Archive for April, 2009

Victorian-era slums.  Image from http://mckaygardens.orgI recently came across a selection of a poem, originally written anonymously.  The poem, entitled Jonas Fisher, was thought to have been written by William Tasker, disciple of Thomas Chalmers and missionary to the slums of 19th century Edinburgh.  But apparently, later scholarship regarded it as the product of James Carnegie.

Whatever the origin, it is quite a stimulating read.  Quite illustrative of the dramas of evangelistic visitation among the underprivileged and useful as an example for similar work in the modern day.  Here’s a portion:

My mission day is Saturday,
For then at Two shop-work is o’er,
(On Sabbath, day of rest, I go
Three times to church, and prayers before),

And all the afternoon I give
To visiting the poor indeed;
Rich people scarce could even guess
The wretched life these creatures lead.

Each house is many stories high,
Each room a family contains;
And there they breed, and breathe foul air,
Like rats inhabiting the drains.

Though, when one comes to think of it,
The rats are far more clean and sweet;
These people neither comb nor wash,
Rats trim their fur and keep it neat.

O dear! O dear! the sights one sees!
In a close court the other day,
I saw some lean, large-stomached babes,
All busy at their childish play:

They dabbled in the thick black slime,
Stuck fish-heads in and drew them out,
Made pies of stuff much worse than mud,
While fat blue-bottles buzzed about. . .

I prayed an earnest prayer for them,
Then turned and climbed a winding stair
That smelt of cats, knocked at a door,
Half opened it, and looked in there.

Notions do differ. Some good folk
Are to the poor quite rough behaved:
Push into rooms, hat on, and cry-
“Well, how’s your soul? Friend, are you saved?”

Attention thus they hope to draw
By sudden pain or startling noise;
As pedlars shout to puff their wares,
Or teaches lash their careless boys.

But I have always liked to act
On ‘Do as you’d be done by’ rule,
And show the manners that I learned
At my dear native Berkshire school.

Well, as the opening door I paused,
Stood still and just put in my chin,
Took off my hat, half bowed, and said –
“Good afternoon. May I come in?”

An inner porch I then perceived;
The door that moment open burst,
Out rushed two angry Irish wives,
And shook their fists, and raged and cursed.

“Off with you, dirty Protestant!
You beast! you devil! get away.”
(I cannot write their curious brogue,
But tell the things they meant to say.)

On hearing this I breathed a prayer –
Which helps one much, and much protects –
“Don’t call me Protestant,” I said,
“All Christians don’t belong to sects.”

“You’re not a Christian, sure, at all;
You’re one that mocks God’s mother mild.”
“Blest above women she,” – says I.
I smiled, and then the woman smiled.

“This kind of wide-mouthed Irish folk,
Change like a swallow in its flight;
One, two, – they want to shed your blood,
Three, four, – they’re friendly and polite.

“Come in, Sir, come,” the women said,
And wiping clean their only chair,
They moved it tow’rds me; suddenly,
I heard a growl as from a bear,

And off his bed there leaped a man,
A huge, half-drunken, savage beast;
He seized a knife, and ran at me;
I stood, and did not budge the least….”

As for the rest, take up and read!

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