The GOSPEL TRUTH
FOUNDER and FIRST GENERAL
of the SALVATION ARMY
In Two Volumes
HE DESIRES TO GO HOME
IN January of 1912, William Booth was engaged upon administrative work, keeping for the most part to his desk at international Headquarters and at Hadley Wood. On the 26th of that month we read in the Secretary's diary: "After the General had rested in the afternoon, on descending the first flight of stairs from his room, he missed the last step and fell full length, striking his head; but he was not hurt, and gathering himself up, exclaimed, 'I always told you my head was the hardest part of me.'" There are records of bad nights, of the doctor's attendance, and of "a treatment."
On February 23, he left London for Rotterdam and conducted a series of meetings in Holland until March 8, when he returned to Hadley Wood. He writes in his journal on March 13: "Last night did better with my sleep, although only a poor do. . . Still keeping better and able to do some work." On the 16th he set off for Christiania. He notes of a breakfast conversation with a Salvationist: "He gave me one or two remarkable cases of conversion." He worked hard in Christiania and returned to Hadley Wood on the 26th. This was his last excursion from England. [Conducting a Staff Congress, to which there came about one hundred leading Officers from Northern Europe, in addition to a number of public meetings, and lecturing before the University. with the Prime Miniister in the Chair.]
He was depressed and sorrowful at this time. He told the present writer during these last months that the outlook for the world was not promising, that indeed it was melancholy. "When I think of it all," he said, "I am distressed." He said that the world was indifferent to religion, but did not altogether blame the world. "I have an impression," he said, "that the mass of the people are discovering that there is a great gulf fixed between the profession of love-=love which is the core of religion--and the practice in daily life of those activities and self-sacrifices which will ever spring out of love where it exists. Religion has only too widely become a matter of form instead of a living, breathing, active principle--a withered husk, a dead shell --and the man in the street has thrown it away." And he added: "I am more confident than ever that Salvation is the only hope for the world. Were it not for Salvation and the Salvation of the Salvation Army, I should think that the probability was that the world was on its way to universal suicide."
On April 10 he wrote in his journal:
Eighty-third birthday! It seems almost incredible, but there is the remarkable fact, and poorly as I am, on and off, everybody considers it next door to a miracle that I should be so young and energetic and capable of so much work, and ever so many other things. All I can do is to praise God for His mercy, and try to put my days to the wisest, holiest, and best purpose for the benefit of my fellows that I possibly can.
The meeting at night was considered to be a very remarkable one. I have seldom heard Bramwell express as much gratification, but I cannot say I was particularly pleased. [In the Congress Hall at Clapton, at which nearly 1,000 Officers stationed in London were present to greet him.]
We had five or six small speeches, very flattering to the General, with an endorsement that was overwhelming by the audience.
I tried hard to get some profit out of the occasion, but felt I had failed to accomplish my end.
I suppose I am not alone in feeling that such occasions are anything but exhilarating.
During the afternoon of this day something occurred that pleased him "immensely":
A motor car brought down a collection of flowers and fruit sent by Lord Rothschild and his two brothers.
The construction of the collection was of the most beautiful kind. I had never seen better nor had the people about me.
The fruit was of the most luxurious character, enormous strawberries, plums, pears, grapes, apples, and pine-apple.
A note accompanied the gift, which pleased me more than anything else, because it seemed to show that his Lordship and brothers felt a real kindly interest in me, and in the work that I am doing, an interest which seemed to promise further practical co-operation iu the future.
A visit from his daughter Eva gave him the greatest pleasure. She was present at his last appearance in the Albert Hall on May 9, when he addressed an audience of ten thousand people, saying to them: "I am going into dry-dock for repairs."
The following extracts from the Address he delivered on this occasion reveal something of his feelings in reviewing his life's work:
I might have chosen as my life's work the housing of the poor. That, in early life, presented itself to me as a most important question, most closely identified with the morals, happiness, and religion of the poor people. I honour those who are devoting themselves to the solution of the problem.
But has not the Salvation Army done something in this direction? If you look abroad, you will find hundreds and thousands up and down the world who to-night have comfortable homes through the influence of the Army; indeed, there are thousands of men, women, and children who but for its assistance would have had no homes at all. For instance, there are over 200,000 homeless men sleeping under our roofs every week.
I might have given myself up to the material benefit of the working classes. I might have drawn attention to the small rate of wages and striven to help them in that direction,
But have we not done something for them? Are there not tens of thousands who, but for the Army, might have been almost starved? If we have not done much in the way of increasing income, have we not done a great deal in inculcating principles of economy and self-denial which have taught the poor a better use of their wages? Their total abstinence from drink, tobacco, gambling, and wasteful finery has made hundreds of thousands of people better off than they were before they came under our influence.
I might also have given myself up to promoting temperance reform. This is a most important business. Drunkenness seems to be the curse of every civilized nation under the sun; and I have all my life honorred the men and women who have devoted themselves to the solving of that problem.
But has not the Salvation Army done something in that direction? Every Salvationist all the world over is a strict abstainer from intoxicating liquor, and the children are growing up to follow in their parents' footsteps. Tens of thousands of the most devilish and abandoned drunkards that the world has ever known have been reached and reclaimed, made into sober men and women, good fathers and mothers, good sons and daughters, and useful members of society.
I might have chosen as my life's object the physical improvement and health of the people by launching out on to a medical career. As a matter of fact, I think the medical system is capable of improvement, and if I had been a doctor I should certainly have paid more attention to diet than to drugs. I am not a great believer in drugs, and when doctors advise me to take a drug, I ask them if they have ever taken it themselves. We have done something in the way of medical aid, and possess at the present time twenty-four hospitals, while others are coming into existence, and there is no knowing to what extent the enterprise will reach in this direction. As it is, we deal with thousands of patients every year.
I might have chosen to devote my life to the interests of the criminal world. The hundreds of thousands of poor wretches who are pining in the prison cells while we are sitting here at ease, ought to have our sympathy and help. I heard of a man the other day who had spent fifty years of his life in prison, and the whole of his thefts did not amount to £20. He pleaded that he had never had a chance in life, but when he comes out of prison--if he does come out--the Army will give him a chance.
Some 178 women prisoners have been admitted to our Homes in this country during the year, and of these 130 have proved satisfactory. We have done something for the criminal, but it is only the commencement of a mighty work the Army is destined to do for the unhappy class.
I might have carried out my consecration for the improvement of the community by devoting myself to politics. I might have turned Conservative, or I might have been a Radical, or a Home Ruler, or a Socialist, or have joined the Labour Party, or, what is more probable, if the catastrophe had occurred, I might have formed another Party. I saw something better than belonging to either Party, and that by being the friend of every Party, I was far more likely to secure the blessing of the multitude, and the end I had in view.
And the object I chose all those years ago embraced every effort, contained in its heart the remedy for every form of misery and sin and wrong to be found upon the earth, and every method of reclamation needed by human nature.
It had been decided at this time that an operation should be performed on his remaining eye. He writes on May 14 that arrangements had been made for "Commissioner Lucy to stay with me during the first fortnight after the operation." On May 18 he writes:
Eva left for the States.
. . . The parting at "Rookstone" was very painful, it will never be forgotten. Lucy stayed behind to comfort me.
The operation was performed at Hadley Wood on the 23rd of May. His daughter Lucy, who was with him, gives an account of that day:
On the morning of the 23rd the General was in very brave spirits and met the day with all its coming adventure with a wonderful calm. Leaving his bedchamber at quite an early hour he descended to his study, several notes were written, many documents signed, and a photograph taken of the General with Colonel Kitching standing at the back of his chair and "Gyp," the General's faithful sheep-dog, settling himself at his feet.
She goes on to say:
Punctually at three o'clock the surgeons, Mr. Higgens and Mr. Eason of Guy's Hospital, arrived, the General's own medical attendant, Dr. Milne, having met them at the station. The General gave some bantering greeting to Mr. Higgens, the surgeon, who got to work straightway ....
"You can come in if you like," said Mr. Higgens, addressing me as he passed up to the table upon which the dear General lay so quiet and calm. It seemed to me that he did not as much as move a muscle ....
I stood beside the table and watched the cataract taken out, the eye tied up, the room darkened, and the General helped back to bed. "Never operated upon a better patient," was Mr. Higgens' ejaculation to me while putting up his instruments in the small adjoining room. "Isn't he just wonderful!" exclaimed Mr. Eason; "just the most splendid man in the world to operate upon."
That evening, as I sat by the bedside, there was nothing but joy and thanksgiving in my heart for God's goodness, while the General, with his eyes tightly bandaged, lay quietly listening to some of my descriptions of the actual cataract.
The night that followed was a wakeful one, without more suffering than the smarting of the wound and the unaccustomed inconvenience which lying upon the back necessitated. Early on Friday morning Mr. Higgens was on the spot, and reported the eye to be doing extremely well. The General was quiet and peaceful, and a happy day of thanksgiving ensued. "We ought to sing the Doxology," remarked the General, with his hand in mine after I had read him the daily Scripture portion from The Salvation Soldier's Guide; "but," he added, "we must not begin to shout too early."
Towards the end of Friday the General appeared somewhat more restless, though for such a patient as the General to be perfectly still would be almost more than one could expect. But Friday night did not satisfy us in the matter of rest. Saturday morning Mr. Higgens did not come, having gone out of town for the week-end, but the General's own doctor put in an appearance, bathed the eye, and reported everything as satisfactory. Towards the afternoon, however, the General became much more restless, and I felt it wise to tell the Chief on his return from Hastings. This was thought to be neuralgia. Upon bathing the eye externally on Saturday Dr. Milne found some slight discharge and seemed disturbed, and on Sunday, as there was a further discharge, mv brother informed me that he was extremely anxious, and that the bandage with a note from Dr. Milne had been sent off by motor to Mr. Higgens, who was staying seventy miles out of London. Never to my dying day shall I forget the suspense of that Sunday, the sense of blank disappointment after the triumph of success. As I sat by the bed counting the hours till Mr. Higgens should arrive, I found my heart crying out, "Lord, why are Thy ways so different from ours? Why, oh, why!"
At last Mr. Higgens came, and not another seven minutes had lapsed before the General was again lying upon the improvised operating table and was breathing an anaesthetic. The Chief stood on one side holding the pulse, I on the other holding a pillow, while Mr. Higgens for quite half-an-hour thoroughly irrigated the eye. Another weary night and day ensued, and the General began to suspect that things were not going as smoothly as they had promised at the start.
I shall never forget those hours when the dear Chief, Colonel Kitching (who in season and out of season for the past three years had sought to chase the shadows gathering over our beloved Leader and lift the deep depression that so often settled upon his dear heart) and myself sat and looked into each other's faces and feared the worst. Mr. Higgens had given slight hope of his ever being able to see again. "But I cannot somehow bring my lips to frame the word 'blind,' "said the Chief, and he stretched out his arms into the air.
Tuesday dawned, and somehow a sort of dull, aching hopelessness with it. I had been up in the night, and some of the questions the General asked touching upon what the doctor said were exceedingly difficult to answer in a manner that should hide from him--as, at the moment, was most essential--the true position ....
My brother and I had conversed as to the advisability of calling in a further opinion. We felt we owed it to ourselves and to the world at large; so Mr. Higgens, when asked about it, suggested with the utmost willingness Mr. Churton Collins, one of the most modern authorities upon the eye. Three o'clock Tuesday was fixed for the consultation. The eye was soon examined, and with a very grave look Mr. Collins remarked, "Well, General, we will go downstairs and have a little talk, and then we will come up again."
Bramwell Booth tells me that the conference which followed was a very brief one. It was only too evident that the sight was irrevocably gone. The question at once arose among the surgeons who should first communicate this to the patient, and Mr. Higgens insisted that it was the duty of the son to make known the truth to his father. Accordingly, Bramwell Booth returned to the darkened chamber, and, as carefully as he found it possible, broke the melancholy intelligence to the old man. The words employed were not perhaps at first as definite as the unhappy truth justified, and the General exclaimed in his own direct fashion, "You mean that I am blind?"
"Well, General, I fear that we must contemplate that."
After a pause the old man said, "I shall never see your face again?"
"No, probably not in this world."
During the next few moments the veteran's hand crept along the counterpane to take hold of his son's, and holding it he said very calmly, "God must know best!" and after another pause, "Bramwell, I have done what I could for God and for the people with my eyes. Now I shall do what I can for God and for the people without my eyes."
After hearing a short account of the sorrow expressed by the surgeons downstairs, he asked that they might be summoned, and, accompanied by Mrs. Booth-Hellberg, they returned to the bedside.
In the days that followed he would say to his daughter as she knelt at the bed holding his hand, "Pray, Lucy, pray!" adding, "The dear Lord must know what He is about." And again he would refer to the effect of his blindness upon his followers, "My dear people, what shall we say to them? This is such a blow to their faith."
It distressed him to think how the news of this calamity would grieve his daughter in America. "Darling Eva," he would say, "she will feel it very much." And then again, "Hold my hand, darling; I am blind, I am blind."
On the whole, considering his great age, his fiery temperament, and his active disposition, he bore this dreadful affliction with courage and dignity, and with pious resignation. At certain times he would rally his spirits and indulge himself in something like playfulness. Mrs. Booth-Hellberg would come early into his room to take her breakfast with him, and he would say to her, "Where are you having it?" When she had described her situation, he would ask, "What have you got?" She would say, usually, "Tomatoes," and he would inquire, "Are they hot, nice and hot, you are sure they are hot?" On one occasion she asked him if he would like a cup of tea. "Is it hot?" he demanded. "Yes," she replied; and he nodded his head with satisfaction, saying, "That's right; if it is not hot it's no good; I've been telling people all my life they must have hot religion." At one time he was in a high fever, and suffered considerably from thirst. "Lucy, darling," he pleaded, "give me something to drink." She allowed him to have a little soda-water. "Oh, isn't that delicious!" he exclaimed.
He was thoughtful for those about him. "He had a little servant," Mrs. Booth-Hellberg told me, "who every morning came into the room to sweep the carpet, and the General always spoke to her, very sweetly and tenderly. He insisted, too, that this servant, and his secretary, should always have a day off every week. He would ask me continually, 'Have they had their day off?' If for any reason we had not been able to manage so that they could have this holiday, he was upset, and complained to me about it, saying that nothing ought to prevent that arrangement."
Once she brought him an egg for breakfast. He pushed it to one side saying, "How can I eat eggs when women and children are starving!" There was a serious strike in East London at the time. "Poor women can't get milk to feed their babes," he said," and you bring me an egg!"
There was an interview with some of his Officers at this time, an account of which in The War Cry does not suggest that the end was anticipated:
. . . On Wednesday morning a very interesting interview took place in his bedroom with Commissioners Howard, Hidgins, Whatmore, and Rees, who were received by the Chief of the Staff and introduced to the General. Mrs. Bramwell Booth was also present.
This was the first occasion of the General meeting any one outside his family since the loss of his sight, and the occasion was a very moving one, both to him and to his visitors.
The General spoke of his experiences and gave an interesting account of his own feelings in the presence of the calamity which has overtaken him. Referring to the position in which he finds himself he said:
"I feel quite assured that it is God's will that I should be healed and that I should rise up and be restored to wonderful power to carry on the work which He entrusted to me forty-seven years ago.
"I have never had a feeling of a murmur from the beginning. I have never felt that I could rebel against God's feelings towards me or His dealings with me.
"I am hoping specially to be able to talk to my Officers and help them all over the world. I am still hoping to go to America and Canada, as I bargained for. , I am hoping for several things, whether they come to pass or not.
"We must go on trusting in God. We must rally and wake up instead of getting down-hearted. We are only just beginning.
"The doctors say that my general health is as good as it has been for ten years gone by, and that it is on the highway to further improvement.
"Praise the Lord! We are in His hands, and He will hold us up!"
Commissioner Howard, on behalf not only of the Officers present but of the Army as a whole, expressed in a few words something of the tender solicitude and sympathy which is felt towards the General in all lands.
The General then prayed with our comrades and they withdrew.
He wrote to his daughter in America on June 19:
My DARLING Eva--Lucy has sent along [Mrs. Booth-Hellberg had returned to her home in Copenhagen. She came back to her father's side shortly before the end.] your letter to read which you enclosed in one to her, and from it I have been able to gather something of the heavy waves of anguish through which you have been passing. Be assured, my precious one, that I am as confident as I very well can be of your love for me, and your realization of my sorrow, and your desire for some kind of remedy--if such a balm exists, or could be discovered in this poor world of ours.
I have had a great blow. One of the greatest wonders in the course of my career has been how it could come upon me and not have a greater effect upon me; how I could be so comparatively calm and yet suffer such a terrible loss as that of my sight, accompanied as it has been by such terrible anguish.
But words are vain things, and even those which I am using in dictating this letter to my trusted comrade, Ensign Smith, look like vapour, and their effect appears to vanish away while I am using them.
I have suffered a great deal since your letter to Lucy was read to me, and shall, I am afraid, have to go on with the suffering for some time to come. Saturday and Sunday and Monday were terrible days. Saturday and Sunday nights especially were very painful, but Monday night brought me some relief.
I am dictating this with great difficulty, but I want to comfort you, and I want to stop here that I may keep on loving you, and keep on helping you, and keep on fighting by your side, my dark eye to your light eye, my soul to your soul, wrapped up with you in the great principles of the conflict.
I cannot say any more now. I must turn to the effort to comfort Lucy. We shall pray for one another. God will carry us through and that with triumph ....
Bramwell is very charming in his affection.
Believe me to be, in deathless love, your father and General for ever and ever and evermore.
Again on July 2o he wrote to her:
I had your letter. Bless you a thousand times! You are a lovely correspondent. You don't write your letters with your pen, or with your tongue, you write them with your heart. Hearts are different; some, I suppose, are born sound and musical, others are born uncertain and unmusical, and are at best a mere tinkling cymbal. Yours, I have no doubt, has blessed and cheered and delighted the soul of the mother who bore you from the very first opening of your eyes upon the world, and that dear heart has gone on with that cheering influence from that time to the present, and it will go on cheering everybody around you who has loved you, and it will go on cheering among the rest your loving brother Bramwell and your devoted General right away to the end; nay, will go on endlessly, for there is to be no conclusion to our affection.
I want it to be so. I want it to be my own experience. Love, to be a blessing, must be ambitious, boundless, and eternal. 0 Lord, help me! and 0 Lord, destroy everything in me that interferes with the prosperity, growth, and fruitfulness of this precious, divine, and everlasting fruit!
I have been ill--I have been very ill indeed. I have had a return of my indigestion in its most terrible form. This spasmodlc feeling of suffocation has so distressed me that at times it has seemed almost impossible for me to exist. Still, I have fought my way through, and the doctors this afternoon have told me as bluntly and plainly as an opinion could be given to a man, that I must struggle on and not give way, or the consequences will be very serious.
Then, too, the eye has caused me much pain, but that has very much, if not entirely, passed off, and the oculist tells me that the eye will heal up. But alas! alas! I am absolutely blind. It is very painful, but I am not the only blind man in the world, and I can easily see how, if I am spared, I shall be able to do a good deal of valuable work.
So I am going to make another attempt at work. What do you think of that? I have sat down this afternoon, not exactly to the desk, but anyway to the duties of the desk, and I am going to strive to stick to them if I possibly can. I have been down to some of my meals; I have had a walk in the garden, and now it is proposed for me to take a drive in a motor, I believe some kind soul is loaning me. Anyhow, I am going to have some machine that will shuffle me along the street, road, and square, and I will see how that acts on my nerves, and then perhaps try something more.
However, I am going into action once more in the Salvation War, and I believe, feeble as I am, God is going to give me another good turn, and another blessed wave of success.
You will pray for me. I would like before I die--it has been one of the choicest wishes of my soul--to be able to make the Salvation Army such a power for God and of such benefit to mankind that no wicked people can spoil it ....
When we next come to his journal, it is to find reference to a second operation for cataract, and much that followed:
JOURNAL once more. This is Friday the 19th July. I have done nothing [in the writing way] for several months, and I expect my task to be a very difficult one.
For three months now I have done nothing beyond a few letters, friendly family correspondence, and therefore must begin again.
I have been very ilI. The worst symptoms of my last three months' sickness have been my helplessness, my want of strength, my want of spirit, my want of energy for anything and everything, and my excuse has been I could not do it because I have not had the energy.
The doctors have spent the afternoon in showing me that this has grown on me, and will grow more and more until I become mentally and physically helpless, and they say I must fight it, and I will do so.
I see this to be my duty, and I will do it, and the more I encourage myself, and the more other people encourage me, the more I am likely to succeed. So I am going to begin to encourage myself, and I shall expect other people to follow in this track. Whether they will do so or not we will see!
I think there is a good deal in what they say, but I think there is something to be said for myself. I have given way to the trial I have had to bear, and nobody can deny that I have had trials during the last few months. There has been a succession of these unwelcome visitors.
For instance, I began Christmas with the anticipation of having the impediment removed from my eye. I anticipated almost a new life, and went about the country--God forgive me if I did wrong--in saying that by loving mercy and to the benefit of the world I was going to be a young man again; and the people cheered me enthusiastically, nay, they welcomed me, they were not tired of me, they wanted me to live for ever and ever! They said so, and then at last instead of this new effusion of life, of energy and love, there was the disappointment--the operation for the removal of the cataract was a failure.
It was feared at first. Hinted in the second, and acknowledged and lamented at the last.
Every one who knew anything following a cataract operation felt next door to confidence that, instead of having a new eye, I had lost the last glimmering sense of vision of which I was possessed, and then after a period of the most painful, pitiful anxiety a man ever had to endure, there came the certainty that I was not possessed of sight, as indeed my oculist informed me, a few days before the thing came off, in his consulting room that I should have as good an eye as ever before, but instead I had lost it altogether.
Then came on me the hardest struggle I ever had to fight with the inward working of my physical system, and then came the climax of my visional loss. The fact revealed itself that I was perfectly and perpetually blind.
Then came the bleeding of the nose.
In great mercy I was able to accept the visitation on this occasion, and I wrote a letter for The War Cry which was thought to be straightforward and manly.
He wrote another letter to The War Cry at this period, which contained the following reference to his memory:
During the two months since the operation, my memory has failed to a serious extent. As evidence of this I may instance the fact to such an extent has it failed me that I have been unable to call up the very names of my private Secretaries and the places that I have regularly frequented.
He makes the following reflections, some of them not easy to follow, but the whole pathetic enough:
1. I must fight right away.
2. No other chance of getting it done.
3. Recount the main things I was to suffer during these months.
4. Wonderful support.
6. Letter to the Cry of acceptance of the Will of God to the whole world, anyway, the Salvation World.
7. Although expected the trials to be heavy, was taken aback at the difficulties that attended their endurance.
8. However, fought my way through to the present moment, and now I feel that if I am to save my brain, if I am to save my life, I must make another assault on the duties of life, and the fulfilment of the opportunities with which I am favoured for seeking the Salvation of the World.
Then he says:
It looks difficult, but attempt I must, and will, however imperfectly I may fulfil it.
He did not make, towards the end, a good invalid. Booth blood does not easily submit. There were days when he complained, when he fretted, when he wanted to know why this thing had befallen him.
Mrs. Booth-Hellberg says:
Often during the last weeks I spent with the General, though none of us had any suspicion that he was going to leave us or that he would not be spared to fight as bravely as ever, he used to say: "I begin almost to look forward to meeting your dear Mother and your sister Emma; and if it were not for the sorrow of having to leave this great burden to the dear Chief, I think I should almost like to go." All of a sudden, once, I heard him whisper: "Oh, I wish I were in Heaven!"
Once, while apparently only half conscious, he said pleadingly, "Oh, I wish you would let me go---I want to go home." I told him he was there, in his own home at Hadley Wood, lying on his own bed. He listened to all I said and then exclaimed, "But that is not home."
In another of his half-conscious moments near the end I heard him whisper, "Oh, to save these people!" and again, "What is the good of a Meeting if it is not hot? Do you hear what I say? Yes, General," I replied. "Not a bit of good if it isn't hot," he repeated.
One afternoon quite towards the end Bramwell Booth found his father sitting up in his arm-chair, evidently waiting to speak to him. What followed is the more touching for the fact that it proved to be William Booth's last consecutive conversation. The old warrior, greeting his son very quietly, said to him, "Chief, can you spare me a few moments? There are two matters much upon my mind. I want you to make me a promise concerning them." Then, as Bramwell Booth sat down near to his father's chair, the General said, "Now, are you attending to me?" and the conversation proceeded as follows:
"I want you to promise me that when my voice is silent and I am gone from you, you will use such influence as you may possess with the Army to do more for the Homeless of the World. The homeless men. Mind! I am not thinking of this country only, but of all the lands."
"Yes, General, I understand."
"The homeless women"--and, with deepening tones, boy, we don't know what it means to be without a home."
"Yes, General, I follow."
"The homeless children. Oh, the children! Bramwell, look after the homeless. Promise me."
When the promise had been given, something of the old whimsical humour appeared as he exclaimed, "Mind! If you don't, I shall come back and haunt you!"
The son then inquired about the other matter referred to, and the General replied, "I have been thinking very much during the last few nights about China. I greatly regret that the Lord has not permitted me to raise our Flag amongst that wonderful people. I want you to promise me that as soon as possible you will get together a party of suitable Officers, and unfurl our Flag in that wonderful land. I have been thinking again about the world as a whole. I have been thinking of all the nations and peoples as one family. Now promise me that you will begin the work in China. You will need money. I know that; but you will get the money if you get the right people."
And, when the desired promise was given, the General stretched out his hand, saying, "You promise? It's a bargain, is it? Then give me your hand on it." And, clasping hands, father and son prayed together, and the elder man solemnly placed his hands upon the younger man's head and blessed him.
Bramwell Booth tells me that he can never forget that moment. The soft light of the autumn afternoon falling on his father's beautiful head, the earnestness of the request manifest both in voice and manner, the strength and yet simplicity of that last prayer, the moving accents of that benediction, all must remain with him as a sacred and inspiring memory.
Three or four days before the final scene, the General was able one morning to raise himself in bed and with little assistance to seat himself for what proved to be the last time in his arm-chair. In addition to his nurse, Bramwell Booth and Mrs. Booth-Hellberg were with him. His speech had begun to fail, and it was only with effort that he could articulate, some words appearing to present greater difficulties than others.
As he settled in his chair, after referring to some passing matter, he suddenly exclaimed, "Bramwell--the promises----," but here he halted and seemed in great difficulty to proceed. He repeated, "The promises----" and for a third time, "The promises.----" One of those present, realizing the difficulty, suggested the words "of God," and then he went on, halting and hesitating a good deal, but with the most solemn earnestness, and emphasizing with his hand almost every word, "The promises--of God--are sure--are sure--if you will only believe."
These appear to have been the last words with any consecutive meaning. From that time there was little more than ejaculation, occasional expressions of thankfulness or of suffering.
Near the end he said to Bramwell, with a smile that was like a flicker of the old spirit, "I'm leaving you a bonnie handful!"--almost chuckling over the difficulties which now confronted his Melanchthon.
He lay very still and quiet as the last days of earthly life passed over him. He recognized no voices. He made no sign of a desire to speak. During the afternoon of August 20, a violent thunderstorm broke over the house, such a storm as that which marked the end of Catherine Booth. He made no sign. The storm passed, and quiet succeeded. In the evening there was a marked quickening of the breath and a weakening of the pulse. Bramwell turned to the doctor and asked if this were death. "Yes," replied the doctor, "this is death." There was a movement among the watchers. [These included Mr. and Mrs. Bramwell and two of their children (Adjutant Catherine and Sergeant Bernard), Commissioner Mrs. Booth-Herberg, and Colonel Kitching.] Bramwell bent over his father and kissed him. "Kiss him again," whispered Mrs. Booth-Hellberg, "kiss him for Eva." And Bramwell kissed his father again, and placed in his hand the cable which had come from Eva in America, saying: "Kiss him for me." That was the end of the vigil. At thirteen minutes past ten the great and tender heart which had loved mankind so courageously and so passionately ceased to beat; the hands which had been outstretched for so many years to save the neglected and despised were still for ever; and the eyes which from their youth up had wept over the sufferings of the sorrowful, closed upon their own blindness and upon the greater darkness of death.
"The General," it was announced next day, "has laid down his sword." Rather do we like to think that this shining sword flashed through the night on its way to other battles in other worlds, and that the faithful son, looking down upon the still figure of the father he had loved so well, saw only the scabbard of that unconquerable soul.
Here, for us, ends the life of William Booth, and here, if we follow the best examples, the biographer should bring his narrative to a close. But in the story of so remarkable a man, in the story of so extraordinary and adventurous a career, it is impossible to make an end without some chronicle of the universal manifestations of affection and grief which paid homage to his death.
"While women weep, as they do now," he had said, "I'll fight; while little children go hungry, as they do now, I'll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I'll fight." And, "Go straight for souls, and go for the worst." And, "All who are not on the Rock are in the sea; every Soldier must go to their rescue." The world recognized that with the death of this man one of its great fighters had passed away; and not to England alone, not to the British Empire alone, but to the whole world of humanity--the men, women, and children of every nation under Heaven--did this recognition come. No man ever finished his earth's battle with so universal a triumph. Grief, and grief of a most close and personal character, burst from the heart of the human race. It was not merely that every newspaper of. any consequence throughout the whole civilized world paid its tribute of admiration and respect to the dead warrior; it was not that messages of sympathy from the great people of the earth rained in from every quarter of the globe; these things spoke for much; these things witnessed to the respect of respectability for one who had been in his middle-life the most assailed, ridiculed, and persecuted of men; but what attested more than anything else to the triumph of his life was the individual sorrow of the poorest and the lowliest in every country throughout the world.
On the night that he died thousands of friendless men were sleeping in the Shelters of the Army he had founded. In his Homes thousands of women rescued by his pure hands from the uttermost ruin of body and soul were praying for him. In every continent a great host of people were sorrowfully telling each other that their father--the father who had sought them out and saved them from immemorial tragedy--was passing from the world. And in countries so ancient as China and so new as America thousands and hundreds of thousands were speaking of him as the man who had brought to their hearts comfort and strength, speaking of him in every slum and kennel of the great cities of the world as the happy-tempered bringer of the best Out of the worst.
And this man, denied burial in Westminster Abbey, where the bodies of so many have been laid, neither Christians nor heroes, passed to his burying in Abney Park Cemetery through the densest multitude ever seen in the streets of London, the whole traffic of the greatest city of the world arrested for hours, the Lord Mayor saluting the coffin as it passed, and ten thousand men and women, specially selected to represent their comrades, walking reverently behind the dead master who had taught them to consecrate their lives to ministering to the poorest, the lowliest, and the lost.
It may be said that humanity wept for William Booth as a man weeps for his friend.
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