« PreviousContinue »
For the few subsequent notices of his life and character we are indebted to a manuscript communication from himself which has been kindly placed in our hands in order to enable us to complete the sketch we have undertaken.
On his arrival in the States he was everywhere welcomed and honoured as the friend of learning and of man. His lectures were numerously attended, and, for a time, all appeared to go well with him. But his popularity rapidly decayed. Rumours of debt and of discreditable pecuniary transactions in England, soon followed him ; sickness, severe and long continued, wasted his family; and poverty, with her long train of ills, overtook him. Under these circumstances he was advised to try a warmer climate, and an opening having presented itself in Caraccas, he was assisted by his friends to proceed thither. He went with his son-in-law and daughter (who afterwards settled in Mexico), and, to use his own words, 'was kindly received,promised great things, honoured with the performance of little ones,' and—after expressing, in no measured terms, his indig. nation at the breach of all the promises made to him,--was glad to leave his family, and escape with his life. This was accomplished by a hasty flight into the interior, from whence he subsequently reached the sea shore, and embarked in a British vessel bound for St. Thomas.
During his stay in Caraccas he had entered a second time into the marriage state, and his account of the performance of the ceremony is curious, as being probably the only instance yet on record, of a quaker wedding in South America.
The party met in Lancaster's school-room. At the time appointed General Bolivar with his leading officers and a large party of gentry and merchants assembled.° Bolivar's suite," he says, 'were extremely puzzled at the large maps, some busying themselves with looking for Caraccas in Asia and in Africa. The ceremony commenced by the whole party being requested to sit in silence. After a time this was broken by a notary, rec the names and connexions of the parties, and proclaiming that each had promised, in the fear of God, to take the other ‘for better or worse, for richer or poorer,' and so on. The witnesses set their hands and seals to the contract,—Bolivar signified his approval, and the marriage was regarded by all parties as binding.
After a short stay at Santa Cruz and St. Thomas, where again his lectures were attended by the governor and the gentry of the island, he returned to Philadelphia. Again sickness overtook him, and poverty, and much sorrow. In miserable lodgings, with an apparently dying wife, pinched by want, and pressed hard by difficulties of every kind, he appealed to the benevolent, and in addition to other aid, obtained a vote of 500 dollars from the corporation of New York. This enabled him to take a small house, and to recover strength.
He now determined to return to England, and all but agreed for his passage, when circumstances induced him to return through Canada. On his arrival at Montreal he commenced his lectures, and again for a time floated along the stream of popular favour. His worldly circumstances improved, and he determined to give up the thought of returning to England, and to settle in Canada. After a time, and probably through his own folly, he again sank, and then opened a private school for subsistence. In this school room he held 'silent meetings' on 'first days,' sitting alone, while his wife and family were gone to church. “Here,' he touchingly says, “I sometimes found the chief things of the ancient mountains, and the precious things of the everlasting hills resting indeed on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him who was separated from his brethren,' by distance,-by faults,---by circumstances --and by the just but iron hand* of discipline. I longed again and again to come more and more under the purifying and baptizing power of the truth which had been the dew of my youth, and the hope of all my life in its best moments, whether of sorrow or of joy.'
The last letter received from him was addressed to Mr. Corston, from New York, and dated 21st of 9th month, 1838. He was then in the enjoyment of an annuity which had been raised for him in England, chiefly by the exertions of the friend to whom we have already referred. His mind at this time was evidently as wild as ever, and his energies unbroken. He is still ready to undertake to teach ten thousand children in different schools, not knowing their letters, all to read fluently in three weeks to three months. The 'fire that kindled Elijah's sacrifice,' has kindled his, and all true Israelites' will, in time, see it. And so he runs on.
But his career was rapidly drawing to a close. He had fully resolved on a voyage to England, but about a week before the affecting accident occurred which occasioned his death, he expressed some doubts on the subject, saying, "He knew not the reason, but he could not see his way clear in leaving America.
On the 23rd of October, 1838, he was run over in the streets of New York; bis ribs were broken, and his head very much lacerated. He was immediately taken to the house of a friend, where he died without a struggle, in the fifty-first year of his
He had been disowned by the Friends' chiefly on account of his irregularities in money matters.
In 1830 the health of Dr. Bell decidedly failed; and in 1831 Sir Benjamin Brodie stated his agreement with Dr. Newell in the opinion, that the nerves of the larynx were in a degree paralytic, as well as the organs of deglutition. His mind was, however, in full vigour, and his vanity as rampant as ever. * His money,' says his biographer,' was now a burden to him.' After changing his mind again and again as to its disposal, he at length suddenly transferred £120,000 to trustees at St. Andrews for a projected college. He then wrote to Dr. Southey, requesting that he and Mr. Wordsworth would edit his works, and begging their acceptance of £2,000, and all expenses paid, and the expenses of those they might employ. Southey accepts the trust, and incidentally refers to his own declining strength.
I am old enough myself,' he says, 'to have the end of my journey in view, and to feel what a blessing it will be to escape from the cares of this world, throw off the burden of human infirmities, and be united in the kingdom of heaven with those dear ones who have gone before us.'
Dr. Southey very properly urged that as almost all his wealth had come from the church, some of it, at least, ought to return to it; and suggested to him a plan for augmenting poor livings. Dr. Bell at first seemed to acquiesce, but soon after altered his opinion. One-twelfth of the amount he had placed in the hands of trustees (£10,000) he subsequently gave to the Royal Naval School, and five other twelfths he transferred to the towns of Edinburgh, Leith, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Inverness. His Scotch estates, producing a yearly rental of about £400, he made over to trustees for the purpose of promoting and encouraging the education of youth in Cupar Fife, subject to a miserable annuity of £100 per annum to his sister; £20 annually to six other persons; and £10 to Thomas Clark. His princely donation to St. Andrews proved most unfortunate; it involved him in disputes with the trustees, terminating only with his death, which took place at Cheltenham on the 27th of January, 1832, in the 79th year of his age. His remains wer removed to London on the 9th of February, and deposited in Westminster Abbey on the 14th; the highest dignitaries of the church, and other eminent persons, attending as mourners.
The leading features of Dr. Bell's character have been so well pourtrayed by Mr. Bamford, that we cannot do better than extract from his Notes.' He is speaking of him as he appeared to the teachers with whom he constantly came in contact :
Acting as general inspector of all the schools united with the society, and anxious for the diffusion of his system, he apparently sacrificed every comfort, by continuing to undergo, in traversing from school to school, great bodily exertions and great mental excitements The gratification which he derived from the display of a particular kind of knowledge, from the reception of praise and respect, the tribute due to his discovery and public reputation, encouraged and fed his restless vanity to such a degree, that bis feelings, unless relieved by indulgence, would have made him intensely miserable. He had become so accustomed to bustle and change, and to new faces with new admiration, that he could never be happy for any length of time in one place. His fame, too, was spread, and a monument of renown erected by the establishment of every school. The fervour of travelling, and the excitement of fresh company, were necessary to carry off that exuberance of passion which, if not thus spent, would, I think-even if he were alone and in solitude-have accu. mulated and overflown in vehement and fiery fits. Food, too, was continually required to nourish those notions of his self-importance which stationary friends, by too great intimacy, might neglect or refuse to gratify. It is true, that disregarding all personal care, and toil, and expense, wherever his services could be useful, however distant the place or unknown the applicants, no self-considerations restrained his zeal, or came into competition with his eager
desire to bring his system into public notice and favour, and to keep up its character and reputation with others. In process of time, however, this craving for admiration from diversity of persons increased into a strong and overpowering feeling. It was not surprising, therefore, that he wrought himself into a belief that, as he was signally appointed by Providence to be the means of bringing to light such an instrument for the education of the body of the people, and the consummation of the blessed Reformation, so it was his duty personally to give his assistance whenever it was desired or likely to advance his great object. Still, perhaps, it had been better for bimself and the cause in which he was engaged, either to have confined his instructions to fewer places, or to have communicated them with more grace. Previously to his arrival in any town he was, from his public character and his disinterested employment, regarded as highly as his own pretensions could desire ; but a first or second visit most commonly lessened the respect or checked the ardour of those who had given their time and money towards the establishment of the schools, and who found themselves and their labours frequently depreciated, censured, and offended. Many anxious friends of schools, who had welcomed his coming, in the hopes of being assisted and encouraged by the sanction of the discoverer of the system they were patronizing, became disgusted and disheartened, and have now either given up their interest in schools altogether, or only attend in spite of the reflection that he, who should best know and judge impartially, could find nothing to commend in their exertions. I do not mean to say that he found fault where there was no reason ; but his manner of examining schools, and addressing visitors and masters, was in general so opposite to the courteous and complacent behaviour by which great men become beloved, that many
unkind feelings have been excited against him which he might very easily not only have prevented, but in their place have established unalloyed admiration. Instead of delivering his instructions and making his remarks in a gentlemanly and conciliatory mode, so as to gain upon adult masters by his suavity, his personal behaviour was such that he was almost universally dreaded and disliked. His treatment of them in their schools, in the presence of their pupils, was frequently calculated to create any other sentiments than respect and attention. His conduct not only at the time alienated them from him, but it created a dislike which embittered and rendered heartless all their subsequent endeavours. It might be commonly true that there was ground for his observations ; but his style of talking to them, and his remarks, with a kind of boundless rage and bluster, were, in their estimation, not only unkind and unnecessary, but vexatious and oppressive. These were evils which, in a great measure, he might have avoided, without exhibiting less earnestness or producing less benefits; besides, clothed as he was with authority, the tyranny was the more galling.'
His passion for money was inordinate, and it deservedly brought upon him, especially in his management of Sherburn Hospital, annoyance and obloquy. His views of human nature were affected by this propensity, and were consequently low and
• He regarded money as the primum mobile, and only efficient stimulant in the world. He excited masters by a negative kind of threat. He did not say, 'Do this, and you shall have so much beyond your regular and fixed salary :' which at best might be barely sufficient to command the necessaries of life—but, “Do this, or you shall be mulcted, or lose your situation. He would have had all the masters under such an arbitrary kind of control, that if the school did not weekly and monthly increase in numbers, and order, and attendance, and improve in progress, the masters should be subject to weekly and monthly fines, and be paid according to the periodical state of the school • I can do more,' said he to the Archbishop of Canterbury, taking a half-crown out of his pocket, “I can do more with this half-crown than you can do with all your fixed salaries.''
His treatment of Mr. Bamford shows how well he understood the art of managing men for selfish ends, and how unscrupulously he practised it :
• In his treatment of me,' says that gentleman, ‘he exercised that mixture of severity and apparent good-will which, however at times unpleasant to my feelings, had so much influence over me, that I adhered to him most exclusively; and as he impressed upon me, looked upon all others who spoke kindly to me, or wished me to seek some relaxation, as insidious enemies. He professed to have no other object in view but my good ; and by opening mysteriously to me the power of future patronage, with the necessity of implicit re