Recollections of John Pounds: The New Sunday School by Reverend Henry Hawkes
Towards the close of the year 1835, we opened a new Sunday-school in High Street; designed for girls and very little boys; to be conducted entirely by ladies of the Congregation; except that I, as Pastor, was privileged to take part in all their proceedings. The Sunday after it’s commencement, as the afternoon teaching was going quietly on, all seriously cheerful; there was a gentle tap at the door.
A teacher went and opened it. It was the good old cobbler of St. Mary’s Street; with three little children, two girls and a boy. “Yer sarvant, Ma’am!” he said, very respectfully. ‘Tse come to bring these scholars o’mine, if you’s be so kind an enter ‘em in your Sunday-school.” “Yes, Mr. Pounds,” the Teacher replied, with a very cordial welcome; “we shall be very happy to do so.” “Ye, knows, Ma’am, they’s a-coming to your school o’Sundays, an they’s be wi’ me o’ week-days.” “Yes. But come in, Mr. Pounds.”
The old man entered – so gently, so respectfully; it was quite touching to see him. Several of the Teachers came forward to welcome him; some shook hands with him; all received him with great respect. And his aged countenance coloured; and his glistening eye – looked his thanks; – while, for a few moments, he stood silent; – looking gratefully up at them.
When he spoke, his voice was gentle and rather tremulous, and his manner was subdued; but all he said was direct to the purpose; in few words; simple and very impressive; full of good feeling and benevolence. After a few minutes’ pleasant conversation, he took his leave: – “Yer sarvant, ladies!” – looking round at all the Teachers, – gently bowing his head; – and quietly left the room; – his three little scholars that he left with us, looking lovingly after him as he went.
The next Sunday afternoon: – another gentle tap at the door. It was the good old cobbler again; bringing two little children, a boy and a girl; requesting to have them entered as scholars. As he entered the room, very gently, all the Teachers rose to welcome him; some coming and shaking hands with him. The two children, as they were kindly taken to their place, seemed quite happy, to find themselves seated beside their former companions; admitted the Sunday before. After a little friendly chat, the old man went quietly out; with – Yer sarvant ladies! ’ – gently bending his head forward.
These visits of the good old man became very frequent; bringing others of his scholars; and always with the same pleasing and grateful interest; the Teachers always happy to welcome him; and the old man looking happy, as he gave his scholars into their care. The Teachers remarked to one another, with a smile, that the children he brought, were always brought neatly dressed, with clean hands and face, their hair smooth; as if prepared with care for the occasion.
It was a very impressive sight, to see the old man striding along High Street so frequently on Sunday afternoons, so deformed and ungainly in his action, but with such earnest determination, taking scholars to the school. He had sometimes two children with him; sometimes three; but more frequently, it was one; – led fondly by the hand; while the other hand grasped firmly his strong hazel stick, – for support; – which he struck forcibly down, as he strode along with his accustomed alacrity: – his head turning up with lively countenance.
When he wished to have a child entered, and could not come himself, he would send a note with it, addressed to the Teachers, expressing his request. Sometimes he would send a child alone, with such a note; but more frequently, children coming with such a note from him – came attended by their mother, or some other grown-up friend or relative.
These notes were of the oddest sort. They were written on the merest scraps of paper, of no definable shape; always very little bits; torn, ragged, coarse, crumpled, as might happen; often very dingy; never quite white. They were sent open; or, now and then, once slightly doubled up. The writing was a rugged straggling scrawl; none of the letters well formed; with no attempt at straightness of lines, or parallel order. The writer seemed to have no thought of any thing of the kind being needed to make his meaning known.
The words were few; scattered in any direction over the paper; just enough to tell what he meant, and nothing more; often uncouthly expressed. But we never thought this unseemliness or fewness of words implied hurry, or carelessness, or want of respect. They were touchingly respectful and considerate in making the request. And while their oddness of appearance and uncouthness of expression often excited a smile, as they were handed from Teacher to Teacher, it was always with pleasant esteem for the good old man.
Meeting me incidentally in the street, a day or two after one of his visits to the school, he stopped to talk about his scholars that he had brought to us. He spoke very gratefully of the satisfaction he felt in having them so taken care of; and said: “Ye knows, Sir, I never brings any o’ my little wagabonds to your school till I’ve made something of ’em myself. No! I’se not send any o’ my unruly ons to plague your ladies. I sends they rough ons to the school.”
The following autumn we had a tea-party for the Sunday scholars. It was intended simply as a little treat for the children; and was quietly provided in the Chapel library. But good old John Pounds had taken so much interest in the school from its commencement, and had been continually bringing so many of his best scholars; and he was so fond of children, and was happy to see them enjoy themselves; we all thought it would please him, if we were to invite him to the tea-party. He accepted the invitation with delight.
It was Thursday, September 1st; a beautiful afternoon. The Teachers were all there early; to be in readiness to welcome the scholars, and receive any friends who might wish to be present; and especially, to receive and welcome the good old man John Pounds; who was to be their distinguished guest on this happy occasion.
The good old man arrived, as they were sure he would, before the time appointed for tea. As he turned the corner of the Chapel, and came in sight of the library, and saw the ladies within; for the door was open; he moderated his long ungainly strides, – so quick and energetic, – and struck down his strong hazel stick with less force and sound; and his head, – which turned up with such life, – he gently bent forward; and his countenance – softened to a mild glow of respectful expression.
He was in full Sunday dress. He had his large broad-brimmed hat on; – hands and face were well washed; – his ample frock-coat, dark brown, floated freely about him; his waistcoat was buttoned up to the top button; his shirt-collar was white, and fastened round the neck, and his black stock fitted neatly to it; his tight snuff-collared knee-breeches and clean bluish-white stockings showed his long rather slender legs to advantage; his large shoes were very black and bright.
When he drew near the open door, he paused, and took off his hat, – and gently bowed, – looking round at them all. Several of the ladies hastened to meet him, and brought him in. He entered the room very gently; but with a countenance beaming with delight. All the ladies of the school shook hands with him very heartily; and others of the friends came about him, with deep interest, and marked respect.
It was a very impressive sight, as the old cobbler stood in the midst of them, – resting with both hands on top of his stick, – his long straight back – almost parallel with the floor; and all eyes around were looking down to him as they spoke; and he looked up to them with radiant intelligence, as he replied. There was an air of triumph, – and pleasant assurance, – in the happy old man. He could not but feel, that he was there – the honoured guest! And his tremulous cheek, and sparkling eye, expressed it, – very feelingly.
The children were already seated at the table; and as he looked at them, many of his own scholars smiled in answer, to see their dear old master look at them, so pleased!
The Teachers had decided, that he should have the place of honour at the head of the table. As I led him up, through the party, – all eyes looking down upon him with smiles of congratulation, – to the vacant chair, – waiting for him; the old man was much moved with his mark of attention. And his eyes glistened – full of feeling, while he smiled, as if ready to cry, with gratefulness and joy.
Scarcely was he seated, when Lizzie Lemmon was on one knee, and another little girl, Georgiana Richmond, on the other. Both these little girls he had brought to the school some months before. They looked beautifully happy, as he put one arm fondly round one of them, and the other arm fondly round the other; and the old man looked brighter – and happier, as he looked lovingly down upon them, and they looked lovingly up at him. These two little girls he used to speak of – as – “My two little queens!”
And now it was time for tea. The Pastor implored a blessing upon it. And the little feast began. And all the children were busy, enjoying their bread- and-butter, and their plum-cake, and their nice warm tea; – and the old man as heartily as any of them!
The Teachers were busy and happy – waiting upon them; and the other friends stood about, looking on with delight In the midst of this scene of enjoyment, the good old man – lifted up his face – from his own tea, – and looked down the table, so pleasantly lined with the children – on both sides, – enjoying themselves! – many of them his own chosen scholars! – Then he turned his shining countenance, – and looked gratefully at the ladies of the school, so busy, – waiting on them; – and the other friends, – looking so pleasantly on! – And he laughed – for very joy! as if he could find no words to express what he felt; – clasping the two little girls on his knees – closer to him!
The Teachers looked at one another – with silent smiles; – delightfully impressed – with this simple utterance of a soul, – so full of joy! – and so benevolently – and gratefully happy!
The Teachers held frequent meetings, to deliberate on the interests of the school. In one of these meetings, the Pastor, in the Chair, having occasion to inquire of one of the ladies, what information she had to communicate relative to a scholar she undertook to go and ask John Pounds about: – “Really,” she said, laughing, – “I’m very sorry; – but I’ve not been yet. For I was afraid to go. It is so difficult to get away again, when once we get into conversation with him.”
“We’ve all found that!” – with a general laugh in response. “Whenever we stop to have a chat with him, it’s no easy thing to get away again.” – And Teacher after Teacher went on with rapid liveliness: – “No! – when once we begin talking with good John Pounds, he never seems to have done telling all he wants to tell! He goes on from one thing to another without stopping. And if we try to say Good bye; he’s sure to have something else to tell us; something – that he very much wishes us to know! – So that it would seem unkind to go away.”
“Yes! – Or there’s a little boy he wants us to hear read!”
“Or he calls another – to spell to us!”
“Or say his verses!”
“Or he hands to us some slates, with writing or sums on, for us to look
“And we must hear some boys say their multiplication-table!”
“Or he wants to tell us all about his cat, and his young birds in the comer, that she’s nestling for him!”
“Or his poor little bird with a broken leg: – and he’s put a splint on: – and we must see how well it’s getting on!”
“There’s no end to it! – And the good old man’s so thoroughly interested in all – in his own good heart: – that he wants us to know all about it too!”
So they went on, – Teacher after Teacher, – in lively succession: – all spontaneously testifying to the good old man: – every countenance bright; – every voice – cheerful and buoyant; – with a tone of beautiful, benevolent mirth – mingling with it all. The old man’s spirit – kindled us all, to a host of happy remembrances, crowding instantly upon us, of his good deeds.