Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options




View Options


In a Walled Garden. Belloc, Bessie Rayner, 1829–1925.
previous
next
page: 222

CATHERINE BOOTH.

THE first time I saw Mrs. Booth was at a meeting held to consider the best methods for ameliorating the state of the poor in London. It was held at Mr. Edwards Clifford’s studio in Wigmore Street, over Benham’s shop. The rooms were large, and were filled by an extraordinary number of representative people of all ranks. On the walls were portraits of ultra‐refined faces of thoughtful, high‐bred women; many will know what type I mean by referring to Ary Scheffer’s well‐known portrait of Mrs. Robert Holland. They have ever since mingled inextricably, though in strange contrast, with my memory of Mrs. Booth, whose personal presence was that of Paul.

I remember the sincere, measured paper read by Miss Maude Stanley, and the declamation of an officer from Portsmouth, and a horrible page: 223 recital of Russian atrocities given by Lord Radstock. I cannot now remember in what way they were connected in his mind with the condition of the London poor, but all the more ardent Christians approached the question from the standpoint of conversion.

Then from a seat lying a little way back to the left, and facing a formidable array of countesses, of whom there were said to be six sitting near the one to the other, rose a small, pale, quietly‐dressed woman—Mrs. Booth, the wife of a dissenting minister, and comparatively unknown. In later years she made quite another impression upon me, but she was then about five and forty, dressed, so far as I remember, in no particular costume, and she was so closely surrounded by tall, handsomely‐dressed women that her physical being seemed to sink into insignificance, only her face shining out with a sort of luminous pallor. Nor was her speech outwardly more impressive than her appearance. She had no graces of acting, no remarkable choice of words; the high‐bred faces of the portraits on the walls seemed to ask, “Who is this daughter of the people, whose face is square and simple, whose page: 224 dress is that of the most modest middle class, who has evidently never even in the most refined way sought for the applause of man?”

But Mrs. Booth spoke, and with her first few words all possibility of comparison fled from my mind. The poor of London rose up, a piteous, accusing crowd, in those charming rooms; their unutterable sufferings quivered in her voice, and the ardent love with which she regarded the human creatures for whom Christ died shone in her eyes. She told story after story of the back courts and the gutters, of the drunkard snatched from the feet of the kicking horses, of the widow, the orphan child, the convict, the lost women in the street. At this distance of time I can remember very little detail, but when the meeting broke up I made my way through the benches and sat down by her side, and she talked to me of her own children, who as they grew up turned one by one definitely to the Lord and His work.

I suppose I must have told her that I had young children of my own, for our conversation was wholly on these lines. I remember the page: 225 lovely expression of face with which she spoke of her two eldest born.

Years passed before I again saw Mrs. Booth. The Salvation Army had become organized, active, and famous, and I felt a curiosity to see one of the meetings advertised at the door of the hall close to Regent Circus. It was full noon as we went in, and the light shone down on Mrs. Booth standing in the centre of the gallery or estrade from which she spoke. Two or three of her young daughters were with her, and a knot of other workers in the costume since become so familiar in the streets of London. The meeting must have been nearly. over, for I do not remember any word of Mrs. Booth’s, and one of the sweet‐faced children led off a hymn. At the conclusion I walked up to the estrade, and said, “Do you remember us? I am so glad to see you again. We are Catholics.” It was an older and, as it seemed to me, a much more assured and vigorous face which smiled down a welcome on mother and child. “Ah!” she said,“ that makes no difference,” and I felt a sort of enveloping kindness and sympathy shining in her eyes. And that was the open secret of the woman who page: 226 was borne to the grave a few years later amid such an outburst of universal sympathy as has perhaps never been paid to one of her sex before. She had a good and broad intelligence, judging complicated questions with common sense, and was a mental power in the great organization which has struck so deep a root among the working classes. But that which gave her predominant influence was a higher thing, a spiritual quality which inspired her judgment and drew hearts by the hundred and the thousand. It survived on that painful death‐bed of more than thirty months’ duration, and thrilled in the messages she sent to her husband’s people. It can only be defined as the power of the saint.

On two other occasions I witnessed Mrs. Booth’s extraordinary influence. The first was that of the funeral service at Olympia. She had died, of long wasting malady heroically borne, at Clacton‐on‐Sea, and on Monday, the 13th of October, 1890, at eight o’clock in the evening, the coffin was borne from one end to the other of the immense building, into which 36,000 people had crowded, after which it was necessary to page: 227 close the gates and shut out thousands more. After his wife’s coffin, the General walked alone, followed by his children. It was placed on a raised platform in the gallery, behind which a friend and I were seated, so that the vast audience lay far below us, and the mourning group a little to the right. No single voice could have penetrated the great space of Olympia, and to meet this difficulty a special litany had been prepared, printed, and distributed among the congregation, and large lettered signals were hoisted at intervals on the platform, instructing the audience to rise and sing or to pray. The service began with the old Wesleyan hymn,— “When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of Glory died, All earthly gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all beside.” Such a volume of sound can seldom have been heard by human ears. But most touching was the moment when the children of Mrs. Booth, rising above the coffin, sang the hymn which had comforted her when dying. One voice rang sweet and even triumphant above the rest. I was told it was that of the beloved eldest page: 228 daughter, Catherine Booth, who, after many journeys to her mother’s bedside, was not with her at the last. The scene was indeed indescribably affecting.

And on the following day the traffic of central London was stopped for two hours in the busiest part of the twenty‐four, while “the Army Mother” was carried past the Bank and the Royal Exchange. I can only speak for the subdued reverence of the crowd in that great triangle opposite the Mansion House, but the incident which impressed me most concerned the omnibuses. Long after the cabs and carriages had disappeared from the streets, the Bayswater omnibuses made their way slowly across to one of the railways. But there came a moment when they also were stopped. For that last hour every one of these vehicles carried a black flag, rising above the head of the driver.

In turning over the two volumes of Mrs. Booth’s life, the reader’s eye is arrested by the mute witness of the photographs. The first, of “Catherine Mumford” at the age of twenty‐three, was taken shortly before her marriage. It shows us a thoughtful and intelligent girl, with page: 229 curls smoothed away from a very broad forehead; the eyes are steady and lambent, and the dress is not only careful but in the fashion of the time. She wears a brooch, a buckle, and a little lace. The costume is simple and modest, but by no means that of a young lady indifferent to her appearance. I compare this portrait with the face of the living woman whom I met about twenty‐five years later, and the change was very great. She was then the anxious, devoted mother of many children, and the Salvation Army was already being organized; moreover, she had been sorely tried by illness in her family, and other anxieties, spoken of freely in the Life, had pressed upon her. I remember how frail she looked in 1878, and how everything in the least mundane had dropped away from her dress and manner; how entirely she looked the minister’s wife. But in the early eighties the tide had again turned, and the sweet, matronly countenance of “the Army Mother” under the Salvation Army bonnet, was as reposeful but far more animated than that of the young Catherine Mumford with the curls. Her smile dwelt like sunshine on those whom she addressed. One felt that page: 230 she must be a lovely mother at home. And there is one more faithful photographic record of that wonderful face, “Mrs. Booth in her last illness.” Once more the softly curling hair is brushed back from the broad forehead, over which sixty years have passed, and a full half century of thought and prayer; and strange to say, though the expression is deeply marked by suffering, it has regained something of youth. The beautiful large eyes are undimmed, and in the intentness of their gaze and the patient stillness of the attitude can be read a touch of final obedience, which goes to the depths of the beholder’s heart. She who did all things well had gathered up her feeble strength to leave a peaceful, comforting last impression on her children near and far.

It was on a Saturday, the last day of Self‐Denial Week, and “the sun was sinking in an almost cloudless sky,” when death released Mrs. Booth from the sick bed on which she had lain for more than two years. But as her death was the very text on which her life was written, the Army Mother survives in a very full and peculiar sense. Whatever may be the future of the Salvation Army, on whatever lines it may develop when page: 231 the General and his children are called away, and the infinite modifications of time act and react on their special conceptions of faith and duty, the great figure of Catherine Booth must remain as permanent in the history of our race.

previous
next