Men I Have Painted/General Booth

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
Men I Have Painted by John McLure Hamilton
General Booth

Hamilton Men I Have Painted 152f General Booth.jpg


THE most benevolent figure in England in the nineteenth century, perhaps the greatest personality in the world, is that of the organizer and the leader of the Salvation Army.

If we look back over a hundred years, the really conspicuous names are few in number—Napoleon, Wellington, Washington, Lincoln, Gladstone, Disraeli, and Bismarck. Of these seven, one, Lincoln, stood for a sentiment—not a principle. He fought for what is called freedom, whereas the great principle in nature is dependence, and its first duty is service. Not every one in his country agreed with him, for one-third of its population attacked him for his interference with their right to govern themselves and maintain their own institutions. And in the end, a brother of the celebrated actor Booth slew him, and shouting to the stupefied audience in the theatre "Sic semper tyrannis," fled from the scene.

Was Lincoln right or was he wrong? This is a question that will be answered, as nature generally answers, by an enigmatic casting of events, before the end of this century.

Reading history from the historian's standpoint is misleading and confusing; but reading it from the impeccable evidence impressed upon stones, and from the works of the men of the different epochs themselves, we can arrive more closely at the truth. Quoting only one historian, who will serve as an example for the others, Guizot, in his History of Civilization, says: "In this century (the fourteenth) painting in oils was discovered." How illuminating is such a statement upon the condition of Art in Europe! In the whole book no other comment is made upon Art, as though it were merely a decorative fringe on a garment woven, not in cloth of gold and silver, but of mail, hammered out by the forgerons of war. Ignoring completely the fact that Art, and Art only, made civilization possible, he talks profusely and learnedly of the conflicts between the sovereigns of the Church and the State, and of the rivalries between barons and kings.

Now what do the stones teach? They show us that in Greece and Rome civilization reached its highest expression in temple and in statue, and in all the arts of the hearth and home, as well as of the altar. And what historian has described the literature of the time and the thought and customs of the people so well as the makers of the literature themselves?

The inference is, then, that the Greeks and the Romans, because of the principle of slavery, of enforced service, or whatever one chooses to call it, possessed that undisturbed leisure which is necessary to the growth and the development of intellectual powers. Society was clearly divided into two classes—the servers and the served. Without doubt the slaves formed the more numerous class, and they comprised all grades, all colours, and all nationalities. They were both skilled and learned, and often attained to high offices of responsibility, under owners who were merely nominal masters.

The men of leisure, the intellectuals, and the artists were not concerned about that part of the machinery of life which fed, bathed, and clothed the community. Life was infinitely easier, because it was conducted upon military principles of order and obedience. Art, literature, games and spectacles flourished, as they have never flourished since, and even war was conducted with an ease and efficiency that laughs the moderns to scorn.

It is supposed to have been a great feat on the part of Napoleon that he crossed the Alps. Julius Cæsar crossed them many times and encompassed territories that Napoleon was never able to reach with all his modern appliances, and with the aid of skilful generals.

If slavery helped pagan civilization to rise, the principles of Christianity were probably the main causes of its decline—they certainly undermined the Roman Empire. No such doctrine as "He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword" could permeate the minds of the Romans without weakening their military spirit; and the converse will be the case in our own time, for the British Empire will fall when the principles of Christianity are ignored or forgotten, and the white peoples will fall with it. Dominion is not a question of whiteness or blackness; it is a question of capacity and faith. It has been necessary to make the above points clear in order to understand the position of General Booth in his generation.

In the first place his work has succeeded, and he lived to see its success. In a different manner Napoleon, Wellington, and Washington were successful. Napoleon placed France in the forefront of the nations, and established the foundations of a future eminence that had been shattered by the Revolution; Wellington and Nelson—for the two cannot be separated—guarded England against Napoleon's vaulting ambition and opened the vista of an Empire of freedom and justice; Washington founded a state which is now destined to see the last of our modern civilization. General Booth created an ecclesiastical authority of which he was the great high-priest. There was a universal need for such a man; and the man was forthcoming. The churches had ceased to perform efficiently their functions towards that part of the community most in want of their succour and support. They continued to ring carillons, to toll vespers, and to say "Come"; but Booth went to those who no longer had ears to hear, or minds to obey. He sought them out in their lairs, and, having first cleansed their bodies, he spoke the divine message of love to their hearts, baptizing them with water, and then, through the spoken word, with the Spirit of God.

"But other men have done the like," you say. That is true; but have they done as much as General Booth? He was no gentle Christian, tender of touch, and soft of speech, satisfied with winning a soul here and another there, with the redemption of some individual drunkard, thief, or adulterer: that was not his character. He was strong, energetic, commanding: his voice was imperative in condemnation of evil and of unbelief, and forceful in exhortation to confess Christ, and be clean.

But General Booth did more. He made his work permanent, and extended it to every part of the planet, among all nations and all peoples. He was not only an eloquent missioner, he was also a great organizer—in fact, a man of statesmanlike genius as well as a simple follower of Christ. He saw his first little companies grow into regiments, brigades, and army corps. For the workless, shops were needed; for the sick, hospitals; for the services, chapels; for the army, headquarters. All these grew under his direction and skill: and they sprang up everywhere to meet the needs of a new church, a church universal, that did not invite proselytes, but sought out the victims of woe and disaster and vice, and converted them, not to be members of a new church or soldiers of a non-militant crusading army, but to see themselves in their true relation as children of God.

General Booth gathered the unfit into his army, not to poison their minds against the fit, as the godless and cruel self-appointed leaders of the "proletariat" have done, but, on the contrary, to make them fit companions for those whose lot has been cast in pleasanter places. With the example and the sayings of his Master always in his mind, he realized the enormous importance of the command, "Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and unto God the things that are God's." He well knew that without Cæsar's aid his work would soon come to an end among the penniless unfit, and he was much too wise, and I may say too godly, to give a moment's notice to the vapourings of foolish men whose prime doctrine is a denial of Christ and the elimination of God from the affairs of life.

General Booth was not a visionary, and he was not a social reformer. He was an evangelist of the old-fashioned type, as vigorous as Saint Peter, and as wise as Saint Paul. Woe unto the Salvation Army should one of its leaders become a social reformer!

The work of General Booth had the effect of a leaven in that part of society which had fallen into want and despondency. It is only necessary to ask the question, What would have been the state of England if this leaven had not been introduced? to realize the enormous good that has been effected by the energy and activity of the members of the Army.

One day, while walking with Major Perry up and down the platform at Hadley Wood Station, the Major described to me the redemption from the lowest depths of moral and physical degradation of several men who had become prominent, useful, and trustworthy officers in the Army. He laid so much stress upon the possibility of reclaiming the worst men, that I at last was led to say that it seemed to be almost necessary to be, at first, a great sinner in order to become a great saint. The Major did not seem to relish this way of putting the matter, but in the end had to admit a grain of truth in it.

As the train did not arrive, we discussed the characteristics of human nature at great length, without being completely in agreement upon its principles. He could easily persuade me that generous, easy-going, and strongly emotional spirits could be led astray and subsequently recovered, but nothing would convince me that certain kinds of predatory natures ever could be changed.

To-day the ordinary man, who is neither all good nor all bad, is asking himself if a great increase in over-good men would not be a greater danger to the State than an increase in bad men. It would be so much easier to deal with bad men than with some of our lofty idealists.

The first time I painted General Booth he gave me several long sittings. He was widely experienced in world affairs, and as he had travelled extensively, and moved freely among men of many nations, creeds, and stations, his conversation was interesting and unrestrained. His was a commanding personality, and he was as positive in his opinions as he was fearless in expressing them. On hearing that I had one son, he said inquiringly, "An artist, like yourself, I suppose?" "No," I replied, "he is an astronomer." "Worse and worse!" he exclaimed, with a degree of surprise and alarm in his voice, and continued by declaiming against astronomy and all astronomers, stigmatizing the science as one of the most useless on the whole useless list. "It was not God's intention that we should have any knowledge of the sun, moon, and stars," he went on earnestly, and he professed a conviction that no one knew anything of any real importance about the heavens!

He invited me to join him and Commissioner Kitching at tea. After saying grace he turned sharply to me and asked, "Why don't you say 'Amen'? Say 'Amen'! I murmured that I had said "Amen," to which he replied that "Amen" should be said in a loud and grateful voice, and not muttered under the breath. I glanced nervously at the young orderly who was serving the buns and the cakes, and was consoled to see that he looked just a little scared on my account.

The General was very abstemious, too much so for his own good. The food he was taking—bread and tea, or perhaps an egg, was not sufficient to make blood, and I found him pale and far from strong.

The next time I went to paint at Hadley Wood a great change had taken place. Weakness had increased, but a beautiful pallor in the skin harmonized with the white and wonderful hair and beard of my sitter. I looked forward with delight to the opportunity of making a study of his fine head: but he was restless, and now and again forgot that he was sitting for his portrait. I worked with feverish haste, and almost blindly, in order to get something, but soon was disturbed by an orderly who opened the door to tell me that my train would be at the station in ten minutes. I paid no attention, but worked on until he came again, with almost a command in his voice, and then I hastily put the canvas against the wall, without even looking at it, and believing it to be nothing worth, hurried off to the train, after an abrupt adieu.

The General died a few days later. Some months afterwards I received a letter from Commissioner Kitching asking me to call at the headquarters in the city. I was ushered into the room of the new General, who showed me the sketch I had made of his father, with which he was well pleased. It was a revelation to me, for I had not worked more than twenty minutes at it, and with many interruptions.

When I heard of General Booth's death I suggested that a cast should be taken of his features; but a feeling of delicacy, which I shared, caused the family to hesitate upon a step which seemed to them more or less sacrilegious; so I proposed to take clay and model the mask, which, of course, could be done without touching the face of the dead.

The General was lying in state in the northern part of London; and it was arranged that, on the eve of the funeral, after all the mourners had had a last view of their beloved leader, I should go to this tabernacle at midnight, and work as long as I liked. It was then late in the evening, and I had no clay. It was with considerable difficulty that I obtained enough from John Swan for my purpose. Starting on the long drive from home, I reached the great audience hall about midnight. Entering the building, I looked down a long flight of steps upon a strange scene. In the centre, far below, a black bier supported the remains of the General; four sentinels stood, silent and motionless, at each corner.

Descending the staircase, I moved up to the platform and took my place beside the corpse of the majestic old man, and began to work. Presently a great fatigue overcame me: and as dawn began to appear I staggered under the burden of the clay image in my arms, up the long flight of steps to the open air, and almost falling into the cab, sank down exhausted upon the cushions, from which the coachman aroused me an hour later when the first rays of the sun were beginning to close the pale petals of the evening primroses in the garden.