FOR myself and for the work I have been permitted to do for God I owe an unspeakable debt of gratitude to my beloved and honoured parents who have entered into rest, but the influence of whose lives will never pass away."
Thus wrote many years later the child who came to gladden James Taylor's home in Barnsley in 1832. This was not of course the first James Taylor, who had long since passed to his reward, nor was it even the son who had grown up to take his place. Two generations had come in between the visit of John Wesley to Barnsley and the birth of the child whose experiences we are to trace, in whose life the character-building of those early days was to bear rich fruit.
That at fifty years of age, amid all the responsibilities of a great mission in China, he should look back with " unspeakable gratitude " upon the training of his childhood, shows that there must have been right influences at work in that quiet home, What were they ? Wherein did these parents lay their son under such indebtedness ? What had they received themselves that was to prove of so much value to others ? These are important questions, the answers to which reveal the faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God, whose blessing is promised "unto children's children."
James Taylor the stone-mason, with whom our story opened, had the joy of seeing the beginning of this blessing before he passed away. The little Society he had been the means of founding seems to have grown rapidly after Wesley's visit. Dame Betty's kitchen was no longer able to accommodate the services, and step after step they were led into building for themselves a modest Chapel on Pinfold Hill, near the busiest part of the town.[ In the Public Library of Barnsley may be seen today a record of no little interest in this connection. It was penned by one Hugh Burland, who filled several large calf-bound volumes with the ancient " Annals " of the town, among which we come upon the following in his handwriting " 1791--The Wesleyans of Barnsley determined to build themselves a Chapel. Since the visit of John Wesley they had held Divine Service in a room in Eastgate. In about three years they accomplished their object ; for their Chapel, which was erected on Pinfold Hill, was opened for public worship in 1794. The whole was accomplished, including the cost of site,for the sum of 473 Sterling pounds:18 Schilling: 3 1/2 pence."But old Hugh Burland does not tell of all the love and self-denial, the faith and prayer that went into that building ; the hours of unpaid labour James and his friends devoted ; the care they lavished upon every detail, and the joy that came to them when at length the whole was completed and dedicated to the service of God.] Among the first to be received into fellowship in the newly completed building was young John Taylor, the stone-mason's eldest son. This double joy must have been the crowning experience in his father's life, which only a few months later drew to its unexpected close. Nothing is known about his passing away, save that it took place in 1795, and even his resting-place cannot now be traced. His was a lowly life, and he waits the resurrection in an unrecorded grave ; but in the family he founded and the cause he loved there remain, to this day better memorials of his faithful service than any the recognition of man can raise.
Well it was for Dame Betty and the younger children that John was able in some measure to take his father's place. He was now seventeen and in regular employment, having learned the trade of a reed-maker, at which he ultimately achieved success. Linen-weaving was then as it still is one of the principal industries of Barnsley, and many were the hand-looms needing the slender reeds between which the shuttles flew. John Taylor worked hard and conscientiously, and by degrees became " of great consequence to the staple trade of the town." [ The following quaint epitome of the life of John Taylor appeared in the Leeds Intelligencer for October 11,1834 "October 6, Died, Mr. John Taylor, Linen-reed Maker, Barnsley, aged 56: an excellent man and most highly respected. Mr. Taylor has been an inhabitant of Barnsley a great number of years, and in his business has been of great consequence to the staple trade of the town. He was a member of the Methodist Connexion, and evinced a remarkable fondness for sacredmusic. His voice was a powerful counter, and was considered by men of science to possess great harmony."] He was able from the first to take his share in the support of the family, and ere long began to look forward to a home of his own on a very simple scale.
For hardly had he grown to manhood before he came to know and love Mary the daughter of William Shepherd of Bradford, who happily returned his affection. The parents seem to have been of Scotch extraction, and one cannot but be interested in them because of this union which was to bring into the Taylor family qualities of inestimable value. All researches hitherto have failed in discovering much about William Shepherd, save that he was Governor of a gaol, probably in Yorkshire, "the best tempered man in the world" and a consistent Christian. Tradition adds that he was one of Wesley's earliest preachers and occupied a position of influence among the Methodists. Be that as it may, he certainly handed on to his daughter unusual strength of mind and body as well as principles of sincere and simple godliness.
It was not in Bradford, apparently, that the Shepherds were living at the time of the engagement. That would have been a far cry for busy people-twenty miles' coachride from Barnsley. In the Register still preserved in the beautiful Church at Darfield, the bride is entered as " Mary Shepherd of this Parish," and Darfield is within easy reach of Old Mill Lane. There it was at any rate that the young folks did their courting, when Mary was a tall, stately lassie with a warm heart under a quiet exterior, and John with all his practical qualities was a music-loving, merry lad of only twenty-one.
But young as they were, he was able to provide for the girl he loved. On Pinfold Hill near the Chapel a little home was waiting, and Mary was fitted to make it all a home should be. And so in All Saints' Church overlooking the valley where the Dove runs into the Dearne they were married one May morning in 1799, and thence through blossoming hedgerows wended their way together to the neighbouring town.
It still stands, that quaint old cottage, with its sunny kitchen and hospitably open door : the last house in a quiet court that ere long was to resound with children's merry laughter.[The old home of John and Mary Taylor is now known as " Sten Court, five house," and is occupied by an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. William Irving, who well remember its former owners.] Across the street, also, may still be seen the outside stairway leading to John Taylor's workshop. It was a steep climb for little feet, but doubtless they helped to wear the stones so smooth with many a journey to call father when he stayed away too long. For the cottage overflowed with boys and girls and the factory with business, till the reed-maker must often have been conscious of the blessing of his father's God.[ Seven of John Taylor's children lived to grow up : Elizabeth became Mrs. Cope ; John took up his father's business and left a large family ; Mary became Mrs. Norman ; James was the father of Hudson Taylor William was a stockbroker in Manchester ; Sarah died unmarried ; and Samuel was for many years useful and beloved as a Wesleyan Minister. He had a great admiration for his mother, and used to say that he owed everything to her, his father dying while he was still a child.]
In the Chapel, too, an overflowing blessing had been given. There John and Mary were both Class Leaders among the younger people, and his voice and musical ability were greatly valued. " Instead of the fathers shall be the children " was a promise so abundantly fulfilled that the premises, amply sufficient in James Taylor's day, were all too small for the succeeding generation. John Whitworth the young architect increased the difficulty when he started an excellent innovation known as the " Sunday School." Following the example of Mr. Raikes of Gloucester, he set about gathering in the untaught children of the streets. Few could be found to encourage, and even he had no idea of the magnitude of the work he was undertaking. But when on the day of opening no fewer than six hundred children crowded in, all eager to be taught, it was evident not only that the school was needed but that it must have larger premises.
And soon even opposers were surprised into approval. The changed demeanour of the children impressed the town so much that the landlord of a well-known tavern went in search of Mr. Whitworth and handed him a guinea with the request that he would never overlook the White Hart Inn when calling for subscriptions. Others helping in the same way it was soon possible to erect a suitable building near the Chapel, which gave the name of School Street to the hitherto quiet lane on which the Taylors lived.
Not long after, it became necessary to enlarge the Chapel also, which was so much altered and improved that James Taylor would hardly have recognised it had he come back again. The reopening just after Christmas, 1810, was a great occasion, when curly-headed little James, the grandson who bore his name, was not yet four years old. Young as he was, however, the rejoicings of that day, the decorations, singing and crowded meetings, made an impression that never passed away, and long years after he loved to recall the joy with which the Chapel his grandfather had helped to build was rededicated to the service of God.
From the first, the Divine hand was upon this little lad in the reed-maker's home, preparing him for usefulness. Educationally, he and his brothers had advantages unknown to the older generation, for their parents were able to keep them at school and let them choose their own line of life within reasonable limits. One took up the father's business, another became a stockbroker and a third a minister. James wished to be a doctor, and would have studied medicine had circumstances permitted. This being beyond his reach he went in for chemistry as the next best thing, and was indentured to a friend in a neighbouring town.
Seven years' apprenticeship away from home made a man of him before he was twenty-one, and the even tenor of a country business gave opportunities for study. He was quick and painstaking, an omnivorous reader and methodical in all his habits. Next to the Bible, theology was his favourite study. Sermons he read extensively, as well as good biographies. In order to make the most of his reading, he developed a system of shorthand on his own account, which he improved and made much use of in later years. He had some aptitude for music as well as mathematics, and was devoted to the study of birds, plants, and nature generally. Though not tall in figure he was strong and active, and with a bright smile and pleasant manner was decidedly prepossessing.
At least so thought his mother, when occasional holidays brought him home. And from the course of events it would appear that she was not alone in this opinion. " Home " was no longer the cottage near the Chapel to which Mary Shepherd had come as bride. Prospered in business, John Taylor had built a plain but substantial stone house at the corner of Pitt and York Streets. The situation was good and the property large enough for the erection of work-shops and other premises. Thither the family had moved some years previously, and a brighter spot it would have been hard to find when all the young folk gathered home.
Though the Manse near by need not have feared comparison. This was another roomy, pleasant home, on the opposite side of Pitt Street, occupied about this time by a family with the same number of girls and boys. Naturally there was a good deal of intercourse between the households. The eldest daughter of the Manse had a voice so sweet that John Taylor called her " the nightingale." The minister himself and Mrs. Hudson were among the reed-maker's warmest friends, and many were the Sunday evenings when they walked home together from Chapel and joined forces at the corner house for an informal service of song.
It was in 1824 that the minister's family was transferred to the Barnsley Circuit. To the parents it must have seemed like coming home, for their native place, the little town of Holmfirth, lay only a few miles westward on the edge of the great grouse moors. There both Benjamin Hudson and his wife had been born and bred, and from that Yorkshire valley, running back into the Peak country and many a mile of mountain, dale and moor, had come the artistic temperament and courageous spirit of their children, enriched by a heritage of godliness.
Mr. Hudson, though not a gifted speaker, was a faithful and devoted minister of the Gospel. He was an artist,with a decided talent for portrait-painting, inherited by three at least of his children. But his most prominent characteristic, and one that gave him difficulty at times, was an irrepressible fund of humour. Happily this also was passed on in measure to his descendants. Reproved in the Methodist " Conference " on one occasion for not sufficiently restraining this tendency, he apologised in a reply so witty that the whole assembly was overcome with laughter. But in Barnsley he was on his native heath. Yorkshire folk could appreciate his dry, droll speeches and pointed exhortations. There and in many other places he exercised a helpful ministry, and was valued not for his own sake merely, but also on account of his family.
As for Mrs. Hudson, one look at her face was enough to inspire confidence and esteem. The accompanying portrait painted by her daughter Hannah gives some idea of what she was in later years, though it reveals but little of the strength and sweetness of spirit that made the minister's wife a blessing to many. Three boys and four girls completed the family, Amelia the eldest being only fifteen when they first came to Barnsley.
Young as she was, however, this daughter was a comfort to her parents in no ordinary degree. In addition to careful home-training, she had had the benefit of several years in the Friends' School at Darlington. Sincerity, thoroughness, and love of industry had become as natural to her as the thoughtfulness for others that made her everywhere beloved ; and all she was and did told of a heart wholly given to the Lord.
Had it been financially possible Amelia would have continued her studies at Darlington. But younger sisters needed education, and with cheerful courage she took it for granted that she must make way for them and obtain remunerative employment. It was the only way to lighten home-burdens. And if her parents never knew how much she felt the sacrifice, Amelia on her part could little realise the mingled feelings of regret and thankfulness with which they saw her set to work before she was sixteen to earn her living. The right thing is not always the easiest ; but God has His schools for training, and a life left in His hands will never fail of its highest development here and hereafter.
So Amelia went to Castle Donnington as governess to three little children in the family of a gentleman-farmer. Her pupils were devoted to her and her surroundings congenial. But though happy in her work and gifted for it, she could not but long at times for home, and the holidays that enabled her to visit Barnsley seemed few and far between.
Thus it was that although a special favourite with John Taylor and his family she was rarely able to join the Sunday evening gatherings at the corner house. Like James in his apprenticeship, she was early feeling the discipline of life. Perhaps this very fact helped to draw them together. He was her senior by about a year, and prepared through what he had seen of the world to appreciate her brave, beautiful character. For as was purposed by the Heart that planned, those welcome holidays sometimes brought the young governess to the Manse just when James Taylor was also able to visit Barnsley. Short indeed would seem the ten miles' walk when he was homeward bound. And more than usual eagerness winged his feet when he came to know for himself the sweet singer of whom he had heard so much. To his delight he found Amelia to be lovely in disposition as well as in appearance, and that she thought and felt as he did about the deeper things of life.
The result was inevitable. A warm affection sprang up between these two, so suited to each other, and before the minister left Barnsley, an engagement had been hallowed by the love and prayers of both families that from that day united the names-Hudson Taylor.
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