Huddersfield Chronicle (22/Sep/1894) - A Musicless Church and the Cock o' Farnley

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.")

What would the world be without music? I ask the question, but do not want to know, least of all to experience it. Music is art made vocal. Art appeals to the eye, but music to the inmost soul. The sculptor may make his marble all but speak; the musician focusses all man’s senses, and breathes on them the sweetest, the highest, and the noblest inspiration. The architect may make the very stones eloquent in their silence, and speaking monuments of skill and wonderful conception, but music gives voice to the dead and entrances the living; takes possession of their souls, lifts them to heaven or brings heaven to them; softens even the savage breast, while it wraps high humanity in mellifluous melody, and makes men forget the mundane in the harmony of supernal bliss. What a blessed gift is the sense of hearing! Art centres beauty to the eye and thus appeals to the imagination in the exquisite pleasure of form and colour and poetic suggestiveness, so that when we stand before some high conception, limned on canvas or shaped in marble, we are exalted to grander conceptions of the world and the universe, while our surroundings are lifted and ennobled. Music has, however, no appeals to make to the eye, no colour to charm or fascinate, no pigments or pallette to interpret its grand meaning. It is but the streaming, trembling chords of the voice or the instrument which flow to the ear and whisper or thunder to the soul their dulcet charms or enthralling symphony, begetting the dreamiest or the livliest ecstasy. It stirs the soul to the deepest depths, and awakens it to the highest emotions which words must ever fail to plumb or reach. Man forgets his mortality when he soars on the wings of harmony, and earthly reality is spiritualised into heaven’s ideality. As an undevout astronomer is mad, so an undevout musician is little above the animal, while the man who clasps music to his heart, and lets its strains stream through his soul, catches inspiration from each tone which enraptures him to adoration of the Infinite Spirit Who has blessed him with the divine attribute.

I have attended places of worship when the first few strains from the organ have had more effect on me than the rest of the service. When the marvellous Te Deum has filled the sacred edifice in a glorification of the Deity I have often been so full of feeling that I could not join in that song of praise, and if the heart-filling and soul-piercing “Dead March” in Saul should transfix me with sorrow I have been completely overwhelmed. I hope the venerable Vicar of Farnley Tyas will not finish his ministry at this place without getting a choir of young men and women, boys and girls, around him and let the cleverest of the lot lead the singing on some musical instrument.

I make my boy instructor glad, and I believe I see him spit on the coin. It is plain he does not get many pence, and I feel sure that Farnley will have to waken up if it keeps this youth long. I now meet a group of children in search of their grandmother’s grave, and I am all sympathy in trying to help them to find it. They are all clean and intelligent, and my heart goes out towards them. After a while we find the grave when, sad to relate, the headstone had fallen and broken into several pieces. As we trace the letters of the names we are all nearly crying. The eldest of them now tells me that they have a grandfather buried in the churchyard, but, in her innocent simplicity, she says she does not know where, though, of course, he is at rest in the grave over which we are standing. When we have stood in silence a moment I have them all laughing directly, and it would have puzzled a casual onlooker to have pointed out the biggest baby among us. After a spelling-bee has been in process some time, and the least of the little ones has come off victorious, and I have had to scratch my head or chin before I could answer their relevant or irrelevant questions, a secret agreement is made between us, and as I bid them good-bye they are hastening to the nearest sweet shop. This incident will live long in my memory, and make my heart warm towards the Church of Farnley. I hope another headstone will soon he raised over that grandmother’s grave. If by subscriptions I should like to know of it.

I never pass Farnley without calling at the “Cock,” and I never fail to find something interesting there. The frequenters of this old hostelry are a jolly lot, full of information, and ever ready to impart it, especially on the subject of farming. You need no introduction, and their stories are always interesting and full of pawky humour. They have, however, no hesitation in making a fool of you, especially if you think yourself clever, and they can top each other’s tarrididdles without showing their inwardness in their features. If Dickens had passed through this village nothing could have prevented him from calling at the “Cock.” It would have suited his inimitable descriptive faculty, and he would have been sure to have found characters, grave and gay, lively and severe, wise and silly, good and bad, fat and lean, illiterate and non-illiterate, but all ready to tell a tale with as much truth in it as they could spare, and as much romance as would sweeten it and make it seem true. He would also have revelled in the structure of this inn. No piece of furniture would have escaped his keen eye, or cosy corner his quick observation. Not a provincialism would have fallen from those present without being fixed in his marvellous memory. He would have made them laugh and have laughed with them, and if he had not made some of them cry, or feel flesh-creepy, I should have been surprised. Above all things he would have found them natural, as I do now, and not like some of the characters in some of the present day novels, pruriently sickening, and as far from the truth as is truth’s opposite. I have spent many a pleasant afternoon at this house, and hope to spend many more. Questions are as quickly answered as asked. There is an abundance of natural wit in their conversation, and if you do not laugh at and with them you are not fit to leave home, but are as Shakespeare says of the man who has no music in himself, nor is moved with the concord of sweet sounds, “Fit for treasons, strategems, and spoils, the motions of whose spirits is dull as night, and his affections dark as Erebus: let no such man be trusted.” On this occasion the company is mixed, old and young taking part in the conversation, the chief of whom completely answers O’Connell’s description of the Billingsgate fishwife — a parallelogram, or Paddy’s plank “as broad as narrow.” He is very quaint and droll and fully satisfied with himself and the world. He keeps the conversation going, and though too fat to utter many words without resting, he is very entertaining. He seems to be as well-known as the bellman, each fresh arrival asking him how he is, to which he invariably replies: “Just living; dead not, alive but,” and all laugh when one retorts that the parallelogram does not seem to be living “et worst” stuff, and wishes he had “half his complaint” for then he would not as now be “like a walking gas pipe.” Not a naughty word is spoken, though the question of marriage is discussed. A young man from Huddersfield is asked if he has got married, to which he replies: “Nay, it hasn’t come off. I have my old mother to keep, and I caant afoord to keep two beside mesen. If I wait a bit longer t’ women will be t’ workers, and t’ men el have to stay at home to get t’ meals ready and wash up. I might then venture to risk wedding. I’d rather work and let t’ women, especially t’ wedd ‘eng, stay at home, but if t’ employers will not or cannot afoord to pay men’s wages, but prefer to pay low wages to t’ women, there is nowt for it but to let t’ women work and t’ men play.” After similar stories, full of fun, have been told, and I have laughed till I begin to think my face will never look grave again, I am about to leave, when an old musician enters and seats himself by me. His hair is white as snow, his eye is as clear as a maiden’s, his features are as finely and clearly cut as intelligence can shape them, while his gait is graceful, his step light, and his figure as erect as it can be. Our eyes meet and I see in his a sparkle of mirthfulness, while his ruddy countenance presents a picture of perfect health. His voice is clear and has a harmonious ring in it, the tones of which fall sweetly on my ear. He is quick at repartee, as most of the musical fraternity are, and can give or take anything in the shape of a joke with the utmost urbanity. I mention the musicless church near by, and his eyes glisten immediately. He has a poor opinion of the musical tastes of the people of Farnley Tyas. Farmyard noises seem to be about the height of their ambition, and he does not think the vicar could get a choir together with any music in their souls. Further, choirs are not unmixed blessings. They are envious of each other, and think as little about the 9th Commandment as if they had never heard it, or repeated — “Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.” They generally have more power, or show more, than the minister, in fact, they often dictate arbitrary terms to that humble individual, which he must accept or they will doff their white garments and strike, and thus leave him to “say,” intone, or mumble the service as he thinks fit. Should a strike ensue the choir are generally victorious, and the vicar ever after is a secondary consideration. They look very saintly and devout when clothed in white, but when they have unrobed some of them forget the oft-repeated injunctions respecting sobriety, &c., &c., together with other idiosyncrasies too numerous to mention. Yet after all they are a wholesome lot, jolly and full of fun, and their bitter moments are few and far between. They might “fratch” like d——s, but they will never fight, and as many of them are wags they will, just when an outsider is beginning to think a quarrel is about to terminate in a general melee, “strike up,” and foes are made friends and friends closer friends in song. The old man is off and leaves me with half a glass to gulp down, and when I have nearly choked myself in order to join him, who should meet me in the doorway but Grey Beard? This old friend has an influence over me that is fascinating, and we are in the back parlour laughing and joking directly. I tell him I had just been thinking of him, when he quickly replies he had been thinking of me, and as we are both believers in mind influence we are at once deeply discussing the subject of thought transference, or mind reading, and relating our extensive and peculiar experiences. To give all this would surprise those who have paid little attention to those abstruse mysteries, and would interest even those who may at times fancy they have reached the heights or plumbed the depths of natural and other laws.

When Grey Beard’s tongue is well loosened and his eyes begin to sparkle I make a remark in favour of Huddersfield, at which he boils with indignation, and it is with difficulty I can get a word in. He sees so many defects or shortcomings, not to say inefficiencies, in the town and its government, that I have generally to defend it when in his company. I point out its good qualities, such as being clean, healthy, and respectable. Tell him that in education it will compare with and surpass many other towns. It has two lovely parks, and is one of the best tram-wayed places in Yorkshire. Not only is it beautiful, but the district surrounding it is more varied in scenery than any place I know. Its people, too, are generally clean, manly, intelligent, and independent, and if it has not evolved some of the brightest intellects, it is laying the foundation to do so. Its morals will also compare well with those of larger towns, while its people are well-dressed and will bear looking at. Its men are brave, and its women are more than fair, they are beautiful, especially when it is borne in mind that many of them are cooped up in factories during most of the time that that painter and beautifier of the human face — the sun — shines. It takes a lead in manufactures, and is known throughout the world as the centre of an industry that requires great skill and the best workmanship. It has its own gas, water, and electric light. No place is better drained, and no place has shown more public spirit in looking after the health of its inhabitants. It is as well-churched and chapelled, if not more so, as any other place its size, and has as upright and conscientious ministers, fully devoted to the spiritual, mental, and general welfare of their flocks as any place I know. While I am talking my friend’s eyes glisten, and I plainly see that I am rousing him. He frequently interjects remarks and qualifications, and it is with difficulty I keep him from breaking in. I know if he once begins I shall have little chance to get in a word after. I have much more to say in the town’s favour, but when I feel to be eloquent in my encomiums I take a drink, and he refuses to let me proceed. He bursts forth like a torrent that has been pent up too long, and eloquently declaims as follows:— I admit a great deal of what you say, but it is like a tale half told. A half-truth was, is, and ever will be as bad as, if not worse than, a lie. The town is beautiful, but it might have been made more so if its people had been more patriotic. Its main street is scarcely relieved by anything but back-street architecture, indeed many of its best buildings are to be found in back streets. The good impression gained on coming out of the station and entering St. George’s Square is lost immediately, in fact, the Square itself is now a dangerous network of tramways and galloping cabs, with the result that pedestrians have constantly to be on the look out or they will be knocked down and run over. As for the Peel Statue, the sooner it is pulled down and put into the park the better. Other towns put yours to shame in monuments, which plainly shows what a paucity of men of eminence you have or have had in your midst. A town as rich and as old as Huddersfield ought to have evolved someone worthy of being commemorated in marble before this, and not be dependent on a party politician whom O’Connell designated “Orange Peel.” Your railway accommodation is not sufficient. Say what, or go where, you will, you are on a branch line.

(Grey Beard again next week.)