In the years since then I have learned to know the story of Toyner and his wife. Now that they are gone away from us, I will tell what I know. His was a life which shows that a man cut off from all contact with his brother-thinkers may still be worked upon by the great over-soul of thought: his is the story of a weak man who lived a strong life in a strength greater than his own.
In the days when there were not many people in Fentown Falls, and when much money was made by the lumber trade, Bartholomew Toyner’s father grew rich. He was a Scotchman, not without some education, and was ambitious for his son; but he was a hard, ill-tempered man, and consequently neither his example nor his precepts carried any weight whatever with the son when he was grown. The mother, who had begun life cheerfully and sensibly, showed the weakness of her character in that she became habitually peevish. She had enough to make her so. All her pleasure in life was centred in her son Bart. Bart came out of school to lounge upon the streets, to smoke immoderately, and to drink such large quantities of what went into the country by the name of “Jamaica,” that in a few years it came to pass that he was nearly always drunk.
Poor Bart! the rum habit worked its heavy chains upon him before he was well aware that his life had begun in earnest; and when he realised that he was in possession of his full manhood, and that the prime of life was not far off, he found himself chained hand and foot, toiling heavily in the most degrading servitude. A few more years and he realised also that, do what he would, he could not set himself free. No one in the world had any knowledge of the struggle he made. Some—his mother among them—gave him credit for trying now and then, and that was a charitable view of his case. How could any man know? He was not born with the nature that reveals itself in many words, or that gets rid of its intolerable burdens of grief and shame by passing them off upon others. All that any one could see was the inevitable failure.
The failure was the chief of what Bart himself saw. That unquenchable instinct in a man’s heart that if he had only tried a little harder he would certainly have attained to righteousness gave the lie to his sense of agonising struggle, with its desperate, rallies of courage and sinkings of discouragement, gleams of self-confidence, and foul suspicion of self, suspicion even as to the reality of his own effort. All this was in the region of unseen spirit, almost as much unseen to those about him as are the spirits of the dead men and angels, often a mere matter of faith to himself, so apart did it seem from the outward realities of life.