand on this platform. if he is not ashamed, as a man independent of foreigners. I could see I had made a point. We were at it from seven till ten, and more than two-thirds of the meeting voted for the total and un- conditional repeal of the Corn Laws, and a petition to that effect was adopted by the meeting. As soon as I was in the street, they took me on their shoulders to the hotel ; but as I was a teetotaler, and very tired, I excused myself from going inside. This un- expected demonstration would have been the ruin of some young men; it might have been my ruin but for total abstinence. As I walked through the streets the people used to say, That's the young fellow who tackled old Pipkin ; ' and the labourers used to speak of me as a corn speaker. For some days I was rather a distinguished person, but distinctions soon pass away."
The whole story is told with equal vivacity, though, of course, we do not know how much of that vivacity is due to the hero of it, and how much to Mr. Buckmaster. Though the atmosphere of doubt, not only about the facts, but even about the merits of the style, makes the book one of an unsatis- factory kind, we are pretty sure that no pure fiction, and perhaps also few accurate biographies in the present year, will be read with the same interest as attaches to it. It can hardly be regarded as altogether a trustworthy account of an actual life ; but it can still less, we imagine, be regarded as in any considerable degree a pure romance.