Forever talking, unlike his introspective elder brother Robert, George was natural preacher material. He was as good at the gab as his brother was bad at business. As far as it is possible to tell, his first ministry was twenty-five miles from Sunderland, about twelve miles north of Newcastle, in Bedlington, a village of about a thousand people near Morpeth in Northumberland. Here he encountered some hostility to the central plank of Baptists, Particular or otherwise - that a declaration of faith and commitment was a matter for adult consideration. A local Anglican minister in Morpeth, a Mr. Froggatt, was unwise enough to preach against adult baptism, and to rush into print with his thoughts. George, still pleased with the recent publication of The Bard , and with a first, unbaptised infant, Elizabeth, of his own, responded with all the sky-high irony he could muster. He arranged for there to be printed A Short Exposure of Mr. Froggatt's Short Defence Of Infant Baptism , which is a pretty good indicator of George's idea of a snappy title. It was 1841. Nearly forty years later, he was still incapable of a quick pronouncement.
“I conceive,” he wrote grandly in his preface, “that a refutation of his [Froggatt's] work specially devolves upon me. Judgment respecting the pertinency of my Answer must be left with those readers who have the law and the testimony in their hands.” What he meant by “the law and the testimony” was the Bible. Like his father, George was part of a movement that was international in scope, but in Britain particularly strong in the south of Scotland and the North of England.
There were four or five strands to this movement, in which many non-conformist streams of thinking converged. In America in 1793, James O'Kelly, a North Carolina Methodist, had stressed the importance of the congregation's independence. In 1802, the Baptist New Englander Abner Jones rejected the plethora of non-conformist sects, all with divisive titles, and described himself as a “Christian” only. James and Robert Haldane, the Scottish Baptist brothers of whom George Greenwell's father was named as a sympathiser, argued that what people had invented and added to the form of worship described in the Testaments should be discounted. About the same time as Sans Street chapel was founded in Sunderland (1798), the Haldanes left the Church of Scotland, founding an independent chapel in Edinburgh. Both were lay preachers at a time when travelling evangelists were frowned on, especially if unordained. They also refused to baptise infants; and, although there were elders in their church, the elders were seen as voices of experience rather than as figures of authority.
The Haldanes influenced Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander, both Scots emigrants to America, and key figures in what has become known as “the Restoration movement”, largely through Campbell's stay in Glasgow with Greville Ewing (1), a friend of the Haldane brothers (Campbell was eventually to meet James Haldane some 40 years later, still leading his Edinburgh congregation). The Campbells took the line that the sectarian nature of worship, to which only as-it-were qualified believers were admitted, was much mistaken. In this, they were developing radical ideas first proposed in Scotland at the start of the eighteenth century by John Glas and by Robert Sandeman (the man into whose “tenets” the Sunderland Baptist chronicler complained that one of their pastors had fallen). By 1831, the Campbells had been joined by Barton W. Stone, a Kentucky Presbyterian who rejected the doom-laden Calvinism of his church - Calvinists believe that damnation and salvation are predestined, while the new thinkers believed that individuals determined their own destiny. All of these, and many others, were involved in a surging movement to pare the act and meaning of worship down to its most pure, rather than puritan form. The testaments and nothing but the testaments! Their aspiration - their manifesto - was harmony between individual congregations. They didn't want to thump the Bible, they wanted to wanted to make it a kind of constitutional document. Anything not in the testaments - especially the new testament - was an “innovation”. What they all wanted, at least in theory, to “restore”, was the simple fervency of the early church.
The paradox here is immediately plain. From across the western world, sects who were geared to intense competition were suddenly being influenced by an ideology that disapproved of their antagonisms, but set store by their individuality. Far from stifling argument, the idea was to encourage it. Unfortunately, those who engage in disputes do not always settle. Indeed, there were disputes in Haldane's Edinburgh church. The nineteenth century non-conformists were going to stretch their concepts of fraternity to the limit.
George Greenwell (1816-1886), as sketched in 1846. This was the picture that my grandfather mistakenly believed - or rather hoped - was his father, the missing George.
George Greenwell begins his attack on the “paedoBaptist”, Mr. Froggatt, with the frank statement that “Controversy is not an evil.” He compares non-controversial congregations with “the unhealthy stagnancy of a dead sea.” Coming from Sans Street chapel, and its history of expulsions and walk-outs, any other suggestion would have been verging on hypocrisy. Mr. Froggatt seems likely not to have known what had hit him. His arguments are dismantled sentence by sentence, with the kind of quick biblical references one would expect of someone who has been brought up to be scholarly, devout and philosophical. George writes with a sort of tremulous glee, enjoying himself with inflated metaphors. Mr. F. (as George refers to his opponent throughout) has obviously argued as follows:
1. Jewish children were circumcised shortly after birth
2. Circumcision is an initiation into faith
3. So is baptism, therefore
4. Infants should be baptised.
George cranks his mental handle and revs up his emotional motor. He takes on the air of someone who has been along this route several times before, and is inordinately bored with it:
The circumcision argument is altogether an underground one. We never enter the dreary labyrinth which Paedobaptists have constructed on this subject without imagining ourselves in a catacomb of mummies. You may do execution in a combat
with such; but the crumbling skulls and the hoary ashes make you glad to escape into the free air, and the light of heaven. Many of our bretheren have refused to controvert the matter in such subterranean chambers.
Thus fortified by his extended image, George lays into his task with poorly suppressed glee. The New Testament never mentions infant baptism. Circumcision is a national, cultural rite, confined to males, sometimes imposed on mature members (in both senses) of the household; the believing Israelites and the believing Christians aren't a proper parallel. If the apostles had been busy with infant baptism, they wouldn't have suggested that Jesus shouldn't be pestered by children in the “Suffer the little children....” incident. The sixty-six bishops who met in Carthage to pronounce that infants could be baptised before eight days were “drivelling old women” who might better have been “in Bedlam, or in the moon, than employed in wasting their time.” Mr. F. is also taken to pieces over what “baptism” actually means. He is referred to the Greek. He is wearily told that “divers baptisms” is not about the choice between sprinkling and pouring, but about different occasions (Mr. F. has been arguing that there is no scriptural authority for immersion).
The key arguments are all about whether there is any textual authority for anything, and George has a quick tilt at Mr. F, for suggesting that only the apostles baptised new believers. This, comments George, “is the dream of a clergyman. And Mr. F. will do well to remember that clergymen had not been generated then; they were the fungus of an aftergrowth.” Even “intelligent Romanists” concede that infant baptism is an unbiblical rite, and for a moment we catch George prepared to consider dialogue with Catholics, although his description of infant baptism as “a deformed and noxious weed from the Pontine marshes, fed by the fetid waters of tradition” perhaps knocks on the head how far he was then prepared to carry that idea.
The insistence on the New Testament as the source of wisdom shows that George has now moved significantly towards the new, anti-denominational Christian church which Stone and Campbell had set up, and which was flourishing in, amongst other places, Nottingham, where a monthly magazine called the Christian Messenger was being published by a James Wallis. Another magazine with which George was familiar was the Millennial Harbinger , which Alexander Campbell was editing from America by 1830. These two publications, which circulated on both sides of the Atlantic, acted in part as open letters across the ocean. In 1841, George Greenwell made his first contribution to the Millennial Harbinger , writing to Campbell about the state of the cause in England.
It was the internet that led me further in the search for George Greenwell (not a peculiarly unusual name, either in Kentucky or in Tyne and Wear). Typing it into a search engine led me to two Restoration church websites, one of which described one of Campbell's books being found in Cumbria, “with an interesting preface by George Greenwell”. The other website was a sequence of e-mails between members of the Church of Christ, one of whom, Paul Dover of Nottingham, pointed me towards the two magazines. He turned out to be the pastor of the Church of Christ in Nottingham - where they were still singing one of George Greenwell's hymns. Once again, a stray shot had echoed far more loudly than I could ever have expected.
George's letter to Campbell from Bedlington is dated September 6, 1841. As usual, he adds some hot gloss and extravagant garnish when the subject of Roman Catholicism rears its head. At the time, the name of Edward Pusey, an emotional and scholarly Oxford-based Anglican with close ties to John Keble and to Newman, was linked with a movement to reunite the established church with the Roman church from which it had seceded. In fact, Pusey, whose name was adopted by pro-Roman Anglicans for an -ism (“Puseyism”), was never to defect, and, ironically enough, shared with the Haldanes and Campbells - albeit in a very different context - a pious dislike of factions. Not that George saw it quite like that. “Our legally established church,” he wrote, “is fast rushing back into that dark and filthy sea of Popery.” Dark and filthy sea! There is no holding George when this kind of mood is on him. He is prepared to admit that the Puseyites are erudite, but their object is plain. They want to revive the “senseless mummeries of the Romish church”, that is, for now that abiding note of hysteria creeps into his voice, “to mend and paint afresh the tattered and faded drapery of the great Scarlet Whore!”
George contrasts the “sensual pomp” of Pusey and co. with the Plymouth Bretheren, who are, in his opinion, “rational, well-grounded Millenarians”. But George objects to their admission of all and sundry to communion (what is called “open communion”), and the punitive Calvinism to which he says they adhere. Since the Sunderland Baptists had been Calvinist in their foundation, George would appear to have moved his position on this. He is also shy of the Plymouth Bretheren's dissociation from the world, since he is interested in political action himself, although the proximity of socialism and atheism was already a problem he had perceived in The Bard . George himself was a lifelong Millenarian, taking almost literally the words in Revelation (the thousand years referred to are those of Christ's rule on earth before the final dust-up with Satan). It is more than possible that he was attracted by the prophecies of William Miller, who used some biblical arithmetic to calculate the end of the world, and the start of this new millennium in 1844, presumably to at least a little chagrin when finding that he was wrong. Certainly he preached at the Millerite church in Nottingham in Denham Street, where, as my grandfather had discovered, he was to turn up. Twenty years later, George was still firing eccentric letters off to the religious press, to the effect that, although there was dispute about the addition, the Second Coming was in the immediate offing (his obituary, printed in an Australian newspaper, also refers to this, some ten or more years after its author had last seen George).
It is hard to tell if George was ambitious, exactly. But his talents had obviously brought him to the attention of Campbellite and Baptist community leaders. Some time late in 1843, George, Jane and their child Elizabeth (since it would seem that, where he travelled, so also, at this stage, did they) moved on from Bedlington to the literary and religious mecca of Edinburgh (2). He had already travelled to Edinburgh in 1841 or 1842 himself. It is possible, of course, that George had been before this, but if not, how exciting for George to first glimpse the citadel of his imagination, to see the castle towering on the hill, to walk through the very metropolitan streets of the Scottish castle, to meet James Haldane - and to be fêted by others. He was a very tall and imposing figure, with a rich, melodious voice, happiest when he was constructing a philosophical position, fingers happy when they were turning the pages of papers and books. And he was a warm, emotional conversationalist. Edinburgh must have seemed like a dream come true.
George turns up as a writer five times in the pages of the Christian Messenger in 1842 and 1843. He writes a piece about Puseyism and Gladstone, then at the end of his first decade as a member of Parliament; a review of the first volume of J.H.Merle d'Aubigné's (3) eventually sixteen-volume history of the Reformation (a highly influential work, on which George is one of the very earliest commentators - d'Aubigné's work was not concluded for another dozen years). He also contributes a piece about miracles; writes in to correct a reader's misunderstanding of one of his remarks; and responds rather contentiously (in the view of James Wallis, the editor) to another article. The Pusey and d'Aubigné pieces are printed piecemeal in successive editions. At the same time, George was working on a much more ambitious project - a series of nine lectures, entitled Christianity - A Religion Of Facts Not Of Speculation (George as per usual demonstrating his gift for a snazzy title). The idea was to tour these “discourses”, and then to print them (only the first has survived; the others were certainly available for 4d. a go, since James Wallis advertised them in the Christian Messenger ).
The piece on Gladstone and Pusey relates to a three-hundred page book first published by Gladstone in 1839, entitled The State, and its relations to the Church , a subject we know George enjoyed, because of his ambivalence about the importance of political action. It is ironic that Gladstone should be the target of George's, since later in life, he was to be something of a supporter of Gladstone (one of his daughter Polly's children would actually be named William Ewart Hindley in 1880, the year that he and Polly and their spouses left for Australia). But at the time Gladstone - already President of the Board of Trade - was a reactionary Tory member of parliament, and an opponent of reform. His shift to the Liberal Party did not occur for another twenty years. The context of the review is also that it is only just over a decade since the repeal of the Test and Corporation Act in 1828, an act which had until then prevented dissenters from holding any kind of public office, military office, or indeed obtaining degrees from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
George's opening is characteristic in that he likes to number his remarks (this is a habit that he develops throughout his career). Readers have to be wary of compliments, since George has a very fine sarcastic streak - one, I think, which sometimes suggests genuine uncertainty.
There are many reasons why the author should be treated with great respect. - 1st. He was a student of Christ Church, and has inhaled classical air at the famous university of Oxford. 2nd. He is M.P. for Newark, and thus forms a constituent part of our marvellous deliberative assembly. 3rd. He is president of the Board of Trade, and one of her majesty's privy council. 4th. As a thinker he is almost profound, and ranges far out of the beaten track. 5th. There runs through the whole of his work, a devotional glow, either mystic or rational.
“Great respect” and “inhaled classical air” and “marvellously deliberative” are tongue-in-cheek, and the reference to Oxford is a coded reference to Pusey (who is almost never mentioned in the piece at all). But “almost profound”? Is that sarcasm? It feels to me as if “almost” has been added during a second draft. The fifth point is guarded admiration. George concedes that he may have to give Gladstone some benefit of these considerations: “he may sometimes get olive oil when he merits the oil of vitriol.” George has already taken on the airs and graces of the Edinburgh reviewers, of which he is a member manqué . In The Bard , George had especially praised John Wilson, who, as “Christopher North”, had been one of the principal writers of the “Chaldee Manuscript”. This was a particularly vicious and famous satire in the first issue of Blackwood's Magazine , in 1817 (4), and had incurred libel damages for its owner, while hugely boosting its circulation at the same time. George would plainly have liked to have been heaving literary bricks like John Wilson, but, as an evangelical minister, he goes instead for the most impressive targets he can. It is interesting that, in all the reviews and commentaries that survive, George always takes time out to strike a note of critical disapproval - even when reviewing Alexander Campbell himself. Nothing is ever completely wonderful. He chooses subjects - Renan, Pusey, and, much later, Disraeli - who allow him those satisfyingly berserk rages of metaphor that are the hallmark of The Bard .
George lets Gladstone waffle on for himself. The future prime minister's argument, such as it is, is that, since statesmen are publicly and collectively obliged to be moral, they should be regarded as one governor, one “composite agency”, and therefore have one church. It is of course perversely satisfying to find nineteenth-century ministers talking the same polysyllabic waffle as those in the twenty-first. George's objection to Gladstone's cobbling is very straightforward: the governor is God, not Gladstone and his ministerial colleagues. As often happens, George chooses a faintly mixed metaphor to start his attack: “We must break a lance over the steel cap of this Oxford champion”. He is better when he is direct:
Let not Mr. Gladstone throw the university dust in our eyes, by talking about a “paternal government.” We deny the paternity: government is the child not the parent of society. Governors are the executive servants of the people.
Gladstone also argues that the church has not changed as an institution over 1,800 years, which rightly occasions much scoffing from his critic, both in the form of cataloguing the various theological disputes at large in the Christian community, and by picking Gladstone up on the idea of “apostolic succession”. The apostles were the apostles, reminds George. “Mr. Gladstone and his Puseyite bretheren will perhaps confess that they were not among the original witnesses who ate and drank with our Lord after he rose from the dead.” George also pulls one quite comic image out of his bag, which sees the State as a bachelor attempting to convince himself that he has a spouse (the Church). “Rest assured,” says George, “that the English church is not that fair and undefiled one you vainly imagine. There is ‘glancour in your een,' ” - George remembers that many of his readers will be Scots - “or you might perceive that she is only a painted harlot, whose favours have always been vile and mercenary, and whose fierce, yet withered aspect, can neither be hidden by colouring nor cosmetics.”
Painted harlot. George is on the home run now. Get ready for a full-scale onslaught on the Roman rotters. Here we go: “apostolic blinders...away they march with sword and brand, to murder and sack, destroy and pillage....reptiles and slimy things......matted wilds of the dreary desert....noisome and sunless dungeons.....grim and shaven priests, with the cross in their hands and satan in their hearts....mongrel ecclesiastics [who] profess the sanctity of celibacy, that they may revel unrestrained in concubinage, and more unnatural vices.....dark conduits, the gory channels, the filthy sewers of Rome...” There! That's more like it! The Reverend Doctor Iain Paisley himself might lick his lips over this part of the script.
It's a pity, really. When George is more calmly dissecting Gladstone's desperately imperfect logic, he does well. But Sans Street Baptist Chapel has fed him a very thorough diet of anti-papal emetics, and he has to get into the verbal vomitorium now and then to show that the recipe worked. And of course the irony is, George became one of Gladstone's fans. There is another irony, too, as you'll discover a little later, which is altogether more peculiar.
His review of J.H.Merle d'Aubigné's book is not really a review at all, but a chance for George to give his own history of the Reformation, adding in as many insults to the Roman Catholic church as he can manage. The Lutherans committed five profound errors, in George's view, simply because the tide of foulness they were trying to turn was so powerful. The worst error was - no surprises here - the continuation of infant baptism (“one of the most deadly weeds which arose in rankness out of the pontine marshes”). The reformers also failed to break down the distance between priest and congregation; linked themselves to the state; failed to re-light the lamp of the early church; and adopted creeds of their own. George is particularly vehement on this last point. The “creed system” retained in the reformation has led to sectarianism, bigotry, intolerance. I suppose it is out of the question to suggest that George is unable to see the beam in his own eye here? His article on d'Aubigné shows how fine a line there is between controversy (which George approved) and insisting you are right. Every so often, George embroils himself in a piece of antagonism that defeats his desired object of church unity. Incidentally, he performs his usual trick on d'Aubigné. Having lavished some compliments on him, he tells his readers that d'Aubigné's conclusions are a melancholy illusion, based on a fallacy. D'Aubigné had wanted to get back to Lutheran basics. No, says George: we have to go back to the doctrine and example of the original apostles. Otherwise the dragon's teeth will simply be sown again.
The article on miracles (written as ten successive points) is commended in a footnote by Wallis, and it is clear enough. It asks what the function of miracles is. Its aim is to suggest that anyone going around claiming contemporary miracles - the Mormon church is the main target - is theologically misguided. Essentially, the problem the writer faces is this. If the New Testament says there were miracles, then miracles there were, including miracles performed by the apostles. But what is going on in the Old Testament? If you are going to argue that miracles only took place at one time for one purpose, then you have some Jewish history to contend with.
George brushes the Old Testament miracles (the plagues in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea) aside. They are for a specific purpose: the establishment of a theocracy in Israel. This accomplished, no more miracles are needed. However, Jesus's miracles were necessary as a means of confirming his divinity. But what about the apostles? They were not divine. Why on earth should they be able to “suspend the laws of nature.” George comes up with a cunning line of argument here:
The answer is ready, and appears to my mind exceedingly luminous: the beings comprising the congregations, gathered partly from Judaism, but chiefly from Heathenism, did not understand the Old Testament, and did not possess the New.
Very clever. However, in the back of his mind, he can also hear voices agitating about the passage in St. Luke's gospel concerning the proof of the power of Christ's disciples: “in my name they shall cast out devils”. This looks like a stumbling-block, because it seems to give New Testament authority to miraculous power. George is equal to this. Either (a) if there have been no miracles for seventeen hundred years, then the promise has been wrongly interpreted, or (b) if the interpretation is correct, then there have been no true believers for seventeen hundred years! Unthinkable. You have a choice, admits George, taking out his blunderbuss. You could agree with the Roman Catholics (“spotted over with the leprosy of every crime” etc. etc.) that there have been miracles, or you could wonder why everyone from the early Paulicians to the Huguenots to the Lollards have avoided miracles like, er, the plague. Whose side are you on?
Wallis's footnote underlines the importance of this reasoning, especially in the light of the Mormon “pretensions” - and also because of the proved delusions of the Irvingites. The Irvingites deserve space later in this chapter, for a most unpredictable reason. For the minute, it just needs emphasising that George Greenwell was having no public truck with modern miracles of any description.
The nine discourses, first delivered at South Bridge Hall in Edinburgh, seem to have gone well enough to have gone on tour. We know from a letter published in the Christian Messenger in June 1843, from a J. Walker, that George has now been hired as a visiting evangelist by the Edinburgh congregation, and also sent out to Galashiels. In his two weeks in Edinburgh - in nasty weather, apparently, a vicious north-east wind bringing in driving sleet - two people have been immersed, two “restored”, and one transferred from Aberdeen. The Galashiels trip netted two professions of faith, and excited much interest. Another evangelist, George C. Reid, adds his own commendations. It is very hard not to see these claims of single-figure conversions to the cause as slightly competitive, but Reid and Walker are both plainly excited by the new man in town (still only 27 years old). The surviving lecture of the nine (the first) gives some indication of the format of the evening. After an introduction, George would speak for a little over an hour (you're right, I've tried declaiming part of it against a stopwatch) and then proceed to answer such written questions as had been submitted in advance, with the proviso that they were courteous. This would add at least a further half-an-hour to the evening. Perhaps two hours in all, then. They would, I presume, have been tried out first on Jane, his wife.
George Greenwell is said to have been carried away when he spoke, and I suppose that it is this aspect of his oratory that must have carried his audiences along. The trick of the speech is hold to his theme, warm to his theme, repeat his theme, play with his theme, and to bring the colossal weight of his biblical knowledge to bear on his theme, roaming as richly as possible through the testaments - mainly the New Testament. The usual metaphorical suspects are of course there - the prison-house, the dungeon, the abyss, the phantoms, the frenzy, the “filth and offscouring of things”, weeds, pollution, wilderness - but by George's standards, he holds the images pretty much in check. His argument is just this: if angels came and told you God was good, you wouldn't credit it, because it would be an abstraction. But if God gave you a fact - Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection - then you believe it. Because a fact is a fact is a fact, and people believe facts, because they're real. At one point, half-apologetically, he says that the historical existence of Jesus humanises God, makes him accessible. And there is a lengthy passage about the nature of punishment, too. We expect to be punished for what we do. But God doesn't punish. He brings forgiveness. The main speech finishes with a rousing “The Book, and nothing but the Book!” It is a pretty good performance. One notable and characteristic feature is the promise of the thousand years of rule, the Second Coming, the millenarian strain that was second nature to George. Otherwise it is all accessible, and rich in texture.
The questions are reasonably curly ones. There are four. The first is the stinker: Prove the resurrection of Christ: you have not settled that point . George ducks this one completely, sniffily points out that it is a statement, not a question, and suggests that the individual looks at the published list of topics for future evenings, where he will see that there is a more relevant time to try it (this isn't true, but let that pass (5)). He then, rather abruptly, it seems to me, agrees to deal with the others, even though they are “distinctly irrelevant”. He then sets about showing why it was consistent with benevolent justice for God to authorise the Jews to destroy the seven Canaanite tribes; why the selection of Israel as the chosen land was not capricious or partial on the part of a God who is supposed to love all humanity; and whether it is true that ecclesiastical history proves that the Church is the “chief agent of crime, darkness and persecution.” Leviticus Chapter 18 gives you all the ammunition you need if you want to throw the Book at the Canaanites, and George hurls it with casual force. Idolatry, homicide, adultery, incest, sodomy, bestiality, squalor, discord - “the very land is represented as spewing them out, as the stomach disgorges some nauseating food or deadly poison.” People talk about human rights, asserts George, but what about God? Hasn't He got rights, too? (I am paraphrasing, but that's the gist.) It was a mercy to the Canaanites, their posterity (imagine being the grandchild of such horrors), and the Israelites, too. All the talk of disaster goes to George's head, and his familiars crowd his tongue - the simoon of the desert, the torrid sun, ghastly and ravenous beings tearing each others to pieces, noxious swamps. George must have had some spectacularly terrible nightmares.
The choice of Israel? Easy one - the Jews had a tradition of worship and prophecy. They are a “most remarkable people.” Here he is treading on potentially quaggy ground with his listeners, one guesses. England and Scotland had a long history of anti-semitism, having been the first countries actually to expel the Jewish. But George was already halfway to the Zionism he would eventually embrace, and which would disturb all his audiences. He was gaining a reputation for being “peculiar”. As for the ecclesiastical history question - this is water off the back of a familiar duck. True ecclesiastical history has never been written. The dense fog of the Roman apostacy.....iniquity....dungeons. And finally, admitting he is exhausted, “having now answered all the question which have been handed in” - well, three of them - “I may be allowed to conclude. I likewise beg leave to state that for the future I must insist upon the questions being more relevant to the subject under consideration.” Takes seat. Applause.
There is no doubt that George was a hit. A letter from a Mr. G. Dowie to the Christian Messenger expresses his delight that he has come to Edinburgh to stay, and by April 1844, he has been appointed the third “general evangelist” of their congregation. However, there is a mixed response to his understandable desire to stay fairly put. The same J. Walker who praises his contributions to Edinburgh religious life, and who incidentally reports his pleasure at the nine lectures, sounds a note of caution about George wishing to confine his evangelism to Scotland and border towns like Carlisle, where he is to be found in May 1844 (delivering twelve lectures to small audiences, but causing the writer's younger sister to be baptised as a result), on his way to Dumfries. Where, asks Walker, is the scriptural authority for an evangelist determining his patch? It is an argument with which George would have found it hard to square his conscience.
And by 1845, he was in Nottingham, where he had been hired, presumably with the strong support of Wallis, who was based in Nottingham, as the Church of Christ's key evangelist. He and Wallis were soon at work on a parallel project to that of Merle d'Aubigné - a work on the rise and progress of the reformation. Both men were (understandably) concerned about the rise of sectarianism, the proliferation of factions. Nottingham was a staunch centre of Campbellite thinking, and it was in 1847, in Nottingham, that George finally met Alexander Campbell (who praised his energy). He was to meet Campbell again in London, later the same year, when Campbell paid an impromptu visit to a church where George was preaching, something George discovered only after he had started his peroration. For once, his nerves got the better of him, and the audience could feel the tremors of anxiety in his voice. By now, George was completely committed to Campbell (who had founded a college, Bethany College, in West Virginia, George having dispatched a set of Gibbon's Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire to its library). George having no unconditional heroes, however, it is no surprise to find him, in writing a preface to a commentary on Genesis by Campbell, that in an indifferent field, Campbell's writing is impressive. He cannot hold back from sounding a critical note, ever.
But on the personal front, his life was more complex, emotional, problematic. His uncle, Alexander Wilson (6), had died just as George was moving to the East Midlands, and that meant that his mother Mary was without a home; his brother Robert and his wife Ann had had their falling-out with the Sunderland chapel; his second, third and fourth daughters (Mary-Jane, Ellen and Dora) were born in the last three years of the decade. He himself was travelling between Nottingham, Halifax, Huddersfield and Birmingham. And his wife Jane had developed a serious facial cancer. His mother, by now in her sixties, moved to Nottingham, perhaps because of the combination of Jane's illness and the presence of three young children. George hurried his pace. He travelled repeatedly to London to seek assistance for Jane's cancer. As the cancer took its hold on Jane, his mother Mary died, and was buried in Nottingham. She had had twelve grandchildren by this time (one of whom had died in infancy), the last one, Alexander, being born only weeks before she died. (Alexander was Robert's son, and was to die at the age of twenty-two. No evidence of him other than his grave survives).
It seems at this stage that George must have moved back to Sunderland, where his brother Robert and sister-in-law Ann would have been able to help with his young family. It is also likely that Robert and Ann followed him, at least in sympathy, into the Church of Christ (7). The evidence for this is that Robert's youngest daughter, Emily, married in the Church of Christ in Huddersfield to her painter husband, Walter Knight, whom Robert liked well enough to make him co-executor with Joseph Kitts, and whose father, William Knight was an important figure in the Huddersfield Church of Christ congregation. Huddersfield was one of George's haunts; indeed, it is where Dora was born, in 1849. But it was in Sunderland that Jane died in 1853, about a year after her mother-in-law, leaving George with four girls aged between twelve and four. And it was only a year later that he re-married, in Newcastle, to Elizabeth Walker (about whom nothing can be discovered, other than that she was from Kendal, and that she was to outlive George by 23 years in Southern Australia).
What was it? The distress? The emotion? The upheaval? What happened next in George's life is truly extraordinary, and yet, looking back, the signs were always there - most of them. James Wallis, a decade earlier, had commended his article in the Christian Messenger about the folly of believing in contemporary miracles, like the Mormons and the deluded Irvingites. And yet now, in the second half of the 1850s, George underwent a remarkable conversion. He became an Irvingite.
The Irvingites were the Catholic Apostolic Church, although curiously enough, Edward Irving, after whom the followers of the church were known, had died before its foundation. Irving was a charismatic preacher licensed by the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland, who was drawing crowds of a thousand in London, to which he had moved in 1824. In fact, so great were his audiences, that he outgrew the Caledonian Chapel where he first preached, and had moved to a new, capacious church in Regent Square within a few years of his arrival. Irving had by this time a powerful patron in the shape of Henry Drummond, a leading London banker, who heard Irving address the Continental Society on the subject of The Second Coming in 1825. Coleridge was another early fan of Irving's. By 1828, Irving was busy translating the work of a Spanish millenarian called Lacunza, while Drummond was bringing together a variety of Anglican and dissenting theologians to discuss biblical prophecy. Irving was convinced that the Second Coming was at hand:
The times and fulness of the times, so often mentioned in the New Testament, I consider as referring to the great period numbered by times... Now if this reasoning be correct, as there can be little doubt that the one thousand two hundred and sixty days concluded in the year 1792, and the thirty additional days in the year 1823, we are already entered upon the last days, and the ordinary life of a man will carry many of us to the end of them.
His complex arithmetic was based on counting a day for every year mentioned in the Bible. However, he held other views were more particular than this, and they landed him with a charge of heresy that eventually got him expelled from his church, and indeed from the Church of Scotland. They were these: that Jesus was not divine, but human, and able to resist sin because of the holy spirit within him. The sign of this holy spirit would be the ability to speak in tongues, which Irving encouraged in specific prayer meetings, although not in Sunday services. On Sunday October 16th, 1831 (8), however, events at the Regent Square church took a new turn. As Irving was reading from the Bible, a young woman called Miss Hall rose from her pew, and dashed towards the vestry. There she could be heard shouting - or, as Irving would have it, uttering “majestic” sounds. Later she returned quietly to her seat. After deep thought over the next fortnight, Irving decided thereafter to allow such spontaneous outbreaks to take place at will in the body of the church. Speaking in tongues had already caused a stir in Scotland; now Miss Hall, a governess who worked for one of the key Irvingites, Spencer Perceval (9), brought the phenomenon of auto-babble to London. A description of a service at Regents Square survives from the next month. Irving, sitting at first in a dim light in front of seven hundred congregants, rose and raised his clasped hands above his head, praying out loud. Irving then interspersed readings from Isaiah with torrents of gibberish. Possibly horrent torrents.
After five minutes of complete hush, a young woman curdled the air with some three minutes of incomprehensible shrieking, after which she yelled “When will ye repent?” and “Why will ye not repent?” before sinking down, flushing brightly, to her seat. Almost at once, another girl began, although speaking quietly “like a schoolboy saying his lesson”. These outbreaks only increased the allure of Irving's church, although Irving himself, having fallen out of favour with his patrons, was not to last much longer. He was formally expelled from Regents Square in 1833, brought back into the fold a short while later in a way which controlled him, and was then effectively ignored.
Irving died of pneumonia in 1834, in part because he also refused medicine, believing sickness to have been sinful (three of his children had also died, at least one of whom would have survived with treatment). But his followers, led by Drummond, had by this time set up the Catholic Apostolic Church in London, while Irving, too wayward by half, was kept under wraps - it is an irony, really, that his name is better remembered. Both Irving, Drummond and several of Drummond's most influential followers believed that Israel would be restored to the Jewish people when the Second Coming took place. Perhaps a key to George Greenwell having an interest in the Catholic Apostolic Church can be found in what one of Irving's followers, John Ellerton, had to say about him some years later:
the favourite, the inexhaustible subject of talk among serious people was unfulfilled prophecy. The Irvingite movement, (as people would call it) had popularized Millenarian speculations among many who resisted steadily all belief in the new 'Miracles' and 'Tongues' .
Names now utterly forgotten of writers on prophecy formed the staple reading, I am afraid, for a good many of the religious folk among whom I lived; and their speculations turned chiefly on the chronology of the future - in what year the Jews were to be restored, Popery to be destroyed, and the Millennium to begin (10)
That George was well aware of Irving's beliefs, and that he secretly warmed to some of them - something that would have horrified Wallis and Campbell (11) - can be seen in fragments of his work. He had certainly resisted miracles; and the destruction of popery would seem to understate his desires. But his response to the apparently irrelevant question about the choice of Israel in his first discourse in Edinburgh, and that brief mention of God seeming more human in allowing the fact of Jesus, not to mention the very obvious interest in Revelation and the coming millennium - these show how he could have tilted towards the “Irvingite” church. He had in fact already shown a bothersome obsession with The Second Coming, in articles written in 1849 for another publication, The Gospel Banner , of which this is just a flavour:
Watchmen! what of the night? It has been a long northern night, crowded with deeds of crime, works of evil, and spirits of balefire The answer falls upon our ears from a voice which sounds like many waters, “The Morning cometh!”
One of The Gospel Banner 's contributors was John Thomas, the founder of the Christadelphian movement, with whose millennarian views George must have had sympathy. Essentially, George was writing himself out of the Church of Christ. Writing for The Gospel Banner had itself caused a rift with Wallis, with whom George had also disagreed about the need for thrift, George arguing that excessive spending was against the spirit of the Church. He had no proper theological truck with the Christadelphians; John Thomas himself had been banned from the Church of Christ's chapel. But by 1850, the Catholic Apostolic Church had a cell in Nottingham, at the Friends' Meeting House, only minutes from Wallis's prosperous drapery business. The seduction may have been mutual.
What is truly astonishing, however, is that he signed up to the pentecostal character of Drummond's outfit (which was staging, according to one French writer, something of a revival in 1854 (12)). It believed in a return to the power of the original apostles, true, but it also believed in highly elaborate rituals, involving incense, lights, vestments - in rituals, in other words, which were more than reminiscent both of the Puseyites and the Catholic church itself. They also styled the second level of members - the first being the twelve Apostles (13) - as Angels, which had some slender basis in Revelation , but a more sturdy foundation in good old-fashioned self-importance. The members of the church also adhered to the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. And what is more, it regarded the utterances of humans as significant - in other words, it broke the fundamental belief to which George had always subscribed that the source of faith should be “the Book and nothing but the Book.” It is not clear how long George was associated with Drummond and his followers: perhaps five or six years. It must have struck his fellow members of the Church of Christ as an act of extraordinary apostasy; and it was to make his later congregations suspicious of him (since he never renounced either the Zionist or millenarian views). Quite what Robert, his brother, made of it is hard to tell, but Robert and his wife Ann were at that time devoted to Arthur Rees at the Free Church in Tatham Street, Sunderland. And there were no airs, no graces, no music there at all. (Nor was there music in the Carlisle Church of Christ when George's great-grand-daughters, Jean, Dorothy and Gwen Carruthers, were children. A tuning-fork was the only concession to getting the hymn on track, and quite often, having been tuned into a musical impasse, the hymns would have to start all over again).
He was back in the fold in Nottingham by 1861, at any rate, when, together with one of the Church of Christ's most eminent evangelists, David King (14), he is reported to be preaching in the open air outside the Odd Fellow's Hall. It was King - who had in fact attacked the Catholic Apostolic Church in a pamphlet not long before George defected - who persuaded his colleague to return to the Church of Christ. In the same year, he has hit his verbal stride again, with contributions to the Millennial Harbinger , now about to change editorial hands from James Wallis to David King, criticising the views of a Robert Hall on open communion. If he was chastened by his experience with the Apostles, he does not show it. Not at all. However, he certainly joined in the later attacks on the charlatanism of Drummond's church, since he is offered as one of the names (15) commending an attack on it - just one of many - made by an anonymous writer in 1872. Former Irvingites queued up to accuse their erstwhile outfit of appropriating money, of snobbery, of falsifying the extent of their membership, and of allowing unsavoury characters to stay on board its gilded ship, because it could not afford to lose them. A leading light called Osbert Toosey was investigated for supporting slavery, but got off with a reprimand. One writer, H.M. Prior, describes four members as having been literally insane. There is a particularly pleasing example of an authoritarian strain in the Church given in the book George is said to have commended. A deacon in a church in Scotland was said to have used his finger to remove a fly that had flown into the communion cup. The following dialogue is said to have ensued:
PRIEST: What are ye doing with the Cup?
DEACON: I was only taking a fly out of it.
PRIEST: Who gave you authority to take a fly out of the cup?
I excommunicate you from the Altar.
And excommunicated he stayed for good.
It is June 1862, fifteen years since Alexander Campbell visited England and Scotland, and he receives a letter from Thomas Butler, bringing him up to date on how things stand with the church in Britain. In Liverpool, he encounters Gilbert Young Tickle, who was one of the many new pastors sustained by the Church of Christ, and who, as I had discovered, was to marry George Greenwell's first daughter Elizabeth to a commercial traveller, George Collin in 1864 (16). Amongst many others, he meets George, together with David King, in Birmingham. There he finds them
anxious for the unity and prosperity of our bretheren amidst the manifold temptations to anarchy and division which beset the church in these perilous times. These bretheren are doing a great work in Birmingham and surrounding places.
Another brother, Henry S. Earl, mentions George in despatches in a letter written in September of the same year. He reports “deep-rooted, persistent and determined opposition” to the cause in England, and very few evangelists “wholly in the field” - indeed, he only names three in England: George (“critical and philosophic”); David King (“clearheaded, logical and efficient”); and William McDougall (“earnest, pathetic and effective”). In 1866, George writes to the first volume of a journal called the Christian Standard . He believes that the Second Coming is at hand - “either the glorious appearing of the Son of God, or some Golden Age to be inaugurated in another manner.” He notes that many people, whatever the means or methods of their calculations (and however crackpot, he might have added), “have reached the conclusion that we are living in the last days. It is an immense conclusion, and I think it is a sound one.”
George had not lost his gift for controversy. A letter in the Millennial Harbinger towards the close of 1869 (by which time George had become a grandfather, with the births of Jane Redman Collin and George Collin junior, daughter Elizabeth's first two children) is prefaced by its editor, C.L. Loos, with a warning - “The views about the ‘Man of Sin' expressed in this letter, are not generally received; yet it is well to hear what can be said, against our own settled views”. George is here holding forth on what is patently his favourite book in the Bible - Revelation. He goes to some length - rather oddly, when you think about the lurid nature of some of his previous pronouncements - to insist that the Satanic figure who rules the world in the first stage of the Apocalypse is not to be confused with the Roman Catholic Church. You can't equate a Pope or a Roman Catholic with Satan. Humans can overthrow the Papacy; only God can conquer Satan. George is of course careful to wheel out the usual list of Roman horrors (“her malignity and cruelty fiendish and revolting”), but he is so indefatigably bound to the literal truth of the testaments that he feels he must correct the prevailing error. As a coda to this letter (he was a fanatically active correspondent over the 1869/1870 New Year), he attacks democracy and science and philosophy as “thoroughly Infidel”. Now fifty-three, he is as convinced of the imminence of the Second Coming as ever, and his recurrent theme is the change from Superstition into Atheism. As he puts it, “I am surely not going to fling my hat in the air or join in any ovation or jubilee.”
George's self-appointed job continued to be what it had always been - to alert the believers to the writers who threatened their integrity - Renan, Strauss, Darwin, Pusey, Newman, and highly entertaining figures like John William Colenso (1814-1883), who translated the Bible into Zulu, started having doubts about whether Moses could really have written the Pentateuch, decided that geological odds were against the accounts of the Creation and the Flood, and was actually excommunicated and then reinstated once he explained that his faith had not wavered. George was hopelessly well up on every new theory (he confesses in one letter that he cannot even remember the names of some of the theorists he has tackled), and never tired of pushing forward yet another hapless, rationalist sap for inspection. An American professor with the inventive name, George Bush, caught his attention in early 1870. Bush had written a book called Anastasis , the style of which allowed George a serious piece of pot-kettle-blackery: “The work is written in a ponderous, lumbering, scholastic fashion, with a resolute avoidance of the Saxon part of our language.” George, George, George ! As usual, Brother Greenwell credits his foe with mental agility, and also lobs in so many casual references to his reading - in this case, Spinoza, Home, Drummond, Dupuis, Volney, Strauss, Renan, Holbach - that he bedazzles himself as well as the reader. In Bush, however, he has a wonderful crank to attack. Bush, busy disproving biblical truths, points out that the body undergoes so much change that a man may be said to have had ten bodies by the time he dies. Which one will be resurrected? asks the dimly-burning Bush. And since so many buried bodies have now vanished, how can they be resurrected? George is, for once, impish:
I had a rapid daydream after reading this passage. On a dread day there came crowding from earth and sea a swarm of creatures ready for the hospital of the next age. In skeleton leanness, in dropsical fullness, in corrupting gangrene, some without limbs, and some with humps on the back and cancers in the stomach. Bush was standing near me, and he said, There! didn't I tell you so?
We also have a second glimpse of George the poet at work, when the Harbinger cheekily quotes eighteen lines of Tennyson, and then allows George to supplement the original with well over one hundred lines of his own - very loose alexandrines, with some really awful lines (“Not the horns of elfland heard in the Poet's trance”), but an agreeable gallimaufry of George's pet dreadfuls:
True there are wastes on earth of frost and devouring fire,
Deserts of burning sand and evil swamps of mire;
Tropical jungles rank, where dire malaria steams,
And life in death resembles the wildest opium dreams......
George's work was by now rooted in Lancashire and the North-West. His first son-in-law, George Collin (17), was a commercial traveller based in Liverpool; his second, Richard Hindley, was a Liverpool grocer; his third, George Carruthers, was a Carlisle grocer; and his fourth, Thomas Shaw, was a Birmingham glue manufacturer. The 1870s, however, were full of personal disaster. He was with his daughter Elizabeth, never a well woman, when she died in Carlisle in 1872, shortly after the birth of her third child Gilbert; Dora and her family emigrated in 1875 (her eldest child, Dora Louise, died on the voyage to Australia); Ellen died in 1880. And yet, at the height of this personal catastrophe, George did manage to complete at least one further tract, when at 62, in 1878, he had a sardonic commentary on Disraeli (Lord Beaconsfield) published, entitled The Beaconsfield Reign, or The Ministry Of The Angels - A Letter To The Working Classes . He never did master the art of the zippy title.
Of all his published pieces (at least, of those which I have tracked down or been shown), this is the most clearly political. Usually there is a mental button which George pushes when it comes to politics, alerting the reader to the relative meaninglessness of earthly squabbles, when truth to God is the real business. But something about the events of the late 1870s has got right under his skin. The writing is more skilful, too. Some of the old favourites - the sowing of dragon's teeth, for instance - are allowed another outing, but the thrust of the disgust is much more sharply and shortly conveyed.
He begins with a slightly unctuous attempt at irony:
I am aware, and I confess it with profound sorrow, that my letter will find many of you at the “Spotted Bull” or the “Green Dragon”, where you regale yourself with Coculus Indicus and bitter aloes......
Quite how many of his readers would have warmed to this description of beer, is hard to tell ( coculus indicus was an extract in beer, from a berry, which gave the beer a cheap impression of strength, and a shocking hangover. With one ounce in fifty-gallons of beer, brewers could ensure that their customers woke up the next morning feeling like death dragged through a hedge backwards, and think, proudly, “that must have been a good strong beer.” It was used by native American Indians to stun fish!). However, he soon moves on to the disappointing outcome of the 1874 election, which had returned Disraeli (and his Tory “party of evil renown”) to power, after five years of government by the Gladstone he now admired. Although Disraeli embarked on a surprisingly liberal social programme, he had launched the country into expensive and expansionist foreign policies, including the purchase of the Suez Canal in 1876, for at least £4,000,000, presenting it as a fait accompli to Parliament.
In the meantime, some strange alliances had been forged in the east of Europe, at least in George's eyes. The Russians and the Turks had conflicting territorial interests in the Balkans, as indeed did the still-strong Austro-Hungarian empire. Disraeli did not favour Russian expansion (Russia was very much the enemy in public perception, only twenty years having elapsed since the end of the Crimean War). This put him in the tactical position of siding with a Muslim power (Turkey) against Christian opposition, insofar as any government can lay claim to a religious character. There was at the time an emerging youth movement in Turkey fired up by the idea of a holy war against Christians - most of the inhabitants of the Balkan wing of the Turkish empire were Christian. And in Russia, foreign policy was increasingly tending towards the idea of “freeing” the Slav nations from Turkish rule.
In Bulgaria in 1875, Bulgarian and Macedonian rebels made an armed attack on their oppressive Turkish rulers, an attack that was blunted and then smashed with barbaric speed by some ill-trained Turkish troops. About twelve thousand people were summarily murdered in Bulgaria, an event which Disraeli treated with political caution, but which Gladstone responded to with the kind of moral zeal which George would have applauded. A memorandum (“the Berlin memorandum”) in May 1876 rather feebly threatened Turkey that it risked reprisals from Austria, Russia and Britain, if reforms were not put in place recognising the rights of the Christian Slavs. Disraeli refused to promise that this reprisal would be military. Not long afterwards, since the Turks had nothing to fear from the Berlin memorandum, the Russians inevitably declared war on Turkey, hoping for a rapid success. It was not to be. The Turks held up the Russian advance for six months, and Disraeli sent a fleet to Constantinople to discourage any kind of Russian conquest.
A treaty (the treaty of San Stefano) and a congress in Berlin followed one another in 1878. It was the usual carve-up. Austria was given the administration of Turkish possessions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Russia was given temporary control of Bulgaria. Turkey - which continued to own lands being run by other countries, promised religious independence. And Britain was given the star prize: Cyprus. As a master of political chicanery, Disraeli had played his cards well enough. The ethics were left to the opposition.
Naturally, George Greenwell seethed at all this. Having blamed his audience - those few householders who could vote - for electing Disraeli (“our wonderful Premier”, “the Mystery Man”, “the Wizard of Buckingham”, “the Cagliostro of our times”), he starts up a diatribe against Disraeli in particular, anti-Dissenter ministers like Lord Sandon, whose 1876 Education Act (18) speeches had heaped scorn on Dissenters, and Turkey in general.
An acceptance on our part of the Berlin Memorandum would have saved all the blood and treasures which have been lavished since Russia declared war. Turkey....would not have dared to resist the the stern front and combined action of Europe. Whatever has been accomplished or attempted in distribution of territory might have been done without shedding a drop of human blood.....The movement of our fleet, with orders to keep the waterway open, was a menace unauthorised by the country or the Commons.
This is a more rational, if angry George than the one with whom we are more familiar. He goes on, of course, to direct his fire at the Muslims with whom he believes Disraeli has been colluding, and his voice begins to roar out his own brand of expletives:
the coarse brutal tyranny of Mahound...worse than any heathen despotism....the foul and wicked Mussulman oppressor..... the ravages of the Mohammedan beast.....the filth, the wanton cruelty, the unblushing robbery [of] the Pachas...
It is George's last major crusade, and he concludes his piece with some rich sarcasm about Disraeli's colonial aspirations:
But we have got Cyprus! - Yes, by a bit of sharp practice which has done us serious damage among the nations of the earth.....It may some day be a Paradise for the younger sons of our nobility, a home for the homeless, and a refuge for the destitute. The first swarm will consist of adventurers, who fear no pestilence, if they can better their fortunes. But after the pioneers have done the rough work, the next swarm will consist of veritable worshippers of the Cyprian goddess.....
David King, the Church of Christ minister with whom George worked and eventually fell out.
Left: George Greenwell in later life - this picture probably dates from the early 1870s.
Disraeli, he notes, may be on the side of the angels - but only on the side of “those angels who kept not their first estate, and who in consequence of going after strange flesh, like Sodom and Gomorrah, are reserved in chains and darkness for the judgment of the final day.”
It had been George's vocation to be a teacher, to be an inspiration, to make people think, to show by his own, sometimes excitable example, that books should never be idly read, nor arguments left unquestioned. It follows that he believed passionately in the importance of teachers in the Church of Christ, which seems by 1879 to have attracted about 6,000 members in England, a fourfold increase over forty years, and at a time when there was a slight falling away in the overall numbers of non-conformist worshippers (statistics suggest that periods in which foreign policy discussions dominate popular discussion are the least conducive to the growth of non-conformist congregations. The Church of Christ, a comparative minnow as it was, bucked this trend).
But now George had a falling-out with David King, a commanding figure who looked like an Old Testament prophet, and with whom he had worked so diligently for nearly twenty years. At the Annual Meeting of the Church in 1879, George read a conference paper on the Eldership. He argued strenuously in favour of the pastors retaining special status in the Church - not to be superior, but to advise, to counsel, to guide. He was unhappy that the egalitarian principle on which the Church was being run had led to some very dodgy teaching:
That liberty of prophesying, or freedom of mutual exhortation, which we believe has some foundations in ancient supernaturalism, as well as in synagogue usage, has been with us a decisive failure. Among hungry and thirsty congregations, men rise up and talk without teaching, so that the sheep are not fed.
George was essentially arguing for the importance of figures like the evangelist he himself had been for forty years, although he was not arguing for a return to the days of the hired itinerant. To him, it was crucial that the theology was given, if not a steer, then some leadership. The phrase “a decisive failure” stung David King, who had been president of the annual conference the previous year, and who spent three weeks composing a critical reply. King rejected the word “failure” with passion:
We claim decisive success!.... We insist that our members, generally, know more of the Bible than those of churches, anywhere, which possess the hired pastor. They are far more formidable in Bible enquiries, in meeting men who oppose the truth...
George, who had not been arguing about hiring pastors, but who had acquired a reputation as a loose cannon, effectively lost this argument. Within a year, he would himself be on the way to becoming an itinerant evangelist again, in Australia. Although Ellen's death must surely have propelled him, together with his wife Elizabeth, his daughter Polly and her family, to leave England for the last time, his falling-out with David King on this issue must have helped him think his role through again. (It is unlikely that the difference between them led to personal animosity, but it must have created a serious breach.)
When the Hoghton Tower (eleven years later to be the first ship on which a sixteen-year-old Ernest Shackleton sailed) reached Adelaide, George and Elizabeth were effectively starting all over again at the age, in his case, of sixty-four. His trade was theology, his instrument his voice. He had long since ceased to be an artisan of any kind. It must have been tough to leave behind the country in which he had forged his name, the country where there were still seven grandchildren. Three more came with him (one was probably born on the voyage). He would at least have had the satisfaction of seeing Dora again, and being reunited with Kit, Dora's surviving child (she was to have three more after George's arrival, just as Polly was to have a further two children in Australia).
Now he embarked on his second career as an evangelist. The Church of Christ was thriving in South Australia, and his long experience in England stood him good stead. In his late sixties, he surfaces in the public record again, although it is known that he published at least one book, Infidelity In Extremis , now lost, whilst in Australia. The Peel Street congregation in the mining town of Ballarat East was on the lookout for a suitable evangelist, and in June 1884, they hired George as their mentor, for a period of twelve months. He stayed for about fifteen months, until September 1885, after negotiations for him to join a church at nearby Castlemaine fell through. He spent four weeks preaching at another Ballarat church, in Swanston Street, and re-joined his wife in early November. He had settled in Ballarat by this time. He had less than a year to live. At half past five on Tuesday August 9th, 1886, George died at his home in Rowe Street. He was a month short of his seventieth birthday.
His life had been strange, emotional, turbulent. In truth, he had sometimes ostracised himself from the congregations he had sought to serve, with his weird digressions into Zionism and into the visions of the apocalypse he had stripped from Revelation. His obituarist, a man named Ker who had known him in London, considered that these views had “much impaired his usefulness”, and, amidst the tributes to George's eloquence, confessed that George did not always “reach the popular mind”. There is even a suggestion that George would have died unhappy not to have witnessed the Second Coming he had anticipated for forty years and more. It would seem, after the episode with the Catholic Apostolic Church, which can only have led to further suspicion, and perhaps hostility, that he settled for a life in which “melancholy, heartburnings and disappointment” were his familiars. In private, on an equal footing with guests, he was far less dogmatic, and able to range extensively through literary as well as theological discussions. He always explained himself. He worked constantly at the problems that being a pastor presented. In a memoir of David King, written shortly after King's death in 1894 by Joseph Collin, this brief encomium appears:
George Greenwell, at his best, shone with his own peculiar lustre in the group. His towering majesty of presence and flashes of poetic fire - "afflatus," as he would say - are not easily forgotten. His figures were grandly rugged and realistic, so as to strike the mind with admiring awe at first, and afterwards by frequency of repetition, to be greeted with reverent affection as friends, of a classic ilk, that helped to adorn and elevate one's mind at each breaking forth. Shadows fell upon the early radiance, and he missed his way for a time; but was led back tenderly to his old fellowship.
He had lost two daughters and a wife, and a father, in each case when they were very young. For a man so hyper-sensitive as George - so engaged with his brain at all times - this must have been a little more hard to bear than for others. His brother Robert was more stoical. George's language still echoed, and echoes after his death. A family called Jolly in Ballarat named their new child George Greenwell in 1887. And in the Church of Christ in Nottingham, they still occasionally sing one of his hymns:
Lord Jesus Christ! we do confess
Thy majesty, Thy holiness;
We see the Father in Thy face,
The perfect image of His grace
We do remember Thy great woe,
The darkness of Thy path below;
The blood-like sweat, the crimson tree,
The sacrifice of mystery.
Lo! midnight and eclipse prevail,
And heaven is darkened with a veil;
The blood of holiness is shed
To save the dying and the dead.
Thou didst recover failing breath,
Pluck glory from the brow of death;
The harmonies of life divine
From Thee, the Reconciler, shine.
Hence, while we banquet at Thy board,
We seek a manifested Lord;
O rend the veil, reveal Thy face,
As head of all the ransomed race.
(1) Ewing fell out in spectacular fashion with James Haldane in the 1820s, alleging that he had been forced out of his living by Haldane. The two-hundred page denunciation of Haldane - complete with his accounts - which Ewing published is a classic of the embittered friend genre.
(2) “If I were to give you the best Edinburgh news I should tell you that our beloved brother Greenwell has come here to make a permanent stay.” - letter dated November 20, quoted in the Christian Messenger , December 1843.
(3) D'Aubigné was himself influenced by the elder Haldane brother, Robert, whom he met in Geneva in 1815. It is a characteristic of dissenting churches at this time that the leading figures nearly always seem to have had some connection with one another.
(4) Blackwood's was Tory in its politics, but its literary pre-eminence was more important to George than its politics. Wilson's star was still very much in the ascendant in the 1830s. See Appendix 1.
(5) The other subjects were Credibility Of The Witnesses; Provisions of Christianity in harmony with the Intellectual and Moral Structure of Man; Overthrow of Paganism by Primitive Christianity; Nature and Criteria of Miracles; Nature and Evidence of Prophecy; Signs of the Times in reference to the Advance of Popery, Infidelity, and all the Agencies of Evil; Man a Free Agent; and Man a Responsible Being.
(9) Spencer Perceval was the son of the only British Prime Minister (of the same name) to have been assassinated. Miss Hall later admitted to having rehearsed her outbreak, but by then she had been joined by several other passionate language-scramblers in the congregation.
(13) It was a self-defeating idea. Apostles cannot be replaced, if you hold to the tenets of the early Christian church. The Catholic Apostolic Church assumed that the Second Coming would arrive before their Apostles perished. But it didn't, and when the last Apostle died in the early twentieth century, the Church went into what it magnificently called “The Time of Silence” - still going. The last Angel died in the 1970s, and the Catholic Apostolic Church is now effectively defunct. A nineteenth century schism means that there is, however, a continuing version of the church, most notably in Queensland.
(14) George Greenwell and David King were about the same age, had married at about the same time, and had lost both father and mother at almost the same age. What they had in common was commitment, but King was a much more effective leader, and also an occasional prankster - something probably anathema to George.
(16) The likelihood is that George Young Tickle was himself a cousin of George Collin. George Collin's mother is most probably the Mary Tickle who married Daniel Collin, an Irish tailor, in Cumberland.
(17) George Collin and his brother Joseph were both close and admiring colleagues of David King, and it was George Collin who was to give the funeral address when King died in the 1890s. There is a bust of George Collin in Wigan's Church of Christ - an unusual memorial for such an essentially ascetic community.
(18) The act was the first to impose penalties on those who failed to ensure their children went to school. However, the clear aim of the act was to ensure that Church of England schools prospered, rather than the more well attended Dissenters' Schools.