Huddersfield Chronicle (02/Jun/1894) - Huddersfield Market Place, Babblement, and Temperance

The following is a transcription of a historic newspaper article and may contain occasional errors. If the article was published prior to 1 June 1957, then the text is likely in the Public Domain.


(From Our Correspondent "Cid.")

If you want to hear opinions, good, bad, and indifferent, stand by the crowd in the Market Place on Saturday nights. Huddersfield fails to provide a convenient reading-room for her people, so they necessarily crowd the streets or this apparently only open space, and there talk at each other on all manner of subjects. All the spouters seem sure of their ground, and, no matter how illiterate they may be, speak with full assurance on the most abstruse questions. There is no idea of heaven, of earth, or of elsewhere, that they do not collar, dissect, maul, or scorn in succession. Judging by their style of speech, however, few of them have been troubled with much schooling. They stretch their necks and crush one another as closely as packed herrings, and smell no sweeter. They strain their ears to catch what the imprisoned wranglers are saying as if their lives depended on hearing the words uttered. They are more or less frouzy, cadaverous, and ill-clad. There are on their features marks of discontentedness which it is painful to see. They look as if they would tear one another to pieces, and in their contention break each others bones. A wit will, however, at times, enliven the terrible monotony of arguments, and make all but the principals laugh, but the laugh is short-lived, and but emphasises the earnestness of all. If you pass the place frequently you will find the same faces, the same voices, and the same ill-flavour there, wet or fine. Two men will talk for hours on what they call one subject, in fact, will begin on the Monday, go through the week, and be no nearer convincing each other at 11 o'clock on the Sunday evening following; indeed a dozen of them, to my knowledge, have stormed, glared, sworn, sneered, railed at, threatened, challenged, and fought one another for eight or nine years, and are further from converting each other than when they began. Still there is a fascination about the place which they cannot resist. Should the leaders of this babblement, by some means, which very rarely happens, be unable to be present you can see the rest hovering about ready to pounce upon the first that comes, and it is pitiful to see their dejectedness when they can find none but themselves to quarrel with. At other times the place is crammed and all seem anxious to speak at once. The result is that they split into as many groups as there is room for them, and then the babble is complete. There is a cabstand near, but if a stranger wished to hail a vehicle he could not see either horse, cab, or cabman for the crowd. At this the Jehus, who may have been for hours without a fare, use language that is finable and wish there was no law for 10 minutes that they might, whip in hand, clear the rabble away. They are, however, licensed, and so must be law-abiding, while the rag-tag-and-bob-tail defy the law, discuss the law, and urge one another to mend the law by sweeping the law and its makers into the sea or a warmer place. When they have fairly got each other by the throats, a drum approaches with a few tootlers in front of it, but there is no mistake about the drum. If the Market-place be full, the drum quickly makes it run over, and ordinary passengers have nowhere left for safety but the tram lines. There is no resisting the drum. When it plays all other noise might as well shut up. It at once takes a commanding position, and is soon surrounded by "privates, sergeants, captains, lieutenants, majors, sergeant-majors," and prospective "generals," petticoated, bonneted, breeched, and capped promiscuously. All these sing and pray and preach interminably. No sooner is one exhausted than another jumps into the ring and testifies to having been saved as quickly as winking, at which they all shout glory. They speak of God and holy things with glib frivolousness and with a confidence that is startling. They say that though a week ago they were the most filthy, degraded, and vile sinners, they are now as pure and as spotless as snow. When they have shouted their voices away and are as hoarse as bull-frogs, the drum is used as a collection box, and they refuse to leave until they get a stipulated number of coppers. Then they sing and preach and pray, thank the Lord, the drum strikes up, the crowd is mown through, the tram lines have again to be flown to for safety, heaven and earth are filled with hideous sounds, until the noise is smothered in a passage which looks like an entrance to the bad place. If you have nothing better to do and are determined to have a night of it you turn to the Market-place again and find it as full as ever. Half a dozen pale, earnest men mount the Cross and all seem bent on speaking at the same time. At last, one of them elects himself chairman, and at it they go in bitter, deadly strife. One will have it that man has no immortal soul, and defies anyone to place a finger on a passage in the Old or New Testament which will refute his assertion. He holds that men and horses, cattle and sheep, dogs and cats, wild beasts and donkeys, and, in fact, everything that breathes, are alike so far as what is understood as the soul goes. With him the air we breathe, no matter how microbic, miasmic, fetid, or alcoholic laden, is the breath of life, and that it is by such breath that man becomes a living soul. He asserts that Christ is coming directly, in a real and material sense, to establish His Kingdom on earth, and expresses himself with as much confidence as if he expected Him to descend amongst the motley crew in a few minutes. He seems to know the Scriptures by rote and can quote passages to the confusion of opponents. He speaks of the Greek meanings of words in English that Lindley Murray would not understand, or if he understood he would shrink from. You notice that as he proceeds his audience diminishes until he is left with a few hungry, bedraggled streetlings to mouth to. A fat, red-faced trumpeter now comes on the scene and plays "Lead, kindly Light" as it should be played, and gets a crowd around him immediately. He is at once very personal with the previous speaker, telling him that he is not right in his "nut," and that he is not surprised people will not listen to such twaddle as he has been talking. As to an immortal soul be has no doubt, because he is sure he has one beneath his waistcoat, and quotes passages of Scripture by the score to support his statement. He knows Christ has come already because he has got Him in his heart. The speaker is now ready to tackle anybody or any subject. He tells his hearers what he thinks of them. He talks on a dozen subjects in as many minutes, but what seems to be his "King Charles's Head" are drinking, smoking, and snuff-taking. He says if God had meant men to smoke He would have made a hole or chimney in their heads, the snuffers' noses would have been the other way up, and drink would have fallen like rain if these things had been intended for man. He is surprised that potwallopers when they try to do without drink persist in potwalloping pop, and thus blow themselves up like toads. He advises such to give up both drink and pop and stick to water. A bucket of drink would cost some of them a day's wages, but they could have a bucket of water for nothing, which they might lap and be satisfied, and then they could wash themselves in it, and that would be a good thing for many of those in front of him. As to not being able to do without drink, if they were locked up for being drunk and sent to Wakefield they would have to do without it then, and if they kept on serving the devil, who always promised good wages and paid bad ones or worse than none, they would find that when the enemy of mankind got them they would have to do without both drink and water. The speaker now sings, and then plays "The last wish," and says he will leave them to mend. An infidel now speaks, or rather squeaks, and makes it plain that he does not understand his own language, but still he defies the learned of all lands and languages to bring him indisputable MSS. to prove the authority of the Scriptures. He says they cannot, and then pitches into parsons in general and those of the Church of England in particular, and beslimes them as though they were the Calibans of the world. He will believe in God when he sees Him. A score of voices shout him down, and half a dozen struggle to answer him. The most ignorant and loudest-mouthed bawls the others down, and his speech is a study of broken sentences, exclamations, circumlocutory remarks, woful mispronunciations, and mixture of metaphors. If in sympathy with him you get a general idea as to what he means, but if opposed to him he is painfully ridiculous. He is succeeded by another who shouts as if he were addressing the people of Fixby and Sheepridge or the inhabitants of the Polar Star. Another has a voice more like a bee in the grass than anything else, and he is laughed at by all. Others of a similar kind follow, and holy texts, deep sentiments, and lofty inspirations are minced, mixed, and tongued with awful irreverence, even by those who apparently intend to support Christianity and the Bible. After a while a gentleman, who has never heard a cuckoo, declares that he is far from saying cuckoo to the remarks of the infidel. He finds it much easier to believe in God than not. There is no doubt about there being an earth and a vast universe beyond, and that there is a lowest and a highest form of life. One kind of life produces its kind within certain limits, the planets revolve around one common centre, and astronomers say that there is movement everywhere in the immensity of space. Is it easier to be believe that all this caused itself or was caused by some power? Is man, simply because he cannot see the cause of all this mysterious power, to disbelieve in God until he can see Him, handle Him, and speak to Him? If there had been no revelation like the Bible would intelligent man have been satisfied, when he daily saw cause and effect, that there was no great cause above and far beyond him and the earth? It seemed to the speaker impossible to think without personifying force and power, and, therefore, even without revelation, man would have personified a power of some kind which was greater than his own. But with the aid of revelation, which has come from somewhere, and which must be admitted to be a marvellous conception under any circumstances, the cause of life, of death, and of the universe was simplified, and made plainly possible many of the wonderful things on earth and in the sky. If there was no Christians' God there was some great power at work, and he did not envy those who said that life evolved from nothing to something; that said that man, who towered so far above all other perceptible life, is only the result of undirected, fortuitous evolution. Man is small, the earth is small, the sun and planets are small compared with what we now know of the universe, and simply because we cannot step into space and prove the cause of it all are we to stand denying that there is a cause? Disgusted with the lot, a Socialist follows and sneers at most things, especially capital and capitalists, singling out ground landlords for particular reprobation. He is going, forthwith, to send to Parliament representatives to vote so much a week to everybody, make everybody happy and contented by Act of Parliament, bring about the millennium by a majority of one, abolish the House of Lords, read bills a first, second, and third time without even a comma to divide them, not to mention a full point, abolish all past laws, wipe out, as a house-wife would with a dishcloth, ancient institutions, have a brand new world for the morrow's sun to smile upon, and "never be miserable no more." A man in the crowd calls him a fool, and both then charge each other with being liars, bad language is heard all around, and the man on the Cross lets flow a string of epithets which show that if the millennium is to come in the morning his vocabulary of terrible expressions will have to be dreamt away and forgotten in the night. A fight would now take place if the parties could get at each other, the crowd sways backward and hither and thither, street passengers are forced on to the tram lines again, the cabs are in danger of being overturned or pushed into the shop windows across, and pandemonium reigns supreme. Seeing this the man with the trumpet, who has been refreshing himself somewhere, plays "Oh rest in the Lord," and he has a crowd of laughing, grinning, gaping, and largely appreciative people around him immediately. He holds forth again, and no matter how personal he is he cannot drive the people away. He tells them they are a dirty, rowdy, drunken lot of lunatics, but instead of being incensed at him they like him all the more for telling them the truth. After an Anti-Vac., a Spiritualist, a Morman, an Atheist, a Christadelphian, two or three Methodists, several Labour men, a Roman Catholic, any number of teetotalers, and a prospective curate of the Church of England have declared that they are in the right, and that what they advocate ought to be accepted by everybody, a stranger asks permission to say a few words. The trumpeter gets him order in a twinkling, and the gentleman speaks to the following effect:— He was for personal liberty as to food and drink and he strove to be law-abiding. He refused to commit himself to total abstinence, but would adopt all lawful and honourable means for the promotion of temperance. He, however, drew a line between temperance and total abstinence. One was good, the other not necessarily so. He found no warrant either in reason or Scripture for the principle of total abstinence. In Aaron's time the priesthood were debarred from strong drink only when on duty, and they were likewise prohibited from shaving. Most of those present would admit that there is good in grapes, but the Nazarites had a vow against both strong drink and grapes, and these men in Jeremiah's time were so withered that their skin clave to their bones. Rechabites were not only to refrain from strong drink, but they were to dwell in tents. Only the Huddersfield Rifles could be expected to do that at Pensarn, and even they complained about having too much water, but not too much drink while camping in that way. In the bill of fare of Nehemiah, it was seen that he had before him all sorts of wine. The Book of Proverbs says that strong drink ought to be given to the perishing and wine to the heavy of heart that they may forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. The Apostle Paul told young Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach's sake. The same Apostle did certainly speak about abstaining from meat and drink for the sake of a weak brother. The weak brother referred to was a man converted from idolatry, and the idea was that wines and meats offered in sacrifice, as it were to idols, should not be used by Christians. This was a particular case and it did not apply to general life. John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking and the people said he had a devil, but when Christ came doing both they said He was a wine-bibber, therefore Christ must have taken wine; indeed He never for a single moment said that people should abstain from wine; His denunciations were against using it to excess. It was most singular that Christ's first miracle was to turn water into wine, and as singular that teetotal reformers of to-day wanted to turn it to water again. People abused meat as much as drink. Many abused dress, and multitudes abused money which was alluded to, by those who did not understand its full meaning, as the root of all evil. Because gambling and many vices were committed with money, was money to be abolished? Were death-dealing instruments and athletics to be abolished because self-murder was committed or the athletes hurt themselves in sports that pleased them? With the same reason it might be urged that preaching should be abolished because Eutychus went to sleep while listening to a long sermon, and fell out of a window and was killed. For one drunkard there were a hundred liars, as many blasphemers, and far more than that number addicted to all sorts of sins and vices. Still some people will say that drink is the cause of almost all the vices, sins, diseases, and deaths of mankind. You can count all the drunkards in your street on one hand, and those of your locality on your 10 fingers: are you, therefore, because of this slavish minority, to sacrifice your liberty and be made teetotalers by Act of Parliament? He advised them to collar the drunkards, make short work of them, and not laugh at or condone their silly vanity. The most eminent doctors disagreed as to the value and effects of drink. Some said it was not a food or a necessity; others said it was a food more easily digested than all other foods. There were times when people were all the better for a stimulant, yet they should be temperate in all things. Individual responsibility was too much lost sight of, and too much grandmotherly legislation looked to for social remedies. If the example of the vast majority of people had no effect upon the vile drunkards, rob such diseased tipplers of their liberty at once, and treat them as voteless minors. Holy Scripture taught that every creature of God was good, therefore why not thank God for whisky as well as for water? If civilians would properly assist the police with respect to drunkenness a vast amount of the vile habit could be stamped out in a month. When it was clear that people would persist in getting drunk, such persons should be confined just as the law imprisons thieves and rogues, and they ought to get no better treatment than such until cured. If the State passes laws against the adulteration of milk and other foods, why not legislate against adulteration in drink? It was no duty of ministers to advocate teetotalism. Their duty was to teach men to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the world. Teetotalers often put their fad first and the grace of God next. He held that they must look to the grace of God to stem the tide of drunkenness and all other vices which were debasing mankind, and hindering progress and righteousness. When the stranger finishes the trumpeter plays "The Old Hundredth," and the large company separate like lost sheep, to be drawn together again on the following evening to fight the bitter battles over, to meet, not to be convinced, but to convince others, with the result that all will be where they were and where they will remain, girding at one another in the mire of hopeless despondency, without a retreat in the shape of a Free Library, a Free Art Gallery, or a Free Museum, where wholesome mental food might be partaken of to the confusion of their follies and prejudices, and to the satisfaction of all.