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Lecture 1

LECTURING was once so common an exercise that I have heard it said that all society might be divided into "Lecturer and the Lectured"; and the division was said to hold good both by night and by day; as Mr. and Mrs. Caudle could bear testimony. Lectures are now "the light of other days." No longer is Exeter Hall crowded to hear a series of lectures by great divines; and in vain do minor institutions invite an audience to "A Popular Lecture." The magic spell has departed: the lectured ones are delivered. Who is responsible for the falling off in attendance at lectures? Did the talk become too dreary? Were the prelections too abstruse or too common-place? Will mine be like them?

I am not an adept at lecturing, and when I take to it under constraint, I either signally fail in it, or else the successful production is a sermon in disguise. You cannot drive out nature by command: the old pulpit hand must preach, even though you bid him do somewhat else. It would be no good sign if it were otherwise; for a man must keep to one thing, and be absorbed in it, or he will not do it well. I have preached now for so many years, that use is second nature; and a lecture, a speech, an address, and I fear even a conversation, all have a tendency to mould themselves sermon-fashion. It is just the old story over again of the artist who had been painting red lions all his life. The landlord of a public-house in a certain street desired to have his establishment known as "The Angel", and he commissioned the clever gentleman of the brush to produce one of those flaming spirits. The budding Academician replied, "You had better have a red lion. I can paint red lions against any man, and they seem the right sign for publicans who do a roaring trade." "But" said Boniface, "there are three of your red lions quite handy already, and we want a little variety. I have made up my mind to have an angel. Cannot you arrange it ?" "Well", said the artist, "I will see what I can do. You shall have your angel, but it will be awfully like a red lion? So, when I am requested to "lecture", I reply, "I cannot manage it; my business is to preach." But if they press their suit, and I am weak enough to yield, I warn them that my lecture will be wonderfully like a sermon.

I suppose "a lecture" signifies a reading; but enough of my brethren use manuscripts, and I will not compete with them. If I cannot speak extemporaneously, I will hold my tongue: to read I am ashamed.

In a lecture one has the advantage of more freedom than in a sermon. One is permitted to take a wider range of subjects, and to use an easier style than a theological discourse allows. I will use this freedom, but my aim will be the same as if I were preaching. I trust my lecture may possibly impress some minds to whom a sermon would seem too dull a business. By calling this lecture "Sermons in Candles", I claim the right to mingle the severe with the lively, the grave with the gay. In due proportions the mixture may be taken with good effect.

This is how the lecture came about in the first place. It has grown considerably since it was born, as all lively children do. In addressing my students in the College long ago, I was urging upon them the duty and necessity of using plenty of illustrations in their preaching, that they might be both interesting and instructive. I reminded them that the Saviour had many likes in his discourses. He said, over and over again, "The kingdom of heaven is LIKE"; "The kingdom of heaven is LIKE." "Without a parable spake he not unto them." The common people heard him gladly, because he was full of emblem and simile. A sermon without illustrations is like a room without windows. One student remarked that the difficulty was to get illustrations in any great abundance. "Yes", I said, "if you do not wake up, but go through the world asleep, you cannot see illustrations; but if your minds were thoroughly aroused, and yet you could see nothing else in the world but a single tallow candle, you might find enough illustrations in that luminary to last you for six months." Now, the young brethren in the College are too well behaved to say "Oh!" or give a groan of unbelief, should I perchance say a strong thing; but they look, and they draw their breath, and they wait for an explanation. I understand what they mean, and do not make too heavy a draft upon their faith by long delays in explaining myself. The men who were around me at that particular moment thought that I had made rather a sweeping assertion, and their countenances showed it. "Well", I said, "I will prove my words;" and my attempt to prove them produced the rudiments of this lecture.

To the nucleus thus obtained, other things have been added as the address has been repeated. The lecture is a cairn, upon which stone after stone has been thrown, till it has become a heap, in fact, two heaps. To use a figure from the subject itself my candles have been dipped again and again, and each time they have grown in bulk, till I now feel that they are ready to go from the makers to the consumers. The matter has been moulded under my own hand, but at the same time the materials are so various, that whether my candle is a dip, or a mould, or a composite, I leave to you to decide.

This lecture of mine has proved a boon to several other public instructors, who have largely used it, and possibly have improved upon the original. I am sure they have not been more free than welcome. As I have taken out no letters-patent, I have never called upon them for a royalty for the use of my invention. Still, if their consciences trouble them, I am like Matthew, "at the receipt of custom." I have now resolved to print my lecture; and I hope those gentlemen will not be angry with me for stopping their borrowing, but the rather I trust they will think me generous for having refrained from publishing the lecture for so long a period as five-and-twenty years. These candles have now become "ancient lights", but I do not propose to prevent anybody's building near the premises; for they will not block up my light. These symbols have light in themselves which cannot be hid. My friends can go on delivering their own versions all the same; and if they think fit, they may use the original text also. A man who would deliver the lecture, and sell the book at the close, might drive a good trade. In any case, the subject admits of further variations, and it can never be quite exhausted so long as lecturers have brains, and lectured ones have eyes.

Candles were far more familiar objects in my boyhood than in these days of gas and electricity. Now, fathers show their boys and girls how to make gas at the end of a tobacco pipe; but in my time the greatest of wonders was a lucifer-match. Our lights were so few that they justified the wit who declared that the word "luxury" was derived from lux, the Latin for light. Assuredly, a good light is a high form of luxury. I can never forget the rushlight, which dimly illuminated the sitting- room of the old house; nor the dips, which were pretty fair when there were not too many of them to the pound; nor the mould candles, which came out only when there was a party, or some specific personage was expected. Short sixes were very respectable specimens of household lights. Composites have never seemed to me to be so good as the old sort, made of pure tallow; but I dare say I may be wrong. Nevertheless, I have no liking for composites in theology, but prefer the genuine article without compromise.

Once I thoughtlessly hung a pound of tallow candles on a clothes-horse. This construction was moved near the fire, and the result was a mass of fat on the floor, and the cottons of the candles almost divested of tallow: a lesson to us all not to expose certain things to a great heat, lest we dissolve them. I fear that many a man's good resolutions only need the ordinary fire of daily life to make them melt away. So, too, with fine professions, and the boastings of perfection which abound in this age of shams.

The candle with a rush wick was the poor man's friend. Thrifty labourers' wives made them themselves; and White, in his Selborne, has a letter which gives quite an elaborate account of this economical home manufacture. Good housewives saved the skimmings of the bacon pot, precipitated the salt, and then put a little wax from their bee-hives into the grease. The rushes were gathered in summer, and steeped in water, the rinds removed, and the pith preserved entire. To dip the rushes in the scalding fat required great care; but when the work was done, the labourer's house could be cheered in a small way with candle-light for 800 hours for three shillings. He adds that the very poor, who are always the worst economists, buy a half-penny candle every evening, and thus get only two hours' light for their money instead of eleven. Moral: there should be economy even in rushlights, how much more in consuming the light of life!

In those days it was a youthful joke to send a boy to the shop for a pound of cotton rushes. The grocer, if of an angry sort, was apt to make a rush at the lad, who thus appeared to mock him. It was in these times that we heard the story of the keeper of the chandler's-shop, who told her customers that "candles was riz." "Riz", said her neighbour, "everything is riz except my wages. But why have they riz?" "They tell me ", said the other, "that tallow has gone up because of the war with Russia." " Well ", replied the customer, "that is a queer story. Have they begun to fight by candle-light?" That woman had some inkling of the law of supply and demand. She may never have read Adam Smith, but it is possible that she was a Smith herself.

Those were the days when a wit is represented as saying to his tradesman, "I hope these candles will be better than the last." "I am sure I don't know, sir; was anything the matter with those I sent you ? "Matter enough", replied the wit; "they burned very well till they were about half gone, and then they would burn no longer." The catch is that, of course, they burned shorter.

We had practical fun with candles, too; for we would scoop out a turnip, cut eyes and a nose in the rind, and then put a candle inside. This could be judiciously used to amuse, but it might also be injudiciously turned to purposes of alarming youngsters and greenhorns, who ran away, under the apprehension that a ghost was visible. Other things beside turnips can be used to frighten foolish people; but it is a shame to use the light of truth with such a design.

I do not think I ever saw the smoke of a candle employed as Swift suggests, when he says to servants in general, "Write your own names and your sweethearts' with the smoke of a candle, on the roof of the kitchen or servants' hall, to show your learning;" but smudges caused by candle- snuffs were not unusual in slovenly rooms.

No doubt the youths in my audience have found a candle helpful in astronomical observations, when they have smoked glass over a candle to use it in watching an eclipse. Many are the side uses of every useful article.

I have a distinct remembrance of a mission-room, where my father frequently preached, which was illuminated by candles in tin sconces which hung on the wall. These luminaries frequently went very dim for want of snuffing, and on one occasion an old man, who wanted to see his hymn-book, took the candle from its original place: out of his hand he made a candlestick; his finger and thumb he used as a pair of snuffers; and, finding it needful to cough, he accidentally made use of his mouth as an extinguisher. Thus the furniture of a candle was all contained in his proper person.

That wild wit, Dean Swift, in his advice to servants, says, "There are several ways of putting out candles, and you ought to be instructed in them all: you may run the candle end against the wainscot, which puts the snuff out immediately; you may lay it on the ground, and tread the snuff out with your foot; you may hold it upside down, until it is choked with its own grease, or cram it into the socket of the candlestick; you may whirl it round in your hand till it goes out; or you may spit on your finger and thumb, and pinch the snuff till it goes out. The cook may rub the candle's nose into the meal tub, or the groom into a vessel of oats, or a lock of hay, or a heap of litter; the housemaid may put out her candle by running it against the looking-glass, which nothing cleans so well as candle-snuff; but the quickest and best of all methods is to blow it out with your breath, which leaves the candle clean and readier to be lighted." Some part or other of this advice must have been frequently followed, for an extinguisher was not always close at hand.

By the way, a candle blown out did not yield the most delicate of perfumes, neither was a street rendered delicious by having a candle-factory in it. There used to be, in Paternoster Row, an establishment which was odiously odorous, but we were always assured that the smell was not unhealthy. Perhaps it was not; but we confess we should have preferred to avoid the experiment. In the formation of the best of things there may be disagreeable processes. As to the smoke of a candle which is newly put out, we may remark upon it that the failure of a life which should have been a light is a very sickening calamity. If the light of professors of religion is blown out, the result is most unsavoury. How well it is for us that we have to deal with One of whom it is written, "A smoking flax will he not quench"! Even when faith is so low that we are rather an offence than an illumination, he will not quench it, so tender is his love.

When preaching in a low-pitched building crowded with people, I have seen the candles burn low for want of air, a clear indication that we were killing ourselves by inhaling an atmosphere from which the vitalizing principle had almost all gone. I have been afraid of the lights going out, and have thought it better to let the congregation go out rather sooner than usual. To this day ventilation remains an unknown art. The various schemes which have been so much cried up are admirable upon paper; and there they had better remain. Oh, that we could have more oxygen in our places of worship! It would be next to the grace of God for value.

On one occasion, having a candle on each side of me in a small pulpit, I was somewhat vigorous, and dashed one of my luminaries from its place. It fell upon the bald head of a friend below, who looked up with an expression which I can see at this moment, and it makes me smile still. I took no more notice of the accident than to weave it into what I was saying; and I believe most of my hearers considered it to have been a striking practical illustration of the remark which accompanied it, "How soon is the glory of life dashed down!"

Before my time the candles in places of worship offered a sad temptation to ungodly men and boys, who would bring sparrows in their pockets, and let them fly during the evening service. The poor birds made at once for the lights, and no end of confusion was the consequence. German critics and their humble admirers play the part of these sparrows nowadays with the great lights of inspired Scripture.

Outside some of the older meeting-houses there used to be a wooden stand near the grave-yard gate, on which a lantern was placed with a candle within it, to light the way to the place where prayer was went to be made. The natural light was dim in those times; but I am old-fashioned enough to believe that the gospel light was in many a lowly sanctury far more brilliant than it is to-day in mimic Gothic chapels. The blaze of "modern thought" which pleases lovers of novelty does not guide the perplexed to heaven, nor cheer the passage of the departing through the valley of' the shadow of death.

In our time we have smeared our boots with a tallow candle to keep out the wet when we have had to tramp through the snow and the water; and we have also tallowed our nose when it has been running with a cold. Still, we cannot conscientiously recommend the old prescription (dated 1430?) which wc find recorded in doggerel rhyme:--

"Put your feet in hot water
As high as your thighs;
Wrappe your head up in flanelle
As low as your eyes;

"Take a quart of rum'd gruelle
When in bed as a dose;
With a number four dippe
Well tallow your nose."

I take the liberty of suggesting that if the rum were poured into the hot water provided for the feet it would be more likely to be useful than when put into the gruel. The candle will be quite sufficient to make the nose to shine, without setting it on fire with ardent spirits.

I remember reading, when I went to school, a capital story illustrating presence of mind, and it comes to my remembrance, after nearly fifty years. The anecdote is in Chambers' Moral Class Book, and is much too good to be lost.

"In Edinburgh, in the reign of George II., there was a grocer named George Dewar, who, besides teas, sugar, and other articles, now usually sold by grocers, dealt extensively in garden seeds. Underneath his shop he had a cellar, in which he kept a great quantity of his merchandise. One day he desired his servant-maid to go down to the cellar with a candle to fetch him a supply of a particular kind of soap kept there. The girl went to do her master's bidding, but she imprudently did not provide herself with a candlestick, and therefore found it necessary, while filling her basket with pieces of soap, to stick the candle into what she thought a bag of black seed, which stood open by her side. In returning, both her hands were required to carry the basket, so that she had to leave the candle where it was. When Mr. Dewar saw her coming up the trap-door without the candle, he asked her where she had left it? She replied that she had stuck it into some black seed near the place where the soap lay. He instantly recollected that this black seed was gunpowder, and he knew that a single spark falling from the candle would blow up the house. He also knew that the candle, if left where it was, would, in a little time, burn down to the powder. To fly, then, was to make the destruction of his house and property certain, while to go down and attempt to take away the candle, was to run the risk of being destroyed himself; for he could not tell that a spark was not to fall the next instant into the powder. He made up his mind in a moment, and descended into the cellar. There he saw the candle burning brightly in the midst of the bag of gunpowder. He approached softly, lest, by putting the air in motion, he might cause the candle to sparkle. Then, stooping with the greatest deliberation over the sack, he formed his hands into a hollow, like the basin of a bedroom candlestick, and clasped the candle between his fingers. He thus had the chance of catching any spark which might fall: none, however, fell, and he bore away the candle in safety."

Bravo Mr. Dewar! But why did you leave your powder where your maid could run you into so great a risk? Presence of mind is greatly to be commended, but general carefulness may prevent the need of so great a demand upon courage as this case required.

I could multiply my reminiscences, but my business is not so much to lecture upon candles themselves as upon the sermons which lie within them. The Esquimaux consider tallow candles a great luxury; and I have met with a missionary who assured me that in the far North of America he had learned greatly to prefer a candle to a-piece of sugar or any other dainty. May not tastes be thus perverted in reference to spiritual things? Is it not often so?

I will not offer you a discussion upon the physical or chemical nature d candles. I will not feed you on candles, for you have not the educated taste of my friend from the Hudson's Bay Territory. No, I will give you candle-light, and not the candles themselves; but if you would know all about them, read a capital set of lectures entitled, Faraday on the Chemical History of a Candle. (published by Chatto & Windus)

All this time I have been guilty of a terrible omission: I have not defined a candle; and how can a man know anything, or teach anything, if he is not very careful to describe the subject of his discourse in the most difficult manner conceivable? I regret that I cannot find a regular jaw- breaking definition in any of the dictionaries: they have treated the subject in too light a manner, and have not by any means confounded and obfuscated the word "candle" as it deserves to be confounded and obfuscated. The "Century Dictionary" describes it as "a taper: a cylindrical body of tallow, wax, spermaceti, or other fatty material, formed on a wick composed of linen or cotton threads woven or twisted loosely, or (as formerly) of the pith of a rush, and used as a source of artificial light." This is all very well; but how much more we might have known if the lexicographer had called candles "Nascent possibilities of illumination materialized in oleaginous cylindrical forms"! It is some comfort, that while certain great linguists derive the word from the Latin, candela, which comes from candere, to burn; others take it from the Welsh, which I guess must be llandyllyn, to blaze; and a third party perceive its origin in the ancient Danish, kindil, to burn or kindle. Do you not all feel the better for these learned criticisms ? Would you not feel safer still, if I could assure you that luminous and voluminous scientists have had serious doubts as to whether candles were known to the ancients at all; and if so, whether, indeed, there are such things now extant? Alfred the Great is said to have invented lanterns to preserve his candles from the draughts which came into his hall through windows which were innocent of glass; but this is extremely doubtful. Only the fossilized believer accepts the popular belief: the learned critic sees things in another light, or rather does not see them at all. According to the learned Dr. Batseyes, there would seem to have been two Alfreds, one who allowed the cakes to burn, and another who went to battle with the Danes. There does not appear to be any justification for believing that either of these Alfreds could have cared about candles so much as to invent lanterns for their protection. A person who would allow cakes to burn would scarcely be careful of mere tallow candles; and a man who fought with the Danes was far more likely to put the fat into the fire than to preserve it from the wind. What think you of that? There is more in it than in most of the Biblical criticisms which I have met with. I am rather pleased with my historic doubt. With a little effort I fancy I could qualify myself to be a practiser of Destructive Criticism; but I conceive that the game would not be worth the candle, and I should only be doing more of that which is already overdone.

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