LIFE of





Harold Begbie


In Two Volumes

Volume 1

Chapter 17




So great had been the success of William Booth's various missions that the Annual Conference of the New Connexion, which was held a little time before his marriage, freed him from his circuit in London, and appointed him to the work of roving evangelist, "to give the various circuits an opportunity of having his services during the coming year."

In this way the young married couple were destined to spend some considerable time of their life without the comfort and convenience of a home. As early as August in that year of 1855--owing chiefly to Catherine's illness--they were separated, William Booth writing from York to his "precious wife," who was with her parents in London: "I feel as though a part of myself were wanting," he says to her; adding, "How often during my journey have I taken my eyes from off the book I was reading to think about you--yes, to think tenderly about you, about our future and our home."

Catherine felt this parting keenly, and tells him how it was almost intolerable, so that she even had thoughts of starting off, in spite of her illness, to join him again:


. . . the fact of your being gone beyond my reach, the possibility of something happening before we could meet again, the possible shortness of the time we may have to spend together, and such like thoughts, would start up, making rebellious nature rise and swell and scorn all restraints of reason, philosophy, or religion.

She signs herself on this occasion, "Remember me always as your own faithful, loving, joyful little wife."

When they met again, Catherine wrote to her parents describing her happiness, and exclaiming, "He is kinder and more tender than ever, and is very, very glad I came. Bless him! He is worth a bushel of the ordinary sort."

Tender as he was, and full of sympathy for her continued suffering, William Booth could not drag himself from his work to nurse his sick wife. Very soon after this reunion they were parted again, she remaining at Hull and he going to Caistor as an evangelist. Her letters to her parents furnish a second-hand report of his triumphs and declare the sorrows of her heart in this enforced loneliness. "I would not be a voluntary exile from my beloved husband, even for a week."

We are to have apartments at Sheffield. You cannot think with what joy I anticipate being to ourselves once more .... For though I get literally oppressed with kindness, I must say I would prefer a home, where we could sit down together at our own little table, myself the mistress and my husband the only guest .... My precious William is all I desire, and without this what would the most splendid home be but a glittering bauble? Then, too, by living in different families and places, I have much room for observation and reflection on various phases of life and character which I hope will benefit my mind and increase my knowledge ....

A reference to her father, which follows, needs the parenthetical explanation that Mr. Mumford was suffering commercial reverses, and that with these financial anxieties he was once more sinking into a condition of indifference to religion--the ex-lay preacher crushed quite out of existence by the pressing failure of the coachbuilder:

Tell father that he must not wait for a change of circumstances before he begins to serve God, but seek first the Kingdom of Heaven .... I wish he could be introduced into such a revival as that at Hull. God is doing great and marvellous things there.

He is bringing to His fold

Rich and poor and young and old.


Out of his scanty earnings William Booth, the impulsive and headlong evangelist, found means to help his impecunious father-in-law. "Herewith," he wrote from Sheffield, in September, 1855, "you have P.O. for two pounds, made payable to John Mumford, at the General Post Office." He is evidently looking about him for some chance of helping this unfortunate father-in-law to make a fresh start. "I am anxious you should keep your spirits and make an effort by and by. I think that a large town something like Sheffield would be better than the Potteries, but perhaps I am not the best judge." He expresses himself as confident of Mr. Mumford's "ability and success" if once he could get a fair start. On the same sheet Catherine writes to her father:

I quite agree with you in thinking yourself well adapted for an Auctioneer, and I have faith to believe you will yet get into business and do well; keep your spirits up and don't conclude that because you cannot get away just now you must necessarily stay where you are all the Winter. I hope the enclosed order will be sufficient; we intended sending another pound, but William has not written to the Committee for money, and he runs rather short just now; but if you want more, send word, as he can write in a couple of days and will with pleasure send you some.

After a reference to her husband's success, telling how his name is "posted on the walls in monster bills," she addresses herself to her mother:

I often wish I could come and see you. I should like to have a little private conversation, my beloved mother. I am very sorry you have been so unfortunate in your search after apartments; nevertheless, I think there is a kind providence watching over you, and I believe all will turn out right in the end. Don't be harassed about the rent; when you have done what you can, I am sure William will help you out; he feels more with you and manifests more interest in your welfare than ever I expected he would; but it is only one of the many things in which he has exceeded my expectation. Bless him, I have only one fear, and that is that he will wear himself out prematurely ....

In another of her letters, Catherine Booth tells her mother that a composition of hers, "On the training of young converts," which has already appeared in the New Connexion Magazine, was now published in the Canadian Christian Witness, "so it has found an audience on the other side of the Atlantic." She then says, "I have been reading a very good work on Homoeopathy which has removed my last difficulty on the subject, and if I should be ill I should like a homoeopathic doctor." But she is not entirely occupied with chapel-going, writing for the New Connexion Press, and studying books of medicine; she has her wardrobe to think about:

I shall soon begin to feel the cold in travelling and shall want my merino dress, etc. etc. You will have to send us a parcel before we leave Sheffield, but I will send a list of what we want next week .... Let Letty unpick the skirt of my merino dress and wash it nicely for me (body as well)---if you have not opportunity to make the skirt up again you must send it undone, and I must get it done at Leeds. I shall want you to send likewise that old black cloth cloak to make me a loose jacket to wear under my shawl when travelling. Will you look at William's best coat: I hope the moths are not in reach of it.

After bidding her mother look in the second drawer and send word as to what flannel underclothing the Rev. William Booth possesses which would be worth sending, she winds up with the suggestion that Mrs. Mumford should advertise for a good lodger, saying, "you would soon save a little to serve as capital for father at the beginning."

In one of her letters written from Sheffield on October 5, and addressed to "My very dear Parents," occurs a significant sentence: "I enclose a few lines solely on personal matters, i.e. relating exclusively to myself, which I wish mother only to see." Later in the same letter:

The place we have been to to-day is one of the most splendid houses I ever visited, and has a very kind and sympathetic lady for its mistress .... I like her much; she will prove a valuable friend to me while here. She is within a fortnight of her confinement, so she can sympathise with me fully. I feel this to be a special boon just now, because though in the house where we are staying I have everything else I want, I have no sympathy--simply because it forms no part of the nature of my hostess--which you know is a great desideratum with me. But I have everything in my precious husband which makes other things insignificant; otherwise I should soon be in London again with my own dear mother.

In conclusion, "William encloses ten shillings' worth of letter stamps which I presume father can easily get cash for amongst his city friends; it is for you to defray your expenses in going to the Crystal Palace; now remember! that is what it is sent for; we both wish you to go."

But William Booth not only thinks of sending his poor dejected mother-in-law for a recuperative trip to the Crystal Palace, denying himself for this purpose, but becomes every day more tender, more kind, more loving, to his sick wife. Himself an invalid, and all but prostrate after every fresh exertion in the pulpit, he is Catherine's constant nurse and faithful servant. He rises at all hours of the night to give her nourishment, and to tend the fire. He is never too tired to comfort her. She tells her parents of this increasing love, stopping in the midst of her news to say that William has just entered the room "exhausting his vocabulary of kind words and tender epithets," and cries out from a heart overflowing with gratitude, "Whence to me such waste of love?"

One cannot read these old and faded letters without perceiving a change both in William and Catherine Booth. On her part, she is no longer the writer of the love-letters, a woman so obsessed by religion that her humanity scarcely appears there, so mindful of God that she can hardly write one letter to her lover without a reproach, an admonishment, a warning, or a cry for deeper spirituality; she is now, with an even quickened sense of religion, the adoring wife and the expectant mother, full of concern for domestic trifles which are really of immense concern, and happy, contented, ravished by a wonderful love. And he, for his part, is no longer tortured about his soul or fearful of ambition. He is overflowing with love, he is surer of his mission, he is swept forward by an unmistakable enthusiasm. Nothing is too humble for him to do in the lodgings that form their home, no service is too great or too small for him to render to his wife. It is as if in their love they had found the solution of their religious difficulties, as if deep acquaintance with each other had solved the problems of their separate personalities.

Certainly William Booth had never preached with greater effect. This mission in Sheffield was perhaps his first whirlwind triumph. The chapels were so full that the stairs of the pulpits were crowded and hundreds stood at the doors. Conversions occurred among people of all classes. He was besought to go to other chapels in the neighbourhood. The church to which he belonged seems to have realized that a new Wesley had arisen in their midst. And it is interesting to discover that Catherine Booth's anxiety for his future, and her criticisms of his dangers, came to an end at this period:

We had a wonderful day at the chapel yesterday, a tremendous crowd jammed together like sheep in a pen, and one of the mightiest sermons at night I ever listened to, from "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed Me!"... I believe that if God spares him, and he is faithful to his trust, his usefulness will be untold, and beyond our capacity to estimate. He is becoming more and more effective every day, and God seems to be preparing him in his own soul for greater things yet.

We do indeed (she writes) find our earthly heaven in each other .... I never knew him in a more spiritual and devotional condition of mind. His character daily rises in my esteem and admiration .... He often tells me he could not have believed he should ever have loved a being as he loves me.

After the strain of the mission in Sheffield, the Booths went to Chatsworth for a brief rest before making a fresh onslaught at Dewsbury. Old Mrs. Booth had come to them, and Catherine expresses pleasure at this meeting. "She is a very nice-looking old lady, and of a very sweet and amiable spirit." The party was a pleasant one in every way, for old Mrs. Booth--sweetened by age--could now enjoy the popularity attained by her only son, the young Mrs. Booth was no longer anxious about her husband's future, and William Booth himself was able to rest for a few days from incessant preaching. The letters are full of rather guide-book descriptions of Chatsworth, with only an occasional deviation into moral reflection. "The old Duke," wrote Catherine, "ought to be a happy man, if worldly possessions can give felicity. But alas! we know they cannot. And, according to all accounts, he is one of those to whom they have failed to impart it." She also tells her mother that Sir Joseph Paxton's house, "quite a gentleman's seat," is near the lodge which is kept by one "who still works as a plodding gardener." Then she says, "They both came on to the estate together, and at equal wages, which were very low. And now one is 'Sir Joseph,' known all over the world, while the other is still but keeper of the Lodge."

This holiday gives us a picture of the revivalist taking his ease in the country. We learn that he was enchanted by the beauty of Derbyshire, that he walked vigorously, and that he was so happy and exhilarated that he saluted people encountered on the road. Mrs. Booth relates how "the dark frowning cliffs on one hand, the splendid autumnal tints of rich foliage on the other, and the ever-varying views of hill and dale . . . tinged with glory from a radiant sky, filled us with unutterable emotions of admiration, exhilaration, and joy." We learn, too, that when she had walked as far as her strength could carry her, William Booth would leave her to rest and plunge farther up the dale with all the enthusiasm of a Hazlitt. On one of those occasions, Mrs. Booth waited "at a very ancient and comical kind of inn," where she enjoyed "a very cosy and to me amusing chat in rich Derbyshire brogue with an old man over his pipe and mug of ale."

No sooner did this delightful holiday come to an end than Mrs. Booth was attacked by a severe inflammation of the lungs. They were at Dewsbury, and her husband was once more called upon to bear the equally exhausting parts of revivalist and sick nurse. We have the official records of astonishing success in the pulpit, and eloquent testimonies from Mrs. Booth in her letters home to his extraordinary tenderness and loving-kindness at the bedside.

In announcing to her parents that the itinerary of this revivalism was carrying them to Leeds, Mrs. Booth expresses an opinion which gives one an amusing view of her vigorous character:

I believe we are to have a very nice home, where there are no children, quite a recommendation, seeing how they are usually trained! I hope if I have not both sense and grace to train mine so that they shall not be a nuisance to everybody about them, that God will in mercy take them to Heaven in infancy.

From the struggle and success of the Dewsbury Revival they went to Leeds, arriving there in December, 1855, and finding arrangements so bad that William Booth blazed out with indignation and wrath. He refused at first to cooperate with the plans prepared for him, and "it took the preacher--Mr. Crampton--till midnight to persuade him." We shall have something to say in the next chapter of William Booth's stubbornness and that strain of acerbity in his nature which perplexed so many people who came upon him for the first time in moments when, distracted by care and anxieties, he was by no means tractable or even polite; but in this place it is enough to say that he had real cause for his annoyance, and that it was entirely on unselfish grounds that he raised his objection.

The truth is, officialdom could never handle a man of this temperament. Officialdom exists in a system; officialdom has its own dignity to consider; officialdom is mediocrity in purple. William Booth was a genius and a fanatic; he would have broken with officialdom from the very first but for a curious weakness in his temperament which preyed upon the force and energy of his individual powers and led him, directly he began to reflect, to lean upon authority. He experienced those baffling alternations, those swift and torturing transitions, which plunge the soul from the heights of confidence into the depths of self-distrust. At one moment he felt himself able to remove mountains, and at the next afraid to raise his own head. It will be seen that but for Mrs. Booth this weakness, this rather amiable modesty of self-distrust, might have kept him in the shafts of officialdom to the end of his life.

It was at Leeds that William Booth first manifested a distaste for what is called society. His popularity was embarrassing, his success as a revivalist amazing, and all the accounts of that time show him as a fiery preacher not only able to crowd and pack large buildings with a breathless audience, not only able to sway the emotions of enormous congregations, but able permanently to change the lives of sinful men. But he was no hero of drawing-room and parlor. "The people would pull him to pieces to visit them," writes Mrs. Booth; "but he cannot accept one invitation without accepting others, and, besides, he wants retirement. Thus one of my hidden fears about the future is dissipated, viz., that he would love company, and lose his relish for home and domestic joys."

These hidden fears which anxious women conceal from the husbands to whom they are mothers as well as wives, were real and serious fears in the case of Mrs. Booth. She feared popularity, she feared social success, and she feared insincerity. In spite of the devotion he showed her, in spite of his loving-kindness in her sick-room, and in spite of the spiritual impression his preaching made upon her critical mind, she was haunted by the doubt that popularity might turn his head, that social flattery might tempt him from the hard and narrow way of the enthusiast, that the exhaustion of revivalism might lead him into the destructive habits of formalism. It is, perhaps, the noblest tribute to his character that he dissipated, one by one, these hidden fears of his anxious and vigilant wife. His critics were numerous, and he made hundreds of enemies; but not one of those critics watched him so narrowly or penetrated so deeply into the recesses of his character as the wife whose hidden fears were born of love, and who desired his salvation with all the energy of her remarkable character.

She writes to her parents of the final triumph at Leeds: "My precious William excelled himself, and electrified the people. You would indeed have participated in my joy and pride could you have heard and seen what I did." And then he enters the room, reads her letter, snatches it from her, and writes: "I just want to say that the very same night she gave me a curtain lecture on my blockheadism, stupidity, etc., and lo, she writes to you after this fashion. However, she is a precious, increasingly precious treasure to me, despite the occasional dressing-down that I come in for." And the letter concludes in her hand, "I must say in self-defence that it was not about the speech or anything important that the said curtain lecture was given, but only on a point which in no way invalidates my eulogy."

The coming of the first baby was no longer an inspiration for theological and educational discourse. Catherine Booth is now concerned only with the little clothes which she commissions her mother to get made for her, issuing minutest commands in the matter of style and trimming. She has a great longing for her mother, and writes from wretched lodgings, "there is no nurse like a mother, however kind, except a husband." Again and again she tells of William's watchfulness, tenderness, and patience. She falls ill with a very bad cough, and refuses a doctor because she fears bleeding and blistering; William pulls her through with a book on homoeopathy and a medicine chest. In January she is assailed with terrible doubts as to whether the child is living; she fancies that she detects a strange difference in herself since she was taken ill with the cough. But she has moments of happiness and delight, free from all anxiety and full of confidence--this expectant mother, this delicate and impecunious girl living in provincial lodgings.

I have made a skirt of Scotch woolen plaid (she writes to her mother), which looks very nice. You will remember these plaids are favourites with Wm.; he often tells me how beautiful (!) I look, and says he wishes you could see me; and I do think I look better than ever I can remember doing; my countenance has quite lost the haggard expression it used to wear, and I generally have a little colour, so you see all this happiness is not fruitless.

But a sudden terror seizes her early in 1856. What if the child is born prematurely!

I am constantly meeting with someone who did not go their time of the first child; and it makes me anxious to be ready; for I find it is a very common thing, tho' I hope it won't happen to me. I should hate it! (the word hate is underlined vigorously three times) but I should get a doctor's certificate to say it was premature.

They were now living in 3 Gerrard Street, Hapwood Lane, Halifax, and from this address Mrs. Booth writes to her parents on February 11, 1856:

. . . I am not very well to-day, I have been out marketing this morning, and of course I have many little things to attend to in my new house, but I like it very much and never was happier, it will however make a great difference to us in money matters being on our own expenses in housekeeping. I have wished many and many a time that my dearest mother could come in and see me every now and then, and I should not be surprised if we send for you in a hurry some day before we leave here .... I should like you to send the parcel as soon as you can now as I want to get everything ready .... Send the rose ointment you made for me, and the marking ink out of Wm.'s dressing case, also the small soft brush out of the case.


Five days later she writes:

MY PRECIOUS MOTHER--The parcel came to hand this morning while Wm. was out, I was not long in opening it, and while I turned over its contents I alternately laughed and cried, the style of the little gowns far exceeds my expectations, they are beautifully done--I am sure they must have tried your poor eyes sadly. If you joined the insertion yourself, you are cleverer than I gave you credit for, they are really very nice. I have only one regret respecting them and that is that the material is not somewhat better; on comparing it with some corded muslin I bought at 1/4 per yard, I find it much coarser, but perhaps it will wear no worse. I like the little tucked waists of the longcloth ones very much; Nurse says they are too good for night, and advises me to make a couple quite plain to sleep in, which I think I shall. I have not bought stuff for any frocks yet, and Nurse says since these are so nice I shall want but one for a best, so I shall not trouble about any more, and being as I am not going to make any more I should like to insert a couple of rows of insertion with a tuck between in the skirt of the best you sent, I mean the one with the jacket body, and insertion in the sleeves; can you get me some insertion like it? I have measured it round, it will take 4 yards and a half to go twice round, if you can get it like it, do so, and then you can either send it in a letter or bring it with you. The caps are little ducks. I am only afraid they have injured your eyes in doing them ....


William Booth encloses a letter of his own:

MY DEAR PARENTS--Your parcel has just come to hand and with it both wife and self are delighted. Mother has been very industrious, and has astonished us both with these specimens of her ingenuity and skill. I write to convey to you our united thanks, and most heartily do I join you in the hope that our dear Catherine may be safely brought through the hour of trial and that these little garments may be worn by some little stranger who will ultimately prove a source of gladness and comfort to us all.

With regard to Mamma coming here, there is but one thing that causes us for a single moment to hesitate and that is the having to part with her lodgers .... We are anxious for her to be with us at the time the event occurs--but we do not want her on that account to suffer loss. Nurse is a very sensible woman, and I should think rather skilful in these undertakings.

Their first child, William Bramwell Booth, was born on March 8, 1856. The father records this event in a cheerful letter to his wife's parents:

It is with feelings of unutterable gratitude and joy that I have to inform you that at half-past eight last night my dearest Kate presented me with a healthy and beautiful son. The baby is a plump, round-faced, dark-complexioned, black-pated little fellow. A real beauty.

This birth began for William and Catherine Booth as difficult a family life as can well be imagined. They were poor; they had no home; their future was always threatened with disaster; and the manner of their lives was the very last one would have thought compatible with domestic happiness and family affection. Further than this, William Booth was delicate, Catherine Booth was almost a complete invalid. They went like gipsies from town to town, living in lodgings, and plunging themselves at every fresh adventure into the violence and excitements of religious revivalism. What the science of eugenics would have to say of such parents, and what medical science would have to say of their methods of living, one can imagine very easily; and yet, these parents gave to the world--not only to their own country, but to the whole world--a race of men and women sufficiently remarkable to exercise a powerful influence for good on millions of human beings. Mrs. Booth was a severe mother, William Booth was by no means a sentimental father, and yet, in the midst of their distracted and laborious life, they were able to watch over their children so successfully that they not only trained them spiritually, morally, and intellectually, but won their admiration and affection.


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