Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

barrack-room, and the military recreation-room, and not only win the rough men to regard her with affection, but have caused the iron rod of military rule to be relaxed, so that her presence and work, once barely tolerated within the barrack-square, are now subjects of commendation from high military authorities? The answer is short, but one very difficult of practical adoption: steady, patient work, which only so far recognises difficulties as incentives to yet more judicious efforts to overcome them.

The work has, of course, grown. Miss Robinson did not spring fully equipped into the field; she found a sphere of usefulness, and did not wait for any great society or extensive organisation to put her in the way, but simply entered it. "1865," she writes in her journal, "will always be a memorable year to me, as that in which I began my real barrack-work-visiting soldiers in their rooms. I had been much occupied in correspondence, lectures, and meetings in different places, but I felt, after all, this did not reach the worst men; so that those who need Christian effort the most are left entirely without it unless we visit them." Her mode of operation appears to have been to disarm the prejudice existing in many quarters against direct religious work from other than the recognised chaplains, to obtain permission to give a lecture to the men on some neutral topic, and then to visit the barrack rooms, asking the soldiers individually to attend, using this opportunity to give a tract, a small book, or what all seem greatly to admire, illuminated text cards, to be put into the letters they send home. In this way access was obtained, the men were pleased with the kind sympathy shown, and gratefully received the words of advice and counsel, while those in hospital were often much cheered by her visits, and comforted by the words of Scripture she was enabled to read to the sufferers. For the encouragement of Sunday-school teachers, the following extract from her journal should be given, relating to the case of a young man to whom she had been useful. She adds: "After that I read with him every day, and I believe he was really converted, not so much from anything I said, as from the old Sunday-school teaching coming back to his mind. He had been a wild lad, and no doubt his teacher thought all was thrown away on him, but here was the seed springing up after many days. When I talked, he would say, 'That's just what my teacher told us.' If teachers could only see such cases, they would be encouraged to go on. Nearly every case of good among soldiers I have seen, has been from my words reviving the old impressions received from praying parents and teachers, sometimes from books and sermons." On another occasion, being sent for at the urgent request of a dying man, who was very deaf, she was enabled to speak to the whole ward, through the necessary effort to make him hear. "He was a Roman Catholic, and had been a moral man, but was very ignorant. I never felt so strongly how blessed it was to be able to tell any one that the work has all been done for us, and all we need is to accept salvation as freely as it is offered. I felt thankful it was necessary to speak so loud, for thus all were able to hear. I just read a text here and there, and tried to make it plain, and prayed with him. I did not see him again. About half-an-hour before he died, he asked to have the Bible read, and told the orderly he was not afraid to die now, for all his trust

was in what Christ had done." Many months afterwards, a soldier told Miss Robinson that, lying sick in the hospital that night, the words spoken to his dying comrade had been the means of his own conversion.

It need hardly be said that this work of barrack visiting is not all pleasure, nor without its discouragements; thus, in handing papers round to a number of men, a soldier was observed to snatch one from a comrade, and to light his pipe with it, but Miss Robinson was equal to the occasion. Before leaving the room, she went behind this man, and putting her hand on his shoulder, said, "Friend, I ask fair play for these papers. Read them first, if you use them for pipe-lights afterwards;" whereupon all the men laughed to witness the discomfiture of the culprit. The writer, on asking Miss Robinson if she suffered at all from insult or annoyance from the rudeness of the men, was informed that this very seldom happened, and when it did, almost always from young recruits. On one occasion, as she was descending the stairs, after having conducted a meeting, a raw youth behaved in an insulting manner, thinking probably that he had her at a disadvantage on the stairs, but she instantly seized him by the collar, and gave him the choice of going with her back to the room, and apologising before the men, or of being marched off to the guard-room; he chose the former alternative, and has never since been other than most respectful in his conduct. At Devizes, where she went to work amongst the militia, she was asked to go up a ladder to the sleeping quarters of a number of the men. The sergeant met her, and advised her not to go, as "the men were probably up to some nonsense." She determined, however, to proceed, telling him, "The men should not say I refused to go where I was asked." The sleeping quarters were two large lofts, opening into each other; all the men were there, some cleaning their rifles, most lying on their beds smoking. "When I appeared," she says, "there was a laugh, and some rather uncivil remarks. I said at once, 'Now, my lads, you have asked me up here, and I shall expect you to behave yourselves: I'll stand no nonsense from any man." Finding all silent, she began to tell the story of Gadara, and declares she never had a more interested audience, adding, "The episode of the mad pigs always enchants the Wiltshire mind."

[ocr errors]

The great bane of the soldier's existence is the fatal facility afforded him for obtaining intoxicating drink, and to this cause may doubtless be attributed the fearful fall of many a young soldier; but, it has been Miss Robinson's blessed privilege to be instrumental in reclaiming not a few. One of these she sought out at the request of a widowed mother, and found him a wretched object, depressed from drinking, and his face bruised and swollen from fighting. She induced him to meet her at the mission hall, where, after private conversation, she prayed with him; and, going out of the room into the lobby, he exclaimed, "Isn't it too late? isn't it too late? you don't know how bad I am!" "I spoke," she says, "of Christ's uttermost in saving; we cannot get beyond that. Just then a cavalry soldier whom I knew came past, so I stopped him, and said, 'You can tell us something of God's goodness; this comrade thinks he is too far gone for Christ to save him.' The man at once said, 'I was twelve years a drunkard,

after being religiously brought up; He has saved me. Trust him, comrade.' The prodigal was brought back, and although personal intercourse could not be kept up with him, as the regiment was ordered away, yet by correspondence it is known that he has been doing well ever since." The correspondence for soldiers who cannot write, but yet wish to communicate with their friends as well as to soldiers who have been moved to a distance, or abroad, is not one of the least arduous of this devoted lady's self-imposed labours, nor is it one of the least useful; many a truth is in this way carried direct to the heart of the man, and many a waverer strengthened and encouraged by counsel from a warm heart, when all around him is dark, and temptations abound. A letter from home is always most endearing to the absentee, and how much the pleasure is enhanced when it is received from one whose sympathies have been enjoyed, and whose Christian counsel has been a means of blessing, none probably but those who have experienced can realise. Miss Robinson was impelled, by her dire experience of the evils resulting from drinking, to become a total abstainer, and, from seeing that almost all cases of falling away were due to drink, and the men themselves having a strong conviction (which all who have mixed with soldiers have heard) that it is difficult, if not impossible, for a man to be a Christian in the army except as an abstainer, so great are the temptations of the public-houses, and the bad company it involves to a soldier, Miss Robinson not only sets the example, but urges the men to follow the same course, and has found in hundreds of cases that teetotalism has prepared the way for conversion; being at the same time fully aware that abstinence from drinking is but an outward reformation, or, as she expresses it, "It is but laying aside the weight; running the race is quite a different thing." Drunkenness being the cause of by far the larger proportion of the punishments borne by the soldier, it would be well for him if he could be weaned from the habit of drinking, and as this habit conduces to other vices, and induces a great amount of disease, and many premature deaths, it is a question closely affecting the taxpayer, whether the army would not be more efficiently manned at a less cost were the men teetotallers. But these are not the motives which lead Miss Robinson to persuade men to give up drink; she regards teetotalism as a means to an end, an instrumentality to remove or prevent a physical evil, and that the men saved from the temptations besetting them may be the more open to receive impressions from the teaching that may be brought to bear upon them. Hence, the National Temperance League having formed a branch in the army, Miss Robinson threw herself heartily into the work, and it may be interesting to state that regimental temperance societies exist in 140 regiments, having an aggregate number of 7,730 members enrolled as total abstainers. As each of these completes the first year of abstinence from drink, a card of honour is presented to him with some little ceremony of such cards 1,938 have been issued, and very many of them are now to be found neatly framed, hanging at the bedheads in the barrack room. This work, during the year 1872, necessitated Miss Robinson writing no less than 2,200 letters of counsel and advice to soldiers in all parts of the world.

When the National Temperance League decided to try the experiment

of providing non-intoxicating beverages for the soldiers during the recent Autumn Manoeuvres, Miss Robinson most cordially gave up two months to this service, dwelling one month at Dartmoor, and one at Cannock Chase, sleeping and living during the whole of this time in a travelling van, cheerfully enduring an amount of inconvenience from which many a healthy man would have shrunk; the discomfort necessarily incident to a camp life being much enhanced by the great amount of rain which fell while the troops were encamped. At the conclusion of these labours, she reports:-"Our working hours were from 4 a.m. to 9.30 p.m. The average daily quantity of coffee was 150 gallons, and although some regiments were not reached at all, the benefits of our temperance commissariat were felt by thousands of soldiers and large numbers of the officers. The entire takings were £873 3s. 9d., chiefly in pennyworths, and from the low price to soldiers, the proportion of profit is so very small as not to touch the heavy expenses of transport, wages, hire of tents, waggon, &c., amounting to over £300. The number of letters written in our tent I should roughly estimate at 5,600. There were 240 post-office orders procured for the men, amounting to £170 10s. 2d., besides about £10 worth of small sums sent home in postage stamps. As to direct temperance work, we had no time for speeches or for organising meetings.* "Deeds, not words," was our motto; yet a great quantity of temperance and religious literature was distributed from our tents, and 140 names were enrolled in our pledge-book. But what I feel is of the greatest importance, we have proved by this experiment-1st. That the thing can be done, in spite of croakers; 2nd. That the soldiers appreciate it, even the nonabstainers preferring tea and coffee to beer, when procurable."

Miss Robinson commenced to work almost, it may be said, under military ban, by getting access, as opportunity afforded, into an infirmary or a barrack-room to speak to the men; to let them see by the interest she exhibited in their bodily welfare, by kindly attention to the children and women in the quarters of the married, as well as by earnest religious exhortation and prayer, that she sought only their true welfare. She had to overcome also not a little of that prejudice against all civilian interference which seems natural to the military mind, and this she has so well succeeded in doing, that now she is welcomed in almost every barrack, her name occasionally appearing in official orders, and many Christian officers cordially co-operating with her in religious and temperance work. A general officer, as well known for his eminence in science, as for his piety and total abstinence, some time since referred at a public meeting to "the very great work which had been done in the army by Miss Robinson, of Guildford." Her reward, however, is not the commendation of men, however prominent, but in the evidence that God has been pleased, as he always has done and always will, to honour self-denying and faithful labours by the blessed results which have followed.

It is somewhat singular that the Christian work in the Royal Navy should have been brought about, although quite unintentionally, by a

*The temperance tents were used every Sunday for religious services for soldiers only, and were in every case well attended.

soldier. Its origin is so well explained by Miss Weston, and her own readiness to enter upon work, so soon as she had herself entered upon Christian life, is shown in such a manner as to encourage others to enter upon any path of unmistakable duty, that we venture to quote from one of her own letters :-"It was, I suppose, about ten years ago that I was asked by a friend if I would form one of the 'Carus Wilson Society' for corresponding with soldiers. I was but recently converted myself, and anxious to do something for Christ. It seemed to me at first strange to correspond with persons whom I had never seen, but I felt powerfully led to the work, why I did not know then, but I see now. I commenced by writing to about half-a-dozen soldiers, in India and elsewhere, but the number increased until, between this work and a number of correspondents in the Guards, I had about two hundred; this went on until the naval work gradually displaced it. As the soldiers with whom I corresponded left the army, I did not fill their places on my letter list with other names, and now my allegiance is transferred from the red to the blue jackets." One of her letters, written to a soldier in a regiment ordered to India, and addressed to him at Suez, was being read aloud to a pious seaman as the troop-ship proceeded down the Red Sea, when the new companion exclaimed, "Do you think that the lady would write such a letter to me, and send me some tracts? Nobody cares for we sailors." That question was sent home from Bombay, and Miss Weston lost no time in gladdening the seaman's heart by a letter of cordial sympathy and encouragement in his Christian course. He sent the names of others, all longing to feel that, though far away from home, and exposed to temptations strong and many, they had a friend in Old England whose letters would follow them wherever they went. "Since my mother died," says one, "I have had no one who cared to hear about my troubles, or to point me to Jesus; but now he has given me a friend, and I thank him day and night for it." The work so spread that, in 1870-71, about one hundred and fifty letters were written monthly, and despatched through the post to individual Christian seamen and Marines, each being addressed by name, and finding them in all parts of the world. In addition to the manuscript letters, about one hundred and fifty packets of tracts and other religious reading were sent monthly to the men, that they might have reading for themselves, and be enabled to distribute the seed amongst their shipmates. Sailors who had themselves felt the comfort and consolation of such a correspondence, became anxious to extend it to others, who might also benefit by such an effort; hence names of new correspondents poured in, and letters continued to increase in number until it became impossible to write enough to meet the demand, and then resort was had to the printer, and a monthly printed letter of original matter was prepared, and in the same way addressed through the post to the individual, so that each might feel that a chain of sympathy bound him to England wherever he might roam. At the present time it appears that no less than three thousand of these silent missives are despatched from England each month, the labour involved in which must be very great, especially when it is remembered how extremely difficult it is to keep an accurate list of ships and men, and to follow them from station to station.

« AnteriorContinuar »